How to Find Balance with the News
[Please note: The views and opinions expressed in each post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BayNVC as a whole.]
More and more these days I find myself dreading looking at the news or the notifications on my phone. Whether it’s a domestic shooting, a tropical storm, or the rainforest in flames, it can feel overwhelming to stay abreast of what’s happening yet impossible to turn away and unplug. Many of the people I meet at retreats and trainings aren’t sleeping well; they have trouble focusing at work. They’re angry, hopeless, or in despair. The news takes over conversations with friends and loved ones.
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, and in many ways it’s important to allow ourselves to feel fully the intensity of our emotional response to tragedy. Experiencing completely the pain and grief of a broken heart and a world in turmoil is the doorway to transformation, healing and action. At the same time, feeling perpetually overwhelmed isn’t helpful. Given the intensity of our times, finding balance in relation to current events is essential for our ability to stay engaged and meet the challenges upon us. The awareness at the heart of Nonviolent Communication can help us to find more inner stability and clarity in relational to current events.
Here are five tips for how to find balance in relation to the news cycle.
1. Recognize the addictive nature of the news.
NVC invites us to investigate not only our own internal experience, but the context in which we live, love and work. With the news, it’s essential to know what you’re dealing with. Remember that the news media as an industry depends on advertising and viewership to survive. (Even patron-supported public news depends on keeping listeners and readers engaged enough to donate.) Whether it’s profit or donations, the monetary incentive often drives sensationalism; values for utility, accuracy, and ethics often have lower priorities.
Violence and intensity sell; goodness and stability don’t.
The next time you find yourself consuming hours of news, struggling to exercise choice over how often you check the headlines, remember that it’s designed to keep you addicted. Bear all of this in mind as you choose what to absorb, when, and for how long.
2. Stay connected to purpose.
At the core of NVC is our awareness of needs — the core motivating factors in human experience — and our creativity in attending to them. It’s easy to lose sight of this in the rush and pressure of staying informed. So I invite you to consider: Why are you reading the news? What’s your purpose? What needs are you trying to meet?
For me, it’s about staying informed so that I can more effectively respond. Democracy is an experiment in sharing power, and to share power in a meaningful way requires that citizens be informed. Yet the concept of being a “citizen” has atrophied, becoming more of a spectator sport than an active role. The news media contributes to this sense of being a passive observer watching a “show.” Its purpose has become distorted to entertainment, excitement and titillation rather than providing useful information.
What if watching the news were part of our civic responsibility in the true sense of the word: supporting our ability to respond? When we turn towards pain with a caring, balanced heart, a compassionate response is born. The point isn’t to drive ourselves into a state of despair or paralysis; it’s to wake up to reality so that we can respond.
3. Moderate your news intake.
A wise relationship to the news includes evaluating what amount of information supports your ability to respond. We can begin to explore how much is too much, and how much is enough, with the recognition that even having a choice around exposure to painful news is in and of itself a privilege. We can take that privilege seriously and make conscious choices about our news intake.
How and when do you get your news? What’s your intention in reading or watching? Do you check the news feed when you first wake up? How’s that affect your mind? Try creating some guidelines for yourself. Here are a few that I’ve found helpful:
For a week or longer, follow a couple of key issues that you care about, leaving other news aside.
Set a daily time limit for how long you want to spend consuming news.
Do a “digital detox” once per week, staying off devices and doing things that nourish you.
4. Make looking at the news a contemplative practice.
When it comes to something as potentially addictive, gripping and emotional as current events, conscious awareness is a powerful ally for finding balance. I invite you to make watching news media into a practice of mindful consumption, observing the entire process and taking steps to stay regulated.
Notice the whole experience from beginning to middle to end. Try to become aware of the impulse to check the news. Is it conscious or compulsive? How do you feel before you open your phone, computer or switch on the radio? What thoughts and feelings are present? Is there anxiety, rushing, interest, excitement? As various emotions arise, can you take some time to connect with the deeper needs they reflect? You don’t have to change what’s happening; simply stay aware and study it so that you can begin to learn more about where and how you get caught up.
As you begin to read, view or hear the news, pay attention to what happens. Are you aware of your body? Are you holding your breath? Does the mind start racing? Can you maintain awareness from one story or article to the next? Notice the impact each image or headline has on your heart. How do you feel?
Be willing to give yourself time and space to digest your experience. Pause. Breathe. Check in with your heart: “Is this enough for now? Do I have the space to take in any more?”
Staying balanced doesn’t mean that we stop feeling our emotions or don’t have a reaction when tragedy strikes. It means that we are in touch with our heart enough to recognize when we need to step back and give ourselves the space to heal.
5. Build community. Get involved.
The idea of a participatory democracy is that we need to participate. Wise action relieves anxiety. The fear and anxiety we feel in a crisis are there to help mobilize our resources. When we have something to do in response, we access our agency and power.
Choose an area that you care about and find ways to get involved. This means continuing to educate yourself about the issues, who’s currently involved and what they need. Getting involved could be doing something on your own (donating money, contacting your representatives) or with others (joining a local organization or movement).
Ultimately, one of the most protective things during these times is building community. There is strength in numbers, and great solace and healing in connection. To counter the negative effects of social isolation, reach out to friends and family. Get together regularly. Make time for both casual fun and more heartfelt discussion about what’s happening and how you feel.
The issues we’re facing today are larger than any one of us can solve. They may be larger than any of us can face alone. The more we can build community and strengthen our connections with one another, the more resourced we are to respond in times of crisis.
Oren Jay Sofer is a Collaborative Trainer here at BayNVC, and teaches mindfulness and communication locally and nationally. He is a member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council, a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication, founder of Next Step Dharma and co-founder of Mindful Healthcare. He is the author of Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication and coauthor of Teaching Mindfulness to Empower Adolescents.