Like many Americans, I tuned in last week to the January 6 Commission hearings. It was difficult to look away since it was on most major news stations. And that’s the point – we can’t look away as actions that defile the bedrock of our democracy are fractured.
As I watched the time-lapse video, it was hard to stay unemotional as my family and I ate dinner. So much so that my son had to ask me if my tomato soup and grilled cheese made me sad. (How can cheese make me sad? And yet, I totally see the logic in his question.) I hid it, saying that I was thinking about something else, meanwhile Dave and I looked at each other with the same horrified wide-eyes.
I’m firmly entrenched in the camp of “more information is good.” “The more you know” jingle from NBC’s 15-second public services announcement clips plays in my head often. I want to know all of the facts before I make decisions. I strive to be an informed citizen.
Yet, the past few years – especially the past few months – have had me questioning my drive to get more data. We have facts from all sides of any scenario at our fingertips, often with computer algorithms segmenting our news so that it’s the echochamber we want to hear. If you’re like me, you try to gather a wide variety of news sources so you can see as many issue angles as possible. If my parents were correct, there are at least three sides to every story.
The problem is that every day presents a new news story that challenges me to the core. In the last week alone, we’ve waited day by day to see the Supreme Court’s ruling of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a compilation of shortages impacting mostly women (tampons, baby formula shortage and a childcare crisis), gas prices skyrocketing, and a stopped attempt of 31 white supremacists from rioting a Pride celebration in Idaho. That was as of Monday.
The question I keep circling back to is this: were we ever meant to know this much information at once? Are our bodies supposed to be able to process all that life is throwing at us at a more rapid clip? It’s clear our nation is in the midst of a mental health crisis, brought on by ever increasing pressure, ongoing injustices toward our marginalized groups, a pandemic, inflation, and more. Social media, as a distribution tool, has perpetuated a lot of that with younger generations, as U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy indicated. When emergency visits because of suicide attempts increase by 51%, it’s clear to see there’s an issue, thought social media is not the only thing to blame.
I notice it daily in my own body. Do you notice it too? You pick up Twitter or Instagram and hear the latest hot-button issue and it buries under your skin. Your heart races as you hear the first five minutes of the national news, getting the top stories for the day. You receive a text from a friend with a link to the latest mass shooting or watch homes wash away in a flood, and the text bubble pops up with a “I can’t even comprehend this.” You scroll on your phone and find that yet another friend has Covid in the midst of rising infections, though case rates aren’t reflecting the positive home tests and no one seems to be talking about it.
Just writing that made my blood pressure spike. It reminds me of the Surge Capacity conversation that Tara Haelle started in 2020 as we started noticing the initial mental health impacts of the pandemic. Her advice: take it easy, recognize grief, and accept that life is a little different. Two years later, does this advice hold true? Or should we add a few more coping techniques to the toolbox?
In times when I feel flooded, when it all feels too much, I try to put my phone down and go outside for a walk around the block. I’ve found that I need a few of those a day. The trick is not to pick the phone back up the moment I walk in the door, but solving that issue is for another day.
And then there are the days when I hit surge capacity by 9am. Those days require a nap and maybe a book. Does that break spike my anxiety a little more off the bat because I think of the millions of things I need to do? Absolutely, but I need to flow through the emotional response cycle before I approach the world again.
What do you do when the information overload becomes too much? I’d love to know – leave me a comment below.
This article’s featured image is by Marjan Grabowski