As we mourn the tragedy in Orlando, the lives lost and the wounds arising, I extend my deepest sympathies to all those who lost loved ones, who experienced trauma and who are dealing with fear and pain in the wake of the shooting.
I share these thoughts on coping with brutal times with the greatest love and respect for each individual’s process and needs. This is a powerful and nuanced issue. If what I’m sharing here works for you please keep it, use it, share it. If it’s not right for you, I accept that, I support your right to hold your own views, value you as part of the world I love, and I support you in seeking coping strategies that fit you.
Though observing isn’t the same as actually surviving an unfathomable social injustice or experiencing a violent incident, it can trigger anxiety, stress or even depression. When we lose touch with our own reality and self with each manifestation of upset and fear, the effect on our lives can be profound and far-reaching.
Where can we offer healing and holding to ourselves and others in the hardest times?
When can we address the places we are wounded and mourn our pain?
How do we cope in a world that can be such a terribly scary place?
Name the feelings.
So many of us have spent so long running from fear, from grief, from pain that working with it is a foreign concept, even more difficult to consciously practice. And though riding with fear is hard, emotional warrior work, it’s necessary.
Instead of running, when you feel your fear, your grief, your pain – pause. (If it’s safe, of course!) Just take a moment. It may well be uncomfortable (rather than unbearable), but that moment is a valuable one. Ground yourself. Feel your feet. Think of things you know to be true. Good things. Make a list: I love my dogs, I am in Wales, I am Grace….
Get more familiar with your fear/grief/pain. Where are its edges? Often, after emotion washes over you, listening to it will make the waves more gentle, or attune you to consciously using your feelings to warn or protect you in a loving way.
After you’ve paused, felt and listened to you fear/grief/pain, just as consciously, move on with your day if that’s appropriate for you.
Is it possible to protect yourself from any of the things that hurt or impact you negatively? Can you give yourself permission to let go of any guilt associated with doing so? For example, from continual news reports. Forget about what you “should know”, or that it’s “wrong” to not be aware of the plight of others. News breaks and developments play themselves out on 24-hour news feeds or other media.
Take a break. For an hour. A day. A week. Whatever works for you.
Stop watching the news. Turn off the radio. Close the laptop. Remember that watching, listening and reading the most does not translate into being the most well-informed (indeed, in this day and age, it can be quite the opposite!)
You may be surprised at the strong reactions from others (both good and bad!). Some may feel your approach is leaving you uninformed, ignorant and without compassion for the world at large. Others may applaud your against-the-grain stance of quality over quantity in a time of unprecedented idea sharing.
Personally, watching the news makes me feel overwhelmed, disempowered and adrenally exhausted. None of that helps me to do good work, which is my mission.
Bottom line: You don’t need to watch the news to make a difference in the world. You can give yourself some space, and fill that space with positive action (all of which helps to build resilience).
Unite with your community.
Often the world at large seems scary because we feel alone. Reminding ourselves of all the good people we know, the good they do and how you are aligned with them can help immensely.
Generally, positive stories are not deemed nearly so newsworthy as the negative – but that doesn’t mean your own lines of communication should be the same. Use your blog, Twitter and the current social media explosion to create a newsfeed of your own, one that unites your community and promotes positivity. Look for the helpers. (For a great example, keep reading Positively Positive, or check out Positive News – who make it their business to report only good things.)
Notice the meta-injustice… then work to change it.
Oftentimes, we find ourselves affected so deeply by specific news items because we are profoundly upset by the larger, meta-injustice revealed. The news from Orlando is more than an isolated story about an attack on a club; it highlights the meta-injustice of ongoing racism, homophobia and brutality. The many violent deaths on Sunday only further brings to the fore the injustice of prejudice and the absolute need and right of all to enjoy peace and compassion. The news of this attack may evoke emotion and anger over bullying and resistance, fear and safety.
Take some time to process, and talk your deeper feelings through with someone you trust and respect – a coach, a therapist, even a supportive friend. Dig into what the fear is for you. Then, actively seek out ways you can change things. Whether you become an advocate, activist or simply transition to working with your own questions of prejudice in everyday life, your actions matter.
Resist the adrenaline drip feed.
In this wellness warrior’s opinion, one of the most difficult aspects of news is its constancy. We feel obliged to seek constant updates because they are there, every single second. And while vicarious traumatisation – the “contagious” effect of being traumatised by hearing about or witnessing the trauma of another – is something generally reserved for discussion with therapists and aid workers, it affects us all, and deeply so: full blown PTSD can result from witnessing a trauma as well as from experiencing one.
