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5 Ways to Cope With School Violence Trauma

Tips for coping with trauma and grief relating to school violence.

Key points

  • Trauma impacts each person differently.
  • Give yourself and your children a pass to opt out of events and situations.
  • Don’t shy away from scheduling an appointment with a licensed professional, including a therapist or counselor.

With the most recent horrific school shooting in Michigan, many parents, students, and teachers are asking the best ways to handle trauma and grief around the holiday season.

Here are five tips for coping.

Keep in mind trauma impacts people differently. No two people experience a tragedy in the same manner. Even within the same family, the individual experience of loss varies. Just because someone isn't verbalizing their loss doesn't mean they aren't thinking about it.

Become mindful with social media. Your story is part of your traumatic experience. Seeing it on social media can be upsetting, and can stir up other negative emotions. Keep in mind that others may know of your trauma and loss, but it remains your right to communicate what is being told and shared.

Seek professional mental health help. Don’t shy away from scheduling an appointment with a licensed professional, including a therapist or counselor. It may be helpful to schedule the time either before or after a specific event, so you can process any feelings accompanying it.

Regardless of time since the tragedy, the architecture of trauma and grief consists of multi-layered feelings and emotions. For example, anger or depression can resurface with a vengeance. This intensity can be scary, so having a professional to guide you through this can provide a sense of safety and security that may otherwise be absent.

There is no shame in speaking with a professional about your fears. Talking aloud with someone often helps you focus on the moment you are in instead of being haunted by the past events and afraid of the future. It can also validate your concerns and give you a blueprint for coping with stressful situations.

Also, your physical body can be affected by grief and trauma. You may notice your immune system is compromised because you're feeling emotionally depleted.

It is essential to speak with a doctor about any physical problems you are experiencing, including panic attacks. Broken heart syndrome is a very real and serious medical condition. While you may feel embarrassed to go to your doctor, it is important to remember that medical guidance does have an impactful place in healing.

Give yourself and your children an opt-out pass. Anyone experiencing trauma coupled with bereavement this time of the year has an all-access opt-out pass. It can be used anytime, anywhere, and is not limited to specific situations or people. With trauma, things happen that are out of one's control, and part of healing and feeling safe comes from regaining a sense of control. Being able to utilize a pass empowers you and your children.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where you want to decline after first saying “yes,” or you sense your child's hesitation go ahead and ask if they're going to use their pass. This works even if you and your child are on your way to an event and want to leave as you’re about to walk into it. Or are already at the event and realize you made a mistake in attending. This pass permits you to change your mind at any point in time and is a way to proceed without guilt.

It is not unusual for a child to feel conflicted about attending a memorial service or another event because they do not want to disappoint someone or are simply curious about what is going on and do not want to miss out. However, when it is time to enter the room, they may feel overwhelmed with anxiety or fear, so giving them the option to leave can ease their negative feelings. The pass also lets them know you are open to their emotions, both good and bad, and they can trust you to share why they want to depart the event.

Do self-check-ins. A self-check-in allows you to take note of how you are feeling. Throughout the day, check-in with yourself as often as you check your cell phone to monitor where you are at with your energy level and emotions. Simply doing self-check-ins creates a level of personal awareness. And at the same time, you are gauging your feelings, so you can know when to take a time out or step aside from a stressful situation. If you need to recharge, try to find a way to speak with someone who supports you with kindness or, if needed, alter your schedule.

The bereaved often conceal their grief rather than reveal it. And if you know someone who has lost a loved one, it means the world to them if you still acknowledge their loss regardless of how it happened. If you’re grieving your loved one, take some time to think about the best way to honor their life.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.