How to Protect Your Family from Horrific News Images – and Still Stay Informed

How to Protect Your Family from Horrific News Images – and Still Stay Informed

Arash Javanbakht, MD

Arash Javanbakht, MD

Member Since 2016

Arash Javanbakht, MD., is the director of the Stress, Trauma, and Anxiety Research Clinic (STARC; https://www.starclab.org) at Wayne State University. Dr Javanbakht and his work have been featured on the National Geographic, The Atlantic, CNN, Aljazeera, NPR, Washington Post, Smithsonian, PBS, American Psychiatric Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and tens of other media. His clinical and research work is mainly focused on anxiety and trauma related disorders, and PTSD. He often helps civilians and first responders with PTSD. His clinic utilizes pharmacotherapy (medication), psychotherapy, exercise, and lifestyle modification to help patients achieve their full capacity for a fulfilling life. Several research studies at the STARC examine the impact of exposure to war trauma in adults and children Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and biological and psychological factors of risk and resilience, and use of art, dance and movement therapies in helping refugee families. STARC also works on utilization of augmented reality and telemedicine for vivo treatment for anxiety disorders and PTSD.

Dr. Javanbakht and ADAA

 “I was introduced to ADAA through my mentor Dr James Abelson, a longtime member, during my residency. The reason was my passion for research and also clinical work in anxiety and trauma.”

“I love the friendly environment and seeing the same nice faces each year. Also, the balanced combination of basic science and clinical research, and clinical expertise. As a clinician researcher, there are not a lot of venues where I could get such exposure to both my clinical and basic science research passions.”

“I love the ADAA annual meetings and look very much forward to them for the above reasons. I have met brilliant researchers and clinicians at the ADAA, and some have turned to great clinical and research collaborators, and good friends. I also check the website and webinars. Also, as I write for the media a lot, ADAA has kindly been sharing my work with those interested.”

“I recently received the news from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that an R01 application to follow a cohort of traumatized Syrian refugee children in the US and their parents, to examine the illness course, and its epigenetic, autonomic, and environmental correlates. Drs. Tanja Jovanovic, Nicole Nugent, Alicia Smith, and David Rosenberg are the great collaborators on this project. I have also been using augmented reality combined with telemedicine for treatment of phobias with great success in a pilot study of fear of spiders. This data was presented at the ADAA last year in a symposium. We are advancing to fear of dogs and humans. I also often write public education pieces for the media, which can be seen on my lab website, and ADAA generously shares those with the members. https://www.starclab.org/media."

How to Protect Your Family from Horrific News Images – and Still Stay Informed

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How to protect your family from horrific news images – and still stay informed
 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a bitter reminder that there is no end to the horrific suffering that humans are sometimes willing to inflict on others.

Over the past several years, a seemingly endless stream of painful stories and images coming out of Syria, Yemen and now Ukraine – as well as mass shootings in the U.S. – have become a regular part of our daily life. With each passing day of the ongoing war in Ukraine and the gruesome news that it brings, many of us find ourselves checking the news the minute we wake up and last thing before going to bed.

Unlike some prior conflicts in other parts of the world, the inhumane actions of the Russian military in Ukraine have been very well publicized. Ukrainian citizens, the media and social media posts have done an excellent job of documenting images and videos of the war in Ukraine.

So by now, many of us have seen unforgettable images and videos of dead bodies, tortured civilians, burnt cars and destroyed buildings, repeatedly. This exposure often might even be unintentional; for instance, as we are scrolling through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram posts, we might come across a post conveying a very raw and painful story about the suffering of Ukrainian citizens.

I am a trauma psychiatrist and researcher who works with refugees, survivors of torture and human trafficking and first responders. In my work, I hear detailed stories of suffering from my patients that are painful to be privy to and that can have a negative impact on me and my colleagues. Through these experiences and my training, I have learned ways to protect myself from too much emotional impact while staying informed and helping my patients.

How images of disaster affect us

A wide body of evidence has shown that trauma affects not only those who suffer through it; it also affects other people who are exposed to the suffering in other ways. This is in part because humans are empathetic and social beings. Indirect and vicarious exposure to trauma often occurs in the lives of first responders, refugees, journalists and others, even when they do not directly experience the trauma themselves.

One means of exposure is through the news, especially when it is visual, animated and highly relatable. Previous studies have shown that exposure to news of terrorist attacks such as 9/11 could cause a wide range of emotional reactions, from symptoms of PTSD to depression and anxiety, in both adults and children.

Another risk of continuous exposure to horrible images is desensitization and numbing. This means some viewers might get too used to such images, seeing them as a new normal and being undisturbed by them.

How to protect yourself

Here are some practical tips on how to stay informed while minimizing harm:

– Limit the exposure: When I work with heavily traumatized patients, I collect the information I need to help the person, but I do not urge them to tell me more. In the same way, people can take in news in limited ways. In other words, learn what’s happening, then stop there. Avoid the urge for disaster voyeurism. If you have heard the story, you might not need to search for the images or the videos; if you have seen them, there is no need to revisit them over and over.

