Twelve self-help tips for coping in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. Capitol

January 08, 2021
Checking in with other people after a stressful event can be helpful.

The National Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center, based in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina, offers the following suggestions in the aftermath of an event that has caused anxiety and stress for a lot of people: the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The list below was compiled under the leadership of Dean Kilpatrick, Ph.D., and Angela Moreland-Johnson, Ph.D., by several project team members, including Alyssa Rheingold, Ph.D., Dan Smith, Ph.D., Anne Seymour, Vickey Cornelison-Grant and Ryan Holman.

The events that unfolded in the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2021, were deeply upsetting to many people who watched in disbelief as a mob breached the Capitol building — the “People’s House.” It was acutely troubling and stressful for viewers, and it was terrifying for many of our nation’s leaders and their staff who feared for their physical safety. Family members and friends were frantic because they did not know whether their loved ones were safe.

The events was also distressing to many of us because of the symbolic value of what happened. We also know from past experience and from information we have already received from our stakeholders that this event was a “trauma cue” for some people who have previously endured mass violence, criminal victimization or other traumatic life events. Trauma cues can increase distress and impede recovery from previous violent victimization experiences. 

We at the National Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center have accumulated a great deal of information about practical things people can do to help reduce the stress produced by these types of situations and to live a more resilient life. We are pleased to provide you with this brief "tip sheet" of things you can do, as well as some self-help resources you may find helpful. 

1. First, recognize that any feelings you are having — as long as they are not destructive to yourself or others — are perfectly acceptable and OK. Then, take positive action by following some of the proactive steps below. 

2. Witnessing frightening things happening to other people can set off strong reactions, especially if you have previously gone through something similar. New events can stir up memories of old traumas and bring back painful emotions. Even if you have not experienced similar events in the past, sometimes just seeing other people go through a frightening experience can cause upsetting thoughts about what they might have gone through. Although unpleasant, these are normal reactions that can be managed using the strategies listed here. 

3. Accept that what you witnessed and experienced on Jan. 6 may have been frightening, and that it might have felt like a serious threat to the safety and security of our nation, to you or to someone you know. 

4. Talk to a trusted friend, family member or spiritual advisor. They can help you talk through your feelings and validate that you are not alone in how you are reacting. 

5. Check in with others — by text, email, phone or in person. The simple act of reaching out and asking, “How are you doing right now?” can be helpful. Check in as often as necessary. 

6. Limit your exposure to television and social media. Repeated exposure to images of the violence at the U.S. Capitol is not helpful and may instead increase your levels of distress. 

7. Children are being exposed to information via internet, news and conversations with peers. Limit children’s exposure to media (even if you think they are not listening or watching, they take in more than we suspect, and it can frighten them). Provide information to children in developmentally appropriate language

8. Practice and strengthen self-care activities. This includes good sleep hygiene, daily exercise, and eating healthy. Stay active! Take a brisk walk or run; stretch or practice yoga; lift weights; and/or do some quick calisthenics. 

9. Limit unhealthy coping strategies such as alcohol and drug use. Excessive use may inadvertently increase anxiety, cause sleep difficulty and weaken the ability to use effective coping skills and take care of yourself or your loved ones. 

10. Try to focus on something other than the difficult emotions you are experiencing. Helpful coping strategies can be found in “Managing Distress” on our website. You can find other tips on coping here.

11. Download and explore free self-help apps with resources for stress management and coping with painful emotions. The NMVVRC developed the TRANSCEND app that offers guidance for managing distress after mass violence. Access TRANSCEND from your smart devices at these links (or search for “TRANSCEND NMVC” in the App or Play Stores): 

12. If you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and worry, no-cost professional crisis assistance is available. The National Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-846-8517 is available 24/7 to provide crisis support. If you feel that you are in immediate crisis, please call 911. Additional services related to mass violence, including the Crisis Text Line, can be accessed via the NMVVRC website’s “Get Help Now” button on the upper right side of our home page.

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