In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, psychologist and professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine Dr. Jeffrey Gardere offers some mental health tips for dealing with the tragedy and moving forward:
What’s the normal reaction to an event like a mass shooting, even though it may have occurred far away? What are the physical and emotional effects one might expect, if any?
The closer one is to the trauma, the more severe the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The people who were at the shooting or in the immediate area are going to be affected most by PTSD. Those symptoms will include anxiety, nightmares, sleep disorders, appetite disturbance, intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviors and hyperarousal. But even those who may not be in Colorado but are watching on television or the internet will be affected emotionally. Usually the reactions are sadness and horror at the injuries and loss of life, and a sense of outrage and helplessness that these mass shootings continue to occur.
What do you recommend people do?
During this time of ongoing disturbing and tragic news that we see and hear day by day and even hour by hour, it can become so easy to become discouraged, dysphoric and even fearful, especially in the wake of the recent mass shootings. That’s why it is important that we fortify and maintain optimum mental health. There are some very common sense strategies that we should be practicing every day that can keep us emotionally centered and resilient. First and foremost a healthy body results in a healthy mind. Therefore get a good night’s sleep, engage in regular physical exercise, even if it means taking a daily walk or grabbing the stairs, eat regular and healthy meals and control your alcohol intake.
How can people guard their mental and emotional health?
For your emotional health, stay connected with family and friends and share how you are feeling about the world and recent events, but also share empowerment strategies on how to make life better. Know when to turn off the bad news and stop working at a decent hour and move away from your computer. Set a time and stick to it. It’s so easy to believe that nothing will change with this cascade of bad news and that we have no control over our lives and the world. But we do have power that can be exercised and manifested.
What are a few specific suggestions of steps to take to help build resilience?
We can do good deeds like volunteer work and undertake political action through PTAs, school boards, community boards and even peaceful demonstrations. John Lewis called that kind of action good trouble. People might join movements that are fighting for sensible gun legislation in their hometown. They can organize or join memorial celebrations for those who have died. Empowerment and control over one’s life most often leads to better mental health, especially during tough times. Finally, when you feel overloaded by bad news, it’s important to remember to turn off the source and turn on some music. It will soothe you and make you feel better—that’s scientifically proven.