Congratulations to me – I have gone exactly one entire day without reading the news.
Like everybody else, I am a collection of bad personal habits.
Eating too many gummy bears.
Owning too many shoes, shawls and sweaters.
Some of my addictions have positive payoffs – e.g. my natural hyperactivity translates into devotion to daily exercise.
Over the years I have gone through phases where I ate too many cookies, consumed more than healthy portions of ice cream, smoked cigars, chewed gum until my jaw got sore and wore high heels that gave me shooting pains in my feet.
But perhaps my worst addiction of all is my lifelong habit of obsessing over the news.
I could give you many reasons why this is the case.
Such as how in my 20s I was actually a newspaper reporter.
I covered everything and went everywhere from the Elysee palace to inside nuclear power plants, interviewing Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan simultaneously, writing exposes about slum landlords, labor unions, corrupt politicians and every president of the Federal Reserve at the time.
It was fun and a great way to learn as much about the world as any 20ish curious person such as myself could fathom.
Fast forward and I’m now 61.
I don’t need to explain to you about the news in 2020.
Coronavirus, race riots and the presidential election pretty much covers enough territory to give just about anyone an ulcer or a panic attack depending on where you are most physically or psychologically vulnerable.
After finding myself feeling particularly exhausted and depressed recently I called my mentor for a healing session.
We had discussed me breaking my nasty news habit before but this time I had to admit things were coming down to continuing to read the news or my mental wellbeing.
The last time I had tried to break my news addiction hadn’t worked out so well.
I remember I had been in Asheville studying yoga all weekend and had to drive through steep and twisted mountain passes in the dark on the way home.
Overwrought, I came home, threw myself into legs against the wall pose to try to balance my nervous system after gripping the steering wheel for three hours.
I made the mistake of grabbing my phone.
“I’ll just relax by reading the news,” I remember myself stupidly thinking.
“Just one little peek to calm down.”
All of a sudden I found myself reading about the Miami cannibal attack.
A guy high on bath salts had eaten off the face of a homeless man.
Suddenly my nervous system jacked into high gear again with the adrenalin rushing, my mind inquiring deeper into the story.
“How could this happen? Would the homeless guy survive?”
It took hours for me to pull my head out of the drama as I read story after story trying to figure out a tale that would never make any actual sense.
Laughing at myself, I gave up and admitted I am a news addict.
Maybe this addiction was just too hard to break.
I’ve tried limiting the number of hours I read the news.
I’ve tried only subscribing to one newspaper (The Washington Post).
I don’t pay for TV news since I rationalize watching the news reels is far worse than reading the stories off the internet.
I get my biggest hit on Twitter, which is the best for following breaking events, such as tracking hurricanes, major shootings, stock market meltdowns and of course the really nasty, hate-filled political mudslinging festivals that occur on a daily basis.
Psychologist Joel Kimmel has this to say to pathetic news addicts such as myself:
“Consider going on a ‘news fast’ where you stop watching the news altogether for a specific period of time and see how you respond. Perhaps, you may want to go ‘cold turkey’ and cut off all or as many sources of news input as you can. Limit your news watching to a set amount of time every day. Remove yourself from news subscriptions and social media where you get news reports. Consider whether the news you hear is really important to you. Observe your emotions after a news report and see if you are affected by what you see and hear. Practice critical thinking and have discussions with others. Do not withdraw; spend time with friends and engage in other activities such as a hobby, a book club, or going to the movies. Exercise or at least walk frequently. Learn something new each day for intellectual stimulation. Develop a support system of others whom you can talk to about your feelings. Finally, question the news you see and hear as to what is the purpose and does it really affect your life?”
When I was addicted to cookies the turning point came when I recognized that no matter how many cookies I ate my problems were still there.
If I ate 15 cookies in one sitting I would still feel just as lonely, angry, tired or frustrated as before I had just one.
Finally something clicked in my brain around this news addiction thing.
I realized I was giving my energy to expanding the fear, anger and chaos.
I also realize that to those wise ones of you reading this article that may come as a big “Duh!”
Whatever we focus on expands (“Duh” again you may be thinking).
I have to ask myself, do I really want to expand race riots?
Do I really want to hate other people who don’t think the same way politically that I do?
Do I really want to feel more anxious about tomorrow after reading countless accounts of the day’s drama from every possible perspective?
Having helped clients get off marijuana, cigarettes, sugar, internet games, oxycontin, alcohol, diet sodas, eating disorders and other damaging addictions, I turned to my own playbook and made a list of what I could do other than read the news.
One of the first secrets of overcoming any addiction is to find a substitute.
If you’re doing illegal drugs step down to legal drugs.
If you can’t stop playing games on the internet find a game you will play with a real person in actual life.
If you love your sugar high make raw food desserts so that you get phytochemicals and fiber so you feel actually satisfied not just temporarily high.
Keep reducing the severity of your addiction until you’re down to something healthier and more sustainable.
Find something you will actually do.
For me with this news addiction thing I decided instead of reading the news I would work on my Youtube channel. That way I could be on my computer like I was when I was reading but not absorbed into the negativity.
I made a list in my journal of other more productive ways I could spend my time:
Writing in my journal
Play with my dog
And so on.
So far yours truly has skipped the news for one whole day and even gone through an entire dinner conversation without discussing politics, how many people have died of COVID so far this year or the upcoming hurricane season.
I hope you’re laughing!
You either laugh your way through these things or you end up giving up and letting yourself be the worst version of yourself, worrying and fuming your way through life – hardly the habits of anyone who wants to stay happy or sane.
If you’re reading this article, please don’t send me a free subscription to your favorite newspaper.
I will have to pass!