SHREVEPORT, La (KTAL/KMSS) – Have you ever seen something tragic happen to someone else, maybe someone that you don’t know, but affects you deeply?

According to Retreat Behavioral Health therapist Mark Sigmund, this kind of empathy is very common.

“When you’re triggered with trauma or reaction from something that you see on T.V. or the news, or it could come from stories people tell you about their own trauma,“ Sigmund said.

When a person is triggered by what they see that has nothing to do with them, it’s called secondary or second-hand trauma. It is also sometimes referred to as compassion fatigue. Among first-responders and others continuously exposed through their professions to victims of trauma and violence, it’s known as “vicarious trauma.”

“With vicarious trauma. It’s things like sleep problems, anxiety, feeling down, or depression. It’s taking in a lot of what we see and internalizing it.”

But this can happen on some level to anyone exposed to other people’s pain and hardships. Whether it is on social media, the radio, podcasts, or television, all types of media give us a front-row seat.

Sigmund explains second-hand trauma can trigger a person to the point they can physically feel it.

“Pay attention to your body. Because taking in a lot of traumas physically, it’s so important to learn to relax your body. To release your muscles and let go. Because it has very much a physical manifestation.”

Given this reality, Sigmund said when we start to feel vicarious or second-hand trauma creeping in, mindfulness techniques are a great way to cope. Some techniques include:

  • Pay attention. It’s hard to slow down and notice things in a busy world. Try to take the time to experience your environment with all your senses — touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste. For example, when you eat a favorite food, take the time to smell, taste, and truly enjoy it.
  • Live in the moment. Try to intentionally bring an open, accepting, and discerning attention to everything you do. Find joy in simple pleasures.
  • Accept yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend.
  • Focus on your breathing. When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, take a deep breath, and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help.

You can also try more structured mindfulness exercises, such as:

  • Body scan meditation. Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing up. Focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body, in order, from toe to head or head to toe. Be aware of any sensations, emotions, or thoughts associated with each part of your body.
  • Sitting meditation. Sit comfortably with your back straight, feet flat on the floor, and hands in your lap. Breathing through your nose, focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. If physical sensations or thoughts interrupt your meditation, note the experience and then return your focus to your breath.
  • Walking meditation. Find a quiet place 10 to 20 feet in length and begin to walk slowly. Focus on the experience of walking, being aware of the sensations of standing, and the subtle movements that keep your balance. When you reach the end of your path, turn, and continue walking, maintaining awareness of your sensations.

Sigmund recommends seeking a mental health expert or your primary care physician if those mindfulness techniques do not work.