7 Tips for Navigating Media After a Mass Shooting
Mass shootings have become more common in recent years.
The Gun Violence Archive (GVA) defines a mass shooting as an act of gun violence with four or more victims shot. According to the GVA, the annual number of mass shootings in the United States:
- was already growing steadily before the pandemic. The number of mass shootings rose from 269 in 2014 to 417 in 2019.
- rose dramatically in the last 2 years. There were 610 mass shootings in 2020 and 692 in 2021.
- remains high in 2022. As of May 31, 230 mass shootings have taken place, with the Uvalde shooting being the deadliest this year.
Every day, newspapers, TV stations, and social media offer a constant stream of coverage on these shootings.
Humanity only recently gained the ability to stay informed in real-time of tragedies taking place across the globe. But evidence suggests repeated media exposure to mass shootings leads many people to feel dread, despair, and deep alienation from society at large — perhaps in part because the human brain lacks the emotional capacity to process all this pain and death.
Modern media allows people to share information and support one another, but it has a downside. A lot of bad news can make you feel depressed.
It is difficult to find a middle ground between staying informed and protecting yourself from information overload. In the aftermath of a mass shooting, these seven tips can help protect your mental health.
After a mass shooting, you might experience many emotions. Sadness is a common reaction when the news first comes out and people begin to mourn the victims. As time passes,
The bigger picture of why gun violence happens is what you tend to focus on when you are removed from an incident. You may.
- You are anxious about whether a shooting in your hometown could happen.
- Feel angry at the person who is shooting.
- The U.S. gun crisis deserves more attention from politicians than they seem to give it.
When you have too much media exposure, your emotions can be a good indicator. Commercial breaks and ad spaces can be used to check in with yourself as you move through the news.
- What feelings does this piece of media trigger?
- Can you calm down without a lot of effort?
- Do you feel trapped in a mood or unable to stop reading?
- Do you notice physical symptoms, like muscle tension, a pounding heart, or difficulty catching your breath?
It is natural to feel upset, but you can take that as a sign that you need a break.
For example, maybe you watch a video of the shooting and notice your muscles are tense and your thoughts are racing with what ifs. In that case, it could help to step away from the news for a while, or at least shift to less graphic forms of coverage.
“You want to take breaks from the news even if you feel fine. Mass shootings can cause stress, even if you don’t notice it right away. If you let that stress build up too high, it can overwhelm you at a vulnerable moment.”
“Try to stay calm during these breaks. It won’t hurt to avoid hobbies that remind you of violence, since you may enjoy murder mysteries or combat games.”
Instead, consider stress-relieving activities like:
- Crafts. This could include cooking, gardening, drawing, origami, and other art.
- Light exercise. You could take a quick stroll around the block or a brief stretch break at your desk.
- Meditation. You might try yoga, mantras, or deep breathing.
- Slow-paced games. Think Wordle or Animal Crossing, not Call of Duty.
- Conversation. Chat with a coworker over coffee or trade knock-knock jokes with your kids (or roommates).
Of course, taking breaks is often easier said than done, especially when it comes to social media. After a mass shooting, you may find yourself “doomscrolling” through content related to the tragedy, feeling stressed and upset but still unable to look away.
There are a few reasons that destructing can happen.
Tiktok and Twitter are designed to keep you on their app. The algorithm will only feed you more emotionally charged content if you keep clicking on it.
You can temporarily cleanse your timeline of upsetting posts by filtering out hashtags like #gunviolence and #massshooting.
This tells the app not to show you posts with those tags. If someone doesn’t tag a post, it may show up, but the filter should catch most of them.
Doomscrolling can be a form of hypervigilance. You may search through shooting-related posts to gauge how big the threat is and how much danger you’re in. While scrolling can make you feel prepared, staring at your phone for an hour probably won’t do much to make you tangibly safer.
Instead, try putting down your phone and ground yourself by observing the world around you. Take note of things like:
- There is ambient noise.
- The smell is in the air.
- The ground is under your feet.
It can help to remind yourself that you are safe. The shooting has already happened in another place.
“Many people on social media treat silence as a statement. You may be concerned that if you don’t comment on a shooting, you will appear to be lacking compassion for the victims. You may feel like you have a civic duty to stay informed.”
