News of tragedy can have adverse effect on health

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wwltv.com

Posted on April 18, 2013 at 6:17 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 18 at 6:22 PM

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS -- When we see violent or tragic events on the news, even if it's far away, it's human nature to overestimate the likelihood that bad things will happen in our own lives.

So in light of this week's events, there are ways to cope.

In just a few days, we have seen the worst in human suffering, pain and loss. And the worst in cruelty of mankind. There's the Boston terrorism, poisoned letters from Mississippi to Washington, D.C., and lives and homes gone in West, Texas in a flash.

A local psychiatrist has already heard from patients whose stress got worse.

"Your sleep can get worse. You can feel more irritable or angry. You could be more sad or depressed," said Dr. Kristopher Kaliebe, an LSU Health Sciences Center psychiatrist.

He said we are genetically programmed to gravitate towards negative events, and gather information about them. Before there was TV, violence that we saw had to be nearby and threatening to our safety. So we were programmed to react to it to survive.

"We have an emotional response to violence that we view, even if it's violence from far away. We still have that program in us that will increase our heart rate, increase our stress hormones, and rev us up and tune us in," he explained.

The doctor says just as it's bad for our bodies to have a diet that's constantly high in sugar, fat and salt, it's also bad for our brains to have a diet that's constantly high in stress and trauma. And what comes in our ears and eyes is the diet of our brains.

"So the more you keep exposing yourself to these violent events, the more your body eventually gets broken down by the stress response, and then you can start to not function well because of the chronic stress," said Dr. Kaliebe.

People who cope by using alcohol and other drugs may need more professional medical help. Others need to disconnect.

"That part of their life is honoring silence, turning things off, learning ways to relax themselves, meditative process. That can be prayer. It can be active meditation like jogging or yoga or anything. Whatever works for them to calm themselves has to be a practice, and then in times of stress, you can lean on your practice more," said Dr. Kaliebe.

And most importantly, the best outlet is to talk to others, face to face.

The Red Cross has a Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990. Click here for more.
Information on CDC Injury and Violence Prevention and Control

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