Coping with traumatic world events
Whether it’s waking up to the news of a recent attack, or watching terrifying world events unfold before our eyes or on the phones in our hands, many people are finding it 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 a person was physically near the traumatic event may not matter – the process in the brain is about the same. So it is 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 by air pollution, that doesn’t mean we don’t feel the effects from 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:
- 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. Sometimes called 7/11 breathing, this deeper, slower breathing activates our body’s natural relaxation response and helps us to breathe away any feelings of panic so that we can begin to feel calmer and more in control.
- Practise self-care by making an effort to do things you enjoy and will benefit from, like walking and exercise.
- 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.
- 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.
When the problem is serious
If you find yourself suffering from suicidal thoughts, troubling memories, feeling startled or extremely anxious, having panic attacks and/or flashbacks, distress, sleeplessness or nightmares for more than 3-4 weeks after the 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.
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