Secondary Traumatic Stress
Most people are familiar with the term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and they know it typically comes from directly experiencing traumatic and/or life threatening events such as abuse, combat, natural disasters, medical emergencies, accidents, or any number of events that fall outside the scope of our normal lives. Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), also referred to as vicarious trauma, comes from indirect exposure to other people’s traumatic experiences. This is common to first responders who interact with the trauma as they try to help people, therapists who help people process through painful and upsetting experiences they have had, and even everyday people, supportive family members, or friends. One subtle venue that nearly everyone is exposed to is the media.
Can the Media Cause STS?
There is no shortage of graphic, gruesome, and difficult images and stories that we see and hear about in movies and through everyday news reports. Where secondary traumatic stress comes in is from the repeated and continuous exposure to these troubling images and stories over a period of time. In effect, there is a cumulative impact on people. This secondary traumatic stress can start to impair your functioning and affect your mental health and emotional well-being.
Symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress
Listed below are some of the signs and symptoms of secondary traumatic stress, which are broken out into different categories.
Physical Symptoms Emotional Symptoms Behavioral Symptoms
Headaches Down/Depressed Drinking more
Muscle tension Anxious Isolating/withdrawing
GI distress Irritable/Moody Avoiding others
Fatigue Frustrated/Angry Procrastination
Insomnia Guilty Distraction
Loss of appetite Hopeless/Helpless Indecisive
Low energy Feeling numb Less enjoyment
Poor concentration Resentful Cynical/Negative
These are symptoms that are common to a variety of personal and mental health issues that people can be dealing with. If you are not sure what is going on or why you might be having these symptoms it is always wise to see a healthcare professional who can help you figure out what is going on. If you are a first responder or mental health worker, you will obviously be at high risk for developing secondary traumatic stress. Often there are a variety of resources available to such workers and ideally, they are getting support from each other. If you find yourself developing an increased number of symptoms on the heels of trying to support someone going through traumatic issues, there is a good likelihood it may be secondary traumatic stress.
Can You Live with Less News?
If you think it may be the result of long-term exposure to media and news, you might consider taking a break for a couple weeks and see if your symptoms improve. In the practice of psychotherapy, I have often encouraged my clients to consider taking a break from the news, often for the simple benefit of their mental health. I routinely hear from clients who try it, that they are amazed by the results. Not only do they have a lot more time to do the things they enjoy, but they also find a weight has been lifted. Many clients report feeling freer, lighter, less anxious, more positive in general, and that they are not as negative or suspicious of others. I encourage you to try your own experiment for a week or two and see if you notice any difference in your outlook and well-being. I’m certainly not suggesting you bury your head in the sand and strive for ‘ignorance is bliss’. It can however to helpful to limit the frequency, amount, and type of news you seek out in the spirit of still being informed.
If you are interested in talking with one of our psychologists or psychiatrists to explore the possibility of secondary traumatic stress please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.
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