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Opt Out? If Only We Could.

October 17, 2020 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

The relentlessness of global news, politics, tragedy and lest we not forget the pandemic—along with the constant thoughts and images posted by everyone we know (and even those we don’t)—streaming into our brains through our tech devices can take a toll on our spirits and energy.

The world is too much for us at times right now. It’s not surprising, then, that we search for a way out and instead of zooming into friends’ and family members’ homes, we’d love to hop off to some distant galaxy. Or, it might be great if we could click a link to opt out or unsubscribe to many events and news info like we do when we get junk mail that crowds our inbox. It got us thinking. Here’s our top10 list of what we’d like to opt out of if only we could. Maybe, we can:

All news any way we get it whether TV, online, in print, radio or from friends relaying horrifying info. It would also be delightful if we could forgo during our phone and Zoom conversations all angst about our world such as politics, wildfires, hurricanes, children in cages, floods, earthquakes, poverty, rising crime and so much more, which stresses us exponentially. Quite frankly, does it really matter what’s happening 24/7? It’s not as if we can change anything. So why subject ourselves to something that isn’t really enriching our lives or making us better people. We can call those we know who are in distress. We can send in money to help others who need it if they’ve been displaced from their homes. As for politics, we look forward to voting and hope we can make informed decisions and even work some phone lines or send out postcards to support our candidates. But enough is enough with all the ads and pitches. Turn it off, don’t answer your phone and grab a good novel.

Feeling guilty for watching TV, especially junk TV. We grew up believing that watching TV was a big waste of time. Our mothers said relentlessly, “It turns your brains to mush and will ruin your eyesight.” So, some of us sneaked it in when we could. However, we have learned, especially during the pandemic, that watching TV can be good for us. It’s great escapism. While watching TV, we can relax, laugh and leave our stressful lives behind. There are good things on TV to watch such as all the period pieces on PBS or documentaries on the history channel to learn about the past. What about National Geographic or Nova to learn more about nature and the planet? However, TV watchers don’t have to be slugs. Instead of sitting there while watching one of the few remaining mid-day soap operas, you can get in some cardio. Walk on a treadmill, ride a stationary bike, pedal your Peloton, knit, needlepoint or turn on TV to an exercise show. You can learn, too. Turn on the Food Network and see how to make a triple layer chocolate cake with ganache frosting. If junk TV is your genre of choice, enjoy but don’t overdo it. You might opt to eat some junk food while watching reruns of “Gilmore Girls” or the latest season of “Schitt’s Creek.”  Junk food is another thing you might want to opt out of or at least parcel it out sparingly. Don’t eat the entire sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mints® cookies in one sitting, for example.

Reading books other people recommend. There isn’t a day that goes by, these days, when someone doesn’t say to us, “Have you read….” We love suggestions but that doesn’t mean this is an assignment as they ask repeatedly, “What did you think? Let’s discuss it.” We’re not in school. If we want to read junk (ah yes, the J word again) aka beach books, we can. Reading is something we should enjoy. It should make us want to turn the pages and make reading a habit. We don’t need more stress in our lives trying to plow through a book, magazine or even newspaper we don’t like or understand. Doing so might cause us to lose interest in something that’s very important to our mental acuity and growth especially now. Or you might keep a list of books recommended for when you’re more in the mood.

Toxic venting as in listening to other’s issues and taking them on. It’s great to have a spouse, good friend or a sibling there for us in difficult times. Listening to their troubles (or their listening to ours) can foster closer relationships. From time to time, this sort of gentle, non-judgmental listening is a good (even essential) part of friendship and therapy. We get hurt; we need a shoulder. We get scared, we need a hand. We get angry, we need an ear. We rant and rave for a few moments and we move on.

 Then there are the people who are looking for something more. They are looking only to see themselves as they imagine themselves to be reflected by our approval and sympathy. But when push comes to shove and the whining becomes not only endless but annoying, enough is enough. Does this attitude make us less of a friend or a terrible daughter or sibling? We don't think so. Right now, it’s important that we take care of ourselves. Giving everything to others can leave little room to fill our needs. It’s a balancing act. As with almost everything in life, when listening to others and supporting them, know your limits and set boundaries. Create a time and space for helping others and when that space is full, move on and do so guilt free. You might even be honest and say, “I’m really overloaded right now. I care but may I get back to you?” And do.

Wrinkles, sagging necks and all the things we’d like to do away with to stop the clock. Nora Ephron took a candid and humorous look at this issue in her book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” Trying to slow down the aging process is time consuming—the hair dye, time spent at the dermatologist or plastic surgeon—and expensive. Not to mention all those costly  lotions, potions and creams that promise a quick fix for wrinkles and sagging skin. We’ve learned to live with what we have and are happy to still be alive and actively engaged in life. And you can always avoid looking in the mirror or using a magnifying glass to zoom in on that line or two…or three.

