As I watch the absolute horror and tragedy occurring to the long-suffering people of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, I have to admit something. Starting with Sept. 11, 2001 and later with Hurricane Katrina, my obsession with the media and finding details of people’s lives, losses and loves left me feeling helpless at times and emotionally depleted. I subsequently ran bereavement groups as a volunteer for families that lost loved ones on 9/11, but still have pangs of anguish for all of the victims. As a result, I have decided to limit my indirect exposure to media coverage of Haiti. I have prayed for the victims and survivors and will continue to do so. I have sent money to Yele, and in a fleeting moment of angst, considered trying to go to Haiti and assist. That’s how strong the pull is for me to stop watching and do something… anything. The generosity of money, food and water by the American people for Haiti further indicates that I am not alone in how this catastrophe has captured the public eye and heart. On a real note, cautionary lessons learned from the September 11 terrorist attacks demonstrated that “extensive television viewing was associated with stress reactions” in some and that television viewing of trauma can be upsetting to most. However, there are some depressed and distressed folks who may choose to watch disaster-related news ( you know who you are). The good news is that feeling upset or sad after viewing the news can indicate that you are compassionate, and have the capacity for empathy. A warning sign can be if you find your home-life or work functioning impaired by an intense preoccupation with the traumatic event. Here are some do’s/don’t to help you self-manage media over-exposure. Do: Pay attention to your mood, sleep and anxiety while talking about or reading/viewing negative images. Don’t: Feel guilty if you turn off the television, skip articles or avoid discussing the tragedy. Do: Understand that a history of direct exposure to trauma can be intensified by more exposures (either direct or indirect). Don’t: Be afraid to get professional help or counseling to evaluate and deal with your symptoms. Do: Give a small monetary donation, a can of food or simply your time if you feel moved to do so. A positive action can help alleviate feelings of helplessness. Don’t: Overcompensate by pledging money that you don’t have. If you find that you are overwhelmed, sad, anxious or not sleeping watching the coverage and do not have a loved one in Haiti that you are worried about…give yourself a break. Unplug and de-stress, it really is okay.
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