Managing Anxiety During a Crisis

Devastating acts, such as the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, have left many concerned about the possibility of future incidents in the United States and their potential impact. They have raised uncertainty about what might happen next, increasing stress levels. Nevertheless, there are things you can do to prepare for the unexpected and reduce the stress that you may feel now and later should another emergency arise.

Recognizing and Reducing Anxiety in Times of Crisis

Americans need ways to cope with the anxiety produced by senseless tragedies such as terrorist attacks. Raw, unedited footage of terrorism events and people's reaction to those events can be very upsetting, especially to children. We do not recommend that children watch television news reports about such events, especially if the news reports show images over and over again about the same incident. Young children do not realize that it is repeated video footage, and think the event is happening again and again. Adults may also need to give themselves a break from watching disturbing footage.

No one who sees or hears about a tragedy of this kind is untouched by it - and in an era of instant mass communications, the numbers of people exposed to such violence in one way or another is significant. Most of us will experience some related anxiety and stress that will fade over time. For some, however, such feelings may not go away on their own. We need to recognize the difference and understand that, if needed, help is available and effective.

Common Reactions

Mass tragedies can affect us in many ways: physically, emotionally and mentally. They can make people feel angry, enraged, confused, sad, or even guilty. When those feelings don't go away over a few weeks, or when they seem to get worse, it may be appropriate to seek help for yourself or the person in your life who is experiencing these difficulties. Among the signs to look for over time are:

  • Being angry or irritable
  • Being tired all the time
  • Crying often or easily
  • Drinking alcohol or taking drugs more often or excessively
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling tense and nervous
  • Having problems concentrating and remembering things
  • Having sleep problems
  • Wanting to be alone most of the time

What Can You Do to Help?

Everyone can take one simple step: get in touch with your emotions and how you are feeling and how your family and loved ones are doing as well. If you think there may be a problem, get advice from someone trained to recognize signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Pay special attention to children's needs and talk with them in a calm, supportive way about their fears. Don't neglect or let anyone you know neglect his or her other health care needs at this time.  You should get immediate help from a trained mental health professional if you or a loved one is experiencing any one or more of these problems: inability to return to normal routine; feeling extremely helpless; having thoughts of hurting one's self or others; using alcohol and drugs excessively; thinking about or being abusive or violent; or having noticeable symptoms of mental illness.

Assistance for Families and Friends of Victims

Further Reading