A gentle trigger warning to our readers: this post contains specific discussion around school shootings and traumatic loss.
Another Mass Tragedy
Recently, we all watched in horror yet again as one individual took the lives of far too many others. It’s hard for any of us to comprehend something so big and so awful. Our brains are wired to manage things like math exams and driving carefully in the rain and deciding which city we should live in. Not for trying to untangle and categorize a web of information that makes no logical sense.
Being Exposed To Media Violence
These public tragedies are always so different, and yet have such similar impacts on our hearts and our minds. School shootings, natural disasters, terrorist attacks—they all share a common thread of leaving us stunned, enraged, and adrift in something larger than we can possibly grasp. We all seem so deeply sad, and also so unable to adequately voice the feelings we are left with. In our attempt to make sense of something senseless, we watch tv, we read the online updates, we look at photos over and over and over again that had no business being made public in the first place.
We do this in hopes of finding some solace. And yet none of this allows us to grieve or make sense of what happened.
In recent years, I’ve been very mindful of monitoring my news intake and emotions following public tragedies. I still vividly remember the day of a school shooting years ago, when I caved and went online for a few moments to find out what happened.
A Private Moment Broadcasted to the Public
Of course, I found exactly what I was expecting: horrible facts, disturbing possibilities. Then I found a photo that knocked the breath out of me. I saw a young woman weeping, screaming in a visceral and raw way. She held a cell phone, and the byline read that she was waiting to hear if her little sister had been a victim. The woman stood alone next to a row of cars. I doubt she knew or cared that photographers were hovering nearby. I imagine that was one of the most terrifying moments of her life. And photographers made this immensely private moment horribly, horribly public. It was obscene then, and it is obscene still to take an individual tragedy and turn it into a media sensation.
Ways To Cope With Media Reporting On Violence
I have no answers for what has happened today, or for how any one person should try to move through such an unexplainable series of events. What I can offer are a few suggestions of how I personally work my way through days and weeks like these. You may find yourself inclined to try one or more of these things, or you may find them to be ill-suited for you personally. Hopefully, in reading the list, you will at least consider some ways to help yourself and your loved ones as you try to find your way back towards a less scary and unsteady place.
Control Your Media Intake
We cannot control public tragedies, or what the media shares in their aftermath. We cannot control how others around us may react to the events. We can control when and how much we personally take in, how we spend our time, and how we try to find balance in confusing and frightening days.
Put yourself on an immediate “news diet.” Make a conscious and implementable plan for your news intake.
That may mean allowing yourself to check in briefly with the news once every two hours. Or perhaps you’ll decide that giving yourself one solid hour, and then no other news for the day is a better fit.
Regardless of your specific decision, make a plan and commit to sticking to it. Let friends and family know, so they are able to respect and support your choice. Take note of how you feel after checking in with the news. If you find you feel worse than before you checked in, more reason to limit your news intake.
A tragedy is not, and should not be a spectator sport.
The Importance Of Kindness
Do something kind.
It doesn’t matter what you do, but make a point to do something good or kind today, and each day as the crisis continues to unfold.
- Let someone ahead of you in traffic
- Leave a few extra dollars for your waitress
- Take your dog (and yourself) on an extra long walk
- Ask for a hug, or give one
Suggested Read: Why A Hug Is Important For Your Wellbeing
I’m betting you’ll feel better after doing something kind for someone else. There’s something inherently therapeutic about acts of kindness, which can help you to balance out the negative emotions you may find yourself inundated with in times of publicized sorrow.
Suggested Read: The Importance Of World Kindness Day
Consider if Social Media is the Right Medium to Share Your Feelings
Since there is no longer a standard for grieving, today’s blurred lines are confusing and difficult to navigate.
Consider if social media is the right medium to post your feelings or thoughts on the recent event. If you feel inclined to post about your feelings of sadness, your wishes for impacted families, or your thoughts on tragedy in general, that may be something to consider.
Ask yourself if posting updates about the tragedy will help you or others.
Surround Yourself with Your Loved Ones
Reach out to those you love, and tell them you love them. It may sound cliché, but have you ever felt anything other than good after sharing your feelings of love or friendship with people in your life? It’s an easy way to both offer support, and feel support yourself.
When Talking to Children
If you have children in your life, be mindful of what they may be seeing and hearing. It is always a good idea to ask your children what they are feeling, and how you can help them to process those feelings. They may have created some “truths” in their minds that are not accurate or helpful for them to be holding. Ask them what they have learned. If you have any concerns about how to support your child through tragic events, you can reach out to school or grief counselors, therapists, or other local support services.
Contribute to an Organization or Cause
Physically do something to help. This doesn’t mean you have to call in sick to work and fly to the impacted areas. This means choosing to devote time, energy, or money to a cause that is close to your heart.
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter,
- Send money (even a few dollars) to an organization that speaks to you,
- Help to clean up litter at an underfunded playground or park.
When you immerse yourself in something that is helping those in need, you will likely feel a sense of connection to people everywhere who are helping where help is needed. It’s a good feeling that can help to balance out some of the negative feelings.
The mindset is: We cannot, through any good deed, positive idea, or thoughtfully-worded blog post change what happened. We cannot go back in time and prevent tragedy. We cannot still the hands of those who perpetrated violence.
We Can Decide
I certainly don’t mean to suggest that we can or should pretend that nothing has happened. What we can do is change the way we decide to personally move through times like these. We can make a choice to surround ourselves with supportive thoughts and individuals rather than repetitive and horrifying images and news stories. We can make a choice to help our children digest and understand what has happened in a way that is appropriate for their age. We can decide to do lots and lots and lots of tiny positive things in hopes of helping to counterbalance the few large and terrible things that will happen in this world. We can decide to focus our time and energy towards creating a small bit of healing in a time of large sorrow.
Really, that’s the most any of us can hope to do in a time like this – find or create a small piece of healing. Which can be an inspiring goal to work towards.
If you have other positive suggestions for coping during times of tragedy, please add them in the comments section below. You may find that offering support to others can help you to find your own sense of healing.