In my line of work the term “repetitive microtrauma” usually refers to a physical injury. Little League Elbow, for example. An injury caused by throwing pitch after pitch after pitch. Repetitive overuse that gradually leads to a more serious injury. Slow and insidious, it sort of creeps up on you.
Once in a great while, social media starts to feel, for me, like so much repetitive emotional microtrauma. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of social media. Of the connections, knowledge, and insights it brings to me on a daily basis. But when bad things happen- tragedies or violent events- each additional post or tweet I read makes my heart feel a little heavier. I just don’t think that I’m wired to read about the same terrible event over and over and over. Are any of us, really? And yet, there it is. The 24-hour news cycle and social media bringing it to us again and again.
So I’ve learned that the best thing, for me, after an awful event, is to learn a little bit about it and then power down for a while. Not in a head-in-the-sand sort of way. But in a way that allows me to reflect and process on my own terms. Engage in the events of my own life more fully and leave the heaviness for a little while. Come back to the social sphere when I’m more clear about which words to share, which actions to take. Or just to “listen” to the wisdom of others after the initial shock and raw emotion have passed.
Perhaps my status as a relative introvert is part of what makes this all true for me. I generally process best via my thoughts, a good friend, or a pen. But, I can’t help thinking that the advice we give for children, to avoid repetitive exposure to traumatic events, we would also do well to heed ourselves at times.
All of this is not to say that social media does not have a role when terrible things happen. On the contrary, I think it is one of the most powerful tools we have to organize and advocate for positive change. It has the power to comfort and to mobilize. But, like so many things, balance is key. When our hearts start to say that it’s all a little too much, we should listen.