Watching war unfold is distressing — here’s how to protect your mental health

Psychiatrist offers insights on managing emotional toll while staying informed

The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict has inundated social media feeds with distressing images and videos, leaving many feeling compelled to bear witness to the war. However, prolonged exposure to such traumatic events can have a negative impact on mental health. As a journalist who has reported on various conflicts, the author shares their personal experience of feeling irritable and anxious even when not watching the news. To understand this phenomenon, the author consults psychiatrist Arash Javanbakht, who offers insights on how to protect one’s mental wellbeing while staying informed and engaged.

Frequent exposure to traumatic events can be harmful

Javanbakht explains that prolonged exposure to graphic images and news can lead to trauma, depression, and anxiety. Studies have shown that individuals who had direct exposure to traumatic events, such as the 9/11 attacks, or who consumed extensive media coverage of such events, experienced negative psychological effects. Javanbakht advises individuals to pay attention to their emotional responses and take breaks when feelings of frustration, anger, or anxiety arise.

Violent images can activate your fight-or-flight response

Javanbakht explains that watching violent news and images triggers the fight-or-flight response in the nervous system. The brain perceives danger and releases stress hormones, leading to heightened alertness and anxiety. This heightened state of mind can be further exacerbated when using social media, as the brain’s habit-forming circuitry seeks out negative content, perpetuating a harmful cycle.

Your agony is not going to help anyone

While individuals may feel a duty to consume distressing images as a way to empathize and help, Javanbakht emphasizes that personal suffering does not bring about positive change. He encourages individuals to channel their energy into productive actions, such as volunteering, donating, or communicating with elected officials.

How to keep your stress in check

Javanbakht provides practical tips for protecting mental health while staying informed:

1. Reduce exposure to upsetting news and imagery, as constant scrolling adds to emotional toll without providing new information.
2. Seek out multiple perspectives to gain a balanced view of the crisis.
3. Redirect attention to lighthearted content or activities that bring joy and positivity.

Conclusion:

As the Israel-Hamas conflict continues, it is crucial to prioritize mental health while staying informed. Psychiatrist Arash Javanbakht highlights the potential harm of prolonged exposure to traumatic events and offers strategies to protect one’s mental wellbeing. By being conscious of emotional responses, seeking balanced perspectives, and redirecting attention to positive activities, individuals can navigate the distressing nature of war coverage while maintaining their mental health.


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