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Posted: February 14, 2018

How to cope with fear, sadness after a mass shooting


By Helena Oliviero and Shelia M. Poole, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In the aftermath of a mass shooting, it is common for people to experience a vast range of emotions, including shock, fear, anger and sorrow. 

Dr. J. Kip Matthews, an Athens, Georgia, psychologist, said when people experience these intense emotions, it is not uncommon to begin to have trouble sleeping, concentrating, eating or even remembering things in general.

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He said it’s important to remember that these reactions are common and normal and often subside over time. He said reaching out to your support system — your friends and family — and taking special care of yourself can bring comfort and help with coping.

Matthews recommends the following coping strategies to help get through the coming days and weeks:

Talk about it with others. Turning to the support of loved ones who genuinely care about you and processing your thoughts and feelings with them can be reassuring. Additionally, people may find it helpful to talk with others who have gone through a similar experience. This sharing can normalize one’s feelings and reactions to the event.

Turn off the news and take a break. It is vital that people strike just the right balance between staying informed by watching the news while not getting overloaded with too much information and exposure to the discussion. Too much exposure can actually heighten your stress, whereas too little exposure can create uncertainty and doubt. Schedule some breaks where you can engage in some activities that are fun and relaxing.

Avoid negative thinking. People need to become better aware of their inner voice and how it is interpreting these events. Two traps that individuals can fall into are castrophizing, or seeing things as being much worse than they really are, and black-and-white thinking, viewing people as either wholly good or bad.

Nurture and take care of yourself. Engaging in activities that help you feel better allows you to better cope with life’s challenges. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and participating in regular physical activity can do wonders for the mind and body. Meditation, yoga and relaxation training can quiet your mind and improve sleep. Try to minimize or avoid use of alcohol as a means of coping.

Talk to your children about what has happened but be sure the conversation is age-appropriate. With a younger child, you will not get into as many details as you would with a teenager. When bringing this up for conversation, find a quiet moment to discuss what happened. Find out what your children already know. Tell the truth. Lay out the facts as you understand them. You do not need to give graphic details. Reassure your children that you will do everything you can do to take care of them and to protect them. And remind them that they can come to you at any time if they have more questions or need to talk.

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