The all-encompassing way we view the news is what makes it so challenging and potentially damaging: We are privy to frightening situations unfolding from every angle, each report, update, note and opinion. We are hyper-exposed, moment, by moment. Our bodies – and minds – may react as though we are present in the space of the traumatic event, but we are static, removed and – often the most demoralising – feel we can’t do anything about the tragedy.
I asked my own Grandmother how she coped in WWII, with so much death, loss and unbearable tragedy. She noted that, though it was terribly difficult, somehow, the news taking weeks to arrive from the front lines made absorbing it easier. This slower pace gave her time between traumas to feel, grieve – to truly process what was happening – before being inundated with another event. Now, we are witness to multiple, penetrating tragedies in quick succession, in real time and without the salve of the more organic pacing my Grandmother experienced.
Resist the drip-feed of the always-present media frenzy. Cut back. Limit your viewing to once a day. And then use your extra energy to make change.
Notice what you have in common… then practice kind awareness.
When hurt, we may shut down, and attack those hurting us. Worse still, we may lash out at those who are trying to help. Or, in what may be the most dangerous legacy of feeling wounded, we may employ the self-defence mechanism of shrinking away from the world and others.
When you are shut out or hurt or afraid, how do you react? What’s your pattern? Do you, however unintentionally, shut out others in retaliation?
He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him in!
Excerpt from “Outwitted”, Edwin Markham
Where are your circles drawn? Who falls in? Who falls out? Who decides the diameter of the circle in the first place?
Very often, it is you.
Practice connecting. Remember:
– We are all human
– We all suffer and don’t want to
– We all breathe
– We all have beating hearts
– We were all once tiny babies with no thoughts of growing up or existing in a world of such terror and violence
Simple connecting exercises can help prevent losing sight of our universal humanity, or demonising sectors of it.
Put the love back in!
Into yourself, that is. Take a mental holiday by focusing on what makes you happy. What do you love? Think about it, for a set time you’ve put aside just for the occasion. What do you positively adore? Enjoy it. Bask in it. Fill your heart up and feel your soul sing.
Focussing on yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t care about others who are struggling. In fact, it’s giving you the resources to cope better in such a difficult time, and that’s important.
I’m sending so much love to you at this time, and hope these thoughts are helpful. If so, please share them with those you feel may benefit. And share your own ways to cope in the comments below.
If you need to talk, call:
(UK & ROI) Samaritans – 116 123 (their new freephone number)
(USA) Suicide Prevention Life Line – 1-800-273-8255
(Australia) LifeLine – 13 11 14
I am writing as a UK national, my information about the shooting and the fall-out comes from friends of mine in the US as well as the BBC reports.
I can’t speak for the people directly involved as I am not one of them but I can speak on the impact of healing from trauma, witnessing violence and how we can handle it, which is what I am sharing here.
PTSD, trauma, depression and other mental health conditions must be diagnosed by a medical professional. This essay cannot be taken as medical advice. I encourage you to see a registered medical professional.
By reading this essay, you acknowledge that I am not a licensed psychologist or health care professional and my services do not replace the care of psychologists or other healthcare professionals.
This essay is an educational and informational resource for humans looking to heal. It is not a substitute for working with psychologist or other healthcare professional. I cannot guarantee the outcome of following the recommendations provided and my statements about the potential outcome are expressions of opinion only. I make no guarantees about the information and recommendations provided herein. By continuing to use/read/participate in this essay you acknowledge that I cannot guarantee any particular results, as such outcomes are based on subjective factors that are not within my control. Therefore, following any information or recommendations provided on this essay are at your own risk. If you need mental health treatment, you should hire a psychologist or other professional.
Grace Quantock is an award-winning international wellness expert, coach, author, motivational speaker, certified Reiki master and spiritual response therapy practitioner. She is the founder of Healing Boxes CIC and The Phoenix Fire Academy. Currently living – and thriving – with often debilitating illness, she is the real deal and knows, firsthand, the emotional and physical roller coaster that accompanies diagnosis and life struggle. Currently, a resident of Wales, Grace loves reading, gardening and early mornings. She firmly believes that life is meant to be celebrated, and has made it her mission to help others do just that …joyfully and on their own terms. You can follow Grace on Twitter.
Image courtesy of Irina Anastasiu.