How to read the news without getting sick

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Are you suffering from information overload illness? Does reading the news give you insomnia, heightened anxiety, indigestion, panic attacks, depression, migraines, or uncontrollable rage? If you suffer from any of these reactions, then here’s a four-step prescription that can help.

1) Choose your news.

Facebook, Twitter, and email alerts added to newspapers, radio and television produce in-your-face news every day, all day. Like drinking cup after cup of high-octane espresso, that’s not healthy. Instead of overdosing on news, choose a news diet that fits your needs. That means choosing both which news sources you will use and when you will use them.

Think about how you begin your day. Do you want to start by reading a newspaper in the morning, or listening to Democracy Now on KFAI at 8 a.m.? Or do you want a more peaceful beginning – maybe a walk, or meditation, or a stop at the gym?

The newspaper, your favorite news broadcast, your Facebook feed filled with friends’ news items: they can wait for you to be ready. You don’t have to read / watch / listen immediately.

Maybe you choose a news diet that begins with a heavy-duty morning session, and then check-ins at noon, 4 p.m. and bedtime. Limit these, too – you can set an alarm on your phone or on your computer to tell you when you have had a 15-minute or 30-minute news session. Then stop. And think about eliminating the bedtime check-in: that’s not a good way to end the day.

2) Focus.

Decide which issues you will read more about, and which you will read less about. None of us can be an expert on everything. You might skim headlines about whatever is on top of the day’s news cycle, and read the entire story for your focus areas.

Decide which news sources you will follow. If you want to be informed rather than just alarmed, avoid sources with clickbait headlines and go to sources with actual reporting and in-depth coverage. Follow at least one source that offers thoughtful analysis and reflection, rather than just the latest alarms.

3) Wait.

When you get the first alarming, outrageous headline, don’t click “share,” don’t retweet, and don’t immediately go to the Canadian immigration website. First, verify the story. Or – if you don’t want to do your own fact-checking, ask someone who does. Or just wait until the next day, when more reports are likely to have a full story.

Remember the terrorist attack on the Quebec City mosque that killed six people and wounded 19? Early reports talked about police arresting two “suspects,” one of whom was named Mohammed Belkhadir. Here’s what happened over the next 24 hours:

“Friends defended Belkhadir, saying it was coincidence he was at the mosque at the time of the shooting, he was a good guy and isn’t a violent person.

“It turns out they were right; he hadn’t been involved.

“At that point, media around the world had widely reported that there were two shooters.

“On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office contacted Fox News, asking it to retract or correct a tweet containing false information about the identity of the shooter that had been up for around 24 hours.”

Now we know there was only one shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, a young white man with extreme right-wing political views. Mohamed Belkhadir, was released after police determined that he was only a witness, and, in fact, had been praying at the mosque.

4) Act.

The president did something awful? Protest. The Senate is considering a really bad nominee for Secretary of [fill in the blank]? Make phone calls. Action diminishes feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness.

Of course, it’s also nice if your action is effective, which means phone calls rather than online petitions, and pressuring legislators and members of Congress rather than just fulminating to friends.

That’s my four-point plan for reading the news without getting sick. I’m going to try harder to follow it. I hope it’s useful to you, too.

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