Editor’s note: Since the time this article was published, even more mass shootings have taken place, impacting more individuals and communities. We hope this article may still offer some support through these times. If you’re dealing with feelings related to these events that are too much to cope with alone, please reach out to a licensed and compassionate mental health professional.
Recently there have been at least three widely reported mass killings in the U.S., one in northern California, one in a park in New York City, and another in a church in Texas. I am afraid there may be more between the time of writing and when this gets published.
Lately I wake up feeling scared to get out of bed because I’m worried what the new day will bring. I have no problem falling asleep at night—I wind down slowly and avoid watching or listening to the news—and I have no problem waking up, either. Luckily for me, I naturally wake up around 6 a.m., a good time to begin my day.
But I often don’t want to begin the day. As soon as I open my eyes, I feel afraid. Like today—right away, I felt fear in my stomach. I know why I’m scared; I mean, who wouldn’t be? Exact figures vary depending on which source you use, but the U.S. averages multiple mass killings each month, and they happen all over—country and city, indoors and outside, wherever people congregate. Any of us could be among the next victims. For many Americans, no place feels safe anymore.
Semiautomatic weapons are in style, seemingly the killing machines of choice. I’m not going to use this space to write about the wisdom of gun control laws or to push for more thorough background checks wherever guns are sold. Clearly, I’m in favor of such legislation, but it’s up to all citizens to make their voices heard and it’s up to our elected officials to act accordingly.
I’m here to write about mental health because I know I can help people, myself included. Folks seem increasingly stressed by reports of violence across the country, and long-term stress is associated with the following:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
Clearly, it’s important to find ways to cope in scary times. I’m happy to share my routine:
- I admit to myself that I’m scared. Pushing my feelings underground doesn’t do anything but give those emotions a place to fester and get back at me sometime later when I’m not expecting it. Denying your feelings may have physical and emotional repercussions. Don’t lie to yourself, and don’t lie to your kids, either—they’ll likely know you’re lying, and that will affect their ability to trust you. If your kiddo is with you and asks what’s wrong, a simple explanation such as, “I feel yucky,” or “I am sad that people were hurt,” or “I am angry” can be comforting. Don’t load them up with gory details.
- Once I allow myself to feel my fear, I concentrate on my breath. At first, my breath is fast and shallow. This kind of breathing falls right in line with the fight, flight, or freeze response associated with anxiety. Concentration on the breath helps people get grounded, and long, slow breaths help anxiety dissipate. This also applies to kiddos.
- What’s the method? I lie on my back—one hand on my heart, the other on my belly. First, I simply feel myself breathe. Kids typically like doing this too; some learn it in school. (Maybe they can teach you!)
- After a few minutes, I purposely begin to take long, slow, deep breaths. This kind of breathing awakens the parasympathetic nervous system and reduces anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and slows the heart rate.
- If I have the time, I relax further by tensing and releasing my arms, legs, and torso.
- When I feel calm, I mentally check myself for leftover areas of tension. I then relax any I may find. This is known as a body scan.
- I wrap up this routine by stretching my back, legs, and arms, and I do some twists before I get out of bed.
- Last of all, I think about the people I love and feel gratitude. Having kiddos or cozy adults around can make for great cuddle time.
If you’re struggling with fear, anxiety, and stress—regardless of whether current events are the driving force—seeking the support of a therapist can be invaluable.
Chronic stress puts your health at risk. (2016, April 21). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
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