How to soothe feelings of anxiety and helplessness after mass shootings
If you're experiencing any kind of anxiety after mass shootings in the Lower 48 this last week, you're not alone.
Experts say violent events can add to a sort of collective grieving, where our sense of safety may be compromised and we may feel a sense of helplessness that can cause emotions to resurface from other situations in our lives where we've felt vulnerable or confused.
However, there are a few things psychologists say you can do to help reduce some of the resulting stress.
Dr. Tami Lubitsh-White, a psychologist with Providence Medical Group Primary Care, says she likes to use the acronym CALM when talking about managing anxiety:
C - Connect. Fear lives in shadows and thrives on isolation. Talk about your thoughts and feelings. This can help in regaining a sense of safety because you are no longer alone with those thoughts.
A - Accept and act. Accept the fact that the situation is not under your control. You were not able to prevent it or do anything afterward. The next step is to give your feelings an outlet by doing something, even a small, symbolic act like walking around the block or sending someone a letter.
"And say 'I want to honor those people, the victims and their families and I'm going to do something that I do anyway, but I'm going to devote it to their honor,'" Lubitsh-White said. "Just a sense that 'I'm not helpless,' that 'I am able to do something,' and engage in small acts, but stay active."
L - Lean into it. Allow space for feelings to emerge. Understand that "it is okay to feel that way," Lubitsh-White said. Welcome sensation, emotions and feelings with a sense of curiosity.
M - Mental health. Seek help when needed.
"We all get depressed, we all get anxious and we all need help," Lubitsh-White said, adding that often, when mass shooting are attributed to mental health issues it can stigmatize the topic.
Even thousands of miles away, Lubitsh-White says it is normal for Alaskans to experience a wide range of emotional responses to the trauma of the shootings.
"There's some people that, you know, it happens, it's terrible and they go on with their lives," Lubitsh-White said. "And there's people that are completely devastated to the degree there's people that feel unsafe to leave their home."
The reaction, she says, can depend on personality, exposure and the individual's past.
"If you went through a terrible event, that would be triggered right now, chances are" Lubitsh-White said, adding that it can sometimes take days or weeks for emotions to set in. "When we get attacked, one of the ways we cope is just to disconnect, dissociate so it can take time until we have a reaction. Specifically if we're really triggered, we might protect ourselves and just kind of be numb for a while and then the emotions start to kick in."
Eileen Bulger, the chief of trauma at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, says it's important to look at the big picture in times like these.
"I think it’s important to recognize that mass shootings represent 1% of the firearms problem in this country," Bulger said. "And it’s a horrible thing that we have to solve, but we have to tackle the big picture, the 40,000 people that die every year in the country from firearm violence. We can’t forget them."
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