Anxiety is something I’ve struggled with my entire life in various forms. At some points in my life, it’s lessened; at others (like now), it’s heightened to the point that, on some days, it feels almost unbearable. But, given my occupation and my desire to try to make my life better from the inside out, I’m always striving to assess and better understand my anxiety so I can counter it with calmness and positivity. Recently, one of the things that’s been a big anxiety trigger for me is news. I used to think news was boring and depressing. I could never understand why people would want to watch all of the chaos going on around the world; the negativity just seemed like too much, especially since most people watch without taking action.
Now, at this particular moment in American history, so much is going on (or so it seems!) that I find myself engaged and interested, waiting with bated breath to see what will happen next. While I believe it’s a positive thing I’ve chosen to seek out information — knowledge, after all, is power — I notice a huge uptick in my anxiety when I spend time scrolling through Twitter and reading articles about the latest political and global situations.
I don’t want to — nor do I know if I could — go back to my old head-in-the-sand ways, but I also don’t want to spend my life being made neurotically anxious by staying on top of the up-to-the-minute, never-ending parade of news. Keeping abreast of the latest happenings feels like I’m doing something — I’m an active, conscious adult, knowing what’s going on at the world at all times! — reading and worrying about the latest news story isn’t actually doing anything.
All of the energy I spend obsessing over the news (something I never would have done in the past) drains me emotionally, and the stress of it takes away from actual productive progress — of the political and personal variety. We only have so much energy given to us each day, and it’s important that we all be aware of where that energy goes. So, what’s a girl to do when she wants to stay informed, but doesn’t want to be inundated by anxiety?
I don’t have an easy, get-calm-quick scheme, but I have discovered a three-step plan that’s been helping me. If you’re struggling with news anxiety, I’m hoping this will help you too.
BREAK REFLEXIVE READING HABITS
If you’re like me, it’s tempting to go on Twitter and binge on the latest headlines, but all of that excessive consumption doesn’t necessarily make me more informed. Quite often, I’m simply reading similar stories or random people’s perspectives on a topic. Instead of social media binges, it’s a good idea to have a few (credible!) sources where you get your news — maybe at a set time each day. I’d also highly recommend reading opposing views as well. If you decide CNN is going to be your go-to source, consider switching to FOX or MSNBC periodically for a different perspective. You don’t have to agree with everything you see or read, but it’s important to take in a variety of sources. Also, be mindful of how often you check for news. While I don’t think I could ever go back to being uninformed, it does me no good to check the news dozens of times a day. It’s much more useful not to keep tabs on the latest stream of commentary, but to seek out well-informed, well-researched articles by experts who are open-minded and thoughtful.
MAKE SOMETHING MEANINGFUL
One of most challenging — and anxiety-producing — aspects of news intake is the helplessness that often comes along with it. So often, there are stressful stories or tales of those who are suffering, and, with all that’s going on in the world, it can be frustrating and overwhelming to feel as if, even though you’re informed, you can’t actually do anything meaningful. But that’s a falsehood we perpetuated by believing that meaning comes only from large, sweeping actions. The reality in which we all live is made up of moments, and every moment is a chance to make something meaningful. Make a connection with a smile; make a friend with a conversation; make a piece of art to express your emotions (and share it with others to inspire or connect with them); make time for yourself (the more at peace you are internally, the more external progress you can make). There are so many ways to create meaning in your life. While these might not feel directly related to what you see on the news, never forget that everything is oddly, beautifully intertwined. The goodness, positivity, and contributions you put into the world matter — they have a ripple effect and you never know how wide those ripples might spread.
TAKE TANGIBLE, IN-REAL-LIFE ACTION
It can be tempting to consider sharing a post or retweeting a story to be doing something, but it’s not the same as taking real action. Social media is not social action. If you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed with the world around you, you’re never going to feel a relief from that anxiety by simply liking a tweet or Facebook post. To feel a sense of fulfillment, you have to do something. We live in a time where we have the world at our fingertips; whatever you want to do, whatever cause you want to help, all you have to do is Google it and you’ll most likely find a list of things you can do to make a difference. No matter what you feel passionate about — or how much time, money, and energy you have — there’s something you can do. And, take it from my experience, taking action (no matter how small!) feels infinitely better than clicking a like button. Plus, when you’re actually doing something — whether it’s donating your time, researching how to help a cause, or working toward positive change — you have less time to endlessly scroll!
I know I’m not alone when it comes to news anxiety — particularly of the social media variety — and I know these three tips won’t work perfectly for everyone, so if you have any additional ideas or tips that have worked for you, I’d love to hear them in the comments below! And remember: the more you follow the Break / Make / Take method, the less anxiety you’ll have. And the less anxiety you have, the more you can make positive progress!