With world-changing presidential campaigns about to get underway and tensions in America—and the world—getting higher with each passing day, current events and societal issues and the ways they impact our daily lives are taking a toll on all of us. And not just any toll: I’m talking mental health. Is it possible that everything you’re witnessing secondhand through TV and social media could even be making you vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
How Media Could Be Triggering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
It’s been well-documented that individuals living in violent neighborhoods or who are subjected to discrimination express many symptoms of PTSD. Some of these symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, fear/avoidance of certain situations (e.g. crowds), emotional changes, difficulty concentrating, and being easily startled. And it’s all triggered by the trauma of their direct experience.
But these days, with all our exposure through traditional and social media to never-ending news and images of bombings, killings, mass murders, and other attacks and injustices occurring at home and abroad, even more people in America are showing signs of PTSD, anxiety, or even just plain old stress. It’s very worrisome from a mental health perspective when people experiencing trauma indirectly (i.e. through the TV or social media) are now actually vulnerable to PTSD.
What Can You Do to Avoid Media-Caused PTSD?
Now, of course it’s important to know what’s going on in your community and country and in our world, but being smart about media consumption can go a long way in limiting stress, anxiety, and fear. Experts have identified exposure to social media and sensationalized news coverage as a main driver of social anxiety and symptoms of PTSD. So, if you’re being bombarded with violent imagery when you check news online or look at social media, you need to assess where and how you’re getting information.
Tips to Limit Stress & Fear from News
The best way to limit the stress and fear perpetrated by media outlets and social media is to limit how often you use social media—often the worst source of “news.” Instead, schedule limited, specific times of the day for checking your social media accounts, rather than constantly looking at it throughout the day.
You should also limit yourself to using reputable and balanced sources of information. The Internet at large and even some well-known news sources are full of misinformation, fear-mongering tactics, and sensationalism that can be doing you mental and emotional damage, so using reputable, well-established, and unbiased reporting can help keep you informed while sparing you excessive fear and mental trauma.
Listening to the radio for well-reported news can also help, so that you’re not seeing traumatizing images.
Furthermore, it helps to remind yourself regularly that, despite the onslaught of negative news out there, the world has plenty of good things to offer! Heck, even take some time daily to write down a few positive things in life: something great that happened at work that day, your favorite foods, beautiful places you’ve visited, hobbies, good people you know; a news item that makes you smile; anything, as long as it has a positive association for you.
Tips to Relieve Stress & Anxiety
It’s also important to identify outlets to help relieve your stress and anxiety. Some good examples include going to the gym, heading out for a jog, going for a walk in the park, doing yoga or tai chi, going swimming, or practicing meditation or mindfulness. Whatever works for you as an individual.
Talking to friends, professionals or others can also be an effective coping mechanism for dealing with violent or anxiety-inducing news. But listening can be just as important. Being open to differing viewpoints and opinions can help improve your perspective and understanding, which has a great impact on stress levels.
Increasing community engagement is also helpful. Get out there and volunteer for a good cause; you’ll feel less helpless and you’ll be contributing to a more positive future for your community and the planet overall. Plus, if you’re doing something within your community or even within another community in your local area, you’ll get to know neighbors from all walks of life and broaden your horizons and theirs, while having a positive impact on society. All of this can help relieve your stress and anxiety and can help prevent or reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Stay Informed But Guard Your Mental Health
It’s true that there’s been a lot of bad news recently, but violence in America and around the world is nothing new. The difference today is social media. It has brought the world closer together, while at the same time exposing people to all of the harsh realities that exist. And although this is largely a good thing, constant exposure and sensationalized reporting can lead to desensitization, anxiety, and fear for some. Stay informed, but make your mental health a priority as well.
Sources for Today’s Article
National Center for PTSD, “Community Violence: The Effects on Children and Teens,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs web site, 2016; http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/types/violence/effects-community-violence-children.asp, last accessed July 18, 2016.
Rogers, K., “What Is A Constant Cycle of Violent News Doing to Us?” The New York Times, July 15, 2016; http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/16/health/what-is-a-constant-cycle-of-violent-news-doing-to-us.html