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Properly Coping with Mass Shooting Anxiety

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Today’s world can seem completely out of control. It can feel like mass shootings occur practically every day in different parts of the country and the world. This reality has shaped our lives, our institutions, and our communities in sobering, significant ways. It burdens people at every level in our societies in a variety of ways. For some, this reality has created significant stress and, in some cases, debilitating anxiety. And for the many people living with actual past experiences of the live shooter or mass shooting situations, this reality can be even more difficult.

If you carry anxiety or stress because of the reality of mass shootings or from your own past experiences in shooting situations, you are not alone. This is a serious, legitimate issue that deserves to be treated with awareness, intentionality, and compassion.

Systemic approaches to mitigating mass shootings

The US and the various ecosystems that exist within it are all working to prevent mass shootings from taking place or restrict their potential for damage as much as possible. The government’s intelligence agencies and federal crime units are investing ample resources in improving their detection and prevention strategies specifically for mass shootings. 

Local law enforcement agencies across the country have also needed to bolster their awareness and ability to combat mass shooting instances.

Similarly, the public health system is also made up of an intricate web of partners and players. This landscape would have multiple intersection points with mass shootings. First, the health system would be responsible for mental health treatment and assessment of both those who have performed shooting sprees and those who may be susceptible to the types of trauma, mental illness, or gateway behaviour. 

Secondly, hospitals and health facilities are one of the many public venue types in which mass shooting episodes can occur, requiring much more attention spent on security measures, emergency protocols, and more to prevent mass shooters from gaining access to premises.

The education system is another area that has received ample attention in recent years, specifically with the intention of making educational facilities less susceptible to more mass shootings similar to ones that have already devastated not only school attendees but entire surrounding communities in the past.

Together, each of these systems is working towards mitigating the risks of mass shooters. However, though we can work towards preventing as many of them as possible, it’s arguable that it will never be possible to fully prevent mass shootings from taking place when guns are as widely available as they are.

Understanding the implications of trauma

‘When someone is exposed to chronic and repeated traumas without proper coping (whether a natural disaster or mass shootings), the body’s ability to accurately assess danger and to cope with ordinary stress can become compromised,’ explains Hyojin Im, PhD, an associate professor in the online master of social work program at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The occurrence of mass shootings in the United States is a difficult case because of its seemingly random and completely unpredictable nature. Its potential for creating large-scale or mass destruction makes it a particularly sinister reality. Unlike more conventional crime categories or types that feel more predictable, mass shootings seem to happen even in places (and sometimes particularly) where you wouldn’t expect crime to take place.

These realities make way for strong and pervasive anxiety surrounding mass shootings. This condition is real and widespread among the American public. It is important to think about whether this might be something that affects your life.

Responding to anxiety

Though dispelling mass shooting anxiety can be an incredibly difficult task, there are concrete steps available to you if you or someone you know is suffering from this type of anxiety.

The first part of this process is identifying the anxiety in the first place. ‘People should know they do need help if their thoughts/feelings/emotions are preventing them from leading a life they want to live, such as going to work and school or spending time with family and friends in social activities. Help is available to address concerns related to fear/anxiety about mass shootings,’ says Cassandra Godzik, PhD, APRN, PMHNP-BC, CNE, associate dean and professor within the School of Nursing at Regis College. Recognising that anxiety is creating a barrier between yourself and the things you’d like to be able to engage with is extremely important.

Once you’ve identified a possible instance of mass shooting anxiety, it’s equally important to be proactive in engaging a professional to help you navigate lessening that anxiety and developing coping skills that can help you combat its otherwise debilitating effects. This should be a medical or mental health professional who can help you address the real challenges of anxiety effectively.

Helping relieve mass shooting anxiety is critical in order to help you or those you love back into a position where various activities, spending time in public, or general life enjoyment aren’t prevented by anxiety. 

By being proactive in seeking help and support, you can work to neutralise anxiety and learn how to navigate it. Every person needs to learn how to be and feel safe in their daily lives. Though risk can never be mitigated completely, it is possible to learn new ways of managing anxiety and quieting its volume so that you can live your life to its fullness.

Alicia Saville did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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