I used to enjoy being a news junkie, but now it feels like it is adding to my anxiety. My husband has begged me to stop checking my phone at night and to take a break from tuning in, but I feel even more anxious when I don't know what's happening in the world. If I pay attention, the world terrifies me. If I don't pay attention, I'm even more terrified. Is there a way to not be anxious about the world or at least to manage that anxiety?
-Damned if I Do, Damned if I Don't
DiiDDiiD, any sensitive or sane person is going to be absolutely horrified at the rise of fascism in the world. Your anxiety is coming from a real place. It is important to accept your anxiety as a normal and healthy reaction to the circumstances of the world. Once you accept it, you can focus on making sure it doesn't drive your day-to-day reality.
As a news junkie, it seems as though you find comfort in knowing about things and being well-informed. It gives you a sense of control and confidence, and I imagine it comes in handy in social situations. You see, our brains are hardwired with a desire to know the lay of the land—be it a literal patch of ground or a complex social reality. The news is a map of sorts for you.
Unfortunately, we live in 2020. Social media is in the middle of rewiring the way we think, and we haven't yet adapted to it. The circumstances in the world are beyond horrifying, so the comfort of being informed now brings along anxiety and despair. Worse still, when you try to unplug, your brain feels the absence of information and starts panicking. Rock, meet Hard Place.
The search for a new source of comfort, one less riddled with complications, starts on the inside. Begin by articulating your values and identifying ways you can live them regardless of the state of the world. This is easy to say, but hard to do. But when the external world is in chaos, having your internal house in order can go a long way toward giving you comfort and even strength. In fact, your physical well-being is just as crucial. It might sound odd, but exercise and sufficient sleep can greatly mitigate anxiety and stress. The world is starving for goodness and care and value; start by feeding yourself and your family, then you can branch out.
Look for activists who have similar values and see if there are political actions (protests, vote drives, etc.) that you can volunteer for. Part of anxiety comes from the feeling that you can't change anything—but fighting for even a little bit of change can help quell the storm. Additionally, you might have a relative who is happy with this administration or pro-Brexit. Feel free to cut them out of your life, yell at them at family gatherings, or put down hard boundaries about certain things.
As you begin the process of discovering new sources of comfort and control, it would probably be good for you to disengage with the news, at least for a time. Rather than trying to do that cold turkey, do it incrementally. Limit yourself to thirty minutes throughout the day to scroll through social media or read the news. Make sure it isn't the first thirty minutes of your day or the last thirty minutes before bed. After a few days of that, take it down to fifteen minutes. Then ten. Remove Facebook, Twitter, etc. from your phone so that you have to actively make the choice to turn on a computer to log in. Once you are down to zero minutes, try holding on to your social media detox for a full month.
My suspicion is that you can find substitutes for the positive things being a news junkie did for you. A few good substitutes, combined with a prolonged absence from social media, and your anxiety levels should come down. Replace your wide breadth of knowledge from the news with a deep expertise on one relevant issue. Deep dive and learn it in and out. The part of your brain that finds comfort in knowledge and mastery will enjoy the journey. See how it goes. If none of this lands for you and you are still feeling an unbearable amount of anxiety, talk to a therapist.
In the end, we are just a sack of meat and bones that has a shockingly short lifespan. We don't get to see full arcs of history, and the injustices of our time sting all the more as a result. Accepting that some things are beyond our control is hard and painful. So, I'll leave you with some sage wisdom from our old friend, Gandalf:
"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
Happy 2020! What are you doing to survive these dark times? If you'd like to post in this thread anonymously, PM me, and I'll post your comment as "anon." You can also send your quandaries to [email protected].