Coping with traumatic world events
Whether you’ve woken up to the news of a recent terror attack or watched terrifying world events unfold before your eyes or on the phone in your hand, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to process the terrible atrocities that seem to be happening more and more frequently these days.
At best, these incidents affect us indirectly and cause temporary distress, such as anxiety, anger, sadness or empathy. At worst, traumatic incidents can cause lasting effects such as severe anxiety or even PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which can disrupt our lives to the core.
Whether or not you were physically near the traumatic event when it happened may not matter – the process in the brain is very similar. So, it’s no surprise that people around the world are having a hard time coping with traumatic events, even if they are indirectly affected by them.
How to stay calm
While we are all less likely to die from terrorism than from air pollution, that doesn’t mean we don’t feel the effects of attacks that happen at home and around the world.
Here are some tips on how to calm yourself when feeling anxious about terrorism and world events:
1. Stay in the present
Remind yourself that you are safe and not in immediate danger. Try to breathe down to your diaphragm (or abdomen), breathing slowly and deeply, making your out-breath longer than your in-breath.
Grounding and breathing techniques can encourage us to breathe deeper and slower, activating our body’s natural relaxation response. This helps us to breathe away any feelings of panic so that we can begin to feel calmer and more in control.
2. Practise self-care
Make a conscious effort to do things you enjoy and will benefit from, like walking and exercise.
3. Keep in touch with friends and family
Connecting with loved ones and people who make you happy will lift your mood and help you to see the positive things in life.
4. Read positive news stories and uplifting features
Nowadays, reading the news can leave people feeling less optimistic about the world we live in, or worse, scared.
Remind yourself of all the good in the world. Switch off the bad news – wallowing in the details won’t help and could make your anxiety worse.
If you need further support
If you find yourself suffering from suicidal thoughts, troubling memories, feeling extremely anxious, having panic attacks and/or flashbacks for a prolonged period after the traumatic event, speak to your GP, a mental health professional or call a helpline such as the Samaritans (phone 116 123) as soon as possible.
You may also benefit from the help of a professional counsellor who may have immediate availability, making it possible for you to get help more quickly than through your GP.
Looking for help for young people? In this article, counsellor Jennifer Warwick (MBACP) explains how to help tween and teenage children make sense of world events.