Coping with the Boston Marathon Bombing: Strategies for Self-Care

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The Boston Marathon bombing is still having repercussions far beyond Boston--it has instilled fear, anger and sadness in people across the nation. San Francisco psychotherapist Michael Halyard provides recommendations for self-care and coping with the tragedy.

Terrorism happens when we least expect it, and the brutality tears us out of our comfort zone and reminds us that we too could be victimized

Reverberations of the recent Boston Marathon bombing continue to be felt across the country, but there are self-care measures people can take that will reduce stress and help cope with the tragedy.

Patriots’ Day is a Massachusetts state holiday commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the birth of the United States as a nation. Bostonians celebrate with a three day weekend, culminating with the sporting events of the Boston Marathon and Boston Red Sox playing a home game.

What should have been a celebratory moment for runners and spectators at the Boston Marathon finish line quickly became a scene of chaos and carnage--a monstrous end to what should have been a celebration of victory.

The televised video images played over and over again showed people running towards the finish line or watching from the spectator areas enjoying themselves--then being knocked down by the force of the blasts and running in terror. In total, three people died and at last count 264 were injured.

“Terrorism happens when we least expect it, and the brutality tears us out of our comfort zone and reminds us that we too could be victimized,” says San Francisco therapist Michael Halyard.

Halyard is a San Francisco psychotherapist and can be found on the websites
http://www.sftherapy.com/ and http://www.sanfrancisco-psychotherapy.com.

Terrorism is defined as the use of violence and coercion in pursuit of political objectives. Terrorists want to make people feel vulnerable, that they could be harmed anywhere at any time.

“Terrorism by design exists to make us afraid, but it is extremely unlikely that a person will be killed by a terrorist attack. In fact, a person is four more times likely to be killed by lightening than by a terrorist attack--which is about one in 20 million,” argues Halyard.

“Reminding ourselves about those extreme odds can give us a reality check that we’re not in danger,” adds Halyard.

Besides the fear that a terrorist attack could happen again, the bombing made people feel incredibly sad for the victims and angry at the alleged perpetrators.

“The images were heartbreaking, viewers saw victims with injured limbs, covered in blood. You couldn’t help but feel empathy for those suffering. Nevertheless, we can all rest assured that the surviving victims are getting the best medical care possible in the world, and most will recover and live relatively normal lives,” argues Halyard.

Many victims will suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and require mental health treatment. Life will never be the same for the families of the three who died.

As the week progressed, the story kept developing, culminating with the capture of one of the alleged bombers in a Boston suburb. Many people followed the story all week, and coped with the uncertainty by learning as much about the bombing as possible.

“Watching nonstop television coverage can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, knowing all the details about what is happening can make some people feel safe. On the other hand, focusing too much on the tragedy can be depressing and can reduce a person’s sense of safety. People need to know what their limits are--if watching news coverage of the event is making a person anxious and depressed, then they should turn off the news. While it is natural to be affected by such a national tragedy, it’s also important to not dwell on the tragedy to the point where it interferes with functioning,” explains Halyard.

Halyard says while it is inevitable that people are going to be impacted by the tragedy, it’s important for people to focus on self-care by giving themselves a reality check, keeping things in perspective, maintaining hope, and taking action so they feel like they're doing something to make things better.

“Taking some action is an excellent way to cope with feelings of helplessness. One way to take action is to do something for the victims, like participating in a vigil, sending condolence cards or flowers to the hospital, or just saying a prayer for the victims and their families,” says Halyard.

“People are trying to make sense of a senseless situation--but terrorism doesn’t make sense. The question isn’t why, but what can we do to take care of ourselves and our families,” adds Halyard.

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Michael Halyard, MS, MFT is a San Francisco Marriage and Family Therapist and specializes in LGBT issues, depression, anxiety, addictions and couples counseling in his San Francisco private practice. He can be found on the websites http://www.sftherapy.com/ and http://www.sanfrancisco-psychotherapy.com.

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