Effects of Social Media
By: Vera Mesquita
Many healthcare workers and teachers have heard of Secondary Traumatic Stress. It is something that people develop when they treat, help, or talk to people who have experienced trauma. Listening to their stories or watching them go through a traumatic event, such as a death in the family, can lead to symptoms similar to PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder). Some signs of Secondary Traumatic Stress include hypervigilance, avoidance, re-experiencing, and change in mood. Guilt, anger, problems sleeping, exhaustion, and difficulty concentrating are other signs of STS.
You might be wondering why I am bringing this topic to the blog since not all readers are healthcare workers. Here is the tricky part. Studies have shown that watching the news and social media, especially when the posts have pictures or videos, can trigger stress responses characterized as Secondary Traumatic Stress.
We live in an era where everything is live. If something happens on the other side of the world, we immediately see images and read about it. This happens all the time: day and night, weekdays and weekends. Every time we scroll down or click on a website, we are exposed to traumatic events. Human rights violations, violence, wars, it is all there for us to witness. It is hard not to get affected by it. Especially if it is a cause close to us, it calls for our attention, and we just have to look, read, and learn more about it.
How often have you put the phone down or turned the television off and felt a little more depressed or anxious than before? Or keep thinking about something you read or saw, even after changing your focus. If you start feeling like what you see is affecting your life a little too much, maybe it’s time to take a step back and take care of yourself. That doesn’t mean to ignore what is going on out there or not do anything about it. It is essential to be aware of what’s going on in the world or your country. But mental health is also important, so the idea is to find balance.
How to avoid Secondary Traumatic Stress through media?
Some things you can try to do to avoid STS when watching the news or going on social media are:
- Set a timer when you are scrolling through social media. Not only that, but keep in mind what you will do once the timer sets off. This part is crucial because it motivates you to let go of the phone and take your mind out of the topic. You can plan to scroll for 10 minutes, and after that, you are going to finish that project for work, take a walk, or read a book. No matter what it is, it just has to be something you enjoy.
- Monitor your anxiety level while watching the news. Before turning on the tv or getting your phone, notice your level of anxiety on a scale of 0-10. While watching the news, keep checking in with yourself and, if you feel like the level of stress is increasing too much, turn off the tv or change the channel.
- Get involved. When we watch the news, we feel anxious because there is the sensation that there is nothing we can do to help. If you are involved in your community or social or political activism groups, you have a sense of purpose that will alleviate that feeling. Perhaps there isn’t much you can do for someone on the other side of the world, but you are doing your share by acting local and improving people’s lives.
Coping with STS:
If you start feeling overwhelmed by some event that you saw on the news, there are some things you can do to cope with the anxiety:
- Breathe- Take long, deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. This is a simple way to calm your body and your mind.
- Practice self-care, like exercising, meditating, journaling, and spending time with people you love.
- Talk about your feelings. Therapy is a great tool to deal with STS, but just talking to a friend about what is going on with you will help you cope with your emotions.
Keep in mind: it is essential to know what is going on in the world, but if something is too triggering for you, you should take a step back and take a break from the news. Again, this does not mean shutting down from the world. It just means that you have to take care of yourself before you can help others.