Coping with Stress in the Aftermath of a Mass Shooting


It happened again, and again—and again. And now there’s so much violence in the news, it’s hard to convince yourself that it won’t happen to you or someone you love. You ask yourself, is anyone safe at the movie theater, the shopping mall, attending a concert or church service? After all, we’re talking about innocent victims who just happen to be in the right place at the wrong time. They have no connection to the perpetrator, who does not even know his victims by name.

According to statistics compiled by CNN, “Four of the five deadliest shootings in the United States have occurred in the past 10 years. The Las Vegas attack was the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history, and it’s only 10 years removed from the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and a year removed from the second-deadliest shooting, the Orlando nightclub shooting. In fact, of the 30 deadliest shootings in the United States dating back to 1949, 17 have occurred in the last 10 years.” It’s enough to keep anyone up at night.

Keep in mind that these are not isolated events. In fact, they are replayed multiple times on the news. In the process, we are constantly reminded that the victims are ordinary people with lives just like ours. It’s no wonder that, despite not being personally affected, we all feel angry, depressed or stressed when these incidents occur.  Fortunately, there are some things you can do to ease the stress and improve your ability to cope.

  • Limit your exposure. I’ve said it many times before, but watching these events play over and over on the news only escalates your fear and anxiety. Instead, turn off the news and monitor your exposure to social media. Modern-day 24/7 news cycles can bring disturbing images from around the globe right into your living room. That means you can experience traumatic stress—even when you’re not directly affected. So control your exposure by turning off the news.
  • Divert your attention. Find ways to relax and remove yourself from the constant barrage of news by doing something you enjoy. Take a walk. Escape to the pages of a great novel or listen to uplifting music. The point is this: Do something that will help you relax and take your mind off the tragedy.
  • Talk it out. Many people feel much better if they can discuss the situation with a person who shares their sentiments. If you just can’t seem to get the tragedy out of your mind, you may benefit from talking face-to-face with a close friend or family member. This person should be someone who understands and respects how you feel. As you work through these feelings, remember to infuse some positive stories in the conversation as well. After all, there is still plenty of good in the world. During difficult times, it helps to focus on the better side of humanity. Similarly, you may want to attend a public memorial for the tragedy. It’s comforting to be in the company of other individuals who share your feelings and emotions.
  • Take action. Feeling helpless about what happened? You may want to turn your thoughts to action and volunteer to help others who’ve been affected in some way. Perhaps there is an organization whose values are tugging at your heartstrings. Now may be the time to sign up and let your voice be heard.
  • Get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat right. While this may seem like the go-to remedy for just about everything, that’s because it really helps. Spend some time outdoors, get your body moving and pay attention to what you’re eating on a daily basis. Making significant improvements in these areas can go a long way toward boosting your mental health.

Still struggling? While it’s important to give yourself time to heal, you should also recognize when things aren’t getting better. If it’s been several weeks and you’re still feeling overwhelmed or struggling to maintain your daily schedule, it may be time to contact a mental health professional.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.