I remember hearing an old adage of news reporting: “If it bleeds, it leads”. If a story is graphic and dramatic, some news outlets will place it on the front page of the newspaper or first up in the TV broadcast to capture the attention of a drama-loving audience.
But this approach is not without its cost. The tragedy is unimaginable for those involved in incidents of violence or terrorism who lose their lives or have them irreparably changed forever. And then there are those of us who aren’t directly involved in the events but see and hear about them through news stories and social media. We can be affected as well and experience what is called “secondary trauma” – the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.
In this day of 24-7 news channels and social media, we can be bombarded over and over with photos, footage, and talk of traumatic events.
Even things happening across the world can be very present in our daily lives. Social media friends and followers may share stories and thoughts as they try to make sense of what’s happened. All of this repeated exposure can definitely have an huge impact on our feelings, thoughts, and overall mental health.
Emotional reactions may be expected upon seeing people affected by shootings, bombings, motor vehicle collisions, and other traumatic events.
We can feel sad, angry, helpless, and wonder what is going on in the world and if we and our loved ones are safe. Usually, these reactions will pass and not have a major impact on our day-to-day living, but they can also become more long-lasting and disruptive.
What can we do to cope and prevent negative news stories from overwhelming us?
- Limit your exposure. News outlets may focus on a number of angles to a story and present them day after day. Decide what you really want and need to hear and set limits. Skip over that part of the evening news or newspaper if it’s too much. Spend less time on social media or temporarily block the feeds of those who repeatedly post about the event for the good of your own mental health.
- Try to name your feelings, not reject them. Acknowledge that you feel afraid, angry, sad or whatever it may be rather than denying that you have those feelings. Putting a name on emotions can help us understand and work through them while trying to ignore them can keep them coming back and nagging at us.
- Talk about what you’re experiencing. What you’ve seen or heard may be a trigger for your own past traumas or difficulties. Share with a trusted friend or family member and seek help from a counsellor or other professional if you would find that helpful.
- Seek out something meaningful to do. Could you make a donation to something related to the event? Volunteer in some way? Send a message to those affected? You may feel helpless, but think about what you can do rather than what you can’t.
- Take in the positive. See how people come together after a tragedy and make an extra effort to add positive news stories to your day. A much-shared story from Mr. Rogers reminds us of how much we can need the positive: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
If you are struggling with trauma or coping with difficult events, we can help. Check out our free walk-in counselling to get support with no cost, appointment, or referral. Find out more here.