Extra! Extra! There’s no news like bad news…

Posted by on Jan 14, 2013 in stress | 0 comments

iStock_000008316709XSmallHow are your stress levels? If you have been following this blog for any period of time, you know that midlife is filled with natural stressors. And that that stress can boost cortisol levels, leading to abdominal fat and weight gain. (You may recall that cortisol is the hormone that is released when the body is exposed to stress.) However, short of incorporating mind-body strategies, more exercise and healthier eating habits in your life, what can you do?

Well, it appears that turning off the news may go a long way towards insuring that any initial exposure to negative headlines or news stories does not domino into a prolonged physical reaction. In fact, when researchers compared the effects of exposure to stress in men and women, they found distinct differences that may impact future habits.

What does regular exposure to 24 hour news cycles do to our brains?

When researchers exposed four groups of men and women to either 24 neutral (e.g. a park opening) or negative (e.g. murder or accidents) stories followed by a stress test, they found that that reading negative news stories had no effect on cortisol levels. However, when women were subsequently exposed to stress after reading the negative stories, their cortisol levels did increase significantly. Moreover, a day later, these very same women had greater recall of these negative or emotional stories compared to their male counterparts and compared to the groups who were only exposed to neutral stories.

Truly, there is no news like bad news, at least for women. In fact, researchers say that exposure to negative news media on a regular basis can take its toll, leading women to react more strongly and more stressfully to other situations and factors in their lives. They have a tendency to ruminate on what they’ve observed and may even elaborate and extenuate information in ways that lead to greater memory for and reaction to the negative in their lives.

Ultimately, the message is clear: by limiting regular exposure to negative news cycles, women may be able to modulate reactions to other daily stressors. The question lies whether or not deliberately balancing the good with the bad has the same effect.

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