by Kara Baskin
If you're anything like me, you tumble down a rabbit hole of news every day. You know how it goes: you start scrolling through social media or flip on the TV, click link after link or switch channels--and before you know it, you've lost precious time and productivity.
More than that, we're left feeling anxious and frustrated, which we then carry through the rest of our day. In fact, studies show that being exposed to negative news, beyond making us sadder and more anxious, is likely to worsen our own personal worries and anxieties.
That's not to say we shouldn't stay informed. However, you can change the way you process and react to the news by mastering your Why Style--our ready-made explanations for the problems we experience. Why Style can be described in three dimensions: me vs. not me, always vs. not always, and everything vs. not everything.
You can think of it this way: Do you tend to blame yourself (Me) or other people or circumstances (Not Me)? When you think about a problem, do you tend to settle on causes that will be around for a long time, or causes that are temporary? When you get hit by adversity, do you tend to focus on that specific problem or look for causes that spill into other dimensions of your life?
Whenever you feel yourself succumbing to the "news blues," remember these three crucial concepts:
1. The News Isn't Pervasive. Some of us maintain an "Everything" style, where we frame problems as pervasive and constant. With this style, we attach issues to unrelated aspects of our life. For example, if you see a story about the stock market, you might latch onto worries about your own financial health, fueling an internal monologue like, "I haven't saved enough money, and if I lose my job, I'm going to end up destitute."
Next time you slide into this mindset, don't generalize about doomsday scenarios. Reframe the thought to focus on a specific problem. Instead of saying, "I'm going to end up broke," target a solution: "Let me start saving a little bit more each month--that will bring me peace of mind."
2. The News Isn't Permanent. Still others use an "Always" style, where we see problems as intractable. We react with broad, blanket statements that make things seem even worse. You might read about a tragedy--like a terrorist attack--and think, "The world is never safe. I'm always reading about things like this."
The key here is to watch for "never" or "always" statements, which imply permanence. When you notice yourself using these words, take a step back and try substituting a temporary framework instead: "More tragedies have been covered in the news lately." Then think about some "Not Always" responses to the cause: "This was still a random act of violence; it remains the exception, not the rule."
3. The News Isn't Personal. Many of us personalize problems and maintain a "Me" Why style, berating ourselves for whatever goes wrong in our lives. People with "Me" styles also over-identify with external events. The newest fad eating plan getting a ton of coverage leads to, I shouldn't have let my gym membership lapse. We become fixated on a personalization spiral and look for news stories to validate the cycle.
Next time you personalize a story, ask yourself, "How does this piece of information directly affect or implicate me?" Chance are, it doesn't. If it's something that does touch you, look outside yourself for a solution, rather than letting your inner critic steer. For instance, if you're touched by a story about fitness, jot down a few ways to motivate yourself to get in shape--instead of admonishing yourself for skipping the gym.
By focusing on specifics instead of sweeping personal, pervasive, or permanent statements, we can take control of the news cycle--instead of letting it control us.
Kara Baskin is a Boston-based journalist who writes about food, health, wellbeing, and lifestyle for The Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Women's Health, and AARP's Life Reimagined. She's also the author of "Size Matters: The Hard Facts About Male Sexuality That Every Woman Should Know" (Random House). Find her on Twitter @kcbaskin