• News: How to stay informed without poisoning your peace of mind

    August 25, 2016 | curtrosengren
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    How do you balance the need for self-care with the desire to stay informed about what’s going on in the world around you?

    In my work helping people feel more energized and less stressed, one of the experiments I often suggest is a news fast. For X period of time (the longer, the better, but at least a week) refrain from watching the news and see how it feels.

    I frequently get pushback on that idea along the lines of – and I’m paraphrasing here – “it’s selfish and self-centered to focus on feeling better through ignorance of what’s happening in the world.”

    But it doesn’t have to be either/or. Yesterday I looked at what the research says about consuming negative news. Today I want to take a look at how to stay informed and maintain your sanity in the process.

    Aim for “informed enough”

    The first seed I want to plant is the idea of being “informed enough.”

    Simply put, informed enough means having enough information that you understand the broad brush strokes of what’s happening, but not so much that you’re immersing yourself in every gory detail.

    Imagine the latest horrible news, maybe a terrorist attack or another mass shooting. It might be good to have a broad brush awareness of what happened. What’s not so helpful though is immersing ourselves in every horrible detail, or every little piece of information that makes us outraged.

    It’s tempting to click on just one more article, watch just one more video about it. One way to be more conscious about your choice is to pause first and ask questions like:

    • Is this relevant to my life?
    • Will it help me make a decision or take an action? How?
    • Do I really need more information, or is this just titillating?

    There may well be times when you decide you really do need more information. In that case, make it a conscious decision to go deeper, rather than an unthinking, knee-jerk response.

    Finally, recognize that even if you completely swear off going to news sites or listening to or watching the news, you’ll likely get a lot by osmosis if you spend much time at all on social media sites. It actually takes extra effort to remain completely uninformed.

    Keep it in perspective

    Remind yourself – again and again and again – that what you see in the news is disproportionately negative. It in no way reflects the full scope of what’s really going on in the world.

    The news media are in business to make money, not to keep you informed. And they know that what people respond to most is negative news. News sites online pay attention to what stories get the most traffic, and it’s in their best financial interest to give us more of the same. And what pulls us in? What makes us reflexively click? Negative news! It’s just the way our brains are wired. And so they give us more of what we’ll respond to.

    (As a side note, here’s a related thought to consider. Every time you click on a link to a story about what’s horrible and wrong in the world, it’s literally a vote for more of the same.)

    No news is good news

    For most people, lower-stress news consumption starts with scaling back the amount of news they take in. It also helps to be more strategic about when you consume it.

    Do a news fast

    I encourage you to start with a news fast. If it feels doable , try it for thirty days. If that feels unlikely, try it for seven, with an option to renew if you decide you like how it feels.

    The first benefit is that it’s a mini-vacation for your mind from the stress you keep inflicting on it with the news. The second benefit is that it gives you a better frame of reference for the impact the news is really having.

    It’s worth taking a news fast on occasion just to give your mind a break.

    Say no to news in the morning

    What you feed your brain first thing in the morning shapes your outlook as you head into the rest of your day. So stop watching the news in the morning. Instead, feed your brain something more positive and uplifting.

    Say no to news before bed

    Similarly, resist the urge to dive into the news before bed. Your brain uses sleep time to consolidate learning. Is the latest tragic news really the view of the world you want to reinforce? (I’m guessing no.)

    Say no to TV news

    Finally, when at all possible, say no to TV news. I say this for two main reasons. First, you have no control over what you’re being fed. It’s impossible to practice conscious news consumption when your brain is at the receiving end of a conveyor belt of toxic news.

    Second, because of its multimedia nature – that is, because the images and sounds make it closer to real life – TV news has much more potential to trigger stress and reinforce that experience in our brains. Bottom line, TV news is a higher octane shitbomb. Avoid it.

    Build the inner foundation

    Staying informed while maintaining your sanity is about more than just filtering what news you consume. It also involves building an inner foundation so you feel more stable and less reactive.

    Meditation and mindfulness

    In The Aliveness CODE framework, one of the key components is “grounding and presence.” A grounding practice like meditation can keep you feeling more centered, and a mindfulness practice helps you keep coming back to the present moment instead of spinning out with worry, fear, and anxiety based on what you see in the news.

    The more solid your inner foundation, the less potential there is for what’s going on in the world out there to throw you for a loop.

    Self-care is service

    If you find yourself grappling with the feeling that you shouldn’t place your well-being above the need that society has for you to be well-informed, remember this:

    Self-care is service.

    Spinning yourself into a frenzied ball of anxiety and stress isn’t in the interest of the greater good. If you really want to make an impact in the world, you have to take care of yourself along the way. Not only will you have more to put into making the world better, you will also show up in a way that naturally has a positive effect.

    Listen to yourself

    A couple days ago, I find myself starting to constrict and get stressed about the state of the world. I could feel it impacting everything, from the how I felt to what I saw as possible. When I notice that feeling start to grow, it’s a good sign that it’s time for me to back off from the news for a while.

    Learning to listen to yourself – your thoughts, emotions, physical sensation – is a good guide to dancing on that edge between informed and poisoned. With practice, you can get adept at recognizing when it starts to tip over into too much.

    Manage your social media

    Finally, let’s talk social media. Even if you go on a complete news fast, if you spend any time on social media you’re still going to get hit with it. What to do? Here are a couple ideas.

    Limit your time

    First and foremost, just limit the time you spend on social media. The less time you spend there, the less the cumulative effect of second-hand news will impact you.

    Unfollow toxic feeds

    This one has been an important part of making my Facebook feed more conducive to what I want to experience and reinforce in my day. I try not to unfollow people because I don’t agree with them – I think there is value in being exposed to diversity. People who constantly post about what’s wrong, what they’re outraged about, and how horrible “those people” are (whoever “those people” happen to be) are likely to find themselves on the receiving end of an unfollow.

    Make a positive feed

    This morning I created a list on Twitter titled “Change the World.” I added only people whose focus is making the world a better place, whether internally or externally.

    As I scrolled through the resulting feed, I could feel a visceral response in my body, a softening and relaxing. A feeling that, “Wait, there IS a ton of good in the world if I just take time to notice.”

    You can have it both ways

    To sum it all up, the bottom line is that staying informed and maintaining a positive state of mind aren’t mutually exclusive, but it takes a conscious approach to have both.

    How about you? What helps you maintain your peace of mind?

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