Coping with Mass Shootings and Other Tragedies

The number of mass shootings so far this year in the United States is mind-boggling.  I’m not going into detail today about my opinions on what we call gun control, at least not in this week’s blog post.

Just to illustrate, here is a graphical representation of the rise in mass shootings:

However, I do want to share some information about how to cope with the feelings of shock, horror, sadness, numbness, fear, anger, grief, and so on. You might find yourself having difficulty sleeping, focusing, eating, or remembering even the most basic, ordinary things. Intense reactions like this should pass, and if they don’t, you shouldn’t hesitate to get professional help of some type.

Talk about it.

Don’t keep your feelings and emotions about these horrible events buried deep inside. Talk to the people who care about you, and who may very well find out that they share some of your feelings. The experience of receiving or sharing support can be comforting and reassuring.

We need to be able to communicate openly with our children about terrible things in the world, on an age-appropriate level, of course. That communication should be encouraged, even if what they express doesn’t match our own feelings or beliefs.

Seek balance.

When a tragedy happens, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The world can seem very dark and negative. and like everything has a bad or pessimistic outlook. It can be easy to internalize that. Try to balance out some of the darkness by reminding yourself of positive people, and events that are meaningful and comforting. The world isn’t all good and it isn’t all bad either, no matter how it sometimes seems.

The way in which you accomplish this search for balance will be entirely up to you and what makes you feel centered. Here are just a few ideas: Read a book, listen to music, go to the park, exercise, garden, spend time with your pets, swim, hike, ride a bike, and enjoy a favorite hobby.

Take a break from the news.

It’s important to be informed and aware of what’s going on in the world, but sometimes you really need to limit the quantity of news you take in every day. It’s not like we just get the nightly news anymore. Instead, there are 24-hour news networks, and entertainment networks masquerading as news. In addition to television, we get news on the Internet, on our smartphones, and on our smartwatches. All of our social media platforms also bombard us with the news.

Too much news can increase your stress or have the opposite effect and desensitize you to painful realities. Both extremes are a problem.  Deliberately planned to give yourself some breaks in thinking about distressing news and allow yourself that time to focus on positive things.

Respect your feelings.

Be aware that it’s understandable to experience a variety of emotions after a traumatic event in your own life, or that you connect with on the news. If it interferes with your daily living, you should seek assistance in some way.  Doing so doesn’t make you overly dramatic or anything else except smart.

Fear is a normal reaction to events such as mass shootings. We shouldn’t try to avoid conversations about horrific violence when those discussions are started by our peers. Yet we don’t want to become obsessive or live in constant fear.

Take good care of yourself!

Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest and build physical activity into your day. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can suppress your feelings rather than help you to manage and lessen your distress. In addition, alcohol and drugs may intensify your emotional or physical pain. Establish or reestablish routines such as eating meals at regular times and following an exercise program. If you are having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.

Help others

Taking action and getting involved can help you feel empowered and less helpless. Making a difference in any small way matters more than you might  think. Seek out resources in your local community and ask about ways you can help people who have been affected by this incident or have other needs. Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better, too.

This is an important time of year for so many families, with proms, graduations, the end of school, religious and secular rites of passage, family vacations, family reunions, high school reunions, weddings, and many other joyful occasions. Many of those things have been off of our calendars for two years as the pandemic raged. Mass shootings never left us, but they seem to have ramped up again and the most recent are some of the most tragic we’ve seen in a long time. Just like we couldn’t stop living after September 11th, we can’t stop living now.

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, please don’t hesitate to email me at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *