So, yeah, about that Boston Marathon. There are many people who directly experienced the Boston Marathon bombings. There were many many more who indirectly experienced the non-stop news all week or the lockdowns in the Boston area on Friday.
What I am not seeing anywhere is information on how to cope with direct or indirect exposure to traumatic events. The good news is that most people directly or indirectly exposed to traumatic events will be perfectly fine. Resilience is common. People bounce back from traumatic events. We have already seen the city of Boston fall to its knees and stand up again.
But the bad news is that some people will need extra help coping with exposure, direct or indirect, to traumatic stress. There is a point where normal reactions stop being normal and traumatic events start interfering with your ability to function. There is nothing wrong with needing extra help.
Everyone reacts differently to events like this. It is normal to feel scared, anxious, confused, sad, dazed, shaken, or angry. Or nothing. Everyone copes differently. What works for one person may not work for someone else.
Here are some links on handling traumatic stress, courtesy of the American Psychological Association:
Tips on how much news coverage is too much for children, and also makes good points about how much is too much for adults
Managing traumatic stress
The road to resilience
I was initially worried about my own reaction to being in Boston, but so far, I have been remarkably OK. One person point blank asked me if I was traumatized, and I said no. Unequivocally no. Read below for why. These are strategies that work for me. Your mileage may vary.
Some of my stress-managing strategies
Reflected on what has worked in the past. I am unlucky or lucky, depending on how you look at it, that I've had experience with stressful and anxiety-provoking situations before, including a couple in Boston. I have a large toolbox of coping skills to draw on. Stress is stress. If you can handle it in one situation, you can transfer those skills to other situations.
Self-care. This is one of my main coping skills. Self-care can be as simple as going for a walk, having a cup of tea, doing something you enjoy, treating yourself to a little present, or anything that works for you.
Turn off the news. On Monday evening, I had zero desire to watch the news. Having a general idea of what had happened was good enough for me. I watched a little bit and checked periodically throughout the week, but I wasn't glued to the news.
Be careful with social media. Like the news, there were times when I had to step away. In particular, speculation and inaccuracies that were later corrected were too much.
Walked a labyrinth. There is a labyrinth at Boston College that I have walked on many times. There is a labyrinth in Washington, DC not too far from where I work. Labyrinths can be used as a tool for meditation. That's exactly what I used it for when I was back in DC.
Monitored myself. Although I was a few blocks away from the bombs, the facts that I didn't actually see them and didn't immediately know what was going on were very protective. That said, I knew there were certain things I had to look out for. Inability to concentrate, intrusive thoughts, lack of appetite, and trouble sleeping are classic anxiety symptoms for me. Thankfully, none of them surfaced (except for not being hungry on Monday, but that is totally understandable).
Wrote. Talked. I am blogging in part because writing is one of my ways of coping. And I gotta say, I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be when I returned to work. Not all of my coworkers knew I was in Boston to run the marathon, but the ones who did came by to check on me. All day. I have been wearing my marathon jacket, and random people asked me if I was there and whether I was OK. I have never experienced the kindness and compassion of total strangers like that before.
Learn. These are things I already know that have been confirmed by recent events. Have a plan, but adapt. There is light in the darkness. And one of the most important, learn where to put my energy. Some things are worth my energy. Others aren't. I am not going to put my energy into things that take a toll on me. It's not worth it.