How to Read the News and Not Get (as) Depressed

TLDR: Using the Buddhist meditation Tonglen really helps take the edge off of the awful feelings stirred up by the news.

In general, keeping up with current events is EXHAUSTING. It seems like the headlines get worse every year. Most of us go through periods of just giving up and putting our heads in the sand (I know I do).

This problem becomes exacerbated the more spiritual work/personal development you do. As you remove blockages, shift, and grow, you naturally become more compassionate. In general that’s a good thing.

However, it makes reading the news EXCRUCIATING. Stuff you were numb to once now makes you cry and tinges your whole day with sadness. You can taste your helplessness to change anything. Just a few headlines can completely deplete your energy.

But most of us want to see the world become a better, more compassionate place. And we simply can’t do that while remaining oblivious.

Fortunately, Buddhist monks found a beautiful solution to this. It’s a meditation called Tonglen. The general concept is use our spontaneous compassion at the suffering of others to become even deeper, more awake beings.

Even if seeking Enlightenment isn’t really your jam, it makes grappling with world affairs much more manageable psychologically. It helps turn the overwhelming tidal wave of news into digestible, human-sized moments and feelings so you don’t numb it all out.

You do this by symbolically drawing the suffering into your body with your inhale, and sending compassion and peace to those in need with your exhale.

This practice can be intense if you carry trauma, so I practice and teach it differently than the tradition teaches. I call it “Modified Tonglen.”

Modified Tonglen

Before you open your news app/turn on the news

Resource — Take a few deep breaths and become aware of your body. Come into the present moment. Notice the small sensations within your physical form. Find a spot in your body that feels particularly secure and let your consciousness rest in that place for a moment.

If you want more info on this, I go into more detail about resourcing here.

As you read a difficult headline or article and feel sadness or anger come up, send compassion to those reading the headline (including yourself).

  1. Notice how you feel. Notice what thoughts, emotions, and sensations rise up. Anger, sadness, and helplessness are common for me but you might experience something else.
  2. Recognize that there are many many people, possibly millions, of other humans that also feel these things while reading this headline.
  3. What would you give your fellow beings as comfort? Compassion? Reassurance? A sense of solidarity? A teaching?
  4. Send those exact things to yourself.
  5. Deepen your breathing.
  6. As you inhale, breathe in the suffering, pain, and awfulness that other readers feel. As you exhale, breathe out the comfort you would offer them, making sure to include yourself in that group.

Now you’re in a place to send compassion to those experiencing the awfulness in the situation that inspired the headline.

  1. Imagine how an individual in that situation might feel. Imagine if you were in the situation yourself. Notice what thoughts, emotions, and sensations rise up.
  2. If you were in this situation, what would you want from your fellow beings as comfort? Compassion? Reassurance? Outrage?
  3. Recognize everyone going through this situation. Feel connected to them as a fellow human being, even if your situation is quite different and you’re a world away.
  4. Deepen your breathing.
  5. As you inhale, breathe in the suffering, pain, and awfulness that those in the situation might feel. As you exhale, breathe out the comfort you would offer if you could.

I’m not a buddhist nor an expert on Tonglen. If you want to dive deeper into this topic or find the traditional steps, I highly recommend Pema Chodron’s teachings in general and specifically in her book, When Things Fall Apart

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes! If you have questions or want to know more, just shoot me an email. I’m at michelle@michellegarfinkel.com .

I help people rediscover awe and wonder through sexual and spiritual healing. Find resources and more at michellegarfinkel.com.

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