“You don’t owe anyone a live performance of your pain or distress. If you find the news upsetting, tell people you are taking a break. Most people will understand.”
Those who criticize you may want to ease their own worry. You are not obligated to read or respond to their remarks.
After a mass shooting, a lot of information can come out at once, but not everything you read is necessarily true. In fact, it’s fairly common for online trolls to pose as local witnesses and spread rumors. Sometimes, these rumors attack a specific person or group of people.
For example, after the Uvalde shooting, a false rumor originating from the message board 4chan suggested the shooter was a transgender person. The conspiracy spread quickly and even reached Congressman Paul Gosar’s Twitter feed before fact-checkers caught up with the hoax and debunked it.
The troll designs their posts to get attention by making them upsetting. If a post has the perfect recipe of outrageous language to get you pumped up, then you should press the pause button. Before you let yourself get worked up, make sure the claims are true.
There are a few signs you have encountered a troll post.
- The account was banned or deleted after it was used.
- “The account has a low following. They have followers who share each other’s posts.”
- The post is vague about where it came from.
- The post uses a meme popular with hate groups.
There is a lot of debate online about gun control, mental health, and policing after a mass shooting. These arguments can range from tense to digital warfare.
You will do your mental and emotional well-being a favor by sticking to the more civil corners of the debate. In this case, the word refers to discussions where trade ideas are involved.
- Even though it contains a cuss word, the line could be considered a civil line. You are not commenting on a person, you are commenting on a policy.
- “You’re an idiot for opposing X law” wouldn’t be considered civil, even though you might consider the term “idiot” less taboo than the F-word. (It’s ableist language, though.) You’ve derailed the focus of debate from the merits of a certain law to the other person’s intelligence.
It may feel good to roast an opponent online. You will probably feel drained after an hour of exchanging insults.
In short, you’re more likely to enact some political change by contacting your state representatives than bickering with a digital stranger.
When your children ask about the shooting, be prepared. Kids have a knack for picking up tidbits of news even if you try to keep them away from violence.
You may be tempted to stop the conversation or stop using social media to protect your child. Your child may be more anxious if you hide the truth. They need comfort during this time. They may express fear and anger in ways that are not healthy if social support is cut.
When you talk about the shooting, the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement recommends letting your child lead the conversation.
It may help.
- Ask what they know.
- Correct any misconception they have.
- Answer their questions honestly.
You will need to tailor the discussion to your child\’s maturity level. A young child may only need a simple explanation such as, “grown-ups are sad about that, someone hurt some people with a gun today, and they are not happy about it.” Older kids and teenagers may need a longer conversation to soothe their fears.
You don’t need to be directly involved in a mass shooting for it to affect you emotionally. Every shooting becomes part of a larger pattern of gun violence, a national crisis that affects everyone. Simply living in an environment with such widespread, unpredictable violence can be traumatic.
How do you know if your stress is getting worse?
If you experience any support issues, you may want to consider connecting with a professional.
- Hypervigilance. Maybe you startle whenever you hear loud noises, like a door slam or distant fireworks.
- Obsessions. You constantly check the news, to the extent that you can’t focus on anything else.
- Anger. You have intrusive thoughts about “punishing” the people you blame for the violence.
- Sleep issues. Maybe images of the shooting linger in your head, making it hard to relax.
- Hopelessness. Maybe you have trouble motivating yourself to do anything since you feel you could be killed at any time.
A therapist can’t prevent mass shootings, it’s true. But they can help you manage your fears around gun violence and grieve the current state of the country.
Keep in mind, too, that therapy can help at any time. You don’t need to wait until your mental health reaches a low point before getting support.
Start looking for a therapist here.
The recent spike in gun violence in the U.S. has many people fearing for their lives and the safety of their loved ones. It can be easy to lose yourself in the media storm of panic, anger, and dread during a time of stress.
Staying informed is important, but so is protecting your mental health. Take breaks from the news and care about the types of media you engage with.
Above all, remember that although tragedies happen, good still exists in the world. Plenty of people out there continue to work tirelessly to solve this crisis and build a more peaceful society. If enough people work together, change is possible.
Emily Swaim is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in psychology. She has a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of her work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.