The Media vs. Me: Self Care in Trying Times
Social media can increase our awareness, and it can also leave us with stress. With technology, we have access to various information with only a few clicks. We can now see what is happening on the other side of the world. Although knowing everything helps us to understand the world, we may also encounter something shocking through social media.
For the past two years, our media platforms have been filled with unpleasant news as the world is in turmoil over COVID-19. Adding in the Russian invasion starting on February 24, 2022, the media has been covering the full story about Ukraine nonstop. Both journalists and citizens upload their unfiltered views during the invasion through stories, images, and videos. As people from other countries, we can inform ourselves about the ongoing war. However, most people are unprepared to be exposed to traumatic content. In the current situation, these news items may pop up at any time.
When we are showered with traumatic information non-stop, we feel overwhelmed.
Why do people engage with news about war and disaster?
Besides often not having a choice whether we want to see news, there are many reasons why people watch news of war or disasters willingly. Some have a personal connection to a distressing event and they feel anxious about what might happen to their loved ones, others, or themselves. Others might want to stay informed and/or take action.
When confronted with rapidly spreading unsettling images, any viewer might experience high levels of discomfort and for some, an alarming spike in their anxiety. A 2014 study reported that around 60% of the respondents who had interacted with news coverage of disasters had shown symptoms similar to PTSD (Pfefferbaum et al., 2014). Dr. Pam Ramsden, assistant professor at the University of Bradford in the UK, states that “social media has enabled violent stories and graphic images to be watched by the public in unedited horrific detail. Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those directly experiencing them may impact on our daily lives.” (Sciencedaily, 2015).
This phenomenon takes on multiple names, from secondary traumatic stress to emotional contagion to PTSD, and is usually reserved for professionals who are in direct contact with victims, such as social workers or counselors. But symptoms can be generalized to anyone who is indirectly exposed to a traumatic event. These symptoms include but are not limited to anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and nightmares. While many may only experience slight discomfort while watching disaster news, it is important to recognize when you are suffering from the symptoms mentioned above.
You matter: acknowledging your feelings
Watching distressing news can give rise to a lot of different reactions. You might feel anxious, angry, frustrated with being unable to help, uncertain or afraid of what might happen to yourself or others, grateful or ashamed of “how good you have it” compared with what you see on the news.
You might feel guilty for caring about your own struggles and yourself. Compared with what you see other people going through, it can seem small, but your struggles and feelings matter, always.
Everyone deals with feelings in their own way, but suppressing them is the most common method. However, research (Patel & Patel, 2019) shows keeping your feelings to yourself or denying them doesn’t make them go away; it only makes them stronger. On the other hand, sharing your feelings with others and accepting them (Ford et al., 2018) can help your mental, physical, and overall well-being.
You might not want to give up watching the news, but there are some things you can do to take care of yourself, especially during a difficult time.
Consuming media vs. being consumed by media
With distressing news being available around the clock, watching it has become a routine for many of us, making it difficult to realize when and how it impacts our well-being. Taking care of yourself and getting the help you need when it is too much is essential for staying safe and well.
Here are some ideas to help you handle distressing news and take care of yourself:
- Make time for yourself
It can be hard, but try to take a break from the media and make time for yourself sometime. What do you enjoy doing? What makes you feel good? That could be things like spending time in nature, being with your friends and family, doing sports, music, or journaling (Mental Health American, n.d.).
- Try curating your social media feed
If you find it hard to stop scrolling down social media, try curating your feed! You can blacklist hashtags related to distressing news, block certain accounts, and create a social media space where posts only spark joy (thanks Marie Kondo).
- Talk about it with someone
No matter how big or small, your feelings are valid and deserve to be shared. Do you have anyone around you that you can talk with? Examples could be your family, friends, or work colleagues. You can always get help from mental health professionals or contact the TELL Lifeline by phone or chat for confidential, free support and counseling (see the times and link below).
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British Psychological Society. (2015, May 6). Viewing violent news on social media can cause trauma. ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150506164240.htm
Ford, B. Q., Lam, P., John, O. P., & Mauss, I. B. (2018). “The psychological health benefits of accepting negative emotions and thoughts: Laboratory, diary, and longitudinal evidence.“ Journal of personality and social psychology, 115(6), 1075–1092. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000157.
Jainish Patel, Prittesh Patel (2019). “Consequences of Repression of Emotion: Physical Health, Mental Health, and General Well Being.” International Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, 1(3), 16-21. https://openaccesspub.org/ijpr/article/999.
Mental Health America. “How to keep a mental health journal.” https://screening.mhanational.org/content/how-keep-mental-health-journal/.
Pfefferbaum, B., Newman, E., Nelson, S. D., Nitiéma, P., Pfefferbaum, R. L., & Rahman, A. (2014). “Disaster media coverage and psychological outcomes: descriptive findings in the extant research.” Current Psychiatry Reports, 16(9), 464. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-014-0464-x.