Managing Stress In An Insane world

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I stay sane by working in the garden and taking in the beauty of the natural world.

I stay sane by working in the garden and taking in the beauty of the natural world.

Earlier this year I decided to avoid the news as best I could. I didn’t want to hear about the presidential campaign; especially the words of one whose name shall not be mentioned here. He upset me greatly and when I started yelling  at the television it was a sure sign that I needed to turn it off. I do still tune in less than an hour every day because I want to be able to make informed choices. But I leave the room from time to time when I want to avoid talk from certain people.

Managing my stress is an important part of my self-care. I do not want to live with constant anxiety which turns my gut into a churning cement mixer filled with rocks. I get jumpy, depressed and feel hopeless. At the ripe old age of seventy-three I want a life of ease. I can’t afford the damage that stress causes to my mind, spirit and body.

I’ve been a news junky for as long as I can remember. I absolutely had to watch all of the heart breaking reports when JFK was assassinated. I tuned in constantly when Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were taken out. On the morning of 9/11, I wept and felt like it was the end of the world. On all of those occasions my gut churned away. I had no appetite for food. And for at least a week if not longer, I sat in front of the television reliving the cataclysm of 9/11.  Every news channel replayed the fall of the twin towers, over and over again. I was depressed. I had trouble sleeping. Like everyone else, I was sick at heart. At the end of that week I realized I was harming myself, not helping myself.

I needed to find my center. I needed to smile and laugh. I couldn’t go to NYC and help with the cleanup but thought perhaps if I lightened up and started believing in goodness, my depression would go away. I gave blood. I went back to working in the garden. I helped to prepare the downstairs apartment in my home for my mother, whose health was failing. She would be moving in with us in late October and would spend the next six years being in residence with us before she broke multiple bones and died in May of 2007. I knew it was going to be difficult and wanted to ground myself before she moved in.

I felt much better until Mom’s health started going down hill rapidly. I began watching hours of news again, and woke to NPR every morning. While I peeled potatoes, prepared meat loaf, or kneaded bread the TV was on. I listened to how the world was falling apart. It was easier to watch the world in turmoil and spout off on how to fix it, than it was to give my attention to what was happening in my own household as Mom moved toward the end of her life.

Later I was told I suffered from PTSD. It was suggested that the horrific news about climate change and the continuing saga of war in the Middle East were making me more stressed out than I was to begin with. But it was hard to turn it all off. I was too invested in the news and what was happening around the world.

I started meditating, said no to events or movies that I knew would upset me and set some boundaries For myself. But it was still difficult to stay news free. How would I know how to live if I didn’t know what was happening in the world? I was especially anxious about the mass shootings occurring so frequently around the country in schools, movie theaters, military bases and shopping centers. But even through those events I did fairly well at turning the boob tube off at the first sign of my being upset. I worked at staying positive. I reminded myself that beyond the negative is a beautiful world filled with good people who are kind and doing good deeds.

Then “you know who” decided to run for the presidency. My stress and anxiety levels began growing by leaps and bounds. I was sure the end of the world was nearing. I was afraid for my country. I feared what would happen to my kids and grandkids in the future if that man got into office. I yelled at the TV during debates and the nightly news. I cried some nights as I tried to fall asleep. Finally I said, “Enough. I can’t do this anymore.”

When I woke to the tragic news of the shooting in Orlando, a few weekends ago ago I was surprised by my reaction. I had no need to see the grim photos or know the numbers of innocent people killed and wounded. It was so unlike me. I asked, What is wrong with you? Why aren’t you reacting the way you usually do?

But I knew there was nothing I could do. Would sitting in front of the television all day taking in this heinous act of violence help to keep this kind of event from happening again? I knew that all it would do is make me feel angry, hopeless, and extremely heart sick. I decided to turn the news off and go about my day. I worked in the garden, cooked a delicious meal, and finished reading a book that I was completely immersed in. During the following days I signed petitions and made a donation to one of the sites involved in bringing an end gun violence. And after a bout of angry posts on Facebook, I decided to stop that too.

I still tune into the news most nights just to get the headlines. But it isn’t causing my stress levels to rise. I’m living in a better world, taking care of myself, trying to be as kind as I can, and being grateful for all that I have.

How do you handle the gruesome events that seem to happen every day all around us?
How do you stay positive in the face of negativity?


  1. Joan, I screen that stuff out, just like you describe. Since I grew up without television, I know I cannot handle all the bad news. If I read too much of the news online, I feel as though I get a distorted view of humanity. I know people are better than that. Hegel said that peace times are the empty pages of history, and he is right. When people show kindness to one another — those are not reported on. Only the heinous acts of violence.

