Turning Off The News & Politics
Discover the Shocking Truth: How Quitting the News Transformed My Life and Can Improve Yours Too
On March 7, 2022 I realized that I was addicted to the news.
The dark days of the pandemic had mostly faded into the past, but instead of taking a moment to rejoice, our collective focus shifted without missing a beat to the next looming disaster—the war in Ukraine. Like many Americans, even though I couldn't pinpoint Ukraine on a map, I jumped into research mode, eager to form an opinion on this fresh conflict.
It wasn't enough for me to simply know "where I stood" on the issue. I needed to possess the correct interpretation of the facts and be more informed than my neighbor. Admittedly, I was clueless about the intricate geopolitical histories of Russia and Ukraine, but that didn't deter me! I plunged into the subject, exploring NATO's role in the region, the Bucharest Summit Declaration, and immersing myself in chapters and hours of video by John Mearsheimer.
After a few days, I had formulated an opinion on the war. Of course, I wasn't actually generating any original thoughts; I was merely choosing which voices to listen to and parroting their information as if it were my own. But, I had to admit, I was quite adept at this. I could usually absorb more information, process it, and recall it better than others—a "gift" I had honed over many years of being opinionated on complex subjects. This was precisely what I did during the pandemic as well...
Then I stumbled upon this meme:
The meme struck me like a bolt to the heart, encapsulating my essence entirely. What was I truly doing? I recognized that I was treating this like a sport, a contest of "who could be right" on any given topic. My research served as practice for the competition. Even more troubling, I was part of a "team" I hadn't even acknowledged. I was engaging in tribalism.
I found myself choosing between being "pro-war in Ukraine" or "anti-war in Ukraine." During the pandemic, I picked sides as "pro-vaccine" or "anti-vaccine." And, inevitably, whether consciously or unconsciously, I was aligning myself with a political tribe. If I was "anti-vaccine," I was "pro-Trump." If I was "pro-lockdowns," I was "pro-Biden." If I donned a mask, it's likely I had a Ukrainian flag displayed on my car.
As a natural contrarian, I did my best to confound people by mixing and matching my beliefs. Perhaps I'd be pro-vaccine, anti-lockdown, anti-Ukraine war, and still help send an ambulance to Ukrainian citizens. That would surely baffle them!
The whole experience was draining. And what purpose did it serve? Did my opinion on any of these issues genuinely make a difference? Of course not. It was merely a sport. I was picking a side, a team, a tribe.
So, on March 7, 2022 I realized that I was addicted to the news and I decided to stop consuming it. This was still early in my grief and depression from my friend Joe dying. I was anxious to try anything that might help fix my symptoms and my “information diet” was one of the first things I changed.
How Did I Start My News Diet?
The first thing I had to do was unfollow or mute my friends on social media that constantly talked about the news. (I’m sorry) This resulted in my Facebook Friends List going from about 2,000 people to now just about 400. I trimmed a lot of people.
I used the “mute” keywords feature on Twitter. This is a great feature where you can hide any words or topics that you don’t want to see on your feed.
I stopped tuning into the nightly TV newscast.
I tried my best to stop talking about these subjects with my friends and family.
I unsubscribed from any newsletters or emails that were about politics or news.
I set up “Way Of Life” to track my ability to ignore the news. Everynight I would rate myself on the task: “Avoid Politics & News! Focus on what I can control.” If I did a good job on it, I would rate it “Yes” and it would turn green. If I didn’t do so well, I would rate it “No” and it would turn Red for the day.
Rating myself every day using the Way Of Life App was a huge help. Everynight before I was going to bed I would have to consciously think about the day and evaluate my performance on this task. Somedays I was very successful. While other days, I failed miserably. But when I was evaluating myself, it provided me with a good opportunity to reflect on the day. What I noticed was that, without question, on the days that I successfully avoided the news and politics, I felt better. I felt happier. Here is how I have fared: Each bar graph is a month going back to March of 2022. The red are the days of the month that I did NOT avoid the news and politics. The green, is when I was successful.
Even though I wasn’t perfect, the effects of turning of the news were very positive and they were quick. Here is what I journaled about it at the time:
After just 2 Weeks: “I’ve been on a food diet for 2 weeks. I’ve been on an information diet for 3 weeks (no news, no politics). Both have been very good for me. But the information diet has had the biggest impact on my happiness.”
68 Days: “I haven’t read or watched the news in 68 days. I was addicted to it.”
110 Days: “110 days without the news. It has improved my mental health, depression, and anxiety.”
156 days: “156 days without the news. Much clearer head.”
