Ask Alex: Dealing with post-disaster anxiety

Alex,

The Boston bombing is affecting me deeper way than I expected it would. I was very young during 9/11, and while a number of things have happened in the country that can make a person feel insecure, this incident has been especially touching. What do you do in order to feel better in situations like these?

Best,
Anxious in Falmouth

I get stressed about these situations, and that stress has increased since I now have a wife and daughter in my life. After seeing the news on Twitter on Monday, I sat quietly for a number of hours thinking about all of the people who were hurt or maimed. It is hard to not be affected by that imagery.

The news media does very little to put one at ease in situations like these, and it often makes matters much worse for those affected by these types of events. We rationalize engaging it because it might convey new, necessary information, but the reality of the situation is that our unwavering attention to it helps to stoke our anxieties. The benefits of social media are many during national disasters and emergencies, but we are also learning that disinformation can spread quickly through these networks. This further compounds the confusion and increases aforementioned anxieties.

I would be lying if I didn’t look at some of these atrocities and think—if only for a few seconds—that humanity can’t get out of its own way, that we are a viscous, cannibalistic race, that there is no hope for us. But these feelings are created by stress and despair, not a rational assessment of the human race I know. We’re flawed, yes. We do stupid things, yes. Sometimes in isolated incidents we don’t help bystanders and we buy too much unnecessary crap and the Westboro Baptist Church exists for some reason. We go to war. Some people plant bombs at events that celebrate the triumphant nature of the human spirit and it kills three and maims everyone in its blast radius. We are a walking calamity, indeed, but I see hope.

We know there is hope because when social media isn’t making us anxious about the plight of the world, it is reminding us of the heroes among us. I was reminded that for every one hostile incident, there are usually between dozens to hundreds of people, professional heroes or not, who rush into the face of danger in order to save lives. I saw that Fred Rogers meme spreading around on Facebook and elsewhere who said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” I agree entirely, Ms. Rogers. This disaster was terrible, and that people were killed and maimed is an abhorrent fact, but it reminded us that the people who surrounded the event are inherently good, and they are willing to do harrowing things in order to make bad situations as okay as possible until a sense of normalcy is restored.

I traveled somewhat extensively in my early 20s and found myself in the Balkans, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. It was not uncommon to see buildings riddled with bullet-holes outnumber those untouched, or to regularly see faces that have been scorched by bombings, or families serially dislocated from their homes by bulldozers and on and on. As earthshaking as the Boston bombing can feel, I remain grateful for our relative stability.

That stability is relative, though. Even though incidents of terror are on the downward trend here, our digital proximity to them makes us all the more intimate with them. And while they aren’t bomb blasts or planes flying into buildings, the phenomenon of people walking into public places and shooting everyone around is its own form of terrorism and can make one come to nihilistic conclusions about the human race. Poverty still ravages millions of families in the country, and crimes of greed destroy thousands of lives.

We still drop bombs on communities, and those on the receiving end of that violence—exactly as we do—think, “Who did this? Let’s get them. Let’s bring them to justice.” And they take the law into their own hands as no court system exists that is not biased in our favor. They organize and they put us in their cross hairs.

And so we need to take care of our communities, both local and human. We need to say no to war, and demand that our country stop speaking violently on our behalf. We need to organize and mobilize against these concerted forms of hostility and misrepresentation.

We have a lot of work to do.

But when something bad happens—and it will again—I, as Mr. Rogers’ mother suggested he do, will be looking for and celebrating the heroes that appear to emerge out of thin air.

SUBMIT A QUANDARY/QUERY by emailing me at alexsteed [at] gmail [dot] com. In case you are cautiously interested, I will be keeping the identities of those in search of answers quiet in the column.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.