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The frequency of violent events, such as mass shootings, takes a toll on mental health.
A Swedish behavioral health provider says it’s important to acknowledge feelings about such events by talking about them.
Taking care of yourself can also include limiting social media and relaxation exercises.
For many of us, waking up after yet another mass shooting feels like Groundhog Day. It’s happened again. More horrendous loss of life. More grief. More mourning. And following those, more anger, frustration and feelings of powerlessness.
For example, the Uvalde shooting came within two weeks of racially motivated mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Irvine, CA, that left a total of 11 people dead and at least another eight wounded. The Uvalde massacre is also the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history, coming nearly a decade after a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, killing 20 small children and six adults.
This swirl of emotion can make it difficult to process these events and talk about them with the people in our lives. It all seems too massive and so painful. How do we even get our minds around it? And what’s more, how do we move on through our daily lives after a tragedy of such proportions?
One thing we know for sure is that communication, support and connection can help lessen the emotional burden of these tragedies and help move us toward recovery. For some advice on ways to help ourselves and others, we spoke with behavioral health experts from Swedish, on how to manage our stress and reactions and move forward in the face of a tragedy like the shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School.
“One of the most important things we can do is acknowledge what happened, because then we can really start to acknowledge what we need to do in order to cope and process,” says Lyndsey Williams, LICSW, a behavioral health provider at Swedish.
Here are a few additional tips from behavioral health experts at Swedish that can help us all move through the emotion of mass tragedy:
- Talk about it. Remember that it’s OK not to be OK and to speak that aloud to people in your support network, even if that’s just one conversation or seeing a therapist for a brainstorming session to help identify your specific needs. Don’t wait until you are in crisis to ask for help. Communication can help avert a crisis.
- Name your feelings. Events like the Uvalde shooting are tragic for the local community and for those of us witnessing them unfold through the news and on social media. Give your feelings a name and acknowledge them. Whether it is anger, grief, fear or any other emotion, name them and sit with them rather than trying to avoid them. And as part of that, make sure you do something intentional to care for yourself.
- Engage in activities of self-care. Make sure you are honoring yourself by taking care of you. Eat nutritious meals. Get proper rest. Make sure you engage in physical activity — whether that’s formal exercise or any other kind of healthy movement. Spend time in a place you love or with people you love who help you feel affirmed. Try to avoid alcohol or drugs. And if you are still struggling with anxiety, try some relaxation exercises like deep breathing or meditation. Gentle yoga can also be very helpful.
- Log off. Avoid doomscrolling. Social media and news sites can be overwhelming. If you need to, create structure around how you engage with them; identifying clear times to read and or watch news and social media can be a small way to balance staying informed but not consumed. If you must be online, remember that task switching — jumping consciously or unconsciously from one task or platform to another — especially when it involves emotionally charged topics, can be extremely draining. Allow yourself dedicated time to do that activity or digest the content. Acknowledging your emotions is an active step you can take to help mitigate feeling overwhelmed by what’s on the Internet after an event of mass tragedy.
- Talk to the kids and young people in your life. If you have littles or young people in your life, don’t be afraid to speak with them about these events. Let them guide the conversation with their questions and respond using age-appropriate explanations. Be clear and make sure kids understand why something happened, to help them avoid feelings of responsibility for events beyond their control. Remember that it’s OK to acknowledge that adults don’t always understand events or why they happen either.
“Acknowledgement of our feelings around traumatic events and doing a self-assessment can help us grapple with what happened and find supportive ways to communicate with ourselves and others,” says Lyndsey. “An important part of this is taking your emotions one step at a time. This way we are less prone to reactivity and more able to make positive changes for ourselves and help others do the same.”
Find a doctor
If you have questions about mental health, contact Behavioral Health and Wellbeing at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.
Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.
Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.
APA resources for coping with mass shootings, understanding gun violence
Helping Traumatized Children: An Overview For Caregivers
Promoting resilience in young children: Five tips for parents
Helping kids face change and uncertainty
A mental health conversation with Jennifer O'Donnell, Psy.D
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.
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