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How To Deal With Anxiety After Another Tragic School Shooting

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In the wake of terror events, it’s hard to know how to deal with anxiety. Not knowing what is around the corner, or what next tragedy could befall us, can cause real anxiety in our everyday lives. Whether watching the news, being afraid in public crowds, or fearing for children’s safety at school, anxiety is a normal reaction to the abnormal events of tragedy and terror.

Anxiety is part of how we cope with a changing reality, and it can escalate other emotions that are part of absorbing a new reality: we might feel more irritable, afraid, or angry. Anxiety is part of the landscape of coping, and it can serve a deeper purpose to help motivate solutions.

When we see that anxiety can be a help to us, we use it to its highest purpose, and it diminishes. Whether related to current events, or another crisis, here are 6 key strategies for how to deal with anxiety next time it strikes.

 

1. NORMALIZE ANXIETY

It’s normal to feel terror/anxiety after something horrible and tragic happens. In fact, Merriam Websterdefines terrorism as, “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” Inflicting feelings of terror and fear is the point of such horrific mass killings. Anxiety and fear are normal reactions to abnormal situations. Normalizing anxiety helps us manage it, whereas being afraid of anxiety escalates it.

 

2. ALLOW ANXIETY to be part of your experience, even if it are uncomfortable

Grief, anger, anxiety and fear are normal experiences in the wake of a tragedy, and we all need space to absorb and grieve a new reality. This takes time, space, and energy. Expect to be a bit more distracted, emotional, and fatigued: experiencing emotions can be a powerful exerting experience. But also know your emotions have a purpose. Your feelings, and anxiety in particular, means you care and are working to protect the things that matter most to you.

 

3. MANAGE ANXIETY though labeling

If you are struggling with feeling too much anxiety, try labeling your experience to promote a sense of control. Naming your feelings has been well documented to help engender a sense of emotional control, and protect against anxiety’s negative impact. Activating language and thinking centers in our brain though emotional naming recruits the brain power we need to find and focus on where we have control.

 

4. USE ANXIETY 

Remember, anxiety is a powerful, motivating feeing, whose job is to help protect the things we care about most. Whether it’s getting involved, petitioning Congress, or donating to worthy causes fighting for change, anxiety’s job is to harness laser focus and motivate action.

Once we understand anxiety is helping us focus and act, it becomes easier to use it for needed problem-solving in your life, your work, and in your community.  Students across the country are mobilizing community efforts in the wake of the Florida school shootings, showing just how powerful anxiety can be to motivating action. This is how anxiety is best used: focus, motivation, and energy channeled into solutions.

 

5. WORK WITH ANXIETY

In protecting what you care about and determining safety, use anxiety to focus on facts rather than fears. Anxiety without thought can take us on a wild ride of spooky possibilities and horrific imaginings. Our imagination after all is part of makes us human and can be incredibly creative fueled by powerful emotions.

But imagination without reasoning and assessment is fiction, rather than reality. When assessing reasonable fears, and distinguishing them from irrational ones, it’s critical to focus on the probabilities rather than the possibilities. Not sure what’s reasonable? Run your worry past your most reasonable self, a friend, or even Google. For example, most risk experts remind that road travel is far riskier to travelers’ safety than air travel, and yet most of us travel the roadways without a second thought to our safety. In the wake of a tragedy, it is important to not confuse outrage with danger.

 

6. PROTECT YOUR EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH

When you feel a bit of anxity whisper to you that you aren’t getting enough sleep, eating too much or too little, or simply overextendinbg yourself, recognize the message and do something about it. We all have our limits, and sometimes recognizing when we have reached, and more often, exceeded them is tough.

If you notice that you are feeling extra edgy, or emotionally irritable, fatigued, and more depressed, take a look at where you may not be taking enough care of your needs, and redouble your efforts at self-care, even if you don’t feel like it and especially when it is hard.

Start by recognizing when you have reached your limits, and take it as a sign to regroup, take a break, tend to your own needs. Are you watching too much news coverage? Take a break. Are you overextending in care-taking for others? Make some time for yourself. We must always put our oxygen mask on first before helping others.

 

Managing anxiety in the wake of tragic events isn’t easy, but it can help fuel solutions that might not otherwise be possible. At its best, anxiety is a catalyst for action, and a protector from complacency. It is there to motivate us, and keep us focused on the things that matter most.

When harnessed collectively, anxiety can be powerful tool for change. With Congress returning to work today, students are pressuring lawmakers to make gun control a top priority. Pressure forces focus. And this is anxiety’s highest purpose: to force focus and change.

 

For more help with managing stress and anxiety, check out my anxiety blog, download my free ebook, or sign up for my newsletter.

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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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