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

Enter by doing one (or all!) of the following. Each counts as an entry!   


Giveaway Details

  • Every follow / share / tweet / like, etc. counts as one entry
  • Enter as many times as you'd like to increase your chances
  • Winner will be chosen + notified on February 27, 2017
  • Giveaway open to US residents only

 


Inspired Unfollowing : A Week of Conscious Content Choice

 

Inspired Unfollowing

 

Most of us spend a great deal of time online, in our in-boxes, and on apps. While I'm a huge fan of technology and the connectivity that comes with it (after all, I wouldn't be able to do what I do for a living if it weren't for the amazing power of blogging and social media!), sometimes it takes away from being positive and present. And, quite frequently, it takes away from the concept of self-love, my primary for focus for 2017 (and probably the rest of my life as well!).  

I've read countless articles about taking a social media break or limiting it to a certain amount of hours each day, but I believe those ideas are just putting a bandaid on the problem. If you need constant breaks from something or have to limit it because it's unhealthy for you, it's important to look at why you need to break/limit yourself. What is it that you feel when you're online or on apps? Are those feelings positive or negative? Do you want to keep feeling them? 

As I move through this year of self-love, I'm striving to get more in touch with how things make me feel. I tend to be very logic-oriented, and sometimes I forget that feelings are just as important as logic (even if they're not always as easy to identify!). When you have awareness of the feelings that come with certain experiences, people, things, etc., you can then make choices that help you to create a more positive, mindful, and self-loving life. Awareness is the first step toward change. 

This year, I'm striving to create more of that kind of awareness in my life (and make changes accordingly), and this week I'm turning my attention to social media, apps, and the places I spend time online. Specifically, I'm turning my attention to getting rid of those that don't create feelings of love, positivity, and inspiration.

 

WHAT IS INSPIRED UNFOLLOWING? 

What we surround ourselves with -- both in real life and online -- has a great impact on how we feel and live every single day. It's all too easy to fall into patterns, to do something you've always done simply because you've always done it, but I think it's a big mistake to be passive when it come to online consumption. There are a great many things we cannot control in this life, but one that we can is what we look at on our computers or phones. 

To create more self-love and positivity in our lives, we have to consume consciously (I know, that sounds like something Gwyneth Paltrow would say, but hear me out!), especially what we consume visually and electronically. Because I've come to realize how important this is, I came up with the idea of Inspired Unfollowing, a week of reflecting on what I've been consuming online so I can actively choose whether I want to continue doing so. I hope you'll join me this week in taking control of what you consume. 

As you do this, it's important to think critically. There are some things that fall obviously in the "unfollow" category -- the websites that drive you crazy with too many emails; the acquaintance on Facebook constantly ranting; the brand who posts negative memes on Instagram -- but there are many other, less obvious, reasons you might want to unfollow. Here are just a few example of less obvious aspects you might want to look out for: 

  • Unfollow unrealistic representations of beauty making you feel bad about your body
  • Unfollow memes or jokes that might be amusing but focus mostly on putting others down
  • Unfollow images of a "perfect" lives that cause you to feel overly envious or jealous
  • Unfollow brands promoting items you cannot afford that make you feel unsuccessful
  • Unfollow companies that don't support your personal beliefs (do your research!)
  • Unfollow people / brands that no longer interest or inspire you (we change and that's ok!)
  • Unfollow celebrities that don't inspire, uplift, or empower you in some way
  • Unfollow accounts you started following years and years ago but no longer enjoy

It all comes down to how something or someone makes you feel. The more you surround yourself with sites, apps, people, and accounts that uplift and inspire and inform, the more uplifted and inspired and informed you'll feel. And we only have so many hours in a day to look at social media, and there's soooo much out there, so it's up to you to choose consciously what you want to see. 

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Surrounding yourself with positive, inspiring social media does not mean avoiding things that might evoke negative emotions (i.e., upsetting but important news stories) or people whose beliefs differ from yours. One of the worst things any of us could do at a time like this would be to avoid people who are different from us. In fact, I encourage you to find some accounts and websites that don't hold your views and visit them periodically to open your mind to a new perspective.  The world isn't all sunshine and rainbows, nor is it filled with people who believe exactly what you do, and avoiding all negativity is not good practice. There's a big difference between things that add value -- such as news, even if it's not positive news, or people who share opposing views, but who do so in a kind, thoughtful way -- and things that make you feel terrible without providing useful information.

