Thursday, March 13, 2014

How To Cope With Uncertain Loss

The twenty-first century offers an unprecedented quantity of accessible and consumable information.  Online websites and cable news channels allow anyone with a wi-fi connection to get immediate and up-to-date details about breaking stories.  But how do we know when this is too much a “good thing?”  And how can you take care of yourself and your family when real-life catastrophic events are happening on your screen?  

These are some of the questions that many of my clients are asking since the vanishing of Malaysia Airline Flight MH370 began to be reported several days ago. If one spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on this mystery of this disappearance, they are likely to experience symptoms that are commonly associated with anxiety disorders.  These symptoms may include disruption in sleep, decrease in focus, increase in appetite, reminders of a previous trauma in one’s own history, and even a sense of heightened fear in their reactions to everyday occurrences.

There are effective ways to cope with the unknown that allow for more serenity, calm, and peace.  The four ways I have helped clients face an unknown consequence with reduced worry and fear are these:

1. Don’t overly obsess on the event.  It is so easy to lose hours looking at websites, watching news, and reading article after article about the bizarre nature of this event.  Give yourself time limits for information-gathering, and then stick to them!  The actual information about the plane itself is so minimal at the time of the writing, that you need not waste time focusing on the “maybes.”  Instead, refocus your attention on spending time with family, calling a loved one, or reading a good book.

2. Stay rational about risk.  Learning about an air flight gone wrong can induce one with a sense of fear, hopelessness, and loss of control. Reminders of terrorism can provoke past experiences of trauma related to 9/11, or violent occurrences in one’s own personal life.  At these times I encourage people to stay realistic about risk.   It is statistically unusual for one to be harmed by flying.  You are still more likely to get struck by lightening in the United States than harmed by a terrorist.  Every day life means calculating an uncertain amount of risk, and most people do pretty well by taking reasonable precautions.  Don’t allow an exceptional event to overwhelm you with a normalized sense of dread.

3. Use your concern in a positive way.   There is absolutely nothing you can do about the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.  But there is a lot you can do in your own family and community to help.  If you are upset or frightened by the disappearance of MH370, try volunteering for a service organization in your area.  If you don’t have time for that, then at least hold the door open for someone, or give up a seat on the bus.  Transfer your fear about what might have happened overseas into something that helps someone locally.

4. Cherish the gift of life.  Tragic events on the news can be a cruel reminder that life can end at any time.  But that, in and of itself does not have to be a downer.  In fact, facing the reality of impermanence can fuel a sense of meaning in every given moment you spend with your friends and family. It can also remind you how much there is to be grateful for in every minute.  Time is not to be wasted on petty disputes and shallow grievances.  Every minute of every day counts;  it’s up to you to decide how you want to invest your precious time.  

By keeping these four ideas in mind, you will be able to watch the news cautiously, while taking action effectively.  Doing so will help you to feel empowered, strong, and centered during these confusing and uncertain times.  

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in New York who has helped hundreds of couples and individuals create joyful, peaceful, and pleasurable relationships. He is the author of the books, “Rational Relating” and “Absolutely Should-less.” His trainings have helped thousands to learn practical skills for living an empowered and fulfilling life. To speak with Damon about counseling, speaking engagements, or media appearances - please contact him at, call 347-227-7707, or visit

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