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Episode 212: The Negativity Bias



And hello to you and welcome to the Richard Nicholls podcast.
The personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate and motivate you to be the best you can be. I’m psychotherapist Richard Nicholls and this is episode 212 it’s titled The Negativity Bias and if you're ready we'll start the show.

Hi everybody what you been up to? Have you seen the news lately? Bit rubbish isn't it. I've pretty much given up on it. Did you know that according to research in order to get your emotional state back to where it was before you experienced a negative stimulus. You need at least 4 experiences of something positive to erase the effects of that one experience of something negative?

It's because of what's called the negativity bias and because of that we really do have to try and filter what we're exposed to on a daily basis. Not easy when we've got news input from every corner of the house though. Modern technology was supposed to make our lives better wasn't it. Still waiting! The thing is we get carried away don't we. Instead of being happy with simply being able to turn on our computer and catch up on the news whenever we wanted to

rather than having to wait for the 6 o'clock news. We all went "Ooh whats next tomorrows world tell me about the shiny new future we're going to get!" And before we know it we've got our phone in our hands and were scrolling through endless feeds of horror and fear. Were we happy with the exposure and frequency of our news feed in the 1980's? I don't remember any conversation about being desperate

for more immediate access to information when I was 13 in 1988. I was too busy listening to Billy Idol and that seemed good enough. But to return to those times seems a bit rubbish doesn't it? Yet even then back in 1988, according to the author Richard Saul Wurman in his book Information Anxiety which he researched and wrote in 1988, the information in just one newspaper, even then, was more than the average amount

someone from 100 years earlier would get in their entire lifetime. Just think about that! In 1988 our daily exposure to the news even if we only read a newspaper was more than what most nineteenth century people got in their whole life. In 1988. And now look at us some people don't even get out of bed before they start scrolling through the news.

Which would be fine if it caused no harm. But it so easily could because as I said for every one negative thing we need 4 positive things to neutralise it. Stupid evolution. It makes sense though, the humans who's brains are influenced by finding berries more than were influenced by spotting tigers wouldn't have done so well. I mean yeah its great to spot a berry bush but forgetting where it was just means you need to find a new one.

You're likely to get another chance to do that. Forgetting that tigers jump out of bushes? Well, you're less likely to get a second chance with that one. So that's probably the reason why we have this negativity bias and if we're in a good place emotionally, psychologically then no harm done. If we're at 80% happy and don't even feel any different unless we go down to 50% then losing 10% because of the media

intruding into our brain won't hurt. might not even be noticeable. But if our base is only 60% then it makes a big difference to us because unless we work very hard we're probably not going to find 4 bits of good news in our day for every single piece of anxiety poking information we experience are we. It sounds weird but one thing to be aware of is what's sometimes called email apnea

(or screen apnea), you've probably heard of sleep apnea, the strange phenomenon where our breathing can stop whilst we sleep. Well former executive at Apple and Microsoft Linda Stone, who's a writer, and researcher, noticed that a lot of people (possibly up to eighty percent) unconsciously hold their breath, or at best breathe shallowly, when responding to emails or even text messages.

Breathing shallowly means to use only the top halves of your lungs as you breathe and combining it with holding your breath has been show in many studies to be a contributor to stress and even stress related diseases because it disturbs the body’s balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitric oxide you see. So watch your breathing. If you're breathing from the chest rather than from the stomach, or worse actually holding your breath throughout the day a lot,

then you've just found a quick and easy way to improve not just your mental health but your physical health as well. You lucky thing. So don't be anxious that you were doing it, be very happy now that you're not. Or at least not as much because thats you're homework for the week. Watch your breathing and whenever you remember, especially if you're watching the news or scrolling through social media, make sure that you're breathing using the bottom of your lungs, proper diaphragmatic breathing,

when you breathe in push your belly out a little bit, hold it for a few seconds and then let go slowly. If you're a long time listener of mine then you've heard me talk about diaphragmatic breathing before. But I do like to remind you. Because it's so important, whether you're watching the news or not. But if you do want to stay up to date with what's going on in the world then set aside time to do so. Make a time and a place for it.

Because otherwise it's got the potential to take up every time and every place hasn't it. Especially if you use social media. So designate certain times. Once a day might not seem like much and it might make you more anxious to not know what's going on out there but believe me the world will still be there when you check in with it, the news isn't going anywhere. But if you need it to be every 2 hours during the day then do that.

But set certain times and stick to it because if you've made your mind up that you'll look at 12 o'clock then at half 11 if you feel the need to see if the world has changed or if anyone has sent you any direct messages, you know that in NOT looking you're not missing out forever. It's just half an hour. And then you can have a scroll through it for a few minutes. But stick to it. If you say I'm going to look for 5 minutes every 2 hours then after 5 minutes. stop.

