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The Media, Your Health and Your World

A lot happens every day all over the world. So we rely on the Internet, newspapers and television to let us know about what’s going on in the world. Media outlets are businesses, however, which rely on pulling in large audiences to be profitable. In order to do so, they tend to focus on sensational content, stories and images that turn heads and keep people coming back for more. “If it bleeds, it leads.” Unfortunately, sensational stories tend to also be negative stories. They tend to revolve around death, destruction, crime, greed, and other similar topics. “What you don’t know about hamburgers that could kill you.” “A hard look at healthcare: Is your coverage enough?” “19 Car Pile-Up on the 101. 22 Dead, and Counting.” And so forth.

Does how we see and understand the world matter?

The short answer: Yes.

The Bad Stuff and Why Good Media Matters

According to British psychologists Drs. Wendy Johnston and Graham Davey , repeated exposure to the violence and negativity found in the mainstream media can cause or worsen stress, anxiety and depression.

In their study, they showed subjects 14-minute clips edited to be positive, neutral or negative.

Participants who watched the negative clips showed increases in both anxious and sad mood. They also showed a significant increase in “the tendency to catastrophize a personal worry.” This means that things went from minor concerns to BIG DEALS. In addition to causing stress and mood changes—these shifts also skew the way we remember past events, the way we view the future and the situations we are currently in. Regular exposure to negative media casts a shadow over our lives that can become self-reinforcing and therefore hard to shake.

So repeated exposure to the media can make you feel chronically stressed! It can make everything seem like a huge deal, or the end of the world. It can make you feel alone.

Regular exposure to the media can also affect your health!

It also leads to increases in inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is a natural response to infection or disease, and occurs as our bodies work to fight off threats. But when inflammation occurs on its own, and not in response to threats, it becomes problematic, weakening our immune systems and causing a host of issues, including:

Increased risk of disease, including:

  • Cancer
  • Pneumonia
  • Diabetes

Increased risk of psychiatric and physical disorders, including:

  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Coronary (heart) disorders

With more negativity, we are at risk for shorter, less happy lives.

Beyond the health and psychological effects of regular media exposure, we must consider the impact of the media on our worldviews. Does exposure to the media impact our relationships with other people and with other places? Does it exacerbate social issues and biases like racism, sexism, homophobia and others? According to Drs. Mary McNaughton-Cassill and Tom Smith, the answer is likely Yes.

Data suggests that when we rely on the media to inform us about what is going on in other places, we tend to have misguided, negatively-biased notions of the world because the media focuses on negative events. This contributes to what is called the Optimism Gap, where we think things are much better in our own community – of which we have intimate knowledge – than they are around the world. We think things are worse than they are because the media largely tells us this is so.

This contributes to irrational fears and beliefs, and perpetuating stereotypes and other social issues. For instance, there is significant evidence that television news “disproportionately depicts racial/ethnic minorities as criminal suspects and Whites as victims.”  This misrepresentation has been shown to provoke prejudicial responses among White viewers .

Despite all of the negativity, that’s not all that’s out there. A lot of good happens all over the world every single day. If seeing all the negative stuff is harmful to our psychological and physical health, could seeing the good stuff make us healthier and happier? Keep reading to find out!

The Good Stuff

When we shift our focus from the negative to also see the positive, providing more balance, we see a radically different world. One which blossoms from shadows into bright, dazzling color.

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Many acts of kindness, caring and compassion occur all over the world every day. People volunteer, they listen to each other, they give their money or belongings to others, and they live conscientious, thoughtful lives. They may not be exciting enough to make the news, but they are still worth paying attention to. And when we pay attention, wonderful things start to happen.

Repeated exposure to positive content like ours at Envision Kindness:

  • Increases release of pleasurable neurotransmitters, which make us feel happy and good.
  • Triggers the release of oxytocin, Called the love hormone, which is involved in love and familial/romantic bonding. Oxytocin is activated by physical contact and emotional closeness and helps bond us to our friends, loved ones and even pets. Oxytocin decreases stress response and elevates mood which promotes good physical and psychological health!

Just like exposure to negative content can exacerbate stress and inflammatory responses, exposure to positive content leads to improvements in our general beliefs and attitudes, sometimes called ‘Dispositional Positive Affect.’ Dispositional Positive Affect has been linked with decreases in inflammatory responses and better short and long-term health outcomes .

And that’s just from seeing other people commit acts of kindness! Imagine what could happen when you make kindness a bigger part of your own life…

Committing your own acts of kindness can also improve your physical and emotional well-being. For instance, people who volunteer regularly tend to live longer  than people who do not! But they also have:

  • Reduced risk of depression, loneliness, and cognitive disorders such as dementia
  •  More success in romantic relationships .

Things to consider:

  • You are what you eat!
  • You are also what you see and hear! Our psychological diets may be as important as our nutritional diets to our physical and psychological wellbeing.
  • See good, feel good. Do good, feel better.

In sum: Repeated exposure to positive, kindness-centric content makes us more likely to be less stressed, healthier and happier. It can make us feel more connected, more optimistic, and give us a more well-rounded, accurate view of the world. So remember to visit our Gallery  often for your daily dose of goodness, as we are regularly adding new content, and visit our Programs Page to see how you could get involved and bring Envision Kindness to your campus or community.