10 Tips for Coping with Violent and Stressful News
Acts of terror, violence, and war can be devastating and extremely difficult to understand. Even if we can’t make sense of these incidents, they can dig into our subconscious to disrupt our view of the world and make us feel threatened.
Even if we don’t know the victims personally, such incidents can be traumatic and deeply disturbing.
When we hear about incidents of mass violence, we are confronted with a reality that can be tough to accept. These events can shake the foundation of our worldview and undermine our perceptions of justice and fairness.
You may start to feel afraid or unsafe going about your usual activities, particularly if they’ve directly affected someone close to you, occurred in your community, or you have experienced trauma in the past. Other responses may include:
- Numbness, shock
- A sense of disconnection from your emotions
- Difficulty making decisions
- Anger toward the perpetrator
- Inability to switch off thoughts or images of the incident
- Tension, nervousness, or irritability
- Difficulty connecting with others and feelings of isolation
- Loss of appetite
- Headaches and stomach aches
- Anxiety, such as increased heart rate or muscle tension
- Disturbed sleep and bad dreams
- Worry about future mass violence
Traumatic experiences can drain your emotional resources, and you may feel less able to cope with life’s ordinary challenges. Work problems, financial worries, or just keeping on top of your daily activities may all start to feel more stressful. Be kind to yourself while you find your feet again.
It’s also important to know that if you don’t experience these reactions, that is absolutely okay. Everyone reacts differently, and on different timescales. There is no right or wrong way to respond.
Look After Yourself
If you’re experiencing any of the reactions above, it’s important to prioritize self-care. Even if the event happened far away, your body and mind can react as though you were much closer. Here are eight ways you can practice self-care:
1. Tend to your body's needs—focus on eating healthy meals and getting proper rest, including sleeping well and spending time outdoors, all of which can help you feel better.
2. Keep active in a way that feels comfortable, whether that's taking walks around your neighborhood, going to the gym, or doing a spin or other workout class.
3. Engage in relaxation exercises such as meditation or breathwork.
4. Create a consistent bedtime routine to help you relax at night.
5. Gather information on available mental-health services and support.
6. Avoid using alcohol or drugs to help you cope.
7. Take a break from watching the news on TV and social media.
8. Focus on doing things you enjoy, such as listening to music, painting, or walking—even in the wake of a tragedy, you're allowed to continue to enjoy your life.
Talk it Out
Don't be afraid to speak up and ask for help if you need it. Talking to others about how you’re feeling and the thoughts you’ve been having about the event can help lighten your load, and you may find that they're having similar experiences.
If you’re supporting a loved one who is having trouble dealing with what happened, you might hesitate to seek support for yourself. But it’s just as important to look after yourself and confide in someone you trust about how you’re feeling, so you can be in a better place to support others.
When we’re exposed to violence and brutality, even indirectly, our brains begin working overtime to find meaning in it all. Although we may never find the answers, we question who is to blame and how this could possibly have happened.
Continuing to speak with friends, family, and people within your faith community can help you begin making sense of the incident. Even if you don’t reach any clear conclusions, the process of talking and meaning-making with others can be restorative in itself.
Dealing with complex feelings of grief, trauma, and anxiety can be incredibly difficult. Seeking out emotional support and sharing your experiences with others can help you feel less alone.
If you’re worried about mental or physical problems that have arisen, don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor or mental health professional.
There are also many helplines you can contact to access emotional support and find further information or resources about coping with trauma and grief. Here are a few organizations to contact for more information or support:
- SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) offers 24-hour crisis counselling for people in the US needing support following a disaster. You can text or call anytime: 1-800-985-5990.
- Samaritans offer a free 24/7 listening service. Call or text their helpline at 877-870-4673 (HOPE).
- Sudden is a UK-based bereavement charity that provides support and information to people experiencing sudden death. The helpline number is 0800 2600 400. You can also contact them via email to get access to bereavement resources at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you're not in immediate crisis but feel the need to talk to someone, contacting a warmline (as opposed to a hotline) may help.
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