Staying Sane While Staying Informed

Andy McErlean
6 min readFeb 2, 2021


If you’re like me, you go out of your way to understand what’s happening in the world. But sometimes that comes at a cost. Yes, you may know what the latest is, but you’re simultaneously subjecting yourself to needless suffering. You’re not getting waterboarded or in a damp cell block, but you are allowing your mental state to be fractured and driven astray by negativity. Despite this, you continue unabated and obsessively update your feed. You even read the comments and indulge in the frenzied dysphoria abounding in the text. You don’t realize that each line you read allows a little bit more of your mental state to drift. You become irritable, distrustful, and worst of all–callous. It becomes evident in your interactions with those in your life. You don’t want to be that person, right? No, you want to be happy and positive and a beacon to others. Yet, the call of the doom is too alluring to ignore. It’s a recursive cycle that’s hard to break.

I know this because I’m the same way. At times, I indulge the urge to go down a rabbit hole of doom. With a bit of separation and personal boundaries, I’m able to keep a clearer head. I hope to help you do the same with this text.

It’s safe to say that last year was the worst year for mental health in our lifetime. Perhaps it’s because there was no one moment, but rather a long, drawn-out saga of fear and insanity that made it so horrible. We had George Floyd. We had wildfires. We had Covid hysteria. And most of all, good ol’ Donald J. Trump overseeing it all. To say that checking the news daily, if not hourly, wasn’t a rational or even reasonable action last year would be daft. We were well within our rights to stay up to date on what was happening at any given moment. Perhaps it was because of lockdowns and having nothing else to do that we were glued to our news feeds. Though after a while, it became routine. Today it’d be this and the next day it’d be that. Cases would surge or Trump would tweet something ridiculous and there we’d be; consuming it all. Each sip like grains of sand in an hourglass steadily emptying out.

There’s an obvious trend: the world is fucked up. Terrible things happen and will surely continue to happen. You will not change that. Of course we all wish that wasn’t the case, but feasting on doom porn isn’t going to help resolve the world’s problems. What we can do, however, is to become a better version of ourselves by changing what we consume. In doing so, we slowly introduce into the world positivity and love (i.e: karma).

Transmute Your Content

Much like a diet, to get the results you want, you need to change what you eat. For me, that was achieved in a few areas of my life. One was books. I was reading Chomsky’s How the World Works, and for as great a record of how much blood is on the hands of the United States government, it was not really vibing with a positive mental state. What did I do instead? I put it down. I’ll come back to it later on, but in the meantime, I’m reading a book about freelance finance as that’s of interest and doom-free. It’s a light-hearted, constructive, and better use of my time than reading each page with anger. I put down literary french fries and picked up a salad. No offense, Noam.

Limit Social Media

Let’s be honest. Social media is a waste of time. It’s almost inarguable. The amount of time you spend on Instagram, Facebook, or whatever, versus the actual joy you get from it is hugely contrasting. Sometimes you want to check your socials for a purpose. For example, you want to sell your TV on Marketplace. Totally fine. However, the tool you’re using is designed to hijack your attention–to literally thieve your precious time. Say you post the TV, but then get snared into the trap of endless scrolling.

Catch. Your. Self.

As soon as you recognize that you’re mindlessly scrolling this vapid wasteland, sign off. But do one better, create barriers for yourself. For me, that was logging out of social media on my computer, moving Insta (which I only keep for my band) to the last screen on my phone. By disincentivizing yourself with the slightest bit of friction, you can slowly begin to dissuade the addiction region of your monkey brain and man the helm of your own psyche.

Occupy Your Time Elsewhere

Sitting at home with nothing to do and a gigabit internet connection often doesn’t produce time well spent. It’s too easy to fling open your laptop and kill time. Instead, go on a walk. Go out of your way to run an errand. Take for example needing to replenish toilet paper. Don’t settle for a one-click experience via Prime. Drive to the grocery store and be amongst people. Do one better–go to the neighborhood over’s grocery store to change up the scenery and prolong time away from your device.

It’s hard for anything else to be less productive than sitting and indulging the doom on your couch. Truly. I know with many places under some level of lockdown, it’s not as easy as it was to get out. Try to not let that be a burden. If you must stay home, leverage the University of YouTube and learn a new skill in the time it would take to frazzle yourself with doom. Go for a walk. Try a new workout. Occupy your waking hours in some other fashion than being glued to your screen.

Don’t Watch the News

I know. It’s tough not to. But remember that the corporate press, social media, and the like have an inherent incentive to convert your attention to screen time. Why do you think news articles are so inflammatory, fear-mongering, and rage-generating? It’s because they benefit from it! You put money in their pockets through your eyeballs. You give them money and they give you anger and fear. Don’t give them the satisfaction of receiving ad dollars by converting your attention into anger. Your attention deserves to be spent elsewhere. Your attention can make the world a better place.

The World vs. The World Wide Web

When I read an article claiming something that is controversial, my dumb monkey brain wants to interpret it as absolutely factual. I can get so enraptured in a fictitious reality that it’s hard to come back to this one. One of the best things I can do for myself is to go out into the world. Perhaps that’s going to a state park for a hike, jiu jitsu, or drinks with friends. By venturing out into the real world the digital one makes me think is burning, I quickly see that things are, well…not burning. I won’t discount that there are things at play that could be hugely impactful down the road, but one would think that based on the headlines from the past year, we would’ve devolved into civil war where the dollar provides more utility as kindling than tender.

Our perception of reality versus what is reality often don’t align. Especially now. I know I’m not saying anything new. The above sentiments have been said many times before. I just hope that this serves as a reminder to prioritize and preserve your sanity. We are much better versions of ourselves with it.



Andy McErlean

Slingin’ pixels outta Austin, Texas. Product Designer @ Praxent. Playing music in Pala. BJJ practitioner. Say hi: