A cup of fresh-brewed coffee in hand, you open the laptop to begin your day, but as soon as you see the headline, your heart sinks. Something horrible has happened — again.
Click the picture. Skim for details. It’s too early to know much.
Google it, look at three more news reports.
Your stomach flip-flops. The few available details get stuck in your throat.
You say a prayer for those involved, and for their loved ones.
As you try to work, your mind floats back to the story. How did this happen? How many are affected?
Along with the rest of the world, you spend the next several weeks embroiled in the tragedy. It invades your sleep. And the what-ifs make you shudder at everyday moments with loved ones
This is how I’ve reacted to horrific events in the past, as well. Terrorist attacks. Natural disasters. Tragic accidents.
We feel compelled to be present for each news report, each discovery, each memorial broadcast, because these are our neighbors and we care about them, no matter how far away they live (Luke 10:25-37).
It’s our duty to be upset, to live this crisis with the victims, their families, and their friends.
The problem with caring
Life continues as normal in your household, because kids and work and laundry happen regardless of the latest disaster. But the horror and sadness of it lurk in the ordinary moments.
And whether we realize it or not, it’s taking a toll on us.
You see, our bodies are wonderfully made to react automatically in dangerous situations (Psalm 139:14).
When we see a bear, we don’t have to ponder what we should do. Our bodies instantaneously prepare for our next steps: either fight off the bear or escape.
Among other things, this fight-or-flight response releases stress hormones, which supply the energy to act quickly.
It’s a perfect design!
But the world has changed.
The 24-Hour News Cycle
Before the advent of mass communication, the only dangers we faced were imminent threats to our own personal safety: the tiger lurking outside the cave, the fire on the horizon.
Now an abundance of frightening images of events we were never designed to experience bombard our nervous systems.
A deadly accident a thousand miles away is no less tragic than one that occurs in your own town. But it becomes too much for our nervous systems to handle. (And if you’re one of the 15 to 20% of individuals considered a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), the trauma to your body is even worse.)
When God knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13).
Like you, I want to weep with those who are weeping (Romans 12:15), and I want to lend assistance where I can. But news reports leave me emotionally exhausted. Nightmares interrupted my sleep. Consequently, my loved ones experience a less joyful and more anxious wife, mother, and friend, whose body is filled with stress hormones.