I listened to an Asian Boss Girl podcast episode recently about therapy and mental health (episode # 61) and it was really insightful. I absolutely love this podcast – the topics dive into some really deep issues.
One of the things I learnt about was vicarious trauma, or indirect trauma, where one feels the trauma of others. This is usually experienced by healthcare professionals such as paramedics, therapists, and counsellors.
Repeated exposure, even if second-hand exposure, to difficult content or scenes can negatively impact your mental health. I feel I may have experienced something like this in the early stages of the pandemic and lockdown just over a year ago.
News stories and videos of people verbally abusing or physically attacking people of Asian descent really hit me. This content was practically everywhere on social media. I felt personally attacked and victimised too.
In the end I had to stop reading news websites and stop going on certain social media to prevent myself feeling scared, anxious, or angry. I suppose this is the flight in the stereotypical response mechanism of fight or flight (or freeze).
I have also experienced this the other way round too. Previously if I had a looming deadline, be it at work or university, I used to procrastinate and watch YouTube videos. I’ve heard before that procrastination is the modern day flight in the fight or flight (or freeze). As the danger is no longer physical, one has to flee mentally, not physically.
The podcast episode briefly noted that when you go on holiday your body can sometimes get ill. This is because the body knows it doesn’t have to fight anymore – or go to work anymore. The danger has been removed and the body no longer has to protect itself to such a high degree.
The podcast episode also briefly talked about human nature, how we are social creatures. Every emotional experience we have exists for a reason – emotions signal or communicate something.
Crying is a visible sign to let others know we need comfort. Expressing sadness to others allows us to reach a deeper connection with those who want to help. Expressing anger reveals to ourselves what we truly care about.
I’ve heard the phrase “a burden shared is a burden halved”. Sometimes people just need to feel seen and heard, to feel supported. They need their feelings validated. Years ago I had a friend who used to vent their frustrations, and I would always try to help and offer advice. Then one time this friend just said they didn’t want advice, just to talk.
At the time I didn’t understand they simply wanted an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. It was hard for me to sit there passively listening, much like how it was hard for me to passively watch certain content on social media. I’m too pragmatic.
But over time I’ve realised it’s an outlet. Venting, posting on social media, writing, even blogging. These are cathartic forms of displaying what we think or how we feel – to process. There are many different ways to cope with emotions, with trauma, with things we just don’t understand. And I’m still learning.