Stuck in the rabbit hole of bad news? Here are some tricks to stay informed without feeling overwhelmed.
The other day I found myself feeling anxious. I hate using the word anxious - it can often trigger people and is a word overused and oversimplified for the unbearable feeling it creates. Although more people, including young children, seem to be experiencing anxiety it's still really hard to define, rationalise and measure.
Up until the age of about 20, I used to have panic attacks and anxiety over the thought of dying. I loved living so much I hated the fact that one day it would inevitably end. Combined with the unknown of what and if anything came after, it would cause me to run into my mums bed, crying in a fit of fear. As I grew up and my anxiety matured with age, it developed into different fears like global warming or getting jumped on the street by strangers.
These are all scary things to think of, and most of them uncontrollable and yet my mind would obsess over them most days. We've all done it - the obsession. Thinking of bad things like someone close to us dying, or obsessing over how we would have won an argument differently or how to find that driver who cut you up on the high street.
It wasn't until I became a bit more self-aware that I could realise that my brain would trick me into believing I was feeling anxious about external uncontrollable things, instead of dealing with the present thing in my life that was actually the true cause of my anxiety. Whether that was family issues, change coming up or a friends older brother strangling me at school. Being scared over the impending doom, was weirdly less scary then dealing with the one up close and personal.
Now living in Bali, and a lot more conscious of who and what I really am, my anxiety rarely comes out to play. So a few days ago, when I was riding my motorbike home and looking at beautiful Bali rice-fields, I noticed the thoughts starting to creep up and clog my brainwaves. It was thoughts of fear, anxiety and unease for no apparent reason. Where the hell had this come from?
I realised I'd been jamming my information pathways with pretty horrific news that week. I'd consumed the following content:
Seaspiracy - A documentary looking at the devastating effects of mass farm fishing and nets the size of football fields clearing out the ocean, causing climate change. Netflix.
The Trials of Gabriel Fernàndez - A documentary series about the murder and torture of an 8 year old boy by his mother and stepfather, and how certain agencies failed him. Netflix.
Going Dark: The Secret Lives of Extremists by Julia Ebner - A look at the scary online recruitment and social media tactics used to join and connect extremists, FYI a spoiler alert, the far right dominate the movement more than ISIS. Book.
The Mauritanian - A movie based on the true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a man falsely imprisioned in Guantanamo Bay. Movie.
Game of Thrones - Ok, rewatching the GOT series could definitely be seen as my own choice, however it's still pretty depressing!
Most people would just answer with don't watch the news. And this is good advice, especially with click bait, false news and a desire to get us all in fear so we consume more content. But if you're anything like me, then you want to be informed and aware so that you can hopefully make changes or have an impact - big or small. Even if that's just simply making sure you recycle, not buying mass farmed fish or being informed on a topics such as how people get enticed into extremism, so you can hopefully recognise or identity it in someone else before it's too late.
Which leads us to a big debate. To be informed on world news but risk feeling overwhelmed and going down the rabbit-hole of bad news? Or stay naive and ignorant, having a nice life but not having much impact.
Like most answers I think it comes in the form of balance. It's important to know what's going on so you can try and help where you can, this is how all change inevitably happens. But like Elizabeth Gilbert says, if you go into a trauma state yourself - you can't help anyone. Climbing into someone else's rockbottom, isn't going to get you or them out of it. So be in the know, without becoming over consumed to a point of inaction or anxiety.
I think a lot of us have felt this way, especially during Corona! Most people have been locked in their homes, consumed by information and restricted from things that normally keep them sane. This is the time when we have to really monitor how much we take in and use counteractive techniques that can help us be aware, without falling to pieces.
Limit how much information you take in. Whether that's only half an hour news in the morning or reading one chapter of your book a day. Set those boundaries! TV off and book down. Don't get trapped in the addiction of bad news.
Fill up your cup! Do things that make you feel good, whether that's baking, talks with family or friends, or doing something creative. Bringing yourself into present moment is a great way to counteract anxiety.
Breathing! Taking deep breathes is a way to s-l-o-w everything down, the thoughts and feelings, and the anxiety that feels like it's taking hold of your body. Breathing centres you, is anything actually wrong in this very moment right now that you can change?
Humour! Honestly laughing in the face of fear not only calms your nervous system but it brings you back to reality - as bad as it seems it's not all bad. Watch that stupid Youtube video of a cat chasing its shadow.
Watch that documentary and take what you need from it, do the things that you can do like signing petitions, donating to organisations or spreading the word, and then let-it-go. If you can't let it go, do something more and make it bigger, starting your own organisation? Writing to your PM? Remember one person can have a massive impact, but once you've done all you can then let-it-go!
Research! In a world full of ramming bad news in your face, make an effort to research really positive things that have happened lately. Instead of looking at photos from that one protest that turned violent, look at photos of the 19 peaceful protests that didn't.
Take a break - If you can feel yourself getting anxious, or there's been a lot of information lately. Take that much needed break without guilt or shame, and go back to number 2.
It's important to shine the light on issues so that we can help change them, but when we get lost searching for that light, we can become paralysed and ultimately useless. You can't look after others, without looking after yourself first.
By Amy Manson.
If you've enjoyed this read, sign up to my newsletter below: