Well, since it’s nearly Easter I am easing out of my news fast – and after only about 20 minutes of the Today programme I’d had enough. ‘Turn it off,’ I said to Mark: already I was angry, frustrated and fearful, and it was only half-past seven. This is not good. I’m going to have to find a way past this, because it’s not good just to ignore the news: you need to keep up with what’s going on. But you also need perspective. You need to look after your mental health – and frankly, if I’d been listening to the news along with all the stuff I’ve been going through in the last few weeks, I would have gone under. The news makes me feel that I’m carrying the world’s problems on my shoulders: each time I hear a terrible story I want to do something about it, but mostly there’s nothing I can do, so I end up feeling frustrated and powerless. This is definitely not good. Even in those cases where there is something I can do – a famine, for example, for which I could donate to an appropriate charity – I feel there’s too much suffering and I can’t donate to everything.
There is a view that the media do this on purpose to keep us all in a state of fear and helplessness. Whatever the truth of the intention behind it, the effect is the same: fear, anxiety, anger – sometimes rage – and helplessness. What I’ve found during Lent is that it’s much healthier to do something about the stories you come across. This needn’t mean living in a little bubble of your friends and family: you can still be in touch with the wider world, but you hear about stories via people you know; often people who are involved in efforts to help and who can involve you too if you wish. You get feedback on how things are going; you may even get to meet some of the people who feature in the story: in short, you feel included. You feel powerful, not helpless. And this is Good News, isn’t it? It has to be.
So my advice is, for some part of your week or month, give up listening to the news. Maybe take one day a week out; or one weekend a month. It’ll still be there when you come back – and in the meantime you’ll be refreshed, encouraged and empowered.