Grieving through a national tragedy, you are not alone.
At 6:30am this morning I was woken by an alarm off my cell phone. As I went to turn the alarm off, I saw a news update that read “A Las Vegas shooting that has killed at least 50 is the deadliest in modern U.S history”. Clicking the link, I was horrified to see that while I was sleeping a gunman opened fire on 22,000 people at a Las Vegas concert venue, killing 50 and injuring over 400. Heart wrenching video and photos flooded my Facebook feed and other social media pages. I was filled with a flood of emotions, this all before I stepped out of bed.
Thanks to modern technology, we have the capability to receive instantaneous updates from media and individuals. These notifications, high quality video and pictures can lead us to feel personal connections from miles away. Therefore, national tragedies, such as the mass shooting that occurred last night, can have a similar impact on you as it did to those closer to the incident. Events like this one, piled with other daily horrific news coverage, can leave you feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, defeated, scared, or detached.
Molly Ruggles, licensed psychologist and program director at FamilyMeans’ Center for Grief and Loss in St. Paul, explains that we can understand these reactions as secondary trauma. “Secondary trauma is a set of reactions to the indirect exposure to trauma that impact our feelings, our thoughts, and our behavior. This can include, among other reactions, disrupted sleep; trouble concentrating; preoccupation with details of the traumatic events; feelings of sadness, depression, doom; feelings of numbness or detachment; withdrawal from others; low energy. With increased exposure to firsthand accounts of traumatic events comes an increased risk of suffering from secondary trauma reactions.”
Molly notes that “our own personal histories of loss and trauma also affect our reactions; someone with a lot of loss in their past may be more likely to experience significant impact from indirect trauma exposure. It’s also important to remember that these trauma reactions are triggered by a part of our brain that perceives danger and acts to protect us. When we experience trauma reactions, it means that our brain and body believe we are in danger and are working to protect us (even when we aren’t in actual danger). Noticing secondary trauma reactions can be an indication to us that we need to step back, limit our exposure, and take care of ourselves.”
So, how do we stay aware of what is happening in the world around us without being overloaded with grief and hopelessness? How do we lead healthy, happy lives when we are faced with negativity and horrifying events such as this shooting?
FamilyMeans offers five tips to combat secondary trauma.
First, limit media exposure. In the world of total connectedness this is difficult. Be aware of the media that you are surrounded by. Turn off automatic news notifications on your cell phone, unfollow that Facebook friend who constantly posts about negative media coverage, and change the television channel from worldwide news to something a bit lighter.
Second, take care of yourself. Although empathy is a positive thing, it can really wear you out. Molly suggests; “Get enough sleep. Take a walk. Spend time with animals. They’re so healing and so in the moment. The same with little kids. They can help us stay connected”. Before you can focus on supporting others positively you must take care of yourself.
Third, recognize and understand your feelings. It is so easy to detach yourself from the feelings you experience when reading about these shocking events. This detachment can escalate to a disconnection from family and friends that need your support. Recognize the feelings that you are having but don’t let them consume you.
Fourth, stay positive. Think of all the good that surrounds you personally. Take a moment to appreciate those that you love, your job, and your home. Focus on what is going well in this moment.
Fifth, find meaning through helping others. In the wake of national tragedies you will see many people of our nation come together to help one another. Locally, you can donate blood, donate funds to relief organizations, or get involved in planning to prevent future incidents. Move forward and stay positive using the tips that FamilyMeans has supplied.
FamilyMeans Center for Grief and Loss in St. Paul, and Stillwater Clinic offers mental health counseling services to individuals, couples and families that are experiencing specific or generalized loss or trauma. Contact us today at 651- 439-4840 to learn more and set-up an appointment.