What to do when you're feeling 'helpless' after another school shooting, according to experts
After yet another school shooting — an evergreen statement — it’s hard not to feel heartbroken and helpless, particularly if you’re a parent.
“Many parents are understandably feeling fearful, sad, angry and helpless as they learn about another heartbreaking loss of life connected to gun violence in schools,” Arianna Galligher, a licensed independent social worker supervisor and the associate director of the STAR Trauma Recovery Center at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. “Many are struggling to trust that their own children will be safe and protected in this setting, and they’re saddled with vicarious grief as they contemplate the devastation of parents who’ve suffered the tragic loss of their children in this manner.”
Barbara Greenberg, an adolescent and family psychologist, tells Yahoo Life that it’s normal to be going through a range of mixed emotions right now, including feeling “distraught, numb, confused, unsafe, out of control, terrified, helpless and outraged.” She adds: “It’s a mixture of feelings that leave you feeling helpless and despondent, and that’s a lot to carry. It’s more than any parent should have to carry.”
Greenberg says these feelings of helplessness are normal — particularly for parents. “It's a parent’s job to protect our children,” she says. “Anybody — any loving parent — is going to feel that.”
Eric Storch, professor and vice chair in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life that others may be experiencing “feelings of anxiety and struggling to concentrate or focus on work, feeling really raw, and without some direction.”
He points out that many may also be feeling powerless or frustrated over the “inaction or ineffective action” that tends to follow each mass shooting in the U.S. When similar patterns keep repeating themselves and “leaders consistently fall short of enacting meaningful change to address the problems and control the controllables, it can be difficult to avoid feeling powerless,” says Galligher. “It’s also common to feel overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the problem.”
Storch explains there’s also “a domino effect” happening, with “one trauma on top of another,” noting the “dozens” of shootings in the past couple of months, while “coming off of a difficult pandemic, which we're still not out of,” he says. “It’s like squirting some lighter fluid on something that was already burning kind of robustly.”
So what can people do to take care of themselves?
Experts suggest checking in with yourself and figuring out what your needs are. For example, that might mean getting extra hugs from your kids or partner. “Other parents might need quiet time,” Greenberg says. “Others might need exercise and movement. Others might need to talk to other people, such as a group of friends.”
Above all, “be intentional about engaging in activities that soothe you and replenish your energy,” says Galligher.
Experts also recommend being mindful of your media consumption, both for your own mental health and for children who might overhear the news. “Set limits around when and how much news you’re consuming on this topic at one time,” says Galligher.
If you’re feeling (understandably) stressed, be mindful of that around your children. “Do the best you can not to overwhelm them with your anxiety, because they will feel that,” says Greenberg. “I know that's hard, but part of being a parent is attending to your children's needs, and sometimes that means dealing with your anxiety in another place.”
Storch suggests that parents check in with their kids as well and see what they know about the news. “Correct what may be inaccurate and provide confident reassurance of their safety, even if you don’t feel that way inside,” he says.
He shares that many people are feeling “shaken” by the tragic news, but stresses that it’s important for parents to let their kids see them “as a role model of confidence and self-assurance, even if inside you’re sort of struggling.”
What actions can people take to feel less powerless?
One of the best ways to counter feelings of helplessness and hopelessness is to do something. As Galligher puts it: “The antidote to despair is action.”
However, she points out that “One person isn’t likely to be able to solve the problem all on their own all at once, but that doesn’t mean we should do nothing.”
Galligher recommends taking the initiative to learn about the gun violence problem from different angles and perspectives, and then taking stock of your own strengths and resources. “Consider what you could do to make the problem better — even if it’s a very small thing,” she says. “Choose one or two priorities that you really want to have an impact around and think about actions you can realistically take to affect those priorities. Focus on things you can control or influence — whether it’s with your voice, your wallet or your personal effort.”
Storch says that can mean anything from “protesting” to “volunteering, trying to do your part to make the world a little better.”
You can volunteer at or donate to gun violence prevention organizations, such as Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action (a grassroots movement that’s part of Everytown) and Sandy Hook Promise.
Greenberg also recommends contacting your child’s school to ask about its safety protocols. “Some have doors locked and safety officers who check people in,” she says. “Other schools don’t have that. Be active — reach out to the school about their protocols.”
She also suggests calling or emailing local lawmakers (you can find your representative here) to make sure they support sensible gun legislation and “raise the roof on this.” As Greenberg puts it: This is “a life or death” situation, and “persistence prevails.”
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