There are only a few weeks left until our next presidential election. And it really is a weird time for me! But it’s a weird time for all of us, isn’t it?
We could use some grounding these days. This is a bizarre year! There have been multiple tragedies, tension is abundant, and the political climate is intense. We are being bombarded with conflicting information, misinformation, conspiracy, and hostility and it's simply too much for us to deal with all at once.
It’s very tempting to withdraw and ignore everything happening in the world right now. And in some cases we must withdraw to stay healthy. But sometimes withdrawing really isn’t the answer. Sometimes withdrawing is what gets us into the messes we’re trying to get away from right now.
But we feel overwhelmed. So even those of us that want to stay informed and involved start to break down.
Here are 4 tips to help you stay grounded without completely checking out. They have been lifesavers for myself these days!
1. Get your news from an actual news source.
The New York Times. The Washington Post. Etc.
If at all possible, I recommend paying a few dollars for an acclaimed source (or two) and reading actual news articles. These sources tend to have a lot of motivation to keep credibility, and tend to have high standards of quality and accuracy.
If you cannot spare even a few dollars, some sources have free daily briefing newsletters, like this one from The New York Times, and you can find daily podcast news briefs to listen to for free while you make your morning coffee - NPR and Axios give 10-15 minute news briefs every day, and Pantsuit Politics does a 5-minute news brief Monday-Thursday on Instagram.
Following a source for some weeks will provide context for current events, give you a feel for a source’s relative bias, and help you see how much emphasis they put on factual reporting versus commentary and opinion.
I like to follow a couple of sources so I can compare coverage of current events, but one is just fine if that's all you have the time and energy for. Or try one source for a few weeks, then switch to a different one if you like.
Social media, memes, a couple of random articles, and talk radio don’t cut it. I typically find myself the most confused and frustrated when the only updates on current events I get are from my social media feeds. And there’s a reason for that - they don’t provide context or nuance. They are very sensational and often only show snippets of a big picture. They are also much more likely to provide false information.
So get your news from genuine reporting and credible news sources.
2. Don’t consume news all day long
You need a break. You can only take in so much information without going into overload. Your efforts will backfire if you keep gorging.
This includes memes and social media topics about current events. Especially if you find yourself becoming angered, anxious, or fearful by what you are consuming.
You will likely notice that you’re not actually taking in new information as you go throughout the day anyway. You’re likely seeing the same stories over and over again, with only slight variations. You’re chewing on the same bite until it’s long past edible and long past nourishing you. Cable news certainly presents a problem with this, since they have to fill hours of time and keep people sensationalized enough to keep watching. (I recommend not using cable news as your regular news source.)
Find new distractions. Listen to an engaging podcast. Read a book. Watch a fun show. Hang out with family or friends (or FaceTime them). Try knitting. Cook dinner. Something.
3. Look for connection points and nuance
It’s helpful, and grounding, to see nuance in everything. Look past the priorities you see on the surface and look for the deepest values. They will help you find connection with other people.
I think this one is really difficult for a lot of us.
For instance, you may think your value is medicare for all. And your friend might think their value is private healthcare. But the actual value you each hold is good healthcare for everyone. You have different ideas about how to accomplish the same value. But if you don't make that connection, you start to feel like you’re on enemy sides.
We won’t be any good at finding solutions, or treating each other well, unless we look for those shared values.
This does not mean you have to compromise on your standards, and this doesn’t mean that you have to think that someone’s idea is a good one. You are allowed to think that someone’s idea is a very bad idea. And you are allowed to hold people accountable for destructive and harmful behavior.
But connection points help us remember that we are all human beings. They help us treat each other with dignity. Because no matter how much we disagree, it is never okay to dehumanize people. It's not okay to call them names, or act like they’re worthless. And that is true even when someone has done truly despicable things. They are still human.
Hold on to that. Don’t let go of it. You can keep hold of that and disagree with them. You can keep hold of that and hold them accountable for inexcusable behavior.
So find connection points. And remember that legislative preferences are not our actual values. They are prioritized potential solutions.
4. Practice noticing fear-based reactions versus informed decisions
With such a wild year, and a polarized political climate, it’s really easy to feel like everything is on the line, all the time. And that can make us react out of fear. We can see that happening all over the place right now.
You don’t have to have every bit of information to make informed choices instead of fear-based reactions. You can choose to look past the meme to see nuance and learn context. You can choose to read a full article instead of just a sensational headline.
You can also choose to listen to people on multiple sides of an issue. You can choose to find those connection points. You can choose to see if a theory conflicts with facts and logic to evaluate whether or not a theory is legitimate.
If you see accusations against a political candidate, or a collection of people, before you assume it to be true, evaluate it next to facts we already know to see if the accusation is a reasonable and logical one. Evaluate the source providing the accusation to see if they are a credible too.
These things can help us recognize when we are reacting out of fear instead of making informed and reasonable choices. And that will help us feel grounded and sane.
We can get through this crazy time. These steps have been lifesaving for my sanity and I’m confident they will be helpful to many of you as well.
A quick recap for convenience:
Get your news from actual news sources.
Read the full article, not just the headline.
Consider claims from social media, memes, non-accredited sources (and even talk radio and cable news commentary) to be hearsay - or at the least, incomplete - until you examine more facts.
Remember that we are all human, and values run much deeper than policy.
You don’t have to think someone’s policy preferences are good ones to treat people with dignity.
Set a limit on your daily news (and commentary) ingestion. Don't gorge.
I hope these things help you feel more grounded in this weird, wild year. Hang in there!