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Stay Woke, But Keep Calm : The Debate on Beliefs

“Never discuss religion or politics with those who hold opinions opposite to yours.”
We have all heard some version of this saying over time. Each day we wake, the news cycle is muddied with acts of hate-fueled violence, the unpredictable actions of the White House, rampant racism and inequality and loads of negativity. As we continue to live through some of history’s most divisive times, it seems that not only have we began discussing these matters, but many have aggressively imposed their own opinions, feelings and perceptions on others. The impact of this imposition can be detrimental to our peace, sanity and even our mental health. As we navigate today’s political mess, we must maintain a balance between “staying woke” and “keeping calm and carrying on”. 

I have always been a person who wanted to stay informed of current events and the ever-changing landscape of politics in America. However, the election of 2016, coupled with the uptick in blatant hate crimes, and constant coverage of policies and international matters, has me weary and sometimes avoidant of the news cycle. To ensure that I don’t intake more negative and overwhelming news than I can process, I’ve started using what I call The Triple L method to stay informed:

  1. Learn
  2. Limit
  3. Leisure

First, we must learn how to decipher what news is credible, unbiased and relevant. Each of us have priorities, concerns and interests that differ. So the news sources I choose to get information from may differ from the sources my friends or colleagues may choose to remain informed. Try to select sources that have a reputation to be fair and unbiased, that report the news without attempting to sway readers one way or another. Research which news sources report truthful information and which sources you must fact check before spreading the info. “Fake News” has taken over our culture and in a time when anyone has access to the internet, we must rely on our critical thinking skills to determine fake from fact. Clickbait is rampant, so it is imperative that we read beyond the headlines, check the author and date of articles, in efforts to determine if what we are consuming is factual, satire, or simply, untrue.  
We must also learn when enough is enough and when we have reached our personal limits of continuous coverage of news stories. Be self-aware of how much negative news you can intake. Each of us has a different threshold for news consumption. For example, I have personally gotten to a point where I can’t stand to hear the words “Russia” and “collusion” anymore. I have actively avoided the topic for weeks, allowing myself to check in briefly to see what has happened lately. Viewing short clips that cover the major world news/events (for example, Five Things You Need to Know Today via CNN) in an effort to ensure I am well-informed but not particularly overwhelmed. I feel like I have enough of the facts to consider myself aware but I’ve started limiting how many stories from multiple sources about that topic in particular. 

I not only limit how many versions of the same news story I digest; I limit how often I actually watch/read/listen to the news generally. I found myself glued to every news story and it began to impact my outlook on life. Watching humans being denied freedom and justice, families being separated, school children being killed, and the constant looping of Black and Brown bodies slain can lead to some experiences of stress related trauma. I used to scoff at those who boasted that they didn’t watch the news because it was depressing; now I understand more fully how the media and waves of information impact our mental wellness. Research shows that excessive exposure to violent/negative media can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and even in some cases, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I found myself becoming angry, extremely sad and sometimes, hopeless regarding the future, after consuming so much distressing and disheartening news. Now, I find myself catching up on the news, as opposed to being consumed with it. I allow myself three or four days of intentional news coverage; on other days keeping abreast of major issues via word of mouth, or more commonly, social media, where fact-checking and relying on credible sources is most important. 

Equally as important as learning from the news, while limiting our intake of it, is allowing ourselves to have moments of leisure. The dreariness of some of the things plaguing society and the world can undoubtedly overwhelm us, so we have to offset that feeling with things that are fun, light-hearted and even relatively pointless. Find things in media that aren’t somber, like an interesting blog or YouTube channel, watch the viral baby video a few times, follow a funny Insta-comedian for a good laugh.
Do whatever you have to find balance with remaining aware and proactive in the current events that impact us while also protecting your spirit and mental health in today’s 24-hour news cycle.

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