Break / Make / Take : Coping with News Anxiety

 

Positive News

 

Anxiety is something I've struggled with my entire life in various forms. At some points in my life, it's lessened; at others (like now), it's heightened to the point that, on some days, it feels almost unbearable. But, given my occupation and my desire to try to make my life better from the inside out, I'm always striving to assess and better understand my anxiety so I can counter it with calmness and positivity. Recently, one of the things that's been a big anxiety trigger for me is news. I used to think news was boring and depressing. I could never understand why people would want to watch all of the chaos going on around the world; the negativity just seemed like too much, especially since most people watch without taking action. 

Now, at this particular moment in American history, so much is going on (or so it seems!) that I find myself engaged and interested, waiting with bated breath to see what will happen next. While I believe it's a positive thing I've chosen to seek out information -- knowledge, after all, is power -- I notice a huge uptick in my anxiety when I spend time scrolling through Twitter and reading articles about the latest political and global situations. 

I don't want to -- nor do I know if I could -- go back to my old head-in-the-sand ways, but I also don't want to spend my life being made neurotically anxious by staying on top of the up-to-the-minute, never-ending parade of news. Keeping abreast of the latest happenings feels like I'm doing something -- I'm an active, conscious adult, knowing what's going on at the world at all times! -- reading and worrying about the latest news story isn't actually doing anything. 

All of the energy I spend obsessing over the news (something I never would have done in the past) drains me emotionally, and the stress of it takes away from actual productive progress -- of the political and personal variety. We only have so much energy given to us each day, and it's important that we all be aware of where that energy goes. So, what's a girl to do when she wants to stay informed, but doesn't want to be inundated by anxiety? 

I don't have an easy, get-calm-quick scheme, but I have discovered a three-step plan that's been helping me. If you're struggling with news anxiety, I'm hoping this will help you too. 

 

BREAK REFLEXIVE READING HABITS 

If you're like me, it's tempting to go on Twitter and binge on the latest headlines, but all of that excessive consumption doesn't necessarily make me more informed. Quite often, I'm simply reading similar stories or random people's perspectives on a topic. Instead of social media binges, it's a good idea to have a few (credible!) sources where you get your news -- maybe at a set time each day. I'd also highly recommend reading opposing views as well. If you decide CNN is going to be your go-to source, consider switching to FOX or MSNBC periodically for a different perspective. You don't have to agree with everything you see or read, but it's important to take in a variety of sources. Also, be mindful of how often you check for news. While I don't think I could ever go back to being uninformed, it does me no good to check the news dozens of times a day. It's much more useful not to keep tabs on the latest stream of commentary, but to seek out well-informed, well-researched articles by experts who are open-minded and thoughtful. 

 

MAKE SOMETHING MEANINGFUL 

One of most challenging -- and anxiety-producing -- aspects of news intake is the helplessness that often comes along with it. So often, there are stressful stories or tales of those who are suffering, and, with all that's going on in the world, it can be frustrating and overwhelming to feel as if, even though you're informed, you can't actually do anything meaningful. But that's a falsehood we perpetuated by believing that meaning comes only from large, sweeping actions. The reality in which we all live is made up of moments, and every moment is a chance to make something meaningful. Make a connection with a smile; make a friend with a conversation; make a piece of art to express your emotions (and share it with others to inspire or connect with them); make time for yourself (the more at peace you are internally, the more external progress you can make). There are so many ways to create meaning in your life. While these might not feel directly related to what you see on the news, never forget that everything is oddly, beautifully intertwined. The goodness, positivity, and contributions you put into the world matter -- they have a ripple effect and you never know how wide those ripples might spread. 

 

TAKE TANGIBLE, IN-REAL-LIFE ACTION

It can be tempting to consider sharing a post or retweeting a story to be doing something, but it's not the same as taking real action. Social media is not social action. If you're feeling frustrated or overwhelmed with the world around you, you're never going to feel a relief from that anxiety by simply liking a tweet or Facebook post. To feel a sense of fulfillment, you have to do something. We live in a time where we have the world at our fingertips; whatever you want to do, whatever cause you want to help, all you have to do is Google it and you'll most likely find a list of things you can do to make a difference. No matter what you feel passionate about -- or how much time, money, and energy you have -- there's something you can do. And, take it from my experience, taking action (no matter how small!) feels infinitely better than clicking a like button. Plus, when you're actually doing something -- whether it's donating your time, researching how to help a cause, or working toward positive change -- you have less time to endlessly scroll! 

 

I know I'm not alone when it comes to news anxiety -- particularly of the social media variety -- and I know these three tips won't work perfectly for everyone, so if you have any additional ideas or tips that have worked for you, I'd love to hear them in the comments below! And remember: the more you follow the Break / Make / Take method, the less anxiety you'll have. And the less anxiety you have, the more you can make positive progress! 

