January 26, 2018
Things might seem kind of awful lately.
Every news headline, from every corner of American ideology, feels pretty depressing. We are subjected to nihilistic rants or apocalyptic predictions. When do we smile? When our late-night talk-show hosts use our negativity for comedic material. I’ll admit it. I laugh when John Oliver delivers one of his brilliant satires, but I need to be honest with myself: his satirical wit wouldn’t make any sense to me if I hadn’t gorged myself on “bad” news for the 12 hours before his show aired.
I can’t help but to conclude that this is really bad for our national and personal psyches. Feeling worried and angry all the time increases stress and all the hormones that go with it. We go about our days in the highest state of alert, our fight or flight impulses always ready and eager to take in and evaluate the next bit of badness that pops up on our screens.
This is an especially bad way for us to paint the world that our kids will inherit.
Look – I know the counterargument. What if the world really is that bad? What if the bad news is both accurate and justified? Would we be doing our kids any favors if we shielded them from the reported lousiness that gets reiterated throughout our daily lives? Isn’t it good that they see that we’re concerned?
Well, yes and no. Sort of. The answer, in other words, is nuanced.
This is in fact the core of our troubles. We don’t, as a rule, enjoy nuance when we’ve been primed for near constant outrage. Nevertheless, it is nuance that we need and it is nuance that we lack. Nuance, however, requires careful guidelines, and I’d like to share two of these guidelines that are particularly important. We can use them to turn this whole negative thing around.
Talking about the importance of community might strike readers as a corny kum-ba-ya in the face of legitimate crises, but community involvement and cooperation has been shown to decrease our stress and improve our resiliency.
You get the point. The best protection for our communities in the wake of all this negativity is some good old fashioned getting together.
The irony, of course, rests in the fact that the more negatively we feel towards one another, the less likely we are to get together. That sounds a little too much like a middle school cafeteria for my tastes. Let’s get our communities further along the trajectory towards adulthood, and we’ll all feel better.
There is a tendency for our digestion of daily events to leave us feeling that there is nothing we can do to improve our moods. This perceived learned-helplessness can lead to feelings of persistent grumpiness and even to significant psychiatric distress from which we imagine there is no escape.
It turns out, however, that the opposite is true. Our treatments for feeling constantly stressed are easily accessed and immensely successful. Our treatments for psychiatric illnesses are effective and satisfying. I would never claim that we can (or would want) to rid ourselves entirely of our stress, but we can do a lot more to mitigate it.
These might seem like dire times, and certainly there are some very scary things that are quite appropriately reported in the daily news broadcasts. We cannot, however, allow ourselves to become mindless and angry by the seemingly relentless awfulness that our news brings. Our brains are too big for that kind of nonsense, and our good will is too powerful for that kind of pessimism. We have to actively reach for our better selves. That’ll start to turn this whole thing around.