Coping with anxiety after mass shootings

Posted at 3:39 PM, Aug 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-06 20:31:37-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. —This weekend's mass shootings sent a shockwave of grief and anxiety throughout the country, and if you're feeling anxious about returning to work, school, or public events, you're not alone.

No one can afford to turn a blind eye to the senseless tragedies that unfolded this weekend and the anxiety that comes with it.

"Every time something tragic like this occurs everybody says we never thought it could happen here," says Bob Vandepol of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.

On Saturday, most people went to bed with some knowledge of the tragedy in El Paso, only to wake up Sunday morning to an alert about nine others killed in Dayton.

Come Monday, that overwhelming sense of loss and fear started to set in.

"But when it happens in places that are supposed to be safe, not a battlefield, not a scenario where it's supposed to be at risk for violence, it pops that bubble of denial we all have that something like this could happen here. That, in it of itself, is startling," Vandepol said.

That creeping anxiety, according to Vandepol, is not only shared with others, but it's also smart.

"If they're feeling a little bit of tension and anxiety, congratulations, you're normal. Because these kind of things can happen and can happen here," Vandepol said. "Smart people have a little increased situational awareness and so they look for exits and they look for pathways to escape and maybe even look for obstructions and weapons."

Vandepol says when a threat presents itself, there are three options: fight-hence looking for weapons, flight-constantly looking for exits, or freeze, and freezing is the real concern.

"If someone is now frozen in the paralysis of fear, your world gets smaller and smaller and it's tough to be a person and a dad and a mom and a brother and an employee," said Vandepol.

So if going out in public feels like too much, Vandepol says make a plan, call a loved one, bring a friend with you, and number one: don't forget to breathe.

If that doesn't help, further help is available.

"If you find yourself not being able to go or really really struggling to go and it doesn't get better the second time or the first time, or the third time or the fourth time, that would be an indication 'hey maybe I need to get some help for this," Vandepol says.

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