I kept thinking of two great quotes…
“The goal of media is to make every problem, your problem.” - Naval
“If you pay attention to the news, you will think the world is getting worse. If you pay attention to history, you will know the world is getting better.”
I am certainly not perfect when it comes to avoiding the news, but the results of doing so are undeniable. Engaging with news and politics often leaves me feeling sad, depressed, and angry. When I began intentionally ignoring these topics, I was concerned that I might miss critical information relevant to my businesses or family. However, I can confidently say that never happened. If something was truly important, someone would mention it to me in person.
It's crucial to emphasize that I didn't miss anything significant in my life. While I undoubtedly missed out on numerous events, they were not directly related to my personal experiences, nor were they within my control.
I was oblivious to many mass shootings, celebrity deaths, political scandals, natural disasters, and school shootings that I was expected to have an opinion on.
On several occasions, people approached me, asking, "Did you hear about XYZ?" They were often surprised when I admitted that I was unaware of the event in question.
Indeed, I was ignorant about many subjects. But what was I truly missing? How would I, or the world, benefit from me knowing about the latest school shooting in another state? I couldn't do anything to alleviate the tragedy. More importantly, what impact would thoughts of those innocent children have on my mental health? What would be the consequences of knowing such distressing information on my well-being? It turns out, science tells us, that the simple fact of knowing the information can have a massive impact on our own well being.
What Does Science Tell Us About News, Politics and Its Impact On Our Health?
Tuning into the news can potentially make us fatter… One thing we can be certain of is that when we experience stress, anger, or fear, our bodies release cortisol. Cortisol promotes fat storage and breaks down muscle tissue. This means that when we are stressed, angry, or scared, our fat cells expand, and our muscles shrink. Consequently, stress and anger can contribute to weight gain. Maintaining mental well-being plays a crucial role in a weight loss plan.
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It turns out, watching news about a tragedy can be even worse than experiencing it in some cases. This study investigates the impact of media exposure on acute stress response to collective trauma. It involved a survey conducted after the Boston Marathon bombings on residents from Boston, New York City, and the rest of the United States. The results showed that acute stress symptom scores were similar in Boston and New York, but lower nationwide. After adjusting for pre-bombing mental health, demographics, and prior collective stress exposure, it was found that six or more daily hours of bombing-related media exposure in the week following the bombings was associated with higher acute stress than direct exposure to the bombings.
The study suggests that repeatedly engaging with trauma-related media content for several hours daily shortly after collective trauma may prolong acute stress experiences and promote substantial stress-related symptomatology. This is because media exposure may perpetuate activation of fear circuitry in the brain, contributing to the abnormal consolidation of fear conditioning associated with the development of acute and post-traumatic stress responses. Mass media may, therefore, become a conduit that spreads the negative consequences of community trauma beyond directly affected communities.
What does this mean? It means that just watching the news in some cases is even worse than being the person in the news! In this case, people that had just watched news stories about the Boston Marathon Bombing were experiencing more stress than those that experienced the bombing first hand.
Is that good? We now know that the news can impact the content of our dreams. it can sneak into our subconscious and meddle with our lives in surprising ways. It can lead us to think that we are at way higher risk of dying of cancer than we actually are. It can even shape our views of foreign countries and make us scared to visit some countries.
There are even studies that examine the impact that the stress caused by news about the 9/11 terrorist threat had on developing health problems long after the event or increasing our chances of having a heart attack.
Based on this scientific research, we know that consuming news, especially about tragic events, can negatively impact our health in various ways. Stress, anger, or fear induced by news can lead to weight gain due to cortisol release, which promotes fat storage and breaks down muscle tissue. Watching news about tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombings can, in some cases, cause more stress than experiencing the event firsthand, as media exposure prolongs acute stress experiences and promotes stress-related symptoms. In addition, the stress caused by news about the 9/11 terrorist attacks was found to increase the chances of having a heart attack or developing health problems long after the event. Consequently, the news can influence our dreams, perceptions of risk, and views on foreign countries, ultimately affecting our lives in multiple unexpected ways.
I can personally attest to the positive effects of limiting my news consumption on my life. By being more mindful of the information I take in, I've become increasingly aware of both the negative and positive sources that surround me. While I haven't perfected this practice, I strive to improve each day. If you suspect you may be addicted to news and politics, like I once was, or you're curious about trying something new, consider giving it a shot and observing its impact on your life. You might be pleasantly surprised. Feel free to share your experiences! You can always reply to this email, comment, or engage in the community chat.