Hey Zoom, I Keep Thinking About the MAX Attack and I'm Scared to Ride the Train. Is This Normal?

August 11, 2020

Hey Zoom

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Mental Health professionals, it’s that they're not keen on labelling stuff “normal” or “not normal.” But when we cornered ZOOM+Care Psychiatrist Erik Vanderlip, MD, MPH, and insisted he answer your question, he said “Well, it isn’t abnormal.”“When something happens in the world around us that’s traumatizing and awful, it can open old psychological wounds or create new ones,” says Dr. Vanderlip. “The closer and more directly we’re impacted, the deeper the wound and the slower it is to heal.”Luckily, there are proven ways to overcome your anxiety.

When tragic news is stuck in your head

You are by no means the only person whose mind keeps going back to that horrible scene on the MAX — or the scores of other shocking tragedies that have happened recently around the world. “Fixating on a terrible event and worrying that it might happen again is very common,” says Vanderlip. “And, unfortunately, you can’t stop upsetting thoughts or visions from coming to mind. In fact, if you try, it will make things worse.”Case in point: Participants in one famous study were told not to think about fluffy white polar bears. They couldn’t do it — the white bear popped into their heads about once per minute. And later, they ended up thinking about polar bears even more. So while you don’t want to feed your morbid imagination by following the news every minute, don't attempt to block it all out.

Put your negative assumptions to the test

So what can you do? “Anxiety about riding the MAX is tied to a perceived sense of risk — if you get on the train, something bad could happen,” says Dr. Vanderlip. "In reality, that risk is exceptionally low. It was a very unusual event." To recalibrate your risk radar, expose yourself to the MAX in small doses. "Controlled re-exposure can help you overcome prior traumas," says Vanderlip. "It's like taking small doses of poison until you become immune."Head to the MAX with a friend during off-peak hours and take a short ride or just watch people getting safely on and off the train. If that feels okay, take a longer ride next time. "You'll gradually regain confidence that it's safe to ride the MAX."

When anxiety stops you from living your life

Re-exposure won't work for everyone. "For some people, getting on the MAX will make anxiety worse," says Vanderlip. "If that’s the case for you, I'd encourage you to come in and talk to our Mental Health team." Same goes for troubling thoughts that make it hard to function. "Pay attention to whether your fears or worries are changing your behavior," says Vanderlip. "If they’re getting to the point where they interrupt your life, we can help."Struggling with anxiety? You can schedule a same-day, no-wait visit for Mental Health 7 days a week*.*Note: You must be 18 or older to see a mental health specialist at ZOOM+Care.[Photo by Grace Walzel, via Unsplash]

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