The senseless killing of 12 at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colorado, has left an entire nation shaken, with mental-health experts stressing that a range of emotions is to be expected in the days and weeks following the tragedy — even for those not directly tied to the victims or community.
"The closer people are to a tragedy, the more likely there will be a more intense reaction, but even other people may find themselves a little bit more anxious, a little bit more distracted and having difficulty concentrating," said Dr. Victor Schwartz, a psychiatrist and medical director for the Jed Foundation. "People might find that they might have some mild sleep problems or some nightmares. These kinds of things shake our sense about the predictability of the world, and that is really disturbing to people."
Courtney Knowles, director of the Jed Foundation's Love Is Louder movement, agreed that it's not unusual for onlookers to feel the effects of a tragedy profoundly.
"People are going to experience the full range of emotions, from feeling very, very sad or hopeless to scared to angry," he said. "I think especially with the 24/7 online and on-air news cycle we have, there's just so much information. There's just so much to be sad, angry or anxious about."
Both experts agreed that a key strategy for coping with these events is to talk them through with a trusted friend, family member or religious counselor. But there are other steps you can take to shake off feelings of anxiety, sadness or anger.
"The first thing you probably ought to do is not spend too much time reading or going over stories or looking at news reporting about it, because going over it again and again can add to the sense of anxiety and disruption," Schwartz said. "The other thing is trying to make sure you get enough sleep. People who are involved in volunteer kinds of programs, taking steps to turn this sense of helplessness into activities in some way, is often something that can be quite helpful. As much as you can, maintaining your daily routine. Keeping about a normal, steady routine is often very helpful."
And as tempting as it may be, Schwartz warned against turning toward drugs or alcohol for an escape.
"Avoiding substances is important too. There's an impulse to say, 'I'll have a drink or do something to distract myself or make myself feel better.' But typically it makes you feel worse."
In the coming days, Love Is Louder is hoping to gather 1,000 stories of acts of kindness in light of the tragedy in Colorado — another step you can take to express your feelings and focus on the positive.
"Love Is Louder is actually going to be pushing people to help us turn the story of violence into a thousand stories of kindness and all the positive things that we can do so we're not just focusing on the negative," Knowles said. "One of those things is looking out for people around you who might be really impacted by this and need someone to reach out to them. If in a friend or family member, you're noticing that they seem really overwhelmed or emotional or you're noticing changes in behavior, reach out to them and never forget that in those moments when we feel so bleak and hopeless and we see tragedies, any time you can do something to help someone else, whether that be donating money to the families or the victims or doing something totally unrelated, can actually improve your state of mind and give you a better perspective."
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