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9 Tips for Coping with the NYC Terror Attack

 In the wake of the terror attack in New York City, in which an ISIS devotee driving a rented truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on the street, killing 8 people before crashing into a school bus and injuring two other adults and two children. Called the “deadliest terror attack since 9/11,” the tragedy triggers emotional reactions that can run high and disrupt your life and relationships.

Here’s how to cope:

 Talk about fears. These are escalated now, since “new” weapons of terrorists are common items like knives and vehicles rather than guns or suicide vests, and new targets are “soft” – meaning normal people in daily activities -- rather than high profile American symbols like the Twin Towers or the Capital. Best practices in psychology counsel to feel the fear and adjust to a “new normal,” to prevent fears leading to phobias about daily activities. Don’t obsess about thoughts that since the NYC terrorist rammed into bikers and a school bus injuring children and adults inside, that it could happen to you.

• Direct anger where it belongs. Get mad at the terrorists, to avoid the typical psychological tendency to project aggression at people at home or work.  Partners should especially share reactions and accept any differences in their ways of coping to prevent arguments.

* Uncover associations to your past. Publicized victimizations can trigger repressed memories of times you were mistreated, even decades ago, as outlined in a report in the American Psychologist. Process this old experience and separate it from the present.

• Notice prejudices and xenophobia.  These can triggered by the NYC terrorist shouting, "God is Great" in Arabic. Be kind to Muslims and whoever the “other” is to you. 

• Pay particular attention to children.  Since youngsters can be exposed to the attack on social media or from schoolmates, prevent their spreading myths and fears, by talking to them about the event. Child developmental psychology indicates this is the time to give extra comforting and notice changes in their behavior.  

• Accept reality. There is no absolute safety or perfect protection for you and your children. Indeed, as teens who watched the NYC terrorist from their Stuyvesant High School windows said, “We’ve lost our innocence.” Officials wisely advise “Be vigilant”
 and “If you see something, say something.” But, take breaks from being “on guard” to reduce stress. Measurement of the psychological principle of “locus of control” shows that even people who feel “captain of their fate” may accept that destiny plays a role; after all, you can simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Also, trust authorities; they have averted other threats.

• Learn about terrorists and terrorism. Terrorists can be religious extremists and/or be socially and mentally maladjusted. Don’t generalize. Educate yourself about the ideology of radical extremism, foreign fighters, “lone wolves,” and abusive use of the internet. These aspects are outlined in the newly released book, “A New Counter-Terrorism Strategy: Why the World Failed to Stop Al-Qaeda And ISIL/ISIS And How To Defeat Terrorists Now” (ABC-CLIO, 2017) by former Ambassador of Iraq to the UN, Hamid Al-Bayati. For example, a “lone wolf” is a misnomer, even a terrorist who acts alone usually has extremist contacts. Older methods of terrorism used WMDs – weapons of mass destruction – but newer tactics use “Weapons of Mass Psychological Destruction” that aim to erode our emotions, as explained by psychologist Dr. Larry James in his book with that title.

• Consider activism. Action reduces anxiety and increases a sense of control.  Put pressure on congressional leaders to prioritize public safety and on social media companies to stop terrorists’ abuse of technology. Participate in a local media campaign, and encourage schools to educate youth about terrorism.  

• Reexamine your philosophy of life. It’s normal to have an existential crisis about the purpose of life but don’t lose faith. Terrorists won’t win when you get on with your life, as New Yorkers did celebrating Halloween and enjoying the city’s weekend marathon. Be resilient: when knocked down, get back up. Terror attacks are tragic but not a reason to give up on life, hope and believing in others. 



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