When I was an undergraduate, I double majored in Media Studies and Politics. Current events are a strong interest of mine but, at some point, I just have to stop reading.
About a week into Russia's war on Ukraine, I realized that I simply could no longer read stories focusing on how children are impacted. Tears would immediately well in my eyes and I would become frozen with stress.
The story that broke me was an opinion piece in the Washington Post called "What Mothers Know about War" [gift link]. The lead photo should have told me to stop. But it was the final line - "The fact that they have traveled so far, and their children are so heavy, and their arms are so tired." - that has lingered with me for weeks. As the mother of a toddler, it's all to easy for me to imagine just how tired those mothers' arms are. There is the ache of physical exhaustion, but the mental toll of war is immeasurable.
I took a break from the news for a few days and, now, when I see a few words that trigger a heightened emotional response, I stop reading. I learned that, as much as I want to be informed, I do not want it to come at the expense of my mental health.
We've made information readily accessible, but we have not been teaching how to set boundaries with what is available. Doomscrolling, or the compulsion to scour the internet for negative news, is a legitimate problem. When it is combined with revenge bedtime procrastination the negative emotional impact is compounded by a lack of sleep. What results is never ending stress and emotional fatigue related to information. This can have negative repercussions for behavior, education, and work.
Too often we don't set limits. From a personal standpoint, that can lead to emotional spirals and endless hours of scrolling. From an educational or work standpoint, it means we don't learn when there is enough to act on. In either case, it can lead to the wonder if the information we have is sufficient. Is there more out there? Is there something important I am missing? This can result in information paralysis, where we become too overwhelmed to actually do something with the information we do have. There is simply no way we can ever consume all the information on a given subject or idea. There is just too much.
Information is a part of my job as a librarian, but I am by no means an expert on the socio-cognitive effects of the constant bombardment of negative information. What we need to do is teach ourselves how to identify boundaries. I think that begins with asking a few questions:
It may be worth checking in with ourselves to determine how we are emotionally faring. If the information is becoming a burden, it may be time to step away for a break.
I would love to hear your thoughts on setting boundaries with information. Feel free to leave a comment below.