How to deal with secondary trauma of tragic news

Advice on how to stay informed, avoid feeling constant sadness, fear

By Myra Arthur - Anchor/Reporter, Van Darden - Managing Editor

SAN ANTONIO - News of unexpected, unexplainable tragedy seems endless and unavoidable.

From a gunman killing 58 people from a 32nd-story window in Las Vegas to the fatal shooting of between eight to 10 people at Santa Fe High School south of Houston to a quaint South Texas church becoming the site of 26 murders in the town of Sutherland Springs, coverage of mass shootings can be overwhelming for news viewers.

Mary Beth Fisk, CEO and executive director of the Ecumenical Center, said those not directly impacted by tragedy can still suffer secondary trauma.

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“Secondary trauma is very real,” Fisk said. “We can almost envision that this is something that can happen in our community or to us, so that fear is real. Secondary trauma is when you carry that with you and you do need to let go of that.”

Far from an easy feat for some.

Fisk said while staying informed, take a break when your social media news feed is filled with tragedy.

“Look at something you enjoy doing. Perhaps that’s going shopping, visiting with a friend,” she suggested. “Or a hobby -- doing something creative. Create some separation."

Or try spending time outdoors, she added.

On top of negative emotions, the toll of tragic news can also have physical side effects.

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"Sleeplessness, constantly worried or fearful of being in a public setting,” Fisk said. “Those are certainly some signs and symptoms. Headaches, raised blood pressure.”

Physical exercise is also a good release, she added.

And while it might sound odd, Fisk says drinking water while dealing with any kind of trauma is critical.

"Our body has toxins,” she said. “It’s healthy to cry, for example. Drinking water helps to rehydrate you and it helps get rid of those toxins.”

Local support

The Ecumenical Center offered free counseling services in Sutherland Springs since the shooting at the First Baptist Church on Nov. 5.

The center had plans in place prior to the shooting to establish a permanent office in Wilson County, but those plans accelerated in light of what happened.

The Ecumencial Center now has a permanent office established in the River Oaks Church in Sutherland Springs and plans to create another office in La Vernia.

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