In addition to my guide on Friday listing expert resources explaining how to help children cope with tragedies like the school shooting in Newtown, I’m hearing from many of you saying you’d like resources for yourself, too.
As a mother, I feel profoundly affected by what happened on Friday, and it hasn’t let up. As more news about the shooting in Newtown, Conn., is released, I feel as if I re-experience the shock and horror of Friday morning over and over again. Driving home from taking my children to school this morning I saw numerous flags at half mast and felt physically ill. There are signs all around of this terrible tragedy, making it hard to protect yourself from it.
Whether you are an adult already struggling with anxiety or depression, or postpartum depression, or simply someone who feels emotionally vulnerable because of this news and are having trouble managing thoughts and fears, I’ve been looking for resources especially for you. We need tools for coping with our feelings, too.
I reached out to some of my friends who are experts in the maternal mental health world to get some input. Probably the most comforting thing was hearing from all of them that it’s okay if you are seriously struggling with what happened on Friday. It’s normal. Here is what they said:
Diana Lynn Barnes, PsyD, LMFT, The Center for Postpartum Health — The most important thing for women is to find a safe space with someone they trust so that they can talk about any and all of their feelings – the rage, the frustration, the fear that they are now somehow vulnerable. The exposure to this kind of tragedy is a traumatic event, and women must be able to talk about the full range of their emotions.
Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders – This rattles our basic assumptions about how we keep our kids safe. I can only hope that out of this unspeakable tragedy comes some changes to gun laws. We all need to do our part to makes our voices heard. For women with anxiety and/or trauma histories, this is going to be a trying time and reaching out for help is critical.
Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, Director of The Postpartum Stress Center and author of several books about PPD – Random acts of violence are just that. They are random. Our instinct to worry excessively about the likelihood of something horrific like this happening close to our own home is understandable, but only makes us feel worse. Let yourself feel sad. Let yourself feel scared by the shock of it all. Then, find a safe place to distract yourself, regroup, breathe and hug your children.
Wendy Davis, Director, Postpartum Support International – When we hear about an event like a random act of violence, our human empathy increases our reaction and raises our emotions and anxiety. It is completely normal to feel afraid and to be drawn to thinking about it. People often feel compelled to watch every piece of news about it, and might become obsessed with details. It is really important to take breaks from the news and the drama of the trauma. There is so much misinformation and sensationalism with tragedy; it is really healthier to turn the news off and take care of your day, your family, your emotions. Learning more details will not help you feel safe. It might give us the illusion of control, but it actually increases our fear. Most importantly, our minds will help us relax if we say to ourselves, “It is totally normal for me to feel afraid right now. Something scary has happened and that is a natural reaction. What can I do right now to connect to what is safe in my life?” We feel can feel safer by focusing on the self-care that works at any time, including talking to people that are supportive and reassuring, exercising, eating healthy and nourishing food, focusing on the present, connecting with your sources of spiritual guidance or security; reaching out to a mental health provider; calling a support line. Pregnant and postpartum moms and families can always call Postpartum Support International for free accessible support in English or Spanish at 1-800-944-4773 or find help at http://postpartum.net/Get-Help.aspx.
I know that, for me, focusing on my family and my home has been helpful. I’ve noticed I’m suddenly in super nesting mode. I’ve been making sure the laundry is done, the house is clean, the candles are lit, and my children are cuddled and extra-loved-on. I suppose working to create a cozy cocoon both makes me feel like I’m doing something positive and at the same time distracts me from catastrophic thinking.
There are a few resources that you might find helpful. First, the American Psychological Association has put together a guide entitled Managing Your Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting that offers seven tips for coping with the distress of a tragedy like Newtown. They include finding a balance in your viewpoints about traumatic events, and filling your time with productive and fulfilling activities, like helping others.
Second, the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration(SAMHSA) offers a free distress line for anyone who needs to talk after a tragedy such as this: 1-800-985-5990. They also offer a self-help guide for adults for dealing with the effects of trauma. You may think that this isn’t pertinent to you if you weren’t there in Connecticut, but this event has traumatized the entire country and the guide may be more useful to you than you might expect.
And finally, Susan Stiffelman has written a piece over at the Huffington Post offering 14 tips on managing your anxiety after the shooting.
Please know that while this article focuses primarily on moms, I believe this is helpful information for anyone struggling with this tragedy. If you have seen other guides that you find helpful, please share them in the comments.
What have you been doing to cope over the last few days? If you’ve found something that helps, I’m sure other Babble readers would love to hear about it.
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