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Nightline Syndrome Revisited

September 4, 2005

Every time there is a natural disaster, war or earth-shattering event, I usually issue the same disclaimer to groups of people I teach and counsel. There is a psychological event that almost always parallels the historical human event…and this psych event causes at least as many problems.

Some have called this the “Nightline Syndrome”, named after Ted Koppel’s famous news program which developed in 1980 when the 52 hostages were being held captive by the students in Iran. People were spending upwards of 16 hours a day watching the televised news broadcasts of the event. They did this to the exclusion of normal eating, working and sleeping rituals. This Syndrome repeated itself in the Gulf War, the 9-11 tragedy and the Iraq War. Each time, people reported falling into mild depressions, saw their family and work lives suffer and could not get rid of overarching anxieties.

As a counselor, I always see a marked increase in the amount and intensity of people suffering from acute anxiety symptoms. Those with anxiety disorders report that they cannot sleep properly, even when taking their proper medications.

Here is always the advice I give in these sort of situations. I believe it is healthy and helpful. First, set a limit on how much coverage you will watch and when you will watch it. My advice is no more than one hour a day. I wouldn’t watch it first thing in the morning, at night or mealtimes. Leave those for reconnecting with family and God, and for setting daily routines. Always spend a moment in prayer afterwards. Instead of watching the events vicariously, you and your family decide on something you can do about it instead. Various agencies could use your help, including things as straightforward as the Blood Bank. Decide what you and your family will give each month to this disaster for the next six months. Sit down and pray for the specific needs that you become aware of. Interact with other people about what you’re feeling and how they are feeling. Pray together.

Don’t let this become a tragedy for everyone. It could end up curing anxiety if handled properly.

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