When Terrorism Strikes: How to Feel Safe After Seeing the News
The recent blast at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England hits home for many of us dedicated Nashville music fans. Incidents like these are heartbreaking… and they do, indeed, instill terror for all of us. Incidents like this quickly become topics of conversation around dinner tables, businesses, and counseling offices.
There really are no words at all to describe the sorrow we feel for our fellow humans who are impacted in these disasters. After the initial shock of these incidents, we usually then begin to wonder, “What if that happens here? What about my loved ones? Are we safe here in Nashville?”
People who already suffer from anxiety may feel overwhelmed by news reports like these, and especially in incidents where children are targeted, we all worry more for our children.
It sometimes seems like the world has changed or that nothing is safe. It’s tempting to push all of those fears down and either ignore the sensations related to them, or to allow these incidents to make you angry or anxious. But it is possible to feel safe again, and to cope with these intense events in the best way possible. In fact, your overall health depends on it.
Fear and Anxiety in Nashville, TN
Traumatic events, no matter how far away they are, often lead to fear and anxiety, even all the way here in Nashville. Let’s take a minute to define what trauma is.
Many mental health professionals define trauma as an incident in which:
A person has no control over the situation
A person feels extreme fear or apprehension, and may even fear for her life (and that fear does not have to be completely rational)
If you are a victim of trauma, violence, or loss, the events in Manchester may feel re-traumatizing. The link between terrorism and increases in PTSD symptoms has been well-documented among war veterans.
But what about the rest of us? We already know that trauma impacts various groups in different ways.
For instance, a person who experienced trauma in childhood may experience a terrorist attack differently from a person who experienced a traumatic car accident in mid-adulthood or a person who never experienced past trauma at all. Even if you have never experienced trauma before, these incidents are anxiety-provoking.
It’s important to first look at the reality of the situation. Fear is a deep-seated emotion that occurs without any logical thought—but logical thought can help ease anxiety. The chart on this page is excerpted from Business Insider and the data comes from the National Safety Council and the National Center for Safety Statistics. At this time, statistically, we are more likely to win the lottery than to fall under a terrorist attack.
Here in Nashville, events like CMA and the Stanley Cup Finals are seeing an increase in security. Plan ahead for longer waits to have bags checked. These waits are a good sign that things will be more secure. News Channel 5 reports that Bridgestone Arena does not “discuss security measures and work(s) closely with Metro Nashville Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on a regular basis.” I call that some good news.
How to Cope with Worries About Terrorism
1. Don’t suppress your emotions. If you feel anxiety, and if you feel distress or worry, there is one way to make those bad feelings spiral out of control—and that way is to deny your feelings, suppress them, or even worse, try to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, or distractions. It’s normal to have a host of emotions and body sensations when we see bad things happen. Now, this doesn’t mean you can run wild, panicking or avoiding life. What it does mean is that in order to master a feeling, we must first listen to it. Distress-feelings serve a purpose, usually. These emotions only become problematic when they begin to control the way we live our lives. Identifying the feeling is the first step toward healing.
2. Know when to seek support. Whether it is a needed night out with friends, a needed night in with your pets, family, or a book, take some time for yourself. And if you find that your worries continue, consider talking with a counselor. That’s what counselors do: listen and help. And often, therapists help re-frame anxieties or feelings. Counselors who understand the physiological connection between trauma, anxiety, and stress can help you mitigate some of those physical symptoms. Choosing not to seek support when you need it only gives power to those who want to create terror.
3. Take a break from media. If your mom’s cousin’s aunt really needs you to see a meme on Facebook, she can text it to you. Take a break from social media. Take a break from television. Balance is key. If you are feeling very anxious or can’t stop looking at the news, consider deleting some news apps or social media apps from your phone for a while. You can always go back. Consider asking a friend or loved one to keep you updated on the bullet points of the news for a week or two.
4. Take note of what has helped in the past. What are your healthy coping mechanisms? When times were stressful, how did you cope in the past? This is a good time to evaluate your own coping strategies. No one has ever been handed an instruction manual on how to cope with life! If life came with an instruction manual, things would be so much easier. We all must learn how to cope with things in healthy ways, and those skills can always be sharpened. Healthy coping should feel natural, attainable, and comforting. It should not be a strain, or cause regret, or more anxiety.
5. Control what you can control. Since terrorism and trauma take control away, it may be helpful to see what you can control in your life right now. In all honesty, the only person we can control is ourselves. You can learn more about terrorism and what truly causes terrorism. It’s important to know that terrorism and violence are not tied to entire religious groups, and that there are ways to help prevent terrorism through communication. To understand more about the psychology about what creates a terrorist, and how these people can be changed, take a look at this interesting article by the American Psychological Association.
(It goes without saying, but avoid becoming a vigilante. Do not risk your life or your safety if you suspect someone is a terrorist. Call for help. Did you know that you can even report any suspected terrorist activity to the Nashville Police Department online? )
6. Get Involved. Connection with other people is vital at any time in life. You’ve heard of post-traumatic stress, but have you heard of post-traumatic growth? This is a topic that I will be discussing a lot. Posttraumatic growth is a real thing that can happen after a trauma. It occurs when we heal from trauma and, instead of ignoring that trauma, build that into an important part of what we are able to survive. Getting involved with the community is a great way to get connected with other people, to feel less isolated, and to find the redeeming qualities of your fellow man. Did you know that Hands on Nashville is always seeking volunteers for a number of community organizations? Happier, healthier communities are key to creating positive change and healing. Just doing something small can make a big difference.