When we feel afraid, fear activates our unconscious reptilian brain – the famous freeze, fight or flight reaction, and throws logic and rationality out of the window. This reaction was very useful to survive in a prehistoric world, as we are programmed to be deeply afraid of anything that threatens our survival.
2020 has been an intrinsically hectic year. No one truly knew what was coming and in what order, and worries and anxiety were a natural reaction for most people. We all needed guidance and answers. Sadly, social media and plenty of news outlets report only the most sensational news as they fight for ratings and readers.
Scrolling through negative (pandemic) news every day can trigger irrational survival fears. Even without noticing you can have an underlying feeling of unease an anxiety that can impact your emotional and physical health, in a historical moment in which being healthy is even more important.
Distancing yourself from a constant flow of negative information is a healthy gesture of kindness to your own brain. Overstimulation generated by devices that constantly call us back to scroll, like and engage more with subtle notifications and tricks is bad enough in itself as it steals precious time you could be dedicating to your loved ones or to your self-growth and wellbeing. This device over-dependency can be even more dangerous when paired up with an overconsumption of alarming news. So do yourself a favour: next time you feel like mindlessly scrolling through newsfeeds, pick up a book instead. Go for a walk. Pay someone a genuine compliment. Speak to a friend. Reclaim your time and space, and your whole being will respond in gratitude.
So how can we ignore all that noise online and learn to make up our own minds in the face of overwhelming information?
1. Don’t Over-consume Media
It might sound strange coming from someone who’s known as a digital influencer, and who pays her bills thanks to the media consumption of her followers, but too much media is not good for your brain.
If you are always glued to your device’s screen, you will naturally be influenced what you see there. At the end of the day, we are social animals, and if the majority of people seem to agree on a subject, then it’s easy to assume that this must be correct.
But remember, once upon a time conventional wisdom was that the sun revolved around the earth.
We are bombarded by new information at every turn, mainly on our screens but also on the street, in shops and wherever else we go. These days, the most precious currency is our attention, and this is what advertisers, politicians and anyone else with an agenda is constantly trying to capture.
They steal your attention because they are pursuing their own interests – and that is what you should be doing too, by getting rid of as much of this extra noise as possible.
Do you really need to know about that celebrity divorce, and who cheated on whom? Or scroll mindlessly through Instagram for hours? You might think it relaxes you, but what it really does is distract you and deprive you of real mind-food. It triggers your curiosity and uses up your time, without truly teaching you anything valuable.
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Over-consuming media is not only addictive, it also undermines your ability to think independently. You might think you are completely unaffected by advertising and other people’s opinions, but over time and repetition they will rub off on you. A survey by the American Psychological Association showed that news consumption left people reporting feelings of anxiety, fatigue and sleep loss. If you are constantly monitoring your social media feeds, as well as online news outlets, you will be exposed to an overload of data, often accompanied by vivid and shocking images. Taken to an extreme, this can lead to real psychological distress.
The best way to deal with all this pointless information we receive every day is simply to cut it off. Look on this as a detox that will make your discerning abilities sharper. Consciously substitute the time you spend reading and watching the news as well as scrolling through your social media feeds with a brief meditation, deep breathing or a walk around the block. Or try a creative activity like drawing or writing.
When you feel the itch to start scrolling or read the news headlines yet again, stop yourself for a moment, count to ten, take a deep breath and simply look ahead of you. We are so merged with our devices that just looking around without a purpose has become a rarity.
2. Stay present to the world around you
It’s a powerful exercise to simply sit down and observe the world around you. What do you see? It might be the walls of a room, the table, the details of the furniture.
It might be the people walking in front of you. Observe the colour and strength of the light, the smell and temperature of the air. What sounds can you hear? In an over-stimulated world, this type of quiet activity might feel very boring at first, but it is far from it.
By staying present to the world around you and observing it actively, you will start feeling more alive. Your stress levels will decrease and your inner calm strengthen. The great thing about this powertrick is that you can
do it as many times a day as you need to when you feel overwhelmed or in need of the “technology kick” we all get when we touch our devices. You don’t need to go anywhere, all you have to do is stop whatever it is you are doing and observe your surroundings in that moment. You will learn to be present in the moment and less dependent on the load of informational junk we all constantly receive.
3. Don’t Take Anything at Face Value
When you want an answer to a question, think for yourself first, before searching for it online. If you get your answer from the internet, don’t take it at face value. Information on a site that looks reputable can be a repost from a dubious source – a mistake that can multiply very fast online. Always doublecheck your sources and don’t be lazy about doing the research. Scepticism about the consensus-based information that is often found online is very healthy.
4. Apply critical thinking
Use this critical thinking powertrick to assess what other people tell you, whether that’s something in the news or information given face to face. Ask yourself:
Who said it? Are they a person of authority?
Does their opinion matter to you because of objective reasons?
What did they say? Is the information complete? Can the statements be proven with facts? Or are they only opinions?
Why they could have said it? Can the person have a motive for saying this to you or to the general public? What could that motive be? Were they emotional or calm while saying it?
Adapated from Empower Yourself: How To Make Lemonade When Life Gives You Lemons, £11.74, By Xenia Tchoumi, out now.