The news is stressful. Here’s how to stay engaged while keeping your cool.

Six tips for news and social media sanity in the 2024 election cycle (you won’t believe #6)

7 minute read
Black & white vintage photo of five coiffed young ladies sitting in a row in the library reading newspapers.

When a friend of mine asked, “Has anyone come across an Idiot’s Guide to Project 2025 for Dummies or something? I’m terrified and overwhelmed but I don’t want to just not read it at all. I can’t be the only one.” I knew exactly how she was feeling.

She was wondering about a policy roadmap from the Heritage Foundation, which urges Donald Trump to cram the government with right-wing cronies instead of qualified nonpartisan officials, snuff out reproductive rights, block common-sense regulations, and lots more if he wins again. (This podcast episode is a good explainer.)

No wonder we’re stressed! We can’t parse stories like this on our own. But, just like my friend, many of us feel terrified and overwhelmed navigating the media in this election cycle. BSR wants to help, so you can continue to engage with the media that serves you, including us.

Who’s giving this advice? (That’s right: check your source.) I’ve been a freelance journalist for more than 15 years and an editor for almost a decade. I’m an avid news consumer and moderate social media user. And I work especially hard to stay mentally and emotionally balanced in today’s world: I’ve been open in the past about living with bipolar disorder. I have to pay close attention to how I’m feeling and why. I need to be mindful of negative, stressful thoughts. And for me, a huge daily trigger of negative, stressful thoughts is the news.

What’s the solution? Stop engaging with media? That would be nearly impossible, even if it wasn’t my job, and it’s not a good idea for anyone who’s (rightly) worried about US democracy right now. Instead, I need to manage how I engage with the media, including social media, where I get a lot of my news.

This isn’t a listicle I worked up with a lil’ Google about media habits that sound good in theory. These are all things I’ve been doing consistently for a few years. Want to join me in reclaiming some calm?

1) Build gates around your media consumption.

My gates take two forms: timing and access.

My rule is little to no social media or news scrolling until evening (after work), and then I end the news/social media window at bedtime. I guard my days, working hours, and sleep time against the distractions and upheavals of the news, and friends’ updates. (If they need me, they can text or call.)

When Roe was overturned, I saw the news immediately because I had a habit of checking Instagram between meetings. All that did was throw an emotional bomb into my workday. Now, I look at the news around the same time every day (if I’m in a frame of mind to see it).

That’s the timing. The access is keeping social media apps off my phone’s home screen and disabling almost all notifications. The apps are available to me, but not at one touch, and they don’t chirp at me all day. Each time I open them, it’s a conscious decision. You may have a different timing preference or other tools to limit scrolling.

Zoomed-in photo of a seated row of people in a public place, all holding smartphones.
There’s a world of news available every second—but we don’t have to look right away. (Photo by Robin Worrall on Unsplash.)

Some people claim it’s your duty to constantly “witness” traumatic images, or that taking breaks from the news just shows your privilege. Yes, you are fortunate if you live in a part of the world where you aren’t running from starvation, bombs, rape, slaughter, and natural catastrophe. But constantly partaking in the trauma second-hand doesn’t help us act or maintain empathy. It makes us numb, tired, and unable to face the challenges in our own lives, let alone global tragedy. You are allowed to limit your news consumption.

2) Wait!

When news breaks, don’t rush to the first link in your feed. Resist the urge to tune into a TikTok talking head if you’re not familiar with the creator, their sources, or their credentials. It’s better to wait and get reliable info than it is to immediately ingest (or spread!) a narrative that you can’t verify or contextualize. Be suspicious of anyone who claims to be able to instantly explain major news. (Journalist Jessica Yellin expounded on this recently—more on her below.) Are they giving you facts and meaningful analysis, or are they filling airtime and chasing clicks/views?

3) Arm yourself with sources by topic.

