At a time when our media feeds are rife with distressing images and heartbreaking news, it is critical to learn how to shield ourselves and our children from the overwhelming emotional toll. Dr. Arash Javanbakht, a renowned trauma psychiatrist and researcher, has dedicated his career to assisting refugees, first responders, and torture and human trafficking survivors. He draws on his broad experience to help us navigate the difficult issue of combining our need to be informed with our need to maintain our mental health.
The emotional impact of global disasters
The constant flow of upsetting stories, such as the deaths of millions as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic or the continuous strife in Israel and Palestine, has a significant impact on our mental health. Dr. Javanbakht reminds us that these events touch those who observe the suffering from afar as well as those who are directly affected. This emotional connection is a natural element of being human, and it is what makes us sensitive and compassionate.
Disturbing pictures, particularly when transmitted through visual media, can elicit a wide range of emotional responses in both adults and children, ranging from PTSD symptoms to melancholy and anxiety. The possibility of desensitization is also a concern, as people may become numb to such pictures and accept them as the new normal.
Dr. Javanbakht provides practical recommendations for staying informed while reducing harm:
1. Limit your exposure: We should restrict our exposure to distressing news in the same way that he gathers necessary information from his traumatized patients without pressing for further details. Learn about what’s going on and then avoid disaster voyeurism.
2. Cut down on time spent: Excessive exposure to traumatic news has been demonstrated in studies to cause stress. Check the news a few times a day to keep informed, but avoid constant exposure because the news cycle frequently repeats itself without generating fresh ideas.
3. Choose news outlets with composure: To avoid the emotionally charged character of television or radio coverage, choose news that is given calmly instead of turning to a channel that delivers information in a highly emotional or sensational manner. Reading, rather than viewing, the news can also help you gain a more balanced viewpoint.
4. Avoid endless scrolling: Don’t get sucked into spending hours looking at the same photographs from different perspectives. Your emotional distress won’t alleviate the suffering of the victims.
5. Seek positivity: Don’t let disaster-related news cloud your judgment. Remember that there are many positive things going on in art, culture, science, technology, and sports that go unreported or don’t get as much coverage.
6. Recognize your own limits: Pay attention to your own sensitivities and vulnerabilities, as different people react differently to disturbing content.
7. Allow time for reflection: When negativity takes its toll, engage in things that fully occupy your attention and emotionally rejuvenate you. For many people, high-intensity exercise can be a helpful outlet.
8. Communicate with others: Share your feelings and coping strategies with family and friends, and seek professional assistance if necessary.
9. Be informed, not manipulated: Don’t let those who want to divide and polarize exploit your fear and fury. Keep in mind the harmonious coexistence of many populations in your country and around the world.
Safeguarding our children
Children are also subjected to upsetting news, which can have a negative impact on their well-being. Dr. Javanbakht recommends the following techniques to lessen the impact on children:
1. Be mindful: Avoid showing overly charged negative emotions in front of children, as they learn about the safety of the world from adults.
2. Age-related exposure: Children’s exposure should be limited based on their age and maturity.
3. Age-related discussion: When children hear distressing news, discuss it with them in an age-appropriate manner and explain events in simple words.
4. Reassurance: Assure children that they are safe and that these awful occurrences are not taking place in their local vicinity.
5. Encourage questions: Instead of avoiding their questions, turn them into opportunities for age-appropriate knowledge.
6. Seek expert help: If necessary, seek the assistance of a mental health expert to help your child work through tough feelings.
Transforming empathy into action
As adults, we can lessen the emotional toll by assisting people affected by these events. Dr. Javanbakht encourages us to channel our sadness, anxiety, anger, and frustration into meaningful actions, such as fundraising, volunteering to help victims, or joining in activism to seek justice. This can be a beneficial family activity for teaching youngsters to respond maturely and altruistically to the pain of others.
Dr. Arash Javanbakht’s expert guidance empowers us to safeguard ourselves and our children while continuing to make a positive influence in the face of adversity in a world filled with painful pictures and stories. We may cross the difficult terrain of modern media and global crises with resilience and compassion if we follow these tactics.