Anxiety, Mass Shootings, and The Media

by Dec 21, 2015

By Nina Tracy

Every day on the news and in the media we are hearing about another shooting, another threat of attack, or politicians talking about terrorism and mass acts of violence.  Unfortunately, some of these threats are real and because we are more connected with social media and smart phones we are inundated with news of violence today more than ever.  Regardless of your political leanings or your stance on gun control legislation, many people are feeling more anxious today about going to the movies, going to school, or anywhere else where there is a crowd.  I wanted to write this post to talk about this increase in anxiety and some steps that might help manage these feelings.

First, a little bit about my views on anxiety.  I view it as something that impacts everyone at one point or another in their lifetime.  Everyone has been worried about a test, a date, money, health, etc.  For some, it is easier to talk yourself through the anxiety and for others it takes time or can even be debilitating.  Therefore, whether you are a person who describes yourself as a worrier or not, we all have a basic understanding of what anxiety feels like.  Hopefully we all want to support one another in times when those feelings are bigger than others. Especially because we are in campaign season some are trying to exploit this anxiety or fear for their own political advantage by using exaggerations and deceptiveness to increase these feelings.

So one thing that I think is important to do when we begin to worry about what is going on in the world around us is to check the facts.  By this I mean look for articles and research papers written by credible sources.  Do not buy into everything you hear on the news or read on the internet (including this article), without a healthy dose of skepticism and critical thinking.  I know we are all told that over and over, and it is hard to do because many of us are connected to the media all day every day, but if you are feeling overwhelmed by fear or anxiety about the state of the world, do some research.  Sometimes anxiety and fear begin to create stories in our minds that are not true, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t scary. Sometimes looking up facts can help to make these stories that anxiety is creating a little less scary.

I hope that this doesn’t sound like I am saying to stop being worried. I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me to stop worrying, it doesn’t make me all of a sudden stop worrying. If that was all it took, that would be awesome! Worry and anxiety are a part of life. Life isn’t about not having those feelings or thoughts, it is about how we manage them and move forward with them.

Here are a few tips for dealing with anxiety around this topic:

  • Create a safety plan.

This can be used if you begin to feel anxious and need a plan to get yourself somewhere to relax or it could be a plan if you begin to feel unsafe.  Planning things out can sometimes help to quell anxiety because there is less unknown for your mind to get worried about.  Example: I will utilize this safety plan if I begin to feel anxious or overwhelmed during the concert.  Step 1: use deep breathing exercise. If needed go to step 2. Step 2: Go to the bathroom and get a drink of water, remove yourself from the crowded area.  Take a five minute break. If necessary go to step 3.  Step 3: Have someone on call (could be a friend or family member) that you can call or talk to.  Step 4: If possible, politely remove yourself from where you are and go home or to another place you feel safe.  
It is important that if you will be relying on anyone else in your safety plan that you let them know ahead of time that you might be needing them for support.  And remember, this is just a sample plan so yours can look however you want!

  • Deep breathing exercises. 

There are basic deep breathing exercises where you take a deep breath in for five counts, hold it for two, and then let it out slowly for another five.  Do about 10 breaths like this in order to help you be re-centered.  There are phone apps that can also guide you through deep breathing exercises.

  • Talk to a therapist.

Sometimes we all need a little extra support and talking to a therapist can be just what you need.  This can help you learn new skills and give you a safe place to talk about what is happening for you.

  • Don’t be embarrassed or use mean self talk.

When you’re feeling nervous or anxious it is easy to feel embarrassed or like you are the only one feeling that way.  Try to avoid using mean self talk, for example: “You’re so stupid for being worried about going to opening night of the new movie, no one else is.  Ugh! Why am I such a baby?”  Believe it or not that can make the anxiety worse.  Instead, try validating yourself, for example: “Ok, I’m feeling worried about the movie and that’s ok.  I can go and if I feel really uncomfortable I have a plan for how to move through that.”

My hope is that this can come in handy if feelings of anxiety or worry begin to arise.  Remember that there is nothing to be ashamed of if you’re feeling this way and you are not the only one!

Photo taken Sept 17, 2009. Credit: Nesster

Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.

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