Violent News & Weather Coverage: Strategies for Staying Both Informed & Emotionally Safe

Intense news and weather reports are nothing new to our experience. However, in the past couple of weeks, we have encountered some particularly violent events including tornadoes that have wiped out portions of entire towns and a devastating school shooting in Nashville.

One challenging mental health aspect of these events is the increasingly transparent media coverage, released raw information/footage, and reduced choice over how much we see and know. Thus, as the strategies and permissions behind media coverage continue to evolve, it is important to consider how to responsibly keep ourselves informed, but also as mentally and emotionally safe as possible.

Violent News Coverage

In truth, the motivation for this particular article came from my own recent, real-life experiences with 1) friends who deal with weather fear and 2) the Nashville school shooting. Only a few days after three children and three staff members were killed at Covenant School, I found myself in a hospital waiting room for my own child’s surgery. And, while her medical procedure was fairly minor, as a parent I was of course a little anxious.

As I walked through the hospital and sat in the waiting room I was unable to avoid looped video footage of the Nashville school shooter walking the halls of the school wielding a large assault weapon. These images did not serve to lower my anxiety and, I had been trying so hard to avoid the embedded videos, 911 call logs, and images for my own mental/emotional safety. The lack of control over what I heard and saw in a public space felt defeating.

Of course, it is important to understand what is going on in our world. However, it is also important to understand how we can stay informed without being traumatized. Here are some strategies for managing violent news coverage:

  • Know your personal limits. Reading/viewing something once is sometimes enough. It is not essential to expose your mind and emotions repeatedly to information to understand an experience. Everyone has their own capacity to manage this type of input.
  • You can care without being “fully aware.” This is a hard one for empaths like me. I am deeply aware that, unlike the parents who lost their children that day, I have the privilege of not being immersed in that experience. However, sometimes we feel as though we must be able/willing to look at all the pain in order to fully honor it. However, no one is served by us being wounded or triggered on their behalf. The human heart can care without being fully submerged in the trauma.
  • Disengage as necessary. In my situation, I can’t unsee what I saw that day. But I did move to a different area of the waiting room and for the days prior, I read enough to know what happened and then stayed off the news until the footage slowed down.

Severe Weather Coverage

Severe weather is another aspect of the news that can be triggering. Of course, not everyone has a strong reaction to potential severe weather but, for those that do, it can be an overwhelming experience of anxiety.

One of the specific challenges we are currently facing is modern science that allows forecasters to predict days, sometimes weeks in advance, of a potentially threatening weather system. And, while we are grateful for these advances intended to keep us safe, the constant notifications, articles, and alerts for preparedness can be counter-effective to our mental health. To that end, here are some strategies for managing weather media:

  • Set your alerts/notifications only for the level of alert you need. Any weather that is more than a day away is probably not worthy of the “ding” that activates your nervous system.
  • Have a severe weather plan in place. Knowing where your flashlight is, having some non-perishable food tucked away in the basement, or whatever else would help you feel safe means not feeling like you are “scrambling for safety.”
  • Remind yourself that weather, just like other media, is a business. While (hopefully) the main objective is keeping us informed and safe, weather apps/news are still in competition with one another for being the best, most accurate, advanced, etc. Know that the strategy is to keep as many people as engaged as possible.
  • Notice your mental/emotional reaction when news and apps change appearance to increase your alert (i.e. exclamation points, intense verbs, the background of the weather app turning bright red when there’s a warning, etc.). Being mindful of these strategies can help you react from a place of education rather than emotion.

Because news and weather are a business and also a service, there will always be pure motives paired with profit-based ones. Knowing this can help us ingest media from a “consumer-smart” perspective. Additionally, considering your personal limits in these situations can help maintain mental and emotional safety when the news or weather may push you in the other direction. The world is not always a safe place but, there is no need to make ourselves feel less mentally or emotionally safe than necessary. Here’s to caring and compassion both for ourselves and others.

April 4, 2023. By Anne Rulo, Author, Speaker, Therapist. FB/IG/Twitter @annemrulo 

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