How to Cope with a Senseless Act of Violence

Dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy can seem beyond overwhelming. The Doctors turn to clinical psychologist Dr. Judy Ho for coping tips and strategies to best take care of yourself and your loved ones when faced with the anguish, pain and uncertainty that comes after surviving the unthinkable. Despite continued tragedies occurring in public spaces, Dr. Judy does not feel we should limit ourselves from going to places and doing things we feel are meaningful and important to us. 

- Tips on How To Cope after a Tragedy

1). Continue to Live Your Life: Although people may fear going out after a tragedy like this, Dr. Judy recommends continuing to do what matters to you; but that we should stay mindful and vigilant (so no constant texting!). Scan your surroundings from time to time while in public, and educate yourself and your children on how best to stay safe and make sure they know emergency protocols.

2.) Make Time to Connect: Following a tragedy, a collective feeling of Post-Traumatic Stress symptoms can set in for the local community and even the entire country. Dr. Judy urges people to connect with loved ones following a horrific event. She warns against isolating yourself, getting wrapped up in media coverage, and staying glued to your social media feeds. She stresses the importance of spending time, either in person or on the phone, with someone you care about. And limit your media coverage time to no more than 1 hour a day.

3.)  Re-establish Control and Remain Active: Many tragedies cause people to feel helpless and powerless, so do something to reassert that you are in control. Some suggestions she has include:

  • Researching active shooter protocols and training, which could be useful at your workplace, school or community center.
  • If you feel strongly about gun control laws, reach out to your elected officials and voice your concerns.
  • Donate your time and resources to help with the tragedy. 

- How to Prepare Children for a Tragedy

Dr. Judy also shares her thoughts on how to talk with your children about a tragedy. Acknowledging there are bad people who do bad things is okay, but also remind your little ones that tragedies are not something that will occur every day. She stresses the importance of educating kids on how to stay safe during a situation or an event. Her tips on how to prepare kids to deal with a tragedy include:

  • Explain to them that events like mass shootings, kidnappings and natural disasters are rare, but are still important to be mindful of.
  • Create a plan with specific steps on what to do. She suggests using a cue card or index card that outline concrete steps to take as kids are better visual learners.
  • Practice these steps to some degree at home (e.g., using role-plays) to help them best understand what to do if a dangerous situation arises. 

More information on coping with traumatic events can be found at the National Institutes of Health website and at the National Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990.