There have been three terror attacks in the UK over recent months and it is impossible not to experience an emotional reaction to the incidents. The pointlessness of the incidents, combined with the shock at the interruption of normal everyday life, plus in Manchester targeting our young people, will have no doubt have a profound impact on many of us.
For some it can numb them, make them feel that it is hard to keep going and that they want to shut down, even though they weren't directly involved. For others, they feel aggrieved by the attacks, how dare they?
There's a psychological reason for this and that's to do with our self-security.
Why do we need to get back to normal?
It is natural to feel anxious or insecure as a result of domestic terrorist attacks, it is often in a place we have been or in a daily situation for us.
We want to be reassured and be given a quick solution to ease the pain, we want to know that someone is doing something about this and that we don't need to worry.
We seek a return to our normal everyday lives, as this is what we know and makes us feel safe - and this is the right thing to do.
It is important that as a society we feel secure, that we know things are being dealt with and that the likelihood of us being caught up in an incident is being reduced. Much of this is done at a subconscious level and our brains seek order and routine, the kind we get from getting back to normal as soon as possible.
There are several things you will notice the Government do to reduce the impact on societal insecurity:
• They release facts quickly.
• They restrict (as much as possible) images or videos of the incident and the wounded.
• They clear up scenes and reopen the area as soon as possible.
• They get local services (for example the transport infrastructure) operation as soon as they can.
All of these psychological steps help, as much as they can, to give the public security and trust.
What happens in our brain?
Whenever we become aware of something that threatened our life, could have threatened our life or involved death, serious injury or the threat to the life of others 'just like us', it makes us feel insecure.
As the brain raises the amount of cortisol, the stress drug, we become desperate to find out what's happened - we need to read or hear about the facts. We seek reassurance that this act couldn't happen to us. This can lead to us becoming hooked on following the news that our lives momentarily stop as we seek to reassure ourselves that the terrorists have been caught and it's all alright.
Depending on how much you relate to what's happening affects how much this happens to you.
For example, if you have teenage children or work with them, the Manchester attacks will likely have caused you to think this could have happened to me. Likewise, if you work in London, or have recently been to one of the tourist attractions near the attacks there, then those are likely to have affected you.
Your brain is looking for reasons to reinforce the insecurity you now feel (for the very simple reason of making you more alert and conscious in case it happens to you). That's why terrorism in Europe feels a lot more real than those attacks elsewhere in the world, despite the fact that those are far more devastating and ruthless.
And as the sense of shock and injustice rises in us, our brains seek some signs of security. We want to know what happened as soon as possible, we want to check that no one we know was involved, ultimately our brains want to understand so we can rationalise it, process it and reduce the insecurity we feel.
That's why we struggle with attacks that can just happen, such as the use of vehicles as weapons, those things can't be avoided - our emotional brains cannot be reassured by the random nature of the ongoing threat.
And the longer the impact of these attacks goes on, the more insecure we feel.
Things you can do
So, for those of us not affected directly by the attacks, it is important that we return to our daily lives and routine as soon as possible.
- Emotions are natural - terrorist acts like those seen in the UK recently, are designed to cause emotional reactions and make us feel anxious in our daily lives. Acknowledge the emotions you feel, they are normal, they should fade in time. Don't be afraid of telling others how it made you feel - support networks are one of the biggest factors in supporting our mental wellbeing.
- Keep going - get back to the routine and normality of daily life as soon as you can. Subconsciously the human brain finds comfort in a routine; it helps to make us feel secure. The more structured you make the next few days, the more your brain will subconsciously work to reduce the insecurity levels.
- Be conscious - focus on enjoying the everyday things in your life, take time to bask in the simple pleasures. These will help to release the feel good endorphins in the brain to counteract the anxiety drugs.