The Second Podcast!

(Each segment starts with opening music that drops down to being just underneath).

I’m Rick Higgins and this is Life Adventure and Travel After 50+, a podcast for those of us over a certain age … and for whom a duller existence just isn’t a possibility.  

Today we’re exploring something that simply didn’t exist when we were younger.  At least not in the volume and format we face now.  I could say the subject is social media.  I could even say it’s about the change in mainstream media.  But in reality it’s about drinking from a fire hose.  It’s not just what we’re consuming, or from where … but what it does to us.  And how we might be able to moderate the onslaught.

SEGMENT 1: 

The Problem Is Overload … And No Time To Sort Everything Out

When we were younger, information came from newspapers, the TV at 6pm and 11 in either local or network flavors, and our Aunt Mildred … who knew everything that was happening within 10 square miles.  We had time to absorb and digest what we were told.  We also had a fairly limited background to use in that comparative study.  Life was indeed a lot simpler, and honestly it needed to be expanded.  But it’s that expansion that has become our collective nemesis.  Because we created a monster that not only can we not control, but that we don’t even see snarling at us.

We created the 24 hours news cycle.  Where every ten minutes dramatic music plays and we see BREAKING NEWS splash across our screens.  We have seen those same channels shift from facts intended for us to study, to providing opinions meant to sway.  We invented social media that gave everyone a voice, and then watched as a vehicle for knowledge sharing because a bully pulpit to abuse and inflame.

We invented some great ideas and then didn’t have the foresight to make sure they evolved in a healthy way.  We created our own version of Skynet … only instead of bullets being fired at us to eliminate the human race, we’ve given in to a much more sinister way of self-destruction.  Does this sound like the breaking news bonanza that I just warned you about?  Perhaps, I did need to get your attention.  But let’s explore some real world examples and hear from those who study the issue.  And then make up our own minds.

SEGMENT 2: 

My Own Curious Case

This entire subject came up because I started suffering from burnout a few months ago.  Inspired in large parts by an unfulfilling job, the pandemic lockdown, and truth be told … a partner who became very mono-topical in her conversations.  I felt like I was being assaulted from all angles with the same club.  And I felt like it was harming the very core of my mental health.

So now I’m on a ‘News Diet’. Actually, it’s not a diet. It’s more of a ‘lifestyle’, to quote a comedic routine. And it all started with how could I explain to others my intense need to distance myself from the endless barrage.  Because at the time I didn’t understand the actual problem. For you see, for me it ultimately wasn’t the news that was the issue.  It was everything and everyone around me.  Including some of you.

I feel that humanity is continuously dividing itself into two major factions, each pointing at the other and saying “Baaaaa, you’re sheep!”.  Sheep that blindly follow dogma and doctrine.  And then each pointing at themselves and proudly exclaiming how they’re not.  They use examples like how the other side abuses social media to control and swell the ranks of the incorrect, but how ‘Our Side’ doesn’t.  In fact, we say that online platforms have no control over us.  That we are critical thinkers and Facebook and its ilk could never dictate how we live our lives.

And yet, everything about that is completely wrong.

We make excuses why we believe that we are right.  Not so much about our choice of sides, but in how we deal with the communication of our beliefs.  Let me give you some real world examples.  Take …. oh let’s call him Steve.  Steve is a member of the Left Tribe.  He firmly believes that the leaders of the Right are using social media to herd its horde into a froth, all in the name of the cause.  He believes that social media has zero control over him and that his word views are his own.  And he may be right about the second half of that sentence, but certainly not the first.

Steve is indeed controlled by social media.  His world is his phone.  He spends every moment he can inside of that world.  Commenting on what he sees as misinformation.  Trying to lead the other side into his light.  Joining forces with others who see themselves as Holy Avengers.  But … and this is the important part … he is never controlled by the media that is controlling those he wants to set free.

And again, everything about that is completely wrong. 

Steve is indeed controlled.  In his belief that he alone can bring forth calm from chaos and thus shine a spotlight on evil leaders of the opposition, he is in a deeper prison than those he is trying to set free.  “But I must save them!”, he cries.  “I have found information they don’t know!”.  Sure, maybe he has.  But he is not going to convince those dug into their own foxholes.  It doesn’t matter the topic … politics, pandemics, whatever.  The Generals of this conflict are not the leaders that he imagines.  He is fighting the wrong war.  And he will push back hard against anyone who dares to tell him so.

