How to cope after a mass shooting

May 18, 2018 | by Marc Browning, RN, Psy.D

When you first hear the news about a mass shooting, your first reaction is likely shock and horror, even though it isn’t the first time an incident like this has happened.

As details of the incident emerge — how many people died, who was injured, who did the shooting — you may experience a range of emotions. Anger at the person wielding the gun, confusion over the person’s motives, sadness for those who were hurt or killed, and fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time yourself someday in the future.

When incidents such as the May 18 school shooting in Texas, the Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida or the Oct. 1, 2017 shooting in Las Vegas happen, they catch everyone off guard. The unpredictable nature of these types of incidents adds to our fear.

In situations like this, there are things you can do to calm yourself and think more clearly.

The American Counseling Association has posted a list of ways to help yourself and others when something traumatic and senseless happens:

  • Take care of yourself. While it may seem counterintuitive to think about taking care of yourself first, you cannot be of service to others if you are unstable. Monitor all of your physical health needs — being sure to eat, sleep, exercise, and (if possible) maintain a normal daily routine.
  • Keep tabs on your emotional health. Remember that a wide range of feelings during these difficult times are common. Know that others are also experiencing emotional reactions and may need your time and patience to put their feelings and thoughts in order.
  • Try to recognize when you or those around you may need extra support. It is not uncommon for individuals of all ages to experience stress reactions when exposed (even through media) to shootings or mass violence. Changes in eating and sleeping habits, energy level, and mood are important signs of distress. Watch for regressed behaviors, such as clinging in children, and intense emotional reactions, such as anxiety or a strong need for retribution, in adults. When necessary, point individuals to licensed professional counselors who can provide needed support.
  • Avoid too much media. While it is important to stay informed, media portrayals of shootings and mass deaths have been shown to cause acute stress and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Limit your exposure and take a break from news sources.
  • Maintain contact with friends and family. These individuals can provide you with emotional support to help deal with difficult times.
  • Focus on your strength base. Maintain practices that you have found to provide emotional relief. Remind yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting.
  • Talk to others as needed. It is important to ask for help if you are having trouble recovering and everyday tasks seem difficult to manage.

As for children, young kids do not need lengthy explanations or details. Older children and teens will likely have heard details from their friends or media. Keep calm and explain how their schools and the police work to keep them safe.

The National Education Association offers some excellent guidelines on how to address mass shooting incidents with your children.

The NEA recommends parents notice what your kids are watching on television or the internet and limit exposure to news about the incident. Keep up their usual routine, but also keep an eye on their behavior and emotions. Don’t hesitate to get help if their anxiety or fear rises to an unhealthy level.

The licensed counselors at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health can help people cope with trauma and anxiety. If you feel like you need to talk, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Get a free behavioral health assessment by a licensed counselor at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.


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