Bad News Fatigue


If there’s a single word that concisely reduces today’s topic to a near-perfect impact-to-letter ratio, “coronavirus” is a winner. In the time it took to type this, I’ve overheard the word at least twice, right here at MD HQ. Despite being a member of one of the relatively few populations for whom the COVID-19 virus is actually a potentially life-threatening concern and understanding that an overwhelmed healthcare delivery system is a larger threat than the actual virus to society, if we’re being honest…I’m kind of over it. Coronavirus has become synonymous- for me, at least- with bad news fatigue.

It’s not as though the looming concern over a pandemic has a monopoly on anxiety lately. By the time February rolled around, there were already memes circulating about January being the longest year ever thanks to one tragic happening after another. Try as we might to remain chipper or upbeat, the psychological effects of bad news build over time, and have potential to wear down our sense of wellbeing.

Compassion fatigue is real, first identified as a problem faced by caretakers in high-stress positions, such as ER trauma surgeons. “Bad news fatigue” is a more generalized, slightly lower-grade strain of burnout, an unsurprising consequence of how much bad news there seems to be at any given moment. Combine that bad news with our ability to share it in real time and a widespread inability to look away from social media for more than a few minutes, and frankly it’s kind of amazing we’re not all suffering from even worse anxiety.

The automotive retail industry isn’t immune to bad news; as we’re all painfully aware, automotive has its own subset of worrisome issues. Adding world-at-large problems is a recipe for poor mental health with a stress cherry on top. In a business that relies on building and maintaining relationships with customers, it’s more than a little important to, you know, not be so stressed that you add to your customers’ anxieties by osmosis. At the same time, faking positivity can come across as disingenuous, possibly even fostering mistrust customers who are themselves on edge. So how do you manage to cope with the stresses of modern life and put others at ease?

As mentioned when we talked about wellness and the employee experience, the importance of self-care can’t be understated. There are certainly more ways to combat bad news fatigue, but any of the following make a great place to start.

Turn it off.

So this may seem obvious, but taking a break from the endless stream of bad news is necessary to avoid being overwhelmed by it.

This doesn’t mean you should hide under a rock and ignore the news altogether, but knowing when enough is enough and backing off for a bit is a valuable self-care skill. We are wired to care about others. Empathy and compassion are good of course, but overexposure to the woes of the world at large can wear those qualities down, numbing us to the struggles of others. Given long enough, that wear can extend to having difficulty relating to others at all. How this is bad for your relationships with your customers shouldn’t require much explanation.

Take care of yourself.

It may be a bit cliché, but the whole “put your oxygen mask on first, then help others” trope really is a thing. Taking an occasional break from bad news to recharge your own mental batteries is a start. Follow through by getting enough sleep (a minimum of seven hours per night is recommended), eating a healthy diet and getting an adequate amount of exercise.

It can be surprising just how effective taking proper care of physical needs can affect mental and emotional wellbeing. Likewise, ignoring those needs can result in a negative feedback loop of declining mental health and emotional wellness. Poor habits become increasingly difficult to break over time. Why wait until tomorrow to do what you can do today? When it comes to self- care, you’ll thank yourself for not procrastinating in developing better mental hygiene and wonder why you didn’t start sooner.

Look out for others, too.

Thankfully, awareness of the importance of mental health at work is on the rise. This is fortunate as depression and anxiety seem to be as well, with depression alone costing the average medium-sized company over a million dollars in lost productivity each year.

It wasn’t so long ago that societal norms led many to suffer in silence. These days the stigma that was once attached to even discussing mental health issues in public has fallen by the wayside. Companies are starting to recognize the benefits of mental health first aid at work. Human beings are social animals, and as noted in the article linked to above, what affects us in life affects our work. Reaching out to check in on colleagues who may be struggling– or could just do with a reprieve from the bad news cycle themselves– can do wonders for our own wellbeing while fostering a culture of mental health at work.

Remember: it’s not all bad.

The never-ending news may make it seem that as a species, we jump ceaselessly from one catastrophe to the next. It’s important to remember that occasionally people actually do amazing, creative, kind and/or just fun things now and then.

A couple of years ago, former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne had the brilliant idea to begin curating a website of reasons to be cheerful to combat the negativity dominating the 24-hour news cycle. If Byrne’s good news isn’t your cup of tea, find some elsewhere that is. Make a point of seeking out good news once in a while. It takes a bit more effort sometimes, but it’s worth it. A little good news can provide quite a bit of lift. Find some and pass some of that positivity on to your customers and teammates.

Here’s an automotive-related headline to get you started: coronavirus hasn’t stopped Americans from buying cars.   

If that isn’t good news, what is?

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