As the global community works to contain the transmission of COVID-19 with vaccination and continuation of social distancing and other safety measures, there is still the question of how COVID-19 and our constant exposure to media coverage of the pandemic continues to impact our mental well-being. Research suggests that over-watching or over-updating ourselves with the latest news on the pandemic may be doing more harm than good.
In a recent article published in The Daily Telegraph, writer and psychologist, Linda Blair, discusses the issue of second-hand trauma, such as witnessing or hearing accounts of death and suffering across the world due to the pandemic, and how it can be damaging to our mental well-being. She cites a number of studies that suggest that secondary trauma can lead to mental health issues and even sometimes be more traumatic than experiencing a distressful or life-threatening event first-hand. One of the studies conducted at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology examined trauma experienced by thousands of Norwegian soldiers in combat and found that those soldiers who experienced non-danger-based trauma (i.e. witnessing death or someone else in danger) reported feeling more distressed than those who were in a dangerous or life-threatening situation themselves. Similarly, another study conducted at the University of Toronto found that therapists who spend a significant amount of time listening to trauma-afflicted clients reported a higher personal trauma score as well.
So, what does this mean for most of us who have spent a significant amount of time over the past year glued to our TV or smartphone screens in an effort to stay updated and make sense of what is happening around the world? Oftentimes, we may have even felt more anxious and upset after reading and watching the news, not realizing that the constant updates were taking a toll on our well-being. The first step that we can take for our mental health is to limit our exposure to the news, for instance, try to keep the updates short and up to once a day. Blair also recommends talking to others about distressing experiences, or perhaps what you have heard on the news, instead of watching or reading the news by yourself which can feel much more upsetting and isolating. Also beneficial and equally important is practicing self-care techniques such as eating healthy, getting enough sleep, establishing some form of a normal routine even in times of crisis, exercising especially outside in nature, and finding an activity, such as deep breathing, drawing, reading, or gardening, that helps you feel relaxed and uplifted.
Practicing such coping techniques will not only help us better cope with the pandemic and the barrage of negative, frightening stories that we continue to hear on the news but it can ultimately build our resilience so that we can better manage other challenging experiences in our lives.
Blair, L (2021, February 1). “Put limits on trauma – How to stop the news taking over lockdown”. The Daily Telegraph.