I was tempted to begin this post with the cliché “unless you’ve been living under a rock…”, but I had to stop and rethink it. Honestly, you probably could live under a rock and still be well aware of the tumultuous climate in the US today. Evidence of it seems to be present everywhere we turn; from conversations with friends and loved ones, to the television set hovering over you in the dentist’s exam room (cause really who wants to be fully present minded during a teeth cleaning…). There is no denying the extreme polarization of seemingly every topic under the sun; whether to immunize, who to vote for, to breastfeed or tobottle feed, how much impact does ‘privilege’ really have, gun control, the merits of this diet versus that diet, etc.
The possibilities of things to argue over are endless, but the weird thing is, they always have been. What is it about the time that we are living in that makes these debates so much more distressing than they seem to have been for generations past? The answer to that is relatively simple, and it’s the same reason why I couldn’t justify leading this post with the old ‘under a rock’ cliché. It’s exposure.
Our day to day lives are saturated with opinions; those we agree with, those we disagree with, those we don’t begin to understand or even care about. We have access to an endless amount of information at any given moment, because let’s be honest, most of us are carrying around tiny little super computers in our back pockets all. day. long.
So why is this a problem? Well because we are no longer making choices about what information we receive. There was a time that if you wanted to know about the school shooting that took place 4 states away, you had to go looking for that information, and it took at least 24-48 hours before you even had the option of finding reports about the event because they hadn’t been published yet. Today, we generally know about each shooting that takes place in any given state, on any given day, sometimes while the shooting is still actively happening…. Not only do we know about it almost immediately, but we also know what everyone else thinks about it, how everyone would have prevented it, which families it impacted, who everyone thinks is to blame, etc.
Now I am not proposing that we ignore important events in our world today, far from it. What I am suggesting is that we make conscious choices about when and how we received information about these events. We’ve all been there, trucking along having a good day, maybe playing a highly gratifying round of Sudoko and BAM Special Alert: a toddler has been found dead after X number of days missing, or some other equally horrifying news pops across our phone screen/tablet/laptop/television/etc. and that’s it, we’re done. We’re crying, we’re angry, we can’t stomach humanity as a whole…but wait, it’s only 2pm on Tuesday afternoon and somehow we have to make it through not only our next meeting, but the entire remainder of the day, evening, and work week. We have no other choice but to rely on our ability to turn off our emotions, to suck down our disgust, or heartbreak, so we can put on a happy face and not be ‘that weirdo, flipping out at work’.
Now if you know anything about counseling, you know that A LOT of the work that we do is about learning to access and to feel uncomfortable emotions. As a therapist, I help individuals learn to tolerate these experiences without feeling the need to shut down or turn their emotions off. I help people to learn to match their outward behaviors to their inward thoughts and feelings. I’m sure it comes as now shock to learn that that’s a difficult task to ask of a person to begin with. When you add having to contend with the barrage of unwelcome triggers coming at you through social media, news media, etc at any given moment, it is almost like expecting a person to complete the trials of Hercules.
So what I ask of my clients, and what I will suggest to you dear reader, is to make conscious, meaningful choices about what information you allow yourself to be exposed to day to day. Pick a specific time to check out your social media feeds, choose the radio content that you play in the car based on the destination you are headed to (no true crime podcasts on the way to babysit!), hide social media posts about things or from people that routinely upset you, and be selective about which news outlet(s) you consume and when (DVR is a thing, use it!).
Taking control of the ways in which we gather information not only allows us to exercise more freedom of choice, but it also gives us the opportunity to feel whatever we might feel on the subject without having to stuff it down to make others more comfortable or to falsify our behaviors to make them more “appropriate” for our environments. While there is certainly a logic to knowing both sides of a story, there is absolutely no good that can come from becoming infuriated by the latest debate update, right before your big interview, your first date with your dream girl, or meeting his parents for the first time. Get the information that is meaningful to you, when it is meaningful to you, on purpose. Not when the media or anyone else for that matter, says you should.