Worrying. If ever there were a time to worry, it is now. We are all susceptible to catching COVID-19. At the same time, friends and family members may be sick, out of work or living on reduced wages. Some may be homeless and asking to move back home. We worry if the stores will run out of supplies if the virus escalates and whether we’re horrible citizens for hoarding. We worry if we’re around the wrong people or if someone walks by us on the street without a mask. We don’t say anything for fear we will unleash rage for so many of us are angry right now. We cannot wash our hands of worry, yet we wash our hands 30 times or more a day to wipe away the germs. We wear masks to keep the virus at bay although we dislike the way they feel. Some feel as if they’re suffocating. Another worry. We then worry if our kids and grandkids don’t follow our same careful regimen. We worry about them starting school. Will they catch up on what they’ve missed without catching the virus, if attending in person? Will they learn enough through remote learning? We worry if something breaks in our homes and we have to call in a repair person, a stranger. We don’t know who that person has been around. What if they refuse to wear a mask? Worry. Worry. Worry. As Barbara’s daughter, a child psych says, often, “Worrying is a useless emotion.” Seriously what does worrying get us? Yet, so many of us are programmed (there’s actually a worry gene in our DNA) to be worrywarts. Catch yourself when you worry about that extra pound from too many pandemic carbs. Instead, take a walk.  

Discussions about how to eat better, healthier, lose weight and try different diets. The voices in our heads are rebelling. They are sick of talking about food. The pandemic has caused this to escalate as more of us are stuck at home. And what do we do? We cook more and obsess more about what we’re cooking. Surely there is more to life than calories, carbs, sugars, body weight, fat and on and on. All this focus on food we find is starting to suck the joy out of one of our greatest pleasures. Nothing we cook or eat seems enticing any longer. With all the talk about which foods make us fat or which might cause cancer, it’s difficult not to WORRY (see above to stop) and to ignore these exhausting fears. The reality of food is that it isn’t something we can avoid. You can quit alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. However, we need food to live; it’s the equivalent of fuel for our cars; our bodies need it to get going. So, shut up about what’s good and not so good for us to eat and fill the space with something else like art, music, friendship, sex or whatever.  

Reading small print on contracts and directions and ingredients on food items. Invariably when we’re in the grocery store trying to read labels, we can’t see them. It’s this thing called aging eyes. “Oh,” you think, “I forgot my reading glasses.” So, you might just throw the item in your basket, get home, find your readers or a good magnifying glass, read the ingredients and realize the cereal you just purchased is 80 percent sugar or the apples you bought aren’t organic. Of course, you cannot return them in this era of COVID-19. Darn it. Or you want to change your hotel reservations because right now you’re not going anywhere, but it says in small print that you need to give them at least 24-hours’ notice or you get charged 50 percent of one night’s fee. Naturally, you procrastinated and waited three days. When you call to cancel, you are told about this clause. “Who could read this in such small print?” you complain. Couldn’t the manufacturers or attorneys make the print larger please?

Feeling guilty that we’re not exercising enough. With gyms closed in many places, it’s tough to get in our required aerobics. It’s also a good excuse to sit tight. However, there are plenty of online fitness classes that offer virtual training right in your own living room. We can always tune into You Tube, it’s free, but that can get old and boring. Choosing the best ones for us can be challenging, overwhelming and time-consuming. And then if doing a You Tube workout, there’s no feedback if you’re that Yoga position is attempted incorrectly. This can result in injuries. Also, there is no vetting of the person hosting the video. They could be a quack who just put out their shingle. We say choose your exercise venue carefully and then get moving. This is not a mandate, but simply a good idea. And you can always head out the door for a brisk walk. That’s free too. And as the weather gets nippier, pile on the layers—a warmer top and tights, a scarf, hat and gloves.

Imagining the worse. Do you ever have a medical test and worry endlessly about the results—even imaging they’ll be the worst. Maybe, doing so is your way of coping but try not to. Catastrophizing a situation ups the adrenalin and blood pressure, gets those close to you worried and anxious, too. Instead, take a deep breath, know that if the situation is really terrible, your doctor is likely to get back to you FAST. Also, visualize a favorite spot or situation—a beach in Hawaii, a gorgeous public garden, a family gathering with those you love.

Taking things personally. You are left off the guest list for the wedding of a friend’s child whom you barely know. Hey, the pandemic has made small very in. A clerk at your favorite grocery store is rude; walk in her shoes; she had a terrible day. You are at an event and you run up to someone you haven’t seen in ages to tell her how sorry you are that her husband just died. She’s unfriendly but obviously is grieving. What event are you going to these days? Your spouse complains that the house is a mess. Show him or her the vacuum! A boss is far from diplomatic when telling you in a zoom meeting that you messed up an assignment. In such situations, it might be prudent to stand back and look at the situation from the other point of view. In all these situations there’s another point of view. With the boss, you can learn from his or her suggestions. He might be very worried about how you did it for a valid reason. In such cases, put on your armor and learn, don’t argue but consider the person’s situation.

If we could opt out of all these things, our world would never be the same, with one exception. There will likely be another new option put in its place to opt out of. And don’t start worrying about that and what it might be.



4 comments

  • Carol Lundgren

    Oct 18, 2020

    I always love your blogs, but I really connected with this one. We all need this kind of perspective to help us find some sanity and normalcy in our crazy world right now.

  • Deb Roach

    Oct 17, 2020

    This is an excellent post that says it all. Such easy-to-follow advice. So well written it’s a pleasure to read. Thanks, Barbara and Margaret.

  • Ann Mandelstamm

    Oct 17, 2020

    Hi Barbara and Margaret, You may get a kick out of knowing that your blog was sent to me by Jill Weinreich from Venice, Italy to me in St. Louis. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece and couldn’t agree more with your viewpoints. Right on! Many thanks for the sound thinking. Ann

  • Savitri

    Oct 17, 2020

    Totally agree with your ideas and thoughts


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