Hey, I just wanted to say I agree with what you said about “Kondoing the media". Listening to the media can make me really miserable and gloomy so I tune out sometimes, but at the same time I can't help caring about my fellow human beings so I keep going back to find out what's happening in the world. I just find it really hard to strike a balance. May I ask, how do you deal with it?
Hi, thanks for writing. This is a messy, complex issue, and like most other adulting problems, also something we have to keep working on every day, because there’s no way to just ‘solve it’ and move past it. I’m going to share some tips I got from research and wiser friends, but please remember it’s a theoretical list - there are days we just can’t cope, or we need to get angry, or whatever else, and that’s normal.
1) Understand how shit works: modern media and social networks are created to prey on your attention and make you Feel Strong Feels, because that’s how they get you to click on things and come back several times a day. Stay away from clickbait headlines and remember that most of what you read is designed to stress you out and hurt you.
2) Don’t use news alert systems. Unless you’re, like, the UN Secretary General, everything can wait. I generally check the news two to three times a day because I’m addicted, but it’s probably healthier to do it less. When I was a kid, we’d watch the evening news at 8, and it was plenty enough.
3) Learn about context. Instead of jumping from one tragedy to the next, try to really understand what’s going on. Choose ‘long read’ articles, go on Wikipedia, read good history books (for instance, Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography or Yuval Noah Harari’s works) so you can make sense of why stuff happens. This helps lessening that anguished ‘WHY IS EVERYTHING CONFUSING CRAP ALL THE TIME’ and giving you a sense of control over your environment.
4) Be careful with op eds and twitter threads. These are never exactly factual - they’re someone’s opinion, and because of how media work, today anyone who can stir up enough outrage is given a platform. Don’t encourage that.
5) Say no to gore and drama: when something bad happens, you don’t need the details. When someone died, you don’t need to hear them calling 911 or see the video of them getting shot (you already know what happened: they died), and this constant obsession with victims’ profiles and forcing their distraught relatives to cry on camera so you can sob your heart out for them is not healthy. Look after yourself.
6) Step out of your bubble from time to time. Mostly everything you see online is now customised for you, and places like Youtube will famously show you weirder and weirder stuff the longer you keep watching. Hearing from someone you don’t necessarily agree with is a good way to challenge your worldview, learn new things, and assess how serious a situation is. I usually buy The Economist every few weeks or so - I mostly don’t agree with them, but their articles are always informative, factual and well-written.
7) Keep some perspective: we don’t actually know what’s going to happen, very few things are inevitable or irreparable, and even fewer will matter in 5, 20, or 60 years’ time. Try to keep an eye on good news (for instance, with Hans Rosling video) and take a deep breath: bad stuff could lead to good things, and good things could have disastrous consequences. We’re not prophets.
8) Look after yourself in the right way: we’re constantly pressured to ‘treat ourselves’ and ‘indulge’ because ‘we deserve it’, which usually means buying crap we don’t need or eating food that’ll make our liver play dead. You’ll get a better deal for your (mental) health by taking a break the way our bodies were designed to do: enjoy a short walk in the sunlight, go find some trees and flowers, exercise, dance, meditate, make time to see people you love.
9) Belong: when we read bad stuff, or get bad news, we often feel powerless and isolated. Turning your attention to the community around you will make you feel better. Depending on your time and means, consider donating or volunteering. You could also train for a charity run, bake cookies for friends and neighbours, pick up trash when you go hiking - anything that reminds you you’re actually connected to, and important for, the world around you.
10) And when it comes to fiction: remember you have rights. Not every story is right for everybody all the time. Some stories are important, but they can wait. Others are not as good as you wanted them to be - there’s no shame in leaving them behind. Give a chance to difficult stuff on difficult topics, but do it responsibly: for instance, by watching it with friends, checking for warnings in advance, or reading reviews and interviews afterwards so you can understand it better. And: fiction is just fiction. It’s great, healthy and completely normal that you’re bonding with fictional characters, but this is what they are: fictional.
Finally, something useful I learned is that we tend to focus on, and remember, bad stuff more than good stuff because it’s a good strategy to survive in the wild. If you’re crossing a river and almost get your foot chomped off by a crocodile, it’s Very Important to ALWAYS remember you should be careful about that spot and possibly Stay The Hell Away From It. Unfortunately, in modern life this translates to ‘I can’t sleep because Hey, remember when Laura said your nose looked like a candlestick back in second grade and everybody laughed?? Yeah, me too’ and thus to anxiety and depression. If you find this is a serious problem for you, make a deliberate effort to see all the positive stuff happening around you (deliberate effort as in, notice it out loud or write it in a journal). A flower blooming? Positive. That old lady who smiled at you on the bus? Positive. The child at the grocery store chattering about butterflies? Positive. If you take the time to look, you’ll see there’s plenty of great stuff going on every day - you just don’t see it because it’s not life-threatening.
So this is mostly what I try to do. Some days are better than others, but that’s to be expected. If you’re a woman, it’s also likely you’ll have random moods depending on your cycle: track it and be forewarned (you can also experiment with your diet to make those symptoms better).
Understanding the world a bit better and playing an active role as a person and as a citizen doesn’t mean sacrificing your mental health. With some practice and a lot of patience, I think we can all find a balance that works for us. The important thing is to take it one day at a time and be compassionate - not only to others, but to ourselves.