“When news of the truck killings in Nice, France, broke last week, I started seeing variations of the same sentiment on Twitter and Facebook: Is this the worst year ever, or what? (“Dear 2016,” one meme asked. “Y U No End Soon?”) Terror attacks, Zika, Brexit, police shootings, Syria, Trump, record-hot temperatures, the losses of Prince and David Bowie—this has been one unrelenting turn around the calendar. Have terrifying events truly piled up on each other in 2016, in a way they didn’t in any other year in human history? Or is it impossible to judge the awfulness of a year while it’s still unfolding? Do we just notice negative happenings more these days because of our high levels of connectivity?”
“We can all be affected by vicarious trauma. That is the “one step removed” trauma that didn’t actually happen to us directly, but which still impacts us nonetheless. Obviously, for the victims’ friends and relatives the effects are acute, but for onlookers (also from the news, social media and the press) these events have a profound cumulative effect … This is registered in the emotional, or limbic, part of our brain, and we then try to give it a narrative story with which to file it away. The problem is that our mental filing cabinets are already overflowing with traumatic stories.”
Set boundaries around the amount and the type of media you consume
- Set time limits for certain websites.
- Set limits on which sites you visit.
- Choose not to read comments sections.
- Leave or turn off social media at the first signs of being overwhelmed.
Set boundaries around who or what shows up in your various feeds
- Turn off auto-play on videos on Facebook.
- Choose to curate your news feed by unfollowing people who only post things that add to the negativity.
- Follow users who post things that engage your passions and joys.
Set boundaries around how you engage in conversations online
- Avoid engaging in or with communities characterized by anger. It is so easy to become defensive and to engage in angry comment threads online, but this often only instigates further arguments.
Set boundaries around what and how you share information with others
- If you are going to share information about traumatic or negative events, consider the ‘audience’ of your social media platform and try to share things in a way which will not traumatize them.
- Don’t repost only videos, in case others have not turned off auto-play. Instead think about linking to a news article, so that people have a choice about what they expose themselves to.
Develop self-care practices for when vicarious trauma does happen
- Begin to see if you can determine what type of reaction you are having to the negative media. Some potential common reactions would be anxiety, sorrow, frustration, anger, helplessness, apathy, compassion fatigue, and trauma. Once you have narrowed down how things are affecting you, you can begin to seek out ways to care for yourself in the wake of them.
- Below are some self-care strategies colleagues have shared with me which they employ in their own lives. These strategies can be use as jumping off points to brainstorm what will be helpful and nourishing for you:
- Reciting lament psalms
- Go for walks
- Read fiction/poetry
- Seek out friendships to talk, vent, cry, etc.
- Create things that are beautiful, ‘even if it’s just a hand towel’
- Listen to music
- Look to create beauty through artistic pursuits
- Shut off social media during certain times of the day/week/month as a Sabbath.
- Reciting lament psalms
It is my hope that these suggestions for developing your own boundaries and self-care rituals surrounding social media use will be useful to you, and that you may be able to take steps to increase the health of your online life and reduce your exposure to vicarious trauma.
* Learn more about congregational care practices on the ICTG Training page. Here, you will find dozens of resources, including the ICTG Congregational Assessment Guide, seminars on becoming trauma-informed, modules, forums, and more!