Give Your Brain a Break – Turn Off the TV

by DavalosMcCormack on January 22, 2010

The news from Haiti has been so bleak and painful since the earthquake hit that it’s been hard to absorb it all. An estimated 200,000 people dead; hundreds of thousands more homeless, badly injured, or without any means to feed themselves and their family. Watching those images of suffering, of people with broken bones who may die because there is no medical aid to help them, has been harrowing. That’s why I have decided to take a break and turn off the TV news.

This does not mean I’m turning my back on the people of Haiti. I still intend to do whatever I can to help with recovery and rebuilding. I still intend to keep up with what is happening there by reading the newspaper or listening to the radio. What it does mean is that dragging myself down into a pit of despair watching these horrific images does nothing to help me, or more importantly, them.

Dr. Andrew Weil – the physician, author and one of the pioneers of integrative medicine – has long championed the idea of taking a periodic media break or “news fast” because he says that “Research has shown that the emotional content of the news can affect mood and aggravate sadness and depression.” In other words, those powerful images of pain and suffering can really drag you down if you are not careful.

For a lot of Americans this has been a terribly difficult couple of years. Many have lost their jobs, their homes, their medical coverage. They are worried how they are going to survive and feel that so much of what they need is no longer in their control. Even those of us fortunate enough to still have jobs know people who are out of work or fearful of losing their jobs. So to watch scenes of utter devastation in other countries can only pile on the feelings of helplessness, and bleakness. That doesn’t help anyone.

TV news is particularly powerful at conveying those emotions. While the printed page or even a radio report can bring you a sense of the drama, the suffering, the human toll, TV news brings you the images that sear into your brain and make it hard to forget. Once you have seen those faces of suffering, of loss, it’s hard to get them out of your mind.

And old colleague of mine from my TV news days, George Griswold, says he’s also giving up watching TV news coverage of Haiti. George says “It is even worse if you lived through Katrina and the aftermath. New Orleans is still fractionally re-populated, fighting with the Feds for rebuilding money… it is a long long long slog. I feel for the people of Haiti because there is no hope beyond the generosity of other nations and people.”

George is right. We’ve seen this before. We know that this is just the beginning of the recovery effort. That the people of Haiti are in for years of rebuilding and recovery and will need us to be there for the long-run, not just this week or this month.

So do yourself a favor. Take a break. Help in whatever way you can. Donate money if you can. But don’t let it overwhelm you. That won’t do you, or the people of Haiti, any good.

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