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It's OK to skip the news if tragedy is a trigger for your mental health

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Tragedy can trigger mental health issues even if you're not directly involved

If the news about the mass shooting in Orlando hasn't seriously shaken you, chances are you just haven't heard about it yet.

Mass tragedies like the attack on the night club in Orlando take a real toll on everyone — not just those who are directly affected by it. Terrorists know this, which is why mass killings are used so often to terrorize and are, unfortunately, a very effective tool for causing fear and panic. This is especially true for people who are already vulnerable thanks to a mental illness like depression, PTSD or anxiety.

However, just because these attacks are deliberately designed to be terrifying doesn't mean we have to let the terrorists win, says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of A Happy You, a book about how to create your own sense of well-being, even in difficult times.

"When senseless acts of violence occur, we try to make sense of them in the best way we know how," she says, "but what we do to feel in control again can actually make us feel worse." Fortunately, there are things we can do to stay mentally healthy during a traumatic time.

Rule number one? Stop the information overload.

Our instinct may be to get all the information we can, but once we've ascertained the basics of the situation, more information doesn't help and can worsen depression, anxiety and stress. Instead, she says to spend less time passively reading (or watching) the news and more time actively doing something positive.

The next step is to make sure you're practicing good self-care.

This means not getting so caught up in what's happening around us that you forget to exercise, eat well and connect with loved ones. You may feel like you don't "deserve" to be happy when others are suffering, but Lombardo points out that your suffering for them doesn't help them, or you, at all. In fact, wallowing in sadness only leads to more inaction.

Third, help others.

The best way to feel like the world is a good place is to make it a good place. "We can use devastation to inspire good by reaching out to others and doing little acts of kindness," Lombardo says. You can help with the specific tragedy, like the people who donated blood in Orlando or donated money to a Kickstarter fund to help the victims and their families. Or you can simply work on doing good where you are by finding ways to help those around you. It can be as simple as opening a door and offering a kind word to a stranger, she says.

More: How you can support those mourning the Orlando mass shooting

Lastly, resist the urge to hate.

It's more than understandable to see the perpetrators of such a heinous crime and want to hate them or even hate a whole group of people you associate with them. However, this is a waste of time and your mental resources. "More hate does not equal love, it just equals more hate," Lombardo says. "And adding more negative energy to a trauma doesn't help."

Instead of looking for ways to lash out at those you hold responsible, find ways to help prevent future tragedies. Not only will this help other people, but it can help you stay grounded in the moment and fight off the depression and anxiety that naturally come with such an event. And if you do find yourself becoming overwhelmed by the traumatic event or unable to stop thinking about it, it is time to seek professional help. A therapist can help you process your feelings around the event before they spiral into a deeper problem.

Ultimately, the best thing we can do to fight evil in the world is to do more good — and you can't do that if you're not staying physically and mentally healthy.

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