News About Mass Shootings Can Be Triggering, & Here’s What An Expert Says Can Help

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In the space of 13 hours during the weekend of Aug. 3-4, 2019, 29 people were killed in two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Even if you're not directly affected by these events, the American Psychological Association said in a post following the tragedies that it's normal to experience shock, sorrow, numbness, fear, anger, disillusionment, grief, and other emotions. And if you're feeling triggered by news about the mass shootings this past weekend, there are some things you can do to ground yourself.

Esther Saggurthi, primary clinician at Maryland House Detox, a Delphi Behavioral Health Group facility, tells Bustle that people often experience heightened fear and a decrease in perceived safety after a tragedy because traumatic events can make us feel out of control. What's more, miring yourself in the tragedy via the 24-hour news cycle can contribute to feelings of overwhelm.

"If you're able to distance yourself from it for a little bit, you again get to have control over the situation instead of the situation having control of you," she explains. She also recommends an exercise to help you ground yourself and take back some of your power. It's surprisingly simple, but very effective. If you're sitting, stand up. It will naturally bring your body back into alignment and change your breathing pattern, which allows your mind to shift its focus. If you're standing, sit down. Focus on your breath.

While it's normal to feel upset after a tragedy, feeling triggered is different. Rather than sadnesses, triggering events can emotionally transport you back to a trauma. This in turn initiates the body's fight or flight response. But whether you're feeling sad, angry or triggered, every emotion is valid and there is no shame in reaching out to friends, family, or a therapist for help. In addition, here are six more things you can do to take back your power.

1. Take A Social Media Break

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If there were ever a time to take a social media break, this is it. In addition, the APA also recommends limiting the amount of news you consume. While it's always good to be informed, being mired in the 24-hour news cycle can reawaken feelings of distress and actually make you feel worse. Not being constantly connected doesn't mean you don't care. It means you're taking care of yourself.

2. Take Care Of Yourself

It's normal to feel both physical and mental distress after a traumatic event, even if you weren't directly affected. "You may experience intense stress similar to the effects of a physical injury. For example, you may feel exhausted, sore, or off balance," the APA explained. Listen to your body. If you feel like you need to rest, do it.

3. Talk About It

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Whether it's fear, outrage, shock or distress, chances are that someone close to you shares your emotions. Reach out to friends, family, or even a counselor, Saggurthi says. If you don't have a therapist and your workplace has an employee assistance program (EAP), you can use this resource to schedule a free session with a professional. You can also use the Crisis Text Line for free by texting CONNECT to 741741.

4. Help Others

If you're feeling strong enough, you can channel your anger into something positive by helping others. "Locate resources in your community on ways that you can help people who have been affected by this incident, or have other needs," the APA recommended. "Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better, too."

5. Meditate

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Saggurthi suggests using meditation as a tool to focus your thoughts. After a traumatic event, you can undergo a period of anxiety where your mind spirals into a cycle of "what ifs" and things you may have previously worried little about become larger themes in your mind.

Meditation, she says, can help you take note of what's real and accept what you can control and what you can't. She advises that you begin grounding yourself by focusing on a blank spot on a wall (not on the floor because that can actually make you feel worse).

"The other thing I'd say ⁠— it sounds really weird ⁠— but get out a piece of candy. Have something sweet to eat. It helps you find in your brain that sweet things still happen. While you don't have control over what's happening right now, you do have control of yourself and what's going in your mouth and what that feels like."

6. Identify What You Can Control

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If you are part of a traumatic event, Saggurthi advises that you stake stock of exactly what's happening in the moment in order to identify what you can control. For example, the one thing you can always control is how you breathe, she says. In the aftermath, you have control over who you talk to about your experience.

One way to immediately ground yourself is by doing the five senses exercise, she says. Identify tangible things that you can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. If you can't engage all of your senses, do the best you can.

Finally, she advises that you practice being patient with yourself. "Don't expect the trauma to just [suddenly] go away. It's going to take time." Be kind to yourself and take it one minute, one hour, and one day at a time.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.