Coping with Violence in the Community

Get strategies to help you and your family cope with community unrest and destruction.

Community unrest and destruction can bring up a range of emotions. Whether being directly involved, witnessing it live, or watching it on the news, the impact can be traumatic in the moment and continue to leave us feeling unsettled and distressed as we move forward with daily life.

In this article we offer strategies to help you overcome the difficulties of the present and manage the uncertainty of the future

The Big Picture

Many instances of large-scale community destruction are “sparked” by one or more events that trigger a strong emotional response. These events are often a “tipping point” over issues that have been long-standing and affect people very deeply, such as racial injustice, equal rights, and discrimination.

For many, being able to manage emotions and come to terms with the community trauma means responding to the deeper issues as well.

Gaining understanding of what triggered the destructive acts and finding constructive ways to respond can help reduce the feeling of being powerless or overwhelmed.

Coping with Stress, Fear and Other Emotions

Having strong emotional reactions is normal as fears related to safety are hard-wired into the brain. Situations that seem dangerous and out of control quickly trigger those fears. The unpredictability of highly destructive acts can be hard to process and deepen our anxiety. We may feel a sense of panic or a rush of adrenaline and strong need to reclaim a sense of safety.

There may also be a confusing mix of thoughts and emotions. For example, feeling empathy for those acting out of overwhelming frustration, while struggling with the impact of the destruction. We may also:

Experience feelings of grief and loss

Fear for our personal safety and that of family members and neighbors

Struggle with our beliefs about the world, about order, and fairness

Grieve the loss of businesses, connections, and services we rely on in our community

Get Reliable Information

The more we know about the situation, the more effective steps we can take to minimize our risk and understand the true impact. You can:

Gather information from multiple reliable sources to build a more accurate and complete picture

Stay informed about directives from state and local authorities related to safety in your area

Limit media and social media use, as the constant exposure may add to feelings of distress and emotional intensity

Seek out stories about positive, constructive, helpful responses to help bring some balance

Stay Aware of Your Surroundings

Stay aware when you are in a situation where there is the potential for harm and remain alert. You can also:

Pay attention to your surroundings and have a plan for seeking safety if needed

Avoid areas where unrest is occurring and discuss safety with family and friends

Review your workplace safety plan if the violence is unfolding in the vicinity of your workplace

When the danger has passed, you may want to get involved in clean-up efforts, collecting donations, or other positive, supportive responses

Express Your Feelings

Building a sense of safety and managing stress can be helpful as you work through difficult or conflicting emotions. You can:

Acknowledge fears and concerns

Remind yourself that this is a normal reaction in this situation

Voice your worries out loud with people who support you

Share ideas for how to start to feel better and stronger

Take a break from others who are highly emotional and make it harder for you to regain a sense of calm

Focus on what you can control; the images we see, along with the stories we hear, and our own thoughts can increase a sense of helplessness and anxiety

Take Care of Yourself

It can be easy to forget to take care of your own health and well-being. And always, if you or someone you know has been directly impacted, or continue to struggle with thoughts and feelings, seek the help of professional support services.

There are good ways to feel more resilient:

Get enough rest

Eat a healthy diet

Avoid overuse of alcohol and/or substances

Try relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation to help you get control over the physical symptoms of anxiety and calm your thoughts

Talking to Children

Your child is watching you to understand how to process this experience. Children know if you are avoiding, hiding, or downplaying the situation, and that can make it feel even scarier to them. Some strategies you can try are to:

Be honest with words, feelings, and actions, but be mindful of how you are communicating with them; keep your emotions under control

Share only as much information as they’re requesting and at an age-appropriate level

Reassure them that your family is safe, and you’re doing what you need to in order to continue to keep them safe

Monitor their exposure to news stories as this can seem to a child as if the event is happening over and over again