How to Manage Anxiety After Tragedy
After the most recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, I began hearing more and more of my clients share their anxieties about the risk involved in going out into public.
The intensity of fear we now feel being in a movie theater and seeing a twenty-something year old male sitting by himself with a bookbag.
A site that was once benign is now reason to leave the theater before the movie even starts.
Going to the gym, grocery store, synagogue, church, school, work, all these things that were once part of our everyday routine now feels as though there is an added threat to them.
One phrase I have heard from clients, colleagues, and friends alike is, “It’s only a matter of time until it happens in our city.”
This impeding sense of doom has caused many to pause or completely stop doing certain activities as a way to alleviate these anxieties.
When tragedy strikes, it doesn’t matter if we were at the scene, in the same city, or thousands of miles away, it can still traumatize us.
Part of the trauma includes repeatedly seeing the same stories and images shown on media.
Even though we may not have been part of the tragedy firsthand, seeing the images still induces the stress response that our bodies set off when we are experiencing a traumatic event.
The amount of media time spent on these incidents can lead to a distorted perception of the level of threat.
We have emotions for a reason. It is normal for us to feel fear when we see news reports about a mass shooting or other tragedy.
However, these emotions are no longer helpful when we are not able to function in our daily lives to the extent we used.
Below are some tactics to help better respond to our emotions in order to feel back in control and healthier.
Limit amount of time spent viewing media
We naturally want to find out more information when we experience anxiety. After all, what is scarier than the unknown? With this, we can become obsessive about the event.
Repeatedly viewing this material over and over can cause us to experience vicarious trauma.
In our search for more information, our brains may also alter the facts of the situation and focus more on evidence that supports our feelings of fear and risk.
Check the facts
With our many mental lenses that influence how we view a situation, it is easy to lose sight of the facts. In no way do we want to invalidate the trauma and impact mass shootings have on the public, especially those directly impacted.
When the intensity of these feelings is out of proportion to our involvement in the incident, however, is when it may be best to practice checking the facts.
According to statistics from 2015 taken by the National Safety Council, we have a 1 in 11,125 chance of dying by mass shooting in our lifetimes.
Meanwhile, we have a 1 in 6 chance of dying by heart disease. While gun violence is traumatic and terrifying, we would benefit much more from acting by exercise, managing stress, and watching what we eat to increase our life expectancy than avoiding public arenas.
Look at what you can control
Sometimes, we feel powerless to the events that occur in our lives. By focusing on what we can control, we can feel empowered and responsible for our well-being.
Continue taking care of yourself.
Consider gaining education on what to do in the case of a shooting.
Talk to a friend or a professional about your feelings and ways to cope effectively.
Do opposite action
With emotions come urges to act based on the emotion.
When we feel angry, we may feel the urge to fight or argue.
When we feel scared, we may want to isolate or hide.
While sometimes acting on these urges is beneficial, when our feelings or intensity of our feelings do not fit the facts, it is more beneficial to act the opposite of our urge.
By doing this, we are retraining our brain on what is an actual threat.
So instead of acting on the urges to avoid going out with friends or online shopping instead of going to the store, these are times to practice opposite action.
With any trauma or high stress experience, we want to make sure we are continuing to take care of ourselves. It is easy to freeze and stop doing all actions, even the ones that help us feel better.
By doing extra self-care, such as going for walks, cooking and baking, journaling, calling friends, etc., we are giving ourselves extra energy for healing.
You can also try progressive muscle relaxation meditations or body scan meditations to manage your anxiety and stress levels