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Feeling hopeless? A therapist explains why you might be grieving the state of our world.

Even without seeing tragedies firsthand, it’s still likely that most of us are grieving.

Last Sunday night, my fiancé and I went to an early evening viewing of "Ghostbusters."

We grabbed our snacks, settled into our seats, the lights dimmed, and then the standard pre-movie reminder about "noticing which exits are around you in case of emergencies" was announced. And I felt a wave of panic grip me.

"What on earth is this about?!" I thought to myself shakily.


Taking some deep breaths, I put on my therapist hat and suddenly remembered 2012’s "Dark Knight" shooting in Colorado and 2015’s "Trainwreck" shooting in Louisiana.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

My panic was tied to a subconscious fear of being in danger at a movie theater.

It was a very real stress response to the seemingly endless violence and tragedy I've been seeing on the news.

And it was especially poignant for me after watching mass shootings on the news in recent years and the past few weeks, many of which have taken place in otherwise "safe," contained environments like dance clubs, concert venues, cafés, McDonald's, traffic stops, and churches.

In fact, scientists now know that this is pretty common. Being exposed to violent news events via social media can cause us to experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to a 2015 paper from The British Psychological Society:

"Social media has enabled violent stories and graphic images to be watched by the public in unedited horrific detail. Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those directly experiencing them may impact on our daily lives."

This phenomenon is called "vicarious trauma."

It is something that helpers like psychotherapists, social workers, doctors, and aid workers (among others) often deal with as an occupational hazard from being exposed to the repeated violent or traumatic stories of those they serve.

But because of everyone’s constant exposure to terrible events on the news these days, all of us are at a heightened risk for experiencing vicarious trauma, no matter where we are.

So those feelings you have after watching the news these days? The numbness, the apathy, the persistent anxiety, the intrusive thoughts, the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness? Those are all normal. You’re probably experiencing grief.

"Vicarious grief" might look familiar to you because you've probably seen the stages of it in your news feed: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

This five-step process of grieving is sometimes called the Kübler-Ross model after the pioneering grief work of Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. And now, social media has given us all a way to see and express our individual and collective grief in public.

Photo via iStock.

Here’s what I mean:

Scrolling through our feeds, we’ve all inevitably seen people express sentiments of shock, disbelief, and denial about yet another mass shooting, another incident of police brutality against unarmed black men, another horrific hostage situation, or a frustrating election cycle.

Denial can be seen when hashtags emerge and trend; shock is expressed, and disbelief is shared.

Anger, the second stage of grief, can be seen when a social media wave of anger breaks across our smartphones and laptops. We see and feel anger over someone who was taken away too soon from us, and we feel anger that we live in a world where traumatic news weeks are the norm, not the exception.

Changing profile pictures and banners, sharing and signing petitions, making donations and sharing articles of thought leadership — all of this can allow us to use social media take some kind of action, however small. For many of us, this can help to counter the inevitable feelings of helplessness and hopelessness these traumatic events can trigger. This, in essence, is bargaining — an attempt to take action to avoid encountering bad things again.

And as for depression and acceptance? Perhaps these stages of grief are less visible online. Often, depression can look more like what you might be feeling this week — perpetual feelings of apathy, numbness, and hopelessness. Perhaps depression looks, for you, like avoiding all media consumption. Or maybe it even looks like an increased sense of irritability and weariness in your own life.

As for acceptance, it’s debatable whether or not that’s even possible online or off these days given the never-ending series of tragedies. My hope is that we’ll get there.

Grief — whether online or off — is not clear cut. It’s not compartmentalized.

The people who were present at a traumatic event will experience grief and trauma differently than the rest of us will as secondary witnesses.

But without seeing an event firsthand, it’s still likely that most of us are grieving the tragedy, terror, and loss of direction that is 2016. You are allowed to have, and to share, those feelings.

Plus, grieving online is a new phenomenon: It is complex, multilayered, and often unconscious, and it looks far more like a tangled wire ball than a linear line of conscious emoting.

So what’s to be done, then, about the state of things?

We live in challenging, hyper-connected times. Social media is at the core of many of our interactions, if not constantly in our hands.

What’s the balance to strike when it comes to using social media to stay informed and to grieve in this new digital age while being mindful of how strongly this can affect our own emotional well-being?

As a therapist, I’d like to recommend that you practice self-care, get support from those who love you, seek out help from professional mental health experts when you need it, and remember that watching these events from afar can affect you.

As you work through your own grief, as you make your way toward acceptance, as you take action against the difficult things you’re seeing, and as you scroll through Facebook before bed, please take very good care of yourself, online and off.

Feel what you feel. Share what you need to share. You are worth it.

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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Marlon Brando on "The Dick Cavett Show" in 1973.

Marlon Brando made one of the biggest Hollywood comebacks in 1972 after playing the iconic role of Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.” The venerable actor's career had been on a decline for years after a series of flops and increasingly unruly behavior on set.

Brando was a shoo-in for Best Actor at the 1973 Academy Awards, so the actor decided to use the opportunity to make an important point about Native American representation in Hollywood.

Instead of attending the ceremony, he sent Sacheen Littlefeather, a Yaqui and Apache actress and activist, dressed in traditional clothing, to talk about the injustices faced by Native Americans.

She explained that Brando "very regretfully cannot accept this generous award, the reasons for this being … the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee."

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