Okay, now that that disclaimer is out of the way, let's jump into the plan for the week!  

 

THE WEEKLY PLAN

The plan is basically to go through the various accounts, sites, apps, etc. and decide which ones you benefit from and which ones you could do without. As you're working through each one, ask yourself: Does this account -- directly or indirectly -- make me feel worthy of love? That might sound a bit cheesy, but, really our lives come down to two very basic feelings: love and hate. Everything you encounter directly or indirectly promotes one of those two states of being. (If something feels neutral to you, dig deeper. One of those feelings is there!)

 

Monday / Email Subscriptions

First up, our in-boxes! How many emails do you get each day? How many of those are email subscriptions you signed up for but no longer want? (Or were signed up for but never wanted in the first place?) Even if you don't end up reading these emails, you have to spend time and energy deleting them each day. Set aside time today to go through your email and unsubscribe from those emails you no longer want to receive. If you don't want to do it manually, there's an awesome site call Unroll.Me that'll do it for you! 

 

Tuesday / Facebook

Facebook can be a tricky one because, for a lot of us, we're follow (aka, "friend") people we know. We might worry that it would be offensive to unfriend someone on Facebook (even if that person is just an acquaintance). The great thing about Facebook is that you can unfollow someone without unfriending him/her. (Read this article for specifics.) You can (and should!) choose what you see on Facebook without causing offense to friends, family, or acquaintances. 

 

Wednesday / Instagram

Instagram is often more of a mix of family/friends and brands/celebrities. Unlike Facebook, you can't unfollow someone politely without unfriending him/her, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't curate an Instagram feed that brings more positivity and self-love into your life. While sorting through your "following" list, ask yourself, "Does this person / brand make me feel less worthy, unhappy, or negative when I see their posts?" If the answer is yes, click that "Following" button so you no longer see those posts. 

 

Thursday / Twitter

Twitter is my go-to spot for staying up on the latest news. If you want to know what's happening right now, Twitter is the place to go. But, over the past few months, I've realized that it drains me and drags my emotional state down -- and that has a lot to do with the people I follow. I love comedy and follow a lot of comedians, but, unfortunately, a lot of comedy can be negative. This week I'm clearing out the negativity! 

 

Friday / Pinterest

Pinterest is one of my favorite online spots and, for the most part, I love the people I follow and feel inspired and uplifted when I spend time on Pinterest. But, I've been on Pinterest for a long time and there are some people I followed years ago that are no longer adding value to my life. They might not be especially negative, but they're not inspiring either. Because there's so much wonderful content out there, you've got to make room for the great by getting rid of the "eh." 

 

Weekend / Websites + Apps

What websites or apps do you open on a daily basis? And, more importantly, why do you open them? Sometimes we have great reasons for opening these, but often we do it just because we've always done it. It's habit; not choice. Over time, I've cut down on certain websites I visit (especially brands that made me long for items I hadn't even known existed before I'd opened the sites or YouTubers who made me feel I needed the latest lipstick shade), but I'm now also cutting down on the apps I keep on my phone as well.

Remember: just because you have a Twitter / Facebook / etc. account, doesn't mean you need instant access to it at all times. Taking an app off your phone can be a great way to be more conscious about your content consumption. It's often much more difficult to log-in to an account on your phone or to go to your computer than it is to click an app open, making it more likely that you'll think before doing it, rather than just absentmindedly clicking while bored! 

 

I've already started on Inspired Unfollowing, a little bit at a time, but I'm excited to see how I feel at the end of this week! If you're going to join in on this, but you're a bit unsure about unfollowing certain accounts, I recommend writing them down somewhere and then unfollowing. If you keep thinking about them or miss them, you can always go back to your list and re-follow. (But, believe me, I bet if there's any doubt in your mind whether or not you should be following an account, you probably don't really need it in your life.) As a bonus, you can take note of the accounts you're consciously choosing to follow and seek out more accounts like those! We have a certain amount of time for social media, and that time should be filled with consciously chosen content! 

  

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