Tuesday, December 6, 2011

News! Fast!

We are a society with news and information literally at our fingertips 24 hours a day.  Does this make us well-informed, smarter, wiser?  Why have such easy access to so much of the news - just because we can?  Why watch it, seek it out on our computers, and phones as often as we do?  Why read it, listen to it, watch it at regular intervals on a daily basis?  What aspects of the news are actually important to know?  What details?

I ask people these questions often - usually in reaction to their shock that I do not watch the news, I do not read the news, and I don't often seek it out on my computer or phone, although occasionally, I do.  I ask them "why do I need to know that?" when they inform me of some tragic accident, a brutal rape, a horribly sad story of addiction and subsequent death.  Because it's important...  Because it's necessary to be informed...  Because I need to know what is going on in the world...  I get these and other similar responses.

So why do I choose to live this way?  It started over a decade ago when I read Spontaneous Healing by Andrew Weil.  In his weekly recommendations toward health and wellness (an 8 week plan, also included in 8 Weeks to Optimum Health), he recommends a news fast.  In this case, for this week, it was really strict and I adhered to absolutely NO news for one week.  It stuck!  I liked it.  Short news clips of tragic events and negative discussions left me feeling heavy with negative emotions, hopeless, and often lacking faith in my fellow human beings.  Efforts to make the news positive and tell stories of the good going on in the world were often sappy and did little to alleviate the negativity of the rest of the news cast.  Same for the newspaper and radio.  I felt better when I avoided the news.

According to Weil, "taking periodic breaks from the news can promote mental calm and help renew your spirits. In this way, the anxiety and over stimulation catalyzed by the media may be minimized, and your body will function better." The affects of thinking in a negative direction, be it anxiety, depression, sadness, etc. are increasingly being proven as deleterious to health - the immune system is weakened, healthy cardiac functioning is decreased, digestion is affected, and much more.

The idea is not to become uninformed and ignorant, the idea is to understand how you are affected and what you can do to control the amount of news you are exposed to and in what fashion you are able to hear it, read it, or see it.  Start by doing a few days or a week without news and then add in some things you think you can handle - experiment with yourself!  We do things so unconsciously, we don't notice the effects until we start to make changes.

I know there are rapes, killings, tragedies, wars, and natural disasters everyday, all the time.  The details of which I can live without.  How I keep informed is multi-faceted.  If there is something going on nearby that directly affects me, my house, my safety, there is always a neighborly discussion to inform me of what I need to know.  If there is a city-wide or state-wide discussion of an issue happening, I will over-hear it or be included in it and can then make a decision to access a news source or 2 for the information I want.  If I want to be up to date on politics (rare indeed!), I usually listen to or watch a comedy news source or an informational news program on NPR which is more likely to discuss rather than report the news.  If I care about a sports score, I can look it up on my computer.  If I need to know the weather, I look it up. I also read books and magazines on the topics I choose to be exposed to......There are so many ways to stay informed at a level that I control.
How will you experiment with your level of news exposure this week?

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