Can Using Social Media Trigger PTSD?

While social media can be a positive outlet for people to connect or seek support, millions of headlines fill the space that may spark trauma for readers. Images and words are shared in an attempt to spark change and garner empathy from the viewer, but many times the sheer volume of devastating images has a heavy impact.

For example, the discussions surrounding the #MeToo movement brought awareness to a number of sexual assault allegations while also triggering survivors not ready to tell their story yet. Whether it’s violence, racism, the reality of climate change, international uprising, or mass shootings, social media has made it easier to access horrific news followed by multiple images or videos of the tragedy.

What’s worse is many times, we stumble upon these images without asking for them in the first place. Therefore, many viewers were not prepared for what they were about to see, causing their reactions to be more severe. Social media allows us to witness these events but doesn’t offer ways to take action. In return, this leaves viewers feeling powerless and causes them to carry anxiety, depression, helplessness, and isolation.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that develops after someone has experienced or seen a traumatic event. The traumatic event could have been life-threatening, such as combat, natural disasters, car accidents, sexual assault, or more. Trauma can also occur by witnessing things such as shootings or the abuse of another person. It’s important to note that the event doesn’t have to be a dangerous one as PTSD can occur due to the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one.

PTSD can develop at any age, but risk factors play a part in whether or not you’re susceptible. These risk factors include gender, childhood trauma, a history of mental illness or substance abuse, having little or no support after the traumatic event, feelings of extreme fear, or enduring trauma that lasted a long time.

The two types of PTSD are acute and chronic. Acute PTSD may cause flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety related to past trauma. Chronic PTSD occurs when a person experiences a number of symptoms for at least one month after a traumatic event.

Symptoms of PTSD

There are four types of PTSD symptoms, but everyone experiences them in their own way.

The first is re-experiencing symptoms which occur when you are reminded of the trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, or frightening thoughts. Avoidance symptoms occur when you try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories. Arousal or reactivity symptoms cause you to feel jittery or on the lookout for danger. Finally, the fourth is cognition and mood symptoms which are negative changes in beliefs and feelings.

These symptoms can come and go over many years and could start soon after the traumatic event or sometimes months or years later. In order to be diagnosed, you have to experience at least one symptom from each of the four types. If you’re noticing these symptoms last longer than four weeks and impact your home or work life, then you may have PTSD.

Navigating Exposure to Distressing Content

It’s no secret that social media can negatively impact our mental health. The introduction of live-stream has allowed users to see graphic content as it unfolds in real-time. Viewers are no longer witnessing events after they happen, no matter how violent they may be.

Dr. Pam Ramsden, a researcher at the University of Bradford, surveyed 189 people in 2015 for their reactions to a range of events. She found that more than a fifth of respondents scored high on clinical measures of PTSD from seeing images on social media even if they had not experienced the events first-hand.

When you’re finding that content you view causes similar symptoms to PTSD, then it’s time to walk away. Recognize that you have the power to close an app or even delete it from your phone in order to restrict how much you have access to. You can also block specific hashtags and people. If you have friends that often post triggering content, don’t feel bad for muting them to protect yourself.

Another step you can take is to turn off notifications. Without notifications or timestamps, you no longer feel a sense of urgency to log on to see who commented on your post, what your cousin posted, or which article was recently shared by a friend. Overall, bringing more awareness to what you consume will help you interact with and process the events unfolding all around us.

If you’ve been through a dangerous, scary, or shocking event, even the most subtle reminders can trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response. Although social media has its perks, there are undoubtedly negative aspects that affect those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you’re an avid Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or Facebook user, you have to be mindful of the accounts you follow or hashtags you search to avoid viewing traumatic content. If you are struggling with PTSD, the expert clinicians at Achieve Concierge can offer treatments to help heal your body, mind, and spirit for lasting results. We provide psychiatry services to both adults and adolescents in San Diego, California. Achieve Concierge provides medication and psychotherapy for PTSD to help our patients relieve feelings of irritability, guilt, loneliness, and other PTSD symptoms that interfere with living everyday life. For more information on the services Achieve Concierge provides, call us today at (619) 393-5871.

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