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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

What trauma and mass shootings do to our mental health

Community members hold up their candles during a vigil at the memorial for the victims of Saturday’s shooting at Allen Premium Outlets.
Yfat Yossifor
Community members hold up their candles during a vigil at the memorial for the victims of Saturday’s shooting Wednesday, May 10, 2023, at Allen Premium Outlets in Allen.

The mass shooting in Allen, Texas, where a gunman killed eight people at an outlet mall, was the 17th mass shooting in Texas this year. May is also the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

Tabatha Gunn is a Dallas-based licensed professional counselor who works with trauma survivors. She says it’s okay not to be okay, especially after events that impact our sense of safety. She shares how trauma can manifest in the body, what advice she offers clients, and how to find healing after gun violence and mass shootings.

How trauma shows up in the body

A lot of times when we have these experiences, we think it's only happening in our head. Our bodies store trauma, just like our brain stores memories. If I have an experience, and I feel it kind of centered in my chest, that feeling can occur and reoccur as I'm experiencing things that are similar to it.

One of the things I talk a lot with clients about is we tend to disconnect from our bodies when we've experienced traumatic experiences. But a lot of times your body will give you a lot of information about what you're feeling.

Sometimes we feel it in our throat, sometimes we feel it in our chest, a lot of times we'll feel it in our gut. A lot of times we don't notice how we're affected by things until we are reacting to things in ways we don't like.

Tabatha Gunn counselor Dallas
Tabatha Gunn
"A lot of times when the client talks about how they feel, I will ask them, 'Where do you feel that in your body?'" Gunn said. "Sometimes they'll look at me like, 'What are you talking about?' Because we live very disconnected from our bodies, but your body gives you a lot of information about what you can handle and what you can't, or what's too much for you right now."

How she works with clients to process trauma

When we're doing trauma work, we're dealing with times where we didn't feel safe, we didn't feel supported. And so, making sure first that you are [now] physically safe, you are physically supported, and ways to tap into those resources.

We can start working on the trauma narrative. I try to do that very slowly with people because we don't want to go into re-traumatization. Sometimes that can be storytelling, so allowing them to tell me what feels comfortable to talk about right now.

The daunting thing about these shootings is they're in such common places, they're Walmart, or schools or churches, places that I normally feel safe in. Part of what I work with clients [on] is mindfulness, being with where you are, right now. So, noticing where your body is, noticing what's around you, noticing what you feel.

A lot of times people think mindfulness means I've got to be on a mountain somewhere and have an hour to just completely clear my head of all thoughts. I tell people that, you know, that's what monks do. That's their eight-hour gig all day long. They can do that. We can do these things in like little two-to-three-minute increments throughout the day.

“It’s okay not to be okay” after traumatic events like mass shootings

We live in a society where things happen so fast, and if I'm not okay, that means I'm doing something wrong. Our emotions are going to be products of things that are happening right now, whether that be products or thoughts that we have about those events.

When you look at all of these shootings, it's scary. It's okay to be scared. That doesn't mean that you have a bad attitude or that you're not looking at it in the right way. That is what happens. We are human beings. We respond to the situations we're in. So just give yourself permission and be kind to yourself. It's okay to feel what you're feeling.

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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Elena Rivera is the health reporter at KERA. Before moving to Dallas, Elena covered health in Southern Colorado for KRCC and Colorado Public Radio. Her stories covered pandemic mental health support, rural community health access issues and vaccine equity across the region.