As a clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety treatment, I consider it my responsibility to follow the news, to ensure that I’m familiar with the stressors to which my patients are continually exposed.
Which is why, on a daily basis, I turn to the hard-hitting journalism of Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest.
Yep, I’m talking about LIVE With Kelly and Ryan, the morning talk show. While friends and colleagues are on Twitter, debating the latest atrocities that have come to light in the media, I’m getting tips on how to infuse my gummy worms with alcohol to create a really dynamite adult treat. Like a shot of chicken soup for my stress-addled soul, this show enables me to completely forget the misery of the outside world for a little while.
If you aren’t a Kelly and Ryan watcher, here is a brief synopsis of basically every episode: Kelly and Ryan banter; they offer a lucky viewer the chance to win a fancy vacation; they talk to some guests; they close the show. There is no mention of politics. There are no insults. If some sort of national tragedy occurs, Kelly and Ryan talk about it very briefly, then seamlessly transition to a far more innocuous topic.
For an hour each day, I lose myself in the Kelly and Ryan universe. I envision a world where all I need is a makeover from Lawrence Zarian to make things right again, where I can dance like no one’s watching in front of a delighted audience. I indulge in fantasies of me and my family cavorting on a fancy beach thanks to a prize package valued at over $10,000.
At first, I felt bad that I was spending some of my time with Kelly and Ryan instead of focusing all of my attention on the top stories of the day. But I came to realize that every single one of us needs a Kelly and Ryan. Because to be steeped in the seemingly inescapable misery and fear 24 hours a day is not good for any of us. We can turn off our phones and our social media accounts, but we can’t walk around with blinders on. The other day, I was in Manhattan and couldn’t help but see several upsetting news headlines tracking on a building high above Times Square. My six year-old son saw them, too.
As a cognitive-behavioral therapist, I work with patients to help them combat irrational anxiety—to challenge their worry thoughts by recognizing that there is no evidence to support these thoughts. But the anxiety many of us are now facing about the state of the world is completely rational. Terrorist attacks happen at random, and there’s no way to prepare for them. We are constantly made aware of the fact that a nuclear conflict with North Korea is a real possibility. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that something terrible could happen to any of us, at any time, and we can’t predict what will happen, and when.
Which means that sometimes, we have to try and shift our attention to things we can predict. Like the fact that the sun will always be there in the morning. As will Kelly and Ryan, probably making jokes about how short Ryan is.
I don’t mean to suggest that the only option for responding to anxiety is binge watching TV shows. We can all choose to take various actions (contact government officials, give to charity, vote in elections) to effect change; and in fact, as an anxiety management strategy, active resistance works far better than passive resignation. But we can’t be fighting every hour of every day. None of us can sustain that.
We all need—and deserve—a break from the outside world. In the spirit of Kelly and Ryan’s JanYOUary self-improvement campaign, why not resolve to find your own version of Kelly and Ryan, some form of pop culture comfort food you can turn to when you’re mired in stress. Indulge for an hour, or a day, or however long you need until you feel you can face your anxiety again. Your reward will be your peace of mind, a prize I’d value at far more than $10,000.