The events the day of 9/11 were outrageous and terrifying, but they aren't over. Our country is at war--both in the Middle East and here at home. We remain on guard against more bombings and suicide missions, concerned about our air and water supplies. We're on the highest level of alert we've ever known; it's unrelenting, and it's deeply affecting us.
While most of our attention has been focused on the obvious trauma--body bags, memorial services, anthrax scares--many of us are suffering less dramatic, but pervasive side effects from 9/11. Many people say they are weary and emotionally fragile, deeply terrified and hyper-alert at the same time.
Lots of us are afraid the violence and destructive terror isn't limited to big cities, big business, or government--it could invade our own communities. It's affecting our lives: We are concerned about protecting our families, we're finding it hard to focus and concentrate at work, we're suffering nightmares, and we're on edge most of the time. Many subscribers to my spiritual health and fitness program
admit they're backsliding to old bad habits that seem to offer comfort and relief.
If you've resorted to self-destructive habits such as overeating, overdrinking, or a return to smoking in order to cope, you're not the only one. Lea, a visitor to my website, writes: "I am sadly still working on staying positive and not resorting to bad habits to the point of being very depressed about it."
Marcia knows all too well, "I live and work just four blocks from the White House. Two of my good friends were killed at the Pentagon. For three weeks I literally hid from life. My feelings of vulnerability and fear brought back many memories of abuse in my dysfunctional family. Just surviving was a challenge.."
Fred had a nightmare the other night: "Explosions, fires, billowing clouds, thousands of people trapped, desperate. All they could do was use their cell phones to say goodbye and `I love you.'. I awoke in terror and sweat, and immediately prayed. I thought I was in control of my fears, but it was all in my `conscious' mind it seems. My `unconscious mind' isn't over it yet."
What do you do with such overwhelming emotions and stubborn fears?
You acknowledge but don't feed or give into them, that's what. Instead of sitting glued to the TV or Internet, holding the fear inside yourself, take action. Feel your fears, work on them, share them, and take reasonable precautions.
If you do nothing, the fear may grow and cause you undue worry. Start by being prepared with some basic necessities: provisions you might need in an emergency, a flashlight, and extra water. Make sure you know where your family is at all times, keep up with basic news reports (but only 15-30 minutes a day) and learn only as much as necessary to protect yourself and those you love. At this point, be careful what mail you open. Take minimal, basic precautions like you would for a bad storm, fire, or flood.
Take care of yourself emotionally, too. Lots of people are saying the feelings are still with them, unresolved, along with new and rising fears. Another visitor to my website, Marcus, tells me, "I feel so sad about all those people and their families, I think about them all the time, it's hard for me to concentrate at work; tough to focus." Julie admits "I fear the worst all the time, it's all I think about."
Ann Belford Ulanov, Ph.D., Christiane Brooks Johnson Professor of Psychiatry and Religion, Union Theological Seminary in New York suggests: "Go voluntarily into your feelings of sorrow, hatred, pain, worry but in a limited way, only five minutes per day, with an absolute maximum of thirty minutes. And definitely not before sleeping. Split up your feelings into manageable bits."
I recommend putting limits on watching or listening to news reports. It's all too easy to obsess and fret over repeated coverage of the same shocking headlines. Don't forget, news coverage is often exaggerated to get your attention. Keep your exposure to news at a minimum and put your mind on something else--read a good book, magazine, spiritual text, or online service (like Beliefnet) that affirms the power of life and the value of faith. Listen to music. Go see a play or movie.
Speaking of life, surround yourself with living things: pets, fresh flowers, or plant a seed and watch it grow. Take walks outdoors, look up at the trees, study clouds, and notice flowers and shrubs, letting them remind you that you are part of an intricate balance of nature.