The cartoon character Charlie Brown once said, “I’ve developed a new philosophy… I only dread one day at a time.” But listening to the news it is almost impossible not to think of the world as an unsafe place where the months and years ahead are fraught with danger. Newspapers of course rarely report good news – this is because human psychology is such that we find it hard to delight in other people’s good fortune. Objectively we live in a far healthier and prosperous world than ever before; the problem is exposure to bad news warps our perception of life – a phenomenon dubbed the “mean world syndrome”. It used to be thought that violence on screen has no effect on real-life behaviour but that view has changed, since it desensitises viewers while flooding their bodies with unnecessary stress hormones.
If we want to keep our bodies free of ageing cortisol and adrenaline it is not just a question of staying away from video games. Gory crime fiction, horror films, murder mysteries which excite the imagination and sensationalist news articles need to become no-go areas. Next time we come across one of these, let us observe what is happening inside – emotions, any tension, our thoughts.
Tim Ferris in The 4-hour Workweek says he hasn’t bought a newspaper in the last five years. To keep up to date with current affairs he scans the headlines, no more, and advocates a one-week media fast for the addicted. Those of us who need political and business news do not have to stop reading. It’s the sensational detail we can avoid. We may subconsciously feel that if we know and understand what someone went through it is less likely to happen to us. But in fact the opposite may be true, as it creates a template in the brain, preparing the cells for similar real-life emotions in the same way that visualisation can prepare you for an exam, a race, a difficult task. The receptors on our cells grow in proportion to the amount of peptides we release, which are the vectors for emotions, including those of horror, fear, deep sadness and shock. When we listen to harrowing news we create these receptors. The more receptors, the more peptides…the more health problems…the more stress…which creates more receptors….which are hungry for yet more of the hormones which boost blood sugar and triglycerides. When this excess fuel isn’t used for physical activities (especially when it is generated while sitting still reading or watching/listening) the results can be suppression of the immune system, digestive disorders, muscle tension, short-term memory loss, premature coronary artery disease, heart attack, depression, suicidal thoughts, ulcers….
Next time the content is announced as potentially disturbing for those of a sensitive disposition, count yourself in. We are all sensitive. Switch off.