In times of uncertainty many people turn to the news for clarity. But constant coverage of the coronavirus pandemic could instead be leaving them feeling anxious and fearful.
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News fatigue is a phenomenon which leads people to feel exhausted and worn out by continuous coverage of a topic, particularly when its negative, and an endless stream of information.
"Some people will just switch off and they'll stop listening to the news or watching the news," Phoenix Australia's Head of Policy and Practice Nicole Sadler says.
"While other people will just keep watching it, and they will find that they can't switch it off, and it can make people even more uncertain and even more fearful."
With the 24-hour news cycle rehashing negative stories and information, constant monitoring could lead to mental health problems like anxiety, difficulty sleeping and irritability, Prof Sadler says.
As of April 10, there were more than four billion mentions of COVID-19 in online news media, according to a Google News search, compared to other viruses like HIV which was mentioned 64 million times.
However, the risk of people developing fatigue and turning away from news altogether could be even more dangerous, says Prof Sadler.
"In some ways, having no information and not getting good updates from reliable sources would probably give people more anxiety."
In Australia, Google searches for coronavirus have dropped by more than a third from its peak on March 22. Worldwide searches for coronavirus have also dipped since peaking in mid-March.
While news fatigue has contributed to the drop in online interest, the decline could also be attributed to people being more aware of the virus, University of Sydney media researcher Jonathon Hutchinson says.
Dr Hutchinson says news organisations have a critical role to play in relaying the most up to date information at all times, while leaving the opinion pieces and analysis to another day.
But some news organisations are "playing political games" and contributing to the problem.
"I can still see some particular news organisations that are using this moment to politicise the government's position and actions, and you can see that influences how they report on certain issues surrounding coronavirus," Dr Hutchinson told AAP.
He's seen the effects of news fatigue first hand among fellow critical thinkers, with some entertaining debunked conspiracy theories.
"What that suggests is that people are at an information fatigue level. When we get into those daily news habits and if the information isn't there, then I guess we kind of go and look in other spaces," he said.
Prof Sadler says people feeling worn-out by coverage should get into some sort of routine, go to credible sources of information and focus on what they can control like hygiene, exercise and staying socially connected.
"People need to get the information then switch it off, not just continuing to monitor it because all that will do is to raise people's anxiety."
Australian Associated Press
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