How to Avoid Being Triggered by your Newsfeed
A thoughtful post we all should read from Jordan Pickell, MCP RCC
I am a Registered Clinical Counsellor and trauma therapist who guides people to find healing after violence and abuse.
As a counsellor and someone committed to fighting hate and injustice, it feels like a moral imperative to know about what is happening in our world. And because of the internet, reading stories about violence and injustice is embedded in my daily routine. I wake up and check twitter for the latest news and opinions from people that make me think critically, usually while also making me laugh. I have zero tolerance for racist, misogynistic, or otherwise hate-based views on my newsfeed. Over the last few years, I have learned I can be intentional about creating spaces for myself that are more informative and encouraging.
We underestimate the impact that news stories about violence has on our mental and emotional well being. It can foster fear and anxiety. It can make us feel enraged and cynical and helpless. Hours or even days later, the images from these stories can play in our minds in a loop. We can feel frozen in despair. Some folks are so overwhelmed, they become numbed to the violence. We see this when people respond to a story of horrific violence by asking: “Why are you surprised?” These are trauma responses. We are witnessing hatred and violence every day. And it is traumatizing us, especially for those of us who are personally impacted based on who we are or where we come from or what we have experienced in our own lives.
Take some time to reflect on how different new stories feel in your body. Notice the thoughts and feelings that come with it. Some questions you might want to ask yourself: what do I do with knowing the details of people's suffering? What kind of news stories inspire hope and action?
I used to believe that consuming stories that include details of violence was an ethical duty. This is a harmful idea. If it (re)traumatizes us, we are less able to support ourselves and our communities. This is not a personal flaw or weakness. We are simply unable to process human suffering at this massive scale. Yes, looking away from details of hatred and injustice will not change the world, but it will allow us to be sustained in our lives and in our movements. We must fiercely protect our ability to have compassion and take action.
It can be more difficult than you might think to avoid the news. First off, the outrageous news of the day is now part of everyday conversation. There’s a saying in the media biz: if it bleeds, it leads. The news is specifically written to shock us, to draw us in. We see compelling headlines in print and on screens all around us. That being said, there are concrete steps you can take to make your spaces–online and off– more supportive of your well being and your activism.
Unfollow/ unfriend/ unsubscribe
Get that unfollow button ready! We have a lot of power to decide what and who posts on our newsfeed.
If you notice someone regularly posting news stories detailing violence without a call to action, unfollow them! Whether it is a family member or coworker, you are not obligated to connect on social media, especially if they post racist, misogynist or otherwise triggering material.
Repeat after me: I will not read the comments section. People can be particularly vicious on the internet. Just like in the news, some comments are intentionally written to enrage. Notice how these trolling comments make you feel in your body. When I read stuff like that, my inner feminist hulk comes out. I can feel stress course through my veins. It’s exhausting and unhelpful. Do not feed the trolls.
Overall though, at least in my feed, people are posting with good intentions. They want to “raise awareness” of injustice. The thing is, we are aware. We do not need videos of black people being killed to know that they are unjustly dying at the hands of police. We can stay informed without looking at explicit depictions of violence.
As you start to curate the news you consume, you will notice an improvement in your mental and emotional well being. When I recognized I could block out explicit descriptions of racist violence and sexual assault, it made a huge difference in my life. When I realized I didn’t have to tolerate people who play “devil’s advocate” on my timeline, even better.
I regularly change channels and skip over sections in articles. No shame! You can start to develop a sense of when details of violence are coming. Trigger warnings or content warnings can be helpful in deciding whether to read on.
I read an article about a woman calling out her university for their poor response to her disclosing an experience of sexual assault on campus, for example. I like to read about people using their voices and creativity to fight back against injustice. When I read articles on the creative ways she resisted, I skip the section that describes the assault in detail. I don’t need to know what exactly happened. I know she was assaulted. What I want to hear about is how she was able to survive and speak back against the university administration. That story gives me energy and hope.
Stop and ask “Is this about [insert latest story of violence here]? Because I don’t want to hear about that right now.”
People are feeling angry and helpless. They want to connect over shared feelings about violence and injustice. This is a good thing. This can mobilize people to take collective action.
The problem is when folks are so overwhelmed, they try to get rid of those uncomfortable feelings by pouring them onto you without knowing whether you are in a place to hear it.
If you are having a conversation with someone and they start telling you a story they heard on the news about how exactly agents of state are prying little kids from their mothers' arms, you can say something like, “I can’t hear about this right now. Can we talk about [the weather/reality tv/anything that feels like a safer conversation]?” It’s okay to be abrupt. The person might feel uncomfortable for a moment. This is what it looks like to set a boundary for your own well being. Maybe they will reflect on why they felt the need to tell that story right then. Remember that we are all impacted by witnessing these devastating stories of violence. It is possible that you are supporting them by interrupting their spiralling thoughts about it.
Take responsibility for what you share
We can share our thoughts and feelings with each other in a way that inspires connection and action. It is our collective responsibility to care for each other by thinking before we share. We can all be more critical of the media and messages we put out on the internet and in conversation. Are we inspiring hope and action? Or are we contributing to peoples’ hopelessness and overwhelm? While trigger warnings and content warnings are appreciated, they are not enough. Think about your purpose in sharing the pieces you put out in the world.
We can cultivate spaces that feel more energizing and hopeful. At the same time, we cannot completely avoid stories of violence. We live in a society that is unjust and triggering. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. These stories are overwhelming. It’s okay to take a break from the news. It is vitally important to our wellness and our movements that we reach out for support from therapists, friends, the community. These are trauma responses. We must do what we can to connect with each other and resist becoming numbed to injustice, to becoming stuck in an inability to act. Remember that you are a part of this larger network of people resisting violence and oppression all over the world. Those are the stories that we need to hear.