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.
Be active every day. Getting up off the couch and exerting yourself will give you energy, clear your head of excess stress, and help alleviate tension and fears. Go for a hike in the woods or park, toss a ball with a kid or neighbor, go square dancing or take a yoga class at a local community center. If you only have a few minutes, stretch to a CD or the radio, do some "air-boxing" or Tai Chi.
Be silent at least once a day, if only for a few moments. Still your thoughts as you allow yourself to sense the presence of Spirit (God) inside you and with you. Call it meditation or contemplation, just take the time to be peaceful and grateful at home, work, or while you are waiting for something or someone. Even if it's only a few seconds of peace, it will help.
Most of all, as spiritual and religious people, put your faith into action in times of stress and fear. Surrender to the will of God, looking for His/Her guidance and care. Know that you are part of a bigger, universal Creation, and that human actions really don't mean a lot when it comes to the magnitude of God.
Lynn, another reader of my daily emails, combines faith with patriotism. "I am trying to be available to Him and ready when He calls on me! Working on creating a strong, healthy body both mentally and physically are more important now than ever before. The most patriotic thing anyone can do in these times is to el[i]minate negative behaviors, like abusing drugs, chemicals, alcohol and over-eating. Being of sound mind and body will help us to all stand together and face the challenges of our time."
Go on with your life, nurture your body and mind, and feed your Spirit. Eat healthy foods. Take time to shop for quality ingredients like fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy meats and dairy products and take a little extra time to prepare them. It's important to eat in balance and maintain moderation, not to just eat junk foods or stuff yourself--that only causes even more stress on your body and mind.
Take vitamins. Drink lots of water. Eat with your family and friends, share your bounty, and always start with a moment of gratitude and grace before you eat.
You can find strength, wisdom, and hope in other people, too. All we have to do is to be open and sense the Spirit of God in ourselves and we will begin to see Him in others. Rev. James Forbes of New York's Riverside Church counsels, "Tell yourself, `I can summon more good than the adversaries can release bad.' These are good times to be alive, because the chaff, which the wind driveth away, has been blown away and the ultimate meaning of life has remained. The quality of reflection on life is now upon us."
Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, founders of the Institute for Imago Relationship Therapy and authors of "Getting the Love You Want, a Guide For Couples," encourage us to use these times of trouble and tension to reach out to our families and neighbors: "To ensure our survival and welfare, we must fill the space between others and ourselves with love. That is what holds the Whole together."
The Very Rev. James Parks Morton, founder of the Interfaith Center of New York offers his advice on putting your faith to work. "Make a conscious decision to strengthen your faith, in an encounter with someone different that you. Go volunteer where there are people who are different in some way or another. Christians could work in a Jewish hospital. If you're Jewish, go work in a Christian old folk's home. If Muslim, go work in a Jewish children's center. These institutions are organized on a sectarian basis, but inside them are people of all religions working together."
Even little acts mean a lot, two readers explain. Eileen: "I can choose to refuse to say the word 'hate.' I can choose on a minute-to-minute basis to monitor my thoughts to see that they remain positive and peaceful." Lynn finds "people are saying `That's OK', `Take your time...' and `Hello!' I have had more people say "God Bless You" this month than in my whole lifetime."
And God is blessing us, all we need to do is recognize and remember God. There's no need to fear, God is here.