Researchers are not recognizing the physical and emotional effects of new addiction.
A newly released study by the Taylor and Francis group has revealed another one of COVID-19’s secondary societal impacts: news addiction (also known as FOMO or Fear of Missing Out).
News addiction is a relatively newly coined phenomenon. While anecdotal evidence can point to its existence for years, it was not until about 2018 that the first serious academic study of the disorder came about. Known then only as FOMO, the disorder was classified as compulsive media consumption to the point that it has negative mental, physical, and social effects for sufferers.
Taylor and Francis group has conducted the largest study to date with about 1,100 adult American participants, and the results are shocking. Arguably, one of the study’s scariest findings was that news addiction appears to affect as much as 16% of the U.S. population. Of this pool, roughly 73% of study participants reported poor mental health as a result, and about 61% reported poor physical health. These numbers were about ten times higher than those who reported not suffering from symptoms of FOMO.
Consuming news media is almost comparable to sugar consumption. The ‘news high’ is meant to be temporary and fleeting and stories have a big, attention-grabbing hook bringing in tons of viewers. Like sugar, the 24-hour news cycle takes little thought to consume and process before leaving the body. Not everyone who consumes sugar will be obese and not everyone who reads or views the news will become addicted. If people consume media in moderation, it will have little to no effect.
The COVID-19 epidemic really allowed this ugly monster to rear its head. With several years of highly sensationalized news regarding this dangerous disease, people became glued to their TV screens and online news sources, hoping for their next scrap of information on how to prevent it, protect against it, or its impact on the world, in general. Such fast paced and emotionally charged consumption of news became anecdotally draining for many people.
Thankfully, the T&F study has vindicated those who suffer from news addiction by finally putting into peer-reviewed science that their medical ailments are, in fact, caused by addiction and they’re suffering from real symptoms. Some of the most common outward symptoms of news addiction include a loss of focus on everyday tasks, a decline in quality of personal and professional relationships, and constant fixation. The study also reports an increase in anxiety, depression, stress, gastrointestinal problems, and other ailments.
As mental health experts and former sufferers of this disorder can attest to, breaking free from news addiction can be more challenging than one thinks. People suffering from this addiction should follow the same treatment suggestions of anyone suffering from addiction. Therapy, group support, limiting use and engaging in healthy, pleasurable replacement activities can also be helpful in jumpstarting the path to recovery. Sometime, total abstinence, at least for a while, can be helpful for better understanding the gravity of the situation and its impact, and taking the time to develop healthy alternative behaviors.