This is an unbelievably stressful time to be alive. Many of us are worried not just about illness, but our jobs, our housing, and our families. It’s hard to even tell what it is we’re feeling right now; one expert suggests that what many of us are feeling right now is grief and loss.
Unfortunately, the media and news we need right now to stay informed about what to do, and to seek comfort from others, are also the sources of fear, anger, grief, and stress.
But there are some habits which are proven to make it less stressful to take in frightening content. The first thing the Poynter Institute’s Verification Handbook wants you to understand is that violent and other frightening videos, images, and stories are like toxic waste. Handling them does have side effects. And if you were handling toxic waste, you’d take precautions to stay safe, right? Here are a few ways to do that, including some from Poynter and from presenters at the Internet Freedom Festival as well as tips from Keep Calm and Log On:
Whatever you do, do not leave the news on in the background all the time. This is going to stress you out in ways you don’t even notice. I promise you’ll be able to catch up with the important stuff at set times—say, around lunch and after work. (During the crisis I’ve stopped myself from reading the news first thing in the morning—I’ve switched to reading histories of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal—and I can’t even tell you how much more focused I am during the day now.)
Set a definite boundary for yourself: do not look at this stuff right before bedtime. Leave your phone in another room, take out the battery, do whatever you need to keep the device out of your hands when you need to sleep.
Stay mindful of your news consumption: know how often you’re looking at it. There are settings and apps that can help you keep track, and stop you from logging on in the hours when you want to focus, spend family time, or sleep.
You can also change your notifications so that you’re less likely to be distracted by updates.
Making your devices and logins more secure can also help slow you down when you try to impulsively log in to social media or other apps. Try switching to a password manager or adding multi-factor authentication.
Turn off the sound on scary videos, where possible.
Make the video screen smaller—don’t expand it to your whole screen.
See if it’s useful to cover the scariest parts with a sticky note (some people also find it helpful to cover people’s faces), or invert the color (here’s how on Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS).
If it’s a video, don’t watch the entire thing, and don’t watch it repeatedly. Definitely don’t loop it.
If it’s your job to deal with frightening content, work with your coworkers and boss to find ways to keep from going over the content more than once.
Listen to soothing music or sounds. I’m a fan of Purrli and Noises Online, websites that generate the sounds of cats purring, ocean waves, rain, fans, birds chirping, and the like to calk you down. Streaming services also have you covered on this one; plenty of people have lists up. Here’s my personal curated list of long, looping video game music.
Take breaks. Get up, walk around, stretch, get a little exercise (here are some streaming class recommendations). Get outside into nature if you can; look at pictures of relaxing scenes if you can’t. Cuddle your pets. Switch to comedy or pet videos for a while. Yes, even when you’re “working.” Nobody’s looking over your shoulder right now.
Spread the love. Your coworkers want to see your pets and kids on your work video calls. I promise.
For more tips on digital mindfulness and de-stressing, order a copy of Keep Calm and Log On!