How to Cope with a National Tragedy

2:00 AM this morning I was up with my toddler and I got a news notification on my phone about a shooting in Las Vegas with 20 known casualties and many injured. By the time I got up at 7:00, the number had increase to 50 killed. My heart was heavy and I grieved for those who lost lives and the lost innocence of all those who were there. I watched the news as more was revealed about the incident and I could not wrap my head around how someone could do something like that. My thoughts have been on the victims and their families all day. I started to feel exhausting effects of the compassion and grief I am feeling. Then my thoughts turned to: how can I cope with this tragedy? Here are a few ways that I have begun to cope.

  1. Talk with others. One of the first things I wanted to do was talk with my husband and my family about the incident. It helps us as humans to share and connect with others. It was therapeutic for me to share my sadness and disbelief with others who could validate those feelings and were feeling the same way. A couple of things to be aware of though when discussing the tragedy:
    • When talking with or around children, be sure to keep the discussion age-appropriate. Very young children will not be able to understand the complexities of the situation.
    • Be self-aware when you are talking with others. If you feel overwhelmed with sadness, fear or anger, take a break. It is possible to experience secondary trauma. Secondary trauma is the emotional stress experienced when hearing about or seeing another’s traumatic event. It’s symptoms are similar to the symptoms of PTSD. If you notice symptoms of secondary trauma that aren’t dissipating, seek professional help.
  2. Set boundaries with media consumption. As I watched the coverage today and scrolled through my Facebook feed. I saw coverage of the tragedy everywhere. It’s wise to be connected to the events but we must be careful about our media consumption. Again, too much consumption can lead to secondary trauma. It can also cause us to feel powerless and afraid or angry. I came across Brene Brown’s response to the tragedy and loved her words. She said, “Step away from social media coverage and toward real people for support, action, conversation, and being with each other in collective pain. Keep informed, but don’t stay glued. Our secondary trauma will not make us better helpers – it shuts us down and sends us into self-protection and blame-finding.”
  3. Find meaning within the tragedy. There is nothing good about the event that occurred, however, we can find meaning it. One of the things that I have noticed throughout the day is the way that others have been able to unite in person and on social media, expressing love and concern for each other and those affected. Another meaning I have found is my increased gratitude for some of the things I usually take for granted. At lunch today, I saw a table full of police officers eating together. My heart filled with gratitude for them and I felt more of an appreciation for them today after seeing and hearing how first responders selflessly stepped up when they were needed. I had more patience with my kids today and tried to show more love for my husband because life is too short to waste time being mad or irritated over small things.
  4. Look for the good. This one man did so much harm but there are so many more who are doing good every day. I think of the teachers who give of their time every day to make a lasting impact on their students, the crossing guards who help my kids get to school safely, the neighbor who has made me feel welcome and wanted, the volunteer who reads with a child or a first responder who sees tragedy over and over and keeps coming back to work every day.
  5. Beyond looking for the good, acknowledge it too. I wish I would have gone to the police officers I saw and thanked them for their service. If you see someone doing good, thank them and keep the unity we feel now going even as we move forward from this tragedy.
  6. BE the good. Look for big and small ways to help. Many people across the country lined up to donate blood. We can also find small ways to make someone feel appreciated. We can do something small to ease another’s burden. Serving others helps us feel united and fosters a feeling of hope and love.

There is tragedy and sadness all around us. We must open our hearts and show empathy and love for one another. We cannot live our lives paralyzed in fear. The human experience is all about connection and how we share our lives with each other. As you try to process traumatic events, remember that you are not alone. We are all experiencing this together and as a result, we all have the potential to grow and become more compassionate, loving and grateful. I know I will be holding those I love tonight a little closer.

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