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Knowing When to Turn Off the News

The news hurts.

I can’t handle watching it because it hurts. I can’t deal with seeing Facebook posts about it. I can’t even hear jokes about it from Stephen Colbert.

It’s not funny. It just hurts.

Sometimes I think it would hurt less if I were less aware. If I understood less about how the government worked, I might not be so upset about Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy resigning and Trump appointing his replacement.

I wouldn’t know that Kennedy is the swing vote on the court, and that the court will shift to the right once he is gone. I wouldn’t have to worry about what that would mean for the country if I didn’t understand it.

I wouldn’t be burdened with the knowledge of past Supreme Court cases that harmed our nation, like Citizens United, which opened up the doors for unlimited money in politics, or the recent Janus decisionthat struck a blow to public labor unions. It would bother me less if I didn’t fear that even worse decisionscould be on their way from a more conservative court.

It would be nicer not to know about immigrant children in cages, or the climate crisis, or how hard life still is in Puerto Rico long after the hurricane that took out the island’s electricity.

It’s tempting to tune out. But ignoring disturbing news doesn’t make the news go away. If I didn’t know about toddlers facing immigration court alone, that wouldn’t make it untrue.

The same is true for all of us. We all have the choice: Do we want to know, or don’t we? And then a second choice: Are we going to do something about it?

But most of us have another concern: How do we maintain our mental health while also doing the right thing? Taking in all of the news is debilitating. If I keep up my usual habit of 24/7 news consumption, I won’t be able to get out of bed.

The most obvious ways to take action can feel too insignificant to make a difference. I can call my representatives (and call, and call, and call). I can attend protests. I can donate money to worthy causes. When there are elections, I can vote. I can volunteer for candidates I like. I can share information on social media.

None of this feels like enough.

I don’t have the answers. I know I’m not the only one struggling. But I think I’ve figured one thing out: It’s OK to turn the news off sometimes. It’s OK to log out of Facebook, too.

Taking action is important, and we all need to know what’s going on and what needs to be done. But we don’t need to marinate in the news all day long. Not when it hurts this badly.

If you’re watching the news, ask yourself if you’re making yourself more or less able to act by watching it. If you find yourself simply getting more and more upset and less able to function, turn it off.

If you need to, pick one issue and focus on it. If it helps, find a candidate for office that wants to do something about it, or an organization that works on it, and get involved.

Figure out where your interests and skills can have the greatest effect, and put your effort there. Then allow yourself to let some other things go, because you can’t do more than your own part — especially if you can’t get out bed.

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