It’s gotten to the point where I’m not sure I want to read the news anymore, and I know I’m not alone in thinking this way.
It’s just way too depressing and stressful: the presidential circus, ISIS and terrorism, refugees in crisis, rape on campus, violence against gays and blacks and cops and minorities, international conflicts, economic statistics, environmental concerns, and the gloomy outlook for our children and our children’s children.
Sure, it’s important to know what’s going on; we can’t fix things when we don’t identify the problem. And yes, stress can be beneficial when we need to face saber-toothed tigers. But an abundance of bad news and corresponding stress can also wear us down physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, especially when:
- The news conflicts with our personal values. When life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are threatened by terrorists and bigots, we become lost at sea.
- The news confronts us multiple times per day. In the old days, people received news of what was going on in the world monthly. Or weekly. Or daily. Now we receive it continuously, from all sorts of media and social media sites.
- The news violates our boundaries. Have you ever signed onto your favorite social media site expecting to see good news from friends or to be entertained with humorous animal memes only to be bombarded with posts about everything gone wrong in the world? If so, you know what I mean.
I’ve been thinking and reading about this a lot lately, and I’ve discovered there are a number of strategies we can use to try and cope with this insane onslaught of news.*
- Limit media time. Once you’ve heard or read the day’s news, stop. Or at least restrict further exposure to your favorite media sites.
- Refrain from contributing. It’s tempting to join the discourse, but every time one of us shares a post, we’re contributing to our society’s overall level of anxiety–or hysteria. Better would be to limit participation to interactions that clearly help promote new awareness or that offer support to others.
- Choose friends wisely. When it comes to managing the world’s impact on your individual well-being, it’s best to surround yourself with rational and supportive friends. Sometimes that might even mean blocking those contacts on social media sites who seem intent on escalating anxiety.
- Seek out nature, kindness, and gratitude. Trust me. These are as good for your soul as broccoli and exercise are for your body.
- Remember who you are. The world will not always operate in harmony with your personal values, and it’s that discord that leads to stress. As selfish as this may sound, focusing on your own intentions, and your own circles of control and influence, may help you develop a more manageable perspective.
By this I don’t necessarily mean to pray to any particular god or deity or to follow a defined religious script unless that’s what you’re called to do. Rather, I defer to a description of prayer in Earth Prayers: 365 Prayers, Poems, and Invocations from Around the World by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon:
Prayer “calls on us to rethink the dualism of our culture that separates the sacred and the secular, the natural and the supernatural, the body and the mind…The essence of [prayer] lies not so much in the words we use—be they poetic prayers or prayerful poems—as in the concentrated attention we give to it. The moment of prayer is always an event. Something happens. An intention offers itself, a moment of concentration and expressed vision. Like yoga or meditation, [prayer] is a way to collect the wandering faculties of the mind…We listen to the world around us and allow the impressions made upon us by the outer world, and the expressions of our inner life, to flow into one another, to enhance and reflect each other.”
Here’s a prayer from a collection of ancient Sanskrit hymns known as the Rig Veda. It’s funny; as I read it I thought about social media. I believe that many people who share posts about the world’s problems are hoping for exactly what this prayer calls for, but in fact, when I see so many conflicting—and sometimes discordant—posts in one sitting, I believe the opposite has actually become true. As it turns out, I’d much rather spend my time contemplating what some wise people shared a few hundred or thousands years ago than what a bunch of people shared on Facebook today.
Anyway, here it is.
Let us be united,
Let us speak harmony,
Let our minds apprehend alike.
Common be our prayer,
Common be the end of our assembly,
Common be our resolution,
Common be our deliberations.
Alike be our feelings,
Unified be our hearts,
Common be our intentions,
Perfect be our unity.
* Some of these ideas courtesy of D. Jerome Meers, PhD.