Managing Anxiety in the Wake of Tragedy
By: Beverly Glass, LCSW-R
I woke up and prepared myself for work, just like most Monday mornings. I packed my lunch, backed out of my driveway and turned on the radio to my favorite station. I was no more than one mile from home, when I found myself in tears listening to the accounts of survivors of a recent tragic event, which affected me deeply, even though the event occurred some distance away. I found myself recounting a number of tragic and frightening events we have all been witness to over the past several months, and I must admit I was surprised by the intensity of the emotions I experienced. According to Joshua Klapow, PhD, “Sometimes we are caught off guard by why we feel so bad, but the reality is that we almost always have some connection to a disaster.” The summer of 2017 will be remembered by many as a time of chaos and catastrophe. We’ve watched a number of tragic events unfold around the world and in our own country – both natural disasters and human acts of terror. Not too long ago, most of us would have caught up with what was happening in the world by reading a daily newspaper or watching the news on television. These days, through the wonders of technology, we can now access news in real time, 24 hours each day, on our phones and computers.
Some experts worry that our non-stop exposure to news events is taking its toll, causing undue, elevated anxiety for many of us. It has been suggested that our repeated exposure to words and images that appear on television or social media makes us feel as if these traumatic events are happening more frequently, and we experience the negative emotions related to trauma over and over again each time we see them. Even when we are not directly affected by trauma, the emotional impact remains.
It is suggested that we can benefit by being more selective about how much information we allow ourselves to access. Though it’s important to stay informed about the events of the world, it’s also just as important to know how to care for ourselves when it comes to things that provoke anxiety or pain, even when we are not directly affected.
Here are some suggestions to consider:
- Take action where you can. Limit your exposure to repeat accounts of distressing news stories, particularly later in the evening and when preparing for sleep.
- Consider making a donation of time or other resources, as you are able.
- Keep your perspective. Ruminating and running over tragic stories in your head is counter-productive. Worry can keep you from thinking clearly. Ask yourself “What purpose does this worrying serve?”
- Schedule time to focus on the news or other sources of worry and set a timer for when you will stop. Commit that you will stop what you are doing and move on.
- Distract yourself – exercise, spend time with friends and family, create a gratitude list, meditate, listen to music, or pray. Take up some activity that calms you like knitting, cycling, reading, or deep breathing.
- If you find you are having a difficult time managing your anxiety in response to current events, or for any other reason, seek professional assistance. You may contact Behavioral Health Partners (BHP) at (585) 276-6900 to set up an appointment with a mental health professional who can accurately assess your symptoms and make recommendations for treatment.
Behavioral Health Partners is part of the YOURhealth employee wellness program, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety and depression.