Living overseas makes checking the news a tricky endeavor, especially in seasons of global crisis like the pandemic or more recently, the war in Ukraine. Reading about these things can be anxiety inducing for a few reasons. When you live far from home, you count on life in your passport country to keep providing stability, a place you can safely retreat to if needed. But when your passport country is struggling alongside the rest of the world, you experience a sense of loss and instability.
Reading the news can be a triggering experience if you have gone through traumatic experiences yourself. The injustice, violence, and pain can make you feel paralyzed, angry or really upset. It can also be challenging to consume news when life around you is draining and uniquely demanding. Your capacity to process hard things happening elsewhere in the world is so much less.
At the same time, as global citizens we can’t afford to not be informed about world events. The world is so connected that what happens in one country often has implications in other parts of the world. If we want to be understanding of the times, we can’t live under a rock. So how do we navigate news consumption?
1. Know your window of tolerance.
Name honestly what happens to you when you read the news. As humans our emotions are impacted by what we read. We reflect the heart of our Father when we are moved with compassion or when we respond with indignation to the injustice in the world. But if reading the news starts to get in the way of our being able to function well, we may need to step back and consider how to stay within our window of tolerance.
Dan Siegel is the therapist and clinical professor who coined the term “window of tolerance” (WOT). WOT refers to “the best state of stimulation in which you are able to function and thrive in everyday life. When we exist within this window, we are able to learn effectively, play, and relate well to ourselves and others” [source]. Ideally we want to stay within a space where we can self-regulate, stay grounded, and be flexible. If reading the news triggers deep anxiety, overwhelm, numbness, a sense of panic or maybe even a response of flight or fight within us – these are all signs that we are moving away from that state in which we are best able to function in our daily life.
Pay attention to your body’s responses. Stay curious about why specific news has the impact it has on you. Could this news be tapping into unprocessed grief or trauma?
Notice, too, if there is a time of day when things affect you more. Is checking the news before going to sleep disrupting your rest at night? How often are you going online to check news updates?
After you’ve paid attention to these things, be very gentle with yourself and plan accordingly. Is there specific news you need to avoid for a while? Maybe ask someone who loves you to filter the news and share with you what you can handle. There really is no shame in that, friend. Or maybe, set a time of day when you check the news, and then don’t check it again that day. And if you are really struggling, it really is okay to say, “I can’t handle this right now.” Know yourself and steward your capacity to process information.
2. Actively stay within the circle of your responsibility.
While it is true that we want to be informed and cultivate compassion toward suffering in the world, our primary calling is to stay present and tender-hearted for those in our immediate circle of influence. If you are anything like me, once in a while you need to do a heart-check and discern: what is within my circle of responsibility and what is within my circle of concern? Sometimes I have even had to write it all down and create two lists:
What things are my responsibility (things that God has called me to)?
What things are only a concern (things that God is calling me to entrust to him)?
Seeing it in black and white in front of me is helpful, so I can properly cast my cares on him. Thankfully all my cares (both the ones that I am responsible for and the ones I need to entrust to him) are his cares. They matter to him. So he is able to equip me to engage faithfully where he wants me to and also to give away to him what I really can’t change or influence. I am so thankful he cares so much for all of me, and that I am within his circle of responsibility and commitment.
3. Hunt for beauty every day.
Finally, when life is heavy and it seems we can’t escape its excruciating crush, become a beauty hunter. In the rich mercy of our Father, beauty strengthens the soul to face grief.
When we are struggling to live in the love of the Father, chasing beauty is just what the doctor ordered. Choose a project that will breathe life and hope into your soul:
-hang flowers on the porch
-go on picnics on poppy-covered fields
-bake favorite desserts with your family
-have dance parties
-explore favorite markets
-admire the sunset
-sing worship songs
-read poems while drinking tea
-behold breathtaking cliffs or
-gaze at star-filled night-time skies
Beauty opens our eyes to the steadfast love of the Lord even when darker colors inhabit the landscape of our lives. It is what shelters us in the day of trouble, enabling us to believe we will see our Father’s goodness in the land of living.