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Coronavirus anxiety: why switching off from the Covid-19 news cycle won’t make you less stressed

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Lauren Geall
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Have you been avoiding the news to reduce your coronavirus-related stress and anxiety? Here’s why you might want to rethink that approach.

It’s safe to say the last couple of months have left us in a state of information overwhelm. From the latest vaccine developments and scientific research to the daily infection rates and new safety measures, there’s so much coronavirus-related news out there that it’s hard to know where to start.

For people who have found the pandemic particularly anxiety-inducing and stressful, this steady flow of information, reports and debate about the virus has been particularly triggering. And as a result, many people are now switching off from the news cycle in an attempt to protect their mental health.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I used to obsessively check the daily death toll and latest news on symptoms, but now I tend to only keep up with news on the longer term social impacts,” explains Stylist’s digital writer Hollie Richardson. “I was an anxious mess in those first few months of lockdown and consuming so much information on a daily basis is just not sustainable.”

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Jazmin Kopotsha, Stylist’s deputy digital editor, shares a similar experience. “I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I’ve been trying to block out as much coronavirus news as possible unless I really have to engage with information about new rules and regulations,” she explains. 

“I think the frequency in which we had to consume all of the updates and daily death toll figures and lockdown rules was far too overwhelming, so over the last few weeks, my brain’s switched off to a lot of the news notifications as a self-preservation thing. I’m still stressed and concerned about the situation but I’m definitely guilty of trying to hide from the reality of it every now and again because it’s all a bit too much to comprehend.”

In an attempt to reduce their stress levels about Covid-19, it seems many people are trying to take their minds off of things and looking away from the pandemic as a whole. But according to a new study, turning a blind eye to all coronavirus-related content may not be the most effective way to reduce your stress – in fact, it suggests that we should be doing the exact opposite.

A woman looking out her window
Coronavirus anxiety: a new study has found that people who know more about Covid-19 experience less pandemic-related stress.

According to the new study, published by a team of scientists from North Carolina State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, the more people know about Covid-19, the less pandemic-related stress they have.

The survey of 515 adults from across the United States found that, across the board, those who had a greater factual understanding of the virus (which the scientists assessed by asking participants to complete a 29-part quiz) were likely to suffer less from stress related to Covid-19.

“We found that knowledge is power,” Sheuvan Neupert, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and the study’s co-author, said. “The more factual information people knew about Covid-19, the less stress they had. That was true across age groups.”

Neupert continues: “Knowledge reduces uncertainty, and uncertainty can be very stressful. Although speculative, it is likely that knowledge about this new virus reduced uncertainty, which in turn reduced feelings of pandemic stress.” 

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Although keeping up with every news report, update and piece of analysis about Covid-19 may not help your stress levels, finding out more about the virus itself – how it works, what it looks like and how it spreads, for example – can help to reduce your anxiety levels about the pandemic as a whole. It’s OK if you want to switch off the news for a while and unplug from the anxiety-inducing parts of the conversation, but if it’s the virus itself that scares you, learning more about it can help to calm some of those fears and concerns.

Besides the fact that knowing what we’re up against can help to stop you catastrophising about this “invisible enemy,” it also puts you in better stead to stop the spread of the virus. And that sounds like a win-win. 

Coping with anxiety

If you’re dealing with feelings of anxiety and worry during the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important to understand that this is a completely normal response to the current situation. However, if you’re looking for a way to alleviate some of those feelings, here’s three articles that might help.

For more information on anxiety, including what it is and how to cope, you can check out NHS Every Mind Matters or visit the Mind website.

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