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Minimizing News Consumption is Keeping Me Sane

July 23, 2020 | by Rabbi Noach Gruen

The quickest way to make yourself crazy is to focus on everything in life you cannot control.

Many years ago, I decided to stop following politics. No news, no radio. I only take in what my wife and friends tell me. I am a singularly uninformed member of our country, and I love every moment of it.

Although some might consider this irresponsible, I believe that most media we take in does more harm than good. Pundits bury positive headlines and spike their ratings by making things look as bad as possible, predicting the demise of America because of their political opponents.

Conversations about politics are often just as bad. When I hear friends and family begin to talk about politics, their demeanor deviates drastically. The pleasant conversation we were having about some neutral topic becomes angry when something political comes up.

On a practical level, the news we consume usually doesn’t change the way we vote, and the thrill of righteous outrage at the evils of our political opponents comes at too great a cost. Feeling angry, pessimistic, and fearful will never make me a better husband to my wife, nor a better father to my son. As the Yiddish expression goes, we need those emotions like we need “ah loch in kop” – a hole in our head.

To stay sane, positive, and productive throughout this crisis, I chose to shield myself from almost all news.

As COVID-19 hit, I quickly realized that, as a person sensitive to disturbing news, I needed to apply the same rules to the endless stream of data that left me down. I want to stay sane, positive, and productive throughout this crisis, and in order to do so, I choose to shield myself from almost all news. My wife and friends tell me what I need to know when I need to know it.

Regrettably, we must be aware of some of the negativity swirling about. The anxiety of not knowing what’s happening next about COVID-19 or the social unrest might be worse than knowing. It is important to know if a riot is taking place in your neighborhood or if the governor suddenly announces that your business must be closed.

But we know too much about COVID, we check on things too often, and what we consume is usually detrimental to our well-being.

Dr. Jacqueline Bullis, a clinical psychologist in McLean Hospital’s Center of Excellence in Depression and Anxiety Disorders in Belmont, Massachusetts, explains the motivation to be a COVID news junkie. When “uncertainty is high, it drives our brains to seek as much information as possible to feel in control,” she said.

However, “In the long term, these behaviors are increasing our anxiety by feeding into this belief that if we have enough information, we can control what happens. The more we seek certainty over what will happen in the future, the more anxious we will feel. It is impossible to be 100% certain of what the future holds regarding COVID-19.”

Bullis recommends only taking in helpful information, such as learning ways to stay safe, and avoiding unhelpful and anxiety-provoking news. We really don’t benefit by tracking exactly how many new cases there are in our state every day.

As Dr. David Lieberman, New York Times best-selling author and psychologist, wisely remarked, “The quickest way to make yourself crazy is to focus on everything in life you cannot control.”

Thank God, I’ve been able to keep the stress of the situation in check by making highly structured and positive days for myself. I fill my days with writing projects and tutor three times daily. I try to exercise at least once, and often twice a day, and have fun being silly making my 4-month-old son smile.

Times are stressful enough as it is. Instead of consuming the news’ non-stop negativity, we can focus on the great things we can do – invest in our relationships, take on a new hobby or project, and take more time to study and pray.

My “drastic” withdrawal from news during COVID has created unexpected opportunities for me. I never could’ve guessed that during this difficult period, I’d start learning Torah with my parents every day, begin writing a series of essays on the 13 Principles of Belief, and develop a special one-on-one connection with the students I tutor.

May God gives us the strength to focus on His Divine Data, the “media” that leaves us enlightened, elevated, and enriched.

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