How To Take Care Of Yourself & Loved Ones During Tragedies, According To Experts

by Laken Howard
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Like many Americans, I awoke today to the devastating news of Sunday's shooting in Las Vegas which left 58 people dead and over 400 injured, making it the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The first course of action in the wake of such a tragedy is, of course, figuring out how you can help Las Vegas shooting victims, whether that's by donating to their GoFundMe page or volunteering at a local hospital. But aside from helping those who were directly affected by the shooting, it's also crucial to remember to take care of yourself and your loved ones today. In the aftermath of such a senseless, terrifying act of violence, it's OK to feel upset, angry, and scared — and reach out for help or support if you need it.

"Unfortunately, just because we are seeing more and more of this type of 'news' doesn't mean it has a numbing effect on us," Dr. Ariane Machin, Clinical Psychologist, tells Bustle. "It hurts us on a very deep level and reminds us that we are all vulnerable at any point in time. I think this type of event reminds us to be good to each other, that our time living is finite, and that WE can be activists if we feel strongly about something (gun control, regulations, etc.)."

It's disturbing how "familiar" days like today have become, where all it takes is a single push notification to send us spiraling into a combination of panic, rage, and grief that there's been yet another heinous act of gun violence in America. No matter how many times this happens, though, it doesn't really get any easier to digest such traumatic, disturbing news. If you, your friends, or your family are feeling overwhelmed and upset today, here are nine ways you can support one another in the aftermath of a tragedy.


Accept What Can't Be Changed

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After a tragedy like the Las Vegas shooting, it's empowering and healing to think about how you can help prevent something like this happening again (like by calling your senators about gun control reform), but remember that, at the same time, some things are just out of our control.

"Accept what cannot be changed and try to discover the lesson," Elyse Fox, Mental Health Expert and Founder of Sad Girls Club, an in-person support group for women, tells Bustle. "After a tragic episode internally you may question how things could've been different. We can not hold ourselves responsible for things we cannot control. If you struggle to recover from a tragedy find a therapist who understands where you are in your recovery and can help guide you to finding peace."


Ask Others How They'd Like To Be Supported

Everyone grieves differently, so if you're unsure of how to help a friend or family member who needs support, the best thing to do is simply ask them what they need from you.

"If you're supporting someone who's grieving ask them how they would like to be supported," Fox says. "Everyone copes differently and it's important to offer help in a way that best suits their needs. Check up them occasionally and offer tips, readings, quotes that may help them. A simple hug can brighten someone's spirit."


Listen To Others Grieve


In times of tragedy, it's important to lend a helping hand... but sometimes, lending someone an ear can have an equally powerful impact.

"We all deserve to be heard in our grief, no matter what that grief maybe," Megan Devine, Therapist and Grief Advocate, tells Bustle. "By shifting the focus from grief as a problem to be solved to an experience to be tended, we provide others what we most want for ourselves: understanding, compassion, validation, and a way through the pain."


Don't Compare Griefs

One thing you should never do when offering support to someone affected by tragedy? Compare their grief to your own (or someone else's) in an attempt to make them feel better.

"Every person has experienced loss in their life, but no one else has experienced this grief," Devine says. "It’s tempting to offer your own experience of grief in order to let the grieving person know you understand. The truth is, you don’t understand. You can’t. Even if your loss is empirically very similar, resist the urge to use your own experience as a point of connection."


Resist The Urge To Fact Check

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After an incident like the Las Vegas shooting, news reports are coming in almost constantly with new facts, figures and information. If someone is coming to you for support and happens to get something 'wrong', resist the urge to fact check every little thing they say.

"Especially in early grief, a person’s timeline and internal data sources are rather confused and wonky," Devine says. "They may get dates wrong, or remember things differently than they actually happened. You may have a different opinion about their relationships, or what happened when and with whom. Resist the urge to challenge or correct them. Let them own their own experience. It’s not important who’s 'more' correct."


Don't Minimize Others' Feelings

When someone is grieving, it's never your place to tell them what to feel or how deeply to feel it — even if you think they're 'overreacting.'

"You might think your friend’s grief is out of proportion to the situation, [and] it’s tempting to correct their point of view to something you feel is more 'realistic,'" Devine says. "Remember that grief belongs to the griever. Your opinions about their grief are irrelevant. They get to decide how bad things feel, just as you get to make such decisions in your own life."


Don't Feel Obligated To Stay Positive

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After a tragedy, you might feel pressured to "stay positive" and keep a sunny, optimistic disposition as a way to keep your own (and others') spirits up — but it's OK not to feel or pretend to be happy.

"When things are dark, it’s OK to [feel] dark," Devine says. "Not every corner needs the bright light of encouragement. In a similar vein, don’t encourage someone to have gratitude for the good things that still exist. Good things and horrible things occupy the same space; they don’t cancel each other out."


Focus On The Present Moment

It might be tempting to try to cheer someone up by reminding them that, someday, this tragedy will be behind them and life will be great again, but it's important to stay in the present moment and allow them to feel whatever it is they're feeling right now.

"When someone you love is in pain, it’s tempting to talk about how great things are going to be for them in the future," Devine says. "Right now, in this present moment, that future is irrelevant. Stay in the present moment, or, if the person is talking about the past, join them there. Allow them to choose."


Don't Charge Ahead With Solutions

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There's nothing more frustrating than when you just need to vent or cry on someone's shoulder and they focus only on how to "fix the problem" instead of actually listening to your pain. As much as we all want to help our loved ones get through difficult times, it's best to ask for permission before you offer advice or solutions.

"In all things, not just in grief, it’s important to get consent before giving advice or offering strategies," Devine says. "In most cases, the person simply needs to be heard and validated inside their pain or their challenges."


What To Say If You Don't Know What To Say

It's not easy to support someone who's grieving, and sometimes, words simply fail us. However, it's crucial to remember that there's no 'correct' way to be supportive, and it's OK to be honest and admit that you're struggling with how best to help someone.

"The important thing to remember is that we don’t need you to be perfect," Devine says. "It’s OK — more than OK — to lead a conversation with, 'I have no idea what to say, and I know I can’t make this right.' Or, 'I want to give you space and privacy, but I’m also worried about you, and I want to check in.' Claiming your discomfort allows you to show up and be present. Trying to hide your discomfort just makes things worse. From the griever’s perspective, it’s a huge relief to be around those who are willing to be uncomfortable and show up anyway. Remember that some things cannot be fixed — they can only be carried."

As disheartening as it is to hear about yet another deadly shooting in America, consider this a call to action to help stop gun violence and reform gun control laws. In the meantime, all we can do is lean on one another for support — so don't be afraid to reach out for a hug from your loved ones today.