By Dmitriy Gabriel
There's a misconception in our increasingly hyper-connected world that you must know the latest buzz at all times. Gorging on the news at every waking moment is seen as almost virtuous. However, we as a society are slowly starting to grasp the detrimental effects that an untempered information diet can have on mental health. And amidst this ongoing global pandemic, we need to take especially good care of our already overstimulated psyches. Long story short: It may be a good idea to cut a whole lot of news out of your daily diet.
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Not all news is worth swallowing
I am not proposing ignorance by any means. Do stay informed about COVID-19, and do play your part to help stop it. Distance yourself, sanitize yourself, and don't touch that face. This isn’t a defense of the Ostrich Syndrome. I am merely suggesting to everybody fortunate enough to not yet be personally affected by the pandemic: you don't need to know every single detail all the time. It is completely OK to disconnect a little bit.
News sources often trouble their audiences with speculations and emotionally charged opinions. To bring in readership - and consequently ad traffic - these news sources tend to focus on absolute extremes and churn out provocative headlines full of hyperbole (I like to think of these as empty calories). Even if it all tastes good going down, it isn't good for you, short or long-term. Bit by bit, article by article, your body floods with stress hormones. Your muscles clench up. You start to see danger around every corner. Your mind swims with apocalyptic visions. You begin to wonder if you can fashion a log cabin in the woods and live completely off the grid.
What use is this instant-info diet to you if it corrodes the sanity and morale of you and of everybody around you?
A better way: Focus on what you can influence
The now canonical Seven Habits of Highly Effective People self-help book introduced the idea of circle of influence VS circle of concern. In a nutshell: the more you focus on what you can influence and improve, the better you feel. Conversely, the more you focus on things that lie beyond your control, the more powerless and depressed you become. We need to be aware of this dynamic at play in our own lives, especially those of us prone to checking the newsfeed first thing in the morning and having all the life force sucked out of us before we even roll out of bed.
I am promoting the harm reduction approach to help you to have a better, calmer quarantine. First: decide on the time that you plan to check the news - ideally not first thing in the morning or last thing before bed. Second: disable or uninstall all of your news apps from your phone so that they don't harass you throughout the day. Limit your own access because old habits have a tendency to die hard. And finally, focus on objective news sources that rely on facts, rather than those that try to convince you that you will die at any moment.
Now the fun part - find some other points of focus for your day:
You get the idea.
The beauty of these activities is that you have full control over them. Humans are soothed by rituals and hands-on activities. And at a time of such uncertainty, even a small burst of feeling in control can be highly beneficial. So please, do yourself a favor and find some small, local activities to occupy your time. We may be here a while, and this is an excellent time to look within, to learn something new, and to help those around you by keeping a cool head (again, from an acceptable distance).
Your sanity will thank you.
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