Have you ever felt traumatized just by watching the news report on a natural disaster on the television? Or felt anxious because you accidentally saw a video of a terrorist attack on social media?
Technology advances ease our access to news about various tragedies including violence. News regarding airplane accidents, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and sexual abuse can be easily and unintentionally found on social media. Even though we are not directly involved, just by watching through the screen, the feeling of fear, anxiety, and trauma can be triggered because of it.
Definition of Secondary Traumatic Stress or Vicarious Trauma
Secondary Traumatic Stress or Vicarious Trauma are the terms that refer to indirect trauma that occurs when a person is exposed directly to a story of another person’s trauma experience. This can happen simply by seeing the news on the television, witnessing the scene of an incident, or listening to a detailed traumatic story from another person.
In the past, Secondary Traumatic Stress or Vicarious Trauma commonly affected people who work in the field that has a high risk of being exposed to trauma such as doctors, nurses, social workers, rescue team, and mental health practitioners. However, these days, with the ease of accessing information, it could happen to anyone. Studies have found that a person who has been exposed to a traumatic event through the media exhibits at least one symptom of Secondary Traumatic Stress (Comstock & Platania, 2017). This shows that witnessing a traumatic event could have negative effects on our mental health.
One of the symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress is a disturbed mind. When someone sees the news about a traumatic event, the person will have difficulty ignoring or forgetting the image of the event in their mind/memory. For example, the constantly repeated news regarding Covid-19 could cause health anxiety, or the news about terrorism could make people feel scared and anxious to be in a public place.
What Can We Do About It?
After we understand the negative effects of accessing news on television or social media, you might be wondering what can you do to avoid it? Knowing that those kinds of news could be accidentally accessed when we watch the television or use social media.
These are the things that we could do to prevent us from being exposed to too many traumatic events in the media:
Watch the News Selectively
Some TV stations might depict every incident and violent attack in detail. You can choose to avoid watching this kind of news. Choose sources that don’t really show the detail of the event but still provide accurate information. Additionally, late night news tends to feature sensitive events that contain violence. If you feel uncomfortable watching it, it would be better for you to avoid it altogether.
Avoid Live-Broadcast News
Breaking news is usually broadcasted at an urgent and crucial time, thus it is live-streamed from the location of the event. News about the arrest of a suspected terrorist, for example, could involve a degree of violence and it can be difficult to avoid. If watching it makes us anxious, it’s better not to turn it off.
Mute Words or Block Accounts That Provide Sensitive Content
Some social media like Twitter and Instagram provide ‘mute’ and ‘block’ features to avoid sensitive content and accounts that make the users feel uncomfortable. Use these kinds of features to protect yourself and to enable a more comfortable usage of social media.
If You Have The Symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress, What Can You Do?
Some symptoms that could appear when we are exposed to traumatic news are: disturbed mind due to feeling anxious, feeling scared, trouble falling asleep, having nightmares, mood swings, and feeling pressured when thinking of a tragedy.
If you feel like you’re experiencing the symptoms above, a break from television and social media might probably be the right choice. Try to do positive activities that could entertain you such as reading a book, exercising, or meeting a friend. Doing fun activities and spending time with loved ones are some ways to slowly heal from trauma.
Please know that your feeling is valid. Don’t hesitate to discuss what you’re going through with a professional psychologist, if you feel like you need it. If you want to know more what a counseling looks like, you can read it all about it in “What Really Happens in Counselling?” You can also read Dinka, The Adventure Queen with ADHD: From New Zealand to Kenya and Albert Hidayat: Consultants Need Counselors, Too to know about their experiences with counseling.
If you want to try out counseling you can try using KALM Application that is here to ease your process of consulting your mental health with professional Kalmselors. Download KALM Application from this link and be matched to your preferred Kalmselor.
Writer: Rachma Fitrianing Lestari
Editor: Lukas Limanjaya
Comstock, C., Platania, J. (2017). The role of media-induced secondary traumatic stress on perceptions of distress. American International Journal of Social Science, 6(1). https://docs.rwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1252&context=fcas_fp