Seeing violent, scary or graphic images, videos or other content online can have different effects on different people
Whether the footage is real or produced, it can be especially triggering for people who have actually experienced violence or abuse in their lives.
How you react may also depend on your current level of stress, your response to trauma and your ability to compartmentalise things, ie. if you can clearly separate yourself and your life from the disturbing situation you see on screen.
There are two main ways that you could come across upsetting content:
- You click on it accidentally
- Someone sends it to you
If or when you see something upsetting, here are some practical steps to take:
- Close the window and browser and remember that there is no need to feel shame or guilt for what you have just seen
- Take deep breaths to slow your racing heart or control any shallow, panicky breathing
- If you can, repeat a positive affirmation. For example, ‘In this moment, I am safe.’
- Move away from the computer or phone and go for a walk in a different environment
- Ground yourself in reality with something that makes you happy – watch an episode of your favourite TV show, do some mindful colouring, call a friend or listen to music that you love
- If you feel anxious, sick, upset or uncomfortable, talk to a trusted adult or parent about it. If you’re not comfortable talking about it, write out how the content made you feel
- With the support of a friend or family member, use the reporting tools on the app or website where you saw the content to request that it be taken down
- Do not worry about getting into trouble for looking at an ‘adult’ website – it’s more important to get help to deal with what has upset you
Mind your mind
Don’t be alarmed if what you saw pops up as an intrusive thought over the next few days. You could get a reminder during the day of what you saw and it may trigger the image in your mind.
You may not always be able to prevent these thoughts from occurring, but you can interrupt them. If possible, say the word ‘Stop’ out loud and turn your attention to something else. Do this as often as necessary.
However, if the images are still haunting you, disturbing your sleep or having a negative impact on your mental health, it’s worth seeking professional help.
How to protect yourself in future:
- Turn off autoplay features on all social media channels so that you only see the video you click on
- Take note of any posts with warnings of ‘sensitive content’ and don’t engage with them
- Unfollow news accounts during an upsetting global crisis or tragedy – mass shootings, earthquakes, wars, racist attacks, etc.
- Mute or leave any Whatsapp groups that share links or images of harrowing events
- Take a break from social media