It has now been two weeks since George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Do you find yourself needing to read every post about the case and it's aftermath on Facebook or Twitter? Are you obsessively watching the ongoing coverage on MSNBC or Fox? Engaging in emotional debates about the stories surrounding the tragedy and the implications surrounding Martin's death and Zimmerman's acquittal? If so, it's likely that you may be feeling stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed, and angry—moreso than normal. You also may be experiencing a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
While coverage of post-trial reactions has slowed down, many of us find it difficult to escape the constant conversation surrounding all aspects of the case, which range from the realities of racism and violence to the various forms of inequities in this country. The frustration around race and violence is heightened for many of us who have seen Fruitvale Station, the timely and moving adaptation of the life of 22 year-old Oscar Grant—who was shot and killed by a BART Police Officer in Oakland in 2009. It's very easy to feel down at a time like this.
Media consumption during a time like this can be possibly traumatic. The killing of Trayvon Marion, the delayed arrest, and the 'not guilty' verdict have affected many of us deeply. Even though not officially a part of DSM-5— American Psychiatric Association’s process for diagnosing and treating mental illness)—some mental health experts are now calling it "media-induced PTSD" from too much exposure to news and media following a traumatic incident(s). The US Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD reports that children and adults who watched the most post 9/11 coverage had more stress symptoms than those who watched less.
Signs of stress after a traumatic incident include anxiety, depression, frustration, anger, and feeling overwhelmed and possibly isolated. Stress may cause physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, both sleeplessness and increased tiredness, high heart rate, stomach problems, body aches, and headaches. Those who are stressed are more prone to overeat or undereat, drink alcohol, or smoke. Physiologically, stress releases cortisol (the stress hormone) into your body. For short periods of time, there are positive effects to the body, including quick energy, a decrease in pain sensitivity, and heightened memory. Over long periods of time, however, there can be negative effects such as altering blood glucose, increasing abdominal fat, affecting the thyroid (which is very important in body metabolism), and a decrease in muscle tissue, to name a few.
If you have been watching or engaging with too much media—whether traditional or social—you may be feeling anxious, sad, overwhelmed, or depressed while on social media or watching TV. Other symptoms include difficulty sleeping, relaxing, and having fun. You may also feel like you cannot pull yourself away from looking at the TV or reading online.
My Doctor's Orders for making it through a rough time like this are as follows:
- Step away from the internet and from television. Give yourself breaks often.
- Do not watch news or heavy topic programming immediately before going to bed.
- Talk with others about what you may be feeling and get support.
- For children, limit their total screen (computer, phone, TV) time to no more than two hours per day. Encourage them to talk about their thoughts. Learn how they are understanding what they hear in the media and talk with them about it
- Call the free and confidential Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 if you have questions, need help, or are experiencing any of the symptoms above.
Dr. Aletha Maybank is a board certified physician in both Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine/Public Health. You can follow her on Twitter at @DrAlethaMaybank