Coping with tragedy all around us
A mass shooting at a nightclub. A toddler killed by an alligator. A popular singer gunned down by an obsessed fan. A teenager drowned in a riptide during a beach vacation. Firefighters and law enforcement personnel losing their lives in the line of duty.
When tragedy happens, it affects us all – especially when several disturbing events occur close together. Whether it happens halfway around the world or right down the street, most of us can’t help but feel the pain that our fellow humans are feeling: sadness, fear, anger, frustration, outrage and confusion.
“All of these are normal emotional reactions to tragedy, but sometimes it can feel like it’s just too much,” said Monarch Clinical Director Chris Abbey.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to limit your news exposure, focus on what you can control, and engage in self-care. The following are some ideas Abbey suggests to care for yourself and each other.
• Talk. Find friends and family, coworkers and neighbors, and share your experience. If you’re having a hard time, others probably are, as well. Our ability to process these events and make meaning from them helps us get our thoughts together. Be careful, however, with social media. When emotions run high, people can be less than kind when voicing opinions online. Remember: Words have power, and the person reading your words has more power to decide what you meant to convey than you do.
• Listen. The other side of letting our thoughts and feelings out is allowing others to do the same. Try not to judge. Sometimes all of us say things we wish we could take back when we’re upset. Extend grace to people and give the benefit of the doubt.
• Keep everything in perspective. In circumstances when someone acts out violently, it’s easy to assume that everyone who looks or talks like that person has the same motives and intentions. One individual or small group of people with extreme views does not represent every person of that race, religion, nationality or culture. Most people are kind and loving, and are often mortified by those who claim to represent them. Global negative views keep people apart rather than bringing them together.
• Practice understanding. In situations when someone is hurt or killed because of what seems like carelessness or neglect, remember that everyone makes mistakes. As has often been said, “hindsight is 20/20.” It’s easy to make decisions (or judgments) when we have the luxury of time and distance on our side.
• Do something nice. It may sound simple, but kindness is often overlooked when we’re afraid or upset. Giving another person a helping hand generally takes very little effort, but the impact can last a long time. Consider volunteering or donating in other ways. If you are able, give blood. When bad things happen, doing for others can help shift our focus to something good.
• Spend time with people you care about (and who care about you). When tragedy strikes, it can be helpful to surround yourself with people who restore your faith in humanity.
• Take care of you. Eat, stay hydrated, and get plenty of sleep. You are a whole person – body, mind and spirit. When one of those parts is out of whack, it is much easier for the others to be.
• Avoid alcohol and other mind-altering substances. When overwhelmed by negative emotion, many people will go to great lengths to numb the pain. Using alcohol and other drugs can be dangerous, and delays the process of healing.
• Ask for help. Talk to a counselor, pastor or another support person trained in helping people sort through troublesome thoughts and emotions. Help is often just a phone call or a few clicks away. If you’re looking for help online, remember that not everything that looks like help actually is. Often, discussion boards are loosely monitored and you may find some of those less-than-kind voices mentioned earlier. Websites that end in “.org” or “.gov” are more often non-profit or governmental agencies who have to answer for the things they publish.
Finally, Abbey said, be patient with yourself and just breathe. “The emotional responses we have in the face of tragedy are normal,” he said. “Give yourself a break and don’t judge yourself – or others – too harshly. Healing takes time, but it is out there.”
Established in 1958, Monarch is a not-for-profit organization that provides support statewide to thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness and substance abuse challenges. The agency is nationally accredited by The Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL) and certified by The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as a Critical Access Behavioral Health Agency (CABHA). Monarch operates The Arc of Stanly County, which is a chapter of The Arc of North Carolina and The Arc of the United States. To learn more about how Monarch provides support, please call (866) 272-7826.