A Trauma Recovery Expert Lists 6 Gentle Ways To Protect Your Psyche When the Headlines Hurt

Updated: Oct. 12, 2023

It's so tempting to dive into the details—but a trauma specialist invites you to take a breath before you actively engage in consuming media that's painful on a personal level.

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The images coming out of the Middle East since this past weekend show the horrifying realities of political, geographic, and religious conflict driven by terrorism.

For some Americans, this war is being felt in a deeply powerful way. For others, chances are good you know someone who is touched personally by these events…and in either case, knowing what’s happening as we passively receive updates can feel devastating.

Says Arianna Galligher, LISW, a licensed social worker who serves as the associate director of the STAR Trauma Recovery Center with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center says exposure to these traumatic images can also lead to a particular sense of hopelessness that many psychotherapy professionals refer to as “moral injury.” Galligher explains: “When a person reads about or witnesses unprovoked and devastating violence, it can alter their beliefs about whether the world we live in is ‘just.’”

Because that question has a way of looming as a dark cloud, Galligher shared strategies she recommends as a trauma recovery clinician to protect yourself from too much painful consumption and stick to headline-reading that’s healthy.

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Practice self-compassion

It’s natural to have an emotional response to events like these. You can stay informed without constantly checking the news for updates. Set limits with yourself around how often and for how long you scan for new information each day.

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Think before you click

Take a beat when you feel the compulsion to read a news notification: Reading or watching it might make you feel something, but it might not make you feel good.

Galligher suggests skimming headlines if it’s important for you to stay up-to-date, instead of being overwhelmed with constant content—especially in the form of video, which can really hurt for many of us to watch.

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Focus on what you can do

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by how huge the problem is. Is there something practical and tangible you can do to be helpful, even if it’s a very small thing? It’s OK if it’s not directly related to the conflict, like taking a moment to be present and show kindness to someone who depends on you in some way. Try to narrow your focus by concentrating energy on things you have the ability to influence or control.

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Implement gentle structure

Difficult news can disorient you, crash your usual priorities, and make you feel scattered—and all this can lead to self-judgment on top of all the other emotions you’re feeling.

Galligher suggests you adhere to some gentle structure to help you organize your day. As part of that, build in breaks to step away from high-pressure tasks, have some quiet, and get some air.

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Seek out community

Spend time with others. The pandemic made most of us more self-reliant, but in stressful times it’s important to get out, connect, and have a helpful reminder that you’re not alone—whether that’s attending a prayer service, heading to the dog park, dropping in to clean up the local community garden, or just allowing an extra couple minutes to have a pleasant exchange with a neighbor when you’re out on a walk.

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Feel your feelings

The saying “It’s OK not to be OK” didn’t turn suddenly popular for no reason. Let yourself process through what you feel. Be cautious not to over-indulge in substance use or other activities that you might gravitate toward in an effort to numb the pain. Galligher says avoidance of emotions only prolongs distress.