Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Integral Health: Bad News Is Making Us Sick

Geri's Good News Network posted an article from The London Paper on how all the bad news we consume is making us sick. I posted on this in the Integral Health pod at Zaadz, but I wanted to expand on it here a bit.

Here is the article:
Bad news is making us sick
by Gabriel Miller, Thursday 14 September 2006 09:40

If ignorance is bliss, then tuning into the news these days is surely something more like self-inflicted misery.

Bombarded from all angles with apocalyptic stories of natural disasters, war, terrorism, and hurricanes, it’s a wonder that any of us even makes it out of bed in the morning.

But according to some experts, all this bad news is more than merely leaving us feeling a little sombre. It is actually making us ill.

It is often said that these days we live in a culture of fear, but if you ask any doctor, this is not a healthy state to be in. Even low levels of fear-induced hormones adrenalin and cortisol can be harmful to your health, causing conditions such as agitation, panic attacks, heart problems and even infertility.

According to clinical psychologist Dr Mary Burgess: “By constantly exposing ourselves to such scare-mongering news coverage, we are left in a heightened state of psychological arousal and alertness. That is simply not sustainable in the long run without negative medical repercussions.”

Looking over your shoulder the whole time and wondering what’s in everyone’s rucksack on the Underground may make you Sir Ian Blair’s idea of the perfect citizen. But you are also putting yourself in a constant state of anxiety.

Another clinical psychologist, consultant Dr Roy Bailey, has seen an increase since 9/11 in the number of people coming to him with worry-related problems since.

“People ask themselves ‘What can I do?’, and their answer is to become their own personal policeman,” he adds. “The problem is that this actually increases their feeling of vulnerability and subsequent helplessness.”

The perception that the number of tragic world events is increasing has coincided with our growing addiction to 24-hour news. The worse the stories sound, the more we want to hear them.

So should the news now carry a health warning? Dr Bailey argues: “It’s up to the news providers to balance the bad news with the good, and provide coverage more representative of the realistic nature of the threat.”

The issue then is not one of turning a blind eye. Rather it is one of balance. As the author and academic Norman Cousins once said: “If news is not really news unless it is bad news, it may be difficult to claim we are an informed nation.”

When we feel continually stressed out with fear about the world around us, our bodies release stress hormones (cortisol and and adrenalin) that can cause serious damage over time. Cortisol is a hormone that breaks down tissue (including muscle) for energy. Adrenlin is a hormone that raises blood pressure and pulse as it prepares the body for fight or flight. Prolonged high-level adrenlin secretion can cause adrenal fatigue, a kind of low-grade exhaustion.

But the fear we experience about natural disasters, wars, terrorism and many other threats reported on the news every night has psychological effects as well. We begin to believe we live in a world that is unsafe and we create boundaries of distrust. We may feel angry or frustrated all the time. We may regress in our development to lower developmental stages that feel safer or provide a more black-and-white view of the world. Ambiguity can become intolerable.

We experience cultural impacts from this as well. We tend to become more insular and isolalted, staying within our trusted circle of friends or ethnic groups. We begin to distrust the "other," anyone who is not like us or who we do not know. This creates divisions in the society, divisions which can result in Red State / Blue State thinking, or liberals and conservatives, or any number of other divisions, including ethnic (as in the immigration battles).

All of these things together create an over-burdened health care system, a fractured political system, and more marketing of bad news to keep us glued to our TVs, radios, computers and newspapers -- fear sells. It creates walls along our borders, communities that are fenced in, and initial support for unnecessary wars in Middle Eastern nations.

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