A new study led by E. Alison Holman, an associate professor of nursing science at the University of California, Irvine suggests that becoming absorbed in news of a shocking event can be harmful for some people’s emotional health.
The study looked at people who watched, read and listened to the most coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombings – 6 or more hours everyday. The study found that their symptoms were worse than people who had been at the marathon, or knew someone who was there.
Many of the participants in the study said they experienced 10 or more symptoms – including re-experiencing the tragedy and feeling stressed out thinking about it. The researchers point out that it’s not clear if watching so much coverage caused the stress, or those people who were most affected are linked by another factor that makes them more vulnerable.
Holman believes the study offers insight into triggers for stress, and it’s potential to persist. “If people are more stressed out, that has an impact on every part of our life. But not everyone has those kinds of reactions. It’s important to understand that variation.”
Previously Holman has done research that linked acute stress after the 911 attacks to later heart disease in people who previously hadn’t shown signs of it. Her research has also connected watching the 9/11 attacks live to a higher rate of later physical problems.
In this new study, those people who were exposed to six or more hours of the bombing news coverage a day had more than twice as many symptoms of “acute stress,” as those who were directly exposed. Some of the symptoms included being “on edge” or attempting to avoid thoughts of the bombing and it’s aftereffects.
While it was noted that the stress “could be a normal, acute and immediate reaction to an event that dissipates,” Holman makes clear that more exposure to coverage seems to be linked to more stress.
Jon Elhai, an associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Toledo, said the study seems to be valid and important. He acknowledged that it’s hard to see what comes first – stress or news coverage. People may be stressed in general and be drawn to news coverage or become stressed by the coverage. “Knowing information about the effect of media exposure on mental health after a disaster can inform public health initiatives. After a local disaster, the Red Cross usually tries to get local media coverage to help provide information about physical and mental health problems that may be present in order to help people adjust and get help they may need.” philly.com 12/10/13