How to protect your psyche while watching the news? Advice from a psychotherapist
Negative emotions and depressive states affect almost every person in one way or another during a war. Anyone who watches the horrific images of missile attacks and their aftermath may feel witness guilt or suffer from what is known as witness trauma. You are not directly involved in the combat operations, but even watching such scenes has an impact on the psyche. In this case, guilt is a normal state, says psychologist and psychotherapist Volodymyr Voloshyn. Guilt syndrome is also an understanding of the inability to influence the horror that is happening around us. In an interview for the Dovidka.info project, the expert gave effective recommendations on how to protect the psyche from going crazy watching the news and how to cope with negative emotions.
What is witness trauma? How to recognise it in yourself?
This concept, introduced in 1995, was more about people whose professions are related to helping people who have experienced trauma. These could be psychologists, employees of the State Emergency Service, police, etc. That is, people who help traumatised people and are not directly involved in this traumatic event, but who help.
This trauma can manifest itself in difficulties in managing emotions, and emotional states can swing up and down. It is difficult for people to cope with these emotions. It can be a feeling of numbness or fatigue, drowsiness. It can be various physical complaints, chronic illnesses and pain that doesn’t go away.
People in such a state easily switch their attention to some external irritants, and this can also lead to the risk of various accidents.
In addition, witness trauma can be manifested by a loss of meaning in life. There may be obvious problems in relationships with people, with family, friends, colleagues, and excessive anxiety about potential dangers in the world. A person becomes irritated by phenomena that didn’t irritate them before, to which they reacted calmly. And now these phenomena can lead to a certain emotional explosion. And, accordingly, this can also lead to the development of deeper disorders, such as PTSD, depression, etc.
Can watching horrific content cause trauma?
If a person constantly watches various traumatic events on the Internet or on television, this can also lead to trauma.
Horrific images of war are all over the web. How to cope with these emotions?
First of all, you need to take care of yourself. If you are going through something, you need to share these feelings with someone, not withdraw into yourself, but try to share them with someone. It can be one of your friends. There are many different telephone hotlines where you can get a consultation. You can go to a psychologist, a psychotherapist.
You need to take care of your health. You need to have a normal diet, normal sleep. In other words, you need to do general things that will improve your well-being. It is worth increasing your rest time, having some physical activity, that is, not sitting in one place. Because when we are experiencing some kind of stress (and watching traumatic material is quite an intense stress), we definitely need to be physically active. If we don’t do this, then it will be much harder for us to experience it.
Bloody images come to mind again and again. How can you shift your focus at least a little?
This may be a case of intrusive memories. How can we switch from them? Find yourself a certain job, find yourself a certain favourite activity. You can do some psychotherapeutic techniques that we, psychologists, psychotherapists, teach people that help us all get rid of this.
For example, you can imagine that you take this obsessive thought and turn it into a book, a file or a notebook, put it in a safe and close the safe. You can imagine that you are sitting at a bus stop, a trolleybus is approaching, and this thought of yours gets into the trolleybus and leaves.
But please note that if you have such signs and symptoms, it would be good to seek help from a specialist. Especially since today there is a lot of this help, it is available to everyone, it is available in person or online, and you can get professional help that will improve your condition.
You put yourself or your family in the victim’s shoes and you become anxious. How can you distance yourself?
It would be good if you could be in contact with the person who has suffered. It is very important for a person’s psyche to have contact with their loved ones. It is very important that you clearly assess the situation. Think about how you can be useful, what can you do in this particular situation? For example, if a person needs to be treated, you need to make arrangements with the hospital, so think in advance step by step what you should do if this happens.
When you have such experiences, it would be good for you to find some activity that will give you a sense of control. Meaning, write down a certain algorithm for yourself, what you can really do now and what will be useful, and what is within your control.
How not to feel guilty for not being able to influence the horror that is happening around us?
Quite often, when a person is experiencing an intense stressful situation (and watching these horrific videos is an intense stressful situation), a feeling of guilt can arise. But we need to clearly analyse and realise that there are certain things that we have influence over, and there are things that we have no influence over. It is very important to understand that sometimes in our lives we find ourselves in a situation that we would not want anyone to be in. But this situation has already happened, and with this in mind, we need to analyse what we can do in the future, what good can we do, what useful things can we do?
We can’t be responsible for everything that happens around us, because we have no influence on it.
A person is responsible when we know in advance what is happening and we do nothing to prevent it. And what is happening in our country today is beyond our control, beyond our influence.
How to get rid of accumulated negative emotions?
We can, for example, focus on this feeling, take a piece of paper, take a few coloured pencils and draw whatever we want on the paper. It can be a doodle, it doesn’t have to be a drawing for an exhibition. This way you bring what you are experiencing out into the open.
You can talk it out. Take a cup or a glass, for example, and say everything you think into that cup. Or you can take a piece of paper and write out all these experiences on paper. And crumple the paper and throw it at the wall. Then smooth it out again, crumple it up again, and throw it again.
The main task is to bring what you are experiencing outside, so that it doesn’t remain inside you.
What should be avoided to prevent witness trauma?
Reduce your viewing of content with various traumatic material as much as possible. The less you interact with it, the lower the risk of witness trauma. If you and your family are constantly watching different news, different materials like this, then it is better to agree that one of the family members will do it. For example, today the husband watches the news, tomorrow the wife, and the day after tomorrow the daughter. And they pass it on to their family members. Then we will reduce the load that can lead to this disorder.
Next, you need to do basic things to keep your physical body and your psyche in optimal condition. This means a healthy diet, reducing the amount of various stimulants we consume, such as coffee or cigarettes. In addition, you need to get enough sleep.
Physical exercises, meditation, and body practices will help to distance ourselves from traumatic events.