Confession: I have no idea when the new iPhone is coming out, I don’t know which states legalized marijuana, and I couldn’t tell you the names of anyone in “Game of Thrones.”
But I am, if you can believe it, a living, breathing, urban-dwelling, responsible American adult.
An American adult who doesn’t read, watch, or listen to the news. The news and I are…going in different directions, seeing other people. Essentially, I realized I was in an unhealthy relationship. I needed to break up with the news.
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After the 2016 election cycle and all that followed, my husband and I had begun to have serious conversations about our news consumption. You didn’t have to be a news junkie to feel depressed and discouraged at that time. What purpose did the news actually serve in our lives? Did it make us happier? No. In fact, we learned that research shows the more news you consume, the more likely you are to experience stress and depression. Reading the news can activate the limbic system, triggering a cascade of stress-inducing cortisol. Did it make us more prone to act—to change the world for good? Nope, not that, either. When we kept up with the news, we found ourselves pulled in a thousand directions, rather than focused on ways we could actually help any individual situation.
Okay, but, at the very least, didn’t we have an obligation to stay informed? Wouldn’t it be irresponsible not to know what’s going on in the world?
Well…maybe not. For my part, I realized that my desire to stay current with the headlines sprang more from a fear of appearing uninformed than any actual need to know what was happening. I was afraid to show up to a party and have my ignorance exposed while everyone else sipped their cocktails and made fun of the latest politician caught in scandal. Would I have to just nod and smirk along with them, thinking, Wait, what did that guy do? Affair? Misuse of funds? Secret clown obsession?
With these reflections in mind, I realized it was time for a total hiatus from the news. No reading, watching, or listening for at least a week. I can’t tell you how good that week felt. It was like a dark cloud had lifted—one I hadn’t even realized was there. And since I didn’t have any cocktail parties coming up, I let that one week extend to two, three, four. My news fast (or at least a drastic news reduction) has now lasted months, with only positive results. These days, I’ll check Google News once a week or so and scroll through some headlines. Other than that, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are clear of all news, I never turn it on via radio or TV, and I only seek out print or online articles if there’s a particular topic I want to know more about.
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Fasting from the news has brought me more peace and less anxiety. Keeping away from headlines didn’t stop me from praying for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, for example, and making a donation to the Red Cross for their aid. After all, it’s not like I don’t gather the salient points of what’s happening from people in my life (or even the TVs blaring in random places like the auto body shop or my doctor’s office). But intentionally reducing my consumption has narrowed my focus to what’s actually going on around me, where I can make a difference. I can’t mediate nuclear talks in North Korea, and I can’t fix global warming, but I can do ministry at my church or volunteer at my kids’ school.
We limit consumption of many things for our physical health, and our mental and spiritual health are no different. Just like binging on donuts leads to weight gain, overconsuming news can lead to a burden on our minds and spirits. Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself: Are elevated stress levels, increased likelihood of depression, and distraction from your real life’s focus worth the payoff of being “in the know”? If you’re like me, maybe it’s time to kick the mental junk food habit of headlines in favor of the peace of mind a news-free (or news-reduced) diet can bring.