    Reports on the one who shall not be named is like reporting a train wreck every day. Meanwhile, the one who offered a change in the status quo did not receive the coverage he deserved. I kept digging every day for how that campaign was going, but now that his coverage is down to a trickle, I don’t bother. And I’m calmer because of it.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that “making informed choices” does not apply to this election any longer. I cannot accept that we have to choose between the two “presumptuous” nominees for president. That alone depresses me.

    The way I deal with all this is that when I awake in the morning, I think about the first good thing to be grateful for… whether it’s the birds singing outside my window, the sun shining through the windows, or a soft rain falling. I keep telling myself that no matter who the president is, the birds will still sing. The sun will still shine. And the rain will still fall. And once in a while we see the beauty of a rainbow to remind us there is still hope.

    Thank you for your thoughtful post.

  2. A very timely post for me! And…you made me laugh. That’s always good. When I get fired up about something like what has been happening on the political front I go through a similar routine. I too scream at the TV and post too much on FB. I also hit a similar wall with it all several weeks ago and wanted to run as far away as I could from all things social media and news. I did. I’m only just now climbing back into the arena and trying to decide how to get the chaos that I in part helped to create under control. Solitude, quiet, and nature always bring me back from the brink. I would like to stop asking myself why I don’t feel as deeply as I used to about each traumatic world event and see it the way you describe — sanity. Living on overload makes no sense whatsoever and as said above, by you or Saloma, what we hear and read is not all of reality – not by any stretch. And so, I am on a mission to streamline my newsfeed and my attention to things more life-affirming. It’s a process that has to be repeated on a regular basis when one is actively involved for work or pleasure with social media. One hour of news is all I can handle. Even that is too much some days.

    • Joan Rough says:

      We’re in the same groove, Dorothy. Life is too short to spend it being on overload and overwhelmed. Reality is what I see before me: A cardinal sitting in the pine tree outside my window, a few rain drops hitting the glass, and the sound of the neighbor’s grass being mowed. Thanks for responding!

  3. Joan Rough says:

    Thanks so much for your very thoughtful reply. It helps to know how others feel about this crazy world and how they keep themselves from going nuts. And remembering what we’re grateful for first thing in the morning is sooo important. And falling asleep as we recall the best parts of our day is also something I do. Also, when I start getting overwhelmed by it all I repeat the following to myself: “I choose ease.”

  4. Joan,

    Congratulations for choosing joy-affirming activities and reacting to negatives with positive behavior such as signing petitions and making donations.

    I cut the news and most TV programming out of my life by cancelling my cable service. It doesn’t mean that I don’t get the news since the headlines pop up on my smartphone, computer, and social media on all devices. But I get to control how much of it I let in. Of course I want to be informed, but on my own terms, so just the headline and a few sentences is sometimes enough. Watching the biased news offerings being slammed at us from all sides every hour is destined to upset us and serves no purpose unless we commit to do something positive about it.

    I still watch some TV shows and movies via Netflix and (British programming), but I’m even selective about those and get to choose when I watch.

    Ironically, I’ve always love British murder mysteries, and wondered why. I think it’s because in those programs detectives use brains more than guns, problems are solved, and the guilty are brought to justice. Calm is restored amidst the chaos by the end of each episode.

    The one thing I always try to remember about the “real” news is that their profits are driven by the shocking and sensational. We only see what the producers think will stir up our emotions and bring the most public reaction and outrage. It could cause us to believe most people are evil and the world is falling apart, but I refuse to accept that version. I pray for victims and survivors of the many horrors, but I believe the majority of people in the world are decent and want a happy life for themselves and their families.

    To start my day, as my feet hit the floor I say, “This is the day the Lord has sent. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I know this is a variation of the original, but I use it to remind me to never ever take being alive and healthy for granted. I aim to look for the good in each day and savor it.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Flora, Thanks for you response. I’m with you all the way. I do not however allow any of my devices, iPhone, computer, etc. to bring me the news. I don’t use my iPhone like most people only having it with me when I’m not home. Very few people have my number so I’m not having to answer it constantly. My computer is for me to create and use for my writing. Even reading headlines on it can trigger a reaction in me. So that’s why I turn on the TV to get headlines. And that’s enough.

      Like you I watch very little TV, only PBS, Netflix and Amazon for movies. We’re also thinking of disconnecting our cable. Reading is a much more rewarding activity.

      I agree with you about the British murder mysteries. They rarely if ever show any violence and yes, the investigators use their heads not their guns.

      Thanks for stopping by. I always love to hear what you have to say!

  5. Joan — “I’m living in a better world, taking care of myself, trying to be as kind as I can, and being grateful for all that I have.”

    Amen siSTAR!