 

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Chasing Slow (Online) + a GIVEAWAY!

Thinking Living

 

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Erin Loechner's Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path. I receive a lot of books in the mail, but I only write about them here in special cases -- and this is definitely one of those cases. I'd seen the book around online for weeks, popping up in various Instagram feeds and mentioned in articles and podcasts, but I wasn't sure if it was a book for me. I've loved Erin's work on Design for Mankind for years, but I was nervous that the religious elements of the book wouldn't resonate with me, a childless, agnostic atheist. But as I kept noticing it more and more places -- and kept getting drawn to the title and the book's beautiful, simple aesthetic -- I decided I needed to give it a try. And I'm so glad I did. 

Not only is the book beautifully designed, including beautiful photos and little journal prompts throughout, but it's also incredibly inspiring, especially for anyone who spends a lot of time online (like bloggers) or on your phone (like most of us). The book covers a variety of topics -- blogging, success, motherhood, mindfulness, work/life balance, and more -- but one of the topics that resonated most with me is the topic of social media. You might have read my post, Inspired Unfollowing: A Week of Conscious Content Choice, earlier this year, and so you know I'm thinking a lot social media and how it can impact the amount of positivity in your life. 

In the book, Erin writes about how she learned that "thinking about living is not the same as living." Those words -- particularly in relation to social media -- really hit home with me. When we're online -- whether it's reading blog posts, checking email, scrolling through social media, reading news, etc. -- we're, for the most part, thinking and consuming, rather than living and doing. Through the book, Erin brings up the question What am I looking for? and when I read those words, I was stopped in my tracks because one thing I love about my online life is the looking. I love that I can find almost anything I'm looking for at almost any time. I love that, in that looking, I've found newness: new friends, new items, new ideas, etc. I love the hunt. But, as Erin so wisely writes:  

The same hunger that seeks community, togetherness, discovery, and expression also roars with pride — with self-doubt, comparison, envy, loneliness. Online, we fed ourselves both.

For every force, there is an opposing force. Though the online world is amazing and inspiring at times, it's also uncharted and overwhelming at times. It's both wonderful and terrible. We spend so much time looking, and, as Erin writes, "Sometimes, when we're looking for what we want, we find what we need." In reading Erin's book, that's what happened to me. When I picked up the book, I was looking for information on how to take some of the stress out of my life, but I found something else: and important reminder and incredibly insightful wisdom on how I'm using technology in my life. 

Her words on Pinterest -- my most popular social media platform -- were particularly eye-opening for me. (If you're not a Pinterest fan, imagine that this is about a different platform, or whatever aspect of life you turn to to see what "perfect" looks like.)

Pinterest has, in a few short years, become an addicting escape, and impossible standard, an invaluable resource. A synonym for perfect... Who could've seen the downside as we pressed our noses to the screen, eyes widening with wonder, watching as our dreams scrolled by, pin after pin after pin? Who could've known that more isn't what we truly need? You could've known that more would make us feel like less?

Seeking more -- more information, more followers, more inspiration, more perfection -- almost always makes us feel like less because, after all, when you're seeking more, you're essentially saying, Right now is not enough. And, on a more personal level, I am not enough. 

This feeling becomes amplified when you work online. You begin, as Erin writes, "to see yourself as one dimensional, a girl on the screen." For many bloggers and online creators, there's a huge gap between the images on the screen and the real person behind those images (as anyone who knows me in real life knows well!). To keep up with what we do, bloggers need to be online and on social media. But finding balance (particularly for those like me, who have strongly addictive personalities) online and on social media is incredibly challenging. 

When your personal identity is so intricately linked with your online presence, this becomes even more complex. Erin writes, "Identity is a powerful force. We rarely see ourselves as others do, and we often view the world — our own, someone else's — through a distorted lens." We want to believe that who we are is not what we do online, but the more time you spend online, the more the line between our identity and our technology becomes blurred. At one point in the book, Erin is writing about Adam and Eve and she says, "In the pursuit of knowledge, they lost wisdom. In the pursuit of themselves, they lost themselves." To me, this says a lot about who we are now, at this point in society. So many of us are seeking some validation or understanding of ourselves online, and, frustratingly, we still feel misunderstood. Erin writes: 

I do feel misunderstood, but the one doing the misunderstanding is me. The one doing the misunderstanding is the one who wrongly assumed my social media profile and smiling square image must perfectly capture who I am. That my presence online must perfectly match my present off-line. That who I am is what I do, that my outsides match my insides...

...But what do we know of comparing our self to ourselves? What do we know of comparing our richest reality to the one-dimensional screen? What do we know a flattening our identities so they can be cropped, manipulated, forced into one-liners and profile explanations?

