But when a violent tragedy — such as the one that recently happened in Parkland, Fla. — suddenly strikes, we are awakened to the impact that violence can have on our loved ones and communities, as well as the reality that our safety could be threatened when and where we least expect it.
During times of distress, it’s natural for our usual hopeful perspectives to sink a bit into fear and helplessness.
But there is always hope and opportunity to rise above with faith over fear.
Catherine Nesov, MS, LMHC, at Florida Hospital’s Center for Behavioral Health, shares her tips for turning tragedy into purpose.
Don’t let your reality be shaped by one situation
“A negative or threatening event is situational, and we should be mindful of allowing these situations to become the framework of our reality because your truth is much bigger than these events,” explains Nesov.
“It’s unhealthy for us to allow fear and worry to become a new truth; it can cause mental anguish and also a physiological stress response that harms the body physically.”
Nesov advises that if you feel negative feelings after a tragic event, recognize your feelings and work through them. “Emotions should have a beginning, middle and end – don’t get stuck in the middle. Move through each emotion completely.”
“If you don’t have total optimism coming out of a tragic event, it’s okay, but it is helpful to process your feelings by finding a sense of purpose,” says Nesov.
Attaching meaning and purpose to an otherwise negative situation can shift your perspective, while also helping others around you do the same. And building interpersonal relationships can play an important role in this process, explains Nesov.
“It’s in our genetic makeup to want to feel connected to others. Feeling a sense of connection and practicing altruism supports emotional healing and has positive physiological effects on the body, reducing stress hormones and releasing endorphins that make us feel happier.”
Nesov suggests some ways to foster your connection with others and find a greater sense of purpose out of tragedy:
• Lean into your faith or spirituality.
• Reach out to others to see how are they making coping or finding meaning.
• Finding ways to give back, like donating blood, supplies or your time to those in need.
• Perform random acts of kindness.
• Send letters to affected organizations and families.
• Make financial donations to those in need.
• Find support within your community.
• Volunteer for any public service that makes the world a better place.
Seek help if needed.
Finding hope and purpose after a tragedy is a personal journey. Everyone processes situations and emotions differently. The most important thing is to attend to your healing in the way that’s best for you. And know that it’s okay to experience challenges or roadblocks along your way.
If you find yourself having difficulty doing so and you are experiencing sadness or helplessness for more than two weeks that interfere with your ability to sleep, focus at work or at home, take care of your hygiene or connect with others, it’s very important to reach out for more support, such as a licensed mental health counselor or professional.