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Psychology Today- Coping with Terrorism

Heather Edwards Mental Health Counseling / Articles  / Psychology Today- Coping with Terrorism

Psychology Today- Coping with Terrorism

Heather Edwards, coping with terrorismThis article on Coping with Terrorism was published in Psychology Today on November 29, 2015 by Mark Banschick and Heather Edwards…

The bloodshed seems nonstop.

In the last few weeks, tragedy struck Beirut, Paris and Mali. A Russian airliner was bombed out of the sky over the Sinai Peninsula. We watch as hate spurs stabbings in Israel, and far away Milan.

The Global Terrorism Index:

According to a study by the Australian-based Institute for Economics and Peace(link is external), global terrorism is on the rise. That’s probably not a surprise to you.

  • Terrorism related deaths are up 80 percent last year.
  • The economic cost of terrorism is up 61 percent.

We read the newspapers and watch the news. By and large we are all safe.

Yet, threatening images are invading our lives, and we all must try to cope. Some of us go into denial. Some keep vigilant, others become news junkies.

Fear does not equal weakness. It is a biological response designed for self-preservation; trying to anticipate and survive. But there is a line that marks an over-reaction.

In this piece by Heather Edwards(link is external), we are guided to regulate our emotions, deal realistically with the risk of danger, and continue to live life fully.

Denial. Anger. Fear. Helplessness. Rage. Suspicion. Guilt. Grief:

These are but a few of the negative emotions felt all over the world since the Beirut, Paris and Mali terror attacks. We try not to think, we become hyper-vigilant, or we feel guiltybecause we’re okay when someone else isn’t.

Fight-Flight, denial, revving up, ignoring…what do you do?

Like a suction cup, you’re glued to the TV, Internet, and radio:

You are scared. And you’re angry that you’re scared. Layering feelings upon feelings. It means they won. Terrorists want us to fear each other, going out, and seeing people from different groups. Terrorism breaks down culture, and makes us tribal.

It is an attempt to kill the best of democracy.

You want this to go away:

Yet, you obsess about what’s next and what it means for your future. Is this the beginning of World War III? It’s something you didn’t foresee in your lifetime. Are these attacks a harbinger of things to come, or will they fade out into history?

Questions abound. Is it best to stay home?

Should I avoid the city? Can I fly to France, Turkey…to Iowa? Are the subways safe? Can I freely discuss my concerns? How do I know if the person next to me is a terrorist, or not?

Here in New York City, people are re-traumatized:

It’s all too similar to what we experienced on September 11th, 2001.

In Washington DC, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, the pain of 9/11 does not remain permanently buried. You worry that a new era of terror is coming.

According to PTSDUnited.org, 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives…

“This equates to approximately 223 million people. Up to 20% of these people go on to develop PTSD. As of today, that equates to approximately 44.7 million people who were or are struggling with PTSD. An estimated 8% of Americans − 24.4 million people − have PTSD at any given time. That is equal to the total population of Texas.”

Since you can’t change the events that have already happened, and you can’t control what other people do, how can you cope in the face of such terrible unknowns?

Here are a few paths to peace, hope, and safety in your internal world and possibly your outer world, too…

1. Meditate:

Sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Take three belly breaths.

Tune into the sensations of your breath, and only what you hear, feel, smell, taste, and see. Allow thoughts to pass through your mind without judging, evaluating, or solving anything. Simply observe your experience. Gently allow the present moment to pass through you and coexist with you in its entirety. It removes the chaos and struggle and strengthens the part of your brain responsible for kindness, compassion, peace, and calm.

2. Focus on the Good:

Brain studies demonstrate that whatever you focus on is strengthened. If you want to feel calm, focus on calming thoughts. If you want to feel safe, focus on safety thoughts. If you want to feel happy, focus on happy thoughts. When you focus on fear, anger, and hatred you strengthen those beliefs and feelings. The choice is yours.

Remember, from a calm place you are best able to make good decisions.

3. Write it Out/Draw it Out:

Get those negative thoughts out of your head. Write them down. Scribble or draw them. Dump them onto paper. Journaling is cathartic and clarifying. It provides relief from distress and a safe place to channel negative emotions. Balance it with notes of gratitudeand what you hope for the future. It can shift the energy in a positive direction.

4. Get Naked:

You must live normally. You must find a center.

So have sex or otherwise exercise. Your physical body stores stress and trauma in the form of pain, inflammation, and disease. Release it. Go to yoga. Take a walk. Play the drums. Get a massage. Climb a tree.

Movement helps express and relieve tension. It keeps energy flowing in your body and supports a healthy nervous and immune system. This clears the way for better coping strategies to emerge.

5. Reach Out:

Call a friend, Counselor, Pastor, relative, or other trusted person for support. Remember you are not alone. When it’s too difficult to manage your emotions and put healthy coping skills into play, take action!

There’s no shame in being proactive about your mental health.

Without it, everything else suffers.

6. Get Treatment if Needed:

As mentioned above, millions struggle with some variant of PTSD, which can be triggered by a terrorist attack. If you find yourself regressing or having panic attacks when hearing about one of these terrible attacks, do consider getting help.

Terrorism is terrifying. All the more so for those who have been traumatized in the past. Much can come to the surface.

7. Seek Inspiration:

Whether its a fond memory, a quote, speech, poem, mantra, song, or dream find a nugget of positive energy that resonates with you. There is safety, clarity, and promise in the words and images that move you.

Use them to transcend today’s calamity and envision a better tomorrow.

8. Turn toward those negative emotions. Acknowledge them. Validate them:

They are real. But then temper them, distract yourself from them, channel them, look for the middle ground. Life doesn’t only exist in hardships, extremes, and struggle.

While chaos is happening around you there are beautiful things unfolding, too. Discover them. In modulating your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, you impact not only you, but also the greater good. Embrace courage, conviction, and belief in peace, love, and freedom.

9. Stay Abreast of What’s Happening:

Terrorism is making itself known to us. Politics aside, it is wise to take your centered self and better understand the dangers, or the lack thereof. The best protection is awareness. And, the best action is preventative. That being said, take advice from trusted sources, and live your life nevertheless.

We have much power within. And, it can guide you to making sound choices.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see.”

Leading by example inspires others to do the same. You can institute positivity in this time of chaos.

By finding your center in this scary moment, you can be of service to yourself and others.

And, that is for the good of all.


Heather Edwards, LMHC, BCC

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