I'm a news and social media junkie; I admit it.
In my line of work, it's a challenge not to be.
But as social media platforms have grown so that there are seemingly endless streams of news, and as increased pressure and competition drive many media outlets to sensationalize and promote fear, I've noticed a heavier impact of the information I take in.
It's also likely a result of my mindfulness practice because I'm more aware of myself and my thoughts.
Still, it's a struggle for me to limit my consumption, and if I don't make a conscious effort to do so, I can easily fall down the news junkie rabbit hole. And before I know it, I'm curled in a figurative fetal position, wishing for my baby blanket and my mama, because, man, the state of the world can seem so horribly hopeless sometimes, judging by the news I see.
OpenDemocracy.Net recently had an article, which a co-worker gave me, about how to consciously consume the news. You can check it out here.
For my research, I talked to two experts—Stacey Castor, Ph.D., a life coach and educator who has years of experience as a psychologist, and Dr. Betsy Alderman, who recently retired as the head of UTC's communication department. Alderman is also a practitioner of mindfulness.
I spoke with them both for at least an hour about mindful consumption of news and use of social media, and then came up with this list of suggestions for readers—and myself. I also asked a local mindfulness group for some input.
Choose what you want to consume and how you want to consume it.
Several members of the Mindful Chattanooga Facebook group said they limit news consumption to certain outlets, such as NPR or BBC. The implication is that those outlets present a more straightforward, less dramatic perspective.
A couple of people I talked to said they've sworn off all television news, and I've done the same. (And I mean no offense to my local television news colleagues. For the most part, I'm talking about national news.)
The 24/7 national news cycle of CNN, MSNBC or Fox—which some people leave on as constant background noise—is equivalent to listening to hours of screaming.
It's ranting. It's fear-mongering. It's misleading, and constantly having that in our ears and minds can skew our worldviews. If we listen or watch constantly, we are letting in a lot of negativity without even thinking about.
Castor suggested aggregating news sources. This is why I like Twitter. I can decide who to follow, who is credible, and I can unfollow anyone who is negative or inaccurate.
We have to decide what we want to let in and how we want to let it in.
Maybe you only want to know about certain topics. Maybe you limit yourself to specific outlets. Maybe you carefully craft a wide range of reliable aggregated sources that provide a realistic, but not sensationalized, balance of information.
There are options, but each should be consciously, carefully considered.
Say it with me: "Put. Down. The. iPhone."
I'm as guilty of not doing this as they come. At lunch with Alderman on Tuesday, she saw me glancing at my news alerts and texts, and rightfully told me to turn my phone over and ignore it.
It's really difficult for me during the workday to stop looking at news, email and social media. And, in the past, I wasn't even able to shut it off in the evenings or on the weekends.
Perhaps for a while it was the novelty of having the information on my phone at any time, but now it's just become a burden.
I didn't realize how much the consumption of media and social media affected my energy and thoughts until I started shutting it down on evenings and weekends.
When I stopped checking my email and obsessing about the news on weekends, I felt free in a way that I hadn't in years. The new lightness brought into focus the weight of what constant consumption can do.
So figure out times to totally disconnect.
It's OK. That email can wait until morning or Monday.
Turn off notifications.
Another suggestion from Mindful Chattanooga is to turn off phone alerts and notifications. That's one I will have to try, especially when I'm purposefully disconnecting, because if I'm not checking my phone but an alert pops up, I'm drawn right back in.
And the notifications take us out of the present moment. It takes us away from whatever we're enjoying or working on, and—as I've written before—all we have is this moment. That idea is the foundation of mindfulness. So to be constantly jerked out of the present moment for something that's likely either trivial or depressing is the antithesis of being mindful.
Find balance through other activities.
Alderman said she finds peace through activities such as working a crossword puzzle or connecting with animals.
Meditation is an obvious antidote, but there are countless other possibilities, like getting out in nature or reading an actual, physical book.
During my conversation with Alderman, it dawned on me that I love to paint, but neglect that hobby.
My hope is that continued efforts to create boundaries regarding news and social media will create more time for painting, which will be much better for my soul.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.