• Mark Roland, Ph.D.

COVID-19 & the Media: Does listening to the latest information help or does it produce more stress?

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

“So, what have you heard about COVID-19 today?”. “I heard that you could catch coronavirus by (insert the latest rumor)!”


Not only are we in the middle of a very unique pandemic, but we are also in the middle of a barrage of news and the “latest information” on the virus. We hear multiple media stories during the day on TV, on the internet, and on various apps and notifications. We want to be informed about important updates, but if we are exposed to too much media it can become overwhelming and confusing. It seems that if we don’t know enough about the pandemic we feel vulnerable and anxious, but we can also become anxious when we listen to too much information.


So, what is the right amount of information to seek?

Not only is it important to discover the right amount of news to read, but also important to seek the right type of information. We can find some answers to this dilemma in what was learned during previous pandemics. During the Zika virus outbreak in 2016 researchers discovered that when people got most of their news about Zika from social media, their perception of personal risk increased which also increased their anxiety. When people read social media they are usually exposed to varied types of information, some of which are anecdotal stories containing emotional content that may or may not convey accurate information.


On the other hand, when people sought most of their information from traditional media, they received a more accurate perception of the risk of contracting the virus and were subsequently more likely to engage in protective behaviors while also feeling less anxiety. The researchers suggested that public health agencies should utilize social media to quickly raise awareness about new threats but should then work with traditional media to avoid confusion when sharing later developments and updates (Chan, 2016).

The difference with COVID-19.


However, a difference has been noted with the COVID-19 pandemic. With this pandemic, the traditional news media has dramatically increased the amount of information they produce, which they subsequently broadcast more often during the day. For COVID19 the increase in traditional media coverage led to an increase in stress and anxiety levels. While it can be said that the traditional media has also altered their style of presenting the news since the Zika virus, it does seem apparent that too much news is actually bad news.


So, it has been suggested that the best way to gain well-informed risk perceptions is to be informed by trustworthy authoritative news sources and to be mindful of the amount of time you're immersed in the news. A more accurate perception of risk helps us to engage in helpful and realistic protective measures, while too much information, especially from less trustworthy sources, tends to lead us to feel more stress, anxiety, and to engage in less helpful protective measures.


Read wisely and moderately you will have a better understanding of how to live your life well today during this time of uncertainty.

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