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Constructive Ways to Cope with Tragedy

How do you respond to violence and disasters in the news? Learn how to benefit from compassion, even if it’s painful.

April 26th, 2013

Tags: Stress, Happiness
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Constructive Ways to Cope with Tragedy

Our country is becoming far too familiar with news of shootings and bombings. Recently, two bombs were detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding over 180. How are we to respond to this?

There are three common emotional reactions to such terrible news. The first is outrage; it's natural to feel hatred toward the perpetrators and to demand justice. From there, it's easy to begin reflecting on other recent tragedies that Americans have endured and to feel even angrier. Indeed, learning of yet another brutal attack on innocent civilians has made many people virtually blind with fury.

MORE: Dealing with Mass Shootings

Another potential reaction is numbness. With new shootings or bombings occurring so frequently, some of us have grown desensitized to such events. We may simply acknowledge that yet another tragedy has occurred and turn our attention elsewhere, knowing that there is nothing we can do about it. This may seem insensitive, but it's a reasonable response given the sheer number of these disasters that have recently occurred.

A third emotional reaction is perhaps the most constructive, especially considering the helplessness being felt by those of us following this news from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. We can choose to react with compassion. This means that we allow our hearts to ache in union with all of those affected by this senseless tragedy. Instead of feeling powerless, we can take this opportunity to truly empathize with the pain being experienced in Boston right now.

COLUMN: Hope, Gratitude and Love

When we focus on compassion, we should expect to feel emotional pain that we could normally avoid. It's tempting to distance yourself from these tragic events. After all, if we let our heart break over every tragic event in the world, would we ever get a break from the pain?

During this challenging time, allow yourself to experience a deeper level of empathy than you have ever felt for strangers. You may discover a profound layer of emotional maturity that you didn’t know was there.

MORE: How to Feel Empathy

Also, when events like these occur, it is worth examining your own life and feeling grateful for what is going well. We may have plenty of legitimate reasons to feel disappointed or bitter with our life circumstances, but an event like this ought to serve as a stern reminder that things could be far worse.

As the city of Boston continues to recover from this tragedy, take some deliberate time to make your heart vulnerable—shed a tear and empathize. Next, focus on a profound sense of gratitude. No matter how bad life gets, chances are you will not find yourself a direct victim of such a terrible tragedy. Give your loved ones an extra long hug and make the most of your time with them.

QUIZ: Test Your Close Relationships

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