Your Mental Health Suffers After a Mass Shooting—Here’s How You Can Cope

Your Mental Health Suffers After a Mass Shooting—Here's How You Can Cope

People across the country are still experiencing shock, grief, and anger after two major mass shootings occurred this weekend. On Saturday, a gunman killed 22 people and injured 26 others at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, making it one of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history. Less than 24 hours later, a gunman opened fire at the entrance of a bar in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people and injuring 27 others in less than one minute.

The past few days have been flooded with non-stop political commentary, public outrage, and an influx of heartbreaking images of the victims and their loved ones across the news and social media—and understandably, you may feel a bit on edge from the weight of it all.

Mass shootings have become so common in our country that doctors are calling gun violence a public health epidemic. News like this is terrifying, and it can be hard not to imagine something like this happening to you or your loved ones. As a result, your mental and physical health can suffer tremendously. Here, experts explain how these horrific events can impact your day-to-day life and what you can do to cope.

How can mass shootings take a toll on your mental health?

"The news of violence and killings presents a shocking breakthrough of the coping mechanisms that we all use to control the fears of living in the world," says clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life. Most people don't spend their time thinking about the bad things that could happen and, when a shooting happens, it brings those fears to the forefront, he says.

Mass shootings—whether you experience one in person or witness the aftermath on social media—are incredibly traumatic and can bring out feelings of shock, sorrow, numbness, anger, and grief, according the American Psychological Association (APA). This can impact your sleep, concentration, willingness to eat, and everyday functioning (like remembering to finish simple tasks).

These horrific events can also cause feelings of "tremendous powerlessness," says Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif. "You can't find any real way to protect yourself and that's scary," she says.

How to mentally cope in the wake of a mass shooting

It may feel overwhelming, but you can start to find balance again by adopting a few self-care practices.

Recognize how you truly feel.

Mass shootings are terrifying and unnecessarily tragic, and you're only human for being upset about them. "You shouldn't brush those feelings off," Mendez says, which can even include physical symptoms like soreness and exhaustion in addition to depression and anxiety. Talk to someone you trust about your thoughts or journal about it so you can express your emotions.

If you personally know someone who was impacted by a mass shooting, the APA urges people to remember that "grief is a long process" and that dealing with the trauma may have its ups and downs. If you find that you need support outside of your friends and family, seeing a therapist can help you manage your feelings and find healthy ways of working through it.

Be selective about what you read.

Reading and re-reading news stories about the shootings will only make you more upset. That doesn't mean you should pretend they didn't happen, but if you find that you're struggling to cope with the news, try to avoid reading these stories for a while. "You can overdo it," Mayer says.

Constantly reading tweets and Instagram posts about the events can also stir up emotions that are difficult to deal with, Mendez says. The APA says "the images can be very powerful in reawakening your feeling of distress," so unplug when you are able to give yourself a mental break.

Donate to victims' funds, if you're able.

Mass shootings often make people feel powerless, and going out of your way to try to offer support to those who have been personally impacted can make you feel like you're doing something to help (and you actually are), Mayer says. This can including donating blood if you live near the area, donating to organizations committed to ending gun violence (like Everytown for Gun Safety, March For Our Lives, and Moms Demand Action), or donating to GoFundMe pages set up for the victims.

Becoming politically active—even through local organizations or by contacting your state's elected officials—can also give you a sense of purpose. "When we become activists, it helps us feel more in control of our fears," Mayer says. "This is a great coping mechanism." And, of course, you stand to actually make a change.

Relax with meditation.

"Meditation and mindfulness always helps with clearing your mind and bringing you into a state of being centered," Mayer says. Not sure where to start? These meditation apps can help you unwind.

Keep up with healthy habits.

Getting plenty of sleep, eating balanced meals, and incorporating exercise into your routine can help you deal with excessive stress, the APA says. The organization also recommends avoiding alcohol and drugs "because they can suppress your feelings rather than help you to manage and lessen your distress." These substances could actually make you feel worse, both emotionally and physically, so it's best to avoid them until you feel like you're in a better mental space.

Remind yourself of the good in life.

"There's just as much good happening as well," Mendez says. This can be a on a larger scale, like reading stories about people who are doing nice things for each other, or looking at the good things that are happening in your personal life and celebrating those.

If you've tried these steps and you're still struggling, don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional. The news of a mass shooting is emotionally overwhelming and can be difficult to recover from—it's completely okay to seek extra support. To find a therapist near you, click here.


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Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men's Health, Women's Health, Self, Glamour, and more.

Your Mental Health Suffers After a Mass Shooting—Here's How You Can Cope, Source:https://www.prevention.com/health/mental-health/a28622613/mass-shooting-mental-health-coping-tips/

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