Mass Shootings – How They Affect Us

Worshipers sit down to prayer in a synagogue. Health enthusiasts stretch out on a yoga mat to find a bit of peace.  Families turn out to enjoy a concert. Children go to school.


And then they don’t come back.


Mass shootings have become a terrible reality in the United States.  In 2018 alone, there have been 297 mass shootings. That number is absolutely chilling. It’s hard to even grasp it. This is the reality of life today in America.


No matter who you are, these violent crimes are hard to deal with. Children are being taught how to hide and scatter from an active shooter as part of their daily school routine. Parents worry whether their kids will make it home safe from class every day. Even for those who do not suffer from PTSD and who have not been the actual victims of these types of crimes, the constant news of more deaths takes its toll.


With our current 24 hour news cycle and the instant and often live videos on social media, you don’t have to actually be at the scene of a mass shooting to deal with its emotional and psychological aftermath. Studies have shown that people who watch in depth coverage of these tragedies can actually develop trauma symptoms as though they were there experiencing it first hand. That may sound surprising, but when you are scrolling through your Facebook and a live video pops up showing people being shot and dying in front of you, the damage it can cause is very real.


And for those of us with a history of trauma and PTSD, the effects are even worse. We are already dealing with our own memories of being in a violent or traumatic event.  Seeing these videos and listening to the reports can trigger us and cause us to spiral into a full blown PTSD episode, bringing on depression, anxiety, and making it difficult – if not impossible – to go about our daily lives.


Unfortunately, there is no way for us to be able to simply stop this trend of violence.  Luckily psychologists who study the effects of mass shootings tell us that there are things we can do to help us face these tragic events and their aftermath.


The first and most important thing to do if you are struggling with dealing with the news of more mass shootings – especially if you are already suffering from PTSD or your own trauma – is to seek help.  It may seem silly to talk to a therapist when you weren’t directly involved in a shooting, but research shows that your anxiety and pain are just as real and can have lasting effects, just like if you had been one of the victims.


Second, turn off your TV and your social media.  It is the repeated exposure to the gruesome details of these types of events that cause damage.  We are absolutely swamped with bloody pictures and horrifying descriptions. Do you best to limit exposure.


Third, reach out to social supports. Having a strong community to lean on and talk to always helps us to deal with difficult situations.  Go to church or synagogue, if you are a religious person. Or spend time with your friends going out for good food and fun. Remind yourself that you aren’t alone and that you have people who are there for you.


And finally, work to develop a sense of hope and control.  Often it is the loss of these two feelings that cause the most damage.  A good way to do this is to join a volunteer group to see that there are people working to make the world better.  


Facing the reality of violence in our world today can be traumatic in itself.  Facing it when you already suffer from anxiety and PTSD can be debilitating. Use these tips from psychology researchers to help yourself find a way to cope.

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