Mental Health Tips for Dealing with the Latest Mass Shooting

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It’s not hard to feel personally affected by something so devastating, regardless of your own involvement. In fact, it may be out of your control: So-called vicarious trauma can be a biological response to horrifying events.

“It’s an absolutely normal human response to be affected by tragedies like this,” Dan Reidenberg, a mental health expert and executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. He continues, “Our minds and our bodies respond as if we were there and, for some, that vicarious trauma is deeply impactful.”

The Connection with Grief

After widely covered news events like mass shootings, vicarious trauma may cause anxiety or a general sense of helplessness even in those far from the actual tragedy. Watching and hearing about others in pain can also spark an empathetic response, because we all have some understanding of human suffering.

“The more we relate to a victim, the more intense the pain can be,” Reidenberg said. So if a victim was someone who was of your same religion, nationality, or around your same age you may experience more grief and find it difficult to process.  

Vicarious trauma can lead to both physical and emotional symptoms, including stress, tension headaches, nausea, shortness of breath and restlessness, he said. Additionally, you may feel intense sadness and break into tears.

MENTAL HEALTH TIPS

It’s important to look after your mental health after tragic events. The following are some tips for self-care in the coming days:

Don’t keep your feelings bottled up

Talk about what you’re thinking with someone you trust. When we are distressed by something, the more we talk about it, the better off we are going to be. There’s only so much ‘yuck’ we can handle before it begins to come out in unhealthy ways ... so if you are feeling distress, talk about it.

Keep to a normal routine

When tragic events like mass shootings occur, we can feel a loss of control in our lives and everything going on around us. The more we can stick to our normal routines, the better our brains and our bodies feel like we’re back in control.”

Try to follow the same sleeping and eating schedules. Go to work on time. Hang out with loved ones as you normally would.

Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms

That includes drinking alcohol, misusing drugs or any other risky behaviors that may put your health in jeopardy.

Instead of relying on a ‘feel good’ drink, take a walk, listen to your favorite music, or get engulfed in a book that you’ve been putting off.

Take a break from social media if you need to

We live in a 24-hour information environment thanks to social media. Mental health experts often recommend signing off for a while if the news is becoming too much. Find ways to distract your brain for a little while, like reading a book and exercise.

Help other people if you can

Research shows that extending kindness can help you feel better as well. Look into ways you can help victims and their families directly, or volunteer for a cause you care about.

Reach out if you need extra support

If your emotions feel out of control and they don’t seem to calm down within a day or two, make sure you talk with someone and get their support. If it continues longer than that ― or you find you are isolating, withdrawing from others, you’re more irritable and unable to sleep or eat ― it’s time to talk to a health care professional.

Much of the content of this article was originally published in response to the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017, and re-posted 8/5/19 by the Huffington Post, ‘What To Do If You Feel Traumatized By The Latest Mass Shooting,’ Lindsay Holms.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Peak Behavioral Health is also available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide referrals to local mental health professionals and free psychiatric assessments (575-589-3000, Peakbehavioral.com)