Think about it for a minute.  Pick anything that has two sides.  The Army-Navy football game perhaps.  If I get on Facebook and show that Navy Admiral Smith has fornicated with the devil and has lied about his allegiance to those who serve on water … are all of the folks at the game wearing the blue and gold going to suddenly switch sides?  That answer is no.  Swap politics and vaccine nonsense for team allegiance and the picture remains unchanged.  So exactly what and/or who IS the real villain then?

My mental health has come to the conclusion that the onslaught of everything serves someone else.  The media perhaps.  Corporate entities.  The “1%” even.  It doesn’t matter though.  It really doesn’t.  Because they win when the entirety of the rest of us lose.  When we get completely ensnared in the web and can’t even see that we are trapped.  (And yea, think Matrix if that helps the imagery).  Every single media site slams us with breaking news about conflict.  Stories designed to inflame and keep us coming back for more.  Social media platforms do the same.  We align ourselves with like-minded individuals and our conversations devolve into single topics, fed by our insatiable thirst for more conflict.

For a lot of folks, this is pleasure.  Otherwise, why would we do it?  The very paradigm that we blindly follow is designed and executed to give us mental and emotional orgasms, and to feel empty when we don’t continuously engage in the game.  This is truth for a lot of folks, but not all.

I am in the “not all” camp.  Not that I’m superior to the fray or above it all.  Not that I’m in a deeper web.  But because I’m following a line of script from War Games.  “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.” is the conclusion of WOPR, the computer blindly intent on ending the world.  And that has become my own personal mantra.  Not to win, but to survive.

I physically and mentally cringe when I hear the battle over things like “vaccine hesitancy” and “MAGA”.  It actually hurts.  Where others get pleasure from the conflict, I get pain.  As in actual mental and emotional abuse.  I can feel my insides blistering because it’s a battle designed to be ever-continuous.  To always leave the individual in a state of near-win, but always needing more.  It’s an addiction that is unhealthy for me.  For others too, I’m sure.  But that’s the irony of it all … if I push back against this whole concept then I’m playing the same game with a different topic.

I have made the decision to step away.  I don’t watch/read the news, except to cherry-pick stories that have actual importance and knowledge.  I walked away from Facebook and only use Instagram and Twitter for my business.  I crave discussing topics outside of battle lines.  And I’m very vocal to those around me that I’m not shunning their conversations because I’m better than they, but because I’m doing everything I can to stay mentally sound.  But sadly, most folks can’t see it.

If I were an alcoholic and told people not to gift me bottles of booze, they would of course happily support me.  It would be cruel to do otherwise.  But when I tell those same people that my mental health cannot absorb even a modicum of conflict-based covid-battle or political strife, they are confused and offer it to me anyway.  Demand that I accept it.  And when I push back, they get hurt that I’m not accepting their gifts.

AD SEGMENT: Pitch Twitter and Instagram

And realizing the irony of this pitch, please take a moment next time you’re scrolling through Twitter or Instagram to give me a follow and a like.  YouTube as well.  And I know, I know … here I am doing battle against social media all while pitching it for my own benefit.  But if you’re listening to this, then you’re probably interested in looking a little beyond the usual.  Looking underneath the covers as it were.  And that’s what I’m offering both here and elsewhere on the ole interwebs.  So, will you help a fellow traveler out and play along everywhere that we find ourselves together?

SEGMENT 3: Professional Suggestions To Manage

According to an article from the BBC, research suggests that the news can shape us in surprising ways – from our perception of risk to the content of our dreams, and even to the chances of us having a heart attack.  They referenced a study from Alison Holman from the University of California, Irvine regarding terrorist incidents and how media reporting affects the mental health of both those who directly witnessed an incident, and those who only learned about it through media outlets.

While they obviously found that people directly involved were traumatized by the event, they also discovered that those who had not seen the incident in person, but who had consumed six or more hours of news coverage per day in the week afterwards, that they were suffering more.  Even if they had no direct connection to the people and place where the attack occurred.

