E-motion by Tamera Schreur
Have you been feeling extra stressed this week?
Maybe it’s not connected to your job, personal life or family issues.
Maybe your exposure count is too high.
We are naturally drawn to television news when disaster strikes. It is hard to turn off the vivid images of death and destruction being played over and over. There’s almost an addictive quality to it, don’t you think? Bigger screens and the advent of high definition televisions make this even truer. It's almost like being at the scene.
This week, we are bombarded with images from Japan. It’s a three-fold disaster, including an earthquake, a tsunami and nuclear plant explosions. It is a horrific tragedy, and many in our area have close connections to the region. I encourage you to take the opportunity to reach out and help.
This is also an opportunity to get informed about another threat, one far less severe than what is happening in Japan, but significant all the same. This threat is of particular concern to our children, even though we live far from Japan.
What I’m talking about is the danger of overdosing on television news. Maybe that sounds like a strange or even silly concern to you. But stay with me a few minutes and consider this: is there such a thing as too much indirect exposure to a crisis?
Simply put, the answer is YES.
Current television news is unparalleled in immediacy and scope. The whole world comes close to us through TV. In America, we invite it into the most private rooms of our homes. And we welcome it in great amounts.
Count the televisions you have in your household. Count the number of people that live in your home. Which number is higher? And now, with internet video and smart phones, we can be continuously immersed in news reports.
According to expert Jessica Hamblen, PhD, and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma report, “Research generally finds an association between watching media coverage of traumatic events and stress symptoms.”
Too much exposure to graphic images of disaster and death can be linked to stress symptoms. These include feelings of helplessness, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches, increased irritability and more.
We can become caught in a cycle of helplessness, fear and worry. Will it happen here? Will I be hurt? Will my family be separated or injured? Indirect exposure of a disaster (watching it on television) can leave scars and interfere with normal life.
Go back with me to 9/11. It’s almost ten years past, but still very fresh. I did not see the Twin Towers fall with my own eyes, and I would think few of you did either. Or did we?
If I wasn’t there, why can I close my eyes and vividly “see” the second plane hit and “see” the towers implode into massive clouds of dust? Can you do the same?
How about your kids, if they are old enough? It’s because we saw it over and over again on the television. Many children in my counseling practice showed signs of significant anxiety and stress for months and even years following the attacks. Even now, in 2011, people have flashbacks.
People with pre-existing anxiety issues, young children, and those who have experienced a similar trauma in the past are most vulnerable to being negatively impacted. Stress can be raised to a dangerous level.
I like this simple quote from Esther Sternberg, MD, a leading stress researcher and the chief of neuroendocrine immunology and behavior at the National Institute of Mental Health, “Like email and email spam, a little stress is good but too much is bad; you'll need to shut down and reboot…"
You can put some things in place to keep exposure levels safe in your household.
- Limit or stop watching television coverage of a disaster, especially in the evening before going to sleep.
- The younger your child is, the more important these limits are. No exposure is best for small children.
- Stay informed with alternative news sources like written materials or radio that do not have disturbing images replayed over and over.
- Keep routines in place and maintain healthy practices. They lower stress, energize and comfort.
- If you are a parent and allow your children to watch coverage on television, watch with them. Talk with them. Be aware of developmental differences. For example, small children may think something is happening again when they see a replay of it. Ask about their thoughts and feelings about what is happening. Answer their questions. Help them with any confusion or misunderstanding. Children thrive on predictability and security. Children will be looking for comfort and reassurance. Give these in generous amounts.
- Get professional help if stress levels become too high and/or do not go away.
- Channel your concerns into finding a way to help the victims. It is great to come together as a family, congregation, school or community to provide help.