10 Tips for Post-Crisis Resilience After an Act of Terrorism
By: Mollie Marti, Mollie Marti, PhD, JD
In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, our hearts go out to family members and friends of those killed or injured. We also are upholding those who personally experienced this act of terror and those on the frontlines who worked relentlessly to ensure safety and provide care.
Many others are experiencing the secondary impact of this senseless loss of life. Following on the heels of mass destruction from recent hurricanes and undoubtedly compounded by challenges you are facing in your personal life, we offer ten tips to help you process these experiences.
While all of these tips are shaped by research, they are intentionally framed as simple reminders that you can make choices that strengthen you and allow you to strengthen others, one decision at a time.
10 Tips for Post-Crisis Resilience:
- Remember that you are resilient.You are designed with protective mechanisms that allow you to survive great adversity. A majority of those who experience traumatic loss return to a baseline or even an increased level of functioning over time. Reinforcing your strengths and remembering that resilience is the norm can help you renew a belief that you will get through this to a better day ahead. With support, you might even do so with a higher level of meaning, connection, and capacity.
- Renew a sense of safety.Even if you are not directly in physical danger, your arousal system can go on high alert as you empathize with those who are and take on some of their experience. This can cause us to generalize that there is no safe place anymore, and everyone is under threat. Provide perspective by assuring yourself, and especially the children in your life, that the chances of being personally impacted by such an event are low. Take a few slow full breaths from your belly and not chest. Breathe. Remind yourself that you and your loved ones are safe and secure in this moment.
- Restrict sensationalized media exposure.Once you know what happened, there is no purpose served by repeatedly watching scenes of the event or the aftermath. Be selective in where and when you get your news coverage. Limit exposure to social media where people are venting their emotions or opinions in an unhealthy manner.
- Prioritize self-care.When fear, anxiety, and grief spike, it is important to prioritize actions that enhance well-being and fill up your energy reserves. To the extent possible, maintain normal routines, but don’t be inflexible when accommodations are needed. Pay special attention to getting sufficient sleep, good nutrition, plenty of water, and regular exercise. Equally important is connecting with others and finding meaningful ways to contribute. Disconnect from technology and engage in activities that bring you joy. Time in nature can be especially restorative.
- Express your feelings.Acts of violence that harm and take the lives of innocent people violate our core sense of safety and justice. The senseless, abrupt loss of life can trigger a wide range of feelings. Whether you are feeling anxious, heartbroken, angry, or otherwise, acknowledge your emotions without judgment. Then find ways to express and release your feelings, perhaps by talking through them with a trusted friend, channeling them into writing or art, or releasing them through prayer, meditation, or a mind-body practice.
- Shift from why to what next.Our minds prefer certainty and absolutes, which can lead us into an endless loop asking why a tragedy happened. Relentlessly seeking a logical answer to an often illogical situation can prevent us from moving forward. Be assured that there are many dedicated professionals responding to these events and working to prevent and mitigate future tragedies. Release the need to figure out why a tragedy happened, and shift your focus to specific actions you can take right now to be part of the solution, or to make life better within your own home and community.
- Tell a healing narrative.Although the threat of terrorism is real and the loss of innocent lives is tragic, instances of goodness and beauty are all around us. Within every tragedy, there are inspiring stories of heroism, compassion, and leadership. Adopt a no drama rule by refusing to embellish what happened or speculate about what might happen. This does not mean lying to yourself or others. It does mean reconnecting to your source of faith and owning your power to notice the good that is in front of you right now. If you don’t know where to start, sit and take in the beauty of the sunrise or sunset.
- Model calm to others.Emotions are contagious. Equipped with mirror neurons, we humans take our emotional cues from each other. Simply by being centered and calm, you will automatically have a positive impact on others. When interacting with others experiencing a high level of fear or anxiety, intentionally model messages of hope, help-seeking, and healing. When you choose to embody love and hope, you help to erode hatred and despair.
- Get help if needed.While we have a natural resilience response, certain vulnerabilities can increase the risk of post-traumatic stress, including having a connection to the tragedy, previously experiencing a traumatic experience, and having a mental illness. Seek the help of a mental health professional if you feel you need support in managing your stress reaction. If you or another is having thoughts of suicide, please immediately call the national lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. A caring counselor is available to listen and help every minute of every day.
- Pay it forward.We are designed for deep social connection and keeping members of our tribe safe. Once you take action toward a renewed sense of safety, calm, connectedness, and hope, consider what type of outreach will honor your desire to make a positive difference. You might make a financial donation to a helping organization or donate blood. Perhaps you might work with a faith-based, school, or civic group to organize a card drive to send get well cards to survivors, notes of condolence to impacted family members, or thank you notes to emergency response or health care professionals. The opportunities to light a candle for another are endless, and each act of compassion and connection matters.
The national Disaster Distress Helpline can provide immediate crisis counseling for those affected by the Las Vegas shooting. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
Mollie Marti, PhD, JD, is a resilience researcher and expert in community crisis recovery and resilience building. Through her advocacy and development of the evidence-based THRIVE Model of Community Resilience™, she has innovated community-based crisis response, intervention, and positive human development. A former adjunct professor at the University of Iowa Department of Psychology, Mollie now educates through her Resiliency Matters TV show, lectures to educational, health, and leadership organizations, and community consultations. She has written extensively in the areas of leadership development, success mindset, and decision making, including three books that have been translated into eight languages. Prior to her nonprofit executive work, Mollie practiced law, held a federal judicial clerkship, directed a mediation practice, and served as Associate Director of the Iowa Social Science Institute.