Have you ever been completely glued to the news when something is going on? Like what about the last time you were anticipating a hurricane and couldn’t stop checking in to see what the storm’s path was? It consumes you doesn’t it? Or how about something that affected all of us and still is affecting all of us? I’m not sure about you guys but when COVID first hit I was absolutely glued to the news. I could not stop going to website after website and TV channel after TV channel. There weren’t enough updates to check out and there just wasn’t enough information to consume. It basically absorbed my entire life for weeks if not months. Looking back, this is a once in a lifetime event and I completely understand why I did it. But in retrospect, it’s been a tremendous time suck. And if I were to characterize it as being more or less destructive I would definitely use the word “more.” It’s also amazing how it kind of “evolved” too.
From public health to politics and relationships
When all of us first heard of COVID we were curious. What the hell was this strange disease that was spreading in China? Would it come to the U.S.? How dangerous was it? Should we be concerned? All of us had different experiences, reactions, and approaches on how we’d be handling it. But if there’s one thing I think all of us were thinking, it was about health and our personal safety. In the beginning, politics was never a part of the equation. I remember for me, the first big decision my family had to make was whether or not to cancel a trip we had planned to Disney World. Ultimately we decided not to go and luckily it was the right decision because Disney literally shut down days before we were scheduled to be there. But that’s what it came down to then: Personal decisions based on our own risk assessment based off of the news we were consuming. But as information about the disease began to grow and evolve, so did the mindset of many of us. No longer was it just about public safety and avoiding or eradicating a disease. It grew way beyond that.
The beginning: freaking out at my parents
Who remembers the very beginning of the pandemic? I sure as hell do with regards to my own situation. The thing I remember the most was how much we were learning about COVID’s effects on the elderly. We didn’t know a whole lot about the disease at that point but we definitely knew that the older population was most vulnerable to getting the sickest and potentially dying. Remember when we were being told to stay inside our houses? Remember being told not to go shopping or to restaurants or pretty much anywhere unless it was absolutely necessary? And if you were over the age of 65? Forget it. You weren’t supposed to be going anywhere. So naturally I was incredibly concerned about my parents. So when I found out that they were still shopping, doing the things they normally did, I freaked out and simply couldn’t believe it. There was one time I remember being on the phone saying something to the extent of “do you realize you could die if you go out there?” Looking back I don’t regret it because I was extremely worried about them and the fact that they weren’t listening to what they were supposed to do infuriated me.
But this is how it was in the beginning. It was as if every decision we made was life or death. It wasn’t about right or wrong. It wasn’t about having enough information or even making informed decisions. It was pretty black or white at that point. We knew there was a deadly disease out there and we knew that it was spread from person to person. So essentially we knew that doing nearly anything with people could potentially be a risk. Slowly but surely people began to formulate their plans of how they would live their lives. Some would go shopping with masks on. Some would use online delivery. Some people would wipe down every single grocery item they bought. Some wouldn’t care. Everyone had their own subtle level of preference and everyone created their own “systems” based on all the data we were receiving.
It’s important to note however, that at this stage, we weren’t seeing any animosity towards other people quite yet. At this point in the pandemic it was still about safety and trying to navigate in a world where we all thought we were at serious risk of getting a major illness and God forbid dying. But the longer the pandemic went on, the bigger decisions we started to have to make. Not to mention, this “new” way of life would eventually start to wane on all of us.
Becoming super judgmental
This “new” phase of the pandemic that I’m speaking of didn’t just include lockdowns (which in my eyes was the first step towards the public eventually getting very tiresome and angry). It included the decision of whether or not we should be sending our children to schools. At the time me and the wife were super concerned about our children’s lives. We ultimately decided to keep our kids home for online learning for a school year. In retrospect I wish I had sent my kids to school but no regrets. To each their own and I 100% respected anyone’s decision at the time. But what I’m really getting at is when decisions began to become “bigger” that’s when things started to take a turn for the worse.
Issues kept popping up that put people in either one camp or another. You had the people sending their kids to school camp, and those keeping their kids home. Factions were beginning to brew. And every single day more news came out, it was a chance to bucket yourself on one side or the other. Naturally this began to create a ton of tension. Something as small as “do you go to restaurants?” would become a reason to argue. It would become a point of tension. All of a sudden you started judging people by how they were responding to the pandemic. And this is where things started to interfere with relationships.
Becoming divided and straining personal relationships
Things only become worse with the introduction of vaccines. When you look at the history of America there’s never, not once been a political divide over something like vaccinations. When you were told to get a vaccine or for your child to get a vaccine, they got a vaccine, end of story. Yes, vaccines have become an area of contention amongst plenty of people, but never in such a political and divisive way as with COVID. I bring this up because things have become so extreme now that not only are people looking at each other differently these days, they’re looking at each other in one of two ways: vaccinated or unvaccinated.
If you’re one, you’re on one side. If you’re the other, you’re on the other side. Look, I’m not here to say which one’s right. I have my opinions as anyone else does. But the main point I’m trying to demonstrate is that this division never should have been so insane in the first place. I mean how many of us got into fights with our loved ones over COVID? There’s not one of you out there reading this that didn’t. I had two humongous blow ups with my father over COVID. And I’ve had plenty of tense conversations with family and friends over it as well. On the one hand, rightfully so, right? It’s something we all care about, so we should be taking it seriously. On the other, I’m thinking to myself, “this has NEVER happened before, and should it have in the first place?”
It’s absolutely insane. And while there are multiple layers to this and countless reasons why it’s affecting all of us in so many ways, there’s one thing in common I always noticed with COVID. It’s that the more news I watched or read, the more stressed and angry I became. There was literally a direct correlation to my news consumption and attitude. That’s not to say I shouldn’t have been informed or that ignorance is bliss. But it is to say that a can person reach a point where they are simply consuming too much information and it’s taken over way too much to the point where it’s interfering with things that truly matter.
News and media aren’t to blame unless you consume too much
I also want to make this clear as well. I can’t blame news and media outlets for covering this so much. It’s what they have to do and they’re gonna do it to both inform the public and also draw as many viewers as they possibly can. It’s completely up to us how much we actually consume. It doesn’t matter what network you prefer or what your political leanings are, too much of something is inevitably going to lead to you feeling a certain way. If you’re getting all your information from Fox News, you’re going to perceive something in one way and if you’re getting it all from CNN you’re going to perceive it in another. I know it’s not that simple and I’m not here to judge. I just wish it was as simple as this: there’s a horrible disease out there, it’s killing people, we need to do whatever we can to stop it. But it was never that. It became this multi-layered, political subject that extended beyond public health. And the second it did that, unlimited baggage came along with it.
How I’d do it all again – less attention to the news
This one’s hard to decipher but at its core I think the common denominator in this entire COVID pandemic has been information and how we follow it. When I look back on everything there’s an extremely high correlation between my news consumption and my stress levels. As far as which news is “real” and which news is “fake,” that I won’t even remotely go near. I just know that the more news I would follow, the more nervous I became. When I truly take inventory of my behavior and my information intake I realize that for at least a year of the pandemic if I had been reading up on COVID once a week things would have been considerably different. Not only that, I wouldn’t have known any less. Simply checking in to the main stories and main talking points would have educated me just that same if not better than by following everything as closely as I did. Which leads me to what I’d have done different. I think limiting my news consumption would have changed everything, period.
The no news challenge
The next time you find yourself being engulfed by headlines, try taking a step back. If you really feel you can’t get away from the news then check on ONCE a day. I swear on my life it will change everything. The minute I put the TV and computer down, things seemed to level off. It’s worth giving it a shot. Try cutting out the news a bit more and see what happens. Good luck.