Tips for Managing Distress After Tragedy

Tips for Managing Distress After Tragedy

Posted by Jay Suthers on Nov 19th, 2015

In the aftermath of tragedy, people rightly become fearful about their own safety and well-being. With a little help from the  American Psychological Association, I would like to offer some tips for managing the distress associated with recent violent events.

Release the Energy

When we first hear of tragedies we begin to experience several emotions: shock, sorrow, hopelessness, fear, anger, grief, and so forth. Giving these feelings a voice helps to release those negative energies. Talk to friends and family about what you are feeling, but try to avoid " awfulizing" - engaging in irrational and dramatic thoughts about what might happen next. Try to stick with what you are feeling now and attempt to envision a future of peace beyond the tragedy.

Releasing also means taking a break. After a community or global tragedy, news sources will talk about it non-stop until more interesting news evolves. This is their job - to keep their viewers and readers engaged mainly for the purpose of advertising. Tune it out - turn off the TV after the local news, bypass the front page of the paper and head straight for the puzzles, comics, sports or local events section. Better yet, avoid these sources for at least 2 to 3 days.

Take Care of Yourself

Honor all of your feelings by acknowledging them. If you have an overall feeling of discomfort, try to identify each feeling and, if need be, say out loud to yourself what you are feeling. "I'm feeling afraid right now". Then take a deep breath and allow the feeling to leave as you exhale.

Engage in healthy behaviors. Eat regular, well-balanced meals. Enjoy a cup of soothing tea. Go to bed early and get a full night of sleep - melatonin naturally helps you sleep more deeply. Get some exercise even if to just take a slow walk around the block. Avoid alcohol and drugs that just numb your feelings or increase depression. If need be, make an appointment with a professional to find additional help.

MEDITATE. The goal of meditation is not to stop thoughts, but to become a part of the calm water beneath the surface of an agitated sea. The world and the mind are full of activity. Regular meditation is an escape from the craziness of both. It is learning to detach from all that activity and connect with the balance, centeredness, and peace that is always present in spite of the crazy world. In this way, you become an agent of peace for others.

Do Something Productive

Oftentimes in the aftermath of a tragedy we hear stories of humanity - people who, in spite of the tragedy, did amazing things to help others. This is our true nature - to help and serve others when our own being is doing just fine. For a while, be a listener to someone else who is coping with tragedy. Be sure to be the listener - don't interject with your own thoughts, just be supportive.

Do some volunteer work. Nothing feels more rewarding than the sense of accomplishment in helping others. At the time of this writing, Thanksgiving is coming up. If you've thought about helping in a food pantry or helping to serve a meal to disadvantaged people, this is a great opportunity to come out of your own despair.

We cannot go back in time and prevent a tragedy. And, we may not be able to do anything about what caused the tragedy or future tragedies. But, it's those everyday little acts of kindness that make the world a better place. In the case of terrorism, these factions grow by recruiting people who feel they have nothing to lose by joining the terrorists. If we connect with others and help them feel connected to humanity, we are preventing them from making that choice. Share your life with those who feel hopeless. Teach them meditation, self-care, and how to help others. It will make a difference in your life and theirs.

Find Gratitude

Look for gratitude in the face of tragedy. Think of those who helped others and be grateful for their help. Be grateful for those who are passionate about preventing tragedy, fighting wars, and policing our community. Be grateful for what is good in your life - shelter, food, a safe and clean neighborhood, friends, family, and community. Being grateful is the most positive feeling next to love. They are probably interrelated. Be the source of gratitude for others.

Thank you for reading,


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