Because of the storm this past Sunday, a woman at the gym has not had power for several days. She reported that every in-person interaction she’s had with people during those days has been positive. Under normal circumstances, she’s a self-described “news junkie,” but while unable to hear much news, the tone of her daily life has become calmer and more reassuring. Even while her house has gotten colder and colder each day, her emotional life has felt warmer.
What do we make of this? It’s one person’s experience at one moment in time, so we can’t draw sweeping conclusions. Still, there may be some resonance to things we have experienced. What are we noticing at different points in time? Which of our emotions are being massaged and to what purpose? How do events of daily life strike us when our heads are full of “news” of desperate, tragic, or violent events somewhere in the world?
The point is not to disregard events that impact our lives whether from a distance or closer to home. We need the storm warnings when a hurricane is approaching. There are clearly valid reasons for reporting serial robberies or personal attacks in a region where people may be similarly targeted. Some kinds of publicity about incidents of terrorism like the recent New York terror attack on bicyclists may be useful for alerting people to say something if we saw something or if we see something questionable in the future.
But, as certainly has been noted by many others before me, 24-hour-news requires a constant stream of content and for the most part, bad news sells more than good news does. We are probably hardwired to a certain extent to attend to possible dangers; this has probably had survival value for our ancestors. However, our ancestors were not continuously bombarded with news of unhappy events all over the world.
Psychologists and counselors sometimes advise people going through episodes of depression or anxiety to avoid watching or listening to the news. The reason is that we human beings don’t function at our best when we are overwhelmed with fear or sadness. In monitoring our exposure to news, we’re not aiming to put our heads in the sand or to ignore reality, but to question the balance in what we are paying attention to. Many aspects of our everyday lives bring us joy, comfort, and a sense of connection with people, animals, nature, our own bodies, and the wonder of being alive. If we’re aiming to advance the cause of fun (and of mental health!), we want our minds working at their best. Being here now helps us feel grounded and aware. It’s worthwhile to consider how much “news” from elsewhere we really need to be exposing our minds to.
Have you ever spent several days away from exposure to the news?
Did it affect how you were thinking or how much fun you had?