In previous posts in this series on news, I’ve promised ideas on staying reasonably informed while also looking after your own wellbeing. Here are some things that help me. I hope you, too, find them useful.
Stay Clear on Your Interests From my work on consensus building, persuasion, negotiation and related communication skills, you know the importance of clarifying your interests. Why do you want what you think you want? What are you ultimately trying to accomplish through interaction with the other person?
Clarifying interests also helps you make personal decisions that don’t involve persuading others. News often causes upset and stress. That isn’t good for your health and can actually detract from your effectiveness in acting on the news you hear. When I feel this happening to me, I step back and recall my interests.
I always have an interest in staying as positive as I reasonably can. I ask myself “Why?” Positivity is better for my health and wellbeing. And nobody makes their best decisions when their guts are churning.
When people get mired in pessimism, they overlook opportunities that could actually help them address the very things that are weighing them down. As I wrote in Desktop Optimism: “In one experiment, subjects were instructed to walk a particular route to a coffee shop. Some money was placed in their path. Optimists spotted and retrieved the cash; pessimists walked right by it without noticing. Apparently, when we expect good things, we are more alert to their presence, and therefore, more likely to take advantage of them.”
I ask myself about my interests in political news. Why do I want it? What would I like to do with the information? I want to know enough to decide how to vote. I don’t need to watch, read or listen to every single thing a candidate says or does in order to make that decision. I want to know about bills introduced in Congress or my state legislature, so I can decide whether I want to phone or write my legislators about these bills. Likewise, I want to know about matters being considered by government committees or agencies.
I then seek the information I require to address these interests in the least stressful, healthiest manner.
Stick to news reporting, rather than news commentary. The most recent AARP Bulletin reports an experiment designed to test mountain lions’, or pumas’, fear of humans. Speakers were placed in the lions’ territory. When one of the animals approached, a recording of a political analyst would start streaming, “prompting a mad dash — to find the remote, one might assume.”
I’ve written about the difference between news reporting and news commentary, and how to assess them. But as for my personal practice, I’m with the pumas. I avoid the pundits. As one of my nephews likes to say, “I’ve got a brain of my own.”
Also, minimize exposure to political memes and rants on social media. I’ve written an entire article about this: Politics, Discuss It or Drop It. Yet, the Washington Post reports a study that indicates workers are spending an average of 2 hr./day reading political posts on social media, with negative impacts on work quality and quantity. Forbes cites a study that links heavy use of Facebook and other social media to depression. But the “info” shared on social media is not necessarily authenticated. Indeed rumors start and spread this way.
If you must read political posts on social media, I suggest you (1) limit the time you spend doing so, and (2) use a search engine to find confirming articles in magazines or newspapers before you share the post.
Minimize the number of ways you receive the information. For me, reading the news evokes the least amount of emotion in my gut. Watching TV or video streams, whereby I am both hearing the news and seeing visual images, evokes the most emotion. So I try to get political news by reading.
If I come across a headline of a news video on the Internet and click on it, I often find the same words in written text below the video window. So I don’t start the video, but rather, scroll down past that window and read the text version. If the video starts on its own, and I can’t stop it, I turn the volume on my computer all the way down.
Different people are more or less affected by different senses. Some might find it less upsetting to watch the video, rather than read the text. Experiment to find the best way for you.
Use list servers with caution. Email services from print media listing major headlines, or from organizations that focus on particular issues, provide succinct summaries of current goings-on, usually without the additional sensory stimulation of video or audio streams.
However, even though I tend to sympathize with many of the positions of the list server messages, I bear in mind that, because they are succinct, they may omit information that tempers my opinion on the issues raised. If they contain calls to action or requests for donations, they may be worded in ways that, while not strictly inaccurate, are designed to stir readers’ emotions to get them to act.
So I like to use email messages as jumping off points, then, search for more complete articles on the issues. Yes, that takes a little more time than simply accepting the email message at face value, but not as much time as you might think. It’s certainly less time-consuming and upsetting than browsing through various online magazines and newspapers. And of course, it’s well worth the time and effort because it saves me from taking action based on an incomplete picture.
Another thing worth the time and effort: rather than simply signing a petition or copying and pasting text from the email into a comment to a government official, I compose my own comment. Government officials see petitions and identical comments for what they are—quick and easy ways for people to feel like they’re having an effect without really learning and thinking through a situation. Composing one’s own message is more likely to get attention.
Adopt regular positivity practices. Even with all the above precautions, it’s impossible to keep up with current political news without some stress or upset. You can offset that by proactively cultivating positive feelings. For example, meditation, gratitude practices, exercise, viewing funny TV shows or well-loved feel-good movies, playing games with friends—any or all will help you maintain balance.
I have another news practice that deserves an entire post to itself. So stay tuned, stay informed and stay healthy.