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Coping with anxiety after mass shootings

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. —This weekend's mass shootings sent a shockwave of grief and anxiety throughout the country, and if you're feeling anxious about returning to work, school, or public events, you're not alone.

No one can afford to turn a blind eye to the senseless tragedies that unfolded this weekend and the anxiety that comes with it.

"Every time something tragic like this occurs everybody says we never thought it could happen here," says Bob Vandepol of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.

On Saturday, most people went to bed with some knowledge of the tragedy in El Paso, only to wake up Sunday morning to an alert about nine others killed in Dayton.

Come Monday, that overwhelming sense of loss and fear started to set in.

"But when it happens in places that are supposed to be safe, not a battlefield, not a scenario where it's supposed to be at risk for violence, it pops that bubble of denial we all have that something like this could happen here. That, in it of itself, is startling," Vandepol said.

That creeping anxiety, according to Vandepol, is not only shared with others, but it's also smart.

"If they're feeling a little bit of tension and anxiety, congratulations, you're normal. Because these kind of things can happen and can happen here," Vandepol said. "Smart people have a little increased situational awareness and so they look for exits and they look for pathways to escape and maybe even look for obstructions and weapons."

Vandepol says when a threat presents itself, there are three options: fight-hence looking for weapons, flight-constantly looking for exits, or freeze, and freezing is the real concern.

"If someone is now frozen in the paralysis of fear, your world gets smaller and smaller and it's tough to be a person and a dad and a mom and a brother and an employee," said Vandepol.

So if going out in public feels like too much, Vandepol says make a plan, call a loved one, bring a friend with you, and number one: don't forget to breathe.

If that doesn't help, further help is available.

"If you find yourself not being able to go or really really struggling to go and it doesn't get better the second time or the first time, or the third time or the fourth time, that would be an indication 'hey maybe I need to get some help for this," Vandepol says.

For further resources, click here.

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  • lml25

    Actually,we’ve had it pretty good for much of the latter half of the 20th century.That period of time is probably the outlier.Violence,war and people are a menage a trois that goes together like chicken,mashed potatoes and gravy.If it isn’t one thing,it’s another to cause a small or large incident.Some people are more violent than others.The violence has been repressed to some extent,I expect much more in the next year.

  • Danielle Smith

    I personally wrote the Lara office for Pine Rest to open their groups to the Public. I suffer from agoraphobia. So I only travel to places of safety or comfort. My dad’s been a solid wishy washy family rock..I was forced to make friends with strangers and when they turned me away from a group movie night. I got bent!! And then I wrote in…

    I tell myself to breathe and keep moving…but it’s harder in places you can’t move when your anxiety goes from 3 to 7. Or in my case.. when speaking the more passionate the topic.. depending on the person.. my tremors are enough to holy cow myself over..

    People need to be better humans to each other..end of story.

  • Sam

    How about the anxiety that all of us will suffer from, from the worthless politicians that will use every chance they can of public tragic event to garner weight behind their useless ideas and push them into laws?

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