How To Cope With Grief In The Wake Of A Global Tragedy

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
This story was originally published on May 24, 2017 in response to the Manchester bombing. After the news of the shooting in Las Vegas last night, which killed 50 people and injured more than 200, we're re-publishing this advice. Here's what to do if you need support after a tragedy.
On Monday, a terrorist bombed an Ariana Grande concert, killing 22 people and injuring 59 others. Grande tweeted that she was "broken" and "so so sorry," and there was an outpouring of support on the internet for the victims and their families as details emerged. When a global tragedy like this happens, it's unthinkably sad, yet the feelings of grief are all too familiar, because, unfortunately, we've been here before. And you don't have to be directly impacted to feel the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Hearing about yet another tragedy can remind you of the last one that you remember, says Robin Gurwitch, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Duke University Medical Center who has studied the impact of terrorism and disasters on children. "We've entered a new age, because we watch tragedies unfold live, which is different than years ago," Dr. Gurwitch says. "It makes the world a much smaller place." So, even though these events might not be happening in your backyard, it can feel like they are.
"It really shakes our sense of security for all of us," says Scott Poland, EdD, a professor of psychology at Nova Southeastern University, and an expert on crisis. Most people have experienced some kind of traumatic event or loss in their lifetime, so when you hear that something tragic has happened elsewhere, it causes those issues to resurface, Dr. Poland says.
If it's all too much to handle, and you don't know what to do next, here are some ways you can cope after a global tragedy, according to experts.

Accept that it's normal to feel sadness.

After something traumatic happens, you might feel guilty going about your regularly scheduled routine, and that's normal. "When you feel grief, you lose interest in doing fun things — you feel, not just guilt, but like, Ugh, why would I want to do this," says Mary Karapetian Alvord, PhD, a licensed psychologist who studies resilience. It's okay to feel sad, angry, or just off after a tragedy, so let yourself grieve for a bit, and don't discount your feelings because you don't think they're important, Dr. Alvord says. "We all have a tendency to greatly underestimate the impact of tragedy," Dr. Poland says.

Talk about it with your friends.

Be open to discussing what you're feeling with people who you know care about you, or who might understand your experience, Dr. Poland says. Some people might not want to, or they may say something like, I don't want to hear that, he says. "If they care about you, they'll tell you they're here for you to talk about it," he says. Just hearing that someone justifies your feelings can mean so much.

Take a moment to feel gratitude.

It's important to "count your blessings" and acknowledge what you're grateful for after a tragedy, Dr. Alvord says. You don't have to make grand, sweeping observations about your life if you don't feel like it. But you can take mental stock of some things you're grateful for in your life, or write about them in a journal. "Sometimes it helps to have gratitude about the little things, and the not-so-little things like being alive," Dr. Alvord says. Hold your cats, walk around your neighborhood, or just take an extra moment to feel thankful for the things you might take for granted on other days.

Limit your news intake.

Turn off the news if it's making you upset, or stop scrolling through Facebook or Twitter, Dr. Alvord says. Also, be aware of what you're sharing on social media, because there were unfortunately some reports of "fake news" and photos that were taken out of context, she says. That's another reason why it's important to talk to people about what you're seeing or hearing, she says. "People have missed perceptions, misunderstanding, and anxiety about the media," so it can helpful to ask a friend to help decipher what's real or what's fake, she says.
To that same point, sometimes relying on social media posts to share your feelings during a tragedy seems insignificant, or like it's trivializing the situation. "It can sum things up, but it doesn't get to the emotional experience in the midst of your thoughts," Dr. Gurwitch says. "Realize that social media can leave us feeling that it may not be enough, and seek something else where you can use more words."

Do what you can to help.

Research suggests that when you take an active approach to help after trauma, it can build resilience, Dr. Alvord says. If you can donate money to the Red Cross Manchester Emergency Fund, that's a great place to start. If you're feeling overwhelmed, remember that you're not going to be able to fix everything, but there are certainly things that you can control, Dr. Poland says. "Be nice to people around you and utilize the support that you have," he says.

Find help if you need it.

If it feels like every time something like this happens, you get overwhelmed with grief, and it interferes with how you live your life, you might want to seek outside help from a professional, Dr. Gurwitch says. "There's strength in saying, No, I need a little guidance to take back control of my life," she says. Find a therapist who focuses on crisis or grief, and know that there are tons of people who can help.
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

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