7 Tips for Dealing With Stress After Violence

Whether you have recently been the victim of violence or you witnessed the violent insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6, you'll experience a wide range of stress-related symptoms. Americans have already been through a 10-month-long pandemic, economic uncertainty and a divisive election. The jarring events of January 6 could cause your emotional strength to wither away, but they don't have to be. With these seven tips to manage stress after witnessing violence, you can productively manage your symptoms and get through these difficult times.

1. Recognize Your Response to Stress

When you experience acute stress, such as your response to witnessing the events of January 6, your body and brain will respond in ways that are individual to you. Each person's stress response is different. It's important to recognize your response to undue levels of stress. Some common signs include a rapid heartbeat, stomach cramps, headache, appetite changes, sleep changes, new or worse aches and pains without a physical reason and an increase in substance use or abuse. You may also experience emotional and mental effects of intense acute stress, including disbelief, shock, numbness, difficulty concentrating or focusing, inability to make decisions and feelings of sadness, frustration or lack of control over your future.

2. Take a Break

Try to remove yourself from the cause of your acute stress. If witnessing the violence in Washington, D.C. triggered your stress in the past day, cut down on your media consumption. Limit yourself to a few minutes and one nonpartisan, reliable source of news. Focus on other news, such as the helpers in your community or what your favorite sports team is doing. Avoid falling into the comments trap on social media. Consider unfollowing partisan pages or groups that make your stress worse. Consider a self-imposed cutoff from social media or the news. A 24-hour break from the news cycle may help calm your brain's fight-or-flight response.

3. Talk to Someone

Don't feel like you have to deal with your stress by yourself. There's no shame in asking for help. A trusted friend may offer support, empathy or grounding that you need. You may benefit from professional help. Most therapists, social workers and counselors are offering telehealth appointments. If you feel that you're having an emergency situation caused by stress, reach out to your primary care doctor, or go to the emergency room.

4. Avoid Using Substances to Cope

The numbing effects of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs may tamp down your feelings of stress and anxiety for a few minutes or hours, but they will do more harm than good. These substances will create new problems for you, and this could cause more stress and anxiety than you already had.

5. Take Care of Yourself

Now might not be the time to take on a new huge project or intense activity. Spend a few hours, days or even weeks focusing on self-care. Each person's type of self-care should be customized to what helps you feel like yourself. Your self-care routine should include a combination of mindfulness, good nutrition, sleep and exercise. Focus on doing some of the things that help you feel calm, satisfied, relaxed and upbeat. Play your favorite music while preparing a healthy meal. Put on a pair of comfortable shoes, and go on a walk early in the morning. Choose some fresh, healthy ingredients, and prepare a meal to share. Get out your craft supplies, and knit a simple hat or scarf. Paint your nails, play with the dog or play a round of your favorite video game.

6. Reach Out to Others

You're not the only person feeling stressed. If you're a parent, your child may also be stressed. Children may not be able to explain their feelings. Try connecting with other parents or your child's teachers. This will help you support and care for your child. The ability to manage your own stress will be a good example to your child of how to cope with a difficult situation.

7. Make an Action Plan

If you're the victim of violence, the first item on your action plan should be to get to a safe place. If you witnessed violence, your action plan might start with calling a therapist. Make a list of actions you can take right now. This will provide you with a sense of self-control, which will help lessen your stress and anxiety about the future.

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