Twitter Thread – Psycho-Survival Hacks in a Dark Time

July 21, 2018


They’re counting on you burning out. Don’t – we need you.

Here’s help.

Daily Kos:

Today seems like the right time to do a thread I’ve been thinking about for a while on how to handle the seemingly never-ending deluge of depressing and disturbing news. My tips are based on my time as a CIA military analyst in which I dealt daily with disturbing content.

There are several risks to being overloaded with disturbing/negative content.

  • Complacency – becoming so used to the deluge that it all starts to seem normal.
  • Paralysis – that is, being so overwhelmed, you can’t figure out what to do/how to move forward.
  • Crisis perspective – you get trapped in the Breaking News cycle where everything seems like a potentially world-ending crisis to you.
  • Depression/PTSD – you don’t have to be on the frontline of a war have either/both. Disturbing content is absolutely a trigger.

There are also serious physical consequences to living a negative content overloaded life. I had a colleague who didn’t know he had stage 4 brain cancer because the symptoms were the same as our very stressful careers–exhaustion, random fevers, stress, and dizziness.

So, what do you do? First, I strongly urge you not to ignore the news/current events. Ignorance is one reason we have this society. It won’t make the problems go away & contributes nothing to their solving. Now that that’s established, here’s how to make it easier to handle:

1. TAKE ACTION. Volunteer for a food pantry, canvass for a political candidate, donate to a NGO, visit a sick friend. Seriously. Service of some kind in your community lets you be part of SOLUTIONS. You will see RESULTS when otherwise you’d feel helpless.

2. Conversely, for those who may take tip #1 to the extreme–know that you alone can’t save the world. Accept your limits. You aren’t a 7/11. You can’t always be open. At the end of every day when I reached my limit, I silently told myself, “I’ve done what I can today.”  (Note: Repeating that to myself did not stop me from feeling like I could have done more most days. But it was important to tell myself anyway because I am human. We are human. It’s good we *feel* things.)

3. RESEARCH BEFORE PANICKING. Easier said than done, but everything will seem like crisis/earth-ending if you don’t know what has/hasn’t happened before. If it has happened before, it’s can be hugely comforting to know how it was resolved and/or what might happen next.

4. GET UP & MOVE. Put the phone away, turn off the TV, log out of Twitter. Go for a walk, sit outside, get some coffee, call a friend. CIA is full of ppl walking the building with a colleague/friend. There’s a reason. Our brains & bodies need breaks from stressful content.

5. SET RULES. Because of my work at CIA, I had a rule–I only read fiction at home. I had enough reality at work. In the civilian world, I set blocks of time each day where I turn everything off–no news or social media. Let yourself recharge so you can keep fighting later.

6. AVOID DARK HOLES. (I’m sure there’s a joke to be made about that.) It’s easy to get sucked into the swirl of bad news. You watch a gruesome YouTube video and the next one is all queued up to play right after it. Focus on one issue at a time. Deal w/ it before moving on.

7. YOU NEED FUN. When there is suffering, war, despair, etc. around you, it’s easy to feel guilty when you have fun, feel happy, have a good meal with friends. You NEED these things. You will be better able to do good in the world if you let yourself have these things.

8. TALK TO SOMEONE. Often, we curl inward socially when overwhelmed w/ negative content. It’s a means of protection. One of the great things at CIA was that everyone else knew what you were going through. Whether it’s therapy or talking to your person, talking helps.

None of this is easy. I got burned out a lot in my career & many days recently, I’ve felt overloaded by the barrage. I’m sure you have too. But you and I can’t check out. We can’t give up & we need to stay engaged, but we can’t do that if we get overloaded. Keep going.




3 Responses to “Twitter Thread – Psycho-Survival Hacks in a Dark Time”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Last year I asked a psychiatrist whether any of his patients was having extra problems with Trump in office.

    “Every single one,” he told me.

  2. Ann Says:

    Thank you, Peter!

  3. Betty Harris Says:

    This is great info Peter… I’m really glad you are out there helping inform us. I’ve reached the point where I don’t believe any elected official cares anything about us. However, to keep my sanity I started a gardening group filled with volunteers that help each other solve garden problems and we also help people who have been turned into code enforcement because their yards are a mess.

    We did 2 projects this week, in the heat in CO… one was for an older lady who has had some financial issues and health issues and couldn’t keep up. A team of 17, including some of her neighbors showed up and in a couple of hours had it all cleaned up. A lot of the vegetative matter was hauled off and fed to goats. The rest of it was picked up by the city’s code enforcement department and disposed of.

    Today we had 8 people show up to help another member solve an issue with grass, heat and water by redoing a portion of her back yard so that the grass is smothered and less water is wasted. Now she can work on another area and move forward with some other projects.

    Then, to keep myself sane I have developed some great relationships with these same people, I teach gardening classes dealing with how to grow more with less water.

    And I teach watercolor painting to adults at the local recreation center. Hard to focus very long on the political arena but I can focus on positive ways to cool your corner of the planet by planting trees, bushes, perennials, etc.. and grow food for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Maybe it will work.

Leave a Reply to Betty Harris Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: