When we continually hear horror stories of mass killings or terrorism…Columbine, 9/11, Oklahoma City, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colorado, Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon and now the D.C Navy Yard…we begin to wonder, are we safe anywhere? After all, if you aren’t safe in an elementary school or in a Navy Yard, what is left?
Tragedies such as these shake our very belief in humanity. These events make us wonder about the world around us and make us question simple activities like going to the movies or sending our children off to school. You don’t need to have an anxiety disorder to feel anxious when one of these events happen…and today they happen way too often.
Public Tragedies and Anxiety Disorders
For those with anxiety, these types of situations tend to worsen symptoms, for example, someone with agoraphobia, or the fear of open or public spaces, may find it even more difficult to go out in public. Many people with anxiety dwell in possibilities, imagining the worst possible outcome rather than accepting that, as tragic as the event was, it is not something that is likely to happen. These types of events also raise our stress level, which in turn can exasperate anxiety symptoms. After the shooting in Colorado, Elizabeth Lombardo, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, stated, “When people have a higher stress level, their fears or concerns or even their irrational thoughts – thoughts not based in fact- tend to get stronger…The overall stress level goes up and that will strengthen any other fear, make it more powerful, or any other negative thought someone might have.”
What You Can Do
Whether you have an anxiety disorder or are simply feeling the stress of yet another mass shooting, there are some things you can do:
Turn off the television, radio and close the tabs for the news sites. Events such as mass shootings tend to glue us to news stations and websites. We want to know what happened and why it happened. This information helps us not only understand but feel more in control of the situation. But watching the event and the discussions over and over, for hours on end, also tend to increase your stress levels and your anxiety. If you need to, watch the news channels for a few minutes to hear any updates and then turn the television off or change the channel.
Go on with your normal life and routine. We need balance in our lives, we need to have fun and connect with others. We need our routine to remind us that for most of us, our lives go on. Some people have trouble with this, feeling guilty because there are those who have lost their lives and those who are struggling with the loss of a family member. Even so, we need to continue to live our lives.
Remind yourself that no matter how often we hear about these incidents, they are still only one event in thousands that occur every day. The probability of a mass shooting happening is low.
Focus on the positive in your life. Remind yourself of the good that you have all around you…friends, relatives, your spouse, your children, your job. Think of the good things that have happened to you rather than focusing on the negative.
Use relaxation techniques to calm your anxiety. Take a walk, use deep breathing, or spend some time with a hobby you enjoy. These activities can help you feel better emotionally and physically.
If you can’t shake the fear and anxiety, talk with a therapist. Some signs you may need to seek help are disrupted sleep patterns (sleeping too much or sleeping too little), avoiding situations or places, being afraid to leave the house, trouble concentrating or depression. Talking with a trained therapist can help you work through the issues.
 “Could the Colorado Shooting Trigger Fear of Public Spaces,” 2012, July 23, Diane Mapes, NBCNews
Published On: September 17, 2013