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Experiencing Collective Trauma

There are certain events and dates that we always remember: Pearl Harbor, September 11, Sandy Hook, or the Parkland Shootings. What they all have in common is that we never imagined that these events could happen, and when they do they can change our fundamental reality and how we see the world.

Recent news has brought this issue to the forefront again:

One month ago today, Hamas militants attacked southern Israeli communities, killing more than 1,400 people and taking about 240 hostages. In Gaza, more than 10,000 people have been killed since Israeli airstrikes began, according to the Health Ministry there. — Suzanne Nuyen, Up First Briefing, NPR

It doesn’t matter where you stand politically or ideologically on the issues. These are events which can affect us in deep and significant ways. Learning how to process such world events in healthy manner, can help us move forward.

Events such as these can initiate a tsunami of feelings, especially when anxiety is no stranger to us. But, some events happen at such a global scale that they become the great equalizer. That is, there are few individuals on this planet who are left unaffected and the need for support and management tools is universal.

Collective Trauma: Making sense of catastrophic events

When you try to understand the notion of collective trauma or secondary traumatic reaction, there is a flood of information.

Collective trauma is a cataclysmic event that shatters the basic fabric of society. Aside from the horrific loss of life, collective trauma is also a crisis of meaning. — Gilad Hirschberger, Collective Trauma and the Social Construction of Meaning, 2018

I Googled this concept and found 42 entries just on page one. They describe the feelings that are engendered including:

  • A sense of helplessness

  • Guilt that you survived or are not directly challenged in your day-to-day life

  • Shame over feelings you cannot control

  • Rage and fear

  • Fear for the future

  • Hopelessness for a solution

Seeing increased security in buildings can both allay anxiety and increase concern. Overall, events like these shatter a fundamental sense of security, which can lead to overwhelming emotions.

For people of some communities there are compounding effects. For Jewish people, not only is peace and security an issue in Israel, but there are also upticks of anti-Semitism in the United States. And as for Palestinians, in addition to ongoing violence in Gaza, unrest in the states leaves many fearful for their own freedom and safety.

On October 11, 2023, the American Psychological Association (APA) released a statement warning that consuming violent and traumatic news can, in and of itself, negatively affect our mental health.

Some people are more vulnerable than others to developing an acute stress reaction or even post-traumatic stress disorder with the constant stream of images and stories. People who are in closer proximity to the actual events – obviously, if you’re there or your family’s there or this touches you in some more direct way. But even people who are ripples out from this can develop [deeper issues], particularly people who either have a prior mental health issue, like an anxiety disorder or a mood disorder, and people who have suffered [any kind of] trauma in their past. — Dr Gail Saltz, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College

Catastrophic events are real and distressing — but our resilience to deal with them, enhanced by helpful advice, can steer us through the troubled waters. Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Understand that distress is normal, and shared by many others.

  • There is no wrong or right way to feel. You feel how you feel.

  • Don’t ignore your feelings. Recognize them.

  • You are not alone. Talk about your feelings and connect with others.

  • Stop doomsday scrolling. Limit social media, Only go to credible sources. Give yourself some space from the issues.

  • Reach out to a higher power and use prayer if it is helpful to you.

  • Reestablish daily routines.

  • Take action

    • Do something to help

    • Reach out to support others

    • Donate to causes that help

In an opinion piece in USA Today, Douglas Yeung summed it up this way:

Trauma is often described as a shattering of one’s assumptions or worldviews. That is, when events collide with our expectations, beliefs or hopes, we are forced to reconsider what is truly possible. This latest war – set in a world still emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, grappling with social isolation and mental health crises – has provided plenty of traumatizing developments, with the grim promise of more to come. It certainly requires making hard choices and doing the work to forge community bonds that prioritize everyone’s well-being. And much of that work starts with knowing the spillover effects of trauma, and how it affects us all. — Douglas Yeung, USA Today Opinion

Let us know if you have dealt with the effects of October 7 and the recent war. We want to hear from you.


For Informational Purposes Only

All information presented on Easing Anxiety is for informational purposes only, and should never be considered medical or health advice. Withdrawal, tapering, or any change in dosage of benzodiazepines or any other prescription drugs should only be done under the direct supervision of a licensed physician.

This article was written by a living, breathing human. Please read our site disclaimer for more information.

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