Protecting Your Mental Health From Violent Content Online
In the age of instant news and livestreamed video, there is always a risk that you will come across violent video content—either through a news source or shared on social media. It can hit your feed without you even looking for it.
Once videos of tragic events start to spread and everyone is talking about them, it’s easy to feel like you need to watch them to show you care about what’s happening. That is not true. You do not have to watch violent events to care about them, know they are wrong, and take action or share information.
What is true is that watching violent videos and seeing disturbing images has been shown to negatively impact mental health. There will always be opportunities to stand up for what you believe in (see below for a few), and you will be way more effective if you pay attention to your needs and take care of yourself.
Follow these six steps to protect your mental health from violent videos and images.
Take a Digital Break
- Temporarily delete apps that may contain disturbing content, such as social media or news apps.
- Pause notifications from these apps.
- Block harmful content.
- Restrict, mute, or unfollow for a period of time friends who share this kind of content.
- Change search settings to block unwanted content.
Take a Physical Break
- Go for a walk to clear your head and take mental pictures of the beauty you see outside.
- Talk to friends and family about how you’re feeling.
- Try a guided meditation or mindfulness exercise.
- Do an activity that helps you unwind, such as drawing, painting, coloring, dancing, or playing a game.
The goal is to give yourself a break from the constant flow of news and the difficult work of processing it, and to release the stress and tension in your body.
Pay Attention to How You Feel
If you watch a video—whether by accident or on purpose—notice how it makes you feel. Shock, outrage, disgust, and fear are all normal responses. So are grief and anxiety. And so is feeling numb, which is one way your brain protects itself when you’re exposed to something traumatic. These emotions can also cause physical symptoms such as headaches and nausea.
Take some time to process your emotions. Reach out to a friend you trust who may be having similar responses, a family member who understands you, or a school or campus counselor. You can also do some emotional work alone by journaling or getting everything out in a good, long cry. Not only is it OK not to be OK, but realizing that truth also helps you process—and move through—your feelings.
Get Support If You Need It
If you can’t stop thinking about violent images you have seen and it is affecting your everyday life, it’s important to reach out for more structured or professional support to help you move forward. Look for signs like these:
- Changes in how you are sleeping or eating (doing more or less of either)
- Unexplained or prolonged sadness
- Irritability or moodiness
- Feeling anxious or fearful
- Start with someone you trust: a close friend, parent or older family member, teacher, coach, or spiritual adviser.
- Research support groups to connect with others who want to talk and share experiences.
- One-on-one therapy can also be really helpful. If you’re in school, make an appointment with your school counselor or campus counseling center.
Sometimes it can help to talk to someone you don’t know.
- Make an appointment with your school counselor or campus counseling center.
- Call, text, or chat 988 or text HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.
- Text TEEN to 839-863 any day from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. PT (9 p.m. to midnight ET) to reach a trained peer counselor.
Find Like-Minded People or Groups
Connecting with other people who share your outlook—online or at community gatherings or peaceful protests—gives you a chance to be a part of something greater than yourself. Your presence can serve to support, encourage, and even heal one another.