When large-scale tragic events happen and flood the media and our social networks with stories of loss and anguish, it can be extremely sad and overwhelming. We know that it is a loss for all of us in many ways – a loss of society as we knew it, loss of a sense of safety and security in our neighborhoods, a loss of innocent people, a loss of a system we had trusted. It has given many of us the opportunity to take pause and think about this situation as a whole and our own situations in particular. We gasp at the thought of life being so short-lived for some, and can’t help but wonder if that would apply to ourselves at some point. It’s the unexpected that chills us – being at a mall, at a movie theater, crossing a street, the simple pieces that make our days – when life can be stolen in a moment. We gasp at those unstable persons or members on the fringe of our society having the ability to so easily obtain weapons directed against the innocent, and the ability of them to get directions for doing so right from the internet!
These tragic events seem to be coming at a very rapid pace now. We get information overload in explicit detail, almost instantaneously, repeated over and over in news cycles every 10 minutes. It feels as if we’re immersed in it from far across the country with no escape. It happens with all kinds of tragedies – tornadoes, floods, fires. I don’t know if it’s because we are more exposed to social media and new releases than in the past, and get immediate newsfeeds, or if it’s a new style of reporting where one news station cannot be outdone and miss a “hot” story so they tease us with exclusives. We are somehow drawn to watch these, sometimes obsessively. That is not good for our mental health.
Assuming that you are not directly involved in one of these horrific occurrences, what should you do to protect yourselves and your loved one? This is not meant to dismiss the severity of the tragic event and lives lost. Rather, it is a mechanism to protect the life and well-being of those we love. First is to get accurate information. Once. Try not to watch or read the same news stories repeatedly. Change the channel or turn it off completely. Once you have that information, try to come to terms with it if possible, knowing that there are some things in life for which there are no answers. For example, it’s a bad thing that happened, it’s over, they have caught the bad guys, you were not involved and are safe. If you have young ones around, explain it to them in language that is age-appropriate, and answer any questions they may have. Your job here is to be reassuring that you love them and will take care of them – children need to know they are safe.
Pay your respects to those who were lost in your own way, whether it be in a daily prayer, a kind thought, a note written, a flower planed in their honor. Then go about the events of your daily activities as you must, without allowing the events of the tragedy hang over you. You honor them most by protecting and maintaining that quality of life for which they lost their lives. Yes, there will be discussions at the water cooler. Participate for a short while then walk away. Perhaps you will make time in your day to take note of the little things that make up life and for which you are appreciative. A gesture from your partner. Maybe you’ll look any negative interactions in a different light and not let them escalate into a fight. Perhaps you’ll telephone your elderly uncle to see how he’s doing and brighten his day. Things like that.
Moving on in your life is not being disrespectful to those who lost their lives. It is a way for you to stand up for the culture and values that many in this country have fought so very hard to protect. If you don’t like the direction it is going in, or fear for the loss of that standard and value system, then would be the time for you to become active in social organizations to enact change. At some point you may choose to become involved in concretely helping to change how society in general tolerates and deals with these kinds of things. Things like community watch programs, gun control programs, or putting pressure on your congressmen and senators. If you so choose.
If you find that you cannot separate your feelings of the event from the course of your daily life, that it has become controlling and overwhelming to you, then it is time to think about using coping strategies to restore balance in your life. You may feel stressed out, not sleep well, have physical ailments like headaches or stomach cramps, or you may be more irritable than usual. Coping strategies are the things we all do to ease the stressors and challenges of daily life. People use an extensive range of tactics for this purpose, such as distraction-type activities, relaxation exercises on a regular basis, self-soothing strategies, mindfulness-meditation, physical exercise, humor, and other techniques. Pick what works for you and try it!
In addition, keep up with the Basics of [Mental] Health. These include getting enough sleep, a healthy diet, daily physical exercise, having a routine and structure to your day, avoiding isolation and keeping up with social contacts, avoiding street drugs, alcohol and excess caffeine. If you still are having difficulty ruminating about the tragedies, it may be time for you to see a mental health professional for a short while.