Reaction Overload


I’ll admit. I’m one of the lucky ones. My life is not all that different today than it was two and a half months ago. With two preschool-aged children and a work from home career, the difference in our personal pandemic culture is not all that different from what it looked like before. 

For me, the greatest shock is in the realization that I have lived the last two and a half months of my life in a state of constant reaction. A continuous influx of “developments” and “breaking news” has left me feeling as if every day is filled with life-altering decisions not just for myself and my family, but for society as a whole. 

Should I wear a mask? What kind of mask? How many particulates does this mask really keep away? How should I take it off? Should I use the hand sanitizer before or after? Does that person look sick? How close are they getting to my family or me? Is six feet enough? Can I get it from touching groceries? Should I get my groceries delivered? What about the delivery person? Should we get food delivered and support local businesses? But what about the food, is it safe? Can I get the virus from my dog? Can I give the virus to my dog? Are my kids going to get Kawasaki disease? Was that a cough? What the hell is a murder hornet?!

I would say those are 10% of the questions I’ve thoroughly thought through this past couple of months … in addition to constantly running amateur epidemiology models for my community and trying to get a numerical sense of the risk we face. 

I don’t think I’m alone in these questions, and for those of us who try to minimize not only our material possessions but also our outlook and interaction with the broader world, it can feel like we are constantly overreacting to the virus pandemic. 

But, we’re not. 

Any stance or belief we have in such an unknown situation as this is not an overreaction. We have to make decisions to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities as safe as we can. 

However, there is a phenomenon I believe we’ve been building to for years in our media-rich world that has hit a crescendo with this pandemic: reaction overload. 

The potential ways this virus can harm us is fed to us on nearly a daily news cycle as media outlets seek out the most up to date angle to gain clicks and keep us returning. 

What choice do we have but to take it all in, create a personal reaction, and, inevitably, argue with those who have a different response because the stakes are so high? 

It is no wonder we all feel so overwhelmed. We’re in an absolute state of quiet panic the majority of our day.

Using some of the lessons and the truths we’ve learned through minimalism can help ease this consumption and resist its inevitable reaction overload.

The news is not altruistic.

  • Despite using terms like “trust” in their marketing, news outlets are by and large businesses out to make a profit. That profit comes from us viewing or clicking articles. Topical issues get the most views and clicks, so they’ll keep churning those out with headlines that pull you in. The news is helpful but it doesn’t always have your best interests in mind.

Politics is professional wrestling.

  • At the beginning of the current presidential administration and all of the fighting that went along with it, comedian Aziz Ansari remarked that he was turning off the news on his phone because (to paraphrase), it’s all just professional wrestling. Meaning the posturing and the arguing is fake and a waste of time designed to force us to react and pick a side. We can be passionate about issues that matter to us, but not get involved in the soap opera of TV politics. 

Can/could is not does/will.

  • When it comes to specific pronouncements about the virus and all of the things it may or may not be from experts, look for the words they use. The speculative words “can and could” are very different from the more exact words “does and will.” Anything can happen, and some things are perhaps more likely than others, but with so much coming at us, we need to be able to designate what are actual threats and what are just the latest possibilities. 

Ingest something else. 

  • I’m not here to make specific book, tv, or movie recommendations, but we all have our non-pandemic favorites that we know will be much more enriching to ingest than a constant stream of news. Ok. I’ll offer one recommendation… the novels of Kent Haruf. 

It all turns off.

  • It is so simple, but it eludes us because we feel we have to be connected. Our phones, computers, TVs, radios, and all other media sources turn off. Most of them can be put in a cabinet or on a high shelf. We can use website blockers, and we can erase apps. Freeing ourselves from the habit of checking is the most uncomplicated and, many times, the most rewarding experience. 

None of us are the lovable sentient robot Johnny 5 from Short Circuit. We do not need to constantly devour “input.” We can shut down and allow ourselves the opportunity to have time where we are not in a state of reaction. We can allow ourselves to just be. 

And, if you are young enough (or your kids are) and haven’t seen Short Circuit, well, I just gave you another great distracting pandemic recommendation.

About the Author: Greg Behr is a practicing minimalist living in Chapel Hill, NC. He brings his philosophy on less is definitely more to his roles as a father of two young daughters, husband to an amazing wife and co-owner of a successful strategic communications firm, GBW Strategies. He writes to keep his sanity and share his best practices via his blog on Medium.

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