How To Stay Informed While Managing Existential Despair

Not sure if y’all have noticed recently, but the world kind of…sucks. So naturally the news about said world is mostly stressful and anxiety-inducing and terrifying—when it isn’t utterly gross, depressing, or baffling. It’s enough to make anyone disconnect completely, block out the news, and give up on society, even if that makes us ignorant or disengaged as citizens.

As someone whose job it is to keep up with news and politics, I have this impulse all the time. It’s actually really difficult to keep absorbing bad information constantly, going from tragedy to atrocity to the empty bloviating of people in power who either don’t care or are making it worse. Frankly, it is appallingly easy to give up and decide that none of this matters to take the edge off of how much the opposite is true.

Which is why I’m going to share my best tricks for staying aware of the world without being overwhelmed by it.

Peek, don’t gaze. I’ll admit to being a “misery enjoys company” kind of person, so when I’m deep in my trauma, I’m ready to submerge myself in everyone else’s. This is obviously a great way to spiral, so I absolutely don’t recommend it. Instead, if you have a regular time when you check the news (a commute, a break in your day, 6pm because you’re from an actual stereotype of a median household), shut it off after five minutes and go do something else for 10. Then take another 5 minutes of news; another 10 of anything else. The actual number doesn’t have to be five minutes; it just has to be short. It’s hard to give into the temptation to wail into the abyss when you’ve got to go back inside and look up snarky cross-stitch patterns.

Talk it out. This is a very specific one, but I have a lot of close friends and family who are aware of news and politics and can have casual/reasonable conversations about it, and whew, it helps. Sometimes just being able to vent or discuss or get comfort or perspective is so soothing that it really helps what can be a truly horrific situation. We can’t always manage the impact of a crisis by ourselves; that’s why we gather with people who love us. Even if you can’t speak about the details because it might lead to an argument (or a rant, IYKYK), maybe you have someone you can talk to about your feelings at least. Overwhelmed, sad, helpless, angry, afraid: these emotions don’t need a headline to surface, so you don’t need to have a headline to talk them out.

Get silly. I’m not saying that scrolling the “Love Is Blind” subreddit is the antidote to international crises and the ongoing collapse of representative democracy in the United States, but I am saying that it doesn’t hurt. As it turns out, humanity is awful and absurd in equal measure, and if you focus too much on one side, it really helps to see the other. The emotional or entertainment equivalent of cotton candy is sometimes exactly what our brains need to turn off, reset, and indulge in a touch of perspective that reminds us of how ridiculous the world is—in every way.

Stay busy. When the world is on fire, the worst thing for my mental and emotional health is having all the time in the world to stare at the flames. So I pack my days with things to do. If your normal day isn’t stuffed to bursting already (capitalism, amirite?), pick up some hobbies or tasks that require energy but not intensity or stress. Mine are cooking and baking, because the only thing my psyche loves more than anxiety is trying to soothe it with food. Puttering around my kitchen leaves less time to read the news, but also keeps my mind engaged and focused on really immediate, unavoidable tasks instead of doom-scrolling and existential despair.

Accept small joys. As a recovering perfectionist, I am constantly trying to concede (to myself) that life is out of my control. And even what’s in my control is out of my control. The news can be the harshest reminder for those of us who seek stability—and if you actually engage with the news regularly, you’re one of those people. We can be constantly bombarded with the bad things we can’t influence or stop, and it fills us with dread and hopelessness, which just fuels a cycle of despair. So I like to flip it. I love to embrace the joys and surprises of a world that’s not in my control. I love to see kids acting silly or notice flowers in an unusual place or hear about something unexpectedly good or funny that happened. I can’t control the world, but I can accept the grace it gives me.

Things are not good right now. They might not be for a long time. The wars of this moment are destroying millions of lives and ending thousands more. It’s tempting to block it out to protect ourselves, to make it easier to go on with our days, to disconnect from the very real horrors that this system is creating. But we can’t do that if we want it to get better. And we can’t make it better if we’re overwhelmed with how bad it’s gotten. My middle ground, as a seasoned observer and devotee of self-government, is to find a space to listen and then find a space to process, and to keep those spaces separate. Because when the time comes to act, I’ll need the knowledge and the energy to change the news to something less stressful.

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Kaitlin Byrd
Kaitlin Byrd
Knows too much, thinks even more. Has infinite space in her heart for tea and breakfast for dinner. Really from New York, so always ready to cut a bitch.