If you feel helpless following the Orlando shooting, you're not alone.
On the morning of June 12, 2016, I’d imagine that you, like me, woke up to the story of the Orlando, Florida, mass shooting in the Pulse nightclub.
Like mine, your social media newsfeed was probably flooded with stories about the tragedy.
And perhaps you, like me, felt your stomach sink and your heart grow heavy. Another mass shooting. The worst in recent U.S. history. And one where the clear intent seems to be terror and hate.
When I first heard the news, I felt a sense of defeat come over me and a sort of numbness settled in.
Intellectually, I got it: “Another mass shooting, a hate crime, ties to ISIS. This is absolutely terrible but not too surprising,” my brain said. But I wasn’t feeling the emotional pain of it just yet.
Then I watched the faces on the news and the photos of people lined up to donate blood, and I imagined what those victims must have planned as a fun, carefree night. I was struck by the horror of what it means when the places we gather for fun and entertainment are no longer safe. I was gripped by the sheer senseless tragedy of life when people are targeted for their sexual orientation.
If you, like me, feel more than just a little bit helpless, angry, and numb than usual, I want you to know you’re not alone.
As a fellow human affected by the events in Orlando, I join you in all these feelings. There’s helplessness, anger, shock, sadness, numbness, and desensitization. And as a professional psychotherapist, I can also tell you that these feelings are a completely normal and natural reaction to the stress of observing and processing traumatic global events.
In this post-9/11 world, we’re witnessing more and more local, national, and global tragedies every day.
Each of them is like a little trauma, a wound on our individual and collective psyches, aggravated each time a new and heartbreaking tragedy unfolds and enters our lives through immediate or distanced observation. This mass shooting in Orlando, compounded with all the other tragedies our generation has witnessed, feels like so much to hold.
With all these feelings and emotions comes an even bigger question though: What can we DO about it, so as not to feel helpless, alone, and stuck?
To help you hold the weight of this world, I want to offer some actionable suggestions for things you can do this week, both psychologically and socially. Hopefully, these small things will help you process, feel less helpless, and even help those around you this week:
1. Acknowledge and feel your feelings. All of them.
There’s no such thing as a bad feeling (though some may feel more comfortable than others). Allow yourself to feel today, tomorrow, and this week, and to be with whatever comes up for you around this. Process your feelings safely and constructively.
2. Don’t isolate. Connect.
Connect with your loved ones, your local community, your larger communities (even if by phone or over social media). Share how you’re feeling. Talk it out, let others hold space for you while you hold space for them.
3. Limit your media consumption if needed.
This is so important with news being blasted at us from every angle. Monitor how much news and content about the tragedy you can tolerate before it starts to feel like too much.
4. Refocus on your self-care and healthy coping resources.
Garden, cook, knit, craft, go for a long walk, journal, sit outside in the sun. Do whatever you know helps you feel grounded, safe, and healthy.
5. Stick to your routines.
Routines and schedules can be incredibly grounding in times of stress. Keep up your daily and weekly rituals.
Moving your body can help process and metabolize the stress and anxiety you may be feeling. Add in an extra walk or two and really make grounding and focusing on your body a priority.
7. Dance, draw, paint, or photograph your feelings about this.
Create art and process your experience through creation.
8. Turn toward supports and ask for help.
If you need additional resources, book a session with a therapist, speak to your local clergy, or call up a trusted mentor. Let those who care about you help you.
9. Get involved in any way that you can.
Donate blood, send money, participate in activism around gun-control laws, help staff a help line, bring food and water to those in line to donate blood.
10. Host or join a community process group.
Check out your local YMCA or church or university offerings to see if they’re hosting a support group for those impacted by the tragedy. If none are offered, consider hosting one with a friend or local helping resource.
Yes, pray. Whether you believe in God, Allah, Gaia, or Universal Spirit, close your eyes and ask something greater than you for guidance in troubled times. Receive the support that can come from being in prayer.
Being a human is often scary, overwhelming, and vulnerable.
Tragedies like the Orlando shooting illuminate the fragility and unpredictability of life. I think that, for most of us, this can be a very hard thing to face.
Part of the pain and terror of the recent shooting in Orlando, specifically, is that we were reminded, yet again, that the places where we convene to celebrate and to play are not necessarily safe.
The shooting in Orlando also reminds us that murderous hate is alive and active, especially toward certain communities. And lacking national gun regulation laws makes it easier for people to act out on their anger.
But these same tragedies can call upon us to open ourselves up too.
They call on us to be more vulnerable, to be more fully alive and in touch with our feelings, to be more compassionate and caring toward others, and to be more active and peaceful in our politics and social engagements.
These same tragedies can remind us of the preciousness of life, if we allow them to.
Please, take good care of yourself this week. Seek out the support and resources you may need to deal with how the events in Orlando affected you.