Over the past few weeks, it seemed that any time you turned on the radio, booted up a computer, checked the news on an iPhone or looked at the TV, there was a consistent bombardment of tragic pictures and personal testimonials of horrific scenes in world news – some of which included wind-torn, devastated towns in Oklahoma.
While we want to remain informed and are drawn to this news, our own empathic values allow us to absorb the heartache of traumatic stories, which can then become entangled with the real stresses of our daily life. Visual pictures make an impression in our brains that inform our bodies how to regulate the impacts of traumatic events, regardless of them being in real time, past or remote.
In real time, we react to current traumatic situations by becoming more attentive; our pulse rate increases allowing more blood to the brain, our frontal lobe activity is elevated (required for decision making), and our bodies are ready for action. This mode is a “flight or fight” mode and is a reaction that allows for our survival.
Sometimes, an event is portrayed in the news which looks and feels real because of the emotional connection our brains make to the event. We can be triggered by sensory stimulation; a similar place, feeling, or reaction of others. Under this triggered stress, the brain can get confused and react as if the event was happening in real time. The news and images evoke stress triggers which resonate as real fears, real depression, and real hopelessness.
If you are watching the news and you feel your heart begin to race, your temperature rise and/or your pulse increase, you are experiencing a response to what you see or hear. Your resourceful brain is responding and getting ready to react.
So, what do you do? Take a break. Don’t let this physical response continue. Remind yourself that you are safe, this is not happening now. If your thoughts are telling you that you are not safe, this could be the first sign of acute stress. Share your feelings with someone else, a relative and/or a friend.
If these feelings continue and create problems in your everyday life, such as disrupt your work day, wake you up in the middle of the night, and/or cause issues within your family, then you should consider calling a professional counselor to help you learn ways to cope.
-Posted by Dawn Perez, LPC, NCC