Safe Digital Navigation… in These Trying Times
Last month, the world witnessed a resurgence of 21st-century antisemitism, which serves as a grim reminder of the lingering hatred we had hoped to eliminate in our modern and “developed” world. As Jews, our collective resilience remains rooted in our history and shared destiny believing in our enduring existence as promised by G-d. Yet, individually, we grapple with fears and concern for our Israeli brothers and sisters, as well as ourselves as humans, amidst a global rise in extremist ideologies threatening universal values like freedom, tolerance, safety, and security.
In the Haggadah, we recite, “In every generation, there are those who try to rise up against us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hands.” While we hold firm to our faith in longevity and security as a collective nation, as a therapist, I witness daily the burdens of individuals plagued by fears, anxieties, and depression in our tumultuous world. The inundation of the “firehose” of news has also devastated our individual, collective, and communal nervous systems.
What actions can we take during these challenging times? Fixating on negative news won’t serve us well. The constant influx of distressing news has profoundly affected our individual nervous systems and collective wellbeing. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, asked, “Is G-d really in need of your worry? Or will He succeed in finding a solution even without your worrying?” My grandfather, Michael F. Ellis, ob”m, used to say, “Worry’s like a rocking chair, neither gets you anywhere.” Today, I’d add that worrying is not just unhelpful but also detrimental to our well-being. As neuroscience and other sciences have demonstrated the damaging effects of stress, worry, and being “connected.” Ironically, through this continuous digital connection, we are not only disconnected from others, but our own selves as well.
In Deuteronomy, we learn the mitzvah (commandment) “V’nishmartem m’od l’nafshoseichem – carefully guard your souls [health].” Maimonides (The Rambam) in Hilchos De’os, 4:1, emphasizes the importance of a healthy body, stating, “A healthy and wholesome body is akin to the ways of G-d, because it is impossible to understand and know (the ways of G-d) when one is ill. Therefore, a person needs to distance oneself from damaging influences and become accustomed to a healthy lifestyle.” At the beginning of that same volume, The Rambam recommends the “golden mean” – we should try to stay evenly balanced between two extremes. Thus, balancing our digital use is of primary importance these days.
The adage “Ein sh’miya domeh l’re’iyah” highlights how visually witnessing something, particularly trauma, can leave a lasting impact compared to hearing about it. It’s essential to recognize the phenomenon of “vicarious trauma,” where exposure to distressing news can traumatize us indirectly. Being mindful of what we watch, listen to, discuss, and share is crucial for mental health. Excessive exposure to distressing content can desensitize or even traumatize. This necessitates a “Digital Detoxification Diet,” balancing self-care and limited exposure amidst our highly visual digital era. So, regarding our current situation, it behooves us to become more sensitive of what we share as good citizens of the world. Maintaining mindful consumption of news will fortify our resilience and enable us to better support ourselves and those in need.
Since we could all use some calming of our systems, feel free to peruse my site which has many resources for helping us navigate our informational world with greater presence.
May we find the right balance in what we view and listen to, fostering resilience and understanding, and sharing thoughtfully with others.
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