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Coping with Anxiety Following Tragedy

By Ryan Rivera, Guest Article

candlesThe tragedy at Newtown Elementary School recently has caused significant distress to parents and educators everywhere. It has brought a national conversation about gun control, mental health care, safety at schools, and the idea that society as a whole isn't doing enough to protect those that are innocent of any wrongdoing.

But a secondary issue that has affected parents and families everywhere is anxiety. This tragedy has caused millions of parents to worry about whether or not the world is safe for them anymore, and whether or not they're putting their children in danger by dropping them off at their local educational institution.

Reacting to Fear

I know a young woman with two children, one 9 and one 12. As more news broke of the Newtown shooting, she began texting her husband, and the two of them began discussing home school. Many other parents and teachers have advocated for greater security, and many others are looking for complete political overhauls and reactions from state and federal governments.

But there are two problems:

  • Anxiety that comes as a result of this tragedy may lead to decisions about a child's development that may not be the best solution. Home schooling, for example, is neither right nor possible for every child, and adding more security to a school may cause children to experience more fear and anger as they get older.
  • It's impossible to prevent all tragedies. While the United States has been far worse at controlling tragedies than other civilized nations, there will always be the risk that something like this will happen again. Because of that, allowing yourself to succumb to this fear may have some serious emotional consequences.

There is no denying that changes need to be made, and the Newtown shooting is a terrible reminder of what some people are capable of. But as common as they seem in the media, they're also a rarity, and it's important that parents everywhere stay strong and with regard to overcoming these anxieties, so that the effects of the worries do not permanently alter your child's development.

How to Overcome These Fears

Never underestimate the power of therapy and support groups if your anxiety has become too overwhelming. There are so many places to turn to for help, and while many people have an aversion to therapy, the reality is that it's a method of treatment that has been carefully documented and can genuinely help you control your anxiety levels.

You should also keep the following in mind:

1. Learn/Research/Engage

Don't just read sensationalist news reports about what happened at these tragedies. Learn about the problems that can be fixed, and be engaged in them. Focus on what can be done to help not just the children, but also those struggling with mental illness. By keeping yourself involved and well researched, you'll also keep yourself grounded and dedicated toward making real, valuable changes – not just Band-Aid fixes that don't necessarily solve the problem.

2. Face Your Fears

Those that have significant anxiety over their child's wellbeing often confirm their own anxiety by allowing their thoughts to run wild. They refuse to drop their children off at school, or they check in with the school to make sure they're okay, or they become angry or upset with those that had nothing to do with the shooting. These emotions only serve to convince yourself that your fears are justified. Continue to drop your child off at school, and as afraid as you are, don't check in. Let yourself see how safe your child is and allow yourself to get used to the idea that, statistically, your child will be safe and well.

3. Cherish Each Day

Finally, it's impossible to say that these types of tragedies can never happen again. But the question isn't just what you can do to prevent them – that will lead to overreactions, or "problem solving" techniques that may only service to cause other issues (such as an intense security presence in local schools). The question is also what you can do to make sure that if something happened, you and your child will still have lived a great life – one free of regrets.

It's one of the most important things you can learn when you suffer from anxiety. Those with anxiety focus so much on what they can do to prevent their "what if" scenarios every day that they forget about what they can do to simply enjoy their life now. The "what ifs" are always possible. The question is whether or not you've lived in such a way that you and your children – and your entire family – will have lived the fullest life possible with each passing day.

Overcoming Anxiety after Tragic Events

Fear should always be the reaction to these types of events. It's completely natural, and completely understandable. But decisions based on fear are not always the best decisions. There are certainly discussions that need to take place with regard to gun laws, mental health care, security, and more, but there is a significant difference in benefits between a calculated, well thought out decision based on probabilities and research, and one that is simply completed so that changes can take place.

Don't let your anxieties after this tragedy overwhelm you. Seek help if necessary, keep your anxiety under control, and know that the most important thing is that you love and care for your child.

Posted on December 18, 2012 by Ryan Rivera, Guest Article

Ryan Rivera is the publisher and founder of Calm Clinic, a website devoted to helping people overcome anxiety, depression, stress, and panic disorders.

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