How to Deal with the Anxiety Brought on by Mass Shootings


We have all recently been confronted with the tragic news of yet another two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, respectively. Along with this news, comes what a recent BuzzFeed report is calling a “new kind of anxiety and fear”. One in which nowhere feels safe.

According to experts, this is a natural reaction to widely broadcasted traumatic events.

“It is a core principle of human psychology that we need to feel like our world is relatively orderly and predictable,” says Dr. Victor Schwartz, chief medical officer at the Jed Foundation, a New-York based mental health organisation. “We look for patterns in our experience to help us organise things so that we are able to navigate day-to-day life. People and our environment are supposed to behave in more-or-less expected ways.”

When incidents like mass shootings take place, this essential sense of structure and knowing what to expect gets disrupted. We at Mind and Body Counseling Associates, Reno, Nevada, have gathered expert opinions on how to deal with this disruption.

#1 Speak About It

While you may simply feel like crawling into a black hole when feeling scared, it’s important to connect with other people.

“Talk about and process the event with people who can offer you support. Don’t reach out using technology, make sure to connect with people face-to-face,” advises Christen Sistrunk, a licensed professional counsellor in Texas who specialises in treating anxiety disorders.

Furthermore, for those who are parents, Psychiatrist Michael Scheeringa suggests talking to your children about how to process their feelings and thoughts as opposed to simply trying to make them feel better. When tragedy strikes, it’s often not practical to feel better straight away. Instead, help your children channel their emotions into empathy for others.

#2 Spend Time Away From the News / Social Media

Even a couple of hours break away from the continuous coverage of these events can be helpful for your mental health.

“When tragic events happen, they tend to be all we hear about on the news and even flood social media,” Sistrunk said. “We can literally be overwhelmed with a constant reminder, keeping these events and the anxiety and fear in the forefront of our minds.”

What’s more, according to Schwartz, it’s imperative that we realise that while mass shootings are awful and we’re allowed to feel sad, angry, and fearful; the likelihood of it ever happening to us remains low.

#3 Get Out and About

The terrorists performing these horrific events want us to feel scared and intimated wherever we go. However, staying at home and refusing to engage in your normal daily activities is the worse thing you can do.

“It’s better to get out and start doing things as opposed to avoiding people, places things or situations,” said Sistrunk.

“One way to maintain a sense of personal order and enhance our sense of control is to try to maintain our personal routines as much as possible: Working, eating healthfully, sleeping and exercising will all help us feel well and maintain our sense of balance and control,” said Schwartz.

#4 Be Mindful of Your Thoughts

While negative feelings brought on by the event are absolutely allowed, we need to be wary of letting these emotions run our lives.

“I would encourage everyone to support themselves by taking deep breaths and becoming an observer of their thoughts,” said Nicole Bentley, a licensed therapist and intake coordinator at Cityscape Counseling in Chicago. “Noticing our thought patterns gives us the freedom to respond to our thoughts in more helpful ways. If there are no signs of danger but one’s mind is racing in fear, they can choose to re-focus their attention on something in the present moment.”

#5 Take Action

As we’ve already covered, tragedies like mass shootings can make us feel helpless and out of control. One way to combat this is to get involved in being a part of the solution.

“If you can take action to address issues related to the tragedies, it can help dispel the feelings of helplessness,” Schwartz said. “Become involved in a volunteer or organization or activity, donate time and money to groups working to address related social and political concerns.”

#6 Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Unfortunately, the horror of mass shootings in America has become a reality and while it remains unlikely that you will be involved in one, it does no harm in being aware of your surroundings when out in public. This is yet another way to help you feel more in control.

“It behooves us all as we go into crowded places to look where the exit signs are,” Michelle Riba, a professor of psychiatry and associate director of the University of Michigan Depression Center said. “It can [also] help people to think through different scenarios ― What would I do? Who would I call?”

#7 Get Help

According to Schwartz, “if the [anxious] feelings are not easing as time passes, or are getting worse or are significantly interfering with your ability to concentrate, sleep, work or relate to others, you might be struggling with a more serious difficulty like post-traumatic stress.”

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, we can help! Get in touch with us today through our website or by calling us on 775-507-7222.

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