The past few years have carried an exceptionally concentrated flow of difficult news. It can feel like too much information to hold at any one time.
In the podcast this week, we look at the impact of information on our senses. We consider a few ways we might process some of the dread that we’re trying to cram into our already overflowing bucket.
Can we find more energy, creativity, and gentleness in the face of life’s uncertainty?
- Focussing On Where We Want to Go | 2:20
- Dread Stacking | 7:34
- How Do We Know What We Need to Know? | 24:04
- Sensory Information Processing | 28:56
- Expanding Our Capacity To Hold Information | 50:27
- The Haven | 61:38
Focussing On Where We Want to Go | 2:20
Resources about coping with information overwhelm often tell us to limit, control, and challenge our actions and thoughts. But this is unhelpful. It’s like looking at a tree when we’re in control of a vehicle.
We get more of what we focus on. If we want to avoid the tree, it’s no good focussing on it. It’s far better to focus on where we want to go instead.
Dread Stacking | 7:34
Dread Stacking is what happens when too much information builds up and we don’t have time to process it. It comes from the relentless and endless string of painful stories from situations, events, and changes across the globe.
The fast-paced world means attention moves from one thing to the next very quickly. But just because the news and social media can move from one thing to the next, it doesn’t mean we can do that without consequences as humans.
Stories can leave the residue of heartbreak, anxiety, and fear.
The Cost of Stracking Too Much Information | 10.09
In the midst of a dread stack, it is very difficult to focus. In a world where everything matters, it’s hard to know where we should invest our time and energy. So we might end up tuning out and turning off the flow of information.
It follows that newsworthy information is usually bad. Or divisive. Or fear-mongering. It is exceptional. Not normal. Or it wants a reaction. And the simplest way to get people to engage is to provoke, scare, or anger.
We might think that news is just information we passively consume. Whether on radio, TV or through social media. But it’s not. It seeps into our experience of life. It contributes massively to our overall health. We need a balanced diet in the food we eat, and it’s no different with the information we consume. What goes in is what comes out.
We cannot binge on ‘newsworthy’ news, expecting to feel balanced, happy, and healthy afterwards. We will build a skewed picture of the world, and carry that with us into other areas of life.
People Are Under a Lot of Stress | 11:26
People can do extreme things when they feel overwhelmed.
David Lynch demonstrates this perfectly in a wonderfully twisted scene in Twin Peaks. An accountant returns home to find a van parked a few inches over his drive. This sparks a rapid escalation that ends up with the van rolling into a lamp post with two dead assassins inside.
Two local casino bosses are watching the whole thing unfold. Bradley says, “what kind of crazy neighbourhood is this?” to which his brother Rodney replies, “people are under a lot of stress, Bradley.”
I love this scene and I love this line. It seems to speak to so much of what we see going on in the world right now. How something so trivial can lead to this wild moment where everyone loses their minds and do things that are just completely destructive. To one another and to themselves.
It’s Nothing Personal | 16:40
I once received an angry response to one of my email newsletters. It had a go at me for failing to consider people in their pretty niche position. It stopped me in my tracks and took me a while to work out how to respond.
I entered my standard shame spiral. And I felt bad for failing to consider the particular situations everyone reading it might be experiencing.
But then I slept on it. I’ve learned to put space between the stimulus and response when it comes to reacting to criticism. I walk away for a bit. And then come back later on with a clearer head and fresh eyes.
Space Between Stimulus and Response | 18:30
It often looks a bit different when I do this. It’s rarely as harsh as my brain first interprets it. And even if it lands the same punch as the first time, I’m generally more ready to respond with a firm back and soft front. I’ve learned to not reply straight away because the initial reaction is usually to fire back with a defensive or aggressive spirit. Increasing the chances of a Twin Peaks style escalation.
When I replied to this email, it opened up a gentle conversation. They were surprised I replied. They didn’t expect me to read their message, which was essentially an expression of pain at the tough situation they were going through. We exchanged a few messages and they were able to untangle a few things and find a clearer path forwards.
It was a reminder for me not to take things personally.
How Do We Know What We Need to Know? | 24:04
What do we do with all the information? There’s a lot of it. How do we distinguish between what we need to know and what we don’t?
And beyond that, how do we engage with the part of us that connects with stuff we don’t need to know more than the stuff we DO need to know.
When it comes to emotional responsiveness, the brain doesn’t really discriminate between things happening directly to us and things it sees happening to someone else. As a result, we put ourselves into stress mode whenever we watch the news and hear about traumatic events going on around the world. Stress mode is when our bodies release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. And these are the fuel for the fight, flight, and freeze responses.
To ‘Be Informed’? | 24:59
Is being informed just knowing ABOUT things? It’s also about being and feeling connected to the world around us. It’s about being integrated with society. And being able to think critically about information, its origins, and its method of delivery.
