More and more clients are coming into the office asking me this question. Many people state they feel overwhelmed with news reports of terrorism and brutality. It feels as if the world has become a very unsafe, unpredictable place. People are questioning their personal safety and the safety of their family members. They are worrying about their future, and feel very scared that the dreams they have for themselves and their children may be unobtainable.
Seeing graphic images on the internet and television are in fact having a negative effect on our psychological wellbeing. The term vicarious traumatization is used when a person experiences negative psychological reactions after witnessing others being traumatized. A study by British Psychological Society (2015) noted that after viewing traumatic media coverage nearly a quarter of the participants with no trauma history scored high on the test for posttraumatic stress.
There is evidence to support that what we witness begins to take root inside of us. The collective consciousness is fearful because of this negative media exposure. The tragedy is that we begin to lose our connection to what we once cherished. So what can we as individuals do to help ourselves?
If we stop and really think about it, all news sources want to be number one. They compete to put the most graphic emotionally charged news reports right in front of you. Even with the quick sound bite in the middle of your favorite television show. You know the one that interrupts with big letters and a loud blaring voice and background music that states…BREAKING NEWS —-followed by a brief description and asks you to tune in later for updates. It leaves us curious and worried so we tune in later. The marketing of delivering graphic news stories works very well and that news station is often awarded because they gave you the news the fastest and they were first to get the story. But very often there is so much more to the story that we never know. All we know is the heavily sensationalized version with graphic images that the media has just spoon fed us. From this we are collectively indirectly traumatized.
So let’s think about this. We are being negatively affected by graphic stories the media puts in front of us. What we witness causes us to have a psychological reaction. Let’s change the story. I’m not suggesting to bury your head in the sand. We all need to be aware of our environment. I’m suggesting the following: Limit media exposure as much as possible. Remind yourself when you hear about tragedy there are many sides to the story and the news source is trying to be awarded by sensationalizing their particular coverage of the event.
The most important thing to remember is, if what we witness, hear and think about can have an effect on us then we need to change the story. Dr Wayne Dyer had a great quote, “if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” So it’s about our perspective. We can all start within our immediate family. Change our immediate environment to one that feels positive and uplifting. Acts and words have a ripple effect. In the words of Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. It all starts with each of us.
Grace Hutchinson, PsyD, promotes inner peace and harmony by helping people reconnect with their own sense of life purpose. Contact Grace at firstname.lastname@example.org or (714) 336-5574
British Psychological Society (2015). Viewing violent news on social media can cause trauma. Science Daily, Vol. 6.