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

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In part one of this blog we discussed the concept of information overload and the stress that this non-stop diet of bad news can cause. What are the side effects of this kind of stress overload? How can we support ourselves and our families in the face of the never ending stream of information and media stimuli?

Long-term side effects

Various studies have examined the impact of media exposure on people following 9/11. In one such study, approximately 90% of the participants demonstrated symptoms of traumatic stress. In fact, the greater the exposure to media coverage, the greater the stress, and post-traumatic stress, exhibited by the participants. This is a normal response! Post-traumatic stress, or PTS, is the result of an individual’s response to a shocking and disturbing event, and is marked by chronic anxiety complemented by various physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms.

Common symptoms of post-traumatic stress or PTS include:

PHYSICAL

  • Physical shock
  • Disorientation
  • Immobilization/inability to move
  • Adrenaline pumps
  • Heart rate increases
  • Hyperventilation
  • Heightened sensory perception
  • Exhaustion
  • Headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Fight or flight response
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sweating
  • Changes in appetite patterns
EMOTIONAL/COGNITIVE

  • Restlessness
  • Shock
  • Disbelief
  • Crying
  • Recurring thoughts
  • Denial
  • Resentment
  • Anger  and irritability
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Confusion
  • Lack of Concentration
  • Poor attention
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Tendency to overwork
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Hyper vigilance for safety of self and others
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares
  • Flashbacks to an event

Mental health first aid

Self-regulation is possibly the single best key to preserving our mental health and reducing our potential for developing PTS. As much as I am gripped by the plot on “Lost”, possibly consumed by what the next episode holds, I am mindful to pace myself lest I fall into the land of unhealthy obsession. Of course, “Lost” is fictional television without any real impact on the world at large, but the parallel here is that self-care, taking a mental break and turning off, is a healthy choice.

If you begin to recognize signs of stress or change in yourself, consider these opportunities for improving self-care:

  • Drink plenty of water – keep hydrated
  • Eat nutritiously
  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Exercise – get outside and enjoy the fresh air, take the dog for a walk
  • Talk to significant others you trust about your concerns
  • Avoid becoming a news junkie – take a break from the news
  • Strike a balance – look for inspirational stories to share online or with others
  • Ensure you monitor what your children are watching and make yourself available to answer their questions, taking care to provide age-appropriate explanations and information to them.
  • Initiate discussion with your children. Ask them what they think, what they have heard – this opens up opportunity for honest conversation and clarification so there is no misperception.

We often feel powerless in the wake of tragedy. Taking action can help us feel more hopeful and that we can make a difference for others.

  • Volunteer with a charitable organization that is working to support the victims and their families
  • If time or geography prevents direct action, make a monetary donation to support efforts
  • Make a difference in your own community – there are always people and groups in need of your help. Volunteer some time alone or as a family.

If you feel you’re past the point of overcoming your stress on your own, seek help. Contact your EAP provider or local counselling office.

For more articles on coping with trauma and stress, be sure to visit us at www.workhealthlife.com.

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