This is an excerpt from our March 1st newsletter. You can sign up for Tangle here.
Q: You’ve been covering politics during an unprecedented time in history. There’s a global pandemic, American democracy is being undermined, and at times it has felt like there’s a non-zero chance that one or both of civil war or World War III could break out. American global leadership is being challenged if it’s not in full decline. So… does it give you anxiety engaging with these high-stakes issues on a daily basis? And if so, how do you deal with that anxiety?
— Tyler, Brooklyn, NY
Tangle: Yes. It does. I don't talk about this often, for reasons that will become obvious in a second, but it's a battle I am only just recently learning how to win.
Four years ago I started getting stress-induced heart palpitations that would keep me up through the night. I've had face twitches or eye twitches that I told myself were because I was dehydrated. I've been so overrun and moving so fast that I had to repair pretty serious damage I did to my relationships with my wife and my friends. Even this last week, I caught myself looking up at the sky as I walked around in New York City, as if I somehow expected a fighter jet to pass overhead after a week straight of consuming war content. At Shabbat services on Friday night, I broke down in tears as the congregation sang a song written hundreds of years ago in Odessa, Ukraine. Work like this seeps into my personal life sometimes.
Addressing it takes intent and discipline, and I've gotten a lot better at it. Just last month, I finally got off the beta blocker medicine I was taking to address the heart palpitations. The journey to get there was holistic: I went to therapy. I started meditating and doing breathing exercises. I exercise every day. I instituted strict hours for news consumption (I usually stop around 6:30 p.m., unless a major story breaks). No cell phone in the bedroom (ever). I get 7-8 hours of sleep no matter what, and I go to bed early with a book. I ensure the first light I see in the morning is natural (looking outside), not my phone. Sometimes I try to read from a book before I read anything on a screen (a book of poetry is a nice touch), though that habit has proved harder to develop. I have a timer that goes off on my computer every 20 minutes reminding me to stand up, walk around and take a quick break.
I also log off from sundown Friday night until sundown Saturday night — or sometimes even Sunday afternoon — in observance of Shabbat. And I mean really log off — no social media, no news, and sometimes even a refusal to talk about politics. I break it, occasionally, but my wife usually calls me out or I catch myself and drop out on my own. I say a prayer every morning, wishing for some good health for my family and friends and a more organized and just world. I make it a point to express gratitude (out loud, like really say it!) for the incredible job I have and the life I lead, basically every day.
I also take breaks. I prioritize family time and the “real world,” especially around the holidays. Tangle observes every bank holiday and I regularly give myself a few days or a week off for vacation. When I do take those breaks, you may have noticed I encourage readers to take a break from the news, too. I think this is critical. Doing my work, like being an informed citizen, is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to work hard and expend a lot of energy, but you also need to take breaks, drink lots of water and remember the finish line is a long way off. I would never last if I didn’t do this stuff, and my intent is to last.
Oh, and I always remember to take a look at the good news, too (hence our "Have a nice day" section every day).
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