When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
If you’re even remotely active on social media, you’ll find postings of Mr. Rogers quotes on your newsfeed during times of turmoil. The resurgence of our very favorite neighbor, from the success of the documentary about his show to the big screen version starring our very favorite actor, Tom Hanks, says something about our need for some sort of comforting, calm, rational voice in our lives right now. During his tenure on public television, Mr. Rogers and his neighbors dealt with everything from segregation and divorce to the assassination of JFK. Over the 33 years in which his show aired, he helped countless children and their parents deal with very grown-up situations and emotions.
We’re not children anymore, but in our current climate, we long for simpler times, and the soothing, rational voice of Mr. Rogers. This past weekend brought two mass shootings in just over 12 hours which added kerosene on an already explosive national climate. The barrage of bad news coupled with the myriad of ways we ingest information can cause our feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and stress to become hard to control. During these times, we need reminders that all is not lost, and more importantly, we all need to practice a little self-care so that we are not overwhelmed by our feelings.
It’s important to acknowledge your feelings after traumatic events, even if you feel as though you aren’t directly involved. Talking, or journaling about your feelings involving these events is a great start. Seek out people who are feeling the same way you are, talk openly about where you are mentally and emotionally and make sure you are supportive and feel supported in your conversations. This is not the time to engage in dialogue that will ignite negative emotions. Anger, frustration and flat out rage are valid feelings, but arguing with your co-worker about gun control, or picking a fight with your brother over politics is not going to get you to the other side of your feelings.
Take care of yourself. Exercise, eat well balanced, healthy meals, get plenty of rest, and make sure you get out in the sunshine. Like the popular meme points out, we are basically plants with complex emotions. Physically removing yourself from in front of the television, the computer, or your phone with do wonders in helping to lift your mood.
Limit your exposure to the news. Being barraged by the images, opinions, and hysteria will only add to your negative feelings Set times throughout the day to check social media, watch and/or listen to the news, etc., The 24-hour news cycle can do a number on anxiety symptoms, so make sure you are intentional in tuning it out. Binge on your favorite comedies, watch a movie that you love, find some vintage episodes of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.” and give yourself a good laugh, or even a good cry.
Be the helper. Find ways that you can help those affected by the tragedy. It’s always uplifting to see the pictures of lines of people standing in wait at blood donation centers in the towns that have been affected. Doing something, anything, even if it’s signing a petition or contacting a congressman to state your case will help you feel more in control. If you can’t help victims directly, do something good in general. Donate school supplies to children in need, or food to a shelter. Spend time volunteering at a local charity or give to a fund designated to help victims. Not only will giving help you feel a little more in control, but it can also fill you with a sense of gratitude.
If you’ve been involved in a mass shooting or have loved ones who have been victims, acknowledge whatever it is that you are feeling, and don’t believe your feelings or the intensity with which you experience them to be a ‘set back’. The journey of grief and trauma is not a straight line. Every incident that occurs can trigger any number of feelings as well as take you back to your own event. Utilize resources, seek out therapy if you aren’t already, find a support group, feel your feelings and allow yourself whatever time and space you need to process.
If you find that your typical coping mechanisms, tips, and advice are not helping you move past the trauma, you may want to consider scheduling an appointment with a therapist. As the American Psychological Association says: “A licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living.”
The words of Mr. Rogers resonate today precisely because of his efforts to help our nation deal with similar tough situations and tragedies over 50 years ago. It’s far too easy to believe that we are living in the ‘worst time’ in history because of our direct exposure to horrific events. As we sit in and deal with our feelings in an authentic way, it’s also important to balance the bad with the good and to focus on the things that we can control in our world. Most importantly, we need to remember to practice compassion, not just for others, but for ourselves as well. It’s okay to admit that you are struggling, that it’s hard to deal with the news of the world. Reach out, talk about it. Odds are good that you will encounter someone who feels the same way that you do, and it can be empowering to know that you are not alone.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
― Fred Rogers