How To Better Cope (And Help) In Today’s Climate Of Tragedy And Fear

 By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

In the wake of Sunday night’s shooting in Las Vegas, we are reminded (again) of the fragility of life and the senseless acts of hatred and violence that plague our country and our world. It feels overwhelming to wrap our heads around another tragedy, especially just on the heels of the devastation in Texas, Mexico City and Puerto Rico (and beyond). Between these catastrophic natural disasters and terrifying acts of terrorism, we are living in a climate of fear that can wreak havoc on our emotional wellness and mental health.

Here are a few thoughts and recommendations for how we can better navigate this difficult time:

ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR EMOTIONS

It may feel like the only option right now is to push through and ignore your thoughts and reactions to recent events. Often, when we ignore our feelings, they get worse, or they can manifest elsewhere in our lives.

Take stock of how you are feeling; it may be easy to identify the emotions you’re experiencing, but it may also be really difficult. It is common to experience multiple feelings at once, a constant switch between emotions, and even an overall sense of numbness. There is great power in naming our emotions – once we have a name for them, we can identify them more readily when they surface and then we can more calmly and better manage our symptoms.

If you have experienced a trauma or loss in your life, this news might be especially triggering for you. There is a particularly higher risk of feeling a sense of despair, helplessness, anger and grief– even if this event is in no way connected to your own experience. (There are links to both the disaster distress hotline and crisis hotline at the bottom of this post, should you need them.)

Other symptoms you may be experiencing around this event are increased irritability, loss of sleep, reduction in appetite and loss of focus. Pay attention to yourself and your body – if these are happening to you, it is your body’s way of saying you may need to seek professional help, and take some time to take care of yourself.

MANAGE YOUR MEDIA INTAKE

Many of us may feel guilty turning off the news, or choosing not to watch the footage of the most recent shooting. We may feel obligated to stay informed and force ourselves to see what is happening; in doing so, we hope to increase our understanding of the situation and our compassion for those who were affected. While I think it is a worthy effort to remain engaged and continue practicing empathy for those who are suffering, overdoing this media exposure can lead to increased anxiety, traumatization, and even a re-triggering experience.

Limit your media; tune in occasionally in order to stay engaged and informed, but do not feel bad turning off your twitter feed or closing your computer for some time. You are not disengaged or unfeeling if you decide not to watch this footage; (there are plenty of ways to remain engaged without exposure to such horrific visuals.) It is imperative to create boundaries to protect your mental health and to respect your own limitations.

(I so appreciate these wise words on consuming media, from Brené Brown.)

EMBRACE CONNECTION

Reach out to friends and family. We are creatures of connection – and in times of threat and despair, we sometimes need to embrace our inner ‘pack animal.’ No, you do not need to talk about the event if that feels un-welcomed – but you can share your feelings, share good news and continue to focus on joy. Remember, joy is an act of resistance, especially in the face of hatred.

Additionally, if you know someone who may not have family or friends nearby, reach out to them: invite them for coffee or have them over for dinner. Even something as simple as a text to tell someone you are thinking of them and hoping they are ok, means more to them than you realize. No one should have to feel alone during such a scary and uncertain time.

HELP OTHERS

Helping others counteracts the stress hormones in our bodies. There are countless ways to help and they do not necessarily have to be related to the shooting in Las Vegas. You can donate to relief efforts in Houston, Mexico City and Puerto Rico.

Donate to the Red Cross and Other amazing relief organizations to consider

You can turn towards your local community and find a volunteer opportunity nearby. Connecting and helping in person may feel especially rewarding.

If you’re in Chicago, this is a great resource: https://www.chicagocares.org/

If you are feeling compelled to turn your attention towards gun reform you can check out these organizations to see how you can become involved:

      -  The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence: https://www.csgv.org/

      -  Every Town for Gun Safety: https://everytown.org/

      -  Moms Demand Action: https://momsdemandaction.org/

And of course, you can contact your representatives to tell them your feelings about passing comprehensive and common sense gun reform in the wake of Sunday’s tragedy.

       -  Here is a useful script to help guide your words and guide for reaching outI’ve used the ‘ResistBot’ and found it to be an unbelievably                easy and fast way to contact mySenators and Congressmen about issues I care about. Text RESIST to 50409.

Additional Resources & Articles:

Disaster Distress Hotline:  1-800-985-5990 – Text: TalkWithUS to 66746 – Website

Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 - Website

Psychology Today

Huff Post Blog

Mashable