Reports of mass shootings are on the rise, and seemingly not a day goes by without a new story of a fatal incident in a school, shopping mall, or another public place. If the news overwhelms you, you're not alone.
Many people are struggling to cope with the fear and loss that these events cause. It's deeply troubling that such atrocities could happen so close to home and that anyone could become a victim.
Although resilience is part of human nature, mass shootings interrupt your sense of order and safety. Moreover, the repercussions of mass shootings are far-reaching, and the ripple effect of trauma often extends to people who live far from the event.
You may feel scared, confused, helpless, and on edge even without a personal connection to the shooting. In the aftermath, feelings of anxiety, stress, and grief can bubble to the surface. You may find it difficult to sleep, eat, concentrate, or find joy in things that once made you happy. These are all common reactions to trauma.
Although living through the distress and disturbance of a mass shooting is challenging, there are things you can do to help yourself heal and cope. Here are some ideas.
Acknowledge your feelings
It's normal to have strong and varied feelings during these difficult times. Some people feel numb, while others feel angry, guilty, or ashamed. There's no "right" way to feel, so be accepting of whatever emotions come up for you.
It's important to acknowledge whatever emotions you're experiencing, even if they seem contradictory. By doing so, you'll be better equipped to deal with them in a healthy way.
Take care of yourself
When dealing with difficult emotions, taking care of yourself physically and emotionally is more important than ever. You need to nurture yourself so you're strong enough to cope and to help other affected family members and friends.
That means eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. It also means avoiding alcohol and drugs, which can make you feel worse in the long run, even if they offer temporary relief.
Connect with others
During tough times, it's natural to want to withdraw from others. But it's also true that no one is an island, and it can be helpful to talk about your feelings and difficult emotions with people who understand what you're going through and can offer support. This could be friends, family, a professional counselor or therapist, or a support group for people affected by mass shootings.
Sharing your story can help you feel less alone and give you some perspective on what happened. In addition, understanding that others are also experiencing emotional reactions may help you put your feelings and thoughts in order.
Find a creative outlet
For some people, creativity can be a helpful tool in managing difficult emotions. Studies show that art therapy can help people experiencing trauma.
Doing something that engages your imagination can help you process the events in a non-literal way and express yourself in a safe and controlled environment.
Creative outlets could include writing, painting, drawing, photography, or making music. Anything that allows you to express yourself positively can be helpful.
Stay informed, but limit your exposure
It can be tempting to obsessively follow news and social media coverage of a mass shooting, but too much exposure can intensify your anxiety and make it harder to cope. Unplugging from the constant stream of information allows you to focus on other things in your life, like taking care of yourself and those around you.
But, you may find it useful to stay informed to understand what happened and how it might affect you and your community. So allow yourself to stay up-to-date, but find a balance that works for you and limit your exposure to graphic or disturbing coverage. And don't forget to stick to reliable resources and once you have the basic facts, step away from the television, computer, or phone.
Help out in your community
One way to feel more in control after a mass shooting is to get involved in making your community safer. This could mean volunteering for a local organization that works to prevent gun violence or advocating for stricter gun control laws. Even small actions — like writing a letter to elected officials — can make a difference.
Engaging with your community can also help you feel connected to others and give you a sense of purpose. You might also get involved in fundraising for the victims and their families or organizing a blood drive. These activities can help you feel empowered and motivated to make a difference.
Seek professional help
If you're finding it difficult to cope with your emotions, don't hesitate to seek professional help. It's a sign of strength, not weakness, to ask for assistance when you're struggling.
A therapist or counselor can help you process your feelings and manage your emotions while also providing practical and healthy coping strategies.
If you're unsure where to start, your primary care physician can provide a referral, or you can go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website to find resources in your community.
No one should have to experience the trauma of a mass shooting. But if you do find yourself in this situation, it's important to remember that you're not alone. There are people and resources available to help you through this difficult time.
Lean on your support system, take care of yourself, and get involved in your community to begin the healing process.
Mass shootings can have a profound emotional impact on those affected, even if they didn't witness the event first-hand.
Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally after a mass shooting is important.
You should acknowledge your feelings, talk to others, and seek professional help if you struggle.
Finding a creative outlet can also help you process emotions, while helping in the community may offer a sense of purpose and reconnection.
American Counseling Association. Coping in the aftermath of a shooting.
Journal of The American Art Therapy Association. Art Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy for Combat-Related PTSD: A Randomized Controlled Trial.
American psychological Association. Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting.