Caring For Yourself When There’s Traumatic News

Anxious woman staring at her cellphone screen

Do you have a smart phone? Regularly access news on the internet? Check in often on your social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.?

If you do, you are probably getting ample exposure to the news and media. If you grew up in the age before social media and internet, you will remember that your sources for news were from newspapers, radio and television. Don’t get me wrong, access to media has its benefits. But considering recent tragedies, it’s timely to talk about how to care for yourself during times of national and international tragedy, disaster or crisis.

Traumatic news can trigger PTSD-like symptoms

You may not know this, but regular exposure to upsetting information can trigger symptoms that mimic post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Some people refer to this as vicarious trauma. Everyone is unique and some people are more susceptible and sensitive to these effects.

Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Change in mood (irritability, tearfulness, anxiety)
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Hypervigilance (easily startled)
  • Ruminating about the event, distraction
  • Concentration struggles
  • Physiological effects (muscle tension, headaches, stomach upset – especially in children)
  • Feeling “out of it” (de-personalization or de-realization)
  • Nightmares
  • Change in appetite

Something unique happens when we regularly absorb information about traumatic events. The sights, sounds and repetitive nature of the news and media can truly wear a person out. By nature, humans are relational, and media is often designed to trigger our sympathies and emotions.

If you are familiar with therapy or counseling, you will probably know that our thoughts and behaviors have a powerful impact on our emotions. Many therapists work very hard to teach their clients ways to replace negative thinking and unhealthy behaviors to help clients feel better and healthier. Regularly taking in upsetting information is likely to affect you in some way.

6 Tips on How to Mindfully Care for Yourself During Times of Distress

1. Take charge of your exposure to media.

  • Be mindful of when you are reading the news (hint: right before bed is probably not a good idea)
  • Pay attention to how you feel when reading news or someone’s post on Twitter or other channel. Do you feel your pulse quicken? Do you have the urge to reply with a snarky comment or a defensive comment?
  • Monitor your ‘push notifications’ or automatic alerts on your mobile devices. I have a friend who received an alert on her phone when a recent national shooting happened, waking her up in the middle of the night, disrupting her sleep and compromising her mood for the rest of the day.

2. Know your triggers.

You don’t have to have a mental health diagnosis in order to be more sensitive to different topics. We have all faced difficult things and some of us are simply more sensitive to certain issues. I have friend who blocked PETA advertisements from Facebook because she loves animals, and the information would upset her to the point of tears. Other possible sensitivities include politics, abortion, abuse, weather-related disaster, racism, war, violence against the LGBT population, etc

3. Practice good self-care.

Eat well, sleep well, exercise, drink plenty of water, spend time with loved ones, enjoy your pets and/or children, have fun and continue to be active with household duties and chores.

4. Process your feelings.

In person is probably best. I have heard my share of many disputes and miscommunications occurring over text and social media. It doesn’t hurt to be choosy about who you talk to either—talk to someone who cares about you and is like-minded when you feel sensitive or upset by events. There’s always time to converse and debate when your internal resources are shored up.

5. Talk to a therapist.

Some people are afraid that their therapist will judge them or disagree with them when they talk about social and political matters. Most therapists know that you aren’t wanting to debate, but that you are wanting to explore how to take care of yourself when social events upset you. If you are unsure, be assertive and say something, like, “I am really worried about political events today. Can we explore ways that I can manage my worries?”

6. Get involved.

  • Donate blood
  • Volunteer at the homeless shelter
  • Learn about how to get involved with groups who support your beliefs and values
  • Engage in a random act of kindness

Again, there is nothing wrong with being informed. There is a benefit to allowing yourself to passionately follow news and information about issues that matter to you, but I am here to remind you to take care of yourself while doing so. We are the most helpful and effective when we have taken good care of ourselves.

Need help for you or a loved one? Pine Rest provides compassionate, world-class treatment with proven clinical outcomes for all ages and stages of life.

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