Managing Anxiety in the Aftermath of a Mass Shooting

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As I write this post, the country is still reeling from three mass shootings in a week. Two of those shootings occurred within 24 hours. All three incidents occurred in public places where people commonly gather. And all three places were perceived as being safe – until they weren’t.

As mass shootings become more commonplace, anxiety levels are increasing and many people are asking the question: Is it safe to go out? If this thought has crossed your mind, or you’re feeling more anxious than usual about being in public places, here are some tips to help ease your concerns.

Understand the statistics. Despite the seemingly regularity with which these horrific events occur, your chances of being a victim are still extremely rare. In fact, many other facets of your life should be causing greater alarm. Texting while driving comes to mind, for starters.

Turn off the news. Realize that around-the-clock news coverage is designed to engage you. But the more you engage, the more anxious you become. Instead of watching the same frightening images over and over again, take a break from any news coverage of the event, whether it’s the TV, internet or newspaper.

Focus on something you enjoy. Counter the negative information you’re being exposed to with something uplifting and positive. Take a walk. Plan a fun outing. Focus your mind on a good book, your work or a new hobby. Do whatever you can to take a break from the trauma that’s unfolding and counter it with something positive.

Find ways to help. If you’re feeling especially upset about the situation, look for ways to help people who have been affected firsthand. You might choose to donate money to the victims and their families, for instance. Sometimes the help you offer doesn’t need to be related to the incident at hand. Simply look for a cause that could benefit from your commitment and start focusing your attention and resources in that direction.

Look for the good in others. When mass shootings occur, they seem so horrific and unthinkable that it’s easy to forget about the good that exists in the world. Try to counter any pessimism by reminding yourself of the people and things that bring you and others joy. The goal here is to change your perspective on life and focus instead on the positive.

Be prepared. There are times when nothing reduces anxiety better than preparation. Think back to the times when you were over-prepared for a test in school. You probably felt much less anxious heading into the test. Likewise, if you feel that a little preparation might ease your fear of going to public places, then you may want to find out if your local law enforcement agency offers a public safety course, or you may simply feel better by doing a little research on how to survive an active shooter situation.

The news coverage of these events will likely continue for days – even weeks. Use these tips to help counter any anxiety you may be feeling. If the anxiety interferes with your daily life or your ability to visit public places, it may be time to consult a professional therapist for help.

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.