How to Cope with Tragic World Events

The world will never go long without tragic events. With each passing week, there is yet another awful story we see, hear, or read about, from multiple sources, and often with graphic video. From the horrific terrorist attacks here and abroad to heartbreaking accidents at world-renowned vacation destinations, we have had no shortage of bad news of late.  All of this bad news is bound to affect your feelings and thoughts about the world.

It is important to note that people who are not depressed, anxious, or suffering from any related mental disorders will not develop one as a result of seeing bad news. Bad news can, however, affect your outlook and mood.

Some common reactions to tragic world events could include:

  • Feeling shock or disbelief
  • Feeling anxious, stressed, and/or fearful
  • Feeling helpless, angry or sad, or maybe even guilty
  • Reluctance about taking steps to help, such as donating money to a cause or voting
  • Believing the future is uncertain or that you are less safe
  • Losing optimism about the state of the world, i.e. seeing the world as a dark place
  • Physical reactions, e.g. shaking, racing heart rate, increased breathing, feeling a lump in one’s throat, having a tight stomach, feeling dizzy or as if you might faint, racing thoughts, or breaking out in a cold sweat.

Everyone interprets the world in his or her way, and there is no right or wrong way to react. It’s natural to have negative feelings when you hear of a catastrophic event in the world. It can also affect your thinking and your decisions moving forward, and not usually in positive ways. What isn’t normal or healthy is to ignore these feelings. Nor is it healthy to obsess about them either.

Unfortunately, however, some people do have disorders that bad news can exacerbate. If a person has a propensity for these disorders, tragic events can be a factor for the symptoms. There is not a causal relationship here, but instead an association in that a person who is depressed or anxious might notice bad news more than a person who isn’t.

People might interpret negative images in different ways, but with a few overarching commonalities. Published in Psychological Science in 2011,  a study explored how people react to adverse events. The researchers showed participants negative images of varying severity and asked them to either reevaluate the situation or to push a button that would separate them from it. What they found was that when an event was only slightly negative, e.g. a woman who looks sad, most people could reinterpret the events. However, when it was more severe, e.g. a woman bleeding from the face looking scared, people pushed a button instead to disengage from it. Later, when asked to remember the pictures, participants recognized the ones they reappraised but not the ones from which they disengaged. This research suggests that when you need to remember and learn from something negative, it requires you to focus on it instead of escaping it.

Coping with Your Feelings

Accepting how you feel about a traumatic event is important. Even if you aren’t involved directly in the incident, it can cause you to feel grief, feelings of loss, mourning, or guilt. It’s important to allow yourself to feel even uncomfortable emotions without judgment or guilt. However, it is also important that you work with your emotions to facilitate the healing process.

There are numerous ways you can address how you feel following a tragic world event, including:

Talking to someone. There is a lot to be said for talking about your feelings. Whether it’s with friends or family or a professional therapist, talking about how you feel is an important part of the healing process. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask.

Detaching from the emotions of the situation. There are facts and there are feelings. It’s important not to confuse the two. Reminding yourself of facts will help you recognize what is irrational and what isn’t. Talking about the facts and feelings with a trusted friend is helpful when try to tease them apart. A psychotherapist can help you do this as well if you are having trouble doing this on your own.  

Returning to your usual schedule. Go to work or school as you normally would. Go to bed when you typically do and eat your meals when you would on any given day. There is often much healing in the “normal”.

Being mindful of your personal care. Whether it is exercising or following a nutritious diet, taking care of yourself is paramount. Avoid caffeine around bedtime and don’t watch TV or scroll through your phone before bed. And avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms, like smoking, drinking or using drugs as their affects only make things worse.

Employing regular stress relief exercises. Managing your stress through activities like using breathing exercises or listening to music can help you manage the symptoms acute or chronic stress can cause you. Some people find yoga to help while others prefer walking or hiking. Some people find stress relief in activities like writing, playing music or painting. Whatever it is that helps you feel less stressed, make sure you take the time to do it.

Unplugging. Being informed is one thing; 24/7 news coverage of a terrible event is another. Get the information you need, but then tune out.

Volunteering. Working with people who need help or supporting your community can do a lot to mend your broken feelings and restore your optimism. It helps you focus on areas in which you can make a difference and helps you reconnect to other people and your community.

To read more about how to cope with your feelings after a Traumatic Event, please download this pdf from the CDC.

Most people recover from their feelings in a relatively short time. However, if you aren’t improving at around six weeks and other areas such as your work and your personal relationships are suffering, it might be an indication that you need more professional guidance in your healing process.

To learn more about how Achieve Wellness Group can help you process your persistent feelings of anxiety or grief, please contact us.


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