This has been an exhausting week in terms of keeping up with the world. Lots has happened. Lots has been really sad, disappointing, upsetting, and tough. I've felt a lot of anxiety around trying to inform myself about current events without allowing myself to become anxious or overwhelmed, which is not an easy combination. Here are some things that have helped me.
1. Stay off/limiting social media.
As much as it kills me to say, I have a Facebook problem. Many (most) of my friends have moved past this stage, but Facebook is still the website that I go to when I don't have anything else to do. Because of that, I find myself mindlessly scrolling through status after status - people's complaints, the products people are selling, photos of engagements and babies being born, etc. It's not all bad! But it is a LOT of input for one brain, especially when most of it is white noise. Reading about how the person who sat behind me in Algebra feels about the transgender ban in the military is not, in my opinion, a helpful way to process how I feel about it.
Twitter is another danger zone. This week, I found myself all spun up about John McCain's decision to vote "Yes" on the proposed healthcare legislation, only to find later that what he voted "Yes" to was to open the floor to debate the plan - not the plan itself (in fact, he voted "No" on the plan last night, so, ya know.). I am still unsupportive of this choice, but a series of fifteen angry tweets by my peers led me to believe that something more catastrophic had happened than had actually happened. This happens to me A LOT - allowing the opinions of others to work me up into a froth. Had I done my own research, I would've figured out what was really going on and saved myself the embarrassment of tweeting something dumb.
2. Seek out credible news sources, and, even then, limit what you choose to read.
If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you've probably heard me rave about theSkimm, which is a daily e-mail consolidating all the important sound bytes and news items of the day into a digestible, easy-to-read, ten-minute experience.
But theSkimm is far from the only platform offering services like this: The New York Times has launched its own capsule daily news, as has NPR. Whatever news source you enjoy, it's likely that they'll start offering something similar.
The reason this has been so effective for me is because I can't mentally and emotionally process a constant, day-long stream of opinions and updates about the world. Doing so makes me unproductive, depressed, and often keeps me from holding valuable perspective about what's going on vs. how big a deal it's being made into. Processing my information at once, every day, in the mornings, has made me able to retain more information and feel more confident, informed, and stable. I've stopped watching cable news completely and GOSH does that make a difference.
3. Talk about it.
Something about talking through tough issues with my peers or parents is helpful to me. I think being able to just verbally dump all my concerns on the people I love and then have them help me sort through it makes me feel like the walls aren't collapsing in on me. It's probably because I'm a verbal/written processor. I know that shocks you!
Allowing other people into your head means you aren't alone in there. Holy hell, my head is a scary place sometimes. I bet yours is, too. Don't get trapped in there by yourself. Talk to your people. If your people are good ones, they'll help you make sense of it all. Things aren't as scary with a community around you. It's tribe mentality, and boy, does it work.
4. Call your legislators.
Oh, the instant joy that comes with hanging up after calling a legislator and leaving a voicemail for his or her aids to listen to later. Not impolite ones. Just normal, "Hey, this is how I feel, can ya let my boy/girl know?" sort of things.
Y'all, people are passionate, but I'll tell you what does almost nothing: e-mails to your legislators. Facebook posts. Twitter rants. I'm not knocking these outlets on their own - often, you can get a lot of relief from either reading one or penning one of your own - but those things by themselves produce nothing but a momentary laugh, nod, or grimace from readers. It is so rare for a piece of writing to galvanize anyone to action without follow up of some sort.
Calling your legislators and letting them know how you feel isn't just a way to blow off steam - it's actually part of our duty as citizens of this country. It digs way down to the bones of what makes America America. No march, no rant, no article, no 140 characters can do anything by itself. Keep calling, keep calling, keep calling.
5. Remember that the 24-hour news cycle requires news.
It wasn't so long ago that there were four channels and a hard stop to broadcasting every night that concluded with the national anthem. Since then, the monster of the 24-hour news cycle has been created. And it is HUNGRY.
The mere fact of this neverending parade of news means that there has to be content to fill it, whether that content is meaningful or not. That might mean bringing so-and-so's ex-boyfriend's dog sitter on to offer her analysis of a situation, of bastardizing a truly tragic news story (like Charlie Gard), or reporting on content that no one is sure about yet for the sake of having something to put on TV. News media, it seems, cares less and less about credible sources and more and more about ratings.
Fake News isn't just a thing that happens by clicking suspicious links your aunt posts on Facebook. I'd like to submit that Fake News can also mean stories about real events, but that those stories are inflamed and beaten to death to a degree that they mislead the public. It's just not responsible, and it's a product of the current need for news to be ALL THE TIME.
So. Take a breath and step away from the computer if ya need to (I do). It's our job as consumers to CHOOSE what we listen to. I am terrible about having something "on" just for the sake of having noise in the background - I'm not even listening to it. Turn on some instrumental music. Sit in silence. If that's too much, flip on a white noise machine. But do SOMETHING to allow yourself a decompression every day, away from the noise of the world. Re-set. Otherwise, your brain might just become its own never ending newsfeed of anxiety-producing material that you just can't seem to get on top of.