During the last few months of the vitriolic US presidential election, I started a descent into a very dark place, a dark place worsened by constant exposure to bad news, then more bad news, then worse news. I’m still trying to fully pull myself out of that dark place to this day. I know I’m not alone in this because it’s something I see coming up frequently for friends and clients. We want to be informed, we are devoted to staying woke…. but sometimes it feels like we might lose our last shreds of hope in the process.
Leading up to the election, it was not abnormal for me to spend 3 or more hours a day scrolling endless news articles, opinion pieces and social media posts related to current events. I would walk away from this haze of scrolling feeling dazed and energetically frazzled. Perhaps worst of all, I wasn’t really giving myself the proper space to process the news, to contextualize it, and to figure out how to respond consciously to what was happening in the world.
Ironically, what begins as a desire to stay informed can easily spiral into over exposure and hopelessness. And when you’re feeling fatigued and hopeless, how the fuck are you going to live a meaningful life and contribute to the betterment of society? What point is there to consuming all of this news if it doesn’t translate into truly increased awareness and real world action?
Once the election was over and the reality set in that things were only going to get scarier on a national and global scale, I knew I had to do something about the way I’d been consuming news. I started slowly but surely creating some boundaries for myself, and I’m still fine-tuning them to this day. What do you know? Now that I have some healthy boundaries in place, I am actually better informed, more capable of processing information, and still able to maintain some semblance of centeredness and hope.
Here are a few of the boundaries that have been useful for me:
Ask of any news source: “is this trying to inform me, or is this trying to win?”
A few months after the election, I saw this video (which you should totally watch because it features DOGS) from one of my favorite people on the internet, Hank Green. In this video, Hank says:
“We’re being asked to pay attention to a lot of different big things at the same time. The way that we’re fed content about what’s going on in the world right now is inefficient, and it’s overwhelming, and it’s manipulative. Too frequently now, the people who are tasked with trying to inform the public are trying to win rather than trying to inform, and that is something that I’m getting super sick of.”
When I heard this, I was like “hoooollly shit. Soooo true.” So much of what masquerades as news is actually just clickbait, purposefully designed to be inflammatory and prey upon emotions. Because humans are driven by our primal feelings, we sadly are more likely to engage with content that is designed to win – be that winning money or winning by denigrating the “other side”. So now, before I consume any news, I try to ask myself if what I’m engaging with is actually set up to INFORM me.
Structure your daily news intake.
This is especially important if you are, like me, a highly sensitive person. A few years ago I had no structure around the news: I’d randomly find myself logging into social media and clicking through random articles throughout the day. Sometimes I’d even check my phone first thing when I woke up. This was wreaking havok on me, making me useless to myself and society. So no more of that crap!
Here’s what my structure generally looks like now: I wake up and either meditate or go for a walk first thing. Then I have breakfast while going through my planner and mapping out my day. THEN – once I am spiritually and physically nourished – I check the news. I try to only give myself a certain amount of time (usually around 30 minutes max) to get caught up on current events. I will admit that I often end up scrolling through Twitter in the afternoon and get swept up in the news again, but I at least try to be structured about how much time I spend doing this. Which leads into the next point…
Be wise about your news sources.
We all know that certain news sources are biased towards one political spectrum, and it goes without saying that choosing news sources with as little bias as possible is ideal. My personal go-tos are PBS and NPR. NPR has a daily podcast called Up First that I listen to frequently. It’s only about 15 minutes long, so it’s not too overwhelming, and they do a pretty good job of describing what is happening without getting too swept up in commentary. PBS has a weekly political news digest that I receive via email. I also check NPR’s main homepage once or twice a day.
Differentiate between opinions and facts.
I really do believe it is important to be educated and aware of what is going on in the world. However, we have a strange culture around news right now. A lot of what we consider to be “news” is actually just someone else’s opinion on the news. Sometimes I find myself reading endless opinion pieces, or scrolling through people’s scathing political burns on Twitter, or watching politically minded comedians (ilu Stephen Colbert) and telling myself that this is all a part of keeping up with the news. But, uh, in reality…that’s keeping up with people’s opinions on the news, not the news itself.
There are times when I benefit from taking in other people’s perspectives. Sometimes another person’s thoughts can help me consider my own thoughts more deeply. So I’m not completely opposed to sitting with external opinions on current events by any means. I’ve just found it’s important for me to distinguish between “the facts” and “the opinions.”
Speaking of other people’s opinions, there is a masochistic part of me that wants to read the comments on every news article I encounter. People, do not be like me! Do not read the comments! When you read comments, you will probably wade through 99 garbage opinions to maybe find 1 helpful perspective. I need to get a lot better at following my own advice on this one.
…continue reading: part two.