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Coping with Tragic News

On Sunday night, our world was again changed by a tragic event—an attack on a Quebec City mosque. 

We all have unique reactions to events like this. For me, it was a quick series of sadness, fear, shame and then a long period of shock that I’m still working my way through. Right now there’s only one thing I’m sure of—that my heart go out to the families, friends and everyone around the world affected. I am so, so infinitely sorry that you need to go through this. You deserve better. 

“We are all Canadians and we are all bound by this tragedy together.”- Mohamed Yangui, president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec

Is what I feel normal?

Without knowing the details of your reaction, I can say with certainty, yes. People have many reactions to traumatic world events, and they can manifest in many different ways. Some of them may not make sense to you, and that’s alright too.  

Feelings range from sadness to anger, to self-blame, to fear, and a thousand places in between. Your reactions might not all even be emotional. Many people struggle with headaches, upset stomachs, trouble sleeping, racing hearts, or a change in appetite.  

These reactions might show up right away, or they might take a while. They might disappear overnight or last for a prolonged time. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s okay. There are ways to help yourself and other and start to feel safe again.

What can help me feel better?

There are three big things you can do that may help. 

Step 1: Acceptance

Accept your feelings. It can be very difficult to acknowledge all the things happening in your body. Take time to feel where your tension sits and what thoughts are reoccurring. If it’s helpful, you can write them down. It can be useful to challenge the negative thoughts you’re having. If you have a running message in your head, write down all the things that prove it’s not true. 

Step 2: Self-care

Step away from your phone or computer, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Try eating a little, taking a nap and doing a bit of exercise. It if feel s like it’ll be too much, make a small goal. If going for a walk feels impossible, get dressed and put on your shoes. If that’s as far as you get, that’s okay.

Step 3: Connection

Reach out to others. Spend time with friends, talk to a counsellor, or just be around other people if talking is still too much. I’ll add some caveat:  some people, even those dearest to us, can be toxic when they’re struggling. Know that it’s not about you; it’s just that their way of coping is different. It’s okay to keep some distance from them for a while if it’s going to be triggering for you. 

What should I cut back on?

There are some things that feel like they help, but too much of them can just make your feelings worse. 

Try to moderate with alcohol, drugs, games, and TV. While taking some time to yourself can be helpful, try not to isolate yourself. You might not be able to take care of yourself perfectly, but choose something to focus on (like eating well or writing once per day, for example). If you have to impulse to hurt yourself, or do something risky, try waiting a short amount of time to see if the feeling passes. Sometimes having a friend ask you not to self-harm, even if it’s just for a few minutes can help.

As with everything, you best know your own normal and what will help. Try different things and if they don’t work, that’s okay. You’ll figure out what works for you in time. 

Lastly, if you need help, ask for it. There are crisis lines and supports all around the world that can offer a kind, supportive listener, or more urgent support if you need it. In Quebec, try the Quebec National Crisis Line: 1-866-277-3553. In Ontario, find a local distress center

Where can I go for more information? has a great post about how to cope with tragedy that includes some ideas of how to challenge your thinking and cope in the way that works best for you. These are just suggestions, but they’re a place to start. Try whatever feels right to you.

The University of Wisconsin has a 2-page fact sheet that outlines how you might feel and how you can cope with those feelings. I really like how they focus on reactions you might have to tragedy that can be positives (like the need to be involved and be more altruistic).

Erin Schulthies wrote a great blog a few years back about how she copes with world news that can be triggering. She lists four things you can do to help yourself.