The following series of blog posts are designed to help you assess your level of exposure to jarring political information on social media and news outlets. The goal is to focus your attention by being more selective about your exposure to the unfolding events. This is not about tuning out or becoming more isolated, but rather creating zones of psychological safety. Accessing information and interacting with others from within these zones of safety can help you be more grounded when you read the latest bit of unsettling news or interact with people who do not share your beliefs, online or in person. Feeling more grounded can also help you access greater psychological and emotional strength if you decide to channel your energies into political action.
Staying Informed vs. Being Digitally Fed Information
Why do so many of us feel compelled to monitor - in real time - the latest missive about Trump and his administration?
Andrew Sullivan writes with insight in New York Magazine about the damage of being digitally fed information on a constant, perpetual basis. He likens the experience to that of subjects living in an autocracy:
“Every day in countries unfortunate enough to be ruled by a lone dictator, people are constantly subjected to the Supreme Leader’s presence, in their homes, in their workplaces, as they walk down the street. Big Brother never leaves you alone. His face bears down on you on every flickering screen. He begins to permeate your psyche and soul; he dominates every news cycle and issues pronouncements — each one shocking and destabilizing — round the clock. He delights in constantly provoking and surprising you, so that his monstrous ego can be perennially fed. And because he is also mentally unstable, forever lashing out in manic spasms of pain and anger, you live each day with some measure of trepidation. What will he come out with next? Somehow, he is never in control of himself and yet he is always in control of you.”
Sullivan goes on to say, “It’s less like living in a democracy than being a child trapped in a house where there is an abusive and unpredictable father, who will brook no reason, respect no counter-argument, admit no error, and always, always up the ante until catastrophe inevitably strikes.”
When things become less predictable as a consequence of abuse, it is only natural to seek ways to take control of the situation in order to mitigate the pain and reduce perpetually high levels of stress. If you are a child, seeking to control your abusive father by watching his every move is, in many ways, an effective strategy. You’re more likely to get out of his way when he goes into a rage.
However, as an adult, you must remember that you possess the power to protect yourself from abusers. Try thinking of the news outlets and social media as one dimension of your actual household. We each honor our actual homes by monitoring who we allow inside. I believe the deep desire to empower yourself by being informed on the current political climate, via constant updates from twitter and news feeds, is akin to watching the abusive father’s every move. But remember, though you may not be able to build a fortress to keep him out, there are ways you can mitigate his damage by restricting his open access.
That doesn’t mean that you should tune out to events happening in the world, but if you find yourself constantly feeling anxious and upset about the political events of the day, you should consider turning off the updates on your phone and significantly decreasing the time you are spending reading the news. Try limiting yourself to one hour a day of selective news analysis - not never-ending news updates. Don’t remain logged into social media. If you utilize social media as a means of communicating about day-to-day logistics try switching to text or email for these types of messages. If you spend more than 30 minutes a day on Facebook or Twitter, cut your time in half for two weeks. Afterwards, check in with yourself about how you’re feeling and be honest with yourself about the true value of what you might have missed out on.
Managing anxiety about the current political climate should be framed as a marathon and not a sprint. As in any marathon, keeping in mind how to best utilize you energies is of utmost importance. Remember to be mindful of how to be a smart consumer of news and social media to in order to keep yourself grounded.