Mental Health and Addiction Triggers in Times of Social Unrest

Mental Health and Addiction Triggers in Times of Social Unrest

Published on July 19, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

One of the unintended side effects of modern society is the widespread reach of media communication. While this communication is neither inherently “good” or “bad,” our constant exposure to predetermined topics within the news cycle can cause additional anxiety, stress, and depression.

It’s even worse for first responders on the front lines, who aren’t just watching news stories — they are living them, and often see death and danger firsthand. These negative experiences deteriorate the quality of our mental health, and can act as triggers for alcohol and/or substance use.

Protecting Your Health

Staying informed about the world is important. However, the burnout of viewing or reading stories about human suffering and predictions of future crises — or seeing the tragedies unfold and worsen with your own eyes as a first responder — can trigger an existential threat. In some cases, perpetuating this perceived threat over the span of days, weeks, and months exhausts the brain’s ability to process threats at all. This may lead to extended bouts of fear and paranoia, before eventually flooding the psyche with feelings of helplessness. How will it ever get better?

Believing there are no options for improving your situation is ripe for triggering addiction. Feeling stuck in a state of crisis drives us to “solve” our problem, often turning to escapism through drugs or alcohol. While it is important to make efforts to improve the future, we must recognize that our efforts — no matter what form they take — will be empowered with recovery from mental fatigue. Prioritizing our own health and recovery will better equip us for healing on a larger scale, and the answer lies within.

Admitting the Scope of Our Control

So much of what occurs in society at large takes place outside of our control. We see it every day, especially as first responders. Because of this, some people choose to never even attempt to make a difference. Still, it is important to recognize that the changes we would like to see take place in the world will not happen overnight, and often run in contradiction with the desires of others. Feeling overwhelmed by the things you see at work and the worsening trends in our world is natural, but most of it is out of our control.

First responders make a difference every day. By examining the changes we are making in our immediate communities, we honor the truth of our control, rather than being defeated by the weight of the national and global news cycle.

The Negative Side Effects of Screen Time

In much of modern society, our phones, laptops, and other smart devices connect us to current events around the corner and around the world. Rather than a printed story or radio broadcast, a majority of individuals turn to digital articles and social networking platforms to color their perceptions of today’s events. First responders already see enough on the front lines and may want to escape when they are away from work. For those recovering from alcohol and/or substance use, relying on a smart device as a connection to the outside world can be a dangerous buffer.

Technology — and specifically social media platforms — can encourage addictive behavior, as studies continue to find links between time spent on social media and addictive tendencies. This may not be surprising, as we all know at least one person who seems to be unable to exist without looking at their phone at all times. On one hand, staying informed is important to navigating our decisions through a constantly-changing contemporary landscape. On the other hand, tethering your mood to the information contained in a piece of technology can establish a detrimental, codependent relationship with the device.

As many in recovery know, reliance on alcohol and/or substance use rewires the brain’s reward system, making it difficult for those in recovery to direct their focus away from their habit, nearly to the point of compulsion. For many, smart devices can replace the habit of ingesting alcohol and/or substances, rather than help the brain’s healing from traumatic events.

For this reason, it is important to experiment with different channels of receiving information. For example, share your thoughts and opinions with other first responders, who see and experience the same things you do. Away from work, try listening to podcasts about topics that interest you and take a break from thinking about the troubles in the world or staring at a screen.

Your Health is Top Priority

The news cycle and the situations that first responders encounter at work can be vicious for anyone, but particularly those in recovery. Allowing yourself some time and space to rest from the pressure imposed by the weight of the world’s issues is necessary for your mental and physical health.

Taking periodic screen breaks refreshes your mind, and allows you to balance the stress of your job as a first responder. Being more present in the physical world provides a recess from any mental health complications arising from the virtual world, or from the traumatic events you experience at work. Change, emotional growth, and personal empowerment are just a few of the benefits of effective experiential therapy, which teaches individuals to focus on the task or activity at hand — allowing for common therapeutic barriers to diminish. True Recovery clients are given the opportunity to get out of the confines of treatment on a regular basis. Weekly outings are created by our clinical team to foster appropriate interactions in an engaging and healing environment. To learn more, please call our admissions staff 24/7 at (888) 743-0490.