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Opinion

SIDDAPUREDDY: The Melodrama We Never Asked for

My ninth grade social studies teacher began every class by projecting an online news site on the whiteboard. During our “Community Time,” we were encouraged to inquire about any headline, current event, or story that struck us—an exercise in civic participation. Stalling note-taking and instigating heated discussions, Community Time was loved among students. This is why, when I visited my teacher over winter break, I was shocked to find that Community Time had become a thing of the past. The news, it seems, has lost its charm.

This disenchantment is not particular to my teacher or middle schoolers. Since the 2016 election, engagement with network TV news and newsmagazines across the United States has been on the decline, while a “headline stress disorder” has been on the rise. This is not entirely surprising, though, considering the increasingly hostile, uncertain, and partisan political climate that’s swept through the nation over the past few years. 

One study by the American Psychological Association found that two-thirds of Americans feel stressed over the future of their nation. And while these concerns appear to be concentrated in certain segments of the population, including young adults, women, and members of the LGBTQ and immigrant communities, they nonetheless persist among individuals across the political spectrum. It is no wonder then, that this inexorable roar of daily news has led enough people to therapy that the phenomenon has earned a name: the “Trump Anxiety Disorder.” Symptoms resemble that of general anxiety and stress, including lack of sleep, feelings of helplessness, agitation, and restlessness over the unpredictable sociopolitical climate.

So it’s understandable—natural, even—that many of us choose to turn away from the news, the source of all of this bitterness, in an attempt to preserve our mental integrity. It has become harder than ever to parse through the storms of tweets and sensationalized articles that saturate our screens and magazines without suffocating in negativity, name-calling, and animosity. It is almost as if Tuesday, November 8th, 2016, was the pilot episode of a melodrama TV series that hasn’t yet been discontinued.

The impeachment trials, the latest installment in this series, further encouraged news-avoidance. Just a few weeks ago, I watched as my mom turned on the television, saw the impeachment hearings, then immediately switched to Discovery Channel. The other day, my suitemate and I reveled in our newfound peace of mind after turning off phone notifications from the New York Times

Yet, no matter how tight we shut our eyes from the sun, we can’t avoid the hazy afterimage that stains the back of our eyelids. The issue here is that these politics that we call drama have palpable, far-reaching consequences. Whether or not we keep our television tuned to the news or enable notifications for our phones, we cannot sidestep the fact that decisions will continue to be made (or not) by politicians, and matters will continue to move forward. 

At the same time, prioritizing mental health is imperative; without some composure and confidence, we would not be equipped to inspire and initiate reform. So, the question remains: how can we remain informed while preserving our well-being? One study found that just three minutes of negative news can increase one’s likelihood of feeling unhappy a few hours later; so, perhaps we could start by getting a dose of positive, uplifting news each day to keep our spirits high. Other strategies might include reading print papers instead of online sources, or avoiding speculation by waiting some time after news breaks to read up on it. Maybe try designating a “no-news zone” at home, keeping politics away from the dinner table. Most importantly, ground yourself in the small things that make you happy—whether it’s looking at the New York Times “Travel” section instead of “Politics,” baking a fresh batch of cupcakes, or spending time with family. 

It is precisely the fact that we do not want to watch the news that we cannot evade it, at least in its entirety. There are too many problems to rectify, gaping partisan divides to mend, and words to be spoken. And maybe it is those individuals who are most frustrated with our current affairs, who have the greatest capacity to impart change. The outrage and hyperbolic rhetoric is certainly tiresome; yet, I urge you to stay informed to the best of your abilities, even if this means consuming the news in bite-sized portions, because progress cannot occur without us knowing what we must reform. While escapism seems to be the most plain, obvious answer in this political moment, propagating the loss of shared facts and reality is corrosive—it would mean that we are giving up hope, surrendering to those who are in positions of power, and yielding to the specter of eternal political impasse.