How to streamline your media consumption and keep calm and grounded.
Our ability as a species to share stories and information surpasses any other. That is both an asset and a challenge for us in the current crisis. The spread of Coronavirus and the unfolding public health crisis is driving us to consume ever increasing amounts of media. This is only going to be helpful to a point. Making space for time away from media is as important as staying up to date. We must all try to stay healthy and grounded as this crisis unfolds.
So why is excessive media consumption a particular issue here?
When we read distressing news, see unpleasant images and are consistently confronted with the possibility, no matter how remote, that we or someone close to us might suffer, it’s traumatizing. It's not dissimilar to witnessing a bicycle accident happening again and again in slow motion, right in front of us. We feel media related to Coronavirus very differently, it is visceral. Normal media consumption involves content that is often happening somewhere else and is far less personally triggering. This is different, this is about seismic shifts in our everyday life.
When we are stressed or traumatized, we engage one part of our nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system. This is an older part of our brain designed for survival. When ‘Ancient Man or Woman’ was confronted with an angry tiger, our system filled our body with adrenalin and cortisol – two important stress hormones. Adrenalin and cortisol are effective as a very short burst of energy to get out of a tight spot. However, repeated stimulation of these stress hormones can drain energy and ironically put the body into a state more susceptible to illness.
Oddly, we often know how something is going to make us feel before we read it. But we keep going. Why is that? Are we searching for that piece of news that’s going to give us further reassurance, perhaps a sneak peek at something that is emerging or may give new hope to our experience and that of our loved ones? Probably. But the fact remains this is entirely understandable. We are in a crisis and in times of crisis, we respond in a much less conscious way. Our normal thinking functions are less available to us. We want to run away. We cant. So our brains have come up with a modern day response, typified by consumerism. We buy something, like toilet roll, stock-pile or in this case – read more than we need.
We are in part being driven by irrational forces, one where paranoia and fear are sometimes in charge of our bodies. It’s important to stay informed and connected to our social groups so we can both provide support and receive it. However, we need to take time out from news, conversation and messaging platforms otherwise we risk the damaging effects of a body in a constantly stressed state. We need to engage the other part of our nervous system, the parasympathetic to restore balance. This is the one which allows us to rest, sleep and recharge. The good news is it’s possible to stay on top of things, but it takes discipline in times like these.
Here are some tips to help streamline your consumption and keep your body in a calmer state during the crisis:
- Decide which news sources you trust and stick to consuming it at certain times of the day. It might be the daily press conference held at 10 Downing Street. A full summary can be read here: https://www.gov.uk/government/latest?departments%5B%5D=prime-ministers-office-10-downing-street
- One simple rule of thumb; you should be spending a far higher % of your day without consuming media about the virus and the pandemic. I would say for the average person no more than an hour of news on this subject per day. Preferably in the morning if you are someone who works during the day.
- Switch off news about it at least 2 hours before your normal bedtime. Sleep is more important than that last hour of news in most cases.
- If you’re self-isolating and well enough, create a routine for your day and try to stick to it as much as you can. Most humans take comfort in a framework and routine. Minimize distractions. You will feel far better if you achieve some ordinary personal or work-related goals.
- This is not a competition on knowledge, limit your consumption to what you need to know now.
- Don’t pass on stories and information you don’t fully trust and notice when you might be subtly changing the narrative of a story when sharing with friends. It’s important for everyone’s wellbeing we remain as factual as possible.
- You are not selfish if you’re not up to date as immediately as someone else.
- Go and be in nature. Look at big scenery if you have access to it.
- Try a breath practice (simply ones like breath in for the count of 5, hold for 2 and out for 10). These will engage the parasympathetic nervous system and help you relax.
- Do something for someone else who is in more need than you. Altruism has a really positive effect on your body and it helps others too.
Some reliable sources of up-to-date information are:
Robert Rees is a Director of The Grove Practice in London. He is a UKCP Accredited Psychotherapist, Writer and Executive Coach and co-founder of The Grove Practice At Work an organization committed to bringing good mental health to the workplace. You can reach out to Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org