Information overload – digesting tragedy in the digital age (PART ONE)

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By most accounts I don’t watch much television, however, I confess that I am a captive audience to the series “Lost”; a cryptic storyline essentially following the disappearance of a commercial airliner and its passengers in the South Pacific. A steady diet of fascinating plot and entertainment.  Fictional.  Ironic.

They say life imitates art, but the vanishing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on March 8 is pure tragedy. And much like the events at Sandy Hook Elementary school before it, and 9/11 before that, we become the captive audience spellbound by widespread theorizing, speculation, and the maelstrom of news and media around these incidents.

Information overload

Gone is exclusive dependence on newspaper or television to satiate our curiosity and inform.   Permutations in technology and the internet have diversified our accessibility, declaring themselves as the preferred voices of the daily news machine. Human nature has us bewitched by social media like Facebook and Twitter, riveting us to our computers and our mobile devices. Where there was once reliance on tomorrow’s newspaper or the next broadcast for updates, imposing both time and opportunity to digest information, accessibility has us now overstimulated and engrossed. News reaches us in real time as events unfold. The wide availability of video newscasts commissions every gory detail and sound of human catastrophe.

One may argue that we are removed with our TV or iPhone delivering only two-dimensional information. This is naïve thinking. Trauma leaves its imprint upon us as we are bombarded with the shocking imagery, sounds, and tales that are woven through the media….. repeatedly, and constantly.  Among mental health circles it’s referred to as ‘secondary traumatization’, and it can be caused by simply watching the news or rubbernecking by the scene of an accident.

Children are at an even greater risk

As adults we can become emotionally attached to the story unfolding but have the logical ability to individuate from the situation to some protective extent. Children are far more vulnerable, however, as they lack the developmental knowledge and experience to put tragedy into perspective. Instead, what they witness or overhear can be misconstrued; repeated imagery of the plane crashing into Tower 1 at 9/11 is perceived as a series of planes crashing into numerous buildings. Children witnessing disturbing events abroad may perceive it is taking place close to home and believe that they are themselves in immediate danger.  Adults/parents must be involved in monitoring what their children are exposed to or accessing. Be prepared to provide honest and clear communication in terms that children can understand. Sheltering children only elevates the mystery and fear and generally causes children to speculate with a greater sense of fear or anxiety.

What are the dangers of stress overload? How can you prevent this from happening to you and your family? Please join us for part two as we examine the very real symptoms of excessive stress, and discuss ways to take care of yourself and your loved ones.

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