It seems like lately, there is some horribleness happening in every corner of the world. Even just a cursory glance around various news sources on the internet will tell you that…
[Author’s note: originally, this was going to be a huge run-on sentence listing a whole slew of terrible current events, complete with links to appropriate news sources. However, including such a thing here would go against the whole point of this post, so I took it out. The specific terrible things that were here are all-too-readily found elsewhere on the net.]
With news like today’s, you can’t blame anyone for feeling powerless and overwhelmed. Anecdotally, most people with whom I interact regularly are exhausted and burnt out on caring about important issues. Personally, I have lost sleep thinking about these things more frequently than I’d care to admit.
One term that has become popular for the unique dread that comes from perusing any modern news-content-delivery-platformtm is “doomscrolling”, (which Zach Wienersmith has described as a uniquely modern expression). A friend of mine recently described a similar feeling as “macro-level anxiety”. I posit that these cannot be healthy phenomena, but they beg the question – what can we do?
First, it might help to understand why this has become such an issue at all. While – yes – a large contributor to the weltschmerz that comes from knowing about terrible things happening is the terrible things that are actually happening, that is not the whole picture. I will contend that terrible things happening is not a strictly modern phenomenon . However, the unique aspect of our world today is that high-speed communications (i.e. the interwebs) have made it possible to be constantly aware of all the terrible things that are happening all the time.
“But millibeep,” I hear you say aloud to your computer screen, “if we can be hyper-aware of the world’s goings-on all the time, shouldn’t our awareness of the good stuff cancel out the bad?”
Excellent question, and thank you for properly stylizing my moniker1. On the surface, one might expect this to be the case, and use the fact that we hear so much more bad news than good as evidence that more bad stuff is happening. However, this is not the case! The reason for this is simple (and well studied): bad news is more attractive than good news.
While a large-scale restructuring of human psychology is (for the moment) out of our reach, this fact does lend itself towards the development of strategies we can use to reduce macro-level anxiety. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a few tips below that might be helpful for anyone dealing with this specific issue.
(While I am generally accepted as an authority on all things under the sun, for legal reasons I have to note that the following does not constitute medical or psychiatric advice and that I am not a licensed care professional in any state recognized by the governments of man.)
One – reduce your internet activity.
That’s it, just spend less time on the net. Now, you might say “hurr durr, good advice, genius.” to which I would say thank you for recognizing my brilliance, but your sarcastic tone makes me think I should elaborate and so I will.
This is not necessarily a trivial task; for a lot of us that have mobile computational telephonic communication devices (e.g. “smartphones”), being on the internet is almost a passive activity. We habitually pull out the phone and scroll through some app’s news-feed to fill the time between other activities, be it waiting for a bus, riding an elevator, sitting alone in a cafe, etc. We are constantly bombarded with a huge volume of news information (most of it bad, see above) as a matter of course. Most of this information won’t even get processed or remembered, therefore reducing your consumption of it will likely not make you any less informed.
The first step in reducing it’s effect on your mental health is to simply reduce your exposure to it. If, like me, you are a smartphone scrolling zombie, there is a neat psychological hack you can use to help: turn your phone screen to grayscale. Humans are barely evolved monkeys and few things stimulate our simple little monkey brains better than shiny colors. By turning off the colors, you are reducing the subconscious allure that makes using your phone so addictive, while still maintaining the device’s functionality.
Two – curate your information experience, viciously.
This might seem like another no-brainer, but it actually speaks to a pretty insidious aspect of internet-based media platforms. Generally, whichever accounts or subreddits or pages you like or follow or whatever have a way of just kind of accumulating in your news-feed over time. Maybe they were put there by default or maybe you chose them out of a desire to stay well informed. However, because of the way most of us interact with these platforms (see above), the content from these pages is just in your face all the time without bringing any real value.
It can be very helpful (and perhaps even a little cathartic) to prune through your subscriptions to keep only the ones that produce content with which you are able to actively engage. An old adage is appropriate here: “keep an open mind, but not so open that anyone can come along and dump in it”. Now, I am not making the point that you should avoid information about current events entirely, but rather that the way to effectively interact with news media is not to do so passively, but actively and with a prepared headspace. This brings me to the last point.
Three – practice mindfulness as often as you can.
No, I am not turning into one of those vapid, yet lucrative lifestyle blogs2. Here, I am using the term mindfulness to simply mean an awareness of why you are doing what you are doing. This is probably the most difficult of the tips I’ve included here, because it takes constant, vigilant practice.
In my experience, it is alarmingly easy to leave many things on autopilot. If you’re not careful, this can expand to include a huge amount of your day-to-day life. By getting into the habit of asking questions like “why am I doing this? is this bringing value to my life?”, you might find that you frequently don’t have a good answer but that’s okay! You have a good reason to stop what you’re doing and focus on something else. While this approach is not a cure-all for anxieties, it can certainly help prevent exacerbating them. By doing things on purpose, you develop a level of control over your mental state and it becomes easier to let go of troublesome thoughts.
These are all the tips I have for you today, dear reader. I truly hope you will be able to get some value from them. If not, don’t fret, the regularly-scheduled nonsense will return with the next post.
Until then, stay safe and be kind to yourself.
1 – It should always be pronounced lowercase, and without italics.
2 – I mean, I’m open to it. If anyone from Buzzfeed or Goop thinks they would want to buy my blog, call me.