Unless you have been on a beach somewhere, disconnected from all sources of media, you will be aware of the horrifying acts of terrorism that befell the people and city of Paris on November 13th, 2015.
In the days since the horror, you have possibly watched news reports, read articles and possibly a variety of other media going over the gory details of the attack itself. You may find yourself discussing the life and motivation of the terrorists themselves, and reading stories from the survivors and loved ones of the victims.
You have probably watched, thought, talked and listened, not because you have a desire to immerse yourself in sad and sordid details, but because you care.
You care deeply.
You may even have been directly affected by the tragedy, and please accept our deepest sympathies and condolences if this is so.
For those of us affected ‘at a distance’ – by that we mean we do not have loved ones directly affected by or involved in this current tragedy – we usually assume that we are ‘unaffected’.
However, what if we asked you how you have been feeling since Friday, November 13th? Have you been sleeping soundly? Have you been flipping between feelings of sadness and rage? What about feeling helpless? Or hopeless? Hypervigilent or on-edge? What about feeling fear?
Are you afraid?
Terror can be terrifying.
What if we were to tell you that all of the feelings above are normal, so normal they have a name: Vicarious Trauma or Secondary Traumatic Stress? Although these terms are usually reserved for the type of emotional trauma that can affect helping professionals, we feel it is appropriate here. And there is research that supports feeling all of the things suggested above as a result of (only) seeing or reading about (these) terror attacks through the media reports. Even if they are a country or a continent away.
“Witnessing trauma (whether being physically present or through exposure to images in the media) can result in trauma reactions, which are normal reactions to abnormal events.”
(You may wish to read more on science and terrorism HERE.)
How Can I Cope? I’m terrified!
1. Notice your feelings
In the aftermath of a traumatic event, it is important to notice and acknowledge your feelings. Allow all of your feelings (they may change quickly, and may even surprise you!). It is not unusual to flip quickly from feelings of deep sadness to extreme outrage or passionate anger. And it is also good to know that some of these feelings are the surface reactions, where underneath our anger there lies a sense of grief, helplessness or even fear.
Notice all levels of your feelings. They are normal, and they need to be processed and released in healthy ways.
2. Take action
In order to process confusing emotions, it is important to take action. Many mistake this inner feeling of urgency to mean they need to lash out, point fingers, scream and yell. While a little screaming and yelling into a pillow in the privacy of your own home is not always a bad thing, channelling your upset and feelings into positive action is important for your health.
Positive and healthy options for action include:
- Exercise. Take a walk. Go to a yoga class.
- Hug your spouse, your kids, yourself.
- Talk. Talk to your friends, your spouse, and your counselor (if/as necessary).
- LIMIT exposure to media reports.
3. Assess your Situation
Many people become almost paralyzed by the fear of ‘what if…’. The reason that terror attacks are aptly named ‘terrorism’ is because of the psychological impact they have on people. The fear these acts install are aimed at creating a sense of unease, of not being safe. While the reality is that these acts are often unlikely to happen in our own neighborhood, we are gripped by an almost overwhelming fear. And this fear will whisper to us that it is not only possible, but likely. That is what fear (and anxiety) has at it’s core – the ability to amplify in our minds the remotely ‘possible’ to the absolutely ‘will’. And that is why it is even more important to be mindful, to be present.
To take time to breathe. Meditate. Be mindful.
“That is what fear (and anxiety) has at it’s core – the ability to amplify in our minds the remotely possible to the absolutely will.”
Take note of all of the security measures in place in your home, your community, your country. Remind yourself that you are doing all you can to be safe, without restricting your life in unnecessary ways (assuming you are not currently in a location that is, in fact, under attack).
Remember how often you have coped after difficult or traumatic events in your own life. You can do this!
4. Be mindful. Breathe.
Take time to rest. To clear your mind. Keep your routines going – continue doing what you typically do.
Traumatic events take a toll on all of us. Be mindful that trauma is cumulative: if you have suffered trauma in the past, current trauma may serve to trigger and/or amplify your current feelings and sense of unease.
As always, talk it out. Keep connected. Reach out to others to talk and listen. And if you feel that your feelings of fear, sadness or agitation are not subsiding with some time, please, please seek out professional help. Licensed therapists and counsellors are trained to help you work through these complex feelings.
Be kind to yourself!
Much love and peace,