The Power of the Brain Break: Balancing Your News Intake with Mental Breathers

A young man tends a garden

The COVID-19 global pandemic has nearly everyone glued to the news 24/7. With things changing by the minute, the news can seemingly provide a sense of control because knowledge is power, right? Sometimes. The problem with the constant newsfeed is that it often does the opposite — leaving us feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, and powerless. Our brains were not designed to handle this information overload.

Enter the brain break. Often used by teachers to help students focus, brain breaks are research-backed methods of reducing stress and energizing participants. The benefits go beyond the classroom. Adults need brain breaks, too, especially during stressful times. How do you feel after reading the news? If you come away feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious, it’s time to give yourself a break.

8 Ways to Balance Your News Intake with Brain Breaks 

1. Set a designated time to check the news. It’s normal to seek out information about what’s happening around you, especially in times of stressful world events, but the 24/7 news cycle can be detrimental to your mental health. Instead of checking your phone every five minutes, or having the TV on at all times in the background, set a designated time each day to check the news. When that time ends, put the phone down and move on to the next task.

2. Limit social media. It’s no secret that social media can have a negative impact on your mental health. Since news is such a big part of social media, if you’re limiting your news intake, you also should reduce your social media intake. Many phones can now track your daily screen usage, including the specific amount of time you spend on social media. It’s a good idea to review this number and if it’s higher than you’d like, start to set limits on usage. You can also keep yourself honest by setting a timer or deleting your social apps altogether.

3. Get outside. Nature has a powerful effect on your mental health. Being outside in nature can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. It can also help you refocus and stay connected to something bigger. There are endless ways to do this, from walking or jogging to hiking or gardening. Just make sure you’re following your local social distancing protocols when outside and wearing your sunscreen and hat.

4. Exercise. Physical activity is the perfect antidote to information overload. Exercise provides many physical and mental health benefits, and the good news is, it only takes 30 minutes of exercise to reap the benefits. There are many free at-home workouts that require little to no equipment.

5. Be deliberate with other media consumption. When the news is heavy, other forms of media are a great source of escapism. A cooking show, a new novel, a motivating playlist, or a wellness podcast are all great ways to focus your mind on something other than current events.

6. Schedule time to connect with friends and family. Luckily, we live in the age of technology, which means there are various ways to video chat with friends and family. Setting up daily or weekly chats with family and friends helps you stay connected to others and can be a wonderful way to relieve stress.

7. Explore some screen-free hobbies and activities. Use this time to try out screen-free activities and hobbies such as puzzles, knitting, painting, cooking, board games, gardening, or learning a new musical instrument.

8. Stick to a routine. The world is trying to adapt to a new normal these days, which is a huge adjustment to say the least. Thousands of people are social distancing while trying to juggle work with homeschooling, childcare, and the usual household chores. That said, keeping a routine will help create a sense of normalcy, even when it feels like the world is spinning out of control. Just remember to keep it flexible and simple. For example, focus on three things you’d like to do every day. It could be as simple as brushing your teeth, eating three meals, and getting at least 30 minutes of movement in.

 

Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Calega

About Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Calega

Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Calega is Vice President of Medical Affairs at Independence Blue Cross, where she is responsible for the ongoing analysis of utilization, medical cost, and health outcomes data, along with the development of interventions and programs to optimize these outcomes. Ginny is board-certified in internal medicine and geriatrics, is past Chair of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Medical Policy panel, and received the Pittsburgh Business Times 2016 Healthcare Hero Award for work on the innovative Highmark Cancer Collaborative. She completed her medical degree at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, her medical residency at Rhode Island Hospital, and her Master of Business Administration at Villanova University.