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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.

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

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.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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