This week I went over blog posts I wrote last summer and it dawned on me – I really should have been in therapy.
I couldn’t sleep and had nightmares when I did. The kindest thing I could have done for myself would have been to get a good therapist and perhaps some anti-anxiety medication. I found my way through, but it took a long damn time and a huge step back from the news cycle.
Since a lot of other people seem to have the exact same problem, I wanted to talk about how to keep up on current events and still care for your soul. I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum this past year – up-to-the-minute and a hot mess and purposefully ignorant – and I think I’m starting to arrive at a balance.
It’s like walking a tightrope. You can’t help people if you don’t know what’s going on. Nor can you help if you’re a hot mess, in pain, and grieving 24/7.
Here are some guidelines I follow to stay sane while I stay informed.
1. Realize you can’t know about everything.
I set a time limit. It’s so easy to stay up past bedtime scrolling through Twitter. There are so many stories, good and bad. Sometimes I feel like I’m letting these people down if I don’t know all of them, like I’m just another white person who can’t be bothered to listen.
But my health affects the health of the community. There has to be a balance between staying informed and self care so when it comes time to actually do something with the knowledge you’ve gained, you’re ready and able.
2. Since you can’t know everything, prioritize information.
I can’t tell you what information you should prioritize, but here’s how I do it.
First, I prioritize marginalized people’s perspective. It is more time efficient to read a Navajo’s account of what happened in Navajo country than to read the New York Time’s version of what happened, because the Navajo was actually there.
Second, I prioritize events that are closer to me. It’s not that I don’t care what goes on outside our borders or in other states – I do. It’s just that I have less influence over the outcome. For instance, I want to know that other states are passing dangerously restrictive abortion laws, but I’m not actually going to go in and read the bill like I did with Indiana’s HEA 1337 because other states’ officials aren’t going to care what I have to say. I don’t vote for them.
Third, I prioritize news about issues I’m passionate about, like reproductive rights and racial conciliation.
3. Know when to step back and grieve.
You must deal with the emotions that develop when you read the news. Sometimes you can do this without breaking your everyday routine, but sometimes you need to step out of the everyday and honor your anger, fear, sadness, and hopelessness in a productive manner.
For me, it helps to have a ritual, like lighting candles and praying the Psalms. I may also say the names aloud of people who have died or are suffering because of injustice.
Sometimes you just need a break from the news, and that’s ok. Take care of yourself so you can act when it’s time to act.
4. Look for ways to take action.
One of the biggest reasons people avoid the news is because it makes them feel helpless in the face of suffering. Maybe you’re not a powerful politician, but you can do little things to help. I find that focusing on these tends to alleviate that feeling of powerlessness.
You may want to try:
Keeping the people around you informed of what’s going on. Talk about the things that aren’t going to show up in the nightly news.
Writing letters to your officials to let them know how you feel about their decisions.
Supporting local activist groups in their attempts to make a difference.
5. Connect with something bigger to get perspective.
When you’re looking at current events, they can seem overwhelming and hopeless. It helps to find something bigger to give you perspective.
Here are some things that help me: having a daily spiritual practice, walking in nature, learning about history, and learning out science.
To be honest, watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos has done more to give me hope and perspective than almost anything else. (You can find it on Netflix.)
Rachel Held Evans wrote, “I’ve always considered wonder to be one of the most effective antidotes to cynicism.” Find what inspires wonder in you and spend time with it.
6. Get some outside help.
This is the advice I wish I had followed last year. If you are experiencing constant anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, or difficulty sleeping or eating, it is not normal. And it’s not necessary either. The best thing you can do as a global citizen is to step back from the news cycle for a while and get a licensed therapist to help you work towards a more harmonious life.
So how are you doing lately in staying informed and staying healthy? Are you at a place where you need to step back, or where you need to know more? If you have this balance in your life, do you have any tips or practices that help you maintain it?