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How to handle anxiety, stress after mass shootings amid a pandemic

Handling anxiety after mass shootings amid a pandemic
Posted at 12:16 PM, Mar 26, 2021

Time and time again, we see mass shootings send ripple effects through our communities, causing fear, sadness and a mix of other emotions.

The recent shooting at a Boulder grocery store that killed 10 and the shootings at Atlanta spas that killed eight can be difficult to digest.

“When something like this happens, everything gets turned on its head,” said Dr. Joseph Sochet, a psychiatrist and Outpatient Chief Resident at the Medical Center of Aurora Psychiatry Residency Program. “I almost think of it as a balance. I feel completely safe, to I feel like if I go outside my life will be in terrible danger. It kind of shifts the balance over towards that fear side of things.”

Dr. Sochet said this just compounds with the emotions we’ve already been feeling throughout the pandemic.

“During COVID, anxiety was up, depression was up, people that were predisposed to having paranoid thinking, had more paranoid thinking,” he explained. “Once you’re kind of primed to be afraid, you can be more afraid.”

Health experts said we were already dealing with this flux of anxiety and stress.

“It’s almost like we’re already set to be sensitive because we’ve been dealing with so much stress over the past year,” said Dr. Carl Clark, President and CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver. “There are two types of stress. There are things we can get control over, and there are those types of stress we have no control over, like a mass shooting. When is the next one going to happen? Nobody knows.”

But there are processes we can think through to help ourselves and others.

“The best thing you can do when you're feeling stressed is just to say, I'm stressed. Just own it,” Dr. Clark said.

He explains why saying this out loud works.

“Our fight or flight response is in the amygdala part of the brain. When we acknowledge we’re stressed, it actually goes to the frontal lobes where we problem solve. And then we can unpack it. What am I stressed about, what am I worried about? And then you can look at is this as something I can get control over,” he said.

Dr. Clark said from here, you’re able to get your stress levels down. Another tactic is to pick a time of day to be stressed.

“What it does though, is it allows you not to be stressed 24/7,” he said.

And finally, focus on self-soothing techniques.

“One of the basic ways to self-sooth is repetitive rhythmic motion,” Dr. Clark said. “Dancing, running, physical activity, meditation, there's all kinds of things people can do.”

As we’ve been told repeatedly over the past year to physically distance from one another, both Dr. Clark and Dr. Sochet wants to remind everyone that connection and the ability to talk things out with others is crucial.

“It’s about talking to people and making sure you feel connected,” Dr. Sochet said. “There's no medication I can prescribe or any therapy I can recommend that will give people a sense of closeness to others that we need.”

“Whatever your reaction is, that's it, it's OK. Being able to talk about it though is very helpful,” Dr. Clark said.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. Dr. Sochet recommends, even if you are concerned for a loved one and their behavior, it’s a good resource to call.