Social Media and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

social media_and_ptsd

How often do you view social media sites? Two, three, five times a day? Do you have nightmares after viewing clips of school shootings or movie theatre bombings? Do you feel chronically uneasy, irritable, hyper-vigilant after watching unfettered displays of violence?

If this is the case, you might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Yes, viewing violent news events on social media can cause PTSD. In a recent study conducted by Dr. Ramsden, a researcher at the University of Bradford in the UK, 189 individuals completed questionnaires regarding personality and violent news events such as 9/11 and suicide bombings. They also participated in clinical assessments concerning PTSD and vicarious traumatization, a term typically assigned to those who repeatedly witness trauma such as therapists, rescue workers, crisis clinicians, police officers, and nurses.

Out of the 189 participants, nearly one quarter of them scored high on clinical assessments of PTSD, showing that they were significantly affected by watching violent news events on social media. The more individuals who viewed violent events, the greater they were affected. Extroverts were also found to be at greater risk for developing PTSD.

Now that I’ve added a layer of worry to your day, (sorry), how do we protect ourselves from unrestrained acts of violence? Though, in June of this year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of protecting free speech on social media and the Internet, we, as viewers, possess a similar freedom of choice, namely the freedom to make choices that protect our emotional well being. We can choose to walk away from our computers, iPhones, iPads, e-readers, and tablets. The challenge I pose to you is this: Can you shift your eyes from the screen, even for a day, and onto something else like a walk in the woods, a fantasy novel, or a crossword puzzle?



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Nurses Suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Too


You might think of war veterans when you hear, or see, the words post-traumatic stress disorder – an anxiety disorder recognized after the Vietnam War, when soldiers returned home with symptoms of mental illness. You might also think of victims of tragic accidents, rape victims, or those who have endured any kind of abuse. What about health care workers, such as nurses? We tend to think of nurses as in control, emotionally strong, even in the face of gore and death. Still, nurses often hear others ask them, “How do you do what you do? How do you manage watching people die all the time?” But nurses suffer from PTSD too, also referred to as compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, or empathic strain. PTSD is an occupational hazard for nurses. Fourteen percent of nurses experience PTSD symptoms – compare that statistic to the 3.5 percent of the general adult population.

Critical care, emergency room, and labor and delivery nurses are particularly at risk for PTSD, as well as those who work on rescue transport teams. For long shifts – twelve, sixteen, hours they witness an unending stream of trauma: shooting and stabbing victims, an attempted suicide victim, the deaths of newborns – the list goes one. Nurses cannot simply walk away from patients who are bleeding or not breathing. Their duty is to be wholly present – physical and emotionally – at patients’ bedsides. And since nurses are perfectionists (I’m a nurse, so I know the feeling), they might view their own PTSD as a sign of weakness. It’s easier for them to see symptoms of PTSD in others, because that’s what nurses are supposed to do – assess patients, then intervene on their behalf. Nurses, unfortunately, don’t take care of themselves.

Treatment is simpler than you might think: stretches and meditation. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health followed 22 nurses with PTSD symptoms. Led by someone trained in exercise science and martial arts, the nurses participated in a twice a week mind-body class that involved stretching, deep breathing, meditation, and balancing techniques. After eight weeks, half of the nurses experienced a 41 percent decrease in symptoms; the other half experienced only a four percent decrease. The exercises were simplified so that the nurses could easily engage in them anywhere at anytime, even during a quick bathroom break.

For more information see The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Volume 98 Issue 7 – July 1, 2013.

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Benefits of Being a Military Nurse



Are you interested in entering the nursing profession? If so, you could not have chosen a better time to do so. The fastest growing field in the United States is healthcare, with more than 3.5 million jobs projected to be added to the economy by 2020. One-third of that number will be registered nurses. If you are planning to go to nursing school, you may be interested in one of the more popular specialties: neonatal nursing, midwifery, or critical care. Or maybe you’re interested in military nursing. Nursing School Hub, a website dedicated to providing resources for those interested in the nursing profession, recently posted an info-graphic article, “The Military Nurse’s Toolkit.”

The benefits of being a military nurse may tempt you: loan repayment, world travel, and the opportunity to help a broad population. It goes without saying that military nurses face risks: physical injury by enemy combatants, and psychological stress from exposure to injured and deceased soldiers. If you have not read my post about PTSD and nurses, I encourage you to read it here.

If you are not interested in military nursing, but are eager to learn about nursing-related topics, such as scholarships, must read books for nurses, top nursing schools and jobs, and where to find a job, I recommend taking a good look at Nursing School Hub’s website.


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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Re-Wired Brain


When exposed to danger, it’s natural to be afraid. Our bodies are triggered to make a split-second decision to either face the danger, or run from it: the “flight-or-fight” response. This is a healthy reaction. But in those with PTSD, they continue to be afraid and feel stressed long after the danger has passed – in my case, the speeding car at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. Symptoms, like avoiding places that trigger memories of the event, nightmares, depression, and hyper-vigilance – heightened awareness of your surroundings – may interfere with day-to-day-life. In hyper-vigilance, there is a perpetual scanning of the environment for sights, sounds, smells, or anything that is a reminder of threat or trauma. Just because you have been in a car accident, for instance, doesn’t mean you’ll be hyper-vigilant only for screeching brakes or beeping horns.

A month after my psychologist told me I had PTSD, I called her, wondering if I should go to the emergency room because my toe was red – I thought I had a life-threatening infection (I’m a nurse, and sometimes nurses know too much). I wouldn’t sleep in my bedroom on the third floor of my apartment because I was afraid of dying in a fire (I worked as a burn nurse years ago).

Months later, when shopping at an outside market with my father, I suddenly felt short of breath and couldn’t swallow. I told him he needed to drive me to the emergency room because I thought I was having a heart attack. I was a physically fit, non-smoking, lover-of-veggies thirty seven year old. I was not at risk for a heart attack. I called 911 three more times in the next few months, because I thought I was having allergic reaction: first to chocolate, then shellfish, then a bug bite. Miraculously, each time the EMT’s arrived, my rapid pulse slowed and my quivering body relaxed. I was suffering from panic attacks.

Before the accident, I had been known for my calm demeanor, and my no-worry attitude in my family. When working in the neonatal intensive care unit, I had been known for my in-control, I-can-handle-this disposition, even when a baby’s heart rate plummeted to near zero. After the accident, I felt as if there was a circuit breaker inside my brain that tripped at random moments, sending sparks into my nervous system. I didn’t know exactly where the breaker was located, or how to stop it from tripping. I reasoned that my brain had been re-wired. My reasoning was accurate – recently, I learned that researchers have found differences in the structure and circuitry of the brain between those with PTSD and those without it.


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