Fighting “Combat Fatigue” (How to Follow the News and Stay Sane)

I’ve had to go out of my way to notice the beautiful days of autumn, this year. There have been a number of them. Why was I not enjoying this?

Through the “joy” of social media, I found my answer. As October set in, I started to get previews of past years’ posts.

In October 2020, everything was tainted by the looming shadow of Covid-19 and the Presidential election. I have a vague memory of months of clenched stomach muscles. Those muscles did not really unclench until mid-February 2021. Facebook gleefully started reminding me. Gee. Thanks.

Following the news

In autumn 2020, the present was unpleasant. But, it was better than March 2020. By October, we knew more about the virus. Many adults were vaccinated in the United States. But Covid stress was still with us for the foreseeable future.

By November 2020, we saw activism throughout the country to mobilize citizens to vote. Social media was flooded with stories about volunteers who entertained voters waiting in line, videos of lines of voters singing or dancing to pass the time, first-person stories of conversations about race occurring throughout the country. After six months of pandemic, after a wave of protests, after court case after court case attempting to curtail the rights of citizens to vote, election day arrived.

On Election Day 2020 I posted:

Nov. 2020: Read election news ONCE A DAY. Pick your time. Do not read “predictions”.

After Election Day, the court cases continued to erode confidence in our democracy. My advice still stood.

January 2021

American democracy was designed to move slowly. It is safeguarded against takeover by one party, or by a dictator with one party’s backing. The three branches of government are designed so that no single branch can make big changes that run against the Constitution and the voice of the people. Two out of the three branches are elected; the third branch is appointed by elected officials. Sometimes this makes change happen too slowly. Sometimes it prevents progress. That’s American democracy.

American news is something that sells advertising. It always has. The more people who read a newspaper or magazine, the more the publishers can sell advertising in the publication. Same for radio, then television, then social media. That was the motivation to keep us obsessively checking in about what was going on with a slow-moving insurrection “scheduled” for January 6, 2021. The more we checked in, the more we fed the news advertising beast.

Paying too much attention to the news

For years now, it seems like there’s bad news every day if you care about women’s health, minority rights, immigrants, the environment, or the economy. How do you avoid burning out?

I still stand behind the advice to check the news once daily. I recommend choosing one’s news sources. That doesn’t mean that you don’t care. It means that you free yourself of stress over what the next two steps might look like; keep your eye on the main goal. Work towards your goals and realize that in this divided nation, there will be big steps forward and big steps back –-both in the same week!

The seasons change unevenly; it is seventy degrees, then fifty, then sixty, then forty, then fifty, then twenty. Still, by December or January, it’s solidly winter.

News in a democracy looks like that, too. There’s a court case here, a subpoena there, disclosed information over there, and an arrest, or two. There’s an environmental crisis from a storm; help is sent; a month later, only some people are back to normal. There is not a magic day when everything gets resolved. That’s not the way life works. In the mean time…

Please take good care of yourself. Look at the sky. Know what you stand for. Reach for your stars.


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