Studies have shown that exposure to media coverage following a collective trauma for several hours daily can lead to stress. So check the news a couple of times a day to be informed, but don’t continue seeking out coverage. The news cycle tends to report the same stories without much additional information.

– Limit the emotional intensity: The media’s mission is to inform the public about what is happening, but the nature of that storytelling can mean that disastrous news gets delivered in a highly emotional way. Reading the news can protect you somewhat from the emotionally charged nature of television or radio coverage. If you choose to tune in to television or radio, choose a reporter or anchor who presents information in a fact-based and less emotional way.

– Do not be lured into hours of scrolling through the same painful images from multiple different angles. Your emotional suffering will not reduce the victims’ suffering. I say this because some people might feel if they do not continue to follow the exposure, they are being insensitive or uninformed.

– Take regular time away from tuning in: If you have a strong urge to follow the news, at least give yourself several-hour breaks in between.

– Do not ignore or avoid other more positive news: Continuous exclusive exposure to disaster-based news will distort your perception.

– Know your limits: Some people are more sensitive and vulnerable than others to being affected by what they’re hearing or seeing.

– When you feel the negative impact, anxiety or sadness, reflect on it and know that this is a normal human reaction to other humans’ suffering. Then take respite in activities that can fully absorb your attention and emotionally recharge you. For me that outlet is high-intensity exercise.

– Talk to others: If affected, you can talk to loved ones and learn from others how they cope. If needed, seek professional help.

How to protect children

Children also often get exposed to such news and images, which could have negative effects on them. For younger children, repeated exposure to the news or to disturbing images might create an illusion that the event keeps repeating.

Here are some tips for limiting impact on children:

– Be mindful to not express overly charged negative emotions in front of children, who learn how safe or dangerous the world around them is largely from adults.

– Limit children’s exposure based on their age.

– When children are exposed to scary or upsetting news, talk to them about it in an age-appropriate way and explain what is happening in understandable language.

– Remind children that they are safe. For younger children, it might be important to remind them that these sad events are not happening where they live.

– Do not avoid their questions, but rather use them as an age-appropriate educational opportunity.

– If needed, seek professional help.

We can also reduce the negative impact on ourselves through helping others, especially those affected by these calamities. When I feel affected by the traumatic experiences of my patients, remembering that the end goal is helping them and reducing their suffering helps me process my feelings. Sadness, anxiety, anger and frustration can be channeled into actions such as attending fundraising activities and volunteering to help the victims. This can even be a family activity that teaches children a mature and altruistic response to others’ suffering.

[Over 150,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletters to understand the world. Sign up today.]The Conversation

Arash Javanbakht, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Wayne State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Arash Javanbakht, MD

Arash Javanbakht, MD

Member Since 2016

Arash Javanbakht, MD., is the director of the Stress, Trauma, and Anxiety Research Clinic (STARC; https://www.starclab.org) at Wayne State University. Dr Javanbakht and his work have been featured on the National Geographic, The Atlantic, CNN, Aljazeera, NPR, Washington Post, Smithsonian, PBS, American Psychiatric Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and tens of other media. His clinical and research work is mainly focused on anxiety and trauma related disorders, and PTSD. He often helps civilians and first responders with PTSD. His clinic utilizes pharmacotherapy (medication), psychotherapy, exercise, and lifestyle modification to help patients achieve their full capacity for a fulfilling life. Several research studies at the STARC examine the impact of exposure to war trauma in adults and children Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and biological and psychological factors of risk and resilience, and use of art, dance and movement therapies in helping refugee families. STARC also works on utilization of augmented reality and telemedicine for vivo treatment for anxiety disorders and PTSD.

Dr. Javanbakht and ADAA

 “I was introduced to ADAA through my mentor Dr James Abelson, a longtime member, during my residency. The reason was my passion for research and also clinical work in anxiety and trauma.”

“I love the friendly environment and seeing the same nice faces each year. Also, the balanced combination of basic science and clinical research, and clinical expertise. As a clinician researcher, there are not a lot of venues where I could get such exposure to both my clinical and basic science research passions.”

“I love the ADAA annual meetings and look very much forward to them for the above reasons. I have met brilliant researchers and clinicians at the ADAA, and some have turned to great clinical and research collaborators, and good friends. I also check the website and webinars. Also, as I write for the media a lot, ADAA has kindly been sharing my work with those interested.”

“I recently received the news from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that an R01 application to follow a cohort of traumatized Syrian refugee children in the US and their parents, to examine the illness course, and its epigenetic, autonomic, and environmental correlates. Drs. Tanja Jovanovic, Nicole Nugent, Alicia Smith, and David Rosenberg are the great collaborators on this project. I have also been using augmented reality combined with telemedicine for treatment of phobias with great success in a pilot study of fear of spiders. This data was presented at the ADAA last year in a symposium. We are advancing to fear of dogs and humans. I also often write public education pieces for the media, which can be seen on my lab website, and ADAA generously shares those with the members. https://www.starclab.org/media."

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