Vicarious Trauma & the Media

Vicarious trauma
Vicarious trauma, or secondary trauma, is indirect exposure to a traumatic event through a first-hand account or narrative of that event. Vicarious trauma is often used in reference to  caregivers and healing professionals, but we’re seeing more vicarious or secondary trauma reactions in the general public, from viewing violent or horrific videos online. A discussion was prompted in our last anxiety group about knowing when we’ve received enough information to stay informed about current events, and how watching the news can affect our anxiety levels. I wanted to share a few popular articles on the topic, for your reference.

What Constant Exposure To Negative News Is Doing To Our Mental Health

When bad news gets to be too much

What To Do If You Feel Traumatized By The Las Vegas Shooting

The Trauma of Violent News on the Internet

Viewing violent news on social media can cause trauma

Pay attention to how you feel emotionally and physically after you read, listen to, or watch the news. Has your anxiety increased? Do you feel hopeless, angry, defeated, or numb? These may be signs that your news habit is having a negative impact on your mental health. The following are a few symptoms of vicarious trauma:
  • Over-eating or under-eating
  • Difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep
  • Losing sleep over the event
  • Dreaming about the event or the victims
  • Diminished joy toward things you once enjoyed
  • Dealing with intrusive thoughts about the event
  • Feelings of hopelessness associated with current events/the world/the media
  • Hypersensitivity to emotionally-charged material
  • Feeling disconnected from your emotions and/or your body
  • Guilt for having more resources or opportunities than those affected by the event
  • Feeling like no matter how much you give or help, it will never be enough
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless about the future
  • Increased levels of anger, irritability, resentment, or cynicism

Small changes, like turning off your breaking news notifications or choosing to read the newspaper rather than watching a 24/7 cable news channel could make a big difference. Also, consider the time of day that you consume the media. Maybe, bedtime is not the best time to catch up on everything you missed that day, if it’s having an effect on your sleep quality. Finally, consider how much is enough. Do you get any more information by watching the same story for hours on end, or reading 20 articles about an event within the first hour it happens? Is this a healthy gathering of information or a compulsive attempt to self-soothe and control? If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by your feelings, or if they are having an effect on your family or work, it may be time to talk to someone. I recommend working with a trauma-informed therapist to receive the best care.

Terrible things have always happened, and will continue to happen. Technology allows us to have real, to-the-minute, live coverage of every horrible thing–if we choose to. However, the results of this choice can have serious health effects. Please remember, that we can feel empathy and compassion for those affected AND still continue to practice self-care by stepping away, getting fresh air, exercising, laughing, spending time with others–and all the other things that refill our cups. Personal suffering as a type of pseudo-penance for things you did not do, and events you cannot control is not helpful to anyone, especially not to yourSELF or to your loved ones.

Please take CARE of yourselves.


Hi, I’m Kara Ashley-Gilmore. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate, Art Therapist, and mixed-media artist. I provide counseling to adolescents and adults who feel crushed by the weight of their anxieties, and want to live more present lives. I often incorporate the creative process into therapy sessions, and I paint for my own self-care. I founded Mountain Creative Arts Counseling in 2014 because I love helping people re-discover their creativity and teaching them how to use it for their own wellness and healing.

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