For the past two summers I’ve served as a wilderness youth mentor for Denver-based Big City Mountaineers on 7-day backcountry excursions. No phones, no email, no toilets.
Everyone goes into the trip with a fear of disconnection.
“What if I don’t respond to that important email?”
“I’ll have no idea what’s happening.”
“What about my Snapchat?”
But without fail, seven days later, we turn on our phones and realize that we’ve missed absolutely nothing. And the few things we did miss were inconsequential.
The world does not come to an end if you are not reading about it.
Research has consistently shown that watching or reading news is bad for our mental health. According to the 2017 Stress in AmericaTM survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, “More than half of those surveyed (56 percent) say that while they want to stay informed about the news, doing so causes them stress. Further, many Americans (72 percent) say the media blows things out of proportion.”
When was the last time a nightly news anchor said, “Good evening. What I’m about to tell you will increase your anxiety levels and trigger persisting negative psychological feelings”? Never. To the delight of advertisers everywhere.
It’s our responsibility to manage our consumption and our mental health.
Three years ago I took 100% responsibility for my mental health. I stopped watching or reading news, prioritized exercise and time spent outdoors, and established a daily meditation practice.
Since then I’ve lost 20 pounds, I take no daily medications of any kind, and I’ve had no major episodes of anxiety or depression.
Is my news fast perfect? No. Of course not. I’m still working on breaking a bad habit of reading celebrity gossip when I’m bored, and I have a very difficult relationship with social media. But eliminating “news” from my life made an immediate impact on my feelings of happiness.
Here are some strategies for completing your own permanent or temporary news fast:
Cut the cord.
Tired of the gimmicks and hassle of traditional cable/satellite providers, I cut the cord and removed all traditional television programming from my home. I stream movies and shows through Netflix and Amazon using a Roku device. My home is free of television news.
Talk to people.
Sociologists at the University of Maryland concluded that unhappy people watch more TV, while people who describe themselves as very happy spend more time reading and socializing.
I don’t worry about being uninformed because anything worth knowing is something that I can hear from someone else.
My favorite conversation starter is, “I’m on a news fast. Anything interesting going on?” You’ll learn a lot about someone by what they find newsworthy. (This is also a phenomenal interview question.)
Establish new routines.
Is watching or reading news a part of your daily routine? Ask yourself how you can build a new, more positive routine to replace the old one of consuming news. Here are some ideas:
Instead of: Watching news while cooking Try: Listening to music or an uplifting podcast like Personal Best.
Instead of: Reading news on the bus or subway Try: Forming a one-person Commuter Fiction Book Club and read a paperback. (Bonus points if you invite fellow commuters to join.)
Identify purposeful distractions.
When I worked in a large company, I would take “brain breaks” during periods of intense focus to walk around the office and chat with colleagues. The practice helped me build great relationships.
Now that I work alone from home, I have created a list of “purposeful distractions” for the times that I need a brain break and have an urge to check celebrity gossip sites or social media.
Keep a copy of any Tim Ferris book (4-Hour Work Week, Tools of Titans or Tribe of Mentors) on desk and read one chapter
Do 10 minutes of bodyweight exercises that help me toward my goal of doing an unassisted pull-up
Empty the dishwasher
Review my personal goals and record progress
Make a list of 5 things I’m grateful for
Make a cup of tea
Call a friend
Still unsure whether a news fast is appropriate for you? That’s okay. Maybe it’s not.
In the meantime, I invite you to try and pay attention to how you are feeling while you are consuming news and then immediately afterwards. Notice the sensations in your body. Notice any emotions that come up.