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Last week on our drive to school, flags were flying at half-mast, a visual tribute and reminder of the 21 innocent lives lost at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Seeing flags flying at half-mast, I had a huge lump in my throat thinking about the parents who would never drive their kids to school again. As I hugged my kids at the school entrance and said our goodbyes, I felt an intense fear wondering, “Could this be the last time I hug my kids?”
Arriving home, I was surprised how difficult it was for me to shake these intense feelings, so I decided to do research about what I was experiencing. Turns out I was feeling something called “secondary traumatic stress,” the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma and experiences of someone else.
While we all experience secondary traumatic stress in different ways and varied intensities, it’s been helpful for me to know that I am not alone. As a nation we are all grieving for the parents and families who lost loved ones; this shared grief is known as “collective grief.”
“Like individual grief, there is a feeling of lack of control that comes with collective grief. We were unable to prevent the loss or change, and we feel powerless in its wake,” explains Asma Rehman, counselor and grief recovery specialist. Needless to say, as a country — and as a world — we have been experiencing relentless waves of collective grief; the pandemic, racial injustices and civil disorder, the derecho in Eastern Iowa, the war in Ukraine, and mass shootings across the United States.
My research also led me to a term that I wasn’t familiar with, highly sensitive person (HSP). HSPs are characterized by increased emotional sensitivity, stronger reactivity to both external and internal stimuli, and are thought to be more disturbed than others by violence, tension, or feelings of overwhelm. Whoa! That totally describes me.
Learning about secondary traumatic stress, collective grief, and understanding that the trait for HSP is innate and makes up 20 percent of the population, has helped me understand that I am not alone with these intense feelings of grief.
“During times like this when our hearts are heavy and emotions are raw, it’s important to give yourself and others space to express, process and grieve,” says Kelly Rodriguez, mom and marriage and family therapist. “Collective distressing events are difficult and it’s OK to navigate it in your own way. Know if you are feeling angry, mad, sad, your feelings are valid.”
Rodriguez suggests these tips to help you stay aligned with yourself and honor your needs.
- Limit news and social media
- Reach out to people you trust to simply talk, listen and connect
- Release your feelings (exercise, cry, hug, journal)
- Practice some grounding (pray, meditate)
- Take care of yourself
I would add “take action” to the list. If you feel strongly about gun control, sign a petition, advocate for stronger gun safety laws, do whatever it is you feel you need to do to promote change. If you feel strongly about mental health in our country, take action to promote mental health.
I’ve heard the phrase, “We don’t need prayers, we need action.” While I strongly believe action for positive change is needed, I also believe our world needs more prayers, more compassion and more love. More prayers for all those affected by tragedies, for strength to take meaningful action and discernment for guidance.
Our world needs more prayers right now, not less.
Kylie Alger is a certified wellness coach and co-owner of the Well-Woman: Body, Mind & Spirit. Comments: email@example.com.