Balance 2017: 5 rules to keep me from going down the rabbit hole

Balance 2017: 5 rules to keep me from going down the rabbit hole
"Rabbit Hole," photograph by Chris Chabot. Used with permission of a Creative Common license here

My “word of the year” is balance. I explain why I chose this word in this blog post. It is the very best word I could have chosen for this year because I’m falling, tipping, wavering. I’m constantly in a state of imbalance. And, it has to stop or I’m going to lose my mind.

I’ve spent 2017 literally losing my balance and falling. I’ve slipped on a rug and slipped on ice. In one instance I managed to stay upright, but I tore a hamstring in the process. I’ve fallen on the ice several times, even while wearing my super-duper yax-trax ice grippers.

Worse for me, though, are the metaphorical falls: the falls down the rabbit hole of despair and worry about my country, politics, and democracy. I won’t bore or irritate you with the details of my political concerns because that isn’t really the point. Instead I want to describe how a good quality of mine has become harmful to me because it’s out of balance.

I’m an engaged citizen. I vote. I read about issues, think hard about choices. I read a broad variety of commentary, across the political spectrum. I have Facebook friends who are diametrically opposed to my perspectives, and it’s important to me to make sure I hear opposing views. I participate and volunteer.

These are good qualities. One of my goals as a teacher of rhetoric and writing is to empower my students to develop these same qualities. Democracies are only as good and only as strong as the people who live in them. (And, yes, I know we live in a Republic, but that is a kind of democracy.)

But the tumult of this election and of our new leadership in this country has turned politics and engagement into an obsession. I’ve been checking the news six or seven times a day. It goes like this: I read my main source of news in depth, then check in with four or five other news sources, including at least one that presents opinions different from mine. I’ve been doing this six or seven times a day.

If I were to total all the time I spend just reading news each day, it would likely come to four hours. That’s a chunk of time.

And, then, there’s Facebook. I post articles I like and then I go back to see the comments that have been posted. And, then I comment on those comments. I read what others have posted and comment. I read posts by people that I know will irritate me and anger me. And, I worry. I fume. I obsess. I despair. I can’t even bear to tell you the amount of time I’ve been spending on Facebook, but it’s more time than I’ve spent reading news.

Being an “engaged” citizen in this virtual way has become a full-time job that is getting in the way of my work life and my family life. It is eroding my sense of well-being and amping up my anxiety. My quality of life lately is impoverished. I wake up dreading the day and live for bedtime because sleep is the only peace I find.

In order to help me stay upright and to help me heal this hamstring, I’m doing leg exercises. I’m working specifically on balance, but also on strength. I’m learning new ways of exercising to replace the things I can’t do with this injury.

So, I’m going to have to do some lifestyle exercises. I’ve established some rules, that I’ve started to put into practice today.

  1. I can’t read the news first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening.
  2. I can spend only 30 minutes, two times a day reading the news.
  3. I will stay off Facebook for 24 hours at least one time per week.
  4. I will spend no more than 15 minutes on Facebook at a time, and I will only go to Facebook three times a day.
  5. When I feel compelled to read the news or go to Facebook (in excess of my allotted time), I will take action (make a phone call, attend a meeting) instead.

Maybe it seems absurd to you that I need rules in order to find some balance. But, I’m a rule-inspired person. I need to be explicit about my boundaries, and I work well within a protocol, which is not to say that I’m guaranteeing success. However, I want to make my goals specific, and I’m going to keep track of how well I do and where I need to make changes.

Wish me well in this search for balance, and let me know what you’re doing to find balance in your life.

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