After El Paso and Dayton shootings, how to cope with the stress of the news

Tero Vesalainen/iStock
Tero Vesalainen/iStock

(NEW YORK) — The mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left at least 31 people dead and dozens of people injured have understandably put people across the U.S. on edge.

The shootings took place in an El Paso Walmart as families shopped for groceries and school supplies and in a bustling downtown district of Dayton as people enjoyed a night out, proving again that shootings can happen anytime and anywhere.

Add to that the political divide over both how to respond to the shootings and President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and the news can become all-consuming.

“It’s okay not to be okay,” ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said Monday on “The Debrief” on ABC News Live. “In fact it’s not just okay, it’s appropriate not to be okay right now.”

“It’s about managing those [emotions] and processing those emotions so they don’t manage you and take a toll on your physical or mental health,” she added.

As people process their emotions, they should be on the lookout for warning signs they may need professional help. Those signs may include symptoms like changes to sleep habits, relying more on alcohol or substances to cope and withdrawing from social life, according to Ashton.

“You have to give it time to go through it’s natural arc, it’s natural process,” Ashton said of coping with a traumatic event. “And different people will progress along their different stages of healing and coping at their own pace.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are five expert-recommended steps you can take to balance staying informed with self-care.

1. Don’t tune out, set limits on how much news you consume

Tuning out the news completely is not the best solution, experts say.

Research shows that if you say you won’t think about a topic like politics, all you will think about is politics, Dr. Mark Seery, a researcher on stress and coping at the University at Buffalo, told Good Morning America last year.

He recommends instead taking control of the amount of news you watch, read and discuss. Self-regulating the news you consume also gives you a sense of control, which decreases anxiety.

Take action by setting time limits on your phone for certain websites and apps. Set other small goals like allowing yourself to watch one news show a day — that will lead to your larger goal of controlled consumption.

Stress can also be reduced by putting the news into perspective.

When you crunch the numbers, the likelihood of being a victim of domestic terrorism is about as low as your odds of winning the lottery, Dr. Maria Haberfeld, professor of police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, also told GMA.

“Increase your awareness of the situation but decrease your overreaction,” Haberfeld said. “Life is dangerous but you cannot lock yourself in your home and you cannot stop going to work.”

Take action by customizing your response to the news. Figure out what you need to know and what you need to be aware of in the context of your daily life.

2. Get involved

Uncertainty can be paralyzing, so taking control of your own actions is an easy way to reduce stress, according to Seery.

If you are frustrated by politics, get involved in a campaign, volunteer to register voters and go vote yourself. If the immigration issue is making you mad, find a way to help a local effort on whichever side of the debate you fall.

Take action on an even more personal level by making conscious decisions about how you spend your time and the things you say.

“Focus on what you can say around your house, at work and with your kids,” said Seery. “Discovering that you can control things in your own life leads to better coping mechanisms.”

3. Get moving

Moving your body diminishes overall anxiety levels, according to Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine.

Going for a walk, taking an exercise class or going for a jog a few times a week can help calm your body, said Saltz. Even better if you can grab a friend to work out with you, because social supports are also key in times of stress.

Saltz also recommends calmer activities like warm baths, breathing techniques and meditation.

Mentally, get your brain moving in a positive direction by staying rooted in the present.

Take action the next time you feel overwhelmed by identifying the things around you: what your coffee tastes like, the color of the mug, the friends, family or coworkers around you, etc.

4. Remember ‘S.E.L.F’

S.E.L.F. stands for serenity, exercise, love and food.

The acronym was created by Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of Mindful Living and The Stress Institute, as a way for her patients to stop in the moment and remember what they need to take care of themselves.

Hall recommends taking just five minutes a day to do something that will bring you serenity, from listening to music to taking deep breaths, just sitting still or memorizing a three to five word short phrase and repeating it as you slowly breathe in and out.

Overall healthy eating — particularly fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and whole grains — has been linked in studies that found they lower risk of depression and even suicide. Hall recommends eating foods like blueberries, broccoli and tomatoes and eating breakfast.

5. Read good news

Offset the daily news you consume with inspiring stories of kindness, bravery and humanitarianism around the world.

Here are just a few from the past week alone:

Couple keeps 6 siblings together through adoption: ‘There’s lots of love and chaos’

Older couples celebrate their long-lasting love with magical ‘engagement’ shoots

Barber gives discounts for kids who read while getting their hair cut

After 3-year cancer battle, 5-year-old opens lemonade stand to give back

How an online stranger came to one family’s rescue to replace a beloved broken dinner plate

The American Physiological Association and the American and the American Counseling Association also have free resources available online with specific tips for coping after a mass shooting.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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