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Local psychologist explains how to process trauma after tragedy

Mental health advocates focus on curing the stigma this National Mental Illness Awareness Week
Posted at 8:24 AM, May 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-28 08:26:32-04

NORFOLK, Va. – Monday marks two years since the mass shooting in Virginia Beach that took the lives of 12 people. The trauma, even years later, can still be difficult to process – especially during a pandemic.

“We find ourselves at a point where we can't even recover from one trauma before we're exposed to another trauma,” said psychologist Dr. Barbara Shabazz. “[Those events] do shatter our sense of security. They leave us struggling with a lot of different emotions, memories, and anxiety that sometimes won't go away. Our bodies can't sustain that type of state long-term.”

Shabazz said there are several things we can do to help ease the pressure of the psychological trauma we’re collectively experiencing:

  • Exercise
  • Seek connection with others by engaging in social activities
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine (they can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks)
  • Take some time off from work
  • Practice yoga
  • Meditate

“Process what you're feeling,” Shabazz said. “Unless we are able to really be honest about our fears, we're not able to work through them. Know that the fears are normal. Your reaction is normal. Time is a huge factor in healing that piece.”

Shabazz said if you are unable to manage the stress and anxiety on your own, it’s a good a idea to seek mental health therapy. There are affordable ways to find mental health treatment. You can ask your primary care physician or health insurance company for a referral. Local medical schools, like EVMS, can offer free or reduced counseling sessions if you don’t have insurance to cover the cost of therapy.