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Gillian Sanger

Stress, anxiety, and the news

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Has anyone else been feeling overwhelmed by the news? It's a tricky media source to navigate, one that I am still trying to figure out. I'm trying to find balance between staying informed and moderating/having boundaries as to what I take in. Has anyone else been exploring this lately or feeling stress, anxiety, or overwhelm related to news consumption?

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This is a hot-button topic for me. I seriously think I suffer from a lot of anxiety over all the harm, subjugation, and exploitation so many people suffer and how the administration and political parties in the United States enable it. I constantly find myself checking the news for reports that confirm my beliefs and views. Of course, that's precisely what the websites are designed to exploit and I to which I very enthusiastically am hooked. https://hackernoon.com/in-the-digital-age-cognitive-biases-are-running-wild-420b8f4f7cb5

I also spend some time playing idiot video games and I think they have given me a very interesting insight into human behavior. Evolution has bestowed upon us a strong urge or drive to seek things we need to provide for ourselves and also to overcome obstacles to our obtaining those things. So many institutions in our culture use our tendency to SEEK to manipulate our behavior. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tech-happy-life/201901/the-vegas-effect-our-screens My presumed insight is that not only is our behavior manipulated in this way, but we tend to derive some reassuring sense of competence, confidence, and security from the behavior. It's not so much that we know exactly how and when success will happen but if stick with it we feel assured it will happen. We start to construct an identity around the activities to which we dedicate our efforts and to form beliefs in the value of those efforts. It is funny how society showers favors on some of those behaviors and how other can be so obviously problematic. https://www.eomega.org/article/hacking-the-habit-loop

Moreover, there is a built-in irony or dichotomy in SEEKING: It has aspects of being both stressful and rewarding. The more inflexibly tied we become to a behavior and identity built around it, the less rewarding and more harmfully stressful I suspect they are likely to become. Unfortunately, there seems to be a tendency toward doing just that.

But, obsessive consumerism, individualism, exceptionalism--while they might help establish some people as celebrities and envied role models--serve to undermine the best interests of society as a whole. This loops back to my first paragraph and some of the checks against this tendency that the hackernoon article suggests are necessary. We can and in my view should bring mindfulness to all this. When we do bring mindfulness to it, I think we can see both the benefit of being informed and the risks of being misinformed and overly identified with certain behaviors and beliefs. That's my long way of saying, "Yes, I feel overwhelmed!"

 

 

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Thank you for all of this David! Your words really resonate with me as I've been really intrigued lately to learn more about how media impacts us. One incredibly eye-opening podcast I listened to was called 'Can Truth Survive Big Tech?' with Tristan Harris on the Rebel Wisdom podcast. Have you heard of it? Tristan Harris is wonderful to listen to. I think he is also in the new documentary called The Social Dilemma, which is on my to-watch list.

I think it was Harris who first familiarized me with the notion of 'the Las Vegas effect'. I don't know that he used this term, but he explained how our screens are kind of set up like slot machines. In this podcast, he also talked a lot about the attention economy and how this is what big companies are all trying to get in on. Truly a fascinating and enlightening talk!

Re: the first article you posted: "If a person with a certain strong belief is presented with clear evidence of the belief being false, this may lead to a reinforcement of the belief." I have heard the same: that when we are presented with facts or stats that contradict our opinion, it actually helps to reaffirm what we initially believed. It begs the question: how then do we open ourselves to new ideas and possibilities about reality? It leads me to feel that we don't change people's minds by rationalizing but by somehow connecting on the level of our shared humanity (this is probably an oversimplification, but I think just realizing that facts alone will not change our minds is a crucial insight to gain).

I've decided that for today, I am going to take a 'news fast'. I'm going to observe where my attention goes, how much my mind argues with this, and what fears and emotions come up. I will keep you posted on the self-experiment!

