Bad Morning America
Bad Morning America: Overcoming News Anxiety
Even news junkies have had enough.
The year 2020 seemed to be a month-to-month challenge to top bad news with worse news, dominated by the coronavirus pandemic. Add to that a contentious election cycle, protests and unrest over social issues, and a host of other potential crisis – like an invasion of murder hornets and the government’s revelation of UFO photos – and it’s no wonder we’re all feeling a kind of news anxiety.
Social media doesn’t help since many of us can track the news with our cellphones, so the anxiety can be direct and instant. Many of us can remember when news outlets consisted of three TV channels, a daily newspaper, and the radio. We had some time to digest what was going on in those days. Now, the news is a 24-hour, multiplatform, constant cycle that never seems to end. Without time to process it all, we are left with conflicting information that can leave us confused and stressed.
Cable news networks are aware of this, so they promote to their viewers experts on a variety of subjects giving their opinions about the news. Soon, those opinions are picked up by others and are often criticized, creating more news, that creates more opinions, and often more confusion. This is what feeds the cycle until another development occurs and the cycle repeats itself with the new topic.
A 1985 book described it this way: “The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.” The author, Neil Postman, wrote those words before the internet. Yet, he saw the problem of “news anxiety.” Nowadays, we can relate to the general malaise that leaves us feeling depressed, powerless, and distrustful of news sources that often seem superficial, sensationalist, inaccurate, or hopelessly biased. The result is that the more news we consume the more anxiety we feel or, on the flip side, the more disconnected we become to the news itself.
One solution to that anxiety it to simply turn off the news, but that becomes increasingly difficult in a world where we are bombarded with news every time we go into public spaces ... in person or online. What we are looking for is news that can make a real difference – the kind of news that people can actually act upon. Ignorance nor selectivity is the answer.
What we need instead is a mindset that puts the current news within the context of an eternal perspective. The bad and good stuff happening now has happened before and will happen again. Rather than stomp our feet in disgust and offer yet another opinion about it all, the prophet Isaiah calls us to remember that the only news that really matters is that the God who created the world in which all this news happens is still at work and will ultimately set everything right.
Isaiah wrote to a people confronted with reality of exile – people isolated and distanced far from home in circumstances they did not choose, but that were the result of their sinful choices. Read Isaiah 40 and you will discover that God announces through the prophet that a return from exile is on the horizon: a new exodus in which God’s people would be set free and restored. God himself would dwell with them and he would feed them and protect them as a shepherd feeds and protects his flock.
This is the news that God’s people needed to hear, and it is the news that we need to hear. It is the news that puts all other news into perspective. The glory and character of God provides us with the best news we could possibly hear. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?” (verse 21). “He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” (verse 28).
No matter how bad the news seems to be, God’s purposes will win out. The glory and character of God provides us with the best news we could possibly hear. That’s the reason God does not suffer from “news anxiety.” Not only does God know the long view of his purposes in history, but he also offers power and strength to those who feel the anxiety of bad news in the present. Human beings tend to busy themselves trying to either come up with solutions to every problem or offering their opinions to those who “should” be doing something to fix them. If we trust only in ourselves, we are bound to experience despair when we fail or reach the end of our ability.
Rather than fret, fixate, or forego the news, we need to look to God to provide us with perspective, hope, and purpose through prayer and through being immersed in God’s Word. The only way the news can overwhelm us is when we forget God’s nature.