On Preserving Mental Health During National Tragedies

By Amanda O’Dea, Entertainment Editor

You push open the door and walk out of the English hall. Your day is over and you think through your plans for the afternoon as you unzip your backpack and dig around for the familiar shape of your trusty iphone 5C.

That same Disney movie song plays in your mind as you tap the home button and you hum the familiar tune. Hmm, what was the next lyric again?

Out of nowhere a bolded New York Times headline flashes across your screen.

BREAKING: 17 DEAD IN PARKLAND, FLORIDA SCHOOL SHOOTING

The news hits you like a brick. You feel a lead knot tie itself in the pit of your stomach. How could this be possible?

The Disney song long gone, a sentiment of utter disbelief replaces it. You’re in shock.

On first learning of the Parkland, Florida shooting, I was shaken to the core. A month later, I am still shaken.

The days following, I kept imagining what it would be like if the gunman had shown up at Mills. What would we have done? What would have happened? Where would we have gone? Would I have been one of the lucky ones spared? Or not?

I have friends who watched the interviews of the mothers who lost children. I know students who listened to the 911 calls released by the Parkland police and cried along with them. Lunchtime the following day featured discussions over what classrooms we think would be safest at Mills. Where would be the best to hide? Whose house was the closest? Where would we run?

Why do we torture ourselves with such thoughts?

How do we prevent such spirals of fear? How do we protect ourselves from such frightening news?

It is difficult to not fall down the rabbit hole of news when tragedy strikes our country. Media outlets fixate on the issues, explaining miniscule details of the attacks. But learning of such minute details is not necessarily healthy. In fact, focusing on such stories can result in harmful effects on your mental health.

In taking steps to preserve your mental health in such a difficult time, it is first important to consider how you are directly affected by the events. In a world connected by the tap of an index finger and a scroll down a page, it’s easy to feel like something that happened on the other side of the country took place in your own backyard. In some ways, this connectivity is a good thing. It allows us to broaden our horizons, to learn about people and places in an entirely different environment. However, this connectivity can also create feelings of distress. When something frightening takes place in another part of the country, being provided with such detailed online information can heighten feelings of fear and hopelessness.

To prevent such feelings from getting out of hand, we must realize the difference between being informed and doing ourselves harm. Reading the accounts, imagining yourself in the shoes of victims, absorbing yourself in horrors across the country–it all puts unnecessary strain on your health.

At some point, your own personal mental health needs to be put first.

It’s okay to not watch the news when horror strikes. It’s okay to not immerse yourself in the pain of others.

You gain nothing from passively watching the terror of others. If you feel passionately about the issues causing the horror, speak out. Write letters. Make speeches. Call your congresspeople. Donate blood. Being proactive about such issues will help mitigate feelings of hopelessness. When you take action, you gain a greater sense of control.

When terror strikes, it is normal to feel uneasy, sick even. But, obsessing over this fear will only have deleterious effects on your health. So don’t allow this fear to take over your life. Flip off the news, pick up a phone, and take action. You’ll feel better for it.

PHOTO: NBC News

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