If you are a teen growing up in today’s world, chances are you feel constantly bombarded with information, often bad news. After the mass shooting in Las Vegas, I thought about how some of my adolescent and young adult patients would respond. Most of the young people I work with are already dealing with anxiety on some level. I have to reflect on how I would have processed such a scary assault back when I was a teenager. I recall being in high school during the 9/11 terrorist attack and how terrifying that was for my peers and me. The news coverage back then seemed neverending. The world certainly changed after that day in 2001 but the terror has not stopped.
Today we have even more access to information thanks to the internet. You see coverage of hurricanes, war, violent protests and mass shootings. Here is the scary part: we cannot predict what will happen next. Sometimes it might feel like everywhere you look there is devastation. So how do you manage panic? How do you send your body the message that right now you are safe?
Here are 3 things you can do to take back your control.
1. Limit your social media and news. Social media often becomes a place for people to voice their opinions after such tragedies. While raising awareness of the issues is great, it’s not uncommon for Facebook and Twitter to become a battleground for opposing political opinions. Watching these arguments can give rise to emotions like anger, frustration, and fear. While these emotions are not “bad”, constantly feeding them can create more anxiety and stress in your body.
In terms of watching the news, there is no need to be checking on what is happening 24/7. Seeing terror on the television or watching videos online can cause a traumatic response in the viewer and increase panic symptoms.
2. Practice grounding. Our bodies respond to stress by going into fight, flight or freeze mode. While you may not be in any physical danger currently, your physical response may tell you that you are. Bringing yourself back into your body, in the present moment, can be a great way to get out of your head. One tool I teach my clients on a regular basis is the 5,4,3,2,1 game. I advise clients to come back into the here and now by noticing 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell and 1 thing they can taste. This practice can help you to become more present instead of ruminating over the past or worrying about what the future holds. Other helpful grounding practices are belly breathing and physical contact– (like hugging friends, family, and pets).
Remember in this moment you are safe.
3. Do something. It can be easy to write a post about how you feel on social media. It may require more effort to enact bigger change. Start a fundraiser at your high school, raise awareness in your community about the issues or write your congressmen. Click on the links below for ways to help the those affected by the recent hurricanes and the victims of the shooting in Las Vegas.
Finally, if you notice any anxiety, trauma or mood symptoms worsening, you may need help from a mental health professional. Tell your parent or caregiver that you are struggling and know that help is available. You don’t have to do anything alone!