Dr. Aryn Ziehnert
Tragic events have a way of bringing up a lot of feelings in people. Things like a school shooting, a bad accident, or a natural disaster are just a few examples of things that happen in the world around us. While they may not happen to us or even someone we know, the information received about them causes different reactions.
While reactions to traumatic events can vary widely, some common feelings include fear, worry, anxiety, anger, frustration, helplessness, and sadness. When you hear about something tragic on the news or social media, whatever you feel is valid. Whether it is one of the things listed above or something else, your feelings are real and they are yours. You don’t need to justify them.
Steps for Navigating Fear
During tragic events, fear is often woven into many feelings with which people struggle. Understanding what to do with fear in these situations can feel challenging, especially since these situations are often out of our control and somewhat removed from our daily existence. This does not mean, however, that you are helpless. You can learn to navigate the fear that you feel so you can process these events without feeling crippled by anxiety.
Start by Identifying
Many times, the things we truly feel are masked by other feelings, coping mechanisms, or symptoms. The best way to start navigating the root fear you have is to identify it. This is more than just saying how you feel. It is a recognition of what the feeling is and how it is impacting you. And this concept has been around for thousands of years.
“For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, CSB, emphasis mine)
This principle is more than just naming a feeling. We need to take our thoughts captive so that we can war against them in obedience to Christ. That is where we begin to find freedom. It is possible to take every thought captive when you feel fear.
Think about what you feel. Spend time there, as hard as it can be. This isn’t about the tragic event that happened. This is about what is happening within you in light of that event. Identify how you feel and bring it to God. This is the first step to navigating how you feel.
When a tragedy occurs, we hear about it. And we don’t just hear about it once. It seems to be all around us, even if it occurred on the other side of the world. It’s in the news, it’s online, and we see it as we scroll. Not only that, people all around us talk about it, from our family to the cashier at the grocery store. We can’t seem to get away from it, so we read about it. We listen to reports. We talk about it over and over, filling our day with thoughts of this event.
Information and communication are good things. But they can also be used to fixate on an issue or event. The constant availability of information and people willing to talk about what happened makes it too easy to immerse ourselves in what happened, feeding our worries, fears, and anxieties so they grow with each interaction.
It is up to you to stop that cycle.
Understanding what is good and healthy for you and what is not is part of how to navigate hard things. Decide to limit how much information you consume about what happened. Decide to limit who you talk to about the event and even how often you discuss it. Choosing to be wise with who you listen to and how often you think about an awful world event is important for your well-being.
If you decide to stop fixating, it can be hard to figure out what to do. When every feed and conversation seems to center around a tragic event, eliminating those can leave a void. To help navigate your feelings of fear and anxiety, you can start filling that void with hope.Even in the worst situations, when the most awful things are happening in our world, there are still good things. They can be small or big, personal or global, intimate or generic. What they are matters far less than being intentional about discovering them.
What does this look like? It can be a gratitude journal or simply feeling the sun on your face. It can be a prayer of thanks for your morning coffee or a prayer of thanks for the people you love. Making time and space to go for a walk or read a book, setting up a date with a friend, or coloring with your kids are all ways you can infuse your day with hope.
Near the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he gave them practical counsel that applies so well in our lives, especially in these situations:
“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, CSB)
Paul reminds them (and us) of the importance of thinking about the good things, positive things, pure, lovely things. This is what we should dwell on, even in the face of tragedy. Why? Why would Paul write that?
“Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, CSB)
He shares this directive because he knows it leads to peace. It is how we feel the peace and the presence of God. Even in hard times, God can show us how to focus on good things so we experience His peace and His presence.
Talk to People
The key to talking to people is to talk to the right people. This isn’t an opportunity to obsess over the tragedy with anyone who will listen. This is intentional. Choosing to talk to a counselor, pastor, ministry leader, or trusted friend is a good way to sift through your emotions without allowing them to overtake your life.Talking to people who will speak truth and hope into your life as well as help you understand what happened and how to process it will prevent you from spinning your wheels in fear or anxiety. Instead, these trusted people will help you understand your feelings while feeling more grounded to handle them.
Consider who you have in your life that can help you in this way. Set up a time to talk with them so you can navigate your feelings without feeling overtaken by them.
Choose Your Information
With endless news cycles and social media, we have more information at our fingertips than any generation before us. While that can be a good thing, it is also more than we can process sometimes. But you get to control how much information you consume.
It is important to be educated and informed. But you don’t need every shred of information on a subject to do so. You can find out what happened in healthier ways by limiting how much news you consume and to whom you choose to listen.
Maybe that looks like only following social media accounts that report news facts in a clear, concise manner. Perhaps it is about limiting how much news programming you watch or how many news apps you read. If you still read the paper, you can choose one paper to read at a certain time and then put it away. Whatever you choose the key is to put healthy boundaries so it doesn’t consume your thinking or your time.
A Final Thought
Sometimes we can think that it is disrespectful to disengage from all the information and conversations surrounding a tragic world event. Following these suggestions doesn’t negate the tragedy. It isn’t a denial of what is happening or even a choice to refrain from taking action when needed. Walking through these steps fortifies us to process the tragedy with God instead of in fear and uncertainty.
“Coffee Chat”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “How Are You Really?”, Courtesy of Finn, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Emotive Photos”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hope”, Courtesy of Ronak Valobobhai, Unsplash.com, CC0 License