After acts of mass violence, including the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, we may be left without words and with diminished hope. We might ask ourselves, “Why is this occurring? What is happening to the world? What does this mean for our future?”
It’s difficult for our minds and hearts to process our thoughts and feelings about horrific acts of violence that happen throughout our world. As a psychotherapist who has been practicing for more than 20 years, I recommend the following:
- Understand that your feelings are a normal response to trauma. Recognize that feeling disheartened, disconnected, afraid, angry, sad, confused, disconnected or numb are all normal responses to events of mass violence. While we may not have been directly impacted, we are all interconnected and we may feel ebbs and flows of grief, loss, depression and anxiety.
- Honor your feelings by allowing them time and space to process. Feelings are waves of energy we store in the body. Learn to observe the feelings and surf them rather than becoming engulfed by them. Express yourself through journaling, making art, or talking to trusted friends, family or a therapist/counselor.
- Recognize that this event may bring up feelings from past traumas. A current incident or trauma may trigger thoughts and feelings from a past trauma (perhaps a similar act of violence, such as 9-11, or a personal trauma like an accident, injury or assault.) Understand that the feelings you are processing may not only be a response to the current event, but also about these past incidents.
- Protect yourself from repeated traumatization by unplugging from the news. Once you are informed about an incident, turn off the news and take a break from social media. Repeatedly listening to the news is re-traumatizing. Unplug in order to allow your mind and body to detox from elevated cortisol levels and return to homeostasis.
- Seek peace within yourself. Quiet your mind and body through deep breathing and meditation. Breath in peace and serenity, and breath out all negative thoughts and feelings. Practice a positive mantra such as, “Peace, Love and Joy.” Ground yourself through progressive muscle relaxation. Choose to be calm in your heart. Send prayers or thoughts of loving kindness to all those who have been impacted by the incident.
- Practice self-care and seek comfort. Hold your loved ones. Pet your pets. Be your own good parent and make sure you get enough rest, proper nutrition, exercise and support. Take a bubble bath. Listen to soothing music.
- Access support. Connect with friends and community. Have honest conversations about the event. Facilitate a peace circle with neighbors, colleagues or loved ones. Seek therapy and counseling as needed, and as a routine, preventative aspect of wellness and healthcare.
- Detach from fear. Living in fear is not a healthy mode of operation. Emancipate yourself and choose not let these events restrict your travel, activities or way of living. Choose to live fully and freely. Don’t loose faith in the goodness of humanity. Do not give the mass attacker the power to change how you feel about yourself or the world around you. Take notice of all the good people and kindness in the world. As Fred Rogers said his mother advised when scary things happen in the world, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
- Empower yourself to take action. Do not accept this as normal or okay. Choose to be part of making things better. Volunteer. Give money. Support organizations and legislation that facilitate peace, prevent and treat mental illness, and reduce violence.
“We cannot achieve world peace without first achieving peace within ourselves… Inner Peace. In an atmosphere of Hatred, Anger, Competition and Violence, no Lasting Peace can be achieved. These negative and destructive forces must be overcome by Compassion, Love and Altruism, which are the essential teaching of The Buddha.” ~The Dalai Lama