THE BLOG
06/22/2016 11:45 am ET Updated Jun 23, 2017

How To Stay Resilient After A Tragedy

by Andrew Shatté

While tragedies happen every day, events like the Orlando shooting are acutely frightening. Terrorism rattles our sense of security and orderliness. It unsettles us all the more because we can't distinguish ourselves from those affected: they were simply going about their daily lives.

However, regaining that sense of security is essential for our health. According to the American Psychological Association, these sudden, unpredictable emotional stresses can trigger physical effects like heart attacks or arrhythmias. They also have mental repercussions: We're more scared and anxious when our sense of normalcy has been eroded, which reduces our quality of life.

So, how can we regain feelings of resilience and safety in a vulnerable world? Here are my three strategies:

1. Reach out. The best way to combat feelings of helplessness is to do something. These events remind us of the existential bonds that unite us. We're all in this life journey together, and it's comforting to join hands with others at times like this. It helps us reclaim some sense of power and autonomy as positive agents of change and reminds us that we're bigger than just ourselves. Give blood, contribute to funds for affected families, donate your time to the community, write letters to the survivors or the victims' families. There are so many ways to show support; do what feels right to you.

2. Plan ahead. Be proactive about making your world a little safer. For example, after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, my wife and I consulted with the director of our kids' school to discuss security and helped lead a parent committee that arranged for a police officer to visit and point out potential vulnerabilities. This initiative gave us a sense of empowerment. Consider meeting with colleagues to discuss procedures and responses in the unlikely event of a workplace emergency. Think about learning basic medical skills like CPR and first aid. Develop an action plan with your family in case of emergencies, such as where to meet and how to get in touch if phones aren't working. Planning ahead offers a sense of control and preparation.

3. Embrace the moment. One of our core iceberg beliefs is that the world is basically a safe place. If it weren't for this belief, we would find it difficult to leave the house. But when an event like 9/11, San Bernadino, or Orlando happens, it shakes this iceberg to the core. To combat this remind yourself that the world is basically safe. For those of us fortunate enough to live in the first world, we really do have more risk of succumbing to natural causes than anything else. Hold that belief, because it's accurate, while understanding that it's not absolute.
So don't wait to tell friends and family how much you love them. Relish life's little pleasures, like lunch outside or a stroll to the park on your way to a T-ball game. Try not to sweat the small stuff, like being stuck in traffic or running late to a meeting. Let these everyday moments remind you how lucky you are to be here and how precious life really is.