When our millennial children live in another city or away at school, most of the time “out of sight” means “out of mind.” But breaking news headlines can raise our anxiety levels to high alert, and recently that seems almost a daily occurrence.
Example: the disappearance and murder of University of Virginia sophomore Hannah Graham. It attracted national media attention during the last few weeks, and no wonder: Many parents immediately related to the story. Grown & Flown blogger Mary Dell Harrington wrote, “As I gaze at each photograph, I agonize for her family and think, that could have been my daughter.”
With a 24/7 news cycle, we instantly learn of a shooting or bombing or other terrifying events as they unfold. Often our first instinct is to text or call family members, including our adult children, to make sure they are safe and out of harm’s way.
Last Thursday night a news alert about the first New York City resident diagnosed with the Ebola virus interrupted prime-time programming. One minute you’re enjoying Scandal and the next minute you're wondering which subway your child in New York commutes on. Was it the same as the stricken doctor? In a twist, my daughter, who lives in Virginia, texted me in New York with that question: “What subway line do you take?”
That’s both the blessing and bane of technology. We’re never out of touch, and knowing that our children are tethered to their phones makes it hard to resist the impulse to reach out when bad news breaks. Or in this case, a child checking on a parent!
But that constant connection to the news can have a negative impact, both mentally and physically. A recent national survey found that watching, reading or listening to the news can cause stress.
A related study based on the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombings found that people who consumed six or more hours of daily media coverage report more acute stress symptoms than people who were directly affected by the bombing. That study was conducted by Alison Holman, who researches stress and coping at the University of California, Irvine. In a conversation last week, Holman noted that with TV, radio, Internet, Twitter, Facebook and other social media, six hours can add up quickly over the course of a day.
She advises awareness of how closely you’re following a breaking news story. “My concern is that consuming too much media raises our stress levels and we know that stress is associated with physical disease,” she says. “People need to understand what's going on in the world around them, but not engage in such a way that its raises their fears.”
Mesmerized by the all-news, all-the-time culture, we don’t find it so easy to click the “off” button. But we do need to make a conscious effort to protect our physical and mental health by refusing to hook ourselves into the adrenaline rush of breaking news. Instead we should think through realistic and constructive responses. In other words: Stay calm and carry on.
Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21 , tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.
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