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Regular version of the site

How to Read the News in Times of Stress

© Daniil Prokofyev/ HSE University

News feeds and social media have become sources of constant stress for all of us over the past few days. So, how can we read the news, stay calm, and spot fake information? The HSE Media Practices Centre and Director Irina Makarova of the Centre for Psychological Counselling share some useful guidance.

'Separate fact from opinion'

Gleb Cherkasov, Head of the Media Practices Centre
Olga Sytnik, Deputy Head of the Media Practices Centre

You have to make sure that the information you see on social networks or in mass media is verified. This helps to avoid panic.

We have highlighted the following rules for consuming information:

  • Separate fact from opinion.
  • Even if you think that you can trust a source, this is not always the case. In times of crisis, everyone is at greater risk of spreading unverified information—including tried and tested sources.
  • Eyewitnesses may not see the bigger picture, and experts can build models of events based on erroneous facts.
  • Try to corroborate information from at least two different sources—more if possible. Remember that the same fact can look different from different perspectives.
  • Stay objective: you may have to read things you don’t like

How to verify information found on social media or news feeds

  1. When you see texts, videos or photos, first find out when and where they were written or taken.
  2. Don't take the word of anonymous sources, ‘unnamed eyewitnesses’ or ‘sources’. If certain statements turn out to be true, they will be corroborated in time. If you have no way of verifying the information, then it remains unverified.
  3. Heightened emotionality in the text may be an indication that the information is dubious. Try to remove all adjectives from the text and evaluate the remaining content.
  4. Overuse of pseudoscientific or specialist terms is another red flag. In general, it is best not to rush to share information that you are not fully sure about.

Should I be reading the news?

Irina Makarova, Director of the Centre for Psychological Counselling

There is no universal answer. If it is important for you to keep up to date or if your work involves information, then follow the news. But if the news starts making you feel uncomfortable or unstable, you should spend less time reading and watching news and consume less information. There is no one-size-fits-all recommendation—decide for yourself based on your circumstances and feelings. If you are a very impressionable person and what you read only increases your anxiety and panic, then think about limiting how much news you read. If you're feeling panicked, overwhelmed by fear, and can't cope with simple household tasks, stop checking the news and give yourself a break.

‘News hygiene’ is important. Choose sources that you trust, ones that aren’t over-sensational or overemotional. Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes a reliable source. Unfortunately, the information sphere is highly politicised, so we tend to choose media according to our political views. It is important to remember this. Set your own rules and don't forget to question the information you see. Mistakes do happen.

What should I do if I feel really bad about the news?

  1. Acknowledge how you feel: that you’re struggling, your ability to work has dropped, and you have difficulty sleeping and/or eating.
  2. Give yourself the opportunity and time to rest and recover.
  3. Do something that helps you to recover and distract yourself: do cleaning, listen to music, watch a TV series, do sports, etc.
  4. If you find that you can’t do anything, seek psychological help.

How do I know if I have a problem?

Eating and sleeping are basic indicators of whether we are OK. They are basic sources of energy. If you've been sleeping two hours a night, or if you've got insomnia, that's a warning sign. If your appetite has decreased dramatically, or if you can't stop eating, that is also a warning sign. This means that you need help. Depending on the complexity of the situation, consider seeing a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist.

March 01, 2022