I Tracked My Mental Health With A Diary For One Week After Deciding To Give Up My Addiction To The News
Mental Health Diaries is a FIERCE series that asks Latinas to track their mental health for one week. Through this project, we hope to tackle the taboo around mental illness that so many in our community face. Here we’re hoping to dispell the judgment and misunderstandings around mental health and illness one diary entry at a time. Bienvenido and thanks for reading.
The vote was close. An undeniable moral compass set a path toward the obvious choice—but we’ve been here before. On Saturday night, October 6, 2018 Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice. I turned off the news that evening and when I turned it on again Sunday morning, I felt depleted. Watching, reading, and listening to the news, staying close to this story for weeks knowing the outcome would defy logic—it chipped away at my peace and pushed my anxiety to the max. I tried to tune into the news again on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday my body was sending a message I could not ignore. My irritability, anxiousness, back pain, acne, sleeplessness, and longing for a few extra glasses of wine to relax—they were all signs that my addiction to the 24-hour news cycle was damaging me from the inside out.
My news consumption has changed drastically over the past three years. I used to listen to the public radio station WNYC during my morning commute. Figuring not much could happen in a few hours, I would tune in to the local news at 10pm, and page through the New Yorker on weekends. Then the 2016 U.S. Presidential election showed signs of impending disaster. I had moved to London late that year, and by 2017 the world had been knocked out by a one-two punch—Brexit and Trump. I’ve been overdosing on news coverage since.
I checked my social media accounts infrequently, but when social media algorithms figured out I had a news addiction the people whose lives I wanted to keep up to date with disappeared. They had been replaced by not just any news, but the kind of headlines that fed my outrage and kept me scrolling and clicking for more. I worried about women’s rights, family separation, child detention, tropical hurricanes, police shootings, climate change, plastic— newsfeeds were a constant reminder that everything was progressively getting worse. I wasn’t alone in my escalating fear. A 2017 APA report showed, “Nearly seven in ten Hispanic adults (69 percent) say that the future of our nation is a significant source of stress— the most of any group,” compared to both white and black Americans.
As a person who has operated in a constant state of stress and anxiety since as far back as I can recall, I came to think I was just hardwired that way. I put off seeking professional help because I didn’t want to be the loca in my family. Cultural stigma, cost, language barriers—these are major factors that often prevent Latinos from seeking mental health care.
I have since learned that the difference between stress and anxiety is that stress is short-term and anxiety is long-term, and stress feeds anxiety. I take active steps to address stress and this has led me to effective practices like yoga, running (though not very often), and meditating. Curbing my addiction to the 24-hour news cycle is now part of that calming process. I challenged myself to 7 news-free days, redirecting time and attention toward my mind, body, and spirit.
Here’s how it went.
Day 1: Wednesday
I wake up before anyone else at home and get ready to go out for a run. I put on my one pair of leggings and my one sports bra (because come on—how often do I really go running?). I throw on my husband’s sweater, some red lipstick, and head out the door.
In the park, I am alone with the trees and the only sound I hear is my steady breathing and feet hitting the ground.
Then I started thinking. I say yes to everything then I worry about how I will get it done. I worry that I’m in over my head. Impostor syndrome. I’m not good enough. Girl, keep running until that voice in your head shuts up.
When I get home I fight the urge to put on the news. I usually play it in the background as I get ready for work. But I resist.
I attend an anthropology lecture given by Dr. Luciane Rocha on the persistence of police brutality and far-right extremism in Brazil. By the time she is done speaking no one says a word—no one claps. The Bolsonaro threat has paralyzed us.
I walk to the train station and pick up the Evening Standard at the entrance. I turn around and slap the newspaper back down on the pile without even glancing at the headlines.
I spend time with my daughter. I check in on my girlfriends and tell them about my news-free challenge. They say they sense their stress increasing from overexposure to the news too. I asked them for tips on how to relax. They tell me to smudge sage and burn bay leaves. I ask them if I missed anything in the news. They tell me the world hasn’t fallen apart—yet.
Day 2: Thursday
Still no news. Same routine. Didn’t do anything special for my body but at least I can still feel soreness from running yesterday and I like that.
I go to a lecture and give three seminars. My lesson plan goes out the window and I’m doing more improvising. This week’s focus is on slavery and plantations of the Caribbean. I can escape the news but I can’t escape history.
I walk through the door and my mother-in-law yells, “Oh I feel so sorry for Melania Trump. She is the most bullied woman in the world.” I sense the sarcasm though I have no idea what she is talking about—and that’s probably a good thing.