When news breaks, ask yourself what the topic is. Later, make time to head to a high-quality source on that topic. One benefit of the digital media landscape is many specialized niches, as well as journalists and creators who combine lived experience with world-class expertise. Keep a mental or written list. Here are a few examples from mine:

US politics: Jessica Yellin’s News Not Noise Instagram and Substack (She's pictured with me below.)
LGBTQ rights and fact checks: Erin Reed’s Erin in the Morning Substack
Disability rights: Imani Barbarin and Alice Wong on Instagram
Supreme Court: Dahlia Lithwick’s Amicus podcast
Expert context on news, culture, policy, and science: The Conversation
Donald Trump’s criminal trials: The Prosecuting Donald Trump and Jack podcasts
International news: Semafor
Tech and the Internet: On with Kara Swisher podcast

Other news topics include public health, regional conflicts, reproductive rights, labor, education, economics, and science, to name a few. Ask yourself what’s most important to you—or where you need to grow your knowledge.

Photo of Alaina and Jessica Yellin smiling together in a restaurant. They are both white women with blonde hair.
I had the privilege of lunching with journalist and News Not Noise founder Jessica Yellin in April. (Photo by Kira Palichat.)

Here’s an example of how this works for me in practice. News breaks practically every day on some ruling relating to a Trump indictment. I scan the headlines and then wait until Sunday when a new Jack episode will drop and the expert hosts (including a former deputy director of the FBI) break down what happened and what it means.

This doesn’t mean you won’t check multiple sources when needed! But having top sources by topic will help you feel less scattered and help put your media consumption on a schedule, instead of letting it hijack random corners of your day.

4) Curate your outlets.

Notice the mix of formats on my list? Choose what works for you (social media or YouTube creators, newspapers, websites, newsletters, radio, TV, podcasts) as long as you vet them properly over time. Can you verify their sources? Ask yourself who is providing the info. Are they experts or experienced journalists or people actually on the ground? Or are they clout-chasing influencers, or pundits, or politicians (or politicians-turned-pundits, or pundits-turned-politicians)? Is the story informing you or is it stirring up your feelings and making you choose a side instead of a solution?

And remember: social platforms are now throttling news. If you find a creator you like there, be sure to visit their website or sign up for their newsletter so the algorithm doesn’t squeeze them out in favor of kitty videos (which we need, obviously, just not as badly as we need reliable reporting).

5) Choose a specific action to take.

If the news has you spiraling, take a break from scrolling, clicking, sharing, and commenting. Choose a specific positive action to take, however small. Call or email your reps about the issue that’s getting to you. Give to or boost a mutual aid campaign in the affected community (if you don’t know of any, ask around!), or donate to a lifesaving NGO. Put something in a community fridge or bring supplies to local activists. Pause for a deep dive on an issue you need to understand better before you consume more news.

This small, positive boost helps me reset from the cycle of stress and helplessness—and stay engaged.

Photo of a table with fruit & canned food, and gloved hands passing it into other gloved hands, all with different skin tones
The world is still here! Find a positive thing to do, however small. (Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash.)

6) Support local media.

Rumors of our death are greatly exaggerated. We are here, and we want to connect you to the community and keep your leaders (whether economic, political, scientific, or cultural) accountable to you. National stories often leave you feeling scared and powerless, like you have no stake in a solution and no access to decision-makers. Locally reported stories are more likely to target leaders in your neighborhood, give you actionable knowledge, provide nuance, or inform you about possible solutions. When local media disappears, polarization and disenfranchisement rise. People are less likely to vote or know their neighbors.

Alaina, Kyle and Neil sit smiling together in the corner banquette of a coffee shop.
'BSR' editors Alaina and Kyle and executive director Neil have been working together on Philly arts and culture coverage since 2019. (Photo by Daralyse Lyons.)

So how do you support local journalism? Read us. Boost us in your feeds. Tell your favorite journalists that their work matters to you. Sign up for our newsletters. Subscribe or donate when we ask for support to keep our work going. Encourage your networks to do the same.

Local journalists, including the BSR team, are fighting back against a world of homogenized, nationalized, aggregated, algorithm-driven content. You can fight back too, by sustaining the media you want to see, and shaping its future, rather than just consuming it.

At top: the newspaper section of Emily McPherson College Library in Melbourne, Australia, in the 1960s. (Image via Unsplash.)

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