No, you are not "feeling too much". Vicarious grief & trauma are very real.

You can grieve for people you don't know, and be traumatized by events that you watch others go through.

This is not minimizing the actual victims of tragedy, but vicarious grief and trauma are very real, and I want you to know you are NOT alone if you feel this way.

As we all know, social media has become a way for us to live vicariously through others and their phones. That also means we may also internalize the traumatic events that happen in front of us online, especially if we are empaths, or if the person is one we can identify with (widows seeing widows, dog rescuers seeing dogs in pain, parents seeing other parents, teachers seeing other teachers...).

We are all going through collective grief and trauma to an extent due to social media. For some, it is worse than others. If you think about the ways people deal with trauma and grief, it says a lot about how we are all behaving right now - but that is a different article.

For certain individuals, the body and brain cannot tell whether brain chemicals are being triggered from a situation that that they are going through, or that they are witnessing through someone else. All the brain knows is that there are chemicals rushing through it. This is what happens with PTSD, and it's what is happening with vicarious grief and trauma.

THIS IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS. People who experience vicarious grief and trauma are NOT WEAK.

Instead of rolling your eyes and telling them to get over it, OR telling yourself to get over it, realize our brains are simply processing things differently. You are not feeling too much or being overly dramatic. You are also not alone. Stop judging yourself for these emotions. It will only make it worse.

Here are some signs you are dealing with vicarious trauma:

  • experiencing lingering feelings of anger, rage and sadness about the situation or event

  • becoming overly emotional in interactions with strangers

  • experiencing bystander guilt, shame, feelings of self-doubt

  • being preoccupied with thoughts of the situation

  • loss of hope, pessimism, cynicism

  • distancing, numbing, detachment, cutting others off in your life

Here are some ways to cope if you are overwhelmed:

  • Increase your self awareness (including journaling your feelings every day if possible).

  • Practice self care, including going outside.

  • Exercise

  • Take regular breaks

  • Engage with people in person if possible

  • Be kind to yourself, and non judgemental. You can do this. You are human.

If you find yourself being overly empathetic to events around the world on a consistent basis, there are ways to deal with this. I highly recommend you turn off your phone, take a break from sharing sad posts, and take a walk around the block.

You're not going to miss out on something. Instead, you're going to give yourself and your brain a nice break from the chemicals flooding it. Long term exposure to these sorts of chemicals can cause inflammation and a host of other chronic health problems.

Believe me, if you're sick it's harder to change the world and turn your pain to purpose, let alone change your clothes... Giving your self a break will only make you stronger and more effective in the long run.

You are not alone if you feel this way. I get it, and I want to help.

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