Many of us have experienced the time between the November 3rd election and today as borderline traumatic. Against the background of a worsening pandemic we have seen an alarming rise of disinformation, hate and political instability. The insurrection at the Capital building on January 6th spewed frightening images and language into our daily lives resulting for many in problems sleeping, concentrating, communicating with others and finding hope. What should we do in the face of this kind of threat to peace of mind?
First, we must acknowledge that much of what is going on right now is in fact terrifying. Pandemic deaths, vaccine delays, armed insurrectionists, conspiracies, political corruption, climate change, Russian hacking, WOW!! The threats gather like storm clouds on the horizon. Occasionally we get a moment's reprieve from all the dire news. I personally found the tradition and meaning of a peaceful Inauguration Day to be one such reprieve. But very quickly we return to terrible external events and political trench warfare.
Second, we must acknowledge that today's news cycle contains modes and elements that contribute to an addictive relationship with information. Our brains are wired to attend more to threats than to what is going well, and the more extreme the threat the more it captivates the mind.This aspect of the ancient brain is skillfully exploited by business models that derive profit from advertising to upend our privacy and encourage dependence. In the case of social media such as facebook, Twitter and other online groups, the business model delivers more and more intense bursts of dopamine "reward" to the reader to keep the clicks coming, resulting in a proliferation of polarization, conspiracy theories and constant outrage. With cable news, the need to fill the 24 hour news cycle with hot breaking news and analysis can lead viewers to feel urgent about the next "fix" of information. On some platforms the "news" is full of distortions and outright lies. On others, effort is taken to stick close to established facts. Sadly, the end result is similar--a focus on information that increases fear, distrust and yes, hatred. Even mainstream print journalism, when accessed on line, is prone to this click-bait business model.
My goal is to remain aware of what is going on while also prioritizing my peace of mind. Here are some guidelines I have established for myself that you might find useful.
Increase your mindfulness practice by adding extra ten minute sits at mid-day and before bed. Make sure your morning practice happens before you get into your news feed.
Wherever you get your news refuse to read stories that are steeped in hate. Ignore stories about extremely polarizing figures such as the Trump family, Vladimir Putin, Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Proud Boys, unless you determine it is in your best interests to read these stories. (Why would that be?) Your adrenal glands will thank you!
Also avoid stories that include lurid details about tragedy and loss. It is enough to know the facts of the story without watching the video. Similarly, you do not have to read every scary story about the pandemic or about some aspect of climate change. Figure out just what you need to know, such as what are the current COVID guidelines for your state and vicinity and leave the gory details alone.
Buy a print newspaper once a week and enjoy the difference this mode of news delivery makes to your experience.
Unsubscribe from political ads that have shown up in your inbox. Don't worry, they'll find you again. In the meantime enjoy a leaner, cleaner inbox.
Be careful with dystopian television, movies or literature which salt your mind with dark depressing images. For balance and entertainment try learning history either by book, audio book, podcast or on television. History is a cool medium that can surprise you with its relevance and useful insights. And it's Black History Month! Learn all about the history of slavery, abolition, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement. Not only have we survived all of history but we have overcome! Now that is encouraging!
If you know you are addicted to a particular social media that you fear is harmful to you, step off it! I pretty much guarantee you won't miss it long!
Join the Cloud Appreciation Society or the Cornell Ornithological Lab and immerse yourself in the natural world.
Listen to more music and fewer political podcasts. Try science podcasts! Again, science is a cool medium that can lower your emotional temperature.
Practice random acts of kindness toward people in your orbit, especially those you disagree with. Random acts of kindness can include well wishes, and even "good thoughts."
As you practice these things you will likely find, as I have, that mindfulness of the current moment will be strengthened and stress will be reduced. Wishing you all the best in these challenging times! Please let me know other things that have worked for you.