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Reclaiming a sense of safety after a tragedy

I'm sure I speak for many of us when I say we are feeling alarmed after what is being called an “act of terrorism” near Commonwealth Stadium. And many of us are reeling after the recent senseless shootings of hundreds of people in Las Vegas. To date, 59 people have died and almost 500 people were injured. My heart goes out to all of these people and their loved ones.

Questions that keep coming to mind are: How does this even happen? Why isn’t someone doing something about this? How do we keep it from happening again? How are the survivors affected by this kind of tragedy? How does one recover from something like this?

I don't have the answers. But I do have some thoughts I'd like to offer.

I am going to address the devastation in Las Vegas. Believe me, I am not a big fan of talking politics, but to me, this seems like it is a political matter on some level. Therefore, I looked back at the words of a politician who I truly respect and share his thoughts on senseless shootings.

Barack Obama expressed his concerns after a 2015 shooting in Colorado: “This is not normal. We can't let it become normal…if we're going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience — then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of people who have no business wielding them. Period. Enough is enough."

Well said, Mr. Obama. And more wisdom from this wise man…

"Each time this comes up, we are fed the excuse that common-sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, or the one before that, so why bother trying. I reject that thinking. We know we can't stop every act of violence…But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence … We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom….to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

So Mr. Obama addresses an important issue that has been overlooked to date.

Now let’s look at how one may be affected by these senseless acts of violence.

How tragedy can effect the mind and body?

If someone has experienced or witnessed a tragedy and they felt intensely afraid, helpless or horrified, they may have the following symptoms:

  • Persistent memories about the event

  • Nightmares or flashbacks about the event

  • Feeling upset when reminded of the event

  • Strong physical sensations (increased heart rate, trembling, sweating) when reminded of the event

  • Avoiding talking or thinking about the event

  • Avoiding people, things or places that remind them of the event

  • Losing interest in life

  • Feeling isolated or different from other people

  • Feeling emotionally numb

  • Feeling hopeless about their future

  • Feeling agitated

  • Sleep problems

  • Becoming irritable or angry for little reason

  • Lacking focus

  • Being on the lookout for something bad to happen

  • Feeling jumpy

Many of these are normal symptoms that would occur after someone has experienced a tragedy. But if these symptoms are persistent beyond one month and interfere with daily functioning, it may be time to seek out professional help. Remember, this experience would be difficult for anyone. It’s okay to ask for help.

Any tragedy is processed by the brain and will have an effect on your brain. We all have a built in alarm system that alerts us to danger. It’s called the fight or flight response. This response is triggered by the most primitive part of our brain called the amygdala. This response helps us survive when we are in danger. It tells you to fight the dangerous thing or run away to safety. But after a tragedy, this part of the brain is working overtime. It’s on high alert all of the time. It's anticipating danger even when danger isn’t present. It's trying to protect you, but is signalling many “false alarms.”

How can you feel safe after a tragedy?

To begin to calm the overactive brain, you can talk to a caring friend or spend time in nature as this helps ground you in the present time. If you bring your mind to the sights in nature, it helps you feel calm in the present moment and you can remind yourself that the event is no longer happening. You can draw on other senses such as listening to calming music or rubbing your feet on the ground to bring you into the present. Over time, this gradually begins to calm the flight or fight response.

Another way to calm your brain is by using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or "tapping"). This technique has been documented to help survivors cope after they have experienced a trauma or tragedy - school shootings, war, surviving genocide. Tapping helps calm the amygdala and release the traumatic memories and sensations that are trapped in the body. It also helps anyone who is feeling distressed by these events release negative emotions from the mind and body, and I think that includes us all.

I have included a guided tap along meditation in my October 2017 Newsletter. You can access it by signing up for my e-newsletter here.

Lastly, our collective energy can make a difference. If we watch the news and repeatedly focus on the negative things that people do in this world, it is counterproductive. We become fearful and angry and that low level energy will become trapped in our mind and body causing us added stress. If you process and release your fears, anger, and stress, you can move forward in a positive direction to make a difference for others who need it most.

When each one of us raises our energy in this way, we become a light in what sometimes seems like a very dark world. We need more people to do that. I am working on doing that for my sake and for the well-being of others.


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Hi! I'm Beth Matthews. I'm a Registered Psychologist who is driven to helping people feel better about themselves. I help people who are struggling in their lives gain an awareness of how they can cope with anything that comes their way. With my easy-to-use strategies, you can feel better and be your best you!


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