Coping Strategies to Deal with Tragic Events

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When tragedy happens, such as the recent social unrest in combination with the current coronavirus pandemic, it can affect us all. Whether it happens halfway around the world, in another part of our country or right down the street, most of us can’t help but feel the pain that our fellow humans are feeling: sadness, fear, anger, frustration, outrage and confusion.

“All of these are normal emotional reactions to tragedy, but sometimes it can feel like it’s just too much,” said Monarch Behavioral Health Therapist Douglas Cox, M.A., LCMHCS, LCAS-A, who works out of the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) in Wake County.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are coping strategies that can help. It’s a good idea to limit exposure to media outlets to once or twice a day and also limit the number of channels consulted. Focus on what you can control and engage in self-care.

The following are some additional coping strategies Cox suggests to care for yourself and each other.

Talk

Find friends and family, coworkers and neighbors, and share your experience. If you’re having a hard time, others probably are, as well. Our ability to process these events and make meaning out of them helps us get our thoughts together. Use caution when reading social media. When emotions run high, people can be less than kind when voicing opinions online. Remember that words have power, and the person reading your words has more power to decide what you meant to convey than you do.

Listen

The other side of letting our thoughts and feelings out is allowing others to do the same. Try not to judge. Sometimes all of us say things we wish we could take back when we’re upset. Extend grace to people and give the benefit of the doubt.

Keep everything in perspective

In circumstances when someone acts out violently, it’s easy to assume that everyone who looks or talks like that person has the same motives and intentions. One individual or small group of people with extreme views does not represent every person of that race, religion, nationality or culture. Most people are kind and loving, and are often mortified by those who claim to represent them. Global negative views keep people apart rather than bring them together.

Practice understanding

In situations when someone is hurt or killed because of what seems like carelessness or neglect, remember that everyone makes mistakes. It’s easy to make decisions (or judgments) when we have the luxury of time and distance on our side.

Do something nice

It may sound simple, but kindness is often overlooked when we’re afraid or upset. Giving another person a helping hand generally takes very little effort, but the impact can last a long time. Consider volunteering or donating in other ways. If you are able, give blood. When bad things happen, doing for others can help shift our focus to something good.

Spend time with people you care about (and who care about you)

When tragedy strikes, it can be helpful to surround yourself with people who restore your faith in humanity.

Take care of you

Eat, stay hydrated, and get plenty of sleep. You are a whole person of body, mind and spirit. When one of those parts is out of line, it is much easier for the others to be.

Avoid alcohol and other mind-altering substances

When overwhelmed by negative emotion, many people will go to great lengths to numb the pain. Using alcohol and other drugs can be dangerous and delays the process of healing.

Ask for help

Talk to a counselor, pastor or another support person trained in helping people sort through troublesome thoughts and emotions. Help is often just a phone call or a few clicks away. If you’re looking for help online, remember that not everything that looks like help actually is.

Most often, online discussion boards are loosely monitored and feature the less-than-kind voices mentioned above. Websites that end in “.org” or “.gov” are more often non-profit or governmental agencies who have to answer for the things they publish. Visit the Monarch community resources page which offers an array of mental health and resource information.

In addition to the above coping strategies, Cox recommended to be patient with yourself and just breathe: “The emotional responses we have in the face of tragedy are normal. Give yourself a break and don’t judge yourself – or others – too harshly. Healing takes time.”

Coping Strategy Resources