Too often, I get e-mails from HSPs who are overwhelmed with all the negative news out there. They feel powerless, afraid and unfortunately don’t seem to take the one simple home remedy that makes all the difference: if it upsets you, stop watching. Here’s the what and why.
The newsreports that we get delivered to our doorstep, t.v. and inbox are mostly fear-sensationalism. Fear because, well, they are mostly scary. Sensationalism because there is a big amount of “spectatorship” involved on our end. Unable to do much or anything about it, we are made to watch dramas unfold.
Dramas of which -let’s be honest- little is usually shared beyond some basic statistics and background info. Even if we were able to do some good, these reports themselves would hardly be sufficient for devising any kind of adequate action plan.
Let me side-step for a moment here. I teach creative writing every once in a while. One of the hardest points to drive home is always about the purpose of information. When asked why they write a piece, workshop participants usually respond with “to provide information”. It always takes me considerable time to explain that, writing something to provide information is as vague as talking in order to say something and getting in your car to go somewhere. Writing per definition is the sharing of information. That doesn’t make sharing information into a specific purpose. When writing a piece, we need to know what specifically we want the reader to think, feel, know and do.
Extrapolating that experience, it seems to me that, were I to give a workshop on “consuming information” and ask participants why they follow the news, they would likely respond with “I follow the news to be informed”. The question again is, of what, and why. How do you want to feel upon reading newsreports? What do you want to know and think about and what do you want to do in response?
Evaluating the Typical News Experience
Breaking down a typical news headline, you’d probably get something like this:
- What do you feel? -shock, terror, fear, anger
- What do you know? – that bad scary things are happening
- What will you think about? – how awful it must be for those involved, what an awful world we live in for these things to happen, what you’d do if this happened in your hometown
- What will you do? – worry and fret, but there will be no concrete action steps that can be taken.
Apart from very local news, most of what we read about or hear in news-reports is:
- outside of our scope of personal influence
- deeply upsetting
- not topics we are knowledgeable experts at
Yet, every piece we read or hear affects us. To the mind, something real or imagined, experienced or read is processed much the same way. It elicits the same stress response. On top of being upset by the “facts” we are also reminded that we are powerless. All we can do is consume the bad news and watch. We can get scared, upset and frustrated. We can take out our emotions on the people around us. We can stop sleeping at night. We can require calming tablets. Yet, we cannot do anything about the upsetting events themselves. What is the purpose in that?
Honestly, I think our compassionate attention is better spent where we can make a difference. Whatever that means for news consumption is a choice, but I think it needs to be a choice. Not an unquestioned “following the news in order to be informed”.
How to Stop Participating
And we need to consider the result of our “feeding patterns”. When we don’t, especially as HSPs, it’s easy to get into a negative spiral that continues to be fed endlessly. While we’re spiralling, it’s hard to imagine, or remember, that we have a choice and that we have a say as to what we allow our lives to feel like.
Avoiding negativity doesn’t make it go away. Yet, if avoiding certain things means that we are happier and better-functioning individuals, then wouldn’t that throw a whole new light on the need to be informed about everything?
The Newsreport Image of the World is Skewed
Let’s not forget that, while there is an extensive news-machine specifically built to share bad news, there is very little general media attention for good news. This means that, “being informed” by watching the news, actually skews our understanding of the world. It misrepresents the general state of the world. All the good stuff that happens is left out. No matter how much we think we know this, when we are confronted with “mostly bad news” the part of us that is processing it all concludes that things must be pretty bad everywhere.
Think about it, a regular day in the 21st century: You go to work / get to work at home, eat a sandwich….BAM BAM BAM *you’re informed of the news* ….you chat to some people, get stuck in traffic, read a magazine BAM BAM BAM *you’re informed of the news*.
To your brain, this is the equivalent of being out in the Provence in France, sipping your wine, and then out of nowhere BAM BAM BAM. OMG THERE’s A WAR. Tanks drive through your street. There’s bombs going off. It lasts 10 minutes. Peace returns. Then, it’s time to tend to the orchard. You’ve filled ten baskets with grapes, take a break in the shade and OMG BAM BAM BAM, 10 people died! Right there in the neigbouring field! Neigbours are crying. But, work is work. And…you go back to tending to the orchard. Who could stay sane in a situation like that?
News Has Changed but our Brains Haven’t
Once upon a time, “news” was the stuff happening in your community. It was not everyone’s biggest problems broadcast live from everywhere 24/7. I really don’t think our brains have caught up to this 21st century news-madness. Our brains take stuff pretty seriously. Especially HSP brains. So, when you expose your brain a lot to something, make sure that something is necessary, helpful, supportive. Make some choices. Be the odd one out who feels inspired. The information we ingest builds an internal picture of the world we live in. Whether we conclude that that world is safe or not, worth living in or not, worth taking a risk in or not, has a big impact on the kind of decisions we feel empowered to make.