How to manage and minimize trauma responses

Whether or not a person has been directly affected by gun violence, hearing the news of a mass shooting – especially one in which the victims are predominantly children – can be difficult to process.

 A man clutches his head as he suffers from a headache and stress (Illustrative) (photo credit: MAXPIXEL)
A man clutches his head as he suffers from a headache and stress (Illustrative)
(photo credit: MAXPIXEL)

People throughout the world have been shaken by a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers.

The massacre carried out by 18-year-old Salvador Ramos was the second-deadliest school shooting in US history. In 2012, a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Whether a person has been directly affected by gun violence, hearing the news of a mass shooting, especially one in which the victims are mostly children, can be difficult to process.

The experience can bring back unpleasant memories that are hard to shake off, particularly for those who have experienced loss due to gun violence, terrorism or violent crime.

What are the most effective ways people can cope with and process traumatic events such as school shootings, regardless of whether they are directly or indirectly affected by them?

When reading the news begins to affect you

Even for someone who does not have any direct history of experiencing violent events, the news of an event like the Uvalde mass shooting can result in an increased fear for the safety of loved ones and a sense of losing control.

How can this be kept under control?

• Avoid overexposure to media.According to the American Counseling Association (ACA) and other mental-health professionals, constantly scrolling through media portrayals of violence can cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Even though it is difficult to step away from the news when something big is happening, limiting exposure and taking breaks from reading the news can limit the negative impact on a person’s emotional well-being.

• Pay attention to your feelings.While compressing the emotions you feel about an event like a school shooting might seem necessary to continue with normal life, it can be more damaging in the long run because your body is not given a chance to process the trauma. Speaking to other people experiencing the same anxieties as you can help you process the event while allowing you to feel less isolated in your fear.

• When should you seek professional help?It is not uncommon to experience strong reactions to traumatic events when exposed to them through the media, according to the ACA. If you or someone you know is experiencing changes in eating or sleeping habits, energy levels or a strong increase in anxiety, it might be time to reach out to a mental-health professional for help.

When traumatic events directly affect you

Gun violence in America and the senseless deaths it leaves in its wake is something that many Israelis can understand and empathize with. In recent months, 18 Israelis have been killed in acts of terrorism, many of them carried out using illegally acquired weapons.

For those who knew the victims, the weight of the trauma is heavy.When Eli Kay was killed while on his way to work on the morning of November 21, 2021, the lives of his family and friends were changed in an instant.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, “T.” recounted the way her life has been impacted in the six months since hearing that a terrorist had killed her friend.

“It’s not like it’s [gun violence] a new concept to me,” she said when asked how her day-to-day life had changed. “Like, I’ve been around guns before, but now I get so tense and so anxious around them.”

“I feel like as an American, I hate to say that we’re used to it, because that’s horrible, and we should never be used to such disgusting acts of violence, but it’s not new,” she said. “And I don’t think that these events necessarily impact me differently than they did before, but I think guns themselves definitely do.”

T. said she was constantly worrying about her loved ones’ whereabouts to a much more intense degree than she ever used to.

“I’m definitely a lot more persistent when I ask people about where they are,” she said. “I’m always asking them more about where they are; always asking them to let me know when they arrive.”

Trauma responses and triggers

Months after a traumatic event has occurred, and even when someone feels they are mostly back to their old self, events that remind them of the incident can occur, sending them spiraling back into memories of the traumatic incidents that can be hard to shake off.

This is why someone who is not directly affected by the Uvalde school shooting, but who has experienced similar events, might relive old memories, known as flashbacks, and can explain why they are so shaken.

Regarding the way the trauma has affected her, T. discussed the mental-health issues she has struggled with.“Being around a person with a gun now is really triggering for me, and at the point when my depression was really bad, I just couldn’t be around them,” she said. “It made me so anxious and nervous. Even if it’s just seeing cops with guns, I hate it. I don’t like being around them.”

One of the common things experienced by people dealing with PTSD or other forms of trauma is the urge to avoid things that could remind them of traumatic events. This can include places, sights, sounds or even people. The triggers will often be random, and even though they are not technically linked to the incident, the person experiencing it will still associate them with it.

For T., one of the triggers that can send her spiraling into memories of her friend’s death is sound, specifically loud and sudden noises.

“Last night, for example, I was trying to sleep, and all of a sudden, I heard really loud fireworks right outside our apartment, and it put me into such a bad state of panic,” she said. “Even though I knew subconsciously that it was just fireworks, I just started having a panic attack.”

I was trying to sleep and all of a sudden I heard really loud fireworks right outside our apartment, and it put me into such a bad state of panic


How can a person experiencing a traumatic event cope with the fallout?

Following her friend’s death, T. took action and sought medical assistance, working with both a therapist and psychiatrist to process her trauma and grief and find a way through it.

“For me, my mental situation is better now than it has been in so long,” she said. “I’m in a much healthier place because of the medicine I’m not taking and the support team that I have.”

However, she acknowledged that not everyone has access to therapy or medical help, and that it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. In these situations, having a support group of friends or family is essential, she said.

“The incident really helped me become a lot more open and really turn to friends when I needed them,” T. said.“This is the time when you need your friends – when you need that support,” she said.

“And you can lean on people. You need people to help you get through these things. You need to be okay with asking them for help when you need it.”