The recent tragic events that occurred in Orlando have left our whole country in great emotional distress. There are many questions that we want answered, and there is a great mix of emotions we experience, from sadness, to sorrow, to anger, fear and despair. As Paul was faced with the reality of death, he encouraged the church to not lose heart, because our hope is not in being safe here on earth, but in the eternal life that is to come. He said: “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
This focus on the eternal things brings us great hope, and it can lift us up when we feel that the world around us is crumbling. We have a great future promise in Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
But what about now? What about the sufferings we face today?
Obviously, we as believers are not exempt from experiencing the great sorrows that life on earth brings. Not only that, but being followers of Christ does not make us immune to the emotional and mental effects of trauma and tragedy. Remembering our glorious promised future brings us hope and spiritual resilience, but just as we use Scripture and Prayer to strengthen our spirits when we suffer, we must also deal with trauma and tragedy in ways that would bring about emotional health. We can’t simply recite Scriptures while we stuff what is happening inside of us and pretend that it will go away on its own. We must exercise spiritually in order to be spiritually strong, and we must exercise emotionally in order to be emotionally strong.
Just yesterday, my 13-year-old son whispered to me, “Dad, is it true that this was done by ISIS?… I didn’t know that they were able to attack us only a few miles from our home.” The reason he whispered is because my two other (younger) kids were around… he knew that this would create fear in them, just as it created fear in him when he happened to catch it on a headline. As Christian parents, we can (and should) give a lot of Scriptural support to our children regarding fear and suffering, but we must go further and understand that just as reading Scripture will not usually heal a broken leg, imparting Scripture by itself will not always heal an emotional wound.
We must provide emotional care for emotional wounds, both for ourselves and for our children.
If you are thinking about seeking counseling, please do not think that it means that you are not “spiritual enough” (whatever that means). I encourage you, just as you seek medicine for struggles of the body, seek help for the struggles of the mind. Give us a call and myself or a pastor can walk with you through your struggles. Below I have also provided an excerpt from the American Psychological Association with information to help you manage your distress in the aftermath of a shooting. Also, tips to help children cope with tragic events by the National Association of School Psychologists.
Here to serve,
Cesar Perez, MS
Marriage and Family Therapy Registered Intern
TIPS TO MANAGE YOUR DISTRESS IN THE AFTERMATH OF A SHOOTING
- Talk about it. Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen to your concerns. Receiving support and care can be comforting and reassuring. It often helps to speak with others who have shared your experience so you do not feel so different or alone.
- Strive for balance. When a tragedy occurs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and have a negative or pessimistic outlook. Balance that viewpoint by reminding yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting, even encouraging. Striving for balance empowers you and allows for a healthier perspective on yourself and the world around you.
- Turn it off and take a break. You may want to keep informed, but try to limit the amount of news you take in whether it’s from the Internet, television, newspapers or magazines. While getting the news informs you, being overexposed to it can actually increase your stress. The images can be very powerful in reawakening your feeling of distress. Also, schedule some breaks to distract yourself from thinking about the incident and focus instead on something you enjoy. Try to do something that will lift your spirits.
- Honor your feelings. Remember that it is common to have a range of emotions after a traumatic incident. You may experience intense stress similar to the effects of a physical injury. For example, you may feel exhausted, sore or off balance.
- Take care of yourself. Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest and build physical activity into your day. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can suppress your feelings rather than help you to manage and lessen your distress. In addition, alcohol and drugs may intensify your emotional or physical pain. Establish or re-establish routines such as eating meals at regular times and following an exercise program. If you are having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
- Help others or do something productive. Locate resources in your community on ways that you can help people who have been affected by this incident, or have other needs. Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better, too.
- If you have recently lost friends or family in this or other tragedies. Remember that grief is a long process. Give yourself time to experience your feelings and to recover. For some, this might involve staying at home; for others it may mean getting back to your daily routine. Dealing with the shock and trauma of such an event will take time. It is typical to expect many ups and downs, including “survivor guilt” — feeling bad that you escaped the tragedy while others did not.
For many people, using the tips and strategies mentioned above may be sufficient to get through the current crisis. At times, however an individual can get stuck or have difficulty managing intense reactions. A licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living.
Recovering from such a tragic event may seem difficult to imagine. Persevere and trust in your ability to get through the challenging days ahead. Taking the steps in this guide can help you cope at this very difficult time.
HELPING CHILDREN COPE WITH TRAGIC EVENTS
- Model calm and control. Children take their emotional cues from the significant adults in their lives. Avoid appearing anxious or frightened.
- Reassure children they are safe and (if true) so are the important adults and other loved ones in their lives. Depending on the situation, point out factors that help ensure their immediate safety and that of their community.
- Remind them trustworthy people are in charge. Explain that emergency workers, police, firefighters, doctors, and the government are helping people who are hurt and are working to ensure that no further tragedies like this occur.
- Let children know it is okay to feel upset. Explain all feelings are okay when a tragedy like this occurs. Let children talk about their feelings and help put them into perspective. Even anger is okay, but children may need help and patience from adults to assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.
- Tell children the truth. Don’t try to pretend the event has not occurred or that it is not serious. Children are smart. They will be more worried if they think you are too afraid to tell them what is happening. At the same time it will be important to tell children that while the threat of terrorism is real, the chances they will be personally affected is low.
- Stick to the facts. Don’t embellish or speculate about what has happened, or where another attack might occur. Don’t dwell on the scale or scope of the tragedy, particularly with young children.
- Be careful not to stereotype people or countries that might be associated with the violence. Children can easily generalize negative statements and develop prejudice. Talk about tolerance and justice versus vengeance. Stop any bullying or teasing immediately.
- Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that the daily structures of their lives will not change. Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence and threats to safety in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. They will be more committed to doing something to help the victims and affected community. For all children, encourage them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Be a good listener!
- Maintain a “normal” routine. To the extent possible stick to normal classroom or family routines but don’t be inflexible. Children may have a hard time concentrating on schoolwork or falling asleep at night.
- Monitor or restrict exposure to scenes of the event as well as the aftermath. In particular, monitor exposure to social media. For older children, caution against accessing news coverage from only one source.
- Observe children’s emotional state. Depending on their age, children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can also indicate a child’s level of grief, anxiety or discomfort. Children will express their emotions differently. There is no right or wrong way to feel or express fear or grief.
- Be aware of children at greater risk. Children who have a connection to this particular event, have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Be particularly observant for those who may be at risk of suicide. Seek the help of a mental health professional if you are at all concerned.
- Provide an outlet for students’ desire to help. Consider making get well cards or sending letters to the families and survivors of the tragedy, or writing thank you letters to doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals as well as emergency rescue workers, firefighters and police.
- Keep lines of communication open between home and school. Schools are a good place for children to experience a sense of normalcy. Being with their friends and teachers is helpful. Schools should inform families about available resources, such as talking points or counseling, and plans for information sharing and discussions with students. Parents should let their child’s teacher or school mental health professional know if they have concerns or feel their child may need extra support.
- Monitor your own stress level. Don’t ignore your own feelings of anxiety, grief, and anger. Talking to friends, family members, religious leaders, and mental health counselors can help. It is okay to let your children know you are sad, but that you believe things will get better. You will be better able to support your children if you can express your own emotions in a productive manner. Get appropriate sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
© 2015, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814, (301) 657-0270, Fax (301) 657-0275; www.nasponline.org
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. ROMANS 15:13