Doesn’t Enjoy Watching / They Might Not Be Listening
Dear Dr. Hurd,
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!” I liked that line from the 1976 film, Network, but now I find myself saying the same thing about today’s network news. And I’m not really mad as much as stressed. Every news outlet says something different, so it all can’t be true. And most of the stuff is bad, depressing and threatening. I’m considering a total blackout of TV news, but I fear I’m going to miss something; though that “something” will probably be wrong, exaggerated, or twisted to serve that particular company’s political agenda, no matter what that might be. What can I do?
Dr. Hurd replies,
Nutritionists say, “You are what you eat.” The same applies to your mind. The kind of information you put into your mind—your intellectual or psychological “nutrition”—influences your mental health, i.e., your emotional state.
In this age of information (included but not limited to 24-hour “news” networks), we all have to take responsibility for managing our intellectual input, or else we pay the consequences. People get caught up in arguing over which news network to watch, but rarely do they discuss whether they should be watching such networks at all, and in what context and to what degree.
First, ask yourself how you get your news. There are many websites and articles that are good alternatives to TV. There’s nothing inherently wrong with TV; just remind yourself of the option. Second, don’t succumb to a news blackout. That makes no more sense than starving yourself of food just because you’re eating the wrong things. Decide how much news you wish to put into your mind. And then stick to it. Think of it as a diet, rather than starvation.
For the most part, news networks are no longer news networks. Each and every one exists to entertain, grab your attention, and somehow serve the agenda of the owners. As with anything you consume on the open market, let the buyer beware! Take responsibility for what you put into your mind, and remember that whichever network you choose is most likely trying to entertain you rather than inform you.
Critical thinking is easier to employ when reading words than when watching entertainment-oriented and often biased video. Consider the benefits of reading over watching, and evaluate for yourself how that holds up in your own day-to-day experience.
You say you fear missing something, yet the over-availability of “news” is the very thing causing your discomfort. Explore other sources, but be careful not to overindulge in any one, single source.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
You probably see this every day, but I am virtually crippled by the fear of speaking to large groups. I’ve been asked to give a talk to my HOA about a project I started in my neighborhood, and I feel like I’m walking the green mile. I can speak to the HOA board (5 people) just fine, and I’m excellent one-on-one. But standing in front of 60-70 people? I’m having trouble even typing my feelings about it.
Dr. Hurd replies,
You are not alone. Public speaking is a common fear. Try these suggestions: First, start with something you’re comfortable saying. It could be a joke, or anything non-offensive that’s appropriate to the presentation.
Second, don’t assume everyone is listening attentively or even listening at all. Don’t flatter yourself: This is an HOA meeting! Most attendees are thinking about when they can get out of there.
Third, remember that individuals are individuals whether they’re alone, with four others, or in a large group. You may feel that you must treat a group of 70 as different from one or five, but they are still individuals. I have a friend who used to work for a popular TV shopping network. He spoke to millions of people for several hours a day. He told me that he calms himself by focusing on a pinpoint reflection of the TV lights in the camera lens, and then imagining that it is one person’s eye. He then simply addresses that one “person” when he’s speaking. It works.
Fourth, try focusing on a few individuals. This will make it more like you’re in a small group. Maybe there’s someone in the audience you know, or maybe someone with a friendly face. Don’t pick one, but a few. Move from face to face to get you started. That will help.
Lastly, think of the issue you’re talking about. Think about how it interests you, and how you can persuade someone else to be interested or to agree with what you’re saying. Do it exactly as you would in a small group.
None of these suggestions will totally alleviate your anxiety. That takes time and repeated practice. But as I said earlier, you are not alone, and your concerns are certainly not unique. Those who share your fear will understand. Those who are confident in public speaking won’t judge you, because it won’t occur to them that you’re nervous. So relax. It’s a win-win.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.