You can’t keep up with all the updates on the novel coronavirus.
No, seriously, you can’t. No one can. You can try, of course. You can log in every morning to Twitter and Facebook and the AP online, and let NPR play while you brush your teeth, and get news headlines flashed across the top banner on your phone all day, but you can’t keep up with everything. It’s simply not possible. There is too much information — some of it conflicting—all day, every day, from every imaginable source, telling you what to fear today and how to prepare and how to prevent and what to wear and what to sanitize and why the economy is going down the tubes and what the latest tone-deaf celebrity has had to say about our current situation.
It’s too much for any one sane person.
Not that you’re necessarily a sane person these days. You have to wonder sometimes. This quarantine is starting to mess with all our heads. Can we agree that we owe it to ourselves to take a break now and then?
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, movie audiences whiled their troubles away at cheap black-and-white flicks featuring baby tap dancer Shirley Temple: frivolity at its finest. No one fixed the Depression by watching Shirley Temple. And arguably, no one truly dug themselves into a deeper financial hole by doling out the dime for a movie ticket now and again. (Temple, incidentally, rocketed to childhood superstardom as her work provided a welcome escapism to Americans desperate for something to distract and amuse them.) Today, we don’t look back and judge our forebears for their very human desire to temporarily get away from the troubles surrounding them. They still survived the Depression — more or less — and their turning a temporary blind eye to the dire headlines vying for their attention didn’t mean they were burying their heads in the sand. They coped as best they could, and we don’t fault them for coping.
News will always clamor for your attention, but you don’t owe the headlines anything. Keeping constantly up-to-date feels responsible, feels adult, feels like breaking through the impostor syndrome many of us still experience. Millennials, and now Gen Z, in particular are prone to the guilt that comes with not feeling truly there yet — feeling as though we are still one step behind the rest of the knowing, competent world who keeps up with the news and isn’t staggered by the enormity of the world’s grief.
And yet our collective anxiety solves nothing. We can’t somehow transfer the weight of worry that we feel into worldwide good vibes that magically fix the tsunami overwhelming our healthcare workers or the flood of unemployment sweeping our country. Of course it is important for us to listen to the advice of the people who study these things: we all have the power to flatten the curve, abide by the rules and do what we can to keep other people safe. But we can stay attuned to current guidelines within reason. We help no one by reaching for our phones every time a notification goes off.
(Speaking of notifications… you can disable those, you know. Maybe you should. Maybe I should.)
Just as you don’t owe it to anyone to read every briefing, neither do you owe it to anyone to use this time to start a new hobby or learn another language or perfect that skill you’ve allowed to slump over the years of busyness. You do not have to carpe diem a pandemic into a personal success: sometimes, it is enough to just open a book.
For those of us who feel validation from a checked-off to-do list, sometimes the simple act of reading — and enjoying!—words on a page seems counterproductive, like an almost pointless waste of time. (Somehow, scrolling through my phone doesn’t quite do this for me, because there’s the constant feeling that I COULD put it down at any second if I WANTED to, whereas reading requires more concentration and solely devoted time.) And yet maybe my younger self, the elementary-school version of me who allowed herself to get lost in books every day, was really on to something.
Even if you get nothing specific to show for it — even if you learned nothing new about the pressing problems of today — reading, as an escape, is still productive. Allowing your mind to rest, to relax, to heal, even, is a balm for the weary, a much-needed sabbath from the helter-skelter of your everyday.
Besides which, your brain needs a break from staring at that screen.
So take a moment. Go back to your bookshelf. Let yourself get lost in a story you’ve read many times before, or challenge yourself with something new if you have access to that.
Allow your mind to soak in another world and know that this one will not stop turning just because you took an allowable — a necessary! — mental rest.