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Coping Strategies in the Aftermath of a Mass Tragedy

In the wake of the tragedies in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, I believe it is important to reflect on how these events affect adults and possibly more importantly, our kids. It is unbelievable that these tragedies have almost become expected or possibly the “new normal” of our modern society. These acts are obviously heinous and traumatic for the people directly involved, but what may not be as obvious is its effect on people that observe these events through the news. We turn on the TV or surf the web and are immediately informed and inundated with the images of these horrific events—and so are our kids. Here are some tips to help process and heal after tragedy:

  • Talk about it. These events are scary and it’s near impossible to make sense of why these things happen, so it’s important to tune into our feelings. Ask how your kids are feeling. Simply having a conversation can help us work through our emotions.

  • Strive for balance. When a tragedy occurs it is all too easy to take a pessimistic viewpoint of the world and see “the bad” in everything. Balance this reaction out by remembering aspects of your life that bring joy and happiness. For example: the birth of your child, wedding day, or whatever was, “the best day of your life.” This technique “balances out” your mindset. Striving for balance empowers us for a healthier perspective of ourselves, others, and our world.

  • Turn the TV off or set the iPads down. It’s normal to want to be informed but overexposure to the news can actually contribute to our stress. Put the devices away and try to do something you enjoy like reading one of your favorite books or listening to some music. Disconnecting allows us to process our feelings and emotions rather than exacerbating them with a never ending flood of 24/7 news updates.

  • Take care of ourselves. Self-care is critical in managing stress from tragedy. Go for a walk/ run, do yoga, or ride a bike. All exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormones, and helps combat sadness. Eat healthy and try to limit alcohol intake because it is a depressant that likely will suppress your emotions rather than allowing you manage them and lessen your distress. Exercise and limiting alcohol also leads to healthier sleep which is critical during stressful times.

  • Help take care of others. Instead of wallowing alone, it can often help to simply get out with other people and work together for a common good. After a tragedy, some people have a desire to help others. Utilize that energy by volunteering in your community or for your church. There are always people that could use a little assistance and helping others can offset our own negative emotions.

There are countless other ways to healthily respond to tragedy, but sometime strategies are simply not enough. In these cases, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional for help. If you or someone you know needs assistance, please contact, Greenlight Counseling. We are here to help.


Matthew R. Biermacher, MA, LPC

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