The country has been wracked by high profile mass shooting events before, but the series of three attacks in rapid succession this summer at a family festival in California, back-to-school shopping day at a Walmart in Texas, and popular nighttime social scene in Ohio has many Americans more on edge right now, mental health experts report.
When regular outings like shopping trips start to feel unsafe, parents and kids alike get stressed
Psychological effects of the shootings and aftermath
After the shootings themselves, ongoing coverage of these disparate scenes of violence leaves many feeling vulnerable in their daily lives. “While getting the news informs you, being overexposed to it can actually increase your stress,” cautions the American Psychological Association in its help center tip sheet.
“I am seeing clients and students struggling with a variety of emotions – anxiety, fear, worry, and despair,” shares Rev. Connie L. Habash, author of Awakening from Anxiety: A Spiritual Guide to Living a More Calm, Confident, and Courageous Life and a licensed marriage and family therapist in Menlo Park, California. “They feel deep compassion for the pain and loss of what the victims and their families might be going through, and they are also concerned for the safety their own children and loved ones,” she notes. Habash’s Silicon Valley practice is an hour’s drive from the first of the three shootings at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
“To say that clients are stressed currently is an understatement,” says clinical psychologist and founder of the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Digital Citizen Academy, Dr. Lisa Strohman. “The timing of this happening right at the start of the school year has clients as young as 10 anxious about going back to school, as well as adults that are frequently at some of these locations,” she adds.
Dr. Cali Estes, a Miami-based clinical psychologist, works with both executives and young adults. “Both sets of clients are experiencing the exact same symptoms: Anxiety, trouble sleeping, heightened awareness, and outright fear that this type of event could happen to them or their families,” she observes, noting that the symptoms seem to be worse for 18 to 28-year-old clientele. “They are shutting down and fear leaving the house.”
Creating safe spaces at home crucial
That creates an even greater need for home spaces to be experienced as calming sanctuaries from a sometimes violent world, these mental health professionals agree. “I have suggested to my clients that they have a place where they can meditate, relax and decompress in their homes,” Estes shares. She has also suggested diffusers with lavender oil to calm, lavender pillow spray and lavender bath bombs to help them decompress.
While lavender may strike you as new age pseudoscience, “There is growing evidence suggesting that lavender oil may be effective in treatment of neurological disorders. Several animal and human investigations suggest mood stabilizer, sedative and neuroprotective properties for lavender,” according to a study in the National Center For Biotechnology Information’s PubMed Central.
Strohman also advocates for using scents, including lavender. These can enhance mindfulness when enjoying peace and solitude, she points out. (The healing physical and emotional benefits of aromatherapy – the science of scent healing – date back to the beginning of recorded history.) The Scottsdale psychologist, whose practice includes education and counseling on interacting with the digital world, recommends, “Trying to relax when stressed is much easier when we have a space in our homes that we have created to disconnect.” She suggests setting up a tech-free zone at home. It’s a must, Strohman says, “to allow people a break from the chronicity of bad news.”
Lavender is shown to have healing properties
(Photo Courtesy: Pexels/Min An)
“I suggest all my clients have a sacred space in the home for meditation, prayer, yoga, or simply a quiet, calm and somewhat private space to cultivate inner peace and safety,” shares Habash. She is also a believer in the power of the natural world to support healing, called ecotherapy or biophilia. “I recommend that my clients spend time in nature – whether simply in the front yard, sitting on a balcony at their apartment, or heading out on a trail. They can then bring something simple home from that place, such as a leaf, twig, or rock, to remind them of the serenity of being outdoors.”
Habash additionally suggests the power of fresh flowers to provide beauty at home, a houseplant to create serenity, or even a bowl of water to reflect peace and renewal for her clients, she says. “Placing simple things around the home to reconnect to a centered, calm place within is very helpful, so that in each room they have a touchstone to return them to ease.”
Bring nature inside with plants and flowers
(Photo courtesy: Pexels/Content Pixie)
“If we have a place that reminds us to stop, breathe deeply, and take a few moments to return to the present moment, it can help shift us out of ruminating over fearful or worrisome events. When we’re calmer and more centered within, we’ll not only feel better in the midst of these challenging events, but we’ll be more effective in responding to them,” Habash concludes.
You’ll note that this Food for Thought piece is unique in that it includes expert sources. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I’m not an expert in mental health and felt it would be worthwhile to consult with professionals who were. I appreciate the insights of the three who contributed to this post. The second reason is that this was originally written for one of my media outlets — hence the journalistic style. Since that outlet opted not to publish it, I decided to share it here. I felt the information could be helpful to readers, just as it’s been helpful to me. That’s the advantage of having your own platform and being your own editor.