I’ve picked up a bad habit since COVID-19 arrived in our lives earlier this year. I’ve started to check the news a lot, oscillating between four or five major news websites, scanning headlines and clicking on a handful of dread-inducing articles and videos. This most often occurs at the end of the day just as I am transitioning from work mode back into home mode. When I tuned in, I realized that this new habit was making me feel tense and anxious.
That’s not uncommon. Turns out consuming news often activates the sympathetic nervous system–our fight, flight, freeze response–and causes the body to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. So why do I do it if it makes me feel bad?
When I took a step back, I realized that there is a time each day when I’m done my work but not quite ready to re-inhabit my personal life. Being someone who works from home, my transition between these two worlds (my commute) is very, very short. And yet, transitions are important. They give us time to reset and they act as little recharge stations. Transitions give us the chance to be aimless and idyl before we pick up the next set of tasks, such as connecting with kids, making dinner and feeding the cats.
I call it buffering, just like our computers do when they are struggling to transition from one task to the next, and I’ve come to honor it as something natural and necessary in my day’s flow. There’s nothing wrong with buffering or aimlessly spending time online, but using news websites to reset was having the opposite effect. I was reentering life with my family amped up and irritated.
The go-to list of sites I was heading to regularly were top of my mind merely because I had created a habit of going to them over and over again. To pivot, I just needed a new list of sites, and ones that made me feel calm and curious rather than indignant and angry. My search for better aimless online time produced a list of ten websites that I have found add something to my life (helpful solutions, inspiring ideas and interesting stories) instead of taking something away (peace of mind, calm and hope).
When I want to expand my mind…
- Whether you have five minutes or 50 to burn, TED always feels like a worthy place to spend some time following your curiosities. TED and TEDx speakers are advised to rehearse relentlessly, resulting in nearly flawless presentations. Here’s one I love about leopard seals that’s both heartwarming and hilarious.
- I’m new to Big Think but it’s my new love. It’s mission is to “challenge common sense assumptions and give people permission to think in new ways.” For example, here’s an article about why so many people are fascinated by true crime stories. And here’s one about how metacognitive techniques can improve a child’s learning and life skills.
- Finally, I can get lost in Biography, a site devoted to telling the stories of modern day icons as well as unforgettable historical figures. Click on “People” and you can learn about everyone from Garth Brooks to Greta Thunberg.
When I want to remember there’s good in the world…
- The Good News Network never fails to make me smile. There are so many kind, thoughtful, resourceful, creative and generous people in the world. I love reading their stories and hearing about their good deeds.
When I want to learn to make/fix stuff…
- I am obsessed with eHow, which can teach you how to make everything from golden milk tea and garlic knots to pressed flower coasters and DIY hand sanitizer.
- You’ll also find a ton of fix-it and maker projects on WkiHow, which now has over 90,000 articles since it launched in 2005. Topics are all over the map. During a recent browse I found articles on how to get rid of fruit flies, delete cookies from my computer and revive an orchid plant, each with step-by-step guidance and images.
When I want to learn something…
- How Stuff Works is a cornucopia of randomness, which is why it’s so addictive. It’s mission is to simply explain our world in the most easy-to-understand way possible. You can learn about science, health, animals, money, tech and more, and get answers to questions like: why is there currently a coin shortage in the US and why should we eat more lentils?
- Lifehacker promises to help you “do everything better,” which is definitely helpful in the kitchen where I am always open to improvement (like how to spruce up frozen pizza). Also from the same publisher are The Onion (hilarious satyrical news) and The Takeout (food, recipes, restaurants), both of which are scroll-worthy.
When I want to pick up healthy habits…
- “Connecting soul & science,” Mind Body Green is a treasure trove of helpful articles about eating better, practicing mindfulness and being a better steward for the planet. Articles such as 7 Simple Ways To Find Micro-Moments Of Self-Care When You’re Low On Time and 5-ingredient recipes for when you’ve hit a lunch rut will give you little nuggets of insights and tactical ideas you can immediately test out in your own life.
- Mindful.org is another great place to find articles on how to live better. It also offers free guided meditations and mini-courses to help you feel more centered.
OTHER WAYS TO BUFFER
Of course, aimlessly web browsing is just one of many ways to buffer. As a mindfulness teacher, I’d me remiss if I didn’t mention these ideas as well:
- Sit with your eyes closed and breathe mindfully for three minutes.
- Roll out your yoga mat and do a few restorative yoga poses, such as cat/cow and spinal twists.
- Open your journal and bullet a few things you noticed about your day, such as how you felt, your energy level and prominent thoughts.
- Jot down a few things you’re grateful for and joyfully anticipating.
- Go for a short walk around the block.
- While standing, gently bounce up and down (your feet don’t even need to leave the floor) to give your lymphatic system the chance to drain. Then, drink a glass of water.