As a New Yorker who experienced 9/11, I often find myself feeling triggered by large-scale community tragedies. Whether it's coverage of a terrorist attack, or a mass shooting, etc... four things tend to happen to me at different times: I sometimes feel detached, or angry and frustrated in some way, or I'm really slow in my daily routines because I'm replaying images or feelings, or maybe I'm sobbing. None of these reactions are abnormal. These kinds of events should make you angry, or filled with compassion, and we are inundated with enough images to stop all of us in our tracks. But for me, these are often connected to another event. I'm writing this post for those of you who feel triggered in some way. If you remember nothing else, remember that it is okay to feel the ways you do, and it is not selfish to take care of yourself first. When this happens, consider doing a few things:
Notice if you're being triggered
Are you having any extreme reactions, outside of your normal? Extreme anger, fear, confusion, depression, or physical reactions like not sleeping well and stomach problems. Perhaps its lack of emotion, like feeling detached or numb. Depending on how much that is affecting your daily activities, consider reaching out to a counselor. Regardless it's important to notice what is happening in you.
Limit your media intake
Although it's important to know what is going on, pay attention to the format you are getting that information in. It's okay to turn to a website that will give you a summary or a timeline of events, rather than minute-by-minute "breaking" information.
Reach out for your own support
Check in with the people who love and care about you. Spend time in person or on the phone with those who understand. First responders to traumas like these all agree and know well, that you must take care of yourself, so that you can take care of others.
Reach out to support others
We heal in and through community. If you personally know anyone who is affected directly or indirectly by these events, reach out to them personally. Send a text, call or stop by. Offer to hang out or help with some practical needs. If you do not know anyone personally, find ways to offer your support through credible organizations already reaching out like the Red Cross, United Way, or The Salvation Army. You'll find that as you work to heal others, it heals you.
Use art and humor
It can feel strange, rude, and inconsiderate to do something fun during a time like this. However, humor and art have a way of releasing stress in way that words cannot. Art can be both fun and deeply personal. Humor can serve as a good healthy distraction. Doing these things won't prevent you from feeling the pain of others, or from helping the community heal. It's just the opposite, they'll give you a greater capacity to serve others.