I first heard of taking a news fast about 15 years ago. I was in therapy for the first time after a round of panic attacks had me thinking I was dying or losing my mind or both. Fun times. It was there I learned of Dr. Andrew Weil and his book, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health.
Weil suggests tons of small changes we can make to boost physical and mental well being. One such change is a news fast–take a few days, or even a whole week, off of news–TV, radio, online. Just tear yourself away and catch your breath.
Here’s why I do this from time to time, and especially now, when it seems like the whole world has turned inside out.
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How news affects mood
Can you relate? You tell yourself you’re just going online quickly to see what’s up. You read. Then you see a headline that has you steaming. Your brain is halfway through drafting a wicked retort. You type furiously. You delete. You type again. Your blood pressure is drug-worthy.
You scroll your news sources of choice, bounce from headline to depressing headline: Child abuse, domestic violence, terrorism, climate change, human rights violations, injustice.
You don’t feel the two hours that passed or the eight fingernails you’ve devoured. What you do feel is the after shocks. Dizzy. Sighing. Wasted. Angry. Frustrated. Sad. Destitute. Hopeless. Helpless. Shocked. And then you dive back in for more.
Here’s why news affects us.
First, news stories are designed to pack a punch. They focus on not only actionable information, things we need to function day to day, but also on providing the information that will draw us in. The old adage of “if it bleeds, it leads” means stories that contain violence will be in your face as much as possible.
News is designed to draw us in with a sense of urgency. EVERYTHING is breaking news.
Second, we are built to pay attention to things that may pose a threat. So we tune in to this barrage of news with our antennae up.
Third, when we habitually take in headline after headline of things that make us fearful, sad, anxious, out of control our world view shifts. We catastrophize the worries in our own lives the more negative news we are exposed to.
It has implications, also, for how we see the world around us. People tend to believe crime rates are higher than they actually are, often because of consuming higher amounts of TV or online news. We see the reports, we feel like it’s creeping into our lives at every turn.
Here’s why in today’s political climate
I can’t address news without addressing the current political state. Whatever your political view, it may feel like the world is falling apart. Closely held beliefs are being challenged at seemingly every turn. The future feels uncertain. Frightening, even. We need the media in these times more than ever.
However, we are bombarded by sensational stories designed to get us pissed off, to stir us up, whether for “our side” or against “the others.” There are actions at play that many of us may never have come face to face with.
But if your grandparents are still alive, ask them about propaganda. Ask them about facing uncertainty and fear. Or ask your family members who went through the Vietnam era. We, as humans, face disruption. We fight for our beliefs. We struggle. We find new ways. News and media will play a big part in moving through this.
We need a news fast even more now
We need the media. Let me rephrase that. We need ethical media, organizations that provide news and analysis, that stay as close as possible to the middle of the road, politically. (Questioning authority does not equal bias, by the way. It’s the job of the people to hold our representatives accountable.)
This chart goes a decent way at guiding you through the political spectrum and sensationalism of certain organizations.
News is vital. If we live in a democracy, or a republic, and we have a say in our government, it’s our right, some say duty, to stay informed, to make rational choices, to effect change.
But we cannot possibly take it all in. We cannot possibly act on every bit of information out there. It’s too much and it does overwhelm.
If you feel yourself in the rabbit hole, do this now. Take a news fast.
How to take a news fast
- Turn off notifications on your phone for any service that sends you headlines: e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, AP, etc. Fear of missing out isn’t a joke, and even now, we fear that if we miss one step of what is happening we will be harmed in some way. Trust that you can catch up in a few days, that maybe some of the issues will already be resolved, or that if the world explodes, someone will pick up the phone to call you and tell you about it.
- Tell your friends you’re checking out of your social fees for a few days. This holds you accountable and also gives friends a heads-up in case someone sends you an FB message, etc.
- Move your chargers away from your bedroom. If you sleep with your phone within hand’s reach, if you have a habit to read it before going to sleep at night and before you get out of bed in the morning, move it. Take the temptation away and replace it with a book. One on paper or on a reader that is NOT connected to the outside world.
- Plan for a replacement activity. Make a list of some small things you would do if you had more time. Then pick one and DO IT. Read fiction. Start a gratitude journal. Write a physical letter to your parents about the funny things your kids have been up to. Do ten minutes of yoga. Journal about one thing you’d like to get more involved in and why and how you might take those steps.
- Meditate. No kidding. Anxiety and depression grow from being outside the current moment. Practice being exactly where you are right now by focusing on the rhythm of your breath. Not changing it, just feeling it as it flows past your nostrils, cools the back of your throat then fills up your belly and rolls back out again. A few minutes a day will get you in the habit of connecting with the present.
- If you are struggling to accept this because of the current political climate, take a read through this article that explains how you can remain politically active-minded and keep your sanity.
- Take a moment to jot down how you felt when you’re done fasting, when you decide it’s time to come back in, however long that may be. What worked? What didn’t? Can you come up with a new plan to approach your media consumption going forward?
I do this from time to time, quite subconsciously sometimes. I always feel more grounded and less fearful when I come back to the news. I feel I can process things more easily, feel less drained so quickly, and can better make sense of events and my response.
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Pile of newspapers via ShutterStock.com