• Amy Houghton

Staying Engaged Without Being Overwhelmed: Five Podcast Recommendations

Amy Houghton recommends her top five podcasts for keeping up to date with the latest news, while not letting the doom and gloom of the pandemic get to you.


Staying Inside by Abigail Featherstone (Instagram: @abigail.featherstone)

Image description: I personally find being surrounded by plants and sipping tea is therapeutic, so I went with that. It's a wholesome expression of comfort and safety, something we all need during these weird times. It is important for everyone to take care of themselves during these times, including the way one consumes information. An alternative to highly triggering news media is podcasts, it is important to handle yourself with care and attention


We remain amid a global pandemic, and political turmoil, it seems, waits around every corner. Feeling pressure to keep up to date with the news can be overwhelming at the best of times but at this moment it is even more important to take time away from the perpetual rush of headlines for the sake of our mental health.


Whilst doom scrolling is a dark and slippery slope, there are ways that you can remain engaged with the world and maintain a glimmer of optimism. Podcasts offer a slower method of consuming information. Unlike live television or news websites, they do not come with the immediate visual influx of global conflict and upset.


That is not to say that podcasts neglect to confront the big topics. On the contrary, those that are listed below take the headlines and the current political environment to discuss them with more nuance and consideration than is afforded in a short hourly broadcast. In between those crucial breaks from the news cycle, consider listening to an episode of one of these podcasts to have your worldview broadened and political outlooks challenged.


1. Today in Focus

If you have any interest in current affairs, this podcast is likely already on your radar. The daily half-hour episodes, presented by Guardian journalists Anushka Asthana and Rachel Humphries, fill listeners in on the stories that are dominating the front pages, as well as those that should be. Offering a platform to individual voices involved alongside expert analysis, each episode is an invaluable dive into the humanity behind the headlines.


2. Reasons to be Cheerful

Brimming with dad-jokes and a warm bromance, this podcast by former Labour leader Ed Miliband, and friend Geoff Lloyd describes itself as ‘a podcast about ideas’. As it says on the tin, ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ lends an angle of optimism to political debate. Alongside the odd episode devoted to lifestyle topics, you can listen to Ed and Geoff discuss everything from private school abolition to political polarisation. Their guests have included US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.


3. The Yikes Podcast

A podcast by two of Edinburgh’s own! Mikaela Loach and Jo Becker offer listeners a way into taking action. Both engage in activism alongside their studies and in this podcast talk through ‘the Yikes of the world’ through an intersectional lens. Topics of discussion so far have included trans rights, anti-racism, and ecofascism. The Yikes podcast is particularly recommendable if you are looking to turn frustration into tangible action and learn more about demanding social justice.


4. Moral Maze

Moral Maze is a BBC Radio 4 show that takes the headlines and situates them within wider debates. Each episode consists of a politically diverse panel who hear from experts and commentators to engage in critical discussions of morality. Most recently, topics covered have included personal responsibility in the age of Covid-19, the morality of vaccination, and the issues of defence versus foreign aid. (A personal favourite is the ‘Love and Relationships’ episode from August 2019 in which panellists, mostly from an older generation, begrudgingly discuss everything Love Island!)


5. Pod Save the World

This is a podcast founded and co-presented by a former spokesperson for Obama, Tommy Vietor. Alongside former deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, he discusses foreign policy as and when it happens. The two offer highly informed breakdowns of key developments across the world. Though it is from a specifically American point of view, Pod Save the World is nonetheless valuable listening for anyone looking to expand their understanding of foreign policy and how nations interact with one another. (Also check out Pod Save America and Pod Save the People, two other podcasts produced by Vietor’s company, Crooked Media.)


Amy is am English Literature (MA) at the University of Edinburgh. Abigail is an Illustration BA student also at the University. This article was edited by Tamara El-Halawani.


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