Many people have witnessed, personally or from a distance, a large-scale tragedy of some sort in their lifetimes. For those who have, the sounds and images of the news coverage, social media commentary, and hearsay are probably ingrained in their memories forever. Following a tragedy, we’re bombarded with news and conversations about it for weeks or months to come. A conversation about the semi-recent Aurora, CO shooting a few months ago, for example, still hasn’t completely died down, and after 9/11 there was a complete shift in the overall behavior of American citizens.
There’s no questioning that such immense tragedies affect everyone, and with good reason. However, psychologists have recently noticed that following such incidents, a large portion of the population, whether they were affected directly or indirectly, suffer from obsessive and intrusive thoughts afterward. These thoughts can be unrelenting in some people, even if they had only heard about the terrible occurrences rather than seeing them first hand. It begins a cycle – the more the thoughts persist, the more intently the person thinks about them.
These types of thoughts, which can run the gamut in subject matter from blasphemy to catastrophe, are some of the most common symptoms of paranoia and anxiety. Psychologists can’t help but wonder if the thoughts plague our minds because the media plagues our senses. Following such a cataclysmic event, there are usually 24/7 updates on the situation for days or even weeks to follow. Perhaps it is not the unknowns about the situation that worries us – like wondering why someone would do such a thing or questioning one’s faith in their religion – but rather the fact that we cannot escape the coverage of it.
It’s important to recognize these compulsions if they do occur, as they can lead to further mental strain and even some physical ailments, such as hair loss, stomach ulcers, and high blood pressure. It can also affect a person’s social life. It’s important to remember that many people begin certain paranoid behaviors – such as obsessiveness about safety and security – rather than beginning them to be proactive and preventative. Obsessing in one way or another, though, is only detrimental to one’s health. Being safe is important, but so is knowing that some situations are out of your control.
People who suffer from obsessive or intrusive negative thinking after an accident like the Aurora shooting or 9/11 should most definitely seek professional assistance. It could be greatly beneficial to discuss the issues with a therapist or even just with a friend. The most beneficial course of action for many people, however, is to avoid being surrounded by news stories and conversations about the topic as much as possible; this is not to avoid the situation but to nurture a healthy thought process in dealing with grief and fear.