Holy crap, the news has been a doozy again this week! How have you been holding up? Are you suffering from news overwhelm? How many times this week have you winced before opening the news or your e-mail? Did you open it only to slam it shut again a few minutes later? I mean, it’s a Pandora’s box, isn’t it?
Are there days that you’re so overwhelmed that you can’t bring yourself to open it at all? Do you flee to your favorite numbing spot instead (binging on Netflix lately? HGTV? Candy Crush? I’m not judging–me too a few times)
And then what about the hours afterwards? Do you start to feel guilty about hiding? I do sometimes. You know you should go see what’s happening. You feel weak for not being able to handle it. Maybe you start to think about how lucky you are, the privileges you have and that only makes you feel even guiltier. You brace yourself, finally open the news, and end up feeling exhausted and drained by the end of it all. And tomorrow the news cycle is only going to bring even more agony.
I worry about you. I worry about us, all of us, getting too worn out to be able to keep up with it all. And we have to. Literally lives depend on it.
So I’m writing to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are simple, concrete strategies you can use to stay in touch with what’s happening in the world without drowning. You can weather the storm and come out the other side more focused and more informed. Here’s 7 strategies that really do work:
1. Pick your moments wisely
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT read the news all day long. Think about when you have time to digest what’s happening, AND also have a little extra time to process any emotions that the news might bring up. Set aside a good time of the day when you’re feeling centered and calm to read it, preferrably when you’re sitting down or resting. For me, it’s first thing in the morning with my cup of coffee in the sun by one of my favorite windows. I read it again in the afternoon on a break. Sometimes I’ll read it at the end of my day for a few minutes, but lately I’ve been trying to resist the temptation because it distracts me from a good bedtime. Reign yourself in.
Don’t try to catch up on the news in those 10 free minutes you have before that important meeting. Don’t try to read the latest headlines while your kid is demanding an extra yogurt, cookie, the socks with the pink stripes and the kittens not the purple ones, or why-oh-why-for-the-love-of-humanity can’t she wear her Frozen princess costume to school today??? (not familiar? is this just in our household? ok, then.)
Split focus is exhausting, especially if you’re juggling emotionally charged material. Seriously, if Facebook or Twitter or a newsreader previously was your midday checking-out strategy find another one. Or liberally use the “save” and bookmark features. Which brings us to the next strategy…
2. Limit your doses
Pick a start and end time. If you don’t do this you risk falling down a news rabbit-hole. Just fifteen minutes becomes an hour. So settle on a time that you want to read for, and stick to it. Set a time on your phone if you have to. Personally, I aim for 30-40 minutes.
Is there too much news to keep up with? Don’t try. I’m not kidding. Trust me, there are very few things that require that you read about them that instant. In most circumstances you can read about it two hours later and nothing will have changed. Save things to read later. When it’s your preferred time to check in with the news, go back to that list. Pick the most important articles. Read those in the times you have. Save the rest. The news cycle will slow down next week sometime and you can go back and catch up. And those things you didn’t get to reading probably won’t shatter your world if they go missed.
Don’t let FOMO take over your life.
3. Limit your sources
There has been a lot of talk about fake news. But even among reliable news sources there is a lot of repetition. News is an echo chamber. It’s not necessary for you to read the same story re-hashed six different ways. It is important to diversify your news sources. Pick a few different publications that you trust, with different perspectives, from more conservative leaning to more liberal. Subscribe. Then do the scan-and-save.
What I find is that at the end of a news cycle I’ve saved three or four different articles on the same topic. So I pick the one or two that seem like they’ll give me the most comprehensive understanding of the topic quickly. I delete the rest, or save them for a slow news day if I want to go deeper into an issue.
Essentially, find yourself a varied diet and don’t overeat.
4. Hang onto a sense of perspective
The sky isn’t falling–yet. It’s hard to tell that from the news. It seems like every day there’s a new indignity, a new group of people being targeted, a new crisis emerging.
This is going to sound callous. I’m sorry. I’m gonna say it anyway. Truth be told, there’s a reason we say “disadvantaged groups.” Not, “groups-where-somebody-just-started-being-unfair-to-them-yesterday.“ A lot of this–the sweeping up of immigrants, police shootings, the erosion of environmental protections, denying healthcare to the poor, the corporate handoffs and backroom deals–has been going on for a long time now. A lot of this is not news to anyone who’s been in fighting for justice for a while.
