Exploring The Link Between Media Exposure and Vicarious Trauma

School shootings. Terrorist attacks. Murder. Rape. Injustice.

Tragedy happens everywhere, but do you find yourself feeling worse after watching the nightly news or seeing an unsightly video on Facebook? Are you feeling increasingly anxious, depressed, or downright powerless over the state of the world? 

Research indicates that you’re not alone. Your emotions are not “weak” or abnormal. Today, more and more studies are examining the role of how media impacts the development of vicarious trauma.

Technology is showing no indication of slowing down. Therefore, it may be up to you to create media interaction limits for yourself. Let’s get into what you need to know.

Media Interaction and Trauma: What You Need To Know

There is no doubt that technology has changed our ability to access local or global current events. Back in the day, you used to find out about tragedies while listening to the radio or reading the newspaper. 

Today, anyone can receive moment-by-moment updates via Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook. Besides, you only need to search the name of the event on Google and you’ll discover thousands of links leading you to various news stories. 

We have more information than ever before available at our fingertips. But media overload may be causing more emotional harm than good. 

In fact, recent research on vicarious trauma examined how indirectly witnessing traumatic events can cause PTSD symptoms. In this study, researchers asked participants to quantify how often they turned to news media outlets for information related to world events. 45% of participants reported 1-3 hours per week; 30% reported 4-8 hours; 22% reported 9 or more hours. 

The results showed that nearly a quarter of the participants were significantly impacted by the media’s depiction of such events. Their stress level relates to how often they viewed the event. Therefore, the more time you spend looking at media after a tragic event, the more likely you are to have vicarious trauma symptoms.

Symptoms of Vicarious Trauma

Trauma is typically broken down into two forms: direct and indirect. Direct trauma refers to first-hand trauma that happened to you directly. Indirect trauma, on the other hand, occurred to someone else. But its aftermath still impacts you. Over time, indirect trauma can lead to secondary traumatic stress

The symptoms of vicarious trauma vary from person to person, but they may include:

  • Trouble talking about feelings
  • Feeling excessive fear, anxiety, or hopelessness about the future
  • Intense anger or irritation
  • Sleep problems
  • Appetite and weight changes
  • Diminished joy and pleasure in normal activities 
  • Concentration and focus problems
  • Issues in your relationships with loved ones
  • Increased ‘numbing’ behaviors (substance use, overeating, gambling, shopping, etc.) 

Think about the last time you read up on a tragedy online. Did you find yourself scrolling through the dark rabbit hole of news articles? Did you turn to YouTube to watch raw footage of the event?

What emotions did you have? Sadness? Frustration and anger? A sense of helplessness and powerlessness? These are all normal reactions to trauma. But when they build up over time they have a negative impact on your quality of life.

Preventing Residual, Vicarious Trauma: Is It Possible?

Most of us can’t avoid technology. And, it is not necessary. It can be healthy to stay current with what’s happening in the world. However, it is important that you are careful about how you interact with the media focused on traumatic events.

Set Limits For Yourself

You don’t need to know every detail of an incident to understand what happened. “Obsessing” on the details can lead to serious feelings of anxiety and depression. Instead of letting yourself scroll endlessly, consider protecting yourself with reasonable boundaries.

For example, maybe you can schedule a ‘news check-in’ time. For twenty minutes you can allow yourself to check the morning or evening news. When time is up, you move onto something else. Perhaps, you can avoid certain media outlets altogether. Maybe, Facebook or Youtube makes you angry because you inevitably glance through the comments. Therefore, you might consider checking out more reputable and objective sources.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is an essential component when coping with trauma. Self-care means taking your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs into consideration regularly. It means checking in with yourself and knowing your limitations. 

To be most effective, your self-care routine should be realistic and manageable. Your needs may vary depending on the day, but self-care may include:

  • Physical exercise
  • Creative expression (art, journaling, music)
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Engaging in hobbies and passions

Therapy and Trauma: What If You’re Still Struggling?

The development of vicarious trauma may be subtle. You may not realize how much you are suffering for several weeks, months, or years after first noticing symptoms. If you’ve experienced direct trauma yourself, the symptoms of vicarious trauma may be more complicated and painful.

Therapy can help you feel supported and safe in exploring your feelings. No matter the circumstances, trauma doesn’t have to define your mental health. We can work together to create an effective plan of action for your recovery. 

Begin Therapy for Vicarious Trauma in Nashville, TN

Are you feeling ready to start healing from symptoms of vicarious trauma and find healing? Follow these three easy steps to learn more about therapy at our Nashville, TN counseling office:

  1. Contact our counseling office to schedule a free 30-minute face-to-face consultation,
  2. Meet with one of our stress & trauma therapists, and
  3. Find relief from the symptoms of vicarious trauma and secondary traumatic stress.

Other Services offered at Willow Counseling in Nashville, TN

Our Nashville counseling office provides quality trauma-informed counseling to our community. Willow Counseling recognizes the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. In addition to therapy for vicarious trauma, we offer a variety of other mental health services to help you on your healing journey. This includes help for anxietytrauma and EMDR therapy, therapy for compassion fatigue, and group therapy for anxiety. Whatever the reason for bringing you into counseling, our therapists want to help. Above all, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.


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