Research from Reuters released earlier this year found 32 per cent of audiences actively avoid the news for the sake of sanity and self preservation. But, although so-called "active ignorance" of current affairs and other content that may be making us anxious (such as a surfeit of self-improvement advice) may alleviate anxiety, this only works "to a point".
Renata Salecl, a professor of psychology and anxiety researcher at the University of London, says while avoiding information that can make you uncomfortable is one strategy, an amount of "dissatisfaction" helps us get life done.
Renata Salecl: ignorance can be a helpful strategy, but anxiety is nothing to fear.Credit:Domen Slana
Salecl, who was due to appear in Australia for the UNSW Centre for Ideas and The Big Anxiety Festival, says 24-hour news cycles and an online news landscape which can give equal weight to thoroughly researched information and information someone tweets on a whim, are contributing to some feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about what is and is not real.
Added to this is the mirage that is social media and what she calls the “unfortunate ideology of self-improvement”, which can make people question whether they are productive enough, good enough or making the right choices if they are not living in a constant state of bliss.
“Happiness should be taken with a grain of salt – happiness is temporary moments of, quite often, unpredictable states which don’t last and when you have self-help machinery teaching people happiness, quite often the underside is misery,” argues Salecl, whose book, A Passion for Ignorance, is released later this year.
“The ideology of wellness, and the machinery related to self-improvement is creating the feeling of guilt, inadequacy and anxiety.” A strategy to deal with this “kind of an overload” is to turn away, close our eyes, deny and ignore.
“Not wanting to know too much might be of benefit because people might feel less anxious,” says Salecl.
Active ignorance can aid us in a range of situations. For example, becoming overly conscientious when we are unwell can increase anxiety levels and the likelihood of adverse health outcomes
“Extreme exercise and very conscientious diet can also sometimes have more negative effects on his or her health than denial or willful ignorance,” Salecl says.
“Also, when we are traumatised, it might be that for some people denial or repression of trauma is of benefit so that they can go on living … But it is highly individual. We cannot prescribe people to be more ignorant.”
Yet, denial only alleviates anxiety, the “elusive epidemic” that affects at least 33 per cent of the population, to an extent.
“Often willful ignorance is strategically used by people in power,” Salecl says, adding: “Climate change is an issue where ignorance is incredibly unhelpful for our whole planet … We could say discussion on climate change could be anxiety-provoking but it would definitely not be of benefit to close your eyes to the problems.”
Besides, she doesn't think we should be aiming to eradicate anxiety. Not only does it help us escape danger and, in small doses, improve performance, it is an “essential part of subjectivity and also creativity”.
“We would not do certain things in our lives if we were not dissatisfied … paint or write or work or whatever. Dissatisfaction can be an engine,” Salecl says.
The trick is to ensure we don’t feel constantly anxious. Part of this is recognising that external influences can create internal feelings of anxiety. This allows us to choose what platforms and information are helpful.
“The important moment for people is not to perceive doubt or dissatisfaction as something necessarily problematic,” Salecl says. “But to see how the anxiety or dissatisfaction might be related to external stimuli.
“There is no one solution. For every individual, it is important to understand the effect of certain exposure to media or online debates, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook have psychologically on them. Every individual in some way tries to find certain strategies, which might be strategies of disconnect … or to put the information they are being bombarded by in a broader context.”
Renata Salecl was due to appear in Sydney as a guest of UNSW Centre for Ideas and The Big Anxiety Festival this week, however due to a family emergency her trip has been cancelled. For further events on this topic, go to https://www.thebiganxiety.org/
Source: Read Full Article