Response overload

I admit. I am one of the lucky ones. My life is not much different today than it was two and a half months ago. With two preschool children and a career from home, the difference in our personal pandemic culture doesn't differ much from what it looked like before.

The biggest shock for me is the realization that I've lived in a state of constant reaction for the past two and a half months of my life. A constant influx of "developments" and "current news" made me feel that every day is filled with life-changing decisions not only for me and my family, but for society as a whole.

Should I wear a mask? What mask? How many particles does this mask really keep away? How should I take it off? Should I use the hand disinfectant before or after? Does this person look sick? How close are they to my family or me? Is six feet enough? Can I get it by touching food? Should I have my groceries delivered? What about the deliverer? Should we have food delivered and support local businesses? But what about the food, is it safe? Can I get the virus from my dog? Can I give the virus to my dog? Will my children get Kawasaki disease? Was that a cough? What the hell is a hornet ?!

I would say that is 10% of the questions that I have carefully considered in the past few months. In addition, amateur epidemiology models are constantly being run for my community, trying to get a numerical sense of the risk we are exposed to.

I don't think I'm alone with these questions, and for those of us who try to minimize not only our material possessions, but also our perspective and interaction with the wider world, it can feel like we're constantly overreact to the virus pandemic.

But we are not.

Any attitude or belief that we have in such an unknown situation is not an overreaction. We have to make decisions to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities as safe as possible.

However, there is one phenomenon that we have been building on in our media-rich world for years that has reached a crescendo with this pandemic: reaction overwhelming.

The potential ways in which this virus can harm us are shared with us almost daily as the media searches for the most up to date perspective to get clicks and keep returning.

What other choice do we have to include everything in ourselves, to evoke a personal response and inevitably to argue with those who have a different response because the stakes are so high?

No wonder we all feel so overwhelmed. We are in a state of absolute panic for most of our day.

Using some of the lessons and truths we learned through minimalism can help reduce this consumption and resist its inevitable reaction overload.

The news is not altruistic.

  • Despite the use of terms like "trust" in their marketing, news agencies are broadly committed to making a profit. This profit comes from viewing or clicking articles. Current topics get the most views and clicks, so they are always headlined to appeal to you. The news is helpful, but doesn't always take your interests into account.

Politics is professional wrestling.

  • At the beginning of the current presidential administration and all of the struggles involved, comedian Aziz Ansari noted that he turned off the news on his phone because (to paraphrase it) everything is just professional wrestling. That is, the stance and arguing are wrong and a waste of time forcing us to respond and choose a side. We can be passionate about issues that are important to us but do not engage in the soap opera of television politics.

Can / could is not does / will.

  • When it comes to certain statements about the virus and all the things that come from experts or not, look for the words that use them. The speculative words "can and could" are very different from the more precise words "does and will". Anything can happen, and some things may be more likely than others, but with so much to do, we need to be able to determine the real threats and the latest opportunities.

Take something else.

  • I'm not here to make specific book, TV, or movie recommendations, but we all have our non-pandemic favorites that we know are far more rewarding to record than a constant stream of news. OK. I will make a recommendation … Kent Haruf's novels.

Everything turns off.

  • It's so simple, but we miss it because we feel like we need to be connected. Our phones, computers, televisions, radios, and all other media sources are turned off. Most of them can be placed in a cupboard or on a high shelf. We can use website blockers and delete apps. Getting rid of the checking habit is the easiest and often the most rewarding experience.

None of us are the lovable, sensitive robot Johnny 5 from Short Circuit. We don't have to constantly gobble up “input”. We can switch off and give ourselves the opportunity to have time when we are not in a reaction state. We can allow ourselves to be simple.

And if you're young enough (or your kids) and haven't seen Short Circuit yet, I've just given you another great recommendation for a distracting pandemic.

About the author: Greg Behr is a practicing minimalist who lives in Chapel Hill, NC. He brings his philosophy to less is definitely more in his role as the father of two young daughters, husband of an amazing wife and co-owner of a successful strategic communications company, GBW Strategies. He writes to maintain his mental health and share his best practices on his blog on medium.

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