Over the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling completely overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information coming at me from every angle imaginable. Granted, I have just moved house (with a young child this is twice as stressful), but the non-stop scandals coming out of the White House and the devastating climate change report delivered by the UN climate science panel has been wearing on me in more ways than I thought possible.
As a consequence, I am taking some radical actions that are, thank God, beginning to pay off.
Being a human in 2018 basically means dealing with negative news on an almost minute by minute basis. This is not how we are genetically wired to live, and it is making us severely stressed and sick. When we hear bad or crazy news, it triggers a chemical response in our bodies that signals we are about to fight or run. In ancient times, this would actually mean we had to fight or run, but today this merely means we share the shocking story on social media or call someone to talk about it. You can hear about the world collapsing from the comfort of an air conditioned coffee shop, and you body will — at least in part — respond like it is actually happening.
The stress hormones released in these situations are cortisol and adrenaline, and the modern human is awash with them almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you do not exercise or get outside, these stress hormones simply stays in your body and wreak havoc on your health. Here’s how the Mayo Clinic describes the effects on the human body:
When you encounter a perceived threat — a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.
The problem is, in the modern world there is always a large dog barking at you. Your body does not really understand the difference between your neighbor’s dog barking and Donald Trump ranting at a press conference about illegal immigrants, Hillary Clinton or The Deep State. So when these stressors are always present, you will feel like you are under attack at all times. The fight-or-flight reaction honed over millions of years of mammalian evolution that exists to keep you safe during extreme events stays turned on all the time. As the Mayo Clinic warns:
The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
Memory and concentration impairment
This is not good news, and if you do not take control of your life in a very serious way, you run the risk of running into all sorts of awful problems that will simply get worse over time.
I recognized this happening to me a couple of weeks ago, and decided I had to do something about it. I wasn’t sleeping well, was checking the traffic on The Daily Banter almost every 15 minutes, incessantly opening my email account, and drinking far too much caffeine. Given I suffer from a pain condition called ‘fibromyalgia’, my symptoms were through the roof and I was struggling to stay focused on work. I was in constant pain, irritable, and generally not pleasant to be around. Not fun for my 7 month old baby boy and wife. Here’s how I broke the negative cycle.
Firstly, I stopped drinking coffee. The dark liquid is like crack cocaine, and so integral to my daily routine that I often wonder what life would be like without it. I have gone on long coffee breaks before, but once you are back on it, it is impossible to imagine life without it. However, this was an emergency, and I stopped cold turkey.
Second, I have stopped looking at our analytics account. The constant checking on the site’s traffic makes absolutely no difference to the traffic on the site whatsoever, and it was only causing me anguish. The traffic is what it is, and I am learning to live with it.
Third, I am only writing what I want to write about and what I think is important — not what I think will do well on the site. Looking at the traffic all the time has a negative effect on creativity and I think it was adversely affecting my writing.
Fourth, I am carving out times in the day to do short meditations and some exercise. Being a father has severely curbed the amount of time I spend looking after myself, so I am determined to figure out a way to get back into a rhythm. This means starting small (10 minutes at a time), but it is working.
Fifth, I am not checking the news as much as I used to. This is still my job of course and I need to know what is happening in the world, but there is only so much information I can take. If I cut it down, I can write without feeling constantly stressed. It feels like I’m not working as hard, but in reality, I’m just working smarter.
The difference over the past week or so has been remarkable. I am enjoying the days more, and relaxing in the evening without thinking about what I have to do the next day. The coffee break has radically reduced that jittery/anxious feeling, and I am able to go to bed without too much trouble.
It is worth bearing in mind the fact that therapists are reporting record numbers of people seeking help for Trump related mental health symptoms (known as Trump Anxiety Disorder). However, I refuse to let Donald Trump and our insane media culture take my mental health away from me, and I high recommend following at least some of these steps if you want to get through this terrible time in US history. As I have written on many occasions, we all need to step up if we are to defeat the madman in the White House, but if you want to serve, you have to be fit to serve. And that means looking after yourself before anyone else.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.