We are living through terrifying, unsettling times in an unpredictable world. The onslaught of news about violence seems to be never-ending these days, and in consequence, more of us are experiencing increased anxiety, fear and uncertainty as we go about our daily lives. Adults, children, parents, families, professionals, educators, caregivers, first responders, every member of our community—we all need help coping with the difficult emotions and acute responses caused by acts of terror, gun violence and hatred.
Our fears, if persistent, can result in more stress related-illnesses, decreased productivity at work, problems in interpersonal relationships, and poorer quality of life. For some, it can lead to even bigger problems like substance abuse, depression and trauma. So, what can you do to keep your fears in check? Here are a few coping strategies aimed at helping you during these challenging times:
Limit your exposure to the media and social media.
Take your news in small bites. Media outlets need to push the envelope on their stories in order to achieve higher ratings. It’s our job as intelligent, savvy consumers not to get sucked into the hype. Once you have gotten the facts, don’t keep watching replays of events. Seeing disturbing images over and over not only desensitizes one to the event, but also adds trauma upon trauma—further intensifying the reactions to the event. By getting some distance from the news, by turning off the television or social media, we give ourselves a chance to catch our breath and refocus our attention.
Give fear a shape.
Dr. Friedemann Schaub, MD, PhD, author of The Fear and Anxiety Solution explains that fear typically comes from a part of our mind that feels powerless, incapable and small, based on feelings from early on in life. He recommends imagining that fear has the shape and appearance of a child and then speaking to that child as though you are a loving, nurturing parent. “I have found this to be an effective way to interrupt the fear spiral because you’re switching from feeling anxious to being a source of comfort and support,” Schaub explains. It also empowers people to take charge of their emotions and separate their fear from the rest of who they are.
Keep your daily routine.
Maintain a normal routine and lifestyle as much as possible. Unless public safety officials have issued warnings or closed buildings, continue with your day-to-day activities. This encourages us to feel normal by acting normal. Routines provide us a sense of “normalcy”, comfort and stability. Remember that the goal of terrorism is to make you fearful; terrorists thrive on this kind of thing. They want to see the population change their practices. The antidote to this is keeping a routine that enables you to meet people who don’t look like you, people who you wouldn’t otherwise know. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep, regular meals and exercise.
Reaching out to others—by asking how they’re doing or offering help, for example—counters fear. It helps to help other people, and it can make us feel more connected at times when we’re afraid of other people. Furthermore, people who have strong social support are more likely to successfully cope with fear, anger, sadness, and other difficult emotions related to traumatic events. If you live alone or your social network is limited, reach out to others and make new friends. Connect with other survivors of the event or disaster or participate in memorials, events, and other public rituals. Comfort others or volunteer your time for a cause that’s important to you.
Balance the negative with the positive.
Try to remain mindful of all the positive happenings around you (you may even consider writing out a gratitude list). When we focus too much on human horrors, we lose our sense of safety and security. Remind yourself that these events, while tragic and worthy of our attention and support, do not mean the world is an unsafe place. Think about the honorable people who rescued strangers when their lives were at risk, those who had the good fortune to be saved, and the community that comes together and rebounds. The images and stories of firefighters and other emergency personnel that live on in the hearts of all who watched 9/11 unfold. As Mr. Rogers would say, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Even in the midst of tragedy, the resiliency of the human spirit shines through.
Get help, if needed.
For some, fear turns into something bigger. If fear is consuming you—if you can’t sleep or focus or function normally anymore or you feel numb or hopeless or are experiencing suicidal thoughts—seek professional help. This is especially important for those who live with depression, substance abuse problems, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your anxieties can be relieved, but you may not be able to do it on your own. It’s also important to get support from friends and family. They can help keep threats in perspective and be a sounding board for fears and worries.
Prayers and thoughts for a more peaceful world.