Breaking the news-cycle addiction

The pressure to remain up to date with everything going on in the world is all pervasive and can become overwhelming and self-destructive. I learned this lesson the hard way during the 2020 presidential election. In the late summer, tension was building between Biden and Trump. In the evenings, I started watching more and more of MSNBC and CNN to keep up to date.
After a few weeks, I grasped how much the rapidly changing news cycle had changed me. I felt an underlying sense of anxiousness and fear that never completely went away. I was engaging in catastrophic thinking about the implications of the upcoming election. In general, I was grumpy, less patient and more irritable.
For the sake of my own spiritual and physical health and for the sake of my relationship with my kids, I realized I had to start weaning myself from MSNBC, CNN and some of my other media sources. Within a short period of time, my levels of stress and anxiety decreased, I became less fearful, and my overall mindset became more positive.
I learned that I, too, could easily fall into the addictive trap of the rapidly changing news cycle. I felt how the Yahoo and YouTube algorithms sucked me in and gave me more and more siloed information. With little effort at all, I felt myself sliding into the rabbit hole of fearful news reports laced with conspiracy theories. 
A related (and hopefully humorous) anecdote: After the University of Michigan football team defeated Ohio State last November, out of curiosity, I decided to visit the Columbus Dispatch website to see how the story was being covered. I made only a few clicks to read one story. The result? Now, every time I log onto Yahoo, I am fed articles about Ohio State football. 
This is a harmless example of how an algorithm can control what information we receive. But to keep up with the ever-changing news cycle, what if I kept clicking story after story from multiple web pages? That could become disastrous. 
Now I understand how quickly we can be inundated and overwhelmed by information fed to us by an algorithm. We can quickly lose control over how we navigate the waves of information accessible to us by computer, tablet or smart phone.
How many of us have taken advantage of a break to check out the news, and 15 minutes later found ourselves having read multiple stories because the headlines piqued our curiosity? If we are not careful … down the rabbit hole we will go.
To be more strategic and maintain control over how I navigate the news, I now limit myself to a handful of reputable sources. One of these is the excellent programming on National Public Radio and its local affiliate, OPB. In general, I try to devote no more than two hours to the daily news cycle.
I watch 24-hour news outlets sparingly and deliberately. I say to myself, “Watch this 1-hour program and then turn the TV off.” 
Concerning social media, don’t get me started. I know I sound “old fashioned,” but I believe it is doing much more harm than good with its biased reporting and at times outright misinformation. I believe we should all be highly disciplined with the number of minutes we spend on it per day. Yes, I said “minutes” … not “hours.”
I try to break my urge to keep up with the news by being proactive. I go to the library and check out books I am curious about. I go to the “new arrival” section and push myself out of my comfort zone. I also listen to podcasts that are non-political and non-news. And last, I just get outside. 
These efforts have effectively decreased my levels of stress, anxiety and fear. And overall, I’m a lot happier and more fun to be around. Just ask my kids.


Rabbi Barry Cohen is the Jewish community chaplain of the Greater Portland area.


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