How to feel safe when bad things happen

Four ways to find security and comfort in the face of terrible tragedy.    

After devastating national or international tragedies, we all find ourselves living in a world that is materially the same but psychologically altered. There are still the same necessary routines: making breakfast, getting kids to school, riding the train to work, and taking care of household chores. Yet we are now going through these routines with a new awareness of our own vulnerability.

Finding a way to feel safe is essential to living well and thriving. In climates of fear, life is more difficult for everyone. Children have trouble playing, adults can find it hard to be loving, and workers are distracted by their anxieties. Fear is bad for body and soul. 

Here are four steps to help you and your family feel secure in times of tragedy:

Remind yourself of reality. Intense fear and horror make us lose perspective, and suddenly we expect disaster at every turn. Taking a step back from our fear and trying to think about what we know (what therapists call “cognitive reframing”) can help ease our fears, at least a little bit. 

For example, terrorist acts garner incredible attention, taking over the airwaves and making it seem as if we are all at immediate risk. But the chance of you or a loved one becoming a victim of terrorism is very, very small – one in 20 million. And even though events like school shootings are horrific and scary, schools remain one of the safest places for children to be, and the majority of mentally ill people are not violent.

Find safety in numbers. Results from decades of experimental research reveal that as social creatures, the more alone we feel the more afraid we are. Reminding yourself of the people you can trust will help you feel safer in your community.

Reach out to others. Events are traumatic because they destroy our social fabric and disorder our expectations of the world. Giving to others helps strengthen the order in the world through good acts. As Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi recognized, altruism is a kind of antidote to hatred and evil. 

Learn to live with fearful events rather than in spite of them. This is perhaps the hardest to achieve. As we work to understand what happened in the wake of a tragedy, eventually we may be able to accept that terrible, unpredictable things do occur and could happen to any of us. And despite that dreadful knowledge, we must make every effort to live our lives better, to love better, and to cherish every day we are given. There is great comfort in that.

Author: By Anthony Charuvastra, MD


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