How Do You Respond to Tragedy?

This isn’t the post I thought I would write today. However, with the horrific theater rampage less than 48 hours ago, I feel compelled to comment about tragedies since they often happen when we least expect them.

Let me begin by saying I am thinking of two types of tragedies: those caused by nature and by humans. 

The one I’m addressing today was caused by what appears to be one individual who carefully planned and executed the senseless killing of at least 12 random people at a movie theater while watching a movie.

What was your reaction when you heard this news? How did you respond?

This was my first reaction. It was morning. I was on an errand alone in the car when I heard the news on the radio. My first thought was instant disbelief. My mind was clearly not wanting to take in the information. Of course, that quickly changed to wanting more facts about the situation.

Then I had a strong urge to turn off the radio so I wouldn’t hear more. This didn’t last long. My desire for more information won out, and I left the radio on. When my errands were done, I continued with the rest of my day checking news updates later in the evening. It is my personal choice to not be a news junkie.

Even though I chose to continue the things I needed to do during the day, I continued to think about the situation and had a range of feelings from shock to deep sadness for the families and friends of those injured or killed. I also had a barrage of troubling thoughts about how in our world today, it is both the best of times and the worst of times.

I remembered recently feeling appalled when I read the cover article of the July 16, 2012 Newsweek: iCrazy: Panic, Depression, Psychosis – How Connection Addiction Is Rewiring Our Brains. Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth in the article. I am aware of this through contacts I have in the neuroscience area and clients.

While it may be years before we know whether or not this senseless shooting had anything to do with changes in the tortured attacker’s brain, there is a critical need for individuals of all ages and cultures to be resilient. 

Resilience can be learned if you don’t have it. Being resilient is not a denial of reality. You do need to acknowledge what has happened. It is a process in which you are responsible for managing your thoughts and emotions.

It is time for all of us to acknowledge the responsibility for choosing healthy thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Here are some things you can do daily to help build your resilience and especially when tragedy strikes:

  1. Realize you need to choose to manage your thoughts. This means be aware of your thought patterns. If they are going in a negative pattern, tell yourself you can learn, step by step if necessary how to move in a more positive direction.
  2. Be hopeful. Ask yourself if what you are saying to yourself (your thoughts) and what you are feeling is helpful. If not, try changing your belief or expectation about the future.
  3. Connect with people who are most important to you. Talk with them in person or by phone whenever possible rather than use the internet. When you are with people, use that time to be with them rather than scanning your phone for messages or checking the internet.
  4. Find things you are grateful for. Be sure to say why you are grateful for someone or something by using the word because.
  5. Get out into nature if it is possible for a while. If not, try to meditate by just sitting and allowing yourself to focus on your breathing, letting your thoughts come and go as you focus on slowing and deepening your breath for ten to twenty minutes.
  6. Disconnect from the internet, iPod or phone to give your brain time to assimilate and integrate all of the information you have gathered. The brain needs reflection time to be healthy. If you have trouble doing this, seek help from people trained in handling internet addiction.

Using the above suggestions takes self-awareness and self-management. These are two basic Emotional Intelligence competencies. You may have noticed that you can use several of the suggestions at the same time. You can also pick and choose which combinations work best for you.

My favorites (not in any special order) are #1, 2, 4, and 5. What are yours? What else do you find helpful?

Until next time,



  1. Maurine Patten says

    Because it seems to be the best and worst of times, I believe it is important to learn from the past and choose to be resilient in the present.

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