Sunday, December 31, 2017

Three Tips for Staying Grounded in a Crazy World

Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome to 2018!

I feel confident in putting this as a fait accompli, even though I'm writing this midday on 12/31/17 because I imagine most of you will be reading this in 2018, or as near to it as functionally doesn't matter. I'm also confident that 2018 will arrive, which hasn't always been the case.

It's funny looking back at the turn of the millennium and thinking the whole banking/computer change from a two-digit year to a four-digit year was the worst thing that could happen... I look forward to the day when we can look back, shake our heads at the 2016 election, and trade our "where were you when you found out Trump was actually elected?" stories.

Until then, we do what we can to resist an increasingly authoritarian regime while still keeping our sanity. Thus, my take on this week's topic: Keeping Your Sanity: 3 Things You Do To Stay Balanced/Grounded/In Control.

While resistance is critical, so is keeping our sanity. In fact, it's important to keep grounded, in balance, and at peace with ourselves, in order to resist from a foundation of strength. There's a reason sleep-deprivation is a tried-and-true brainwashing technique: because exhaustion lowers our defenses. Being healthy and at peace is key to everything else we wish to accomplish.

I've counseled more than one friend in the following. One was having nightmares about being in a nuclear war with North Korea. Another had become depressed and anxious with all the political changes and programs being cut and destroyed entirely. So, here are three ways I keep myself balanced and grounded.

Stay Away from the News

Seriously. This is the first thing I told my friends above. I truly believe part of the reason things seem so awful is the sensationalistic news media and the echo chamber of social media. I know a lot of people regard it as their responsibility to "stay informed." There are three problems here:

  1. There are major forces wanting to control what we're informed of
  2. News shows on TV are about entertainment. They skew to shocking and exciting content
  3. This has been exacerbated by click-bait headlines and the availability of news on our phones, etc. 
The news on TV and on social media is, by its very nature, sensationalized. Choose a reliable newspaper to read. If you want news from Twitter, carefully choose who you follow for it. Look for reliable sources. I also give you permission - *waves permission wand* - not to look at all. (See Make Your Life a Paradise.) At the very least, stop reading articles on your phone to kill time. That's setting yourself up for the most sensationalized, most upsetting news without deep understanding or context. Remember when we used to see waiting rooms as an opportunity to read books? See next.

Deep Read*

That's my mom in the pic above. We spent some time over Christmas just sitting in the sun and reading. She has a lovely patio for it. But now that I'm home, I'm spending time in my favorite armchair, reading by the fire. The benefits of deep reading have been well documented. (I'm using it here to mean reading a narrative, as opposed to reading Facebook posts, Tweets, etc. I really don't think reading on a paper book vs. an ereader makes a difference, so long as I'm reading without interruption.) It's more than me being an author and being a fan of reading in general. (Buy my book!) Reading is relaxing, restorative, hones the intellect, and gives us time away from all the voices. It's also a skill that's easy to lose in our current culture of So Many Things shrieking for a piece of our attention.

I've been reading Robin Hobbs' SHIP OF MAGIC, which is *long* - 880 pages in paperback, though I'm reading in digital. At first I felt impatient with the slow, elaborate pace. As I've settled in, I'm remembering how much I loved fat books in my youth. The more pages, the better, because I could enjoy them longer. I don't have data to back it up, but I'm pretty confident in saying that my reading declined immensely with my increasing involvement with social media. Time I once spent buried in a book, I began to spend scrolling Facebook and Twitter.

Recently I've made several changes. I've removed Facebook and Twitter notifications from my phone. I've taken them both off my array of tabs to display when I open my web browser.

(I realize this is a total reversal because I used to tell people who said "I always forget to check Facebook," to make it one of their home pages. Don't. Run away. Look at it if you like, because it's still the best way to keepup with some people, but choose when.)

I've also gone back to an ereader (a paperwhite, which I'm loving) that has no functions for people to message, text or otherwise interrupt me while I'm reading. I can feel the difference in myself as my attention span relaxes.

*One note on deep reading: I've noticed, and a number of other people I've talked to have noticed, that at first it's difficult to get back into deep reading. It's as if we've lost the "muscle" for it. Start back slowly and give it time. We've all found that the more we practice, the better it feels.

Make Your Life a Paradise

Alert readers might notice I left out "in control." That's because I think control is elusive and must be judiciously sought. As far as national politics are concerned, we have very little control. We can vote and campaign for our candidates. We can donate to campaigns. We can participate in our communities. Fretting about North Korea? Not really in our control.

So, this is my best advice: take action, then walk away and work on your own life.

For example, because it's become clear to me that senators elected in other states will influence my life in profound ways - like whether or not I can afford health insurance - I donated to Doug Jones' campaign in Alabama. I felt good about that action. Immediately, however, the campaign began sending me emails - every couple of hours - with hysterical doomsday headlines. They wanted me to contribute more. But I had already taken my action. And I could feel just the subject lines upsetting me. So I labeled them spam and didn't look at another email from them. I'm delighted to report that Jones won! One small step. I took my action and got the result I wanted.

The walking away and working on my own life? That's key.

I mentioned above about turning off notifications. I'm selective about who can grab my attention. Bigger than this, however, is the idea that if each of us made ourselves and our lives a paradise, then by extension, the world would be, too.

I make a lot of choices for personal happiness. To the extent I can, I focus on doing what brings joy and beauty to both my life and the world. This includes friends, family, the organizations I volunteer for, and in the books I write. I find that if I enjoy my daily life to the utmost, I worry much less about the larger world. Which I can't control anyway.

This last is the foundation of being grounded and at peace for me. It really works.

And, at the risk of being accused of having lured you here for marketing purposes... if you do want to read, Smashword’s is having a site-wide promotion!
This is only good through January 1, 2018, so I felt I should tell you now, just in case!