How To Cope With Public Tragedy When You’re Not Directly Affected By The Event

Numerous studies have linked the stress caused by disastrous events to substance use and heightened risk of relapse for those in recovery. Thus, now is the time to safeguard your sobriety and batten down the hatches on your mental health in general!

Let it out

Don’t keep your thoughts and emotions pent up. Acknowledge the feelings you have related to the event, without judgement. Remember, there is no “right” way to feel, and it’s normal to experience both guilt and relief at not having been directly affected. They key is to pay attention to your emotions, so you can work through them healthily; the only way “out” of emotions is through, so take the time to find an outlet.

Tips for letting it out:

  • Journal about the event
  • Pray (religious or non-religious)
  • Attend a support group
  • Talk it over with someone you trust, like a friend, counselor, or therapist
coping stormy heart

Let it go

Not to be confused with complacency or approval, letting go is about recognizing and accepting what you can’t control. What does that include? Well, basically everything that does not involve your own mindset and behavior.

Tips for letting it go:

  • Write down uncontrollable things and put them in a higher power box to physically “let them go”
  • Read or listen to stories about people who have found acceptance
  • Recite an acceptance mantra or the serenity prayer
  • Meditate or do mindfulness practice

Take Action 

You’ve let go of what you can’t control, now focus on what you can. What are some useful actions you can take in the wake of the event? Can you write victims or their families supportive letters? Donate to a related cause? Give blood? Be a political advocate? No matter how small, taking altruistic action helps combat the hopelessness and despair surrounding tragedy.

Tips for taking action:

  • Make your action altruistic, not fear-based (no this is not the time to build your nuclear mini-shelter); make a big list of all the potential options and get cracking!  
  • Check out serve.gov for national and community service initiatives
  • Volunteermatch.org lets you search for opportunities in your area based on the interest you’d like to become involved with

Take Care of Yourself

Don’t neglect the basics, like getting a solid sleep, eating well, taking medications, tending to your finances, and making sure to fit time in for physical activity and fun. It might feel awkward to go about your typical routine, but know that you cannot take care of others without taking care of yourself first.

Tips for taking care of yourself:

  • Consider times when you have neglected your self-care. What was the first to go? Make a checklist of the important things that need extra attention during stress. Then, cross these things off your list first.
  • Tune out for a bit. Obsessing over the news isn’t going to help you or anyone else.
  • Avoid making major decisions under emotional turmoil, like relationship or career decisions.

Find Hope

Like action, a little hope goes a long way, both for the individual and humanity at large. If you find yourself going down a dark spiral of news reading, try to find the hope and humanity in the tragedy. Make a list of all the good people out there, both public figures and in your own world personally. Double down on your efforts to remind yourself of the good in mankind and the world.

Tips for finding hope:

  • Create a hope file of inspirational stories, pictures, and quotes
  • Ask somebody you admire who or what they admire and find hope in
  • Make a gratitude list of 10 things you’re grateful for
  • Make a looking forward to list of 10 things you’re looking forward to (can’t fill it up? Time for some scheduling!)  
  • If you’re a reader, pick up something with a hopeful theme: The Power of One, Tuesdays with Morrie, religious literature if that’s your thing. More of a movie or podcast buff? Same goes, go for the hope-inducing.
  • Take a walk in nature and admire what life has to offer
  • Spend time with children or animals, and appreciate their wonder at the world and simple enjoyment of each moment.

This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a start. Something to add? Leave it in the comments! People cope effectively in a myriad of different ways and by sharing what works for you, you’ll help someone else.

finding hope
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Cassandra McIntosh is the Head of Content at Workit Health. She brings a unique mix of expertise drawn from her background in counseling psychology, socio-organizational psychology and consumer insights.