Friday, July 20 , 2018, 12:11 am | Overcast 66º


Winifred Lender: In Aftermath of Tragedy, Helping and Healing in the Community

The recent horrific triple murder in our community has been a leading story in the news, and a focus of grief and concern for many.

While this tragedy has the greatest impact on the family and friends of the victims, it also touches those in the larger community. A connection to the area can make the impact of the tragedy felt more profoundly and can make the healing process harder.

While all members of the community may experience varying degrees of emotions, those who are prone to anxiety or depression may find the event especially difficult to deal with.

Children and teens may also question their own safety and can become fearful as a result of the event.

While moving through the aftermath of this crisis, consider the following guidelines.

» While a tragedy likes this makes you question your own safety, it is important to resume your normal routine, as much as possible. We gain comfort from routine. Moreover, if we begin to avoid a situation that causes some anxiety, the anxiety may be reinforced and we could become paralyzed by it.

» Resist the natural temptation to withdraw from others and retreat in sadness. Push yourself to engage with others. Research has shown that reaching out to friends for support in times like these is a healthy response and speeds recovery.

» This event can be a catalyst to find the time to recognize those we care for and honor them by verbalizing our feelings for them in a positive and loving way.

» Engage in helping those affected by the tragedy. Research has shown that providing constructive aid decreases the stress response and can increase feelings of empowerment. Working with a community group you are a member of or finding one to offer aid to, can assist you and those directly affected by the tragedy.

» Limit your exposure to the media coverage of the event. With our continuous news coverage, it is easy to become oversaturated with the coverage of the tragedy. Focus on limiting your exposure to it, especially prior to bedtime.

» It is important to find ways to nurture yourself and create balance during times of distress. While you may feel guilty about doing things that bring you enjoyment during this time, it is important to take care of yourself so you can assist others and maintain your own health.

» Know yourself, your limits and seek help when needed. If you are prone to anxiety and depression, be proactive in accessing support and limiting your exposure to this event.

» Support children by modeling a consistent, calm presence and maintaining the usual structure and routine they are accustomed to. Research has shown that one of the best predictors of how children will respond to a tragedy is how their parents respond. Children can know that this event makes you sad, but they need to know you are still in control of your emotions and continue to offer the structure and support they are used to.

» Provide information to children that is appropriate to their developmental age and specific emotional status. Offering limited general information about the tragedy to children who will hear about it from peers or in the media, offers you the opportunity to provide accurate information in a supportive setting.

» Encourage children to ask questions they may have about the tragedy.

» Limit media access and try to be in the vicinity when your child is accessing digital information about the tragedy. Ensure a buffer zone of digital free time before bed.

» Be aware of your child’s response and alert to any changes in their behavior, sleep or emotions. Seek help if you feel they are having an unhealthy response to the tragedy.

— Winifred Lender, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Santa Barbara and can be contacted at [email protected]. She is the author of A Practical Guide to Parenting in the Digital Age: How to Nurture Safe, Balanced and Connected Children and Teens available at Chaucer’s and Amazon. Dr. Lender completed her undergraduate work at Cornell University and received her master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed a fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia/The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and is a past president of the Santa Barbara County Psychological Association. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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