We’re Not Wired For This | 27:42
The way we receive information in the modern world is not natural. It’s hard to hold its quantity and speed. And it’s hard when we can’t possibly respond to it. Because it’s too far away and there’s too much of it.
When functioning at a local level our natural need to do something helps us prepare for certain weather conditions or respond to nearby danger. But this doesn’t translate easily to a global context.
Sensory Information Processing | 28:56
Too much information can be especially hard for highly sensitive people. The wider aperture means more information is absorbed and processing goes deeper. So when the flow of news doesn’t stop, overwhelm is never far away.
Starting From a Place of Humility | 29:41
It is possible to find a sense of agency and power whilst remaining aware of and positively engaged with news from around the world. But we have to be intentional about it. And we must start from a place of surrender and humility. To admit our own limits.
We cannot possibly hold it all, we cannot possibly change everything, and we cannot know all there is to know. And if we try we will almost certainly render ourselves useless for the things that WE CAN make an impact on.
Too Much Information And The HSP | 34:40
Even if that’s not a conscious choice, highly sensitive people naturally and subconsciously scan the world for signs of danger. This is happening all the time in the background. So they are always taking new information on board. This can be exhausting.
Depth of Processing | 35:05
For highly sensitive people information is like a huge raw image file. It takes up a lot of disc space and requires large amounts of processing power. The highly sensitive nervous system cannot cope with too many of these files being open at one time.
Easily Overstimulated | 39:14
Exposure to lots of information can leave highly sensitive people drained and therefore less able to function effectively.
How does overwhelm from too much information show up as a symptom?
- Physical: tension, tightness, heart rate, blood pressure, and exhaustion
- Mental: doom scrolling, hopping between tasks, procrastination, busy work, inability to access flow, fatigue, unhealthy cycles of action
- Anxiety: the feeling that you’ve got to something but you don’t know what
- Shutting Down: not listening or absorbing new information – even positive news
- Desensitisation: “Oh Dearism” and loss of empathy
Other Defence Mechanisms:
- Denial (that hasn’t happened)
- Repression (that didn’t happen)
- Regression (remember when things were better in the old days)
- Displacement (I hate that driver that just cut me up)
- Splitting (we need to eliminate the baddies)
Even the most sensitive people can become desensitised to things when they become normalised. This often happens as a way of coping with overexposure to upsetting scenes and information. Desensitisation can be a coping mechanism, not a sign that we don’t care. Rather it is assistance from the brain, disabling our ability to care in order to keep the mind safe from harm, when it’s overexposed to damaging events.
Emotional Reactivity | 43:20
Dread stacking isn’t just a cognitive thing. It’s not just that our minds find it hard to hold all the information. This is a physiological thing. An emotional thing. When we see the suffering of other people we feel it at a deep level.
Sensitive to Subtleties | 44:50
When given space and time, HSPs are a key part of humanity’s collective survival. But this is difficult when there is too much information flowing in.
Awareness vs Alertness | 46:22
Alertness is a state of hyper-reaction. It anticipates danger and seeks it in every piece of information.
Awareness is a state of deep connection. The aware person is engaged with and connected to the environment so that they respond positively and unconsciously to subtle shifts around them. They know what they are able to ignore and let go.
Expanding Our Capacity To Hold Information | 50:27
How might we engage with and process information in healthier ways that help us remain energised and engaged? How can we avoid dread stacking and connect with life’s joy and beauty?
What do I feel right now? What do I need right now? And what would I love right now?
These questions are from Jacob Nordby. He shares as part of a journal practice. Again this came up in our Haven session as something several people use and value.
What The World Needs Most… | 53:30
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”Howard Thurman
There are two sides to what the world needs here. First, the world of systems and structures needs us to act and think in certain ways. But what humanity needs is for us to be alive, engaged, and connected to the joy of life.
Slowing Down | 55:47
The world doesn’t stop turning when we take a moment to pause. And it won’t get any worse because we are taking a moment to gather some strength and perspective. In fact, it is more likely to get worse if we try operating from a place of overwhelm and overextension. We will contribute to more of the problems that we want to eradicate.
Joy Emerges in The Cracks and Stains | 56:10
Joy doesn’t require a particular product or outcome. It doesn’t need things to be right. It emerges through the cracks, the stains, and the imperfections of life.
In fact, the things we think we need in order to be happy are usually obstacles to joy. Because they leave us waiting, anticipating, always seeing it as the proverbial mirage up ahead.
How Do We Stack More Joy? | 57:47
We cannot help to heal anything around us if we’ve been cut off from accessing joy. Maybe we feel like it’s inappropriate to be happy when there’s so much suffering in the world. Perhaps it feels insensitive to share our joy. Or maybe we can’t allow ourselves to feel that stuff at all while things are as they are.
The Haven | 61:38
Join me to go deeper in exploring how to build healthier, happier rhythms in the face of a hostile world.