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COVID-19: How to manage information overload

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Written by Jennifer Palisoc

There is a lot of news available on the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s easy to experience information overload and feel overwhelmed. With changes happening daily, it can feel like a lot to manage.

While it’s important to stay informed, experts say individuals should also pay close attention to elevated feelings of stress and anxiety.

“Consuming an overwhelming amount of difficult news can have an impact on your mental health,” says Dr. Carolyn Boulos, psychiatrist. “It can fuel feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and a sense of being unable to take control.”

What individuals can control is how much information about the pandemic that they watch or listen to each day.

“It’s okay to take a break,” explains Dr. Boulos. “This is especially important to help alleviate any stress or anxiety as we all learn to cope with the necessary changes to stay safe in our everyday lives as a result of the pandemic.”

Simple strategies to help ease information overload

Limit your time

Try limiting the amount of time spent reading or listening to new stories about the pandemic. One way to do this online is to use technology.

“It’s easy to get caught up in social media and lose track of time,” says Dr. Boulos. “There are screen time-limiting features on smartphones to alert you to the amount of time you have spent on a particular app or website. A good reminder to move on, get up and move, and get your mind on something else.”

Schedule your time

“Be mindful of when you listen to the news as it tends to be repetitive,” explains Dr. Boulos. “Perhaps select one time during the day to catch up on news headlines rather than watching or scrolling for hours on end. Consider short newscasts or a podcast.”

You can also schedule time for other things. Maybe that means spending at least one hour each day connecting with family and friends instead of checking the news. This can help people feel less isolated, especially as we practice physical distancing.

Reliable sources of information

Be careful of misinformation from unreliable sources. Choose trusted and credible organizations to get information updates on the COVID-19 pandemic such as health, government or academic organizations. Perhaps consider one credible news source for updates, rather than multiple outlets which may be reporting the same things. The information may be helpful but hearing the same update repeatedly could lead to feeling more stress than is necessary.

Other tips for disconnecting from news and social media

  • Turn off notifications on your phone.
  • Pick up a non-computer-based hobby.
  • Do something fun like reading, listening to music or exercising.
  • Don’t read the news right before bedtime to help get a better sleep.
  • Establish daily routines for self-care: work, eating, chores, leisure, family-time, reaching out to your community and proper sleep time.

Information is extremely important as we learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s also important to spend time focusing on your health and well-being and know that it’s okay to take a break from overwhelming and challenging news each day to help maintain good mental health hygiene.

View more mental health resources for coping during the COVID-19 pandemic

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or in severe emotional distress, please call 911 or visit your local emergency department. If you feel like you are in crisis or need somebody to talk to, community resources are here to help:

Crisis Services Canada

Phone: toll-free at 1-833-456-4566
Text: 45645 (available 4 p.m. – 12 a.m. EST)

About the author

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Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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