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Coping with Societal Trauma in the News

The twenty-four-hour news cycle, covering what can feel like an increasingly violent and chaotic world, is enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed, depressed, and disheartened. This blog entry is written in the immediate aftermath of the Las Vegas mass shooting, yet it is entirely possible that by its posting, another tragic event will have unfolded. While some outlets do take special care to honor victims, a significant portion is often devoted to analyzing details about the horrific events themselves as well as the perpetrator(s). The increasing availability of “true crime” shows, movies, podcasts, and books can also veer in a similar direction. In the wake of chaos, our human desire to understand can often lead media consumers down a rabbit hole that can exacerbate depression and anxiety, two of the more common reasons for clients to seek therapy. While it may not be possible or advisable to completely cut off the flow of information, there are ways to temper the possible adverse effects.

Be cautious about media intake. Not all news is created equally! It is okay to limit the amount of time spent reading or watching the news to avoid becoming flooded with information. Keep in mind that often in the days and weeks after traumatic societal events, initial news reports may not be fully accurate. It can take time for the correct sequence of events to emerge, which often is counter to the desire of twenty-four-hour news to publish information as soon as possible. This applies to social media as well since it is there that we often learn previously unknown opinions about controversial issues from family and friends. It may be wise to avoid platforms which can promote intense debates and combative arguments.

Prioritize self-care. If you are already in a consistent habit of self-care, now is the time to rely on what has worked in the past. Common examples of self-care habits include healthy exercise, meditation and prayer, socializing with supportive people, or even the occasional day devoted to binge-watching a favorite (not news) show. Talk about what emotions these traumatic societal events trigger within you with a therapist, sponsor, or spiritual advisor. This last part is especially important if you have ever been the victim or are close to a victim of a similar type of event.

Identify what you can and cannot control. Trauma, by its nature, evokes feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. It is common for trauma victims to experience a fight, flight, or freeze response. This can also be true even for those who experience second-hand trauma such as the events covered by the news. Yet it is extremely rare for us to have absolutely no control in a given situation. Although we are not in control of others’ actions, beliefs, or emotions, we do have the ability to adapt our own in order to better cope with life as it is unfolding. It may be helpful at this stage to write out these lists since this practice often helps solidify messages to ourselves.

Take positive action. To combat feelings of helplessness, it can be useful to channel energy into positive action, including donating time or money, spreading information regarding resources, or otherwise utilizing your talents to support survivors. This step can also help to find meaning in the midst of chaotic unpredictability. It can be seen that in the wake of immense tragedy, local and national communities often rally in tremendous ways. Look for those who are helping and displaying acts of heroism.

Even when the world around us seems frightening and overwhelming, seeking the positive and taking care of ourselves can allow us to continue living life in the most adaptive way possible. For guidance about coping with life on life’s terms, contact Symmetry Counseling today.

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