Coping with the fear of terrorism

Active steps to take.

For anyone who travels, commutes to work, or makes her or his home in a major metropolitan area in the aftermath of 9/11 and the bombings in London and Madrid, living with some level of fear and worry is an everyday reality. The goal of terrorism is, after all, to create anxiety. Fear, however, does not have to be the last word. Here are some specific ways to reduce your worrying and keep your perspective: 

  • Keep to your normal routine. Unless you are instructed otherwise, continue to go about your life as normally as possible. Go to work, care for your children, involve yourself in your usual activities. Get exercise, be involved in your neighborhood or community, get together with friends and colleagues. Stay involved with recreation, hobbies, and creative work you enjoy.
  • Limit your TV and Internet time. Because we naturally empathize with others, when we see pictures or hear stories in the media, we tend to identify with the victims. Prolonged exposure to these only makes us more anxious.
  • Focus on the facts. Sometimes, in an effort to feel in control, we begin to seek out rumors and stories about what might happen. This usually backfires, and we end up more fearful. Get your information from government agencies and reliable news sources.
  • Take care of your body. Get exercise, eat healthy foods, reduce your alcohol consumption, and be sure to get enough sleep. When you feel well physically, you are in a better position to deal with anxiety.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Take time to laugh. “Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation,” wrote the psychologist Victor Frankl of his time in Auschwitz. Spend your time around people with a hopeful, positive attitude.
  • Help your child. Stick to daily routines, responding honestly to his or her fears and concerns while providing reassurance, and offer hugs. Spend extra family time together doing low-key, relaxing things or nothing at all.
  • Reach out to others. Moving beyond your own concerns and volunteering to share your time and energy with others can help you gain perspective and a sense of accomplishment that you have helped, even in a small way, to make the world a better place.
  • Share your fears in a mutually supportive setting. With family, friends, or your faith community, take time to talk about your worries and to offer one another a listening ear, compassion, and hope.
  • Familiarize yourself with other cultures. With so many accounts in the media of violence by extremists, the world can seem like a more dangerous place than it is. Reading memoirs and fiction, or seeing films, by people from other cultures helps us to better understand and to recognize our common humanity.
  • Get help if you need it. If you are so worried that you have trouble doing and enjoying everyday things, are extremely preoccupied with the events, are having trouble sleeping, have thoughts of suicide, feel excessive guilt or anxiety, or are abusing alcohol or drugs, it is time to contact a mental health professional.

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