Sunday evening’s attack on the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas left music-lovers once again reassessing the safety of large-scale concerts. Following killings at Ariana Grande’s Manchester show this summer, Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub15 months ago, and an Eagles of Death Metal performance at Paris’ venue Le Bataclan in 2015, the deaths in Las Vegas have many, particularly parents, questioning whether live concerts are worth the risk and if it’s still possible to enjoy them in the light of so many valid fears.
While staying away public spaces altogether might feel like an easy way to prevent anxiety, it’s possible that doing so can actually lead to more emotional unrest. “In general, avoidance is probably not a good thing. It usually increases people’s anxiety and behavior over time. That said, if it’s overwhelming and you’re not going to be able to enjoy a concert, one should not go. But if it’s a small level of anxiety and there are reasonable reasons why it should be safe, then I think it’s advisable for people to try to live their lives as best they can,” Dr. Elana Newman, a professor of psychology at University of Tulsa and the research director for Columbia’s Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, tells Billboard.
For Dr. Joan M. Cook, a psychiatry professor at Yale School of Medicine, maintaining certain rituals can be crucial in avoiding the overwhelming anxiety that comes even from just reading about or watching news of a mass shooting.
“It feels so trite and cliché, but I think that when things like this happen, just keeping a normal routine, taking good care of yourself and not cutting yourself off from pleasurable activities can make all the difference,” she tells Billboard.
While Dr. Cook is clear that any fears are completely warranted, she suggests that the harm in sitting out fun events can often be greater than the relatively low chance of a violent situation. “I would feel sad as a person for people experiencing anxiety to say, ‘gosh, I love live music but I’m not going to go listen to it anymore because the world sucks and I could be killed’,” she says. “It’s like, ‘I hear you, I hear you, and I know it’s terribly upsetting, but the odds of that happening at a concert that you’re at, in a city you’re in, the probability of that happening is really low’ and that’s hard to help people understand.”
That risk level is a key thing to remember, psychologists say.
While the reality of concert deaths is horrifying and all too common, the chance of it happening at any given show is still quite unlikely. But those statistics don’t always do much to temper fears. “It’s horrific and it’s terrible. But that said, I think that the risks are fairly low. But it’s important to talk about fears and for kids to talk about their fears. Asking them if they are afraid and thinking of what to do at a concert to feel safer,” Dr. Newman says.
Ways to feel safer might include checking in with a loved one from the venue or assessing the exits and forming an escape plan. Though Newman notes that the latter measure wouldn’t have been effective in the case of a crisis at an outdoor venue like in Las Vegas, the act of thinking through reactions to potential scenarios can help one feel more in control of their surroundings.
For Dr. Newman, the best away to avoid excessive concert anxiety is to be realistic about the risks but not to let them loom overly largely in your mind. “I think the reality is that while we don’t live in a 100% safe world, we live in a mostly safe world for most people,” she says. “We have to make judgments, but constricting one’s life because of fears is not a healthy way to live.”