Self-Care in the Face of Tragedy


This is a revision of a post I wrote in December, following the Newtown shootings.  It feels important to share again today.

Like many others this week, I have been stunned and saddened by the terrible events that took place in Boston.  My heart breaks for the many families that have been irrevocably changed by today’s events.  I know that I am not the only mental health person who is responding to this.  In fact, I’ll list some additional resources at the end of this post.  However, I wanted to share a few suggestions to aid in coping with your own response to this and other tragedies.

Self-Care Tips:

1. Make space for your own feelings.  It is important to take time and space to process your own response to these losses.  That might include time for tears, journaling, reaching out to others–whatever honors your feelings right now.

2.  Be aware that violent events can be triggers for PTSD.  If you have any history of violence or tragic loss, events like the bombing in Boston can recall your own memories.  If you notice that your anxiety is high, or that you are having a difficult time coping, make sure to reach out for support.

3. Reach out for support.  Even if you don’t have traumatic memories that are triggered by this event, it is a loss that touches all of us.  Spend time with loved ones, connect with a faith community, schedule dinner with friends.

4. Limit exposure to social media and news coverage.  When a tragedy occurs, one of our reflexive reactions is to seek an explanation that can help us understand.  However, in situations like this, where much is still unknown, watching hours of news coverage can create a vicarious trauma.  I’m not suggesting that you avoid the news entirely, just that you be mindful of how much you are exposing yourself to painful images.

5. Remember that events like bombings are still very rare.  While the amount of press that they receive can make them feel common, they are not.

6. Focus on choices you can make in your daily life to increase a sense of control.  This can include buckling your seatbelt, creating an emergency plan with your family, and making sure that you have clearly outlined the wishes you want to be acted on in an emergency.

7. Allow yourself to be grateful for safety or comfort that you have available to you. Sometimes, it is easy to feel guilt that you have not suffered a loss–for example, your children are safe with you when other families are grieving.  Not cherishing your children will not return their loved ones to those who are grieving.  You can better honor them by being intentionally grateful for your family’s health.

8. Reach out.  Events like this remind us that we need the support of our communities.  If you have the time or resources to volunteer, find a need in your community and help meet it.

9. Breathe. Tragedies can provoke anxiety even when they are not PTSD triggers.  Most of us breathe more shallowly when we are anxious.  Take a few moments, breathe deeply, and allow your body to get the oxygen it needs.

10. Listen to yourself. You may need to adjust your plans as you cope with your own response to these losses.  Or you may need to be certain you keep your plans, even though you’d rather hide out at home.  Listen to what your body and your heart are asking for and be gentle about meeting those needs.

If you have another suggestion for self-care after a tragedy, please feel free to share in the comments.

More Resources:

Suggestions from Mr. Rogers on Coping with Tragedy in the News

Suggestions from the American Psychiatric Association for Helping Children after Disaster

Suggestions from Dr. Melanie Greenberg on Using Writing to Process Traumatic Events

Suggestions from Band Back Together on Coping with PTSD



Image Credit: “Candles” by Arne Hulstein via Flickr


5 thoughts on “Self-Care in the Face of Tragedy

  1. This is really a wonderfully helpful post. I haven’t been able to be on social media much the last few days. Maybe I was protecting myself and didn’t even realize it. As an educator and mom, this most recent shooting feels so personal. I just posted on it today myself. I think I’ll share this later. Thanks so much for writing this.

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