Does this mean you shouldn’t be outraged? I’m not saying that. It’s all outrageous and infuriating. But don’t let the ocean of “new” crises get you feeling overwhelmed. Adrenalin rushes are exhausting. Pace yourself. This is the struggle. It always has been. It’s just getting more news time now.
Read the articles for when the problem started (lots of times it was during the Obama adminstration or even before–crises don’t start overnight). Get a sense of if this is a new, emerging crisis or if it’s one that’s existed for a long time. Our strategies to solving each type of problem will be different, and your response should be too. Which leads us to the next kind of perspective: history.
5. Know your history
And yes, some of it really is worse. Or it was bad before and now is getting downright awful. It’s really helpful to have a mental timeline and sense of how things were before. History gives us balance. History tells us what was baseline normal before, it shows us what’s truly wack about today’s reality, and it helps us see where we could be headed.
While we’re talking about perspective, I also think it’s worth taking a moment to say a little hallelujah for the fact that we are more connected now than ever. We’re actually seeing things that have been happening for a long, long time. Hallelujah that people who used to be oppressed in the shadows are now being heard. Amen that we are now having a nationwide dialogue about these problems and how they all intersect. It’s hard to hear about all of it, for sure. However, when we look to history we can see that this is what progress looks like. Laundry water always looks murky and ugly when you’re working to get something clean. I’m grateful that we’re getting the chance to do the work.
And while we’re talking about gratitude…
5. Ground yourself
Even when you’ve limited your sources, how long you read, and read keeping the big picture in mind it’s still exhausting to bear witness to the infinite sadnesses and struggles this world can offer. It’s just a lot to take in. So breathe. Just breathe darling. Here’s a few ways do that:
Do you have a gratitude practice? If you’re not familiar with them, it’s just a simple routine of saying Thank You for the good things in your life. It balances out the negative thought patterns we can get stuck in. Me–I do a daily bullet journal with 3 things I’m thankful for just before (or after) I sit down with that cup of coffee in the morning to read the news. I have a friend who’s a revolutionary Catholic and she says grace with every dinner; she lets her kids say the traditional “give us our daily bread” or they can say a point of joy or what they are grateful for from their day. It really doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you pick a regular way to find the positive.
Take a Nature Walk
Green is healing. So is fresh air. And sunlight. Take some time to get outside, even if it’s just to walk the dogs down to the corner. Give your mind that mental reset.
Spend Time with Family
I know a lot of activists who need to go spend time with their kids after a hard news day. Holding your loved ones close is a really good survival strategy. What better way to remind yourself of reminds your values, of what’s important, and why we’re fighting?
Go Get a Hug
People need to connect. Especially after we’ve seen awful things. Even if you don’t have close family, finding a good friend who will let you literally lean on them helps a ton. Hugs also help us release oxytocin, a natural happy drug that combats depression, anxiety, stress, and even lower blood pressure. But none of that hollow-chested, pat-on-the-back, hug-and-release crap, ok? It’s gotta be a good, solid hug that lasts at least 6-10 seconds for good effects to kick in.
6. Avoid helplessness
So we’ve trimmed down the amount of news we’re ingesting and we’ve grounded ourselves afterwards. Now we need the final ingredient: action.
I’m gonna be blunt here, my friend. If you stay informed just to be informed without ever putting that knowledge into practice, well, you might as well have just stayed playing Candy Crush. I don’t think it’s enough to just be aware. You have to act.
Moreover, taking action makes us feel better. There’s good science that shows that when we move away from staring helplessly at the big picture and take small, concrete actions, we can combat depression.
So once you read the news, if it’s got you way down in the dumps find a way to make the world better. It can related to the news that’s bothering you, or it can be a simple thing. The trick is to make your goals small and measureable. Give $5 online or to a local charity, go volunteer at the Sunday soup dinner at church, volunteer on a local campaign. Or go pay the toll for the person behind you in line. But make sure it’s a real, human connection with concrete results that you can see. Get grassroots, get local.
Listen to the World Calling
So there they are, my 7 strategies for making it through a news cycle.
The final step is the most important. Listen to the world, listen to its cries calling to you, and take action. This is the best, surest way to avoid feeling washed out. It’s counter-intuitive, but true. Simple, concrete actions will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and will make you feel like you’re not a victim of the news cycle. And if enough of us do it together, we actually will be changing the world one little movement at a time.
So what’s the one little action you’re going to take as a result of reading the news this week? Tell me in the comments!
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