How to avoid being triggered by your newsfeed


September 14, 2017

By Jordan Pickell

I like to be informed about current events. I wake up and check twitter for the latest news and opinions from people that make me think critically (usually while also making me laugh). In the evening I check Facebook for cute pictures of babies and puppies. I have zero tolerance for racist, misogynistic or homophobic views on my timeline. Over the last few years, I have intentionally crafted newsfeeds for myself that are more informative and encouraging.

Consuming news stories about violence can take a toll on your mental and emotional well being. It can trigger fear and anxiety. It can make you feel enraged and cynical. Hours or even days later, the images from the story can play in your mind in a loop. You can feel frozen in despair. At some points, you might start to feel numbed to the violence. We can see this when folks respond to the latest story of injustice by asking: “Why are you surprised?” These are trauma responses. Forcing ourselves to consume overwhelming material is not helpful for us or for the people whose pain is detailed in these stories.

Take some time to reflect on the impact of different types of news stories have on your thoughts as well as how you feel in your body. Some questions you might want to ask yourself: what does knowing the details of peoples’ suffering actually do for me? What do I need to know? What kind of news stories inspire hope and action?

I used to think consuming stories that include details of violence was a moral or ethical duty. This is a harmful myth. If it (re)traumatizes us, we are less able to support ourselves and our communities. We are simply not built to process human suffering at this massive scale. Yes, looking away from the details of hatred and injustice will not change the world, but it will allow us to be sustained in our lives and in our movements. We must protect our ability to have compassion and to take action.

It can be more difficult than you might think to avoid the news. First off, the outrageous news of the day is now part of everyday conversation. There’s a saying in the media biz: if it bleeds, it leads. The news is specifically written to shock us, to draw us in. We see compelling headlines in print and on screens all around us. That being said, there are concrete steps you can take to make your spaces–online and off– more supportive of your wellbeing and your activism.

Unfollow/ unfriend/ unsubscribe

Get that unfollow button ready! We have a lot of power to decide what and who posts on our newsfeed.

If you notice someone regularly posting news stories detailing violence without a call to action, unfollow them! Whether it is a family member or coworker, you are not obligated to connect on social media, especially if they post racist, misogynist or otherwise triggering material.

Repeat after me: I will not read the comments section. People can be particularly vicious on the internet. Like headlines, some people’s comments are intentionally written to  trigger outrage. Notice how these trolling comments makes you feel in your body. For me, my inner feminist hulk comes out. I can feel stress course through my veins. It’s exhausting and unhelpful. Do not feed the trolls.

Overall though, at least in my feed, people are posting with good intentions. They want to “raise awareness” of injustice. The thing is, we are aware. We do not need videos of black people being killed to know that they are unjustly dying at the hands of police. We can stay informed without getting sucked in to explicit depictions of violence.

As you start to curate the news you consume, you will notice an improvement in your mental and emotional wellbeing. When I recognized I could block out explicit descriptions of racist violence and sexual assault, it made a huge difference in my life. When I realized I didn’t have to tolerate people who play devil’s advocate on my timeline, even better.

Look away

I regularly change channels and skip over sections in articles. No shame! You can start to develop a sense of when details of violence are coming. Trigger warnings or content warnings can be helpful in deciding whether to read on.

I read an article about a woman calling out her university for their poor response to her sexual assault on campus, for example. I like to read about people using their voices and creativity to resist larger oppressive systems. When I read articles on survivors’ resistance, I skip the section that describes the assault in detail. (Why do journalists always feel the need to include that? Was it important to the person to tell their trauma story? Or is it playing into readers’ morbid curiosity?) I don’t need to know what exactly happened. I know she was assaulted. What I want to hear is about how she was able to survive and speak back against the university administration. That story gives me energy and hope.

Stop and ask “Is this about [insert latest story of violence here]? Because I don’t want to hear about that right now.”

People are feeling angry and afraid. They want to connect over shared feelings about violence and injustice. This is a good thing. This can mobilize people to take collective action.

The problem is when folks are so overwhelmed, they try to get rid of those uncomfortable feelings by dumping them onto you without knowing whether you are in a place to hear it.

In conversation with people, when they start telling you details of the recent murder of an Indigenous woman, you can say something like, “I can’t hear about this right now. Can we talk about [the weather/reality tv/anything that feels like a safer conversation]?” Yes, it can be abrupt. The person might feel uncomfortable for a moment. This is what it looks like to set a boundary for your own wellbeing. It might even inspire them to reflect on why they felt the need to tell that story right then. Remember that we are all impacted by the barrage of devastating stories of violence. Maybe you supported them by interrupting their spiralling thoughts about it.

Take responsibility for what you share

We can share our thoughts and feelings with each other in a way that inspires connection and action. It is our collective responsibility to care for each other by thinking before we share. We can all be more critical of the media and messages we put out on the internets and in conversation. Are we inspiring hope and action? Or are we contributing to peoples’ hopelessness and overwhelm? While trigger warnings and content warnings are appreciated, they are not enough. Think about your purpose in sharing the pieces you put out in the world.

Conclusion

We cannot completely avoid stories of violence. We live in a society that is triggering and unjust. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. These stories are overwhelming. It’s okay to take a media hiatus. We must do what we can to resist becoming numbed to the violence, to becoming stuck in our inability to act. I hope these tips help you create spaces that feel more energizing and hopeful. Remember that you are a part of this larger network of people resisting violence and oppression all over the world. Those are the stories that I want to hear.

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