When Disaster Strikes: How to Cope With the News

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When Disaster Strikes: How to Cope With the News

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD


Watching the daily news feed can be more terrifying than any horror movie. Closing your eyes won’t make it go away. Telling yourself that it’s not real won’t make you or others safe. And, worse yet, you can’t keep your awareness of it confined to a two-hour time frame of your choosing. So, when faced with the news, what’s the best way to cope?

Of course, the closer to home a tragedy is, the more it will impact you and those around you. But whatever your geographical and emotional distance (or closeness) from tragedies being reported in the news, there are certain guidelines that can help you cope in a healthy way:

Stay calm. It’s okay to feel emotional, such as feeling sad, angry, or scared. But if your emotions begin to overwhelm you, overtaking your ability to think or concentrate or enjoy any aspects of your life, it’s time to step back. With perspective and a greater sense of calm, you can digest the news better. You can be sensitive to the pain of others while still remaining emotionally healthy and responding constructively. You might donate money, volunteer, or just be more responsive to the needs of others closer to home who are experiencing their own difficulties.

One way to calm yourself is to take a break from the news. Access it in limited doses. This applies to watching or reading about the news, as well as your access to it on social media. You want to be informed, but not overwhelmed or incapacitated.

Remain grounded in reality, not “what ifs.” When tragedy strikes others, your emotions might get so stirred up that you begin to lose sight of the reality that the tragic event is not common. And this can lead to a sense of feeling terrified and paralyzed. Instead, take note that this tragedy is not likely to happen to you, because it is an unusual occurrence. Learn how authorities are using what they learn from the event to prepare better for the future.  It is also frequently helpful to pay attention to how people pull together during tragedies to help each other.

Express yourself. But, please, not by ranting on social media – or getting sucked into a back-and-forth responding to others’ rants.

It can help to talk through your feelings with people you trust and who are supportive. If you tend toward being creative, you might find it helpful to paint, write poetry, or engage in some other expressive art. Many also find comfort in prayer, meditation, or joining together with their religious community.

If you have personally lost someone close to you or are pained by a community’s loss, it can help to honor the victims. There are many ways to do this. For instance, you can attend a memorial service, share stories with others who share your pain, or give back to the community to honor their memory.

Be available to help others. You may find that in being a support for others, you help to calm your own distress. You might just listen to an upset friend, or volunteer to help those directly affected by the tragedy.

With the omnipresence of news in our lives – especially 24-hour saturation coverage of the worst humanity has to offer – it can sometimes feel like there is no way to crawl out from under the weight of the world. By helping yourself to cope in a healthy way with tragedy, you will feel better within yourself and be more available to help those around you.


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