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Could it happen here? It's a question a lot of people are asking in the wake of a traumatic event, right? Whether you're directly connected to a tragedy, like the mass shootings in El Paso, Gilroy, Calif., or Dayton, or you've just watched it play out on TV or social media, feelings of powerlessness and stress are really common. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on one of the best strategies to cope.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: When Rian Finney was a young boy, he remembers falling asleep to the sound of fireworks. And it wasn't just in July. It happened year-round. Then one day, his parents told him what he was really hearing.
RIAN FINNEY: I mean, they told me, oh, yeah, those were gunshots. And it was a shock that those things were happening right outside of my house.
AUBREY: Finney says as he became a teenager, the violence in his neighborhood in West Baltimore began to take a mental toll, especially in moments when he felt threatened.
FINNEY: I just felt this sense of, like, fear and anxiety going throughout my entire body.
AUBREY: And with it, a loss of hope.
FINNEY: It's just this overwhelming sense of nothingness, like I can't do anything.
AUBREY: He could not stop thinking about those bullets that had whizzed by those nights he'd been in bed. But then with the help of his parents and some mentors, he turned his fear into purpose. He realized he could do something to change things.
FINNEY: I mean, there's no way to make sense of senseless violence, where people can get shot over nothing. But it does give me a sense of purpose to realize that I can do something to help combat that.
AUBREY: These days, he's part of groups that advocate for social equality, changes in gun laws, more safe spaces for teens. He's about to start 11th grade, and he's inspiring other kids to get involved, too. He's really become a leader.
FINNEY: And if we continually lead people down this path of goodness then stuff can actually change.
AUBREY: Finney's ability to make meaning out of the misery of violence is an incredibly effective way to cope, says family therapist Jonathan Vickburg of Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. This is true for any kind of trauma. It's almost like you have to reframe your pain.
JONATHAN VICKBURG: And what happens in trauma is we feel helpless. And many times, when you can make the shift from this is a horrific event and I'm so scared and traumatized to reframing it to a situation that now there can be good that comes out of this, that truly is resiliency. If we can find that purpose again then we have a path forward and a path to help others.
AUBREY: Even for those who haven't grown up amid urban violence, the recent events in El Paso and Dayton remind us that we're all vulnerable. And though it's not at the same scale, Vickburg says we can all feel jittery and upset.
VICKBURG: So when something like this comes along, it begins to make the world feel more and more scary, and that free-floating anxiety can increase.
AUBREY: Robin Gurwitch is a psychologist and a child trauma expert at Duke University. She says even when we're not directly connected to a tragedy, such as a mass shooting, it can feel so close.
ROBIN GURWITCH: With so many of these events, we are right there. We watch it unfold. We see it replayed.
AUBREY: One way to dial back stress is to talk to your family and your friends about the ideologies, the misconceptions or the policies that may give rise to hateful acts. From there, she says, think about ways to counter them. The days and weeks following a national tragedy offer an opportunity because people are paying attention.
GURWITCH: You may see more political action. Such has happened after Parkland. So that meaning-making becomes so important to the healing process.
AUBREY: None of this is to downplay the depths of the tragedy.
GURWITCH: It's not to put on rose-colored glasses or become a Pollyanna like everything's fantastic.
AUBREY: Healing takes a long time, and change does, too. But Gurwitch says now may be a good time to ask yourself, what can I do? Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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