How to Stay Informed (Without Getting Overwhelmed)

It is possible, and it is essential.

Listen: we are doing ourselves no favors when we treat our news cycle as a Pez dispenser — when we pop onto our feed(s) and ingest, ingest, ingest another article/think piece/RT until we’re fat and depressed, full and sick. I will make absolutely no apologies for the increasingly unpopular opinion that our souls were simply not created to consume the sheer amount of information we binge on a daily basis.

And so, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider this your simple guide to sane media consumption:

1. Create a purpose.

Consider the purpose behind your news consumption. What’s the end goal here? To have something to talk about at tonight’s dinner party? To choose where to allocate your time/finances toward a better future? To gain greater empathy? Choose wisely, and consider this mission prior to clicking the linkbait. Keeping this focus means you won’t feel powerless against a less-than-uplifting news cycle. Read with this goal in mind.

2. Get local.

Might I suggest subscribing to your local paper and sourcing your news this way, rather than the ever-reactive Twitter memes or the all-caps, ragey Facebook feed? The format alone – inky and soft – begs your mind to consume it more thoughtfully than the maddening scroll and furrowed brow of pocket-sized text. Plus: you’ll be supporting your community’s local folks, the ones you know in actual, real life — the ones with their boots on the ground to build a better corner of the world. The ones that need our help, not our clicks.

Sidenote: Want to get the facts as straight as possible? Curious about a specific news story? Get thee to the source and check out their local online newspaper. You’ll be amazed at how the game of telephone is ever-skilled at skewing the most basic of information.

3. Seek perspective.

I make it a habit of attempting to understand 2-3 different viewpoints for each news story I’m consuming. To be clear, I do not mean reading news from an opposing network (i.e. CNN vs. FOX). I mean viewpoints. Real people. Twitter is lovely for this, as once I feel like I’ve informed myself of the news story, I will sometimes hop on to view reactions from everyday folks. What does this story mean for a financial planner in Idaho? A stay-at-home mother in New York? A textile artist in Singapore? If anything, seeking perspective offers a broader, more robust version of an oft-simplified angle and is a surefire crash course in Empathy 101.

4. Act accordingly.

That purpose you created earlier? Make it happen. Start budgeting to vote with your dollar. Make phone calls to your senator. Foster conversations; listen hard. (Harder.) The best way to combat overwhelm? Bite-sized chunks of hard, good work.

5. Get together.

We weren’t meant to experience isolating news alone, eyes to the screen, in the checkout line at the grocery or school drop-off. My friend makes a pact to read the paper with her family over dinner; another friend started a newspaper club on her morning train commute. Read the news with people, not next to them. Consume with community.

6. Chase wisdom.

Whenever possible, seek out a historical perspective to current events. My husband keeps a U.S. and World history textbook on his nightstand to reference how popular opinions have been shaped and warped throughout the years. On my nightstand? A Bible. Whatever your faith, attempt to balance an increasingly polarized news cycle with something unchanging, a true north. It exists, if only you seek it.

7. Balance it out.

Look for the good. It’s there, it’s there, it’s there. (Here’s one example.) Can’t find it? Maybe it’s your turn. Yarn bomb a park bench. Decorate your street corner. Plan something over-the-top for no good reason. Make meaningful art. Sing. Tape a train. Look for the helpers, sure, but don’t forget to look in the mirror.

8. Deep breaths.

Listen, the news is bad. It’s cruel, and our biases and cruel, and we’re going to get offended with hot takes and personal blows and millennial think pieces shared thousands of times over on Medium. A consideration, then, from the famed (bold) words of Salman Rushdie:

“Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn’t exist in any declaration I have ever read… I can walk into a bookshop and point out a number of books that I find very unattractive in what they say. But it doesn’t occur to me to burn the bookshop down. If you don’t like a book, read another book. If you start reading a book and you decide you don’t like it, nobody is telling you to finish it.

To read a 600-page novel and then say that it has deeply offended you: well, you have done a lot of work to be offended.”

 

Tell me: How are you guys faring these days? Any tips on reading the news and staying sane? I’d love to hear what works for you!

  • Love this article! “Bite-sized chunks of hard, good work” might be my favorite quote this year. It truly is the best way to combat overwhelm (in my experience, anyway).

    Your first two points are so essential, and so overlooked. It’s too easy now to fly through life, picking up every shiny (sharp) object you see, cluttering your mind and space with superfluous “stuff” until you find yourself suffocating from the overload. I feel as though many of us have lost touch with the simple truth that we create our own stories, and we have the freedom (and responsibility) to choose what we tap into, and most importantly, why. We can become so isolated in our information consuming bubbles, forgetting that the news we’re reading affects real people, right here in our communities, and that perhaps the best way to get involved and become meaningfully informed is to participate there.

    And of course, balancing it out is vital. We can’t let the dread take over. Celebrating small victories or little pleasures with friends and family can be the ultimate anecdote for cynicism. Enjoying great art and music — something far greater and more lasting than any news cycle or thought piece — can rejuvenate our souls and remind us that life is bigger than us, than our lifetimes, even. There is something deeper and more significant to connect to, and that’s what we can’t lose sight of.

    • Could not be cheering on your perspective more! So much love and appreciation your way, sweet Elizabeth. :)

  • I’m trying to find a balance between staying informed and staying sane. Balance in standing up for what I think is right and not putting down other’s beliefs. Balance in protecting my soft aching parts and not being a doormat.

    Deep breaths are essential.

  • This essay is just what we need in these times. I find myself so overwhelmed and saddened by being powerless in this ever-growing world of evil. I want to be informed but cautious of what I will discover. I have my Bible on my night stand, too, to reference what is truly important and what is steadfast and right. I will absolutely be implementing these ideas. Thanks, Erin! Thank you for being a voice of reason.

  • This post is just what I needed today! I want to be an informed citizen but at the same time, the news is just bringing me down and it seems like every day, there is something else happening that seems to require a degree of outrage mixed with overwhelming empathy. It is just too much. Your post however, is giving me the tools to cut back and choose carefully what it is I am reading.

    Thank you Erin! :)

  • Love the encouragement of deep breaths and chasing wisdom. Regarding #8 `- I can’t remember who said this, or something like it: “We can feel offended, and not be offended.” In other words, we can see it a choice. I have faced the information overwhelm, too. I cut out news outlets that were (to me) obviously one-sided, and also news outlets that constantly seem to be angry, ’cause who needs that? I do kind of like the news I can subscribe to via newsletter, esp. those with a bit of humor and wit; it makes it all so much more easy to stomach.

Comments are closed.