They discovered that news coverage is far more than just a regurgitation of facts.  It alters the content of our dreams.  It can lead us to miscalculate risks and shape our views of foreign countries, peoples, and cultures.  News, the way it’s currently presented, can increase our risk of developing post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression.  And they found emerging evidence that the emotional fallout of news coverage can even affect our physical health – increasing our chances of having a heart attack or in developing health problems years later.

And even more crucially, they found that just a few hours each day can have an impact far beyond what we might expect. 

Trying to strike a balance between being informed and not being overwhelmed is difficult, especially during a global crisis such as covid.  The constant stream of sensational or “disaster” reporting, whether you are exposed actively or passively, can elevate stress levels and trigger symptoms like anxiety and trouble sleeping.

Unsurprisingly, according to the CDC, the COVID-19 outbreak has proved to be stressful for most people.  During an infectious disease outbreak, they say that stress can include changes in sleep or eating patterns, worsening of our mental health conditions, fear and worry about our general health and the health of loved ones, and also difficulty concentrating.

A Doctor of Psychology, Logan Jones, stated “Unfortunately, a lot of the news we consume today isn’t so much reporting as it is a way of keeping people addicted to the news cycle”.  He continued, “even if it’s just noise in the background, an alarmist news broadcast will still have a negative effect on your psyche”.

Consuming news can activate our sympathetic nervous system, which causes our bodies to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.  So when a crisis is happening and we are experiencing this stress response more frequently, physical symptoms can arise.  With some of the most common symptoms being fatigue, anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping.

AD SEGMENT: Pitch Patreon

OK, let’s take a quick moment for a breather.  If you like this podcast and want to support what we’re doing, including the video version of life over on YouTube, please consider becoming a patron.  Information is available at rickhiggins.com.  We thank you for your generous support … and now let’s see if we can peer into our future.  To find out where all of this is going.

SEGMENT 4: The Future

So what can we do, besides going on a strict news diet like I was emotionally pushed to adopt?

Staying informed is not just responsible but critical to our collective safety right now.  The World Health Organization recommends seeking news about COVID-19 primarily so that you can take practical steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.  But once you have that information, it’s time to turn the news off.  The CDC further recommends taking periodic breaks from watching, listening, or reading news stories. 

These experts suggest, in addition to limiting your time each day in consuming news about covid, that you actually schedule worry time.  As you’re watching just enough news to become and stay informed, write down the issues you feel are of most concern.  And then at a scheduled time … far enough away from bedtime so as not to affect your sleep, analyze the latest information and incorporate it into your plans.  But the most important aspect of “worry time” is that after you have processed all of the new information, that you put the news aside and remind yourself that it’s no longer time to worry and to move onto other things.

Yes, it sounds simple and silly, but your brain will become accustomed to this routine.  It will adapt and the majority of your day will not be spent in fruitless and exaggerated worry.  And you will be better informed and prepared.  Knowledge is important.  Obsession and worry are detrimental to that knowledge.

It is also suggested that we only watch “reliable” news outlets, and this can be problematic.  Because one person’t truth is another person’s fake news.  But we of a certain age remember journalists whose job it was to simply research and report.  Not to generate opinions, but to provide the data necessary for us to create our own.  Granted in a world like covid, where we feel we must become instant experts on medical issues, this can be difficult.  We’re looking for those who can tell us what’s what.  But simply put, we have to know our sources.  And we cannot allow for cross-pollination of subjects.  Medical information is never to be consumed in a political setting.  Nor economics, religion, or anything else other than the topic at hand … medicine.  It’s in the “let’s take a topic and paint it with a political brush” that causes misinformation and confusion.

It doesn’t matter which faith you practice, which political system you adhere to … a virus doesn’t care.  It’s not tuned to Fox or CNN.

Kellie Casey Cook, a licensed professional counselor, suggests that we reduce our vulnerability to other stressors.  To give ourselves permission to limit our exposure to certain people.  She says … “If you have a family member who is constantly posting links to questionable articles from unknown sources, go ahead and unfollow them for now.  If a friend or coworker insists on having current events-related conversations that don’t feel productive and only serve to increase your anxiety, consider putting some boundaries in place with them”.

Which turns out to be exactly what I have done.  Sadly, she didn’t mention the absolute tenacity of some of those we turn away from … and how we can manage those relationships, but I suppose that’s a topic for another discussion.

Thanks for listening.  Be healthy, be happy, and we’ll see you soon.

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