The following article deals with topics that may be upsetting to some readers. Those who feel overwhelmed by the negative events in the news are invited to make an appointment with Counseling Services.
In the wake of news of terrorist attacks and mass shootings across the U.S., students and a mental health professional shared how activism, avoiding isolation, and censoring out traumatizing media help them to cope with feelings of grief and fear.
Ofa Moea’i, a counselor at BYU-Hawaii with a license in clinical social work, said, “This kind of trauma is a secondary trauma. We have technology that brings things real. It’s the same principle that goes with things like reality TV. Basically we are able to relive it in detail.
“The trauma is definitely more impactful nowadays than ever before. We can talk about disasters, but even just the news of a rape or an accident on the freeway. People catch those things all the time on their cell phone cameras. We are definitely bombarded with so much visual information that our sensory intake is overwhelmed.
“The impact of the trauma then transfers to us because we really did experience it. No I wasn’t in Mexico, but I saw that building come down on those people. We literally are experiencing it, just not in person, but we might as well be because it’s just right there in front of our eyes. It’s this barrage of negativity and sorrow. It does make a difference to us.”
Moea’i said one way to be able to stay informed while avoiding feeling overwhelmed was to read news rather than watch it. “We don’t have to watch the news. You’ll find a lot of people do avoid the news. They don’t want that in their life. It is up to us whether we are going to view that or see that. We can guard ourselves.
“We can read about it. We can maybe listen to a report. But when we are taking it in auditorily and visually, that impact is much more strong than if we close our eyes to the visual. If we protect ourselves by not seeing it, we can still hear about it and have compassion and be informed. It doesn’t mean we have to traumatize ourselves by sitting there and watching it over and over again.”
Leticia Tomaz, a senior from Canada majoring in social work, talked about how she avoids news-induced anxiety. “For me, I had to stop reading the news. Every time I read it, it just brought me down. It’s good to stay informed, but in some situations I value my well being more than being aware.”
Tomaz advised, “Stay focused on the good things that are going on around us. When I stopped reading about the sad stuff, I tried to observe the good stuff. I recently read an article about someone helping the homeless. You can lose hope and start to view the world as a negative place. There are good causes, and individuals doing good all around us.”
Shine Dauphin, an alumna from South Korea with a degree in peacebuilding, said she feels the need to create peace in the world after watching videos of these deadly events. “At the same time [the victims] are human beings, so I feel emotionally sad.
“In the past I used to feel anger toward those mass shooters and I used to blame them and think, ‘Why did they do that?’ For me right now, I think it’s important to not recognize how bad those people are, but to think about what we can do to help stop those mass shootings.
“We need to figure out what we can do to help, but we as people have to deal with our own things and our own sorrows. We have our own worries and personal issues. People wonder, ‘Why do I need to care?’ We need to think about how we are the power of the world.”
Moea’i shared how to reduce exposure to emotionally taxing information while still being an informed citizen. “From a clinical standpoint … protect yourself. It’s becoming more and more our responsibility to protect ourselves from trauma.”
According to Moea’i, isolation can make it harder to heal. People struggling with stress or trauma should reach out to people in their personal life or a professional if they feel they need additional help.
She continued, “Isolating is one of the worst things we can do in any situation. When we have grief we think we are the only ones. We do believe that, but in fact it is never true. There will be someone who is experiencing something very similar to us. Gaining strength from a group will always be more healing than isolating yourself.”
Moea’i addressed how important it is to come to terms with the disappointment and hardship people are often presented with. She said, “This life is a test. It wasn’t meant to be easy. It wasn’t meant to always be peaceful. It wasn’t meant to have all the answers. We walk by faith. Sometimes we suffer and we stew on things we don’t necessarily have to.
“We have to be responsible to ourselves to help ourselves through the realities of life and what that offers us, whether it’s a hurricane, a shooting, death of a loved one, a loss of a job, these problems are on purpose to be a part of our life. We signed up for hard–who said we signed up for easy?
“We have to come to grips with imperfection. An imperfect world, imperfect children, imperfect relationships, imperfect school system, imperfect political system. Everything around us is being exposed to imperfection, and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.”
For those having a hard time accepting the fact that people commit atrocities, Moea’i advised, “These are victims, innocent victims, but they are innocent victims of a victim, and that person is a victim of a brain that’s deteriorating. Most of the time no one is going to get that far in hurting other people because they are sane.
“They are not well. So very few things can be attributed to pure evil. There are bad things all around us and brokenness all around us and brains that don’t function well. Spirits that can’t see out of the next hour because they are so distanced from the Holy Ghost or the light of Christ.”
She concluded, “We will be healed. All will be well. We have to believe that.”
Those who feel overwhelmed by the negative events in the news are invited to make an appointment with Counseling Services.