Managing the Distressing Aftermath of Mass Shootings

The San Bernardino massacre, in which 14 people were killed and 21 others wounded in a developmental disabilities center, comes on the heels of the Colorado Springs shooting, in which three were killed and nine wounded at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Mass shootings becoming more common

These two incidents made big headlines, but the Washington Post says they’re just two of 355 the mass shootings that have occurred in the United States this year. Many mass shootings don’t make the national news because people are wounded, but not killed. However, they’re just as distressing to people in the area who hear about them through local channels.

Making sense of horrific headlines

With mass shootings becoming increasingly common, more people are thrust into the position of managing their emotions after hearing about these tragedies. The American Psychological Association has some tips if you struggle to make sense of these horrific headlines. The tips below are adapted from the APA information.

Talk about your concerns

Don’t keep your thoughts and fears bottled up inside. Supportive family members and friends can give you comfort and reassurance. You may find that some of them share your worries, so you won’t feel as alone. You can also journal about your feelings if you want to do some private processing.

Acknowledge and accept your feelings

You may be puzzled at the wide range emotions that sweep over you after you hear about a mass shooting. If you feel anxious or stressed out, realize that it’s a normal reaction. You may even have physical symptoms, like aches, exhaustion, or feeling off-balance, which are all common signs of anxiety, according to the Office of Women’s Health. Don’t judge yourself for having these feelings, even if others around you don’t react in a similar way. Accept them and see if they pass. Often they will, and if not, talk to your doctor or a counselor to see if you might have an anxiety disorder.

Take a break from news coverage

Between 24-hour news stations and the Internet, it’s virtually impossible to escape coverage of major tragedies unless you willfully unplug yourself. Turn off the TV and don’t go to news sites or other spots on the Internet that batter you with depressing information. Seeing the headlines, photos, and videos over and over keeps rekindling your stress.

Focus on something positive.

With the increase in mass shootings, it’s easy to feel that the world is becoming a bleak place. That increases your anxiety every time you hear about a new incident. Offset that by finding positive things on which to focus. Volunteer to help others, which gives you a sense of purpose and puts you among like-minded people. You’ll see some good in the world to counteract the depressing headlines.

Take care of yourself

You’re more resilient against stress in general if you eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and avoid drugs and alcohol. Work in relaxation time every day and use methods like meditation or deep breathing rather than medication if you have trouble falling asleep.

While mass shootings affect everyone, they’re particularly hard on people with a personal connection. If a family member or friend was wounded or killed, you’ll have to go through the entire grieving process. If the incident hit the news, that’s compounded by constant reminders and national attention. Take care of yourself and do what you need to do, whether it’s withdrawing for some private time or plunging yourself into other activities to get your mind off the grief. Even if your connection is peripheral, like knowing one of the victims in passing or having a connection to the place where the shooting happened, it’s normal to experience shock and grief. If you can’t work through it yourself, get help from a professional.