As far as American news headlines go, 2017 felt like a rollercoaster. I felt incredibly conflicted about my deep value of being an informed citizen and my need to not go crazy.
I think it’s safe to say that no matter where you place yourself on the political spectrum, 2017 had a different sort of intensity and an enormous amount of significant things happened.
From mass shootings to devastating natural disasters, from international terrorist attacks, to health care bill changes, to women speaking up about sexual harassment—it wasn’t just about drama in Washington. But, of course, there was also drama in Washington.
I’m a 4 on the Enneagram. If that means nothing to you, I’ll say it another way: I feel things deeply. I feel all. the. things. Empathy is my default.
I’m not going to wander into analyzing personality here, but I think it’s important to note that I’m aware of how I’m wired and it’s something that I accept responsibility for managing.
I also think it means that I have to be extra careful about what and how I consume content, because if I’m not careful, it can leave me devastated and struggling to function. Additionally (file this under knowing thyself), I need a lot of thinking time and silence without any input to feel at my best. I am careful about the amount of content I read, watch, and listen to because prioritizing this need keeps me healthy and sane.
On the other hand, my job involves managing social media for clients, which means it’s critical that I have a sense of the headlines, especially if something needs to be adjusted or rescheduled in order to be sensitive to an event that happened. I don’t have the option of disconnecting entirely, even if I thought that was the solution (which I don’t!)
Last spring, I realized that something needed to change in how I was consuming news.
At the time, my husband and I had our morning alarm set to a news station, so even though we were usually up and awake before it went off because of kids, one of the first things we heard in the morning was the top-of-the-hour headlines.
Not only did this start to feel like a really stressful way to start the day, but there were often too many news stories that I wasn’t comfortable having my kids hear about in that context.
Previously, I had thought of myself as someone disciplined about resisting click-bait and sensational headlines, but in 2017, I found myself spiraling into anxiety after what would start as an innocent attempt to just stay informed about what was happening in the world.
I needed to take back control of when and how I read the news so that I could better manage my emotional health, stay productive at work, and set myself up for success to be the parent I want to be (which basically means not a crazy, emotional wreck).
(I should also mention as a side note, that we don’t have cable or ever watch live TV, so listening and reading are my primary mediums for news.)
The changes I made to better manage my news intake:
• I changed the morning alarm to peaceful music instead of the news and we stopped listening to the news while getting ready in the morning.
• I waited until I dropped off kids at school and got back to my desk to scan the headlines and I would only scan the headlines as much as needed for work, but did not allow myself to read political articles at the beginning of my workday.
• I stopped turning on news radio as default in the car and instead set aside specific, limited time to listen to a 10-15 minutes podcast like NPR’s Up First.
• We subscribed to a print newspaper and started to read it instead of reading news on the internet. This helped because each article has a physical end, instead of links to more articles and all the distracting, annoying, flashy ads are not there. They also tend to be less sensational in tone and style.
• I subscribed to The Week, a print magazine that I recommend to everyone all the time. It feels so much less overwhelming and gives a great overview of the most important things that happened in the nation and the world and quotes from partisan sources so you can see how different perspectives opined about each event to get a perspective that doesn’t feel like an echo chamber.
• I started taking action on things that matter to me. I now call my representatives when something is important to me, even if I think they are already voting that way. Not every week, but when it’s really important. I also started volunteering and donating to causes that help me connect with the people impacted whenever possible.
• Books are still my favorite way to learn. I also prioritize the long-form content of books to learn about things in the headlines when I’m able. This doesn’t happen every week or even every month, but I truly believe something is better than nothing.
Should you do exactly what I did? Of course not.
But, I hope this will encourage you to examine your passive or active own news consumption and shift out of default into being more intentional.
P.S. For more ideas and inspiration on staying informed without losing your mind, listen to our podcast series on knowing the news—here’s part one of three.