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In 2021, mass shootings in the United States averaged out to two per day, according to Gun Violence Archive. The organization defines mass shootings as shootings that leave 4 or more people dead or injured.

The current gun violence crisis is a type of collective trauma, or large-scale event that disrupts a community’s sense of safety and security.

“It can be traumatic to live in an environment where death and serious injury happen frequently. Even if you weren’t involved in the shooting, it can lead to trauma.”

Grief often follows hard on the heels of trauma. You may mourn:

  • The lives lost in a particular event.
  • The world of violence has been past.
  • Your faith in humanity.

It is nearly impossible to tell which feelings represent grief and which represent trauma when grief and trauma become deeply enmeshed.

The aftermath of a mass shooting can feel difficult to process and address. There are 7 tips that offer a place to start.

If you find yourself crying over the latest school shooting, you are not just crying about it. Thousands of gun deaths came before this latest shooting.

You may also feel upset about social media conspiracies claiming the shooting victims were actors or never existed. Or maybe you’re indignant about what you consider a weak government response to the crisis, or the ways gun lobbyists can stifle research on gun violence at the federal level.

“A complex crisis with no quick fix is made possible by the fact that all of these problems feed and reinforce each other. You don’t have to worry about overreacting to mass shootings. Reactions to a deeply disturbing situation are understandable.”

All grief is valid

Someone who lost their child or sustained injuries in a shooting will undoubtedly experience different forms of grief and trauma than someone who only read about the incident.

“This fact doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience pain or grief. The sky above the ocean is just a different shade of blue, even though it is deep navy.”

Many of the same symptoms are present in grief and trauma.

  • Grief, a way to process loss, often involves sorrow and yearning. You might, for instance, grieve the loss of a shooting victim you knew and wish they were still alive.
  • Trauma describes your emotional response to threats or potential threats. If you didn’t know any of the shooting victims, you may not have strong personal feelings about their deaths. Still, graphic media coverage of the shooting may give you nightmares about getting shot yourself.

Recovering from grief and trauma can be more difficult. It is possible that trauma will lead you to stop talking with friends or go online.

Taking some time for yourself can temporarily help ease stress, certainly. But completely removing yourself from society for extended periods generally doesn’t help. Cutting off social support might actually increase your sense of loss, making it harder to cope.

Everyone experiences grief and trauma differently. Some people are angry. Others go numb. You may not even know you are reacting to the mass shooting because of the subtle signs.

Signs to pay attention to

There are potential signs of trauma and grief after a mass shooting.

One of the ways to deal with tragedies like mass shootings? Talking about them to people you trust.

Your feelings will eventually come out somehow, and turning them into words can offer a healthier means of expression than tamping them down until they appear in the form of stress rashes or anxiety dreams.

Talking about trauma can help people understand the event. People can exchange information about who was shot, where the violence happened, how the shooter got their gun, and so on. It is easier to come up with ways to prevent similar incidents if you have a set of facts.

Social support becomes especially important when a mass shooting targets a marginalized group. For example, LGBTQIA+ people experienced disproportionately higher levels of stress after the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. The attack on a community space heightened many LGBTQIA+ people’s sense of vulnerability and fear of gathering in visibly queer spaces.

Many people find social ties a vital means of building resilience after tragedy. Community and social support can play a particularly essential role for LGBTQIA+ People of Color, who often face violence on multiple fronts and frequently go unacknowledged in public solidarity efforts.

If you see images or videos of the shooting, you can affect your emotional health by engaging with social media.

According to 2020 research, exposure to graphic images of a mass shooting can:

Text posts can become emotionally overwhelming, too — particularly when they contain personal attacks or conspiracy theories. To protect your mental health, you may find it helpful to set some boundaries around your social media use.

A boundary is a fence for your social life. You can control how much material you allow through your fence, and engage with, if you want.

There are a few ways to set boundaries on social media.

  • The shooting has a certain number of hashtags.
  • The block button is a good way to use liberality when you encounter troll.
  • Before engaging with a post, make sure the information comes from a reliable source.
  • “Carve out a chunk of your day when you don’t check your social media feeds.”

Get more guidance on how to use social media.

It can seem like everyone is talking about the tragedy, even at school and work. Even if you have strong digital boundaries around the shooting, the amount of exposure can be overwhelming.

Try to be easy on yourself. You may need more rest or have a harder time focusing, but that is okay.

People around the country are experiencing similar challengers. A 2021 study examining 54 years’ worth of mass shootings linked them to negative changes in the United States’ gross domestic product. In other words, mass shootings appear to make the country, as a whole, less productive — and plenty of people could use a good dose of self-care.

For many people, self-care brings to mind things like a fun hobby or relaxing music. These activities can soothe emotional distress, but don’t forget to take care of your body, too.

Aim to:

Self-care is a form of passive or reactive care. It can help you reduce the negative impact a stressor has on your life.

Trying to solve the problem directly is what active copes with. Some people find it easier to manage their grief and stress by getting involved in a project that could change.

In the context of mass shootings, active Coping usually means activism and political engagement. Some people cope with the trauma of mass shootings by joining activist pursuits.

  • “Gun violence victims and survivors can benefit from the charity’s fundraising.”
  • People attending protests.
  • Local town halls are a place to support actions against gun violence.

People can strengthen community ties with activism. Initiatives can provide a source of hope when they succeed.

Every person has different recovery styles and that is fine. If you are interested in taking action, you have options.

There is a huge impact on people in the United States. Everyone in the country is affected by this major issue.

“If you are struggling with grief, trauma, or other distress related to mass shootings, you are not alone and you don’t need a mental health diagnosis to benefit from a little emotional backup.”

Professional support could help.

  • You have a lot of free-floating anxiety and can’t seem to relax.
  • You check for updates on each shooting, ignoring other things you need to do.
  • “You feel responsible for the deaths of the victims even if you couldn’t prevent them.”
  • You avoid going to public places or near crowds for fear of getting shot.
  • You feel utterly hopeless in the face of all this violence.

A therapist or other mental health professional can offer more guidance with navigating these concerns at any time. There’s no need to wait until you reach a point of crisis before getting help.

Many people around the US are worried for their safety as they mourn the loss of life from gun violence. You might experience a lot of grief and distress if you have lost a loved one to gun violence.

Turning to loved ones can make a major difference when it comes to navigating these difficult feelings. It can also help to draw boundaries for your social media use, practice self-care, and participate in community-driven activism. A trauma therapist can also help you address any overwhelming or persistent mental health symptoms.

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.