For Las Vegas: on terror, grief, and resilience

It is increasingly difficult to witness so many reminders demonstrating the need for my area of research. I can’t fathom the experience of what so many family and friends and attendees of the concert in Las Vegas are going through. I am horrified by the increasing amount of people who have to deal with the trauma of terror in this country. These heartbreaking disasters have become too normal, and hearing too often about terror has become too hard.

My thoughts and grief are with the people of Las Vegas today. For the rest of us witnessing events unfold indirectly, here are critical and practical points to help process the stress, brought to you empirically after years of anxiety and helplessness from these familiar situations:

  1. Feel the feelings instead of reacting to them.* When we are able to make room for feeling anxious and use simple tools like breathing into the discomfort without trying to get rid of it, we eventually calm down.
  2. Talk about it. Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen to your concerns. Receiving support and care can be comforting and reassuring. It often helps to speak with others who have shared your experience so you do not feel so different or alone.
  3. Strive for balance. When a tragedy occurs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and have a negative or pessimistic outlook. Balance that viewpoint by reminding yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting, even encouraging. Striving for balance empowers you and allows for a healthier perspective on yourself and the world around you.
  4. Turn it off and take a break. You may want to keep informed, but try to limit the amount of news you take in whether it’s from the Internet, television, newspapers or magazines. While getting the news informs you, being overexposed to it can actually increase your stress. The images can be very powerful in reawakening your feeling of distress. Also, schedule some breaks to distract yourself from thinking about the incident and focus instead on something you enjoy. Try to do something that will lift your spirits
  5. Take care of yourself. Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest and build physical activity into your day. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can suppress your feelings rather than help you to manage and lessen your distress. In addition, alcohol and drugs may intensify your emotional or physical pain. Establish or re-establish routines such as eating meals at regular times and following an exercise program. If you are having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
  6. Help others or do something productive. Locate resources in your community on ways that you can help people who have been affected by this incident, or have other needs. Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better, too.
  7. If you have recently lost friends or family in this or other tragedies. Remember that grief is a long process. Give yourself time to experience your feelings and to recover. For some, this might involve staying at home; for others it may mean getting back to your daily routine. Dealing with the shock and trauma of such an event will take time. It is typical to expect many ups and downs, including “survivor guilt” — feeling bad that you escaped the tragedy while others did not.

SOURCES: https://adaa.org/blog/dont-let-terrorism-hijack-your-brain; http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/mass-shooting.aspx

I am not as religious as I once was, but I have become more reliant on looking toward hope out of your control – having faith, essentially. Whether it is in the first responders who ran toward those who needed safety; to the medical personnel who (through primary sources) came in, even with a shift the next day, to care for the wounded; to the outpouring of grief and heartache from those who know too well of these horrors; and to those who wake up with the burden of feeling absolutely helpless; there will be fear and uncertainty, but also hope.

Thoughts and prayers to those most acutely affected. To the helpless who feel grief from the other side of our screens: hope, understanding, and healing.

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