Just recently, we heard the terrible news that a precious young British backpacker, Grace Millane had been murdered here in New Zealand. The tragedy has affected New Zealanders, and people around the world deeply and our thoughts and love go out to her grieving family.
And it’s important to grieve. Many of us can relate to this horrible news. We have either travelled overseas ourselves, we have children Grace’s age who have travelled or are intending to travel overseas, or we are simply humane human beings who abhor what the murderer has done.
But how do we cope moving forward with this tragedy? How do we make sense of what’s happened? Should we live our lives in fear that this could happen to one of us, or our children?
What we know as psychologists is that living in constant fear is not good for us—it can affect our physical and mental health in many ways. Physically, we can develop high blood pressure, our sleep can be affected, we can have trouble eating and we can feel tired all the time—just to name a few effects of excessive worrying. Mentally, we can become moodier, more jumpy than usual and we often end up self-soothing with things that are not good for us such as excessive food, alcohol or drugs.
Obviously, if you live in a war zone, fear helps you survive, but persistent worrying about possible but not probable threats can be very damaging to our health.
One of the first ways of coping with the tragedy of Grace’s death, or any tragedy, is allowing ourselves first to take the time to fully grieve and then to look at how we can make sense of the tragedy rather than letting fear overtake us. And remember this: FEAR can be understood by using the following phrase: False Expectations Appear Real. So, what we are afraid of is not necessarily going to happen.
And, we can make sense of a tragedy by trying some of the following things. For example: by committing to taking the time to show our families, friends and other loved ones that we love them; taking that break off work that you promised yourself, even though you don’t really have the time for it; donating time or money to a cause you really believe in; or simply sending a letter or message of support to the bereaved family, lighting a candle for Grace, or attending a service for her.
And it’s important to look at the facts and situations of our own lives and be grateful for what we do have. However, if you have suffered a tragedy and you are finding it difficult to get beyond your grief, it is important to reach out and get some help such as contacting The Grief Centre or another mental health provider.