By David Jones
I don’t have to wait for the world to be okay for me to be okay. And neither do you.
Now, that fact might make some folks angry. They might say that by choosing to be okay you’re somehow normalizing the way things are—the fear, the anger, the division, the hatred. Try not to let others decide for you when you’re supposed to be afraid, or angry, or divided, or hateful.
Actually, I might argue that the constant anger and dissatisfaction shoved in our news feeds all day has not really changed anything, unless you count making people more upset. If that was their goal, mission accomplished!
It might seem like being perpetually upset is in itself some kind of protest, some type of rebellion, a noble stand-taking against all the things that infect the world today. But just being angry and not taking any actual action to improve things is impotent. It’s a video of a roaring fire when you’re cold. It’s setting the parking break and then putting the car in gear.
We have control over a lot of the things that cause us to be not okay. Take my social media news feed for example. If I see a news item and it makes me angry, it’s over and done. About all I can do is work on my reaction. But if I see a headline that makes me angry or upset, and I CLICK ON IT to read the article, well now that’s all entirely on me. I had the opportunity to turn around and walk away, preserving my inner peace, but instead I decided to go there. The warning of a provocative headline wasn’t enough to deter me from choosing unhappiness.
That’s doubly true if I then decide to wallow in the comments section beneath the angering article.
I know how hard it can be to resist the compulsion to click on upsetting titles. It was hard to see past the illusory excuse I made for myself, that I wanted to stay informed. I mindlessly clicked and injected myself with another hit of negativity.
But I also know how liberating it was to finally choose not to jump in every mud puddle and septic tank spill that came along. Now I still keep all of my news media streams available and I get notifications for almost every story; I do stay pretty informed. But, I’m careful about what I click on. The accompanying rancor and provocation doesn’t help inform me about anything except whatever is making everyone angry. So my efforts to stay informed don’t need to include the poisonous miasma.
I wanted to reduce my anxiety and depression triggers, so I mindfully and intentionally chose to avoid them to a large extent. That was a big step toward choosing to stay mentally and emotionally healthy, and it’s a step available to everyone.
Here are a few tips:
If I see a headline or post that makes me really upset, I need to pause and ask myself if I’ll honestly benefit from clicking and reading the article. It takes training, but fighting compulsions always does.
If you are provoked, pause and ask yourself if you want the consequences of answering, commenting, sharing, or even clicking on a reaction button to show how angry you are. Facebook in particular shows you stuff based on what you interact with the most. So if you click Angry Face or post a pissy retort, you’re telling Facebook to show you more stuff like that. If you don’t want that…step away from the screen.
Mindfulness is about learning how to deal intentionally with the world around us, so if we find ourselves mindlessly clicking on things and reacting, that’s a clue to examine that. It’s called “click bait” for a reason.
Finally, if you find yourself lamenting the lack of good, positive, encouraging and helpful news and posts out there, that’s a strong signal to unplug. The world is full of the positive things you want to read about. But if you only take in the negative and unpleasant things, then all you will ever see is junk. It’s time to stop inviting all the poison into your head and life, as well as limit how much you engage with the rattlesnakes you can’t escape.
The world is throwing garbage around all day, every day. People get angry and they will want to share it with you without any game plan to solve problems. Folks just stay impotently angry and miserable all the time.
But that doesn’t mean you have to join them.
David Jones has a 27-year career with the United States government. He encountered mindfulness in therapy for his endangered marriage (which had led to anxiety-based depression and dissociative disorder symptoms), and writes about the experience in his blog as well as articles in various publications. He started writing articles about mindfulness for Yahoo Voices under the brand: A Mindful Guy.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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