Have you given much thought to the media you consume on a regular basis? Do you realise that what you fill your mind with has a direct impact on your anxiety levels, and could actively steal your peace? I've seen it happen in my own life. When I consume media without thinking, whether it be news, or podcasts, or Twitter, I've seen my levels of anxiety rise. I become short-tempered. I get annoyed easily, and, while nothing notable is amiss in my life, it took me a while to pinpoint why I consistently felt irritated. That was until I gradually started eliminating these things. I wasn't drastic about it, although there's a case to be made for being proactive in culling that which steals your peace. I just realised that my favourite podcast tended to be a tad on the negative side. A rant every now and then, politics and world news that didn't contribute anything to my life, but, instead, the content left me feeling agitated after listening. So I decided to cut it out. It was hard at first because listening had become a habit. But, as the days went by, I realised I wasn't as frazzled as I'd been. I could see the positive impact this one step had on my wellbeing. It got me thinking. What else was I allowing into my life that made me feel agitated? I haven't listened to the radio for years, I find the constant news updates and predictable programming banal. The same goes for traditional television, so I've chosen not to expose myself, specifically to news updates, because you’d be hard pressed to find anything positive on the news lately.
When you dig a little deeper, you’ll be shocked to see the devastating impact 24/7 news updates has on your psyche. Psychology Today says that "the effect of negatively valenced news can potentially exacerbate a range of personal concerns not specifically relevant to the content of the program itself". Read more about that here:
The article explains that, even if you’re not ruminating on the content of the news bulletin, your mind will likely circle back to concerns in your own life, much more so than if you’d avoided the negative news updates.
Consequently, you'd think that I would be immune to the negative impact of the news? You'd be wrong. Because, even though I don't watch TV news, or listen to the radio, I do read the news on Twitter, and that's a whole different kettle of fish. Not only do I read the articles, so I'm exposed to the news anyway, but also to the comments of those that frequent Twitter. Those who don't make up the majority of the population, but who believe their opinions are worth their weight in gold. Twitter, where common sense goes to die. The best way I could think of handling that was to unfollow people who perpetuated that negative narrative. You know what? It's helped. Twitter will never be perfect, and, in fact, it will never be what it used to be (but that's a story for another day); but limiting my exposure to negativity has been beneficial to my state of mind.
I know a few friends who struggle when they see the constant highlight reel of their friends' lives on Facebook, and compare that to their own lives. Their lives that are real, and often messy. And it's hard for them. Yet the habit is so ingrained, that they forego the positive impact cutting back, or cutting out Facebook, could have on their mood. We tend to do what we've always done, giving no mind to how it affects us. Stop, today, and think about how you're affected by these habits.
The question then is what to replace it with. There will be a void, and what you choose to replace it with will determine whether you're left better off, or not.
I have some suggestions. I've tried some of these myself, but I'm by no means perfect, or even anything close to getting it right.
Read a book (or listen to an audiobook).
Silence. This one is difficult. When you're used to constantly filling your mind with anything and everything you can find, sitting in silence feels like punishment. Yet, if you can make a habit of it, it frees your mind to be more creative. Ideas come when you're not looking for them. You're able to hear yourself thinking, a skill in and of itself. It gives you time to process information. If you constantly go from input to input, your brain has no time to process what you've given it, and good knowledge and ideas get lost. Sitting in silence forces you to be introspective. You start seeing yourself, truly seeing yourself, and what you see isn't always pleasant. Yet it's often necessary for change to happen, and it can be a catalyst for growth.
Create something. Do what makes you feel creative, even if you feel it’s not very good. The end result is almost beside the point. Sometimes the process of being creative itself is enough to make you feel alive.
Go for a walk. Be present, see what's around you, really take it in.
Take a deep breath.
Be present in your relationships. Not just physically present, but be there emotionally as well.
Plant something. Tend to it. Watch it grow.
Akin to a diet of junk food, if we keep filling ourselves with that which is not wholesome, we will see the effects in our lives, and so will those around us. What will you eliminate from your media consumption that could have a positive effect on your life?
Until next time,