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When Is It Okay To Unplug From Tragic Media Coverage? We Asked A Psychologist

Take care of yourself first.

Note: This post was first written in response to the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston in June 2015. It's messages are, unfortunately, still relevant in light of Thursday's (Oct. 1) tragic events at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Please remember to take care of yourself.

After a national tragedy, like Wednesday (June 17) night's shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the constant barrage news reports, talking points, and think pieces can start to feel overwhelming.

As much as people need and want to stay informed and the dialogue can kick off important conversations, the constant news can also be emotionally exhausting and at times it might even make the strongest of us feel a bit helpless. We wanted to learn more about this, so we spoke with Roxane Cohen Silver Ph.D., a professor of psychology and social behavior at University of California, Irvine about the ways we read and respond to tragic news in 2015.

"I think it is very clear that there is no psychological benefit to exposing oneself to repeated images or content of horror from the national tragedies that consume both traditional media (television, radio, print) and social media," Silver told MTV News. "The fact that we have a 24/7 news cycle and that we now carry the news in our hands on our smartphones makes this issue particularly problematic -- not just for young people but for everyone across the country."

While it's important to stay informed and keep conversations alive, Silver says that sitting in front of your Twitter feed may not be all that helpful. Instead, here are some tips to help you out when tragedy strikes:

  • First things first: Know that your feelings are normal and valid.
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    Countless studies have shown that overexposure to news coverage of tragedy can mess you up. It's okay (and totally normal) if you feel emotionally distressed, anxious or confused after a tragedy.

    The American Psychological Association (APA) writes in their guide to "Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting" that "it is typical for people to experience a variety of emotions following such a traumatic event. These feelings can include shock, sorrow, numbness, fear, anger, disillusionment, grief and others. You may find that you have trouble sleeping, concentrating, eating or remembering even simple tasks. This is common and should pass after a while."

    Make sure to check in with your feelings every once in a while.

  • You can stay informed and supportive without staying glued to your screens.

    "I tell my young adult children that one can stay aware of the news without clicking on online videos or searching for pictures or sitting immobilized in front of the television or computer screen for hours," Silver told MTV News.

    She stresses that there's nothing wrong with knowing when you need to unplug every once in a while: "There is no benefit to seeing images or hearing sounds over and over, and there is rarely new information presented in the repeated news feeds. I often simply say 'do not watch it or seek it out.'"

    The APA guidelines say pretty much the same thing: Stay informed, but limit the overexposure. "While getting the news informs you, being overexposed to it can actually increase your stress," they write. They also encourage you to schedule some breaks to keep yourself in the right mental space.

  • Talk it out (and listen to your friends who may be hurting.)
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    Silver says that talking about the things you're reading and seeing (and the things that are troubling you) can be a really helpful practice for self-care — just make sure that the person you're talking with is "receptive and doesn't respond by invalidating [your] feelings."

    "Receiving support and care can be comforting and reassuring," the APA guide adds. "It often helps to speak with others who have shared your experience so you do not feel so different or alone."

  • Get involved where you can.
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    One of the most frustrating things about watching all of the news coverage and hearing all the sad stories is not knowing what you can do about it. When you're sitting on your couch miles away from the heartbreak, hearing report after report of bad news, it's easy to feel hopeless.

    Once you're ready, you can find little ways you can do something to help out. In the case of the Charleston shooting, there's already a donation page to assist the families of the victims. That's a place to start.

  • And definitely give yourself a little TLC.

    No one is telling you to pretend that a tragedy isn't happening or to push it completely out of your mind: That's just not realistic (or all that good of a plan anyway.)

    But, you can take a little time out of your day to do you — meditate, read a book, go for a walk, hit the gym, whatever. Just do something that can bring your body and mind back to a better, less-stressed out place. The APA recommends avoiding drugs and alcohol too, and instead trying to keep yourself on regular eating and sleeping schedules.

    If you're hurting, be nice to yourself — in the long-run, that'll put you in a better position to help others too.