Rarely have current events — and the fiery opinions they generate — seemed so exhausting as they have in the last few months. It’s not uncommon nowadays to think, “Last Friday was the longest year of my life.”
Are there any helpful coping skills for those of us who are looking to weather outrage fatigue without abusing the consolations of talk therapy or heavy drinking?
The media are quick to proffer suggestions that fall to either end of the spectrum of engagement. It would appear we can either take decisive action (e.g., call members of Congress, knock on doors, bombard our Facebook and Twitter feeds with the tattered remains of our minds) or bury our heads in the sand (e.g., obsess over the first lady’s wardrobe, eat raw cookie dough).
But in between these two extremes lie a thousand possibilities. Or at least seven.
Close all tabs. During the various challenges to our notions of civility and public discourse, many of us have come to associate mental wellness and momentary equanimity with one small physical gesture that we enact daily. I speak, of course, of closing tabs on our computer. This activity can beget a rush of endorphins similar to that of cleaning under the refrigerator or dropping a difficult teenager off at college. Why not harness this exciting form of psychological fuel? Randomly open seven or eight tabs on your computer and then, as you tap the “Close All Tabs” button, exclaim any happy-making statement, such as “Keri Russell really reinvented herself with ‘The Americans’!” or “The singular of spaghetti is spaghetto!”
The time may be ripe for acquiring an emotional support animal.
Scream at the TV. Hollering at the TV set is a time-honored form of stress relief and may speak, or should we say yell, to you at present. Go for it. However, note that, lest you inflame smoldering embers, it behooves TV screamers to scream at something other than news shows. I suggest “Downton Abbey” reruns. A quick “Don’t be such a churl, Mrs. Patmore!” or a “Don’t go downstairs, Lord Grantham!” can make you feel like the most powerful person in your living room.
Remember Dolly. It can be helpful, directly upon reading the last sentence of a dismaying news item, to announce aloud, “But at least Dolly Parton is still among us.” Shoulders: lowered.
Earmuffs. Micro-dose your consumption of news. It’s more difficult than ever to avoid overexposure to strangers’ political convictions today. Waiters in restaurants now feel free to avail of us of their stance on, say, the Khashoggi affair. A survey of public spaces would surely reveal that CNN is everyone’s new room tone. Through selective listening — that is, by humming without making any sound — you can give your addled mind all the benefits of having taken a nap. Just remember: It’s OK to nap, but you gotta stay woke.
Bend reality. It’s also possible to find succor by splitting paratextual or extradiagetic hairs, i.e., by over-valuing factors outside the narrative, such as “I was coming down with a cold that day, so maybe I overreacted,” or “The volume control on my television is out of whack, so maybe it only seems like everyone on TV is yelling at me.” Though this technique may feel at first blush like myopic rationalization, it can lead to larger philosophical inquiry, such as, “How can a thorough analysis of context enlarge my understanding of what’s really important here?” or “What is the effect of time on matter?” or “Should I name my next child Tesseract?”
Rage renewables. In a similarly philosophical direction, there’s much good to be harvested from a deep contemplation of alternative uses for outrage. Would it be possible to use it to power a small turbine or crank? What are outrage’s potential benefits vis-a-vis weight loss or smelting? By the time you’ve satisfactorily answered these questions for yourself, you’ll have unwittingly proved that what doesn’t kill you makes you more imaginative. Better yet, the news cycle will have passed.
Henry Alford is the author of a book about dancing, “And Then We Danced.” He writes for the New Yorker.