FOR the past week, scrolling the news has been difficult. In every newspaper and on every news outlet website, the top stories are gut-wrenching, frustrating and terrifying. The same is true for the stories amplified on television and radio news.
This is, of course, the way media companies make money. The tragedies, outrageous quotes from politicians, and suggestions of corruption get our attention and we immediately want to know more. Whether or not we actually get more information or end up with even more questions and confusion after reading the article or hearing the audio clip is a toss up. It is almost guaranteed, however, that we will feel worse.
People often comment that the news is depressing, that there isn’t enough good news, and that it may even be better to simply not know what is going on in the country. There is obvious tension there.
As residents, it is our responsibility to be engaged. To pay attention. To participate in public conversation. To contribute to change.
In order to truly engage, we have to be informed. Second-hand information is usually insufficient and sometimes incomplete or misleading. We need to access the news for ourselves, read past the first page and make our own assessments.
It can also be helpful to tune in to some of the commentary from fellow residents. What are other people saying about the news? Which stories are getting the most attention? Who is most affected by what is happening? Why are certain groups of people more focused on a particular stories? Which news stories are not being amplified by the media or discussed by members of the public? What different opinions are being shared? What emotions are beneath the reactions?
It is easy to stay within our own bubbles. Our social circles are often full of people who have similar experiences to ours, think in the same ways and take the same positions. This can lead us to believe, incorrectly, that we are all on the same page in the country. Because we hear one narrative and one set of ideas, it is easy to be misled, thinking there is a larger group of people that want what we want and hold the positions we do than there really is.
Consuming the news is not enough. Exposure to different ideas and positions helps to give broader, more complete understanding of where we are as a people and, by extension, what is possible in the short-term.
LIMITING NEWS INTAKE
While we need to be informed and engaged, it is important to know and acknowledge our limits. There is no competition to know the most about what is currently happening in the country, the region or the world. There is no need to consume news all day, regardless of the frequency of reports. For those who listen to the radio, several stations play a short version of the news every hour, and although it is often the same, hearing the same stories over and over again can have negative effects.
If we are constantly receiving inputs — almost all of them negative — throughout our days, we can only expect to have similar feelings and some of it will spill into our outputs.
News has become not only a regular part of our day, but an almost ever-present part. It is no longer limited to the six o’clock or seven o’clock evening broadcast. It is not only published in newspapers. It is now in an all-day stream with radio talk shows delving into particular news stories and it is discussed on social media.
When social media conversations get going, it is difficult to walk away. Most people observe interactions, receiving many inputs and possibly having offside conversations, and others actively participate, sharing thoughts, arguing points, and presenting additional information. With this constant stream of news and commentary, challenging topics take up a large portion of our days (and our energy) without us even realising it. If we are not intentional about setting limits, it will go on this way.
There are likely specific times of day that we can identify as unsuitable for consuming news. One may be first thing in the morning. Hearing about murders and reading about fatal accidents are not good ways to start a day. We can implement guidelines for ourselves which can be as simple as ensuring we have breakfast, have a chance to stretch, take a morning walk, or have a pleasant conversation with family members or friends before turning to the news. For some, especially those who experience physiological effects, it may be best to avoid news around meal times. It can also be a good idea to avoid the news right before bed. For those with children, it can be helpful to avoid the news on the drive to school if they may need extra time to think about how they would like to talk to their children about news items and answer questions they may have.
In addition to making decisions about consumption, specific to times of day and frequency, we also need to protect our mental and emotional spaces. It is okay to exit a conversation. It is okay to refuse to participate in an engagement, or to end it when others want to continue. It can be helpful to start any engagement regarding the news, especially on topics that you find very upsetting, to give yourself permission to leave at any time. It is up to you whether or not you let people know at the start that you may need to check out, but you do not need their permission. Do what works for you, and a have a plan for when you need to take care of yourself.
Moments of feeling overwhelmed can happen throughout the day. You may be disheartened by news, disappointed by the commentary being made by colleagues, or triggered by a story. It is important to notice these moments and take a personal action that will help you to continue your day.
Go outside. Yes, it is hot, but even a minute of sunlight and fresh air can help. It is like pressing a reset button. When feeling tired, when you need a break, and when you would like to start again, try stepping out of the building, looking at the sky, taking in the beauty of a tree, stare out at the ocean, for simply breathe deeply.
Express it safely. You may not be prepared to directly address the issue bothering you, but it can help to put it somewhere outside of your headspace. You can record a rant in a voice memo on your phone, write a journal entry, or call a trusted person (and be sure to confirm that they have the capacity to listen).
Shake it out. You can take a minute to shake your body, especially arms and legs, to physically mark and express the removal of that initial response from your headspace. It is a way to take control and recognise your ability to press pause on a response and put your focus somewhere else until you are able to mentally engage that response.
Grounding exercise. Particularly for those with anxiety, it can be helpful to engage the senses. If possible, sit with your feet flat on the floor and take a deep breath. Identify five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.