What can you say about a week like this week? Most of us are still reeling from the Boston Marathon bombings which occurred on Monday. Other tragedies have occurred this week also, explosions in Texas, poisoned letters sent to the President and I could go on.
By Tuesday, I recognized the amount of stress and anxiety the Boston bombing was starting to have on me. I watched the news just like everyone else, I am sure. But with every news story, the repetitive showing of the bombing site and the people falling. Hearing about blood and limbs and then finally, the fact that an eight year old boy was killed, I could sense more and more anxiety building up.
By Wednesday, the anxiety started manifesting itself. It began by good things, like prayer. Prayer for those that were injured, and families of those killed. It then moved into things that I could not control but felt really, really bad about. Specifically, the eight year old innocent child that was killed watching his dad finish a marathon. His mom and sister are critically injured. I have a seven year old and I started to think about him being killed. How would I get through that. Then I started getting jumpy. If Greg had a meeting and it went long and I didn't hear from him, I started thinking something tragic had happened. When I couldn't find Carter on Wednesday, at the house, I was in a near panic (ends up he was in the bathroom, ahem, an unusually long time).
That's when I stopped watching the news. That's when I evaluated why I was feeling this way. And I knew I probably wasn't the only one.
When things feel out of control, we want to control them. And when tragic things happen, even if it didn't happen to us or anyone that we know, we feel out of control. And when we can identify with someone in a close way, much like this family who lost their eight year old son, we desperately want control. We want to be able to do something, anything. And there's just not anything we can physically "do". And that's frustrating. And if it's out of our control, we begin to think "what if", what if something like this happened to my family....
And that is where the anxiety comes in, because we don't have control. 90% of things that happen to us are beyond our control. It's how we choose to respond to them that will determine how they affect us, not the actual event itself.
So, I figured other people were probably feeling like me and I wanted to pass the biggest way you can circumvent your anxiety during moments of national and even local crises.
TURN THE TELEVISION OFF!!!!!!!!
First, I don't know if you realize it or not, but news sometimes really isn't news. It's sensationalized information that may or may not come out as actual fact. Think about it, initially how many things were initially "reported" that turned out not to be truth. Because people can access news from so many sources, news media have to do everything they can to get the "scoop". So often there are things that are reported just for sensationalism purposes because the news reporters are encouraged to keep the attention of the viewers. Keep that in mind.
Second, even if you don't struggle with anxiety, stress or depression, watching traumatic events over and over will increase a sense of helplessness and lack of control that can suddenly increase anxiety symptoms. If you are suffering from anxiety or stress, watching those videos over and over can actually make your symptoms much worse. ONCE YOU SEE A PICTURE OR A VIDEO OF A TRAUMATIC EVENT YOU CAN'T ERASE IT FROM YOUR MIND. And if you watch it over and over again, it can actually affect how you feel. You might not even realize how it is affecting you until it is too late. Friday night I actually got to see a snippet of an interview on our local news with a psychologist from Vanderbilt and she spoke about the same thing. That focusing on this tragedy will increase stress and anxiety. (Kinda made me feel good, since I had already written this blog post and she was talking about the same thing....).
Finally, connecting with a traumatic event through similar backgrounds and lifestyles can makes something feel very close and real to your own family. I personally experienced that this week when I started seeing pictures of the little boy who was killed during the bombings. And when you watch their story unfold on TV, and as the week went on they started showing video of the 19 year old placing the bomb near the child, and spinning that tragic story, it just yanks at your emotions, heart, and well being. I was reminded again...turn the TV OFF!!!. I have a seven year old, this boy was eight. I started thinking of the "what ifs". What if they had chosen a different spot. What if the dad had finished later. What if. What if. What if. Then I started thinking about MY what ifs. What if something happened here. What if something happened to my children. How would I feel if my child had been blown up. What would I do....
Well, as I tell clients, that's a really good way to go crazy. Viewing traumatic events over and over just feed our natural tendency to worry, feel out of control, and when you couple that with similarities with people who have been traumatized, a connection, if you will, it is difficult to separate the feeling that something could actually happen to YOU or YOUR family. And the likelihood of something like that happening is so, so very slim, that is is pointless to even allow it to enter your mind.
So I stopped. I realized what was happening and I turned the television off. I stopped watching news coverage. I didn't read the stories on facebook, I scrolled through pictures and videos quickly so as not to view them because what happened to these people, as tragic and horrible as it was, it was not helping anything in my life and my surroundings for me to make it personal. Because it wasn't personal. It was crazy. And crazy things happen. And we can't control crazy. And I wasn't going to allow the crazy to take over my life.
The best thing I could do was pray. I am a person of faith. I cling to that faith during times like these because, for me, it brings me peace. You may or may not be a person of faith. For me, knowing that something bigger than me is in ultimate control brings ultimate peace. I am safe. My husband is safe. My children are safe. Bad things may happen, but I believe that no matter what happens to us, I can trust that my faith will carry me through. Others struggle with this type of crisis of belief. How could God allow this horrific thing to happen. If God exists and if He is good, why do bad things, tragic things, traumatic things happen.
I will cover that in my next blog post.