After nearly 20 years in private practice specializing in trauma and resilience, I thought as I watched the news about the “worst mass shooting in modern American history,” that I could easily maintain the detached yet compassionate presence I routinely hold with my clients. Not today. After watching almost an hour of morning news about mass murder in Las Vegas, I entered the overwhelm zone.
At first I felt glued to the TV the way people rubberneck while passing a gory car crash—compelled to watch yet repelled in the same moment. To protect myself from the horror and grief, I had to detach and flee instead.
Shock, Overwhelm, Trauma and Terrorism
As I sat alone on a semi-deserted beach, numb with shock, feeling vulnerable and anxious, I felt compelled to do something to reverse the anxiety, to regain resilience through some perception of control. But what can we actually do other than donate blood, express outrage, and send “thoughts and prayers” to the victims? A reasonable person might helpfully add, “call your Congressman/woman to demand they outlaw possession of military grade semi-automatic weapons and the do-it-yourself machine gun conversion kit loophole,” but that’s a topic for another day.
When we’re suddenly hit with any kind of physical and/or emotional tidal wave, aka shock, especially as a victim or witness to random terrorism, it can be an overwhelming experience. The shock and terror literally ricochets through the nervous system and hits the body and brain like a lightning strike. Stress hormones spike our blood pressure and heart rate, and the fight/flight response can take hold.
Self-defense, Trauma and Resilience
Whether it’s breaking news of terrorism or a devastating phone call, we need to protect our psyche and our health from shock and withdraw to our internal panic room, a safe yet temporary respite from the sights and sounds of, in this case, mass murder. We have the right, indeed we must, recoil from the helplessness and overwhelm then shelter in place.
“Take care of yourself” is not a routine pleasantry in these anxiety-laced times. Rather, supporting our resilience, literally the ability to bounce back, is vital to our mental and physical health. Short-term stress, if it’s severe enough and/or the person facing it is emotionally compromised already, harms the immune system, whether it is increased susceptibility to the common cold or, as the ACE Study has proven, a correlation to increased risk of life-threatening illness, depression, etc.
Regain Control: Heal with EFT
So as I sit on this beach, supported by prayers for protection and guidance, comforted by the ebb and flow of the waves, in less than five minutes I re-balance myself with EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique aka “tapping”. I still feel empathy and concern, but the tapping shifts me back to a sense of control– present but detached– calm yet mindful of those we lost as well as those of us who are left behind.
Click below to understand why resilience is crucial and how to increase yours in a stressful world.
Understanding Trauma and Resilience: Why Some Veterans and Civilians Get PTS and Others Don’t