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Stress Management

Dealing With Terrorism Anxiety

When the U.S. Department of Homeland Security raises or even lowers the threat level on the advisory system, the nation’s anxiety level follows suit.

As a result, many Americans are struggling with tough questions about safety issues and preparedness these days. But there are no easy answers, according to an expert from the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS).

“The government alert system represents something that we’re not familiar with, and when we have something that’s both unfamiliar and threatening, that’s a good recipe for stress, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and all that goes along with just being worried,” said Joseph Himle, Ph.D., associate director of the anxiety disorders program at the UMHS psychiatry department.

“Many of the sort of stressors we’re accustomed to we have some degree of control over — we can drive more carefully, we can stay out of a dark alley, we can stop smoking,” Himle said. “In this case, it’s harder for us to control the threat we face from terrorism.”

People usually go about their normal routines to help manage everyday stress and anxiety, he added.

“Work and fun, rest and relaxation all help keep our lives in balance,” Himle explained. “What can happen during times like these is that we cut back on many of the things we use to balance our lives and help control the stress. We may spend less time with others, we cut back on exercise, we don’t do as many things for fun — we cut back at the very time we need these activities the most.”

In addition to maintaining a healthy balance in your life, use the body’s natural instincts to notice when things aren’t quite right, he said.

“However, people who try to keep too high a level of vigilance will find themselves more fatigued and anxious, and often less able to respond to a real threat,” said Himle. “[You can] end up more stressed out than if you just went about your business and trusted your instincts to tell you when to act.”

But preparation does seem to help ease anxiety, he noted.

“Thinking ahead and preparing often makes us feel more comfortable about the risks that we may encounter,” Himle said. “If it’s done within reason, it probably makes sense for most people to do something that they feel prepares them for trouble.”

And monitor your stream of information.

“Be informed, but try to avoid information overload,” he cautioned.

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