Two Ways To Keep Calm In The Face Of Tragedy

April 17, 2013 Jodi Lobozzo Aman, LCSW-R

In this crazy world of ours, there is rarely a break from news stories of tragedy. How can we watch the horrid news reports, complete with videos of the terror and, as a human, not be affected? And more importantly, given that we feel deeply and intensely, how can we keep calm in the face of these tragedies?

There are tragedies happening all over the world all the time. Most of them we don't hear about or do hear about and don't think of too much. Bombings like the ones in Boston are commonplace in many parts of the world. When we know about it, our hearts go out to the people involved. When it is closer to us, either geographically or we have some connection to the people involved or the place involved, we may feel the sadness deeper.

This reaction can prompt many things in our psyches. Most commonly sadness, and some form of worry or anxiety. Especially if we are far away and cannot directly help the situation. (If we were to help, this action can be an outlet for our fears and assist us in calming down.) The kinds of worries that may arise vary, for example, fear of it happening to us (vulnerable), fear of losing someone you love, fear of the world "going to hell," fear of triggering trauma memories, fear for the people involved, fear of death, etc.

Two Ways To Keep Calm In The Face Of Tragedy

1. Do Something

Take some kind of action. Action makes us feel useful and purposeful. It is a way to use the energy and adrenaline the anxiety floods into our body. When anxiety is fed by feelings of helplessness, feeling helpful can turn the tides.

If you are far, you can pray, donate money, donate blood, keep informed, check in with other friends who may be struggling with the news, listen to someone, distract yourself or others, create some peace in your own community by modeling forgiveness, decline being invited into competition, or show someone love, etc.

If you are near, you can do the above and perhaps assist directly.

2. Think about it symbolically

If you are reading about a tragedy on the news and thinking about it as if you were right there having it happen to you, it does not help anyone. Least of all you. You are not assisting the victims. You can have compassion and love without coming so far deep into the pain yourself. In fact, this used to happen to me. I became so involved in my own anxiety, that I had to shut myself off. In a way, this was selfish, because then I didn't contribute at all. Through the guidance of a teacher, I began to take some of the action I mentioned above and this not only helped me squelch my anxiety, but I actually helped others, too.

Thinking about things symbolically helps. We live and die and have a purpose in this world for some reason. These reasons are symbolic of our life journey. These are experiences which we have to either learn or grow or contribute in some way. If events leave a legacy, what would that legacy be? What lesson do we take from it? What do we learn about ourselves and our community through it? How does it have us wanting to live? What does it have us want to commit to?

Thinking from the big picture view can help us keep calm. It helps us make sense of things, which helps us stay calm. We can do this with personal events, too. In fact, it is very important to do this with all events; personal, community, and/or worldly events. To do this, I literally imagine myself from above or from a hillside overlooking the whole situation. I see all facets from everyone involved. I try to forget all my assumptions and see it with a beginner's mind. New unbiased meanings help clarify the situation.

From this viewpoint, it is easy to see all sides and pieces to the story that I could not see from so close. I can see different ideas, perspectives, and meanings that help me put the situation in context. I feel less afraid because I understand it better somehow. My questions have been answered, I have made some sense of it. My mind settles.

What do you think?

How do you handle hearing, witnessing, or experiencing tragedy?

APA Reference
Lobozzo, J. (2013, April 17). Two Ways To Keep Calm In The Face Of Tragedy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Jodi Lobozzo Aman, LCSW-R

April, 29 2013 at 9:52 am

In the face of tragedy, i usually do something, but that isn't always enough as you often need to remind me to also think of it symbolically and find the lesson in it.I do try, and it is very easy when it's about me, when I'm the only one involved, but when I see others suffering, I can't help feeling their pain.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 30 2013 at 6:00 am

Compassion is beautiful, i don't want you to lose this. But hopefully if you work on reminding yourself, it become a habit to contribute rather than be paralysed by the pain.

Dr Musli Ferati
October, 17 2015 at 2:02 am

Your advisable article on traumatic events prevents the preponderance of strong emotion of sadness and compassion as inhibited factor to doing something in face of human accidents. As emotional creatures we have got innate feeling of affection toward others, especially if they are kinsfolk or loved ones. This feeling may turmoil our conscience, with many harmful consequence on personal and exceeding ability to manage in satisfying way the respective traumatic experience. Along traumatic accidents it should be neat and presence of mind in order to be useful and prepare to help the disaster persons. As you mention, active approach to calamity soften strong feelings and improves our self-control, as prerequisite of adequate and purposeful assistance. Therefore it ought to learn and know elementary skills of first aid, which are of critical importance in these calamities events. The peevish actions didn't help anymore, on contrary they worsen the traumatic situation. It ought to be decisive and courageous person, in order to be helpful in any traumatic case.

San Miguel
May, 31 2018 at 8:12 am

That is a wonderful article

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