We meet again following yet another mass shooting in the United States. While pundits, activists and politicians debate the cause and the solutions to such occurrences I thought it would be worth talking about how we cope with tragedy. Even though this awful event happened far away it has affected people across the world. In the media driven age that we live in the story has spread quickly and the tragic images of those who lost their lives are shared widely. Incidents like what happened in Orlando, similar to those that have happened in the past, shake our foundation of the security and safety that we enjoy daily. It is natural to be affected, it is okay to grieve those whom you did not know, and it is important to talk about it.
Some will say “this doesn’t affect me at all” or “why do I feel bad, I didn’t actually know anyone who died?” It really doesn’t matter how the conversation starts, what is important is that it does happen. Even a response of non-emotion is still a response. It doesn’t require hours of deep therapy, but simply a conversation to let out how you are feeling. This is important because to let emotions go unaddressed may lead to more significant periods of depression down the road. The earlier you can talk about how you are doing, with a friend, parent or professional, the better of you tend to be in the long run. The nonprofit organization Families for Depression Awareness provides a step by step for coping with tragedies, I think it is worth a review:
- Acknowledge and share your feelings. After a tragic event, you may have feelings of shock, denial, and intense sadness. Later, you may feel anger, resentment, irritation, and grief. These emotions can fluctuate rapidly. Strong reactions to a tragedy are to be expected and vary greatly among people. Even within a family, reactions and emotions to a crisis can differ and change over time. Talk about the fears and emotions that you have openly. It is important to be supportive of one another even if your reactions are different.
- Be supportive and listen. Let your family and children know that you care and are there for them. Be an active listener’ by listening empathetically and without judgment. Allow your family to talk, while you remain silent, nodding and maintaining eye contact to show that you’re listening. Summarize parts of what has been said to show you understand, and allow the person to express emotion. Be careful NOT to minimize what has happened by saying things like ‘things could have been much worse’, ‘we are all upset, you need to stop dwelling on it and continue on with your life.
- Expand your support system. Many families find it helpful to reach out to others in their community, such as a church or support group, to help cope with their feelings and reduce the isolation. Families need extensive and unconditional support in the wake of a tragedy.
- Ask for help. Let your family know that they can tell you when they need help. Be available and ready to listen when asked. Remember that mental health professionals, including social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists, are there for you if you need help processing your feelings.
- Understand your own limits. Recognize that you will not have unlimited ability to help and take care of others. You need to take care of yourself as well. It is OK and advisable to reach out to friends and medical professionals to get through tough times.
- Keep your schedule. Although you may feel helpless, it is important to keep your daily routine and get lots of sleep and exercise. Stay on your medications. You need to stay healthy to counter the stress of a crisis.
- Plan family time. Set aside time to talk and be with your family. You can also plan activities such as dinners, walks, volunteering, and spiritual events to come together and experience some positive time together after a terrible hardship.
- Be aware of disorders. Stressful events can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (see below) and can trigger a serious depression weeks or months afterward. Be aware of the symptoms of these disorders and get help from your doctor or mental health professional.
- When to seek immediate help. If at any time a family member or friend becomes depressed or talks about death or suicide, seek immediate help. Contact your doctor, go to your local emergency room, or call 1-800-suicide
Tragedies such as the mass shooting in Orlando are awful reminders of the dangers of the world that we live in. It is okay to be scared, it is okay to be sad, it is okay to be angry. What is most important is that you talk about how you feel, do something constructive with those emotions and continue to press forward. The legacy of any tragedy is not the emotions that it spawned but the actions that occurred that pushed forward sustained change. Good can come from evil, light from darkness, and hope from despair.
On another note, I hope you all have a safe and happy summer, remember to get out there and stay active!
Written by Courtney Kerch, Marketing Analyst and Communications Specialist at Rosecrance