Being inundated with messages of discord around the clock poses some genuine risks regarding mental health. For some, current events can trigger feelings of deep despair, paranoia, agitation and fear. Constant exposure to violence, unrest and danger in the news can lead to what professionals in the field of mental health call vicarious trauma or (VT). This is a form of secondary traumatization that can manifest physically, mentally and emotionally in ways that are very similar to what we see in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here’s a look at some symptoms of vicarious trauma:
- Insomnia/sleeping difficulties.
- Anger and irritability.
- Impaired ability in making decisions.
- Avoiding friends and family.
- Intrusive thoughts.
- Obsessive thinking.
- Numbing of emotions.
- Diminished sense of enjoyment.
- Reduced empathy and sympathy.
- Changes in appetite.
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs.
A person with a history of substance dependency, depression, anxiety or mental health issues may find their minds being pulled into some very dark places as they try to make sense of and keep up with the ever-changing narratives coming out of the media these days. It is vital to know when and how to pull away.
Why Media Stressors Are Menacing for Mental Health
It’s essential to understand the risks of consuming highly contentious narratives if you’re in a frail state of mind. It’s also important to understand that breaking free of the 24-hours news cycle is essential for preserving mental health and mental clarity at a time when the news seems to be an opportunity to instigate discord. Take a look at some practical tips for avoiding media stressors and the societal trauma that could put your mental health at risk.
Set Clear Limits Regarding How Much Media You’ll Consume in a Day
The popularity of 24-hours news channels and “clickbait” news websites can make it very easy to get trapped in a funnel of negative, overly-hyped information. It is tough for the average person to process all of the information that is coming at them when they get locked into a cycle of continually checking for news updates. It may be necessary to be strategic when it comes to how you consume news to preserve your mental health. Allowing yourself to watch up to an hour’s worth of news per day from a local news station that presents the day’s headlines without much commentary may be a healthy option for staying informed without having your peace disturbed.
Avoid the Temptation to Personalize the News
Media stressors and sensationalized news programming can trigger persistent worry. This causes many viewers who follow current events to assume that a worst-case scenario is around the corner. Unfortunately, being told that impending dangers and doom scenarios could happen at any time can trigger a flight-or-fight response in the brain. There are a few exercises one can use to avoid the danger of catastrophizing all world events.
- First, it’s important to gain a little perspective when hearing “apocalyptic” reporting. Stay focused on reality when you’re feeling personally threatened in response to something that’s being reported on the news.
- The second exercise is to remember that the people who “create” the news have a financial incentive to keep you locked in. They will generally choose headlines that stir up emotions to keep viewer attention.
Staying in the Real World When Bad News Rules the Day
The bottom line is that, oftentimes, broadcasters, bloggers and media influencers have their own unique personal, political and financial motives for presenting headlines in a sometimes calculated or manipulated way. It’s important to understand that shielding your mental health is the priority if you have a history of mental health issues. It’s imperative to stay present in your own life as current events are ever changing. Choose only to consider what is presently known about a situation that is being reported instead of leaping to conclusions and assumptions about what the future holds. You can limit the impact of media stressors on your life when you focus on staying mindful and connecting with people in real life to stay grounded.