Images from the Orlando massacre now live in our nervous systems. Everyone you meet today has been effected by those images. Up to half of the people you meet will be suffering with “secondary traumatic stress;” this happens when the “threat detection system” in our brains overreacts as if we were actually involved in the trauma. You have the chance this week to proactively offer people a strong and healing presence. Here are four action steps you can take:
- Notice who is most likely to be hurting. People with a connection to the shooting are most vulnerable. For example, my sister who lives in Orlando and a former client whose family member was murdered in a similarly random fashion are likely struggling today. People with high life stress or mental illness will also be hurting more. Watch everyone for symptoms of secondary traumatic stress: People who are more irritable, angry, agitated, depressed, and/or having trouble concentrating or sleeping. Many of these people will need your help connecting their symptoms with Sunday’s shooting.
- Reach out to those who are hurting and help them to heal. Trauma and grief heal best when talked about openly and skillfully. Invite people to share their reaction with you. Ask helpful questions such as, “Where were you when you heard about it?” “What images most impacted you?” “What fears does this trigger for you?” When dealing with children invite them to draw pictures.
- Protect and reassure those who are most vulnerable. Children and stressed adults should be encouraged to stay away from ongoing news coverage. Affirm your commitment to keep them safe as best as you can.
- Cultivate community. The human nervous system heals best in warm and supportive community relationships. Even more, cultivating community not only makes us feel safer but actually makes us safer. On the same day this tragedy took place, a similar tragedy was likely averted in Los Angeles because neighbors knew each other well enough to spot a potentially dangerous man who didn’t belong in their community.
Sunday’s massacre impacts all of us. Our community needs people to step up and meet this violent tragedy with explosive love. You can do this today by looking out for and protecting those who are most traumatized, offering people a space to heal, and cultivating community. You can make a difference.