This election is getting to me. I’ve have always enjoyed keeping up with both local and world events — until recently. These days, if I tune in to talk radio, watch news on TV, or read a few stories online, I typically end up feeling sad, angry, or both. What is it about this election season that is triggering depression in so many of us?
The media have learned to cater to humanity’s baser instincts by using a “shock and aww” approach to reporting. News programs begin with shock: scandals, murders, natural disasters – then in the last moments of the show there is playful banter between the news anchors or a cute animal video. It is an extremely effective hook into our morbid curiosity followed by a comforting pat on the head which subtly coaxes us to tune in the next day. But what effect does it have on those people who are preconditioned to absorb negativity?
Consider what has been on the Internet lately. Social media feeds are full of headlines designed to tap into our fears by trumpeting countless horrors which await us depending on who gets elected. Members of both parties carelessly sling mud at each other, oblivious to how many innocent bystanders get splattered by their mess. This election has been reduced to two gorillas flinging poo at each other, and it stinks… but it’s great press. There are several ways this sensationalist-style of media bombardment taps into the human psyche, and can easily be converted into fuel for the depressive brain.
The brain’s filter does not sort input by facts or events, but rather by the emotions attached to them. Seemingly harmless things like smells, songs, and sayings can trigger overwhelming and even unexpected emotional responses to current experiences. In many cases, years of filtering and living life have buried some original events deep in the recesses of the brain. In fact, we may no longer have conscious recall of them, but instead experience very real and NOW feelings related to an often distant, long ago event.
However, for some people the memories triggered by a media overload are quite vivid and are every bit as distressing today as they were years ago. We are surrounded by data input – news ribbons on Internet browsers, social media, television, radio, magazine covers, newspaper headlines, athletes and celebrities functioning as political mouthpieces. It’s enough to not only make a person want to bury their head in the sand, but to hide all the shovels!
So, how can we avoid a media sensory mind blitz and Election Depression? The solution sounds simple enough: Tune it out. This may seem easier said than done, since social media is the only thing preventing some of us from a near total withdrawal from humanity. When we are feeling low, maintaining that connection to the outside world is important — even a virtual one. Equally important is the information absorbed from that connection. This doesn’t mean permanently unfriending or “un-liking” people or things which interest you, but rather temporarily removing some things from your view – particularly if you are currently going through a rough patch. Change your home page to something which makes you feel good or at the very least won’t make you feel worse.
The results of this election will not stem the tide of media madness one way or the other. Like a ferocious dog that has discovered free meat, news outlets will lead with the most debaucherous and spirit-crushing headlines as long as there is money in doing so. Find ways to counteract the daily dirt with something soul-cleansing and uplifting. Living with depression can be difficult enough. Keep it from getting worse by making small, simple changes which shield you from the onslaught of negative messaging.