In the technology-driven world we live in, we no longer have to find the news because the news finds us. We each have unique identities, backgrounds, values, and perhaps trauma histories that shape our worldviews. While it’s important to be conscious of the world around us, it’s important to set boundaries when faced with difficult content. This post explores my thoughts on coping with triggering events in the news for people of Color (PoC), especially those in the Black community
Side note: the adjective “triggering” refers to something that’s read, seen, or heard and causes emotional distress, typically as a result of highlighting emotions or memories associated with a traumatic experience.
For people of Color, and especially Black people, acknowledge the potential challenge of processing racial events in the news.
This post was inspired by the horrific normalization of Black people being murdered by White police officers in the United States. Seeing these events on the news can be triggering for Black people as well as other non-Black people of Color. Seeing the horrific products of systemic racism deeply embedded within our nation can be re-traumatizing. These events shed light on the social injustices that Black people and other communities of Color often experience though rarely spoken about. Pay attention to how you may react to racial events in the news. Take care of yourself and seek support when you need it.
Be mindful of your capacity to discuss a subject, and set boundaries when necessary.
While it’s important to educate ourselves on the state of the world and sometimes consume difficult content, it’s critical that we remain conscious of our emotional boundaries. If you feel that discussing a certain topic is too stressful, it’s okay to leave the conversation. You can passionately care about a topic and still need a break from it at times. If you’re unsure of what to say in these moments, try something along the lines of “I care about this topic and our conversation. Right now I need to take a break because I’m feeling overwhelmed.”
Understand the role of vicarious trauma.
Vicarious trauma is a state of preoccupation and anxiety with the stories of trauma described by others. Watching or reading about events on the news can be incredibly graphic and overexposure may make one more vulnerable to this. If the stories involve trauma that one has experienced in the past, or involves one’s own ethnic or cultural community, the emotional connection can feel much more personal. Someone coping with vicarious trauma may avoid thinking or talking about the content and/or be in a constantly activated state. Symptoms of vicarious trauma can be both mental (e.g., anxiety, detachment, hopelessness, etc.) and behavoral (exhaustion, self-isolation, insomnia, etc.).
Notice how specific news sources affect you.
We live in a time that offers multiple options for accessing the news, each posing different challenges. For example, watching the news on TV with family or friends offers a different experience than scrolling through a news app on your phone. When we consume news in the company of others, the experience can become collective opposed to individual. These experiences can pose challenges like having to manage your reactions in the presence of others and possibly asserting your opinions when faced with upsetting reactions from others. Conversely, engaging with the news on your own (e.g., news apps, radio, etc.) allows you privacy to process your emotions though it may foster self-isolation when coping with difficult content.
Set a time limit for engaging with the news.
Have you ever gone down a rabbit hole with the news? You’re not alone. Setting a clear time limit can help you practice emotional boundaries. Also consider the time of day that you engage with the news. For example, be mindful that consuming it first thing in the morning may set the tone for the rest of your day, or consuming it right before bed may disturb your sleep patterns. You can set a timer on your phone to help hold you accountable when scrolling through various web articles and social media posts. By limiting your consumption you can promote self-care and prevent compassion fatigue.
Find a supportive community with shared values.
Being connected with a community of like-minded people can help you support causes you care about and can provide a healthy outlet to turn to when overwhelmed. When we feel stressed by the state of the world around us, it can be easy to retreat within ourselves and allow our difficult emotions to compound without releasing them. The next time you feel emotionally depleted by the news, challenge yourself to reach out to someone you can trust. Whether you choose process your emotions or simply talk about something unrelated help you feel more calm, social connection in these stressful moments can be powerful.
Check in with yourself — how are you feeling in this moment?
Before and after you consume the news, ask yourself how you’re feeling. Are you sad? Frustrated? Relieved? Becoming more aware of your inner experience can help you set emotional boundaries and understand your mental, emotional, and physiological reactions. For example, when you feel triggered by an event in the news you might experience both emotional reactions (e.g., anxiety, sadness, stress, etc.) and physiological reactions (e.g., increased heart rate, restlessness, sweating, etc.). Sometimes we continue to subject ourselves to stressors because we lack awareness of our reactions and the need to care for ourselves in the moment.
Create a self-care plan you can rely on.
Self-care is essential! Without it, we’re left fatigued and unable to wholeheartedly advocate for what we care about. Craft your self-care around activities that require minimal effort. Here are some ideas:
- Take 60 seconds for deep belly breathing, either on your own or with a visual.
- Create a self-care playlist with relaxing, feel-good songs that relax you.
- Write down what you’re thinking and feeling in the moment — externalize it.
- Call a friend to process your emotions or just chat about something unrelated.
- Go for a technology-free walk while you pay attention to your breathing.
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation to release tension carried in your body.
Setting emotional boundaries around the news and practicing self care does not mean you don’t care about the issues at hand. It does not mean you’re a bad person. You’re human and it’s important you rest your mind, body, and soul. When you honor your limits and allow yourself to emotionally recharge, you’re able to be your best self for yourself and for others.