War is hell, and we get visual reminders of that from Ukraine every day. Add in traumatic things that happen in Australia and across the world, and there are tons of images and videos that we might stumble across while trying to keep up on the news — or even while scrolling social media in an attempt to relax.
Some of these images and videos can be upsetting, but Arash Javanbakht, a professor of psychiatry who works with survivors of trauma, has noticed that people often continue to seek out traumatic images. They feel that ignoring these images would make them insensitive or uninformed — but he has some tips on handling upsetting images without feeling like you need to log off completely.
Once is enough
If you’ve seen something traumatic, you don’t need to watch it over and over again, nor do you need to seek out other angles or search out more information about what happened. “Your emotional suffering will not reduce the victims’ suffering,” Javanbakht writes for The Conversation. Instead, consider how much information you truly want or need about this subject, and stop when you have gathered it.
Along the same lines, if you speak to somebody else about what you saw, be sensitive to the fact that they might not want a full description, much less a link to the video, of the atrocities you saw.
If you see upsetting things every time you check the news or your social media feeds, consider only checking them on a schedule. You aren’t uninformed if you last read the news six hours ago; even when a story is developing quickly, you’ll be able to catch up tomorrow morning on everything that happened in the meantime.
It’s also OK and even healthy to look for positive things and enjoy whatever good news you can find. Don’t feel guilty for laughing at memes or celebrating happy things with friends; these moments are just as much a part of life as the negative ones.
Be there for your kids
If you have children, they’ll likely see some of the same things you’re seeing, and they may want to talk. Ask questions and have a conversation on whatever level they are open to. We have a guide here about how to talk to kids about current events.
At the same time, remember that kids learn from the adults around them whether they should feel safe or not. It’s OK to express your feelings, even negative ones, but pay attention to whether you’re saying more than you mean.
Consider seeking help
It’s normal and human to feel sad, angry, or anxious when we learn of others’ suffering. Even if you don’t know the people who were affected, your reaction is real and valid. Consider doing whatever relieves stress for you: maybe that’s exercise, or maybe it’s something like journaling. And if you’re dealing with a lot of stress, maybe it’s time to finally find a therapist.