In the wake of the horrific attacks on Beirut, Paris, and Kenya last weekend, many New Yorkers are coping with the pain of those attacks and the threats voiced against New York City. For many, viewing terrorism through the media serves as a reminder of the losses we all experienced on 9/11 and can bring about feelings of intense sadness and fear. So why does this happen and how do we cope with it?
Vicarious traumatization in terrorism
Vicarious traumatization refers to the pain that we experience when we see something terrible happening to someone else. This means that we can feel the effects of trauma even when we are not in immediate danger.
For survivors of terrorism and other traumas including accidents, domestic violence, and war, viewing terrorism can trigger intense emotions. Common experiences include feeling helpless or fearful, being afraid to leave the house, intrusive or recurring thoughts/images of the trauma, withdrawing from your normal life, and feeling overwhelmed or out of control. Even those who don’t feel intense emotional symptoms can still experience pain and stress. These are normal reactions when your body and mind fear for their safety. They are coping mechanisms that are intended to keep you safe but, if left unchecked, can cause distress.
NYC’s Resilience Following Terror
The pain around the world this week due to terrorism is undeniable. The losses, however, do not have to be meaningless. I remember the incredible heroism and outpouring of support in New York City following 9/11. Although we all witnessed something terrible, we also witnessed humanity’s power to unite and sacrifice for the greater good. We saw first responders risk their own safety in the hopes of finding survivors. Many of us saw small act of kindness to friends and strangers alike. Even something as simple as asking someone if everyone they knew was alright was felt as a deep expression of empathy and concern. Perpetuating this kindness is essential. If you are feeling overwhelmed by what you have seen on the news lately, consider redirecting your attention to help others. This may be asking a friend how they are coping, donating to refugee efforts, or volunteering your time with a worthy cause. It can be a powerful experience to channel fear and helplessness into something meaningful that benefits others in need.
How New yorkers can cope with ongoing threats
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the ongoing news of terrorism around the world there are some straightforward steps that you can take to make the situation more manageable.
- Most importantly, consider limiting your time watching the news and on social media; overexposure to terrorism coverage can be damaging.
- Remind yourself that your symptoms are a valid reaction to trauma and that feeling fearful does not have to rule your decisions.
- Take control by remaining engaged in your life and keeping up with relationships and activities that give you meaning and fulfillment.
- Ask for help. Reach out to your support system and express what you are thinking and feeling. If needed, consider seeking help from a professional.
- Keep in mind that New York City is highly sensitive to terrorism and has spent 15 years putting in place effective safeguards.
To read more about coping with terrorism, click here.