The Personal Test of the Pandemic: Thinking for Ourselves

Take charge of news consumption to maintain a healthy perspective of our world.

Posted Jun 01, 2020

Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it.   
Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held …  
Believe nothing just because someone else believes it.   
Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true. 

—Buddha 

Recently, many of my clients have been telling me that they are addicted—they just can’t stop looking at the news, which flies fast and furious on social media every hour of the day. They exist in a constant high-arousal state of fear and anxiety. Not a good idea: the high level of cortisol injected into your bloodstream from constant vigilance and feeling under threat impairs your immune system, which ironically makes you less equipped to manage the virus if you contract it.  

United Nations Covid-19 response / Unsplash
Use the news to prepare, not impair.
Source: United Nations Covid-19 response / Unsplash

Be Conscious of What You Consume 

What to do if you want to experience less anxiety, depression, and panic? Become aware that just as you consume food, you consume information. If you think you’re going to sleep well after looking over the latest pandemic news, well that’s probably not going to happen. The dopamine stimulated by that information will keep you tossing and turning. To avert this angst, come up with your go-to websites to bring yourself up to date on what’s going on with the virus and then decide how often, and at what time of the day, you will check them.  

Consider: if I were to say to you, “Hey, I’m the ‘tragedy alerter.’ I will call you as many times per day as you like and tell you, in excruciating detail, how many people have died from COVID-19,” you’d probably say, “That’s OK. Why don’t you call me once per day, or even once every few days.” That way you would learn the facts while keeping the pandemic in perspective as a part of—but not all of—your life.  

The Cognitive Miser and the Pandemic 

One of the great findings of cognitive psychology is that we are “cognitive misers”: We don’t like to think too much. And we’re unsure how to think about a pandemic because we’ve never experienced one. It’s easier to react to the millions of feeds and updates emanating from the social media industrial complex than to cut our own path in life. Or so we think: because we don’t develop a healthy way of perceiving the crisis, we end up thinking about it incessantly, which exhausts us. The current pandemic offers a reminder that we have to learn how to control our use of technology, not vice-versa. Just that feeling of being more in control will give you strength. 

In other words, no one else is going to do it for you: you’ve got to gain control of how you use technology. I write about strategies to do that in my new book Screened In. That’s why the subtitle is “The Art of Living Free in the Digital Age.” The paramount challenge of the third millennium is to reclaim our freedom as human beings. Never has this day-to-day freedom been so threatened, first by our phones and now by the pandemic—which has us on our devices more than ever in human history. 

Transform Your Life 

So what can we do about it? How can we direct our use of technology rather than the other way around, and stay up on the news enough to be prepared and not so much to be impaired? Here are a few strategies you can try: 

Put the apps you open multiple times daily for the latest news onto your last screen. Decide how many times you want to check these apps weekly and only right swipe to the final screen on those occasions. 

Read legitimate news sources. As a rule, when you read questionable news on any social media site, stop following the person uploading it. This is the digital version of cleaning house. 

Never check any news related to the pandemic after 6 pm. Honor your very human need to wind down and conserve your energy so you can renew your life through a good night’s sleep. Turn off all screens for that matter at least one hour before you go to bed.  

Let your values guide how you use technology. It’s important not to fall into the trap of spending more time on your screens because of the pandemic. Zoom is a wonderful tool, but so is calling someone. Using your phone, believe it or not, as a phone.  

Well, I’ll be on my way now … to spend time with my kids, to catch up with my wife, to call some friends, and …. to not read an update on the pandemic. Until the day after tomorrow. 

Inquiring minds want to know: How do you regulate how often you check news apps or websites so you are in the know without becoming a walking vessel of anxiety and distress? Let us know in the comments so others can benefit.