This whole online world -- and how it relates to who we are and who we'll become as a society -- is still so new, relative to the whole of humanity. But, with the ever-growing online world, something honest, something true is being lost. When I read these words in the book -- "On a good day, I tell the truth on Instagram.… But on most days, I don't write what I think in that moment. I write what I think others expect me to think in that moment." -- I found myself sighing deeply in recognition. As Erin puts it, "Our culture is prone to concealing what is.… Under-the-rug sweeping is the default." Social media only exaggerates this tendency of ours to push away the imperfect. Social media is often criticized for being an addictive, mindless, time-suck, but, as Erin puts it, that's not the true danger: 

The dangers of social media or far subtler than the distraction, than the addiction, than the habits we form by scrolling through screens multiple times a day... social media has encouraged us to crop out the contradictions in ourselves. It has caused us to airbrush the parts of our lives we don't love about ourselves. It has caused us to sweep our personalities — whether too big or too small — under a Moroccan Pinterest rug in the name of a consistent social media presence. In the name of online optimism.

The most worrisome aspect of social media isn't the time we spend on it or even the sometimes soul-crushing comparisons we make between the screens and our real lives. The most problematic aspect of social media is what it does to our personal identities when it encourages us to crop and summarize and condense who we are into a limited amount of space. Social media can feel spacious -- a variety of platforms from which we can see the world and connect globally -- but it's actually incredibly restrictive. We are not flat, square images. We are not black text on a white screen. We are endless shapes and colors and moods and feelings. We are complex and intricate and mysterious. We are gloriously imperfect shades of gray. Erin writes: 

Excepting that we are gray, that we are flawed, that we are a great many things, is one of the most difficult parts of today's information society. We are taught that knowledge is power, that what we do not yet know can be explained and placed in a box on the shelf, lid sealed until further notice. We spend our time on social networks attempting to condense our personalities into tiny profile boxes, trying to verbalize intricacies within flattened screens.

The intricacies of who we are as people cannot be accurately conveyed through a screen, no matter how many images, words, or videos we share. Our truest selves will always be present only in real life, and only in the ever-shifting day-to-day interactions and thoughts and emotions we have. We can do our best to tick of boxes and define who we are, but no definition will ever be enough to encapsulate the whole of who you truly are. As Erin so wisely puts it: "We are not either/ors. We are both/ands."

All of this online / social media stuff is just one aspect of this amazing book. In reading it, you'll not only gain insights into Erin's story (which, I feel, many people will relate to in some way -- whether it's as a blogger, a parent, a friend, a spouse, or just a person trying to make the most of what she's been given in this life), but you'll also gain tons of unexpected inspiration. I really enjoyed reading it, and I'm so glad I picked it up. (A reminder that, just because something doesn't necessarily tick off all of the boxes you identify with, it doesn't mean it won't teach you amazing things.) I'd highly recommend you read it, and I'm so thankful that Erin's publisher has agreed to give away a copy! 

  Chasing Slow


How to Enter

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  • Winner will be chosen + notified on February 27, 2017
  • Giveaway open to US residents only

 


What Do You Really Want? (+ Worksheet!)

 

What Do You Really Want Positively Present
 

After declaring this the Year of Self-Love, I've been doing a lot of thinking about it -- like, way more than I've ever done about any topic before. When you start looking for something (or, in some cases, the lack of something), you see it everywhere. That's what's been happening to me over the past few weeks. Self-love (or lack of it) is in everywhere, connected to everything. It impacts every single aspect of life in every single person, which is pretty crazy, as far as writing topics go.

At times it can feel overwhelming, the idea of transforming (or trying to transform...) every aspect of the self. But it's also kind of liberating as well. There's a freedom that comes with knowing that, though you don't have control over so many aspects of your life, there are still things you can positively influence. 

That being said, it's still a ton of things to work on, and the only way to take on a huge project, in my opinion, is to break it down into manageable bits. So that's what I'm planning to do -- to pay attention to the parts of self-love that jump out at me each week and share them in some way here (while, of course, bringing positivity and awareness into the mix!). What's been coming to the forefront this week is wanting

The word "want" has two main definitions: (1) have a desire to possess or do something; and (2) lack or be short of something desirable or essential. 

That feeling of desire -- and of lack -- is one of the things that stands in the way of self-love. And the more I started paying attention to the idea of wanting, the more I realized how much I was doing of it all the time. I started keeping a list, writing down all of the things I thought or said I wanted over the course of a few days, and it was kind of astounding how lengthy it got. Here's a sample of some of the things I wrote:

 

  • I want a the newest iPhone.
  • I want to see wolves in the wild.
  • I wish I had this cute sweatshirt.
  • I want to declutter my apartment.
  • I want a German Shepherd.
  • I wish I had better filming equipment.
  • I want the new Ban.do products.
  • I wish I had a new book contract.
  • I want to read the book Chasing Slow
  • I want to make more money. 
  • I wish I had some Tate's cookies.  
  • I want this shirt in my size. 
  • I wish I could afford this class.  
  • I want to create a newsletter.
  • I wish I had these silver sandals.
  • I want to donate more money. 
  • I want all Adam J. Kurtz's stuff. 

