The antidote to ingesting too much news

Recently, I bused down to the Village Cinema to catch the film “Yesterday”—the feel-good Beatles Rom-Com—before it left town. The movie made me laugh a lot and cry a little.  I was in dire need of some form of escapism as the tragic news of the back-to-back mass shootings, recent mysterious nuclear blast in Russia and general political mayhem around the world was overwhelming. My stress level was high, and I was not happy.  Perhaps you could say that I’d fallen victim of the addictive habit of ingesting too much news.

It’s hard not to be paranoid about what’s going on around us these days. Our government’s perpetual gridlock has demoralized the country. Nationalism, bigotry and xenophobia have grabbed not only America but also other countries by the throat.  We are in the middle of an ideological meltdown.

In many ways, all this whirlwind of political bedlam is strangling all the lessons of proper civil conduct our parents taught us as children: compromise, tolerance and respect for others. That’s how I was trained to get along on the playground.

My waspy mother, Helen, lectured me as a child that I couldn’t always have things my way, so I needed to be flexible.  She introduced me to the concept of mutual accommodation so that both parties could win.  At the time, I didn’t realize that my mother was teaching me about the principles of compromise. Agreed that it does water down what you want initially, but frankly, 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing.  Mom also said, that I needed to respect others and accept things which were different from my norm.  It’s how you get along in life, she would patiently explain to her wide-eye young daughter.  As an obedient child and now as a free-thinking adult, I still try to follow these simple rules.

Twice a week I walk with Karen Olaf, one of the first women on the American Stock Exchange.  She is a diehard Republican and I, a rabid Democrat.  However, we’ve never had any issue being friends because we respect each other’s right to have differing opinions.  Karen also lives by what her father taught her growing up. “My father always told me in order for others to respect my beliefs, I needed to first respect theirs.” 

Karen reads the Wall Street Journal religiously while I daily peruse the New York Times.  We both agree that it is increasingly difficult to find an unbiased world news source.  It seems other than our home-grown PBS, you must watch a foreign news outlet, such as the BBC, Reuters or Al Jazeera, in order to have an objective perspective of what’s happening in the world.  Without one to help you formulate an intelligent opinion, adults are inclined to turn their backs on both people and ideas which do not reflect their singular vision.

This attitude of “my way or the highway” has implanted itself in today’s government in our country. No one political party is free of guilt in this discussion by the way.  Recently, I caught a PBS interview with comedian Colin Quinn discussing his off-Broadway show, “Red State Blue State.” In it he spears the extremists on both sides of our political spectrum.   He even jokingly brought up the fantastical notion (or not?) of a potential civil war. Given the hardline stance espoused by the far left and right factions—both of which preclude compromise—“Where will this all end?”  Quinn questioned philosophically with a rubbery, down-turned mouth.

Especially now when we are thrust into the vortex of Presidential primaries, it sometimes gets too much to bear. And, if you get your news via social media with its instantaneous transmission of information, the addictive hazard of excessive news intake is even greater!  In order to keep yourself on an even keel it is healthy to periodically check in with your emotions. Then, it’s all about choice which method you use to detox from the anxiety-ridden world we live in.

I asked Karen what she does to relieve the stress caused by the endless barrage of political debate and “fake news.” “As I am responsible for managing my sister’s and my own stock portfolio, I keep CNBC on all the time.  I need to be connected given that stocks respond to what’s going on in the world.  But, when I need to take a break, I turn on mindless television and watch something on the Hallmark channel.  Their movies always have a happy ending.”

Beatrix Petito, a spunky German lady from my spin class, told me she goes golfing when she wants to close the door on the political madness of the world.  She and her doctor husband are avid golfers.  “For us, it is an escape from reality.  All we must do is concentrate on the game and where to land the ball.  No politics involved in that,” she exclaimed with a sigh of relief.

Deborah Mintcheff, a cookbook editor, relies on her latest passion, copperplate calligraphy. “It requires total concentration in order to produce the delicate strokes and dramatic down strokes.  I can’t allow any outside thoughts in,” as she described the process of being at her desk with special paper, nibs and ink.

Many of my other friends resort to escapism literature.  I sometimes wondered why book clubs were so popular in America. Now, I understand why.  It is a healthy way to close the door on things which make you anxious.

My knitting class instructor, Lisa Hoffman, divulged that when her friends get together, things get heated up when politics and the latest news are discussed.  “While we are all of a like mind, with a little alcohol and a lot of ‘Can you believe this?’ we can get pretty worked up. When I can’t stand it anymore, I turn to watching American Ninja Warriors.  Thank heavens, there are no politics involved.  Just mind-numbing entertainment.” Showing her more intellectual side, Lisa revealed that she also likes to devour the NYT’s Book Review.  Again, books to the rescue!

Courtney Katz, a former cop, veteran soldier with a tour in Iraq under her belt, and mother of two small children, stopped by our knitting class last week.  Joining in on the conversation on how to detox from bad news chatter she told us, “I drove into the City on my motorcycle from Fort Dix.  My husband—who’s still on active duty—got me a hotel room so I could have some quiet time for my birthday and here I am.”  She pulled out her knitting and started telling us how she pushes back. “We were assigned to DC before New Jersey and naturally, it was our job to follow politics.  But sometimes it would get too much.  I would have to turn off the news for one day or even longer to get some relief.  Listening to raunchy pod casts was a great distraction,” she recounted with a throaty laugh and wicked smile.

Ironically, Eater recently declared this to be the “Golden age of daytime drinking,” yet another way to obtain a quick release from today’s overdose of political news. Beer, lower-alcohol cocktails or a glass of wine mid-day, they all do the trick to help mellow out the mind.

Last weekend I enjoyed a relaxing get-away in Connecticut.  I asked my host, a former television news producer, what he did when the world news became overwhelming.  He rolled his eyes in resignation nd said half-jokingly, “Well, I go out on the porch and smoke a little pot!” This is definitely an easy way to help dissolve the worries of the world. 

Proclaiming herself a news junkie, my host’s wife said it was impossible for her to detox.  That said, she suggested that I read the following piece of satire. We both had a healthy, therapeutic response of laughter when we discussed it.  While she might not acknowledge it, my friend was using one of the most effective tools for stress management available, humor.

I highly recommend you read this hilarious piece of writing. Then, tell me if it doesn’t make you feel a little better:   It is by Jane Adams, a veteran writer of great talent. Forewarning.  It’s about Trump. Please do not be offended if you’re a Republican.  No doubt, there is something equally funny written from the other side of the aisle.

It’s all about choice which technique you use to put a band aid on the sore caused by an excess of political news and ideological turmoil. Whatever it is, it’s a necessity of life today.

At the risk of sounding a little bit like Presidential hopeful, Marianne Williamson—the spiritual guru and author of New Age self-help books—I also believe that a dose of love for each other is not a bad thing to add to the mix. And, while we’re putting together a wish list for humanity, can we also throw in some respect for others, tolerance of differing ideas from ours and an acceptance that compromise is not a bad word?