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Dr. Wendy Coping with Fear and Tragedy in an Over-connected World Coping with Fear and Tragedy in an Over-connected World

by Sonie Guseh September 11. Superstorm Sandy. The Boston Marathon bombings. The shooting in Aurora. The massacre in Sandy Hook. In the midst of so many tragic, harrowing events around us, it can be difficult to stay positive and optimistic in life.For each event, you may be able to recall a series of looped images and messages displayed across your television screen for hours on end—perhaps it’s the repeated video of the second airplane crashing into the World Trade Center in 2001, or the image of bloodied runners barely crossing the finish line just two months ago.There’s an addictive danger in replaying those looped images repeatedly, according to Dr. Wendy James, a psychologist. It’s important to find healthy coping mechanisms to combat what could turn into more severe illness down the line. Now, with a world so interconnected through the Internet, television, and other media, local tragedies have turned into shared emotional turmoil across the country and, in many cases, worldwide.According Dr. James, it’s important to distinguish between a legitimate fear and an irrational one. “If, indeed, the explosions at the Boston Marathon were the result of either domestic or foreign terrorists, their goals are the same,” she wrote. “Those goals are to attempt to translate irrational fears into false, rational fears by the example of a single event.
This is not unlike the fear and panic generated by the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter of innocents. Both are rare occurrences, which, due to national media coverage, bring these events into the homes of all Americans.”
These days, we’re all impacted by a tragedy that happens regardless of where we are located, as long as we can see the images on our screens or hear about the events. Watching coverage of sad events can become an addictive behavior, leading to widespread fear.
Some communities seemed to have a legitimate immediate danger, such as potential threats on New York—but the general public? “It’s not going to happen to you 300 hundred miles away. People are afraid and they don’t need to be,” she continued.
Still, in a digitally connected world, mass fear does happen. Following such tragic events, it’s important to be available for loved ones, offer support to family and friends who may have trouble coping, and to recognize warning signs of someone having trouble dealing with loss, stress, anxiety, or fear.
Key warning signs to look out for in loved ones include any change in behavior, not functioning as they normally would, and a decrease in activities they normally engage in, said Dr. James. It’s important to lend an ear and offer advice, but many times, professional help is needed.
“It’s easier for women to seek counseling than for men to,” offered Dr. James. She suggests the following script for women trying to help a friend, brother, husband, boyfriend, or other loved one: “Please. For our relationship, for our family, I really would like you to get help. I know you’re coping as best as you can.”
She also recommends seeing a physician to run blood work. Because depression is caused by a drop in the hormone serotonin, a visit to the family doctor (instead of to the psychologist or social worker) can also be a productive first step.
Moreover, be careful not to project your fear onto others, especially children. Instead, “talk to your children and explain it to them,” Dr. James said.
In a world that is so digitally connected, it is important to extend that connection to those physically in our midst, and to be more vigilant and aware of our surroundings.