Nine eleven plus twenty: Do You Need to Turn OFF the News, Again?
Twenty years ago when the World Trade Towers were attacked by terrorists in New York City,
multitudes of people were profoundly impacted by the events there and in Washington, DC and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Subsequent to these events, numerous people became obsessed with watching the news. For many turning on the news became a compulsion to see if any other “epic” events might be occurring. While this was understandable given the shocking news of that time, it had unintended consequences for people who thought they were just being smart in staying up on the news. Kathryn (Kathy) Dardeck, Ed.D., observed that many of these people developed what’s called vicarious traumatization, which is similar to having the symptoms of acute and post traumatic stress disorder. Such symptoms include but are not limited to involuntary reliving of the traumatic images, nightmares, heightened anxiety, depression, trouble falling and staying asleep, increased self-medication, irritability, and loss of pleasure in activities that formerly were pleasurable.
Kathryn Dardeck, a psychologist and long-time trained responder deployed to disaster & terrorist sites by critical incident stress management teams within the fire services recalls treating many persons in the weeks and months following the events of September 11, 2001 for symptoms of anxiety and depression. Dardeck described that many such persons were feeling distressed, upset, worried, depressed, anxious following reading accounts of the terrorism in newspapers and on the Internet, and watching the news on television and the Internet almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This total saturation of highly distressing information basically stimulated and fed worries and negative thinking, observed Kathryn Dardeck.
While cable news shows especially, are known to be “All Trauma, ALL the Time” in order to “sell” their news product, viewers need to be aware that the big stories of the day are repeated over and over again. This is also true, although to a lesser extent, on local news shows. Repeatedly watching the images of any traumatic event runs the risk of having the images become imprinted in the brain which can result in the brain’s unwanted and involuntary “replaying” of such images, causing a great deal of unnecessary distress in people.
With the upcoming twenty-year anniversary of 9–11, and the recent United States withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the ground is once again ripe for newspaper, Internet and television news to blitz cyberspace, newsprint and the television airwaves with traumatic images from both September 11, 2001 as well as the war in Afghanistan. Kathryn (Kathy) Dardeck advises people to size down their watching of the news to perhaps one viewing a night that summarizes the news of that day as a way to avoid a repeat of the vicarious traumatization that occurred in large numbers twenty years ago. Continuous watching will not provide any significant new information. It will, however, re-expose you to the same stories which in susceptible individuals may trigger increased anxiety and distressing thoughts. Dardeck also advises adding in or even substituting lighter viewing such as situation comedies to give your brain a rest from all the negative thoughts and trauma. Be in charge of your thoughts!