National Post (National Edition)

Put limits on trauma

How to stop the news taking over in lockdown


Lockdown and the uncertaint­y about when it will end have kept us glued to news bulletins. Although these bulletins keep us up to date, they come with a price — accounts of suffering, together with mind-boggling figures of deaths and hospital admissions, remind us constantly of how enormous everyone's distress is.

What is the continual barrage of misery doing to us and how can we cope with this aspect of the pandemic?

Ted Bober and Cheryl Regehr at the University of Toronto asked 259 therapists to fill in a trauma questionna­ire and log the time they spent listening to traumatize­d patients. The more hours they spent listening to sufferers, the higher was their own trauma score. Fiona Cocker at Monash University and Nerida Joss at the University of Melbourne reviewed studies of health-care, emergency and community service workers. The more severe the trauma carers witnessed, the greater was their own distress.

Is it worse to endure a physical trauma yourself or to watch another go through it? Andreas Nordstrand at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology recruited 4,053 Norwegian soldiers who had been exposed to different types of trauma while serving in Afghanista­n. He divided the soldiers' experience­s into danger-based — for example, being shot at or ambushed — and non-danger-based, such as witnessing a suicide bombing or the killing of innocent civilians. Those who had experience­d events where others suffered but they themselves came to no harm reported significan­tly greater distress than the others. Nordstrand concludes: “Depression, chronic sleep disorders and anxiety were much more linked to non-danger-based stressors than having been in fear for one's life.”

How, then, can you lessen the distress you will feel when you're reminded of the suffering that's all around us? ❚ Avoid updating yourself when you're alone. J. Eric Gentry, who created a program to help those suffering from what he refers to as “compassion fatigue,” recommends talking through distressin­g encounters with like-minded others. This allows you to feel supported and helps boost resilience. And when you update, read rather than watch whenever possible. Because we rely on screens for so many social encounters right now, the line between virtual and “real” is less pronounced. That means images are more potent than ever.

❚ Learn to self-regulate. We're often unaware of how stressed we're feeling, so it's important to check in with yourself regularly. Are you tensing your arms or neck, or clenching your jaw? Learn to relax using progressiv­e relaxation or try yoga. There are many excellent clips on YouTube.

❚ Restore your sense of control by carrying out one positive act each day, however small — tidy a drawer, take a walk or contact a friend.

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