Coping with Senseless Tragedies

​The last few weeks have been filled with sadness and trauma. On top of the significant losses from COVID-19, there have been so many recent mass killings around the country – in yet another elementary school, medical facilities, houses of worship, downtown business districts, and a community grocery store. We have heard of heroic and resilient efforts, but also the immense pain, heartache, and suffering.

Emotionally, the psychological phenomenon is a form of terrorism and trauma. It's hard to get a handle on how to re-gain a sense of control and predictability while wanting to find a solution to this complex cultural problem.

According to Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, Ph.D., author of Shattered Assumptions and psychologist, traumatic events, including the aftermath, invokes the most basic threats of survival. There are occasions when we are forced to recognize the risk and real possibility of serious injury, the randomness of events, and our own mortality. Trauma can produce symptoms such as anxiety, fear, depression, nightmares, nausea, memory loss, identification with the victims, flashbacks, fear of repetition, fatigue, and problem-solving difficulties. While these can be a normal response to such an abnormal situation, it remains profoundly distressing.

To cope with traumatic events requires incredible courage and resilience. If you or a colleague are having difficulty coping, here are some things you can do:

  • Listen to others and validate the feelings that you have.
  • Focus on the things you have control over. 
  • Reflect on the fact that at the moment, you are safe.  
  • Prioritize your own self-care
  • Seek support from for friends, colleagues, or a professional if your distress begins interfering with your function, your work, or your relationships.

This can be a difficult time. For psychological support, Vanderbilt faculty and staff can call Work/Life Connections-EAP at 615-936-1327 to make a confidential appointment to meet with one of our counselors.