“I Can’t Get Over The Newtown Shootings”

Every once in a while we get enough mail about the same subject to warrant a front page response. The Newtown tragedy is one of them. Many moms and dads are experiencing continuing anxiety about the shootings that occurred that day. This question sums up what a lot of you are feeling:

Dear Mamas,

Ever since the tragedy of Newtown happened, I can’t relax when my kids (ages 6 and 8) are at school. We don’t live anywhere near Connecticut but the fact that this could happen in an elementary school has just really freaked me out. I worry so much now. The world has gotten so nuts. How are we supposed to “move on”?


Dear Becky,

We sure know how you feel. That day is still reverberating with a lot of us. It’s next to impossible to imagine how such a horrific thing could have happened, especially to such young, innocent children. And it’s true: the world does seem, at times, to have gone nuts and it’s easy to feel powerless and frightened in the face of it.

If you’ve got little kids of your own, you are bound to identify strongly with the parents in Newtown and all that they are feeling. How could you not? I know that I do. As parents, we constantly struggle to feel comfortable about letting our children reach for more and more independence as they grow. Since our biggest concern is that they are safe and secure when they’re not with us, this event hit really hard. Newtown truly was every parent’s worst nightmare. It underscored how vulnerable our children are and how powerless we are to truly keep them safe, all of the time.

For those unfortunate families who were personally affected, the healing process will be long and challenging and they will need a tremendous amount of love, patience, understanding and support from those around them. Professional counseling is definitely recommended for all of them. This situation is as extreme as it gets.

But what about the rest of us? Well, first of all, it’s important to accept that this really did happen and to realize that we may have been traumatized, too. Drastic, devastating information like this tends to go in deep and worries and fears stew around in our heads. I’ve noticed that I’m constantly wanting to know where my kids are and what they’re up to and they are all in their twenties! The truth is that feeling safe again may take some time. Some people may need the help of a therapist or support group to navigate through their feelings about it and there is certainly no shame in that.

It’s also important, though, to try and place Newtown in some perspective. Although there’s no denying the horror of what happened to those little children that day, we have to remind ourselves that it was an extremely rare occurrence. The vast majority of young, American kids (tens of millions of them) went to school that day and came home as usual. And they will continue to do so. Although nothing in life is ever guaranteed, the odds are very good that your children will never, ever be involved in anything like that. But just knowing that may not be enough to calm your mind.

So what else can you do to help yourself feel calmer and more secure? A few things come to mind, some of which you probably know already but may need to be reminded of:

  • First of all, don’t isolate yourself from your family and friends, even though you may feel like hiding out at home. Staying involved in your life and community can help bring back some feelings of “normal” which can really help.
  • And don’t underestimate the power of your friendships with women. Research shows that in times of stress, women need their female friends. When they get together, chemicals from the brain are released that work to calm them down. So make plenty of time to hang out with a good buddy and talk to her about your fears (check out Girl talk is Good Medicine for more on this).
  • Another thing that has been proven time and again to help with stress is exercise. The cardio stuff like running or spinning is great but I’ve also found yoga to be a huge help when my mind is lurching out of control. This particular combination (cardio and yoga) can help to get you physically tired and mentally relaxed enough to allow you to get some sleep at night – something that may seem impossible right now.
  • Try to avoid taking the edge off by indulging in junk food, alcohol or drugs. Although they seem to give you an immediate payoff, the results don’t last and always backfire in the end. Instead, feed yourself the way you would your kids if they were going through a tough time – consciously and healthfully.
  • If you can find a way to use your own power to proactively address the issue of guns and/or school safety in your own community that would be great. You might want to start close to home by finding out how your own school deals with safety issues. Maybe you could get a few friends together and meet with the principal with your questions or concerns. Or you might sign or create a petition to deliver to your state representatives. It always makes me feel better if I can actually DO something that promotes change in an area that has me upset.
  • Create a mindset within yourself that all children are, in a way, your children. Don’t ignore situations in which a child seems vulnerable when you are out and about. Treat them the way you would want another mom to treat yours if you were not there.
  • Stay current with the news but don’t overexpose yourself to it. It’s mostly just the bad stuff that gets all the airtime and the media is addicted to looping the same shocking, negative stories over and over again. We don’t realize the effect that all of this negativity has on us. Our brains become saturated with the grim or frightening images and stories that come at us all day long. Without even knowing it, this negative background noise creates anxiety and affects our view of the world and our experience of it.
  • Instead of focusing on the bad, refocus your lens on the good things that are happening in the world. Most likely you won’t find them in mainstream media but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there. It’s really important to try and create a balanced view of life for yourself and your kids. They too get bombarded by dark, disturbing stuff and need to be shown that there is light and joy in the world. One powerful thing you can do to counteract all the negativity is to find stories that inspire, encourage or amuse you. Then each night at dinner, have at least one great, positive story to share and talk about. *

Time is a great healer but if you continue to feel really concerned and worried and can’t seem to get beyond it, by all means check in with a therapist for some counseling. Don’t wait until you are really struggling before you make the call. A few sessions may be just what you need to get yourself back on track and feeling positive about your life and the future.

Don’t forget: it’s truly vital that you address your own needs first if you really want to be there for your family. They need to see you take care of yourself. Not only will it help them feel safe and secure, it will teach them how to do the same for themselves.

Good luck Becky, and thanks for bringing up an issue that many other moms are struggling with, too.

*Just for starters, check out the 2012 CNN HEROES , Good News Planet and HuffPost Good News.


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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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