Yes there's probably more to scroll through. You can read it later it will still be there. It won't make you anxious to not check for long, it will feel normal and safe eventually. And if there's still room for improvement because got to be honest needing to look every single 2 hours is still quite a big chunk out of your day then eventually it can be just 2 or 3 times each day maybe eventually even once per day

maybe even there'll be certain days where you simply don't watch any news at all. Do not expose yourself to it at all. That would be really good for you. Do what's right for you. Maybe you don't need to limit your exposure to the news but just filter what you do watch a little bit. I use Twitter, some of you follow me on there and over the years I've ended up following thousands of people

who have posted stuff about mental health, people I thought deserved recognition for the things they post but I can't see everything that everyone posts so I've got specific people in lists. People that only post about the good news going on in the world, people that only post comedy sketches, people that don't bring me down if I'm feeling vulnerable. And days can go by where I've needed that list, especially over the last month, because I've wanted a connection with the outside world

but I didn't want fear. I wish we could do that with the real world sometimes I mean we can, it just means avoiding people that you know will bring you down. Unless of course the people that bring you down are your family and you live with them. But that's another story. Or maybe not I mean if there are people in your family that are dragging your mental health down and so you go and sit in your bedroom for a few hours scrolling through Twitter

then do make sure you've not just swapped one difficult interaction for another one, thinking that it's going to help. If you can filter your exposure so as to steer you towards the parts of the world that make you proud to be human rather than ashamed or angry or sad then you can develop a better strategy of self care whether that's to get you through self isolation cos you've tested positive for Covid, which it seems just does not want to sod off does it

If the last 2 weeks of my life is anything to go by. But (cough cough) I'm getting better, slowly but surely. Hopefully I'm going to do another test tonight and it'll be my first negative one for a couple of weeks, fingers crossed. Anyway, where was I? Yes. Difficult experiences will come and go. Presidents and political parties you dislike or even fear their rule will come and go. As the old phrase goes

"this too shall pass" it's important we remember that and not just for stuff like that but actually looking to the future to a time past a problem is very useful. When I have clients who have anxiety, panic attacks and they're fearful about leaving the house we'll go through a sort of Dude Where's My Car "And then?" process.

I get them to describe what will happen, the thing they're fearful of happening, realistic things that is, not "and then a meteorite hits me and the street explodes." But the experience that they're likely to have and we have an "and then?" moment. At first you might not like it, after all the reason for the anxiety might be because you're fearful of the future, thinking about it makes you feel bad that's the problem. That's why its best done with someone to help

guide you through it and in therapy we follow it through to its eventual conclusion which for most people is "It's forgotten about, it wasn't easy but it's done" for panic attacks even the worst case scenario is usually that they collapse in a shop, everyone crowds around them and it makes it worse. They feel like they can't breathe, someone calls an ambulance they get carted off overnight and checked out. Turns out they're fine, they get sent home and they're ok.

So keep the movie in your mind going because in my experience it does bring the fear down a bit. Avoiding thinking about things makes the brain dwell on it. We're programmed in our DNA to focus on the things we fear. But we tend to do it with the experience itself not the eventual outcome. So if we can bring the fear down a bit

by training the brain that even bad things come to an end it's going to help with the intrusive "I cant stop thinking about the worst case scenario" thoughts. Which is always nice. It does feel overwhelming though sometimes, life, the more you see of it the more there is to be overwhelmed with and I'd love to try and recreate the innocence that comes from being a toddler again. Not so long ago my wife said she wanted to watch the Mr Men. She's 45 in a couple of weeks.

I'm 46 and before we went to bed we watched the Mr Men. And it was so nice to be reminded of a time when my world was narrower. On Monday morning I woke up to 2 different Twitter experiences one was a strange combination of toxic masculinity and consequence culture with Will Smith giving Chris Rock a slap live at the Oscars because he made a quite cruel joke about his wife's shaven head

But it was followed immediately by a retweet by Dallas Campbell which was of the BBC archive showing the lovely Derek Griffiths on Play School in 1976 pretending to be on a boat and Dallas said "There should be a Derek Griffiths mindfulness app with soothing clips like this" and I thought, yeah adding Derek Griffiths and maybe old Bob Ross clips into our day is definitely going to dilute down the negativity. We might not be able to change the entire world, but we can make a dent

in the things that are important to us. I've met plenty of people over the years who are going through some sort of existential crisis and they try to gain some significance by campaigning for every charity they see. They can't. You cant! You'll be spread too thinly, so narrow it down. I support quite a few charities and I use the Patreon donations to do it with. I can't help them all.

We can chuck a few quid to the peoples dispensary for sick animals, the PDSA, on your behalf. I help the national deaf children's association, the National Trust, the Sussex Beacon and lately the Disasters Emergency Committee and the Red Cross. But what about the thousands that we don't. I can't feel guilty about that, but I can feel proud that I'm doing as much as I can, with your help by the way so thank you for that dearest patrons. So, narrow your interests down a bit,

if you're feeling anxious about the state of the world there's nothing wrong in just watching cat videos on YouTube for a few hours and sharing them with your friends and family on social media. We don't all need to be mental health campaigners in public, be an advocate for mental health awareness sure, but do it in your own way so you're not overloaded. And bring the "and then everything turned out OK" expectation into your mind, into your future. Let it become a part of who you are.

Look folks it's time already. Thanks again for your support and if you're a patron on Patreon or even a subscriber on Apple Podcasts as always I'll be back next week to do it again and if you have any specific questions for my new podcast project with Fiona Biddle called Therapy Natters then the link is in the show notes. If you didn't know about that by the way, Therapy Natters is a weekly podcast, comes out on Wednesdays where I sit down with my Psychotherapist colleague Fiona

and answer your questions about all things psychotherapy, please do have a listen and subscribe. Enjoy your week, enjoy the Mr Men if you like. Look to the future and I'll speak to you soon. Bye for now.