What's the bad news? That too much news is bad for you! Overdoing bad news, at least online news, even has a name now: doomscrolling, or doomsurfing.
Reading article after article, graph after graph, tweet after tweet after tweet, watching the news all day....why do we do it?
There is so much going on right now that is difficult or anxiety- and/or anger-provoking. Major changes come at us so fast there is no way we can keep up. So we may end up feeling like an astronaut floating alone in space, insecurely tethered to the mother ship. So of course we would like some kind of certainty about something.
"The promise of some answer, or perhaps even some good news, always feels one click away. But it’s not. Right now, people are living at a time with no easy solutions, a moment with a lot of conflicting 'facts' in a rapidly changing landscape," says Angela Watercutter in her Wired article, "Doomscrolling Is Slowly Eroding Your Mental Health."
I expect that our preoccupation with bad news is also due in part to the inherent negativity bias in our brains--which during humanity's early days on the Serengeti was a survival tool. But in our modern everything-at-our-fingertips world it often ends up making us very anxious, even sick. (Two excellent books I've mentioned before that can help reverse this tendency: psychologist Rick Hanson's Hardwiring Happiness, and The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by Alec Korb.)
But I think there is another factor here too--I believe that the owners of the big media corporations--right, left and middle--are not our friends. They are businesses out to maximize profit, often at our expense.
In a recent post, Bedlam Farm blogger and retired broadcast journalist, Jon Katz, expressed this with some intensity:
The more media you watch, the more anxious and angry (and obsessed) you will become.
This will affect your work, your sex life, your relationships with partners and children, and friends.
I understand the news will mostly be disturbing because that is what the news has become. That is what brings Fox News and MSNBC and CNN roughly a billion dollars each a year in profits – conflict, worry, and grievance.
They are not institutions of conscience; they are vampires, drinking our blood, and draining our spirit for money. A study found that there is very little new news on cable channels.
They repeat the noise hundreds of times a day. You don’t need to hear the news hundreds of times a day. It very rarely has anything to do with the lives of real people like you.
So I don't think the news is where we should go to find hope or peace.
Of course we need information, now more than ever. Of course we want to stay informed. And of course if we are at home a lot more, we may be bored. But really, it might not hurt to practice some portion control here. Try intermittent news fasting--that is, staying off news for a predetermined length of time--like 24 hours. If that feels like too much, try 12 hours or even 6, or at least take a break every once in a while. Then compare how you feel on news and off of it. (And yes, the drug allusion is intentional).
I like the proposal that I read somewhere recently: we get to imbibe as much news in a day as we exercise. That is, if I go for a one hour walk or run, I can do one hour of news. If I don't exercise at all, I don't get to do news at all. At least then I am doing something healthy to counteract the superstress of doomscrolling.
So, as with previous posts on this topic, this is a reminder--even a plea--to close your laptop, turn your phone face down (or better yet, turn it off), walk away, and heave a big sigh. Step outside, or into the bathroom if you need a little privacy. See if you can feel your feet. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then go do something a little silly or frivolous or faith-full or enjoyable or hopeful that eases your heart or brings a little joy. Your child self--and your children--will thank you.
Here's The Good News:
The good news They do not print. The good news We do print. We have a special edition every moment, And we need you to read it. The good news is that you are alive,
That the linden tree is still there Standing firm in the harsh Winter. The good news is that you have wonderful eyes To touch the blue sky. The good news is that your child is there before you, And your arms are available:
Hugging is possible. They only print what is wrong. Look at each of our special editions. We always offer the things that are not wrong. We want you to benefit from them And help protect them. The dandelion is there by the sidewalk, Smiling its wondrous smile, Singing the song of eternity. Listen! You have ears that can hear it. Bow your head. Listen to it. Leave behind the world of sorrow And preoccupation And get free. The latest good news Is that you can do it.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Thank you, Thây.
Until next time,
Gita Krishnamurti, unSplash ("cover" photo and last photo)
Elijah O'Donnell, unSplash
Andriyko Podilnyk, unSplash