  6. Oh, Joan, how I can relate to your words..and I’m glad you didn’t mention THE name at the root of so much dissent. I too have been known to shout at the TV, though most of the time I was incredulous at the antics. I do watch the nightly news and try to stay current but I am minimizing my contact. Peace of mind and gratitude for what ‘s working, as you say so eloquently, have become a priority. Here’s another AMEN!

  7. Joan Rough says:

    Thanks so much, Kathy! And here’s another Amen to add to your and Lauries Amens!

  8. Hello Joan. Kudos to you for taking that self-care stand. Ever since I returned from Kazakhstan (where I lived with no tv for two years) in 2006, I’ve noticed “news” channels seem more about entertainment, what sells, or feeding the lowest common denominator. I simply stopped watching.

    I think CNN’s need to fill the air 24/7 has not resulted in a more informed public, but in a more fearful and more easily manipulated public. It’s actually painful for me to watch.

    I use print media to stay in tune. The written word just seems saner; certainly more in depth. I scan the NYTimes headlines on my phone in the morning, reading what holds interest, and follow certain correspondents on FB. People whose voice I’ve come to trust.

    And I practice solitude, go for long walks whenever I can, play with Sasha and stay in touch with real live people who feed my spirit. Social media is great that way. Haven’t we both met some truly wonderful folk that way?

    Thanks for another heartfelt post.

    • Janet, Once your off TV and CNN it’s easier not to get so tied up in the news. Good for you for sticking to it. And yes, solitude is the greatest!

  9. Francine Brady says:

    Joan, I went through all of those old news events much the way you did, but I am still like a moth to the flame when it comes to news. Or perhaps good news will come I hope so.
    It helps to know there are so many good people like you and your friends…Now we must get together and VOTE! MAKE GOOD NEWS AGAIN!

  10. Francine Brady says:

    Joan, I went through all of those old news events much the way you did, but I am still like a moth to the flame when it comes to news. Or perhaps good news will come I hope so.
    It helps to know there are so many good people like you and your friends…Now we must get together and VOTE! MAKE GOOD NEWS AGAIN!

  11. Sometimes, when we are ready we must face the monster “who shall not be named”. When there is such a strong reaction it is usually triggering something within us that is yearning to be heard and to feel compassion and love.
    Donald Trump is a monster … And reminds me of my own father. So easy to get caught up again in the spell, yet my adult intuition knows it is so wrong.
    That is why I also turn off the news.
    Hugs and lightness to you Joan

  12. Good for you, Joan. I’ve been off my news addiction for a while. Deafness helps (not most of the time), because I don’t watch TV or listen to the radio. When I want to know, I look at NY Times headlines on line where I subscribe. There, I can choose whether or not I want to read what’s under the headline. What passes for news on television is often sensationalism–not that I’m telling you anything new. I was a government major in the 1960s. I’ve spent lots of time working for political and environmental causes and will continue supporting what I believe in–and I’ll give my jumpy mind a break from anxiety-producing news style that keeps us coming back for more. OK, I’m old. I miss Walter Chronkite.

    • I miss Walter Cronkite, too, Elaine. I often think we should get rid of the TVs all together. It came to my house when I was about 7 years old and I was a great fan of Howdy Doody and Kukla Fran and Ollie. We never watched the news! I think if we tossed the damned things we’d all be better off. And books would come back as number 1 entertainment!!

  13. Joan, I applaud your decision to take care of yourself by limiting how much and what kind of news comes into your mind. I try to do some of that too.

    I do watch the NBC evening news with Lester Holt frequently. He’s the closest I can come to Walter Cronkite today, but admittedly, he is part of a corporate machine hungry for profits too. I try to keep that in mind. I also tune into other channels selectively. Rachel Maddow for intelligence and courage to go against the grain. NPR for the closest I can come to objectivity and excellent programs about the news with trusted guides like Terry Gross, Diane Rehm, Tom Ashcroft, etc. I also engage in listening, very occasionally, to “the other side” after being curious. “I wonder how Fox News is covering THIS event?”

    I try not to get into political battles online, so I seldom post political things though I “like” according to my values.

    Like Flora, I have daily practices of gratitude. Like everyone above, I find solace in nature. Thank God, I can always “lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh mine help.”

  14. Connie in Connecticut says:

    Joan, We’re living parallel lives and you put it words. Nature and kindness ARE the ways to peace.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Connie, We’re all in this together and yes being in nature and being kind are the way to living a life of peace!

  15. Shirley, NPR is the best as far as I’m concerned though I do watch Lester Holt most evenings. Diane Rehm will be retiring after the election and I will really miss her. I wonder what and who will take her place. I can’t imagine 10 Am without her!

    We had an old friend visit a while back who wanted to do nothing but talk about politics and even though he was politically on my side, I had to tell him I didn’t want to talk about it, because I was getting upset. He didn’t like that very much!

    Here’s to self-care and saying what we need!!