I like to listen to WNYC while cooking and cleaning but no—not today. There is too much focus on this presidency and if I hear about one more overanalyzed tweet my head will explode.
I go to bed and Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks is on my nightstand. I want to read it but I need more than a news detox. I need to avoid things that remind me of the news. In her book, Zumas conceives of a world where IVF is banned, abortion is illegal and, “the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo.” That shit is too real a possibility right now so I resist.
I meditate my way into sleep and my thoughts are unusually positive. I find that I appreciate life just as it is. I feel good. (I hurry to write this last part in my journal the next morning.)
Day 3: Friday
Does celebrity news count? I hear Kanye is going to the White House.
Today I plan on making a good meal for my mother in law to thank her for all her help.
My body is telling me to stretch but at least my shoulders are not stitched up in stress. That is progress. And I haven’t even had the urge to read or listen to the news this morning.
I still need to listen to something as I get ready in the morning so I pick from podcasts like Radio Ambulante, NPR Latino, On Being with Krista Tippett. Homegirl has the most soothing voice.
This morning I listen to the New Books (Caribbean Studies) series. Vanessa Valdés talks about her book Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg. Valdés is giving me life right now!
I focus on my to-do list and get the small things checked off. I go on social media for a quick distraction when I see a friend commenting on the Kanye meeting with Trump. I click on a video of the meeting and see the first comment says, “Don’t waste these 20 minutes of your life.” I take that as a sign and click off.
We have a great family dinner. Fish. Eating less red meat. I pick up Red Clocks out of habit and put it back down.
Day 4: Saturday
My husband is taking our daughter out for the whole day. I have to work through the weekend but I need to think in a clean space. I sweep and mop, and dust, and tidy away clothes and toys. I take a little walk to the shops and restock veggies, fish, and fruits. I burn bay leaves and light my Señora de la Caridad del Cobre candle.
I prepare for Monday’s class so I read up on Bronislaw Malinowski.
I take a little social media break though I am careful to click past the news. I see a friend’s post and he and writes about the murder of a capoeira Mestre he met while traveling in Brazil. I already know all the ways I will feel if I click on the link and read the article. But this is more than just click bait, this is real news.
The stress sets in immediately. I fear the spread of right-wing extremism and xenophobia in the U.S. I think about this past summer when I flew to the states and how I was careful not to speak to my daughter in Spanish at the airport because I was afraid of ICE agents mistaking my citizenship and taking my daughter. My country is turning on its own people as if it suffers from an autoimmune disease.
My family comes home and my husband and I binge on funny shows after the baby has fallen asleep.
Day 5: Sunday
Another museum day for my family. I do 45 minutes of “Yoga with Adriene” in my living room. I love that I can stop the video at any time, wear whatever I want, and I can practice yoga for free. Yoga instructors hate it when I say that but WTF is up with $20 yoga classes and $100 yoga pants?
I have deadlines to meet so I work like crazy. Writing, writing, writing before the crew comes back home.
My husband comes home with wine. We drink the bottle and look for anything else we may have to drink up. We down a bottle of room-temperature Prosecco and we don’t give a damn.
I’ve been internalizing transgressions against women for months now. In all this man-hating, I forgot to show my husband some love.
Day 6: Monday
Write, research, cook, repeat.
A little more Yoga with Adriene.
I get a text from my mother-in-law that HRH Megan Markle is pregnant, which I already knew because I was a bruja in another life.
I feel a great sense of calm and balance the rest of the day.
Retail therapy. Forget a handbag—give me truffles! And I mean the fungi not the chocolates. I buy some posh olive oil and I’m loving life.
Spend time with my baby. Put her to bed and watch all the Housewives shows no one else likes to watch.
I cheat and check the news. Contextually speaking—nothing happened! Elizabeth Warren’s DNA results came in and that’s about it.
Day 7 Tuesday
I do my yoga but I don’t eat well. I’m productive but I don’t pace myself.
I hang out with my daughter.
Dinnertime, I put truffle on everything!
My news detox has given me back time, calm, and allowed for more mental space that I’ve redirected toward creativity and curiosity. But I still have sleepless nights, I worry about the future, I should work on healthier eating habits, and my body is telling me that working out here and there for a few minutes is nice but it ain’t cutting it. Here’s the thing—I may never get rid of my anxiety completely, but I identified a source of agitation, my news addiction, and I kicked its butt.
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