It seems that many sad, overwhelming, tragic and traumatizing events have occurred recently. I think I can speak for a lot of people who are being caught off guard by the meaningful impact of these occurrences on their lives. Some examples include, the Vegas shooting massacre, the Harvey Weinsteen sexual assault charges and Canada lost a music icon and legend, Gord Downie.
Social media and the internet have brought news to us instantaneously in a manner that is repetitive, detailed, and with the rise in popularity of video, it’s has become visually graphic. This results in bombarding negative imagery and news stories. Sometimes we experience confusing physical, emotional and mental responses.
Have you found yourself feeling unusually rattled following any of the recent events in the media? Did the Vegas shooting leave you nervous, scared, worried or with an unexpected emotional reaction? What about Harvey Weinstein? I know there are people who have been triggered by these events. It’s evident by all the “me too’s,” that the social reaction to this story is far reaching. When I saw Gord Downie had died, I felt heavy hearted and thought to myself, "Why? Why does everything seem to be sliding downhill?" There are times when I don’t want to check the news or social media because I think, “What now?” This got me to thinking about what’s leading to this. Why do I want to cry when I see stories or posts about people I don’t even know? Why does it follow me throughout the day? After much thought, I conculded, in part, it has to do with the loss of something intangible which has an accompanying grief and mourning of that loss. Please bare with me for a bit as I explain my train of thought over the next three points.
1. Grief is a natural reaction to loss. That means it’s a normal response to losing something we have a connection to.
2. Grief can result from the loss of over 40 different things. We typically associate it with a loss of life which is among the 40. However, we can grieve a loss of many other things too. Grief can follow a divorce, job termination or a move. What we don’t typically identify, is the loss of intangibles: things like safety, trust, security or freedom. Losing an intangible such as safety can lead to grief in a similar way to losing anything else.
3. Grief impacts us in three different dimensions of our lives. I go over this in detail in my free webinar available to the public. You may enrol at www.stridewellness.org/impactofgrief. But for the sake of brevity, know we have a variety of responses to grief that many people are surprised to learn are associated with grief. They often attribute these responses to a number of other factors such as stress, fatigue, or some kind of ailment. In fact, a significant percentage of people have signs and symptoms of grief they don’t know are attributable to their grief.
Remember what I said in point one? Grief is a normal response to losing something of importance to us, It’s not pathological. So when I feel my physical safety threatened because of Vegas or Weinstein and I have accompanying grief at the loss of my security, that’s normal. We may grieve, even if it’s for a short time, because we can empathize with the individuals who are impacted by the events in the news or in our news feeds. Who can’t empathize with a large group of people in a crowd? Even if it’s not a country music festival but a concert of any kind. Or a sporting event. Or an outdoor market. We can picture ourselves in that situation. We feel heartbreak for the victims, their families and friends, and then add on the personal connection to it. That could be me! It could be you. And these events, for me anyways, are a stark reminder that not every place is going to be a safe space.
That man who shot like a coward from 32 floors up took away a sense of my safety. What Harvey Weinstein represents to me is a reminder that I cannot jog early in the morning or late at night, alone. I scan rooms when I enter them because there are real threats and I may need to exit quickly. There are power differentials. Any place, like work, can and still are locations where sexual assault occur. I didn’t always feel this way but Weinstein reminds me that along the way, I have lost a childlike sense of safety or security, in part, because of people like him. For others, the reporting of on his charges have an entirely different impact and influence on their day as it trudges up the atrocities they faced or continue to face. Gord Downie’s passing is the loss of a life that impacted people in an amazingly positive way through his music, his efforts toward reconciliation, etc. We connect him to many of our memories and now he’s gone. Even if you didn't know him personally, it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to mourn him. It’s okay to feel grief. It’s normal. If you had a connection to him in some way, such as in his music being part of the soundtrack to your life, it’s natural to feel sad today and for days to come. Feeling a sense of sadness, sorrow, overwhelm, anger, frustration or any of the physical, emotional and mental reactions to grief as a result of what we watch and read isn’t cause for alarm. If it is an impediment to our life in anyway, such as preventing us from working, having positive relationship experiences or it becomes a barrier to our happiness, than it is time to evaluate whether we may need assistance in addressing it.
How can we overcome this?
1. Take breaks from social media sites and the news for at least short periods of time. Give yourself a break from the bombardment.
2. Allow yourself the time to grieve things by mourning the loss. That might mean feeling the emotions present, talking with a friend, writing in a journal or group chat, or whatever you need to do.
3. Be the good in the world. When something happens and it touches you in a negative way, reach out and do something positive for someone else. It doesn’t have to be extravagant but I’m sure you’ll find it will lift your spirits and it might have an awesome ripple effect.
I’d like to sign off with a quote from the late Gord Downie, “It would be hard for me now, at this age and stage, to leave a song without a glimmer of hope… I always like to have a glimmer of hopefulness, even in collapse.” (2009).
For anyone that has an interest in grief and loss or is ready to work through some things in that respect, I invite you to join my free webinar - www.stridewellness.org/impactofgrief
Take care and be well.