How I Manage My News Intake

As far as American news headlines go, 2017 felt like a rollercoaster. I felt incredibly conflicted about my deep value of being an informed citizen and my need to not go crazy.

I think it’s safe to say that no matter where you place yourself on the political spectrum, 2017 had a different sort of intensity and an enormous amount of significant things happened.

From mass shootings to devastating natural disasters, from international terrorist attacks, to health care bill changes, to women speaking up about sexual harassment — it wasn’t just about drama in Washington. But, of course, there was also drama in Washington.

I’m a 4 on the Enneagram. If that means nothing to you, I’ll say it another way: I feel things deeply. I feel all. the. things. Empathy is my default.

I’m not going to wander into analyzing personality here, but I think it’s important to note that I’m aware of how I’m wired and it’s something that I accept responsibility for managing.

I also think it means that I have to be extra careful about what and how I consume content, because if I’m not careful, it can leave me devastated and struggling to function. Additionally (file this under knowing thyself), I need a lot of thinking time and silence without any input to feel at my best. I am careful about the amount of content I read, watch, and listen to because prioritizing this need keeps me healthy and sane.

On the other hand, my job involves managing social media for clients, which means it’s critical that I have a sense of the headlines, especially if something needs to be adjusted or rescheduled in order to be sensitive to an event that happened. I don’t have the option of disconnecting entirely, even if I thought that was the solution (which I don’t!)

Last spring, I realized that something needed to change in how I was consuming news.

At the time, my husband and I had our morning alarm set to a news station, so even though we were usually up and awake before it went off because of kids, one of the first things we heard in the morning was the top-of-the-hour headlines.

Not only did this start to feel like a really stressful way to start the day, but there were often too many news stories that I wasn’t comfortable having my kids hear about in that context.

Previously, I had thought of myself as someone disciplined about resisting click-bait and sensational headlines, but in 2017, I found myself spiraling into anxiety after what would start as an innocent attempt to just stay informed about what was happening in the world.

I needed to take back control of when and how I read the news so that I could better manage my emotional health, stay productive at work, and set myself up for success to be the parent I want to be (which basically means not a crazy, emotional wreck).

(I should also mention as a side note, that we don’t have cable or ever watch live TV, so listening and reading are my primary mediums for news.)

The changes I made to better manage my news intake:

• I changed the morning alarm to peaceful music instead of the news and we stopped listening to the news while getting ready in the morning.

• I waited until I dropped off kids at school and got back to my desk to scan the headlines and I would only scan the headlines as much as needed for work, but did not allow myself to read political articles at the beginning of my workday.

• I stopped turning on news radio as default in the car and instead set aside specific, limited time to listen to a 10-15 minutes podcast like NPR’s Up First.

• We subscribed to a print newspaper and started to read it instead of reading news on the internet. This helped because each article has a physical end, instead of links to more articles and all the distracting, annoying, flashy ads are not there. They also tend to be less sensational in tone and style.

• I subscribed to The Week, a print magazine that I recommend to everyone all the time. It feels so much less overwhelming and gives a great overview of the most important things that happened in the nation and the world and quotes from partisan sources so you can see how different perspectives opined about each event to get a perspective that doesn’t feel like an echo chamber.

• I started taking action on things that matter to me. I now call my representatives when something is important to me, even if I think they are already voting that way. Not every week, but when it’s really important. I also started volunteering and donating to causes that help me connect with the people impacted whenever possible.

• Books are still my favorite way to learn. I also prioritize the long-form content of books to learn about things in the headlines when I’m able. This doesn’t happen every week or even every month, but I truly believe something is better than nothing.

Should you do exactly what I did? Of course not.

But, I hope this will encourage you to examine your passive or active own news consumption and shift out of default into being more intentional.

p.s. For more ideas and inspiration on staying informed without losing your mind, listen to our own The Simple Show‘s series on knowing the news—here’s part one of three.

10 Comments

  1. Deborah Nam-Krane

    Love the idea of going back to print subscriptions!

    I made the month of January a no radio or internet news month. Not because it was overwhelming but because I felt like I wasn’t actually learning anything and I’m sick of the repetition. Instead I’ve been reading thick policy and history books, and I’m learning a lot.

  2. bdaiss

    So true. On all accounts. I have a hard time staying current on topics because I too get way to emotional. I’d rather escape to the worlds of Doctor Who or Marvel. But that’s not good either. So…

    When I check news online, I point to https://www.allsides.com It has really helped me understand how different media sources are trying to swing our opinions, both to the right and the left. It also helps me see what the actual facts are and what is rabble rousing (based on what stays consistent between the articles). All Sides provides a small summary of the issue and at least 3 headlines around a single topic along with where the source falls between left/center/right. You can also search by a topic or just browse a page full of curated headlines.

  3. Erin C

    I feel this so much, and I’m also an Enneagram 4 (MBTI INFP). It’s just so darn overwhelming sometimes to not only deal with personal feelings but then feeling whatever the world throws at you too.

  4. Rebecca

    Love this. I tend to avoid the news, but know I need to be a bit more informed. Thank you!

  5. Gwen

    I had to drastically adjust how I took in news starting last year and just shared some of the tactics that seem to work for me with my mom who was letting it get to her too. There are some new ideas here too, thanks!

    I think that part of her struggle is that her husband isn’t affected as viscerally as she is by all of it and I wracked my brain trying to come up with solutions since I don’t have that issue and like you, I don’t watch TV, which they do. They are joined at the hip, so her leaving the room would seem rude and weird. So far, all I can suggest is to read and tune out the news, but he tends to rant a bit and expect her input as well, which makes tuning it out impossible and knowing him, I doubt he gets the whole empathy and taking it deep inside thing as she, I, and obviously you do.

    If anyone has ideas for dealing with the emotionally diverse couple, I’m all ears and will pass them on to her.

  6. julie

    I feel like you wrote this for me. I am so sensitive and also know how I am, there are terrible stories that I saw on Oprah 10-20 years ago that still replay in my head and I feel like I can’t escape them! I do not watch local news because it’s all terrible things happening. Anything with children is a major trigger for me. I have to read all my news and be so careful about what I watch or listen to because it can bring me to tears and ruin my day and it’s debilitating. I subscribe to the skimm and while I’ve read some negative things about it, I really like it. I also love Vox sentences.

  7. Jean

    Thank you for a fresh take on taking in the news. I’ve never been a newspaper subscriber or reader but your post will change that 🙂 Plus, newspapers have all kinds of great local highlights!

  8. Alissa

    Wow! This really resonated for me. I’ve always loved the newspaper, but we stopped subscribing because “you can get the news everywhere” – but, I still read it at the office. Your comment about newspaper articles having a physical stopping point really hits home because I struggle to stop my consumption of link after link on the internet. Maybe that those newspaper headlines are the right way to go!

  9. Scarlet

    This is so appropriate to these times where it feels like the news just keeps getting more depressing! It is hard not to either be too affected by it or tune it out too much. Finding the right balance for you is important and you shared great tips for doing that. Thanks!

  10. Audra Edmonson

    Thanks for sharing your advice! As a fellow empath, I’ve struggled with the same things; whether to consume at all, how to consume without becoming consumed, and how to stay informed about what really matters without becoming bogged down with what doesn’t.

    I’m fortunate that my job has never relied on staying up on current events, but what did happen was I got so stressed out I unplugged entirely. I was living overseas last year so I only had a distant view of what was happening, fed to me via the “did you hear” of Facebook or friends back home. It was nice, but I also had the sense I was sticking my head in the sand. I’m still finding ways to consume so I know what I can take action on. I’ll be trying out some of your ideas!

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