A mass shooting is never easy to understand or cope with. With recent back-to-back shootings in the United States, it seems like the violence is increasing, while our safety and security decreases. It’s normal to feel afraid, to want to hunker down inside the safety of your home or apartment. And it’s okay to feel untethered, like not a whole lot seems to make sense any longer.
In the wake of another mass shooting, everything can feel unreal. It can feel like the violence will never end, and that each of us is at greatly increased risk to be involved in a future mass shooting. The fear can be overwhelming and debilitating.
What can you do to cope with a mass shooting? How can you feel safe when the threat of violence could occur in any public place?
Coping with a mass shooting is never easy, and each person’s method for coping with the news of a new mass shooting somewhere in America is going to vary. There is no single “right” way to cope with the feelings of anxiety, fear, and confusion surrounding an act of violence like this. But here are a few concrete steps you can take right now to try and keep your anxiety and fear at bay.
1. Turn off the news, take a social media break.
While I’m not usually a proponent of ignorance, too much exposure to the constant drumbeat of the media analyzing the aftermath of a mass shooting can result in more harm than good. Research has shown that exposure to media after witnessing a violent act can be connected to feelings of anxiety, trauma, and depression. It’s not a stretch to imagine that same holds true if we watch too much television coverage or keep seeing the descriptions of violence and the angry responses to such violence on social media.
Now might be a good time to take a little break from social media and television. Maybe just a day or two, so that you can focus on what’s really important in life — your family, friends, and the difference you make in the world.
2. Recognize your own needs.
Psychologists call this “self-care,” but what it means is to simply focus on what you need to feel emotionally safe. It’s not normal nor beneficial to feel anxious and on edge all the time, yet this is exactly what mass shooting violence can do to a person. Take extra time to focus on yourself and your loved one’s needs. Maybe it means taking some time out to lose yourself in a book, movie, or binge-watch a show on Netflix. Maybe it means going for a hike in the woods, volunteering at a local shelter or church function, or spending some extra time at the gym. Maybe it means spending the day baking or going to a museum with your children.
Whatever it means to you, spend some time focused on yourself and making sure you feel safe and secure.
3. Keep perspective.
It’s easy to lose perspective at times like these, to feel like the whole world is going in the wrong direction. Mass shootings, despite their increasing frequency, remain a relatively rare event. You’re still far more likely to experience violence at the hands of a family member or someone you know than a complete stranger in a random location because most violence is a personal expression of anger.
Bad things will always happen in this world, but the chances of something like a mass shooting happening to you remain very rare.
4. Take action.
For some, the need to do something in reaction to a mass shooting is overwhelming. If you’re feeling emotionally okay, then it’s good to turn your energy to taking action to help prevent future mass shootings. This may be getting involved in your local community to help educate others about coping with the aftermath of violence. It may be getting involved politically at a national level to help change the conversation since we’re the only country where these kinds of mass shootings occur with regular frequency.
Taking action can be empowering, even if change may be slow and take time.
5. Keep in touch, reach out to others.
Sometimes the connections we have with those around us need reinforcing and reassurance during stress times like these. Reach out to friends and family to just talk about what you’re feeling, what they’re feeling, to connect and remember the emotional bonds that keep you strong. Even just touching base and talking about the everyday kinds of things you normally talk about can help you feel more grounded. Bringing normality back into your life can be helpful.
6. Express yourself.
Some people feel better and more in control by expressing themselves. If you’re comfortable in sharing your opinions or thoughts, or just need to vent, you can do so privately by writing to yourself. If you feel like you need an audience to hear your opinion, you can turn to social media — if you feel up to taking the usual criticism or dissenting opinions that comes with posting to such media. Sometimes letting it out feels good — that’s why psychotherapy is so effective.
7. Practice meditation, relaxation & mindfulness.
You may not have much faith or belief in the value of mindfulness or meditation exercises. But at a time like this, taking time out of life to learn and practice such exercises can be greatly beneficial. There are many relaxation and meditation techniques available which we explain step-by-step here. It helps you focus on yourself and calm all of the voices and inner talk in your head. At times like this, such quiet and calm can be invaluable.
By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Psych Central