How Do Young People Handle Tragedy?


As we begin 2015, we look back on the challenges and triumphs that made up 2014 and how we can learn from it and grow.

The past 12 months has brought considerable joy and equal parts despair. For anyone who watches the news or keeps up with current affairs, we’ve seen a fair share of tragedy both at home and abroad.

Many of these events have helped to shape humanity, and to both strengthen and inspire us.

In the wake of terrible tragedy that we’ve been witness to, it is both humbling and touching to experience solidarity – people coming together to ride out tragedy in a communal show of support and mateship.

Victims of AirAsia flight QZ8501. Image:

Events such as the Sydney Siege, ISIL attacks, the Air Asia tragedy, and more recently the South Australian and Victorian bushfires have – despite the atrocity of these events – helped bring people together; united in grief and determined to protect our communities and fellow brothers and sisters.

With 24/7 news coverage and instant exposure to tragic events via the Internet, it can be extremely difficult to cope with the onslaught of feelings which may arise from these events; guilt, depression, anxiety, fear. It’s as if everywhere you turn there is some sort of tragedy – overseas, in your country, in your neighbourhood, or even your family.

When we as young people hear about such tragedies in which people are killed or hurt or suffering, we can experience strong emotions which can be overwhelming.

Adelaide Hills Bushfire. Image:

Everyone is different when it comes to dealing with tragedy or ‘bad news’. Some people may be affected quite significantly – feeling a lot of empathy toward the strangers they see who are hurting. Others may ‘turn a blind eye’ or learn to become ‘hardened’ toward such events.

Martin Place Memorial. Image:

When it comes to tragedy – whether experiencing it first-hand or watching it on the news – there are a few helpful tactics which may ease your feelings of shock or despair.

Coping with tragedy

Talk about it. Michigan State University experts uncovered that the most important thing for young adults is to be able to talk about these traumatic events. Talking to your family, friends, or a mentor can be an extremely helpful way to identify and address your thoughts and feelings. By talking to someone, you allow yourself to unload your feelings and associated emotions which have most likely built up from experiencing negative events.

Accept your feelings. If you feel overwhelming despair or a need to cry, then do so. Allowing yourself to experience these emotions is natural and can actually be therapeutic. It is okay to feel angry or upset; recognize these feelings and allow yourself time to work through them. As a human being you are going to experience all kinds of emotions. Emotional acceptance means that you are accepting your emotional life and affirming your humanity. By accepting negative emotions brought on by tragedy, you are allowing yourself to learn about it and to grow as a human being.

Put things into perspective. When we are constantly bombarded by negative news and tragic events, it is easy to fall into the thinking loop that is “What if this happens to me?”. For example, many of us may be – understandably – hesitant to fly on a plane or attend major events where the likelihood of terrorist threats are ‘high’. But by allowing fear to take hold of you and living your life, you are not doing yourself any favours. Put things into perspective. What really are the chances that something will happen to you or your family and friends? Is it really likely that you’ll be involved in a plane or car accident? Although these tragic events do happen, it is wise to keep informed with the facts or likelihood of such events. For example, the odds of being killed in a single plane flight is 1 in 4.7 million. Similarly, the odds of being caught up in a terrorist attack or siege is about the same as being hit by an asteroid.

Limit media exposure. In today’s round-the-clock media saturated world, tragedy and despair has become a common part of our daily lives. From repeated news coverage of tragic events, to traumatic pictures caught on camera, it is no surprise that such exposure can have a serious impact on our emotional health. In order to achieve some peace of mind and to help lighten the burden of bad news, it is a good idea to limit your exposure to negative media in the form of news, current affairs programs, and even social media. It isn’t about being ignorant to what’s going on around you, more so of self-preservation and allowing yourself and your mind a break from negative news which can impact negatively on your psyche and overall health.

Celebrate the good. Watching the news in hope of tuning into a ‘feel good story’ is like finding a needle in a haystack. Among the constant news of drama and despair you’d be lucky to hear a story of triumph or celebration, and when you do it is most often followed by more news of tragedy. Because of society’s predisposition to reporting on all things bad, it is vital to begin looking for all things good. Look for good things that are happening in your community and the world, and give a shout out to those who are working for a good cause.

Make a difference. Often when we see tragedies on the news or in the media, we feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness. What can I possibly do to help? Although you may not be able to directly help to protect those who are suffering or to offer direct help, there are small things that you can do which will lead to the help and improvement of your community and those around you.

  • Donate blood.
  • Donate food, clothing, or money to related charities or victims of tragic events.
  • Join a peace or volunteer group.
  • Get on board with social media campaigns advocating human rights.

Feeling afraid for your safety or feeling despair for others is a normal reaction when it comes to news of a tragedy. When there is a natural disaster such as a bushfire, and earthquake, or a tsunami – or when there’s a tragic accident such as a plane crash or car crash it can be hard to cope with the feelings of helplessness and emotional reactions that come out of it.

On the one hand it is a measure of safety and self-preservation to shield yourself from negative news, but on the other hand such acts of tragedy has proven to be uniting and oftentimes, integral to building personal strength and faith in humanity.

One way of dealing with tragedy and the negative emotions borne out of it, is to try looking at things from a godly, rational point of view. To “clear thinking faculties” (2 Peter 3:1) and remind yourself when you are feeling helpless, that tragedy is oftentimes a result of “time and unforseen circumstance” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

Uniting and coming together in the face of tragedy is one of the greatest ways to cope with events out of our control.

Together we pray that 2015 is a year of more good than bad, more triumph than challenge, and more happiness than fear.


How do you cope with tragedy? Comment below or on Facebook

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