How to cope after a tragedy strikes

In the aftermath of a tragic event, you may feel upended. You’re not alone in trying to wrap your head around the senseless events of late, like devastating hurricanes, violence, and heightened tensions.

Humans crave certainty, so whenever a tragedy happens, we feel a loss of control. Your mind may run through unanswerable questions and what-ifs like “What would I have done if were there?” or “How must the grieving families feel?” The heartbreak is unimaginable. You may feel helpless or unsafe.

If you’re struggling right now, it’s important to process your reaction. It won’t be an overnight process, but here are some tips to cope so you can refocus and find balance again:  

Ride the emotional wave of a tragedy

Watching and hearing about suffering triggers empathy. We can all relate to experiencing pain and loss; emotions like shock, confusion, and fear can result after tragic events. This is known as vicarious trauma.

The only way out is through when it comes to coping with difficult feelings, including outrage and overwhelm. Don’t second guess or judge your reaction. Yes, you may be nervous or scared or find yourself being extra cautious in the wake of a tragedy. Those concerns make sense. Validate your fears and those of others. Acknowledging the discomfort and having compassion for yourself is the first step to healing.

Shore up strength

Recall moments in your own life when you’ve overcome challenges. What did you learn? In what ways did you emerge stronger?

Research also shows that nurturing a sense of awe can make us more resilient. Going to a museum or escaping into nature are great ways to renew your hope, happiness, and general well-being.

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Limit negative news

The brain is designed to scan for danger, which is why we are so drawn to the news. But a constant influx of negativity can take a toll on your mental health, especially if you’re naturally a sensitive person.

After a national tragedy, be mindful of the information you consume. Vet your media sources to make sure you’re getting the facts. You may choose to spend less time on social media. Don’t read the comments section if it’s just filled with hateful attacks.  

Control what you can

Structure is more important during times of stress, so stick to your regular routine the best you can. Be consistent with your self-care. Get enough rest. Drink plenty of water. Eat well. Fit in your workouts.

Distracted at work? Take a break. Let your boss know if you need to adjust deadlines.

These steps may sound basic, but when things feel out of control, finding some semblance of predictability is essential. It can restore a feeling of safety and stability. Besides, you can’t support others if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

Connect and create

Try a practice like journaling, dancing, or going for a run as a way to positively channel anxious energy. Talk with trusted friends or a professional about what you’re feeling. Connecting with others helps stave off isolation and loneliness. Likewise, throwing yourself into a creative project you’re passionate about is a healthy way to transform frustration into fuel.

Pay it forward

What’s one small step you could take right now to transform your anger into action? Reach out to a friend. Give blood. Donate clothing. Pick one act of kindness to do today. The best defense against powerlessness is action, so just start.

Dealing with the shock of a national tragedy takes time. Grief is a difficult process. Feel your feelings, keep your self-care strong, and ask for help when you need it. But don’t ever stop spreading good around. We need it now more than ever.


Melody Wilding

Melody Wilding is a coach and licensed social worker who helps ambitious high-achievers manage the emotional aspects of having a successful career. She also teaches Human Behavior at Hunter College in NYC. A popular speaker, Melody has delivered talks for TedX and others. 



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