What to do when you feel ‘helpless’ after another school shooting, experts say


Experts say it’s normal to feel helpless after another school shooting. (Photo: Getty Images)

After yet another school shooting – the most recent on Tuesday at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texaswho marks the 27th school shooting this year alone – it’s hard not to feel heartbroken and helpless, especially if you’re a parent.

“Many parents understandably feel fearful, sad, angry and helpless as they learn of another heartbreaking loss of life related to gun violence in schools,” Arianna Galligher, licensed independent social worker supervisor and associate director of the STAR Trauma Recovery Center at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Yahoo Life. “Many find it hard to believe that their own children will be safe and protected in this setting, and they grapple with indirect grief as they contemplate the devastation of parents who have suffered the tragic loss of their children in this way. .”

Barbara Greenberg, a teen and family psychologist, tells Yahoo Life that it’s normal to experience a range of mixed emotions right now, including feeling “distraught, numb, confused, dangerous, out of control, terrified, helpless, and unworthy”. She adds: “It’s a mix of feelings that leaves you feeling helpless and discouraged and that’s a lot to bear. It’s more than any parent should have to bear.

Greenberg says these feelings of helplessness are normal, especially for parents. “It’s a parent’s job to protect our children,” she said. “Anyone – any loving parent – is going to feel that.”

Eric StorkMenninger professor and vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, told Yahoo Life that others may experience “feelings of anxiety and have trouble concentrating or concentrating on the job, feeling really raw and without any direction.”

He points out that many may also feel helpless or frustrated by the “inaction or ineffective action” that tends to follow every mass shooting in the United States. and controlling the controllable elements, it can be hard to avoid feeling helpless,” says Galligher. “It’s also common to feel overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the problem.”

Storch explains that there is also “a domino effect” occurring, with “one trauma on another”, noting the “dozens” of shootings over the past two months, while “coming out of a difficult pandemic, that we’re still not out,” he said. “It’s like squirting lighter fluid on something that was already burning pretty hot.”

So what can people do to take care of themselves?

Experts suggest checking with yourself and determining what your needs are. For example, it might mean getting extra hugs from your kids or your partner. “Other parents might need some quiet time,” Greenberg says. “Others might need exercise and movement. Others might need to talk to other people, like a group of friends.

Most importantly, “plan to engage in activities that calm you down and replenish your energy,” says Galligher.

Experts also recommend being careful with your media consumption, both for your own mental health and for children who might hear the news. “Set limits on when and how much news you consume on this topic at once,” says Galligher.

If you feel (understandably) stressed, be aware of that around your children. “Do your best not to overwhelm them with anxiety, because they will feel that way,” says Greenberg. “I know it’s hard, but part of being a parent is meeting the needs of your kids and sometimes that means dealing with your anxiety somewhere else.”

Storch suggests parents also check in with their kids and see what they know about the news. “Correct what may be inaccurate and confidently reassure yourself of their safety, even if you don’t feel that way inside,” he says.

He shares that many people feel “shaken” by the tragic news, but stresses the importance of parents letting their children see them “as a role model of confidence and self-assurance, even if inside you’re having trouble.”

What actions can people take to feel less helpless?

One of the best ways to counter feelings of helplessness and hopelessness is to do something about it. As Galligher says, “The antidote to despair is action.”

However, she points out that “one person probably won’t be able to solve the problem on their own at the same time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything.”

Galligher recommends taking the initiative to learn more about the issue of gun violence from different angles and perspectives, and then taking stock of your own strengths and resources. “Think about what you could do to improve the problem, even if it’s a very small thing,” she says. “Choose one or two priorities that you really want to have an impact on and think about what actions you can realistically take to affect those priorities. Focus on the things you can control or influence, whether it’s with your voice, your wallet or your personal efforts.”

Storch says that can mean anything from “protesting” to “volunteering, trying to do your part to make the world a little better.”

You can volunteer or donate to gun violence prevention organizations, such as Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms demand action (a grassroots movement that is part of Everytown) and The Sandy Hook Promise.

Greenberg also recommends contacting your child’s school to inquire about their safety protocols. “Some have locked doors and security guards checking people in,” she says. “Other schools don’t have that. Be active – contact the school about their protocols.

She also suggests calling or emailing local lawmakers to make sure they support sensible gun legislation and “raise the roof on it.” As Greenberg says: This is a “life or death” situation, and “perseverance prevails”.

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