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I am an evolution professor. People do not want to have their beliefs challenged because it rocks their entire identity. So the natural response is to hold tighter when challenged. So, I often ask people to think about where their beliefs come from and to learn the history of that set of norms. When they do that, often they realize they may not truly believe 100%. This can still be hard to cope with but it often provides a small crack that opens for reason. 
 

As for the news, it’s just too much these days. Speaking of evolution we haven’t evolved fast enough to keep up with our technology. Scientists have been examining the dramatic increase in anxiety, especially in young people, with this technology advancement. To help myself, I look at news (written or on TV) for no more than 30 min, and I watch the BBC news. It doesn’t tend to be sensationalized and it provides an interesting “outside” perspective. 


good luck out there!!

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Hi Gillian, Since early in Donald Trumps term, I have stopped listening to the national news. Since 2020 I no longer listen to even the local news. Instead, I look at headlines online and that tells me enough. I explore topics not related to the President. I keep current on injuries or deaths to African American people by the police. I keep current on the environment and natural disasters. If I can find good news about people helping each other I read it or listen to it. For example, the last few minutes of Nightly News with Lester Holt has those kinds of brief stories about good. Other than that, I repeat the Loving Kindness Prayer of the Buddhists multiple times each day. I include President Trump and his followers in that prayer. I add "may he and they keep people safe and not cause anyone inner or outer harm." I walk in a park full of trees daily and celebrate nature and my companion walkers who are always pleasant and nod or see hello. I spend time with my grandchildren who live in the now and share that with them. And, my wife and I have explored countries where we could move if the President is re-elected. Right now, Panama City, Panama looks the best. We can easily get a visa and live there for 6 months and then renew it. While we would not want to do that it is important to us to have an escape plan. I listen to guided mindfulness meditations 3 times each day and especially at night. I try to have here and now fun from interesting and enjoyable programs on you tube to playing board games with my grandchildren, my daughter and son-in-law. I also contribute money to candidates who reflect socially compassionate views. In these ways I protect myself from some of the tumult. My go to meditation is from Thich Nhaht Han:  "Breathing in I am aware of breathing in. Breathing out I am aware of breathing out." Those phrases keep me in the now when all else fails. Daniel A. Detwiler

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I don't read the news that much only when am around my family and they give me an update on the news stuff that's how I hear it.

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@DorothyBelle - thank you for your insight! The human mind and behaviour is really fascinating to me. I watched a short video the other day of a therapist and speaker known for her work and insight into couples relationships. Her name's Esther Perel. Some others here may have heard of her. In any case, she talked about confirmation bias - how even when we are presented with alternative information, we hold onto the data points that confirm our pre-existing views. She went on to explain that even when our views are negative, they can offer us a sense of control, which is part of why we hold onto them. I wonder if this understanding plays into what's happening now with increased polarity and a tendency to hold onto one's views. As the world seems more uncertain, perhaps we are all (in our own ways) grasping for control.

Regarding anxiety and technology, I really worry about the young ones who are losing the capacity to play in nature, to be in silence... basically, to not have screens distracting the mind 24/7. To be able to sit and be present with the world without such distractions is truly a gift.

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@Daniel A. Detwiler - Your comments were really lovely to read. I love the sounds of your metta meditation practice, your walks in the park, and the joy of spending time with your grandchildren, daughter, and son-in-law. Also, that Thich Nhat Hanh practice is perfect in its simplicity. I have found lately that just coming back to the basic breath is so deeply grounding and nourishing. 

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On 9/18/2020 at 2:22 PM, DorothyBelle said:

As for the news, it’s just too much these days. Speaking of evolution we haven’t evolved fast enough to keep up with our technology. Scientists have been examining the dramatic increase in anxiety, especially in young people, with this technology advancement.

Oh! One more thing I just wanted to share with you. I just watched the new documentary called The Social Dilemma. It highlights a lot of this! Really an insightful doc 🙂

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Thank you both, Gillian and Dorothy for your kind comments and ideas of other sources on this topic. I am glad I am not alone in avoiding the news except to stay generally informed. As for Loving Kindness, I love even those two words. The prayer gives me hope. Daniel

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