• Karen

Through the Screen

When I was a teenager, my mother would sometimes call me, “my little Type A baby.” She said it with a smile, but I could tell that my blooming perfectionism, desire to avoid criticism, and need for control had her worried. As a nurse, my mother knew what I would discover later in life: the same personality that made me burst into frustrated tears as a teen would make me susceptible to stress related illnesses as an adult. Growing up, having my own children, and dealing with adult life helped to diminish some of these impulses.

Now, in a world facing a modern-day plague I find myself frustrated and frightened—like everyone else. And so, I am turning to the part of life that I can control, what comes through my screens and into my brain.


Television news – The 24/7 news stream can be toxic. From politicians who are either confused or lying, to anchors who reel off death statistics hour after hour, there’s a lot of news that I don’t think I need right now. I do like getting information, but for that I have…

YouTube – Despite the annoyance of ads, yes I will always click ‘skip ad’ if I can, this platform has proved invaluable to me. I can watch excerpts of news broadcasts (the factual parts), binge Ted Talks, Crash Course, and documentaries, and then indulge in entertainment videos of all kinds. The key here is to remember that I do still have work to do, and to watch the clock.

Email – Inbox control has never really been fun, and it’s getting weirder by the day. I recently received an email expressing deep concern for my well-being in this time of crisis…addressed to “Dear [Contact].”

Two bits of advice here:

1. Don’t read emails before you go to bed. Many of us are having trouble sleeping these days, and reading a message you can’t do anything about right before bedtime is just going to make it worse.

2. Do carefully review your messages – set aside a block of time each day for this – true many of the same old marketers are sending the same old messages dressed up in pandemic gear, BUT government officials, legitimate social organizations, and your job (if you still have one) are also using emails to update policies and procedures for handling the current crisis.

Social Media – I still love it, but boy has it been revealing. We disclose a lot on social platforms with what we post and how we react. Pushed to our limits by a public health crisis, the filters drop. Medical professionals have shown us their hearts and vulnerability, by giving us advice and pleading with us to follow sound scientific guidance. Rabid partisans continue to reduce everything down to insults and bumper-sticker slogans. Some of my contacts are posting about being bored and day drinking, while others are posting about resources for the disadvantaged and vulnerable. Stress looks different on everyone.

Remember that social media platforms are designed to keep you lingering for hours (I actually teach about this concept called “stickiness”), and set some limits for yourself. Take a deep breath and consider before clicking to post or react.

Like generations before, we are humbled in the face of a natural force like a contagious disease. We cannot reshape the world through denial or stubbornness, but we can exercise a bit of control over our lives through our screens.



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(c) 2019 Karen Southall Watts