Trauma in the Digital Age: Finding Safety Amidst the Storm of Social Media and News
In our hyperconnected world, we are constantly bombarded with information and stimuli from every corner. Social media platforms and news outlets churn out updates and breaking news around the clock with provocative headlines designed to generate maximum clicks. While this has undeniably revolutionized how we consume information, it also presents a unique challenge, especially when dealing with trauma and mental health.
The Connection: Trauma and Digital Consumption
Re-traumatization through Repetition:
Graphic images and videos, disturbing news stories, and contentious social media discussions can serve as triggers for those who have experienced trauma. Seeing or reading about similar traumatic events can rekindle painful memories and emotions. Even without a history of similar traumatic experiences, exposure to these stories can evoke strong negative emotions and body sensations that can lead to the development of classic traumatic stress symptoms. Continuous exposure to such content can create an accumulation of stress in the nervous system which can cause immense distress and dysfunction.
Remember, you don’t need to be on the scene witnessing horrible events in order to be impacted by them. Just imagining or learning about an event can have the ability to generate powerful emotions which can lead to problems such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety. Even those in the helping professions such as therapists can experience vicarious trauma symptoms just from chronic exposure to the horrible stories of others.
Most recently, social media has been swarmed by images and videos of terrifying acts being committed to people in Israel and the middle east. Graphics and news articles related to politics, climate change, and various other forms of conflict and suffering flood our feeds. Not too long ago, the term “doom scrolling” was coined referring to the mindless scrolling through negative media, reading one story after another.
The Magnification of Negative Events:
Due to the algorithms driving most social media platforms and news websites, negative or sensational stories often get amplified. This can create a skewed perspective of reality, heightening anxiety and distress.
Comparative Distress on Social Media:
On platforms like Instagram and Facebook, seeing curated snippets of others’ lives can sometimes amplify feelings of inadequacy, especially for trauma survivors who might feel isolated or different from their peers. Most people really only post the best-looking pictures of themselves (taken at their favorite angles, of course), and only pictures of their best days on vacations in exotic lands. This causes people to mistakenly feel insecure as they perceive their own lives to be boring and lifeless.
Protecting Your Mental Health: Steps to Limit Exposure
1. Curate Your Feed: Customize your social media feed to align with positive influences and accounts that uplift you. Mute or unfollow accounts or news outlets that consistently post distressing content. Many platforms now offer tools that allow you to hide or limit exposure to certain content. Familiarize yourself with these to enhance your online experience.
2. Set Boundaries: Designate certain times of the day as “no social media” or “no news” hours. This might be the first thing in the morning, ensuring you start your day on a positive note, or before bedtime to guarantee undisturbed sleep.
3. Engage in Digital Detoxes: Designate a day a week or even an entire weekend where you disconnect from social media and news websites. Instead, spend this time indulging in hobbies, nature, or quality time with loved ones. Being outdoors and active are great ways to create serenity and reverse the impact that media has on our brains and nervous systems.
4. Seek Support: If certain content triggers distressing emotions, don’t hesitate to seek support. This could be through talking to friends, joining support groups, or seeking professional therapy.
5. Stay Grounded: When confronted with distressing information, practice grounding techniques. This can be deep breathing, meditation, or tactile methods like holding onto an object and focusing on its texture. Your therapist can teach you skills you can use to bring your distress level down and allow more room in your emotional threshold. Sometimes, some core foundational work needs to be done in learning how to identify and become “in touch” with your emotions in the first place.
While the digital age has opened up a world of information at our fingertips, it’s crucial to consume content judiciously, especially when grappling with trauma. Recognizing the potential pitfalls of unbridled exposure and taking proactive measures can be key to preserving mental health in today’s tumultuous digital landscape. Remember, it’s not just about staying informed; it’s about staying balanced.