Many days, it feels like the mere act of turning on the television, picking up a newspaper, or opening any form of social media requires a feat of strength. There seems to be a never-ending supply of bad news bombarding us and, just when it seems that there’s no place further to descend, somehow, the stories reach new lows. So how, in this day and age, do you find a balance between staying informed and becoming overwhelmed?
Sometimes people find that taking a step back from the news leaves them struggling with guilt, as if letting down their vigilance even temporarily is a form of giving up. When that starts to happen to me, I find it helps to remember a comforting message I received years ago from an unexpected source. It was the first year I’d hung a hummingbird feeder in my backyard. That feeder brought me much joy as a shiny green Anna’s Hummingbird quickly discovered it and became a regular visitor. I kept it filled, boiling sugar and water together, and each day as that warm, sunny autumn turned into cold, rainy winter, the same hummingbird would buzz around feeding from it, perching in a nearby tree between visits. In December, a rare snowstorm hit my town, and I stressed over how best to keep this tiny hummingbird from starving as inches of snow piled up and the nectar froze inside the feeder.
Fretting, I called the local Audubon society only to get a pre-recorded message. Apparently I wasn’t the first to call with this concern because the message said, in part, “If you are calling about hummingbirds in this weather, know that you are not the only one feeding them.” I realized then that there was a shared responsibility happening and, even if it felt like keeping that bird alive was entirely up to me, there was a network of neighbors all working toward the same goal.
I remember that message when I get overwhelmed, on those days that the news leaves me hopeless and numb. While I may not be able to carry the burden every moment, it helps to know that at all times, somebody is. That’s the nature of self-care: taking a step back so that you’ll again be able to step up.
When the world feels like an avalanche of negativity, it’s up to us to carve some positive space into our lives. Not in a here’s one more thing I have to fit into my schedule way, but in a manner that provides mental breaks without feeling like an obligation. For me, subscribing to a funny podcast gives me something to look forward to each week. It’s a small thing, but knowing that I’ll be able to spend an hour being entertained creates a much-needed, regular respite. I don’t find a lot of time to watch TV but when I do, I give myself permission to bypass the latest hard-hitting drama that everyone’s talking about and instead choose the soothing atmosphere of the Great British Bake Off or the affirming stories on Queer Eye.
Self-care may seem like a luxury, but making time for it can help other aspects of your life fall into place. Sometimes it’s an issue of time management. I’ve found that I can sit and passively refresh social media for hours, so I’ve tried to make some rules for myself around that behavior. If I find myself clicking through all my tabs over and over, and have gone through three cycles with nothing new appearing, I’ll get offline and find something else to do. (I know some people who take the apps off their phones for set amounts of time to remove the temptation.) I’ll admit that I don’t always follow my own rule, but when I do and suddenly am able to read a chapter of a long-neglected book or get some laundry folded and put away, I feel better about the use of my time. And each small bit of productivity starts to cycle into itself, leaving me feeling capable and more energized.
Self-care doesn’t have to be a big thing, or cost money. Sure, a spa day or a vacation would be nice, but self-care can be as simple as a playlist of upbeat songs or a bookmarked collection of cute animal videos. Maybe it’s a special kind of tea or a bath bomb that you have stashed away for just this occasion. What’s important is to know your own limits and know what to do when you get close to them. It’s different for everyone, but taking the time to think about what works for you before you get too stressed allows you to have a go-to collection of resources ready for when you need them.