 

Most of these desires were "someday" types of things -- "I want a German Shepherd one day" or "I could really use a new phone so I don't keep getting that damn 'Storage Almost Full' message" or "I'm trying to keep only healthy food in the house but I could really go for a cookie right now" -- and some aren't even inherently bad. But, even if it didn't feel as if my life was majorly lacking without those things (i.e., I wasn't really bemoaning the fact that I couldn't get a new dog at that moment), I had to wonder:

 

What is all this wanting doing to how I feel about my life and about myself? Do these thoughts -- even if they don't make me feel as if I'm lacking as a person -- have a negative impact on my sense of self? And, more importantly, would I have wanted these things had I not seen them online, by complete and utter chance? 

 

We all see so many images all day, every day, and many of them make us want something other than what we have -- whether that be a physical product (like this cute notebook!) or an abstract concept (like love, success, etc.). I know not everyone might be exposed at the level I am -- I'm a bit obsessive with social media and follow tons of brands and people who create cool things so I see a lot of stuff and ideas every day -- but I still think most of us have those "I want..." or "I wish I had..." thoughts at least once a day. 

All wanting isn't bad, but the idea that I'm wanting so much, all the time, even in subtle little ways, seems very at odds with the notion of loving one's self. Instead of celebrating all that I have, I find myself looking for new things to desire, and, while the desire itself isn't negative, it's often misdirected (and often does so in a way that negates self-love, positivity, and mindful acceptance). Desiring things absent-mindedly or by default isn't the best way to create a life you love. 

So, what do we do about this? We're obviously going to want things (and by "things" I also mean people, ideas, jobs, achievements, feelings, etc.), and I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all -- so long as we're wanting them for the right reasons and so long as they will, in fact, provide us with what it is that we desire. And that's where the solution comes in. We have to examine what we're wanting and we have to determine if it's real

 

Wanting

Click here to download the free PDF!

 

Actually figuring out what we want (and whether we'll get it from the thing we desire) isn't always the easiest, but it doesn't have to be too tricky. I made the worksheet above to help me sort through my own wants this coming week, and I'm sharing it with you so you, too, can track what you want. 

My challenge to you (and myself!) this week is to do the following, using the worksheet:

  1. Pay attention to every time you find yourself thinking or saying, "I want" (or some version of it, like "I wish I had..."). Write what you want in the first column. (If possible, try to keep the list private so that you feel free to write whatever you've been wanting without any fear of judgment.)

  2. Reflect what you wrote in column 1. What makes you want that thing? What do you think will happen if you get it? If you don't? Is it something that will have a positive impact on your life? 

  3. Dig deeper. Consider whether this is something you do, in fact, really want or if it might be a reflex or habit. (For example, if a beloved brand comes out with a new line of something, do you actually want it or do you just think you do because you always get the newest items.). Also, assess whether the desire yours or if it's based on what you think you should want or what someone else wants. And, of course, consider whether this item is, in fact, a symptom of something bigger that you want. (For example, you want a new lipstick because you want to feel pretty because you want to be confident. Could it be possible to desire -- and pursue -- confidence directly?)

  4. Contemplate whether this item is a solution to a problem. For example, let's say you want a new notebook because you think it'll be a great inspiration for keeping organized this year. The last column is where you can determine if that specific notebook is, in fact, necessary to get the result you want. Do you already have a notebook you could use? Is there a notebook that might fit your needs even better? Is this really about a notebook or is it about motivation or organization or something even deeper? 

 

Reflecting on -- and, in many cases, adjusting -- our wants is an essential aspect of self-love. What we want (even if we don't end up getting it) influences how we feel and think and act. For me, it's often a default setting. I see something cool and my first thought is, I want that! I don't always (or often...) purchase something simply because I want it (as I used to, when I was younger and hitting up the mall on an almost daily basis), but that reflex is still in place, and I honestly don't think it has a very positive impact on me. 

I thought learning to control my spending impulses was a great act of self-love and I feel proud of myself every time I don't spend frivolously. But I think I can -- and should -- take it further, to break not just the habit of mindless spending, but also the habit of mindless wanting. Hopefully this worksheet is a start of a new way of seeing my desires -- and, if you're like me and struggle with the conflict between wanting and self-loving, I hope it'll help you, too! 

  

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