• Maggie Munday Odom

your guide to staying informed while preserving your mental health

When the entire world feels like it's burning, it takes extra effort to take care of yourself. Here's how we cope.

In the midst of a global pandemic, our world is changing by the second. Every time we turn on the TV, the death toll has risen. Every time we check our social media feed, another major event has been canceled. Every time we open our phones, there is another notification filling our lives with negativity. The news was already stressful enough before COVID-19, but now it feels as though everything is falling apart and the media only reinforces that fear.

All of this commotion takes a toll on our anxiety. The media that we consume directly impacts our mental and emotional health. Due to our negativity bias when reading news content, our ability to see anything positive in the world begins to slip away and is replaced with a constant sense of dread. Ominous headlines hang over our heads. Our everyday existence is permeated with the fear of the next update.

Wanting to stay updated is understandable. Being an informed citizen is unequivocally essential— we’re in the midst of history being made. But tracking the news should not come at the expense of your mental health.

There are plenty of ways to stay informed while still taking care of yourself. The key to doing this is by setting healthy boundaries. In order to hold yourself accountable to these boundaries, it’s helpful to set guidelines-- both source-based and time-based.

Source-based guidelines help you intake media sources that serve and update you, as opposed to stressing you out. Carefully select media sources that purposely serve you. Curate your social media feed by following accounts that align with your belief system. If a news outlet frustrates you with its bias, don’t view it. If you find that an email distribution list brings you down, unsubscribe.

However, source-based guidelines have a downside. By limiting the sources that you view, you are limiting the perspectives that you consider. Part of having a healthy media intake is making sure that you view content that broadens your mind and understanding of the world around you. For this reason, I find that time-based guidelines are more helpful.

Time-based guidelines are measurable ways to keep your news consumption in check. Set a timer to limit the length of your headline intake, for example, a reasonable limit of 20 minutes three times a day or 10 minutes four times a day. By sticking to a designated amount of time for news consumption, you give yourself cutoff. Set screen time limitations like you would for a child. Parenting yourself is a form of self-care.

It’s also helpful to find a balance between overwhelmingly scary news and stories with positive focuses. There are quite a few social media accounts that focus on uplifting events and make known the small acts of kindness throughout the world. Following these pages interrupts your scroll through terrifying headlines with a bright ray of sunshine and hope.

Another essential boundary to set is to create physical distance between you and your technological devices. As important as it is to stay informed, you will not be dramatically less updated on current events if you detach yourself from your phone for a few hours. Keep your bedroom a phone-free zone. Remove your phone from your workspace. Don’t pick it up during meals or family time. As tempting as it is, try to steer away from texting on the toilet.

Turning off notifications is another way to limit yourself. By doing this, you prevent yourself from caving into clicking on a news article in your non-news time.

When carving out your time for media consumption, it’s best to set aside time in the morning, as opposed to at night. This helps you quiet your mind before sleeping, reducing anxiety that may make your mind race and keep you up at night. Instead, use this time before bed as a space away from headlines and breaking news stories. Perform acts of self-care, such as a hot shower or yoga, and focus on the small things in this world that are going right.

Amid the coronavirus crisis, staying updated is essential. However, constantly tracking the news is not necessarily a good thing. Your mental health may take a hit when you are overwhelmed by a negative atmosphere. Cultivating a positive relationship with the news is possible by creating a balance by setting healthy boundaries.

Maggie Munday Odom (she/her) is a writer, performer, and creative. With a passion for self-expression and centering youth narratives, she believes in using the power of conversation and communication to make the world a better place. You can find her online at https://maggiemundayodom.wixsite.com/portfolio or on Instagram at @maggiemundayodom.

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