Finding Peace and Resilience When Tragedy Strikes

When I began writing this blog, the mass shooting that killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub had recently occurred. I wanted to address the issue of how to be resilient during a violent era in our culture. Sadly, a few weeks ago, another shooting occurred in Dallas, TX. Five policemen were killed. It seems as though there is at least one violent event in the media each week, and realistically many more each day that we do not hear about in the news.

Politicians, national security agencies, the mass media, and the American public have articulated a wide range of opinions regarding how to stop the violence. We can only hope that some agreement can be reached on how to make this happen. But perhaps a more important question at the moment is:

How do we respond to violence in a way that brings peace and promotes resilience in those of us left behind after these violent tragedies?

Whether or not we are directly affected by a tragedy in that we have lost loved ones, or we have been indirectly affected by the shock, fear, and intense emotions that follow, we have no choice but to find ways to seek comfort and support. In addition, we must bounce back – we have no choice in that. The only alternative is to give up, hide inside of our homes, and stop living a joyful and productive life. That is not an alternative that most of us want to entertain. This month’s article provides some guidance in how to survive and thrive when every day there seems to be a violent headline.

Steps Toward Resilience

1.     The first step is to breathe deeply. Stop, for a few moments, and gather our composure. We won't be able to do anything successfully in dealing with a crisis if we are not calm. We must be mindful of our bodies, our brains, and our souls. We can't change the past, and we don't know what lies ahead, but we do know that we have the present moment.

2.     The next step toward resilience is showing gratitude. Acknowledge the things in life that we most appreciate – especially the people that we love. Listing all the things for which we are grateful reminds us that, despite suffering and hardship, we want to remember what we still have.

3.     Take breaks from the media. Although it is important to stay current on the news and be aware of what is happening around us, it is appropriate to step away from the mass coverage of tragic events, especially when the news media insist on replaying the clips and retelling the stories. Sometimes it is too much information, and we can take a break from it.

4.     Stay optimistic. Even when the world feels unsafe, unpredictable, and unenjoyable, we must remember that every day is a new beginning, and we must appreciate each day for what is has to offer. It is important to not begin to think in all-or-nothing ways by making statements such as, “The world has become a terrible place,” or “The future is not hopeful.” When we repeat these kinds of statements, they begin to feel more true.

5.     Find ways to help others. During many tragic events, there are usually tangible ways that you and your family can proactively contribute. A caring and helpful mindset builds resilience. Donate blood to those affected, take food to the rescue workers who may be assisting, raise money for victims or their families. If you aren’t sure you can help, pray for the victims, or help someone you know who is in crisis. There are always people who need support, and helping others in need reminds us that we are not helpless.

6.     Make plans, and move forward. It is understandable, and normal, to feel fearful when violence occurs. But we don’t want the fear to paralyze us and prevent us from living a joyful life. Plan that vacation, visit friends and family, apply to that school or job. We do not know how many tomorrows we have, but we know that tomorrow is coming. So, embrace the present but make plans and look forward, with hope, to a brighter tomorrow.