The world is falling apart, if you believe everything in the media. Few of us are immune to “headline-induced anxiety.” Research and statistics show that while the world has for some decades actually become increasingly safe, healthy and humane, society perceives the opposite.
As a long-time public relations consultant, my profession required me to consume news and work closely with media. Although I was privileged to represent upstanding clients with positive stories to tell, the surrounding negative stories often forced me to make a choice: allow troubling news to spiral me into concern, or find a more healthy and constructive way to process it.
Reputable news organizations alert people to the quicksand engulfing sensational headlines and images -- filling people’s minds with misinformation and myths. They warn that this can provoke a wide spectrum of mental angst, including pessimism, cynicism, helplessness and hopelessness, which can lead to anxiety, depression, fatalism, and aggression.
Responding to this need, some journalists have published content that raises awareness and provides tips to help people minimize the onset of headline-induced anxiety. These include being more well-informed about the actual facts; adopting more careful viewing habits; realizing that the media highlights extremes, while reality is a more balanced middle ground; avoiding news that triggers your own sensitivities; finding news sources that provide more positive news; shaping the media with your clicks; or even refraining from consuming news altogether.
Although that’s all practical wisdom, the magnitude of what we see and hear about the world cries out for more profound and lasting measures.
The potentially harmful effects of sensational reporting were identified in the early 1900s by visionary and religious thinker Mary Baker Eddy. She wrote, “Looking over the newspapers of the day, one naturally reflects that it is dangerous to live, so loaded with disease seems the very air.” Her answer to this was to found a newspaper of her own designed to have a healing impact on the world.
In a 2015 TED Talk, “Beyond Fear: A Call for a New Journalistic Narrative,” freelance journalist Stephanie Hanes observes, “Mary Baker Eddy recognized that the stories we tell have a profound impact on the perceived reality in which we live. She started The Christian Science Monitor, an international non-religious publication [with a mission] to ‘injure no man, but bless all mankind.’ It was a radical notion, but it worked. And it still works -- The Christian Science Monitor...has won a number of Pulitzer Prizes.” Ultimately, Eddy envisioned that “through our paper,…we shall be able to reach many homes with healing, purifying thought.”
Eddy took issue with the assumption that underlies sensational news reporting -- that evil is overpowering good in the world. Based on her deep research of the Bible and her successful practice of spiritual healing, she was convinced that divine good is supreme, and that through prayer we can see and experience that divine state of things here and now.
A wise friend of mine stands by a mantra, “don’t consume the news unless you’re going to pray about it.” This challenges me to take charge of how I allow news to impact me personally, and inspires me to put my prayers to work for community, country and world.
I’ve found this Bible verse particularly appropriate and strengthening: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;” (II Corinthians 4:6, 8-9)
This reminds me that I can – and should -- wisely choose how I allow news coverage to impact my mental atmosphere. This doesn’t mean I should be uninformed, naïve, or turn a blind eye. It does mean that despite news coverage that insinuates prevailing darkness and tangibility of evil, I can remain clear that the light of divinely supplied good actually does outshine and overpower evil -- not just theoretically, but practically.
With the “healing, purifying thought” that Eddy referred to, I’m fending off anxiety and despair, and I’m tuned in to all the good around me and beyond -- which truly presents a more balanced and accurate picture of the world. From that freer mental state, I’m in a solid position to offer others a more hopeful, encouraging and accurate view.
As “a rising tide lifts all boats,” so a collective mental atmosphere that rejects pessimism, hopelessness and fatalism -- replacing them with confidence in the prevailing power of God -- has the power to cultivate and nurture even more of the peace, brotherhood and joy that already surround us.