Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board: Coping with Distress in Aftermath of a Mass Shooting

How could a mass shooting occur and why would such a terrible thing happen – here in Virginia or anywhere else? There may never be satisfactory answers to these questions.

It is not uncommon to experience a variety of emotions following such a traumatic event. These feelings can include shock, sorrow, numbness, fear, anger, disillusionment, grief and others. You may feel that the world is a more dangerous place today than it was yesterday.

The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB) and the American Psychological Association (APA) share the following tips that can strengthen resilience – the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity – in the days and weeks ahead:

Talk about it. Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen to your concerns. Receiving support and care can be comforting and reassuring. It often helps to speak with others who have shared your experience so you do not feel so different or alone.

Strive for balance. When a tragedy occurs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and have a negative or pessimistic outlook. Balance that viewpoint by reminding yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting, even encouraging. Striving for balance empowers you and allows for a healthier perspective on yourself and the world around you.

Turn it off and take a break. You may want to keep informed, but try to limit the amount of news you take in whether it’s from the internet, television, newspapers or magazines. While getting the news informs you, being overexposed to it can actually increase your stress. The images can be very powerful in reawakening your feeling of distress. Also, schedule some breaks to distract yourself from thinking about the incident and focus instead on something you enjoy. Try to do something that will lift your spirits.

Take care of yourself. Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest and build physical activity into your day. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can suppress your feelings rather than help you to manage and lessen your distress. In addition, alcohol and drugs may intensify your emotional or physical pain. Establish or re-establish routines such as eating meals at regular times and following an exercise program. If you are having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga.

Remember that grief is a long process. If you have recently lost friends or family in this or other tragedies, give yourself time to experience your feelings and to recover. For some, this might involve staying at home; for others it may mean getting back to your daily routine. Dealing with the shock and trauma of such an event will take time. It is typical to expect many ups and downs, including "survivor guilt," feeling bad that you escaped the tragedy while others did not.

For many people, using the tips and strategies mentioned above may be sufficient to get through the current crisis. At times, however an individual can get stuck or have difficulty managing intense reactions. A licensed mental health professional can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. If you aren’t sure about how you’re feeling, take one of the CSB’s online, confidential mental health screenings. Screenings are the quickest way to determine if recent thoughts or behaviors are associated with common, treatable mental health issues. The screening tool is free and anonymous. The results include a resource list of where to seek help.

For more information about CSB services, contact our Entry & Referral office at 703-383-8500 (M-F, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., extended hours for youth until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays).

In an emergency:

CSB Emergency Services, 703-573-5679, TTY 711

PRS CrisisLink suicide hotline – 703-527-4077

PRS CrisisLink suicide text hotline – Text "CONNECT" to 855-11

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