A more mindful life? Quit the news.

Not so long ago on the radio I heard news about the outbreak of a virus in China where the death toll is rising every day. Immediately my mind started racing: "Oh no, I'm going to Asia next week, is that even a good idea?" I felt a knot in my stomach and noticed a slight anxiety creeping in.

Then I realized: "Here we go again, wasn't this exactly why I stopped following the news?"

Quitting the news was my New Year's resolution for 2020. Last year, I had read several articles with very convincing arguments why news is a bad thing for you. But I had never really quit, apart from not watching the news on tv anymore. 

I had been cutting down on Facebook-scrolling however, I even deleted the app on my phone. And I hadn't missed it at all. I had actually replaced it with reading the news even more frequently. 

After a few weeks of intensive news-scrolling I came across an article by Swiss writer Rolf Dobelli in The Correspondent. His thesis: "News is to the mind what sugar is to the body: appetizing, easily digestible, and extremely damaging. It's high time we began a detox. You'll be richly rewarded – with more time and fresh eyes for what truly matters." 

It hit home. Because I was starting to feel an indigestion. No, I actually realized I was a junkie, addicted to news. I was always searching for a new fix – and got it for free, 24/7. 

I decided to go cold turkey. 

It has been a few weeks now and I must say it is truly refreshing not to know what is "breaking". I've deleted the news apps on my phone and erased all news websites from my favourites. 

Instead, I have invested in a few subscriptions of magazines and websites that dig deeper and offer long-reads that are worth the time. Because of course I don't want to live in a cave. I care about what goes on in the world. And that is exactly the reason why I quit the news. Because news is a drug that blurs your vision on what is really happening. 

These are some arguments that convinced me to give up the news: 

  • News simplify the world, which in reality is extremely complex. Events are never caused by a single, simple cause, but by a complex interaction of many causes. In a news item there is no time or space to explain all this. Simplified news often just confirms the prejudices that we have and doesn't offer intriguing questions that might challenge our point of view.
  • News focuses on the exception and magnifies it to the extreme. It creates the image that the world is full of bad and dangerous things, while tons of research show that we are living in a time that has never been safer and more prosperous. For example, the number of victims of terrorism is totally insignificant compared to the number of casualties in traffic. People are dying on our roads every day, but they rarely make the headlines. Precisely because they are the rule, not the exception.
  • News becomes extremely toxic if long-term decisions and policy are being based on it. Because then society gets caught in an endless cycle of reactivity and nobody sees the bigger picture anymore. And isn't this exactly what the problem is with politics these days?

The more distance I am taking from the news, the more I can feel this toxic reactivity when something does reach me (it's pretty hard to avoid news completely). I can see more clearly now how following the news kept me stuck in a state of heightened arousal.

The problem with this kind of arousal is, that even though it may feel exciting, it gets the stress hormones flowing. Our stress system is much older than the globalized society of today where we learn in real time what's going on somewhere across the planet. Our stress system doesn't even know the difference between a worrying thought and an actual physical threat, let alone that it knows how to deal with a threat happening 15.000 km away. Why would we have to expose ourselves to that all the time?

I'm trying to find a better balance for myself. The last thing I want is to tell you what to do – or not to do. I just want to invite you to reflect for yourself. How are you relating to the news? Are you noticing some addictive behavior? What do you feel, think, do, ... when you are faced with the latest breaking news?

Maybe you want to experiment with a news-free diet yourself. Or you might want to bring more mindfulness into the mix. Starting with being more aware of what you are feeling and thinking when you are reading or watching the news, how it affects you. Breathing with that for a few moments, and then asking yourself: what do I need now? How do I want to proceed now? How can I take the best care of myself now?

I wish you an interesting experiment.