A disaster of any proportion can shatter the sense of safety and stability of anyone who feels close to the disaster or its victims in any way. With a disaster involving such a public icon like the World Trade Center in NYC, involving so many people who were simply going about their morning duties -- presented live and then in instant replay again and again over days, weeks and months -- it's difficult for most people to avoid feeling personally threatened. This is all the more difficult to "get past" because of the ongoing threat of more disasters similar to what happened on 9-11 and the ongoing realities or threats of economic down-turns and war which may encompass many areas of the globe.

At times like these actual events and possible future events of tragedy and disaster are discussed, detailed, reviewed, dissected, hypothesized, predicted, warned and worried about all day and all night on several tv channels and in newspapers and magazines. We can become anxious, angry, confused, forgetful, obsessed and distressed. Some or all of our best qualities shine and some or all of our composure disappears.

It is important to understand that never before has a whole civilization been so saturated with such a flood of terrifying, up-front and personal images and awareness of such death, destruction and danger. No one knows what toll this may take on our psychological and emotional stability.

Everyone should assume they are at risk for emotional problems associated with being traumatized in the aftermath of 9-11 and take special care of themselves. Everyone should do everything they can to assure minimum psychological damage and distress. It has been said that the things that do not kill us make us strong, but this is simply not accurate. Depending on our luck and our self-care strategies, the things that don't kill us make us either stronger or weaker and can make long-standing changes in us that we may or may not like or benefit from.

Taking Care of Yourself

Try to keep your life as normal as possible. Keep to normal routines and normal pastimes and hobbies to whatever extent you can without stressing yourself out.

DO NOT avoid fun things because you don't feel like having fun. Go and do your best at having fun.

Expect that when you do finally can let yourself relax and have a little fun, you may find yourself suddenly shocked back to painful thoughts.

Don't avoid socializing. Try to be around positive people. Try to keep negative, angry people at a minimum. If others are "bringing you down," tell them to knock it off because it hurts you.

Avoid drugs and alcohol except in moderation and/or advised by a physician.

Eat right. Push yourself to get adequate nutrition if you don't feel like eating. Close the refrigerator for reasonable periods if you find yourself turning to it for comfort (it isn't giving you food because it loves you).

Get some exercise. Walk instead of driving short distances. Go to the gym. Use your anxious energy.

Turn off the reporting on the disaster and war now and then. Ration yourself a maximum of an hour a day, maybe two if you must.

Do push yourself or others to make changes or do things without well thought out reasons. Avoid the trap of wanting to see something done -- even though it makes things worse -- just to feel like something is being done.

Remind yourself that you should be counting your blessings and revising your values so you are spending quality time enjoying the good things in your life. Don't focus on the possible loss of things you haven't lost yet -- enjoy them now even more in case you do lose them later. You can mourn losses later if they happen -- no need to start early.

Take at least five minutes a day (ten is better, twenty is best) to focus on muscular and emotional relaxation and deep breathing.

Remind yourself that you can handle change -- and that things are just things. Everyone breathing has dealt with countless changes and survived every one. The worst that is likely to happen to most of us is that we will need to cut back or do without some of our things.

For those of us that may lose or have lost loved ones, remind yourself that the worst that happens when we lose a loved one is that we will miss them terribly but only for the rest of this life. Focus on what it may be like beyond the loss. It is unknown what happens after death, but in all likelihood, either there will be a re-uniting after death or there will be an ending to our sense of missing anyone or anything.

If you feel like you're going crazy, get help. Be responsible for yourself and as much of your life as you can be.

If you've turned your back on your Faith, turn back to it. If you feel that your Higher Power has become angry, vengeful, mean, unfeeling or arbitrary, work to accept the possibility that you may not be able to understand what good purpose there is to disaster but that doesn't mean there isn't one. Remind yourself that we all die one day. If you thought God only let bad people be hurt in this life, recognize how silly that idea is -- there is much too much evidence that cannot be the case. A handy strategy is to recognize two facts of this life and apply them to the possibility of the after-life: 1) times goes by faster and faster as you age; and 2) we experience life as contrasts and the greatest pleasures come in areas where we have had the greatest losses, needs and fears. Recognizing that time goes by very quickly as you age can help you grasp the idea that if there is a God and a life after death, perhaps He allows terror and hurt because first of all He realizes that in the context of eternity, a lifetime of torture passes in a blink. And second, that He may allow terror and pain because it makes the after-life better and re-uniting that much better -- just as having almost starved makes every meal thereafter taste better than it could ever have tasted if you'd never been hungry.

Comfort yourself. Tell yourself it will all turn out all right. You have always survived everything. Self-talk is powerful and important. Assume there are parts of your mind that listen to your thoughts when you talk to yourself in the same way a child listens to his or her parents.

Focus on quality of life and not quantity. Focus on quality of your attitudes and coping -- and not on things. If there is a God and an after-life, it will be most important how you live, not how long. It will be more important how you live with respect to your fears and your faith -- not with respect to how many luxuries or physical securities you have. If there is a God and if God is mean or mad, God is still God -- there is no sense in griping unless you feel it's more likely that he will feel kindly toward someone with gripes than someone with faith.

If you cannot find any sense of connection to a Higher Power, comfort yourself. Tell yourself it will be all right. If you believe there is no God and no afterlife, and if you are right, when you die you will no longer care about anything -- thus, nothing that happens will matter in another few decades.

If you hear of and become anxious about "psychic predictions" about the future that include further disaster, recognize that if such "paranormal" stuff is a reality, then this is proof of there being more to life than what we generally see and this suggests a strong possibility that there actually is something connecting us that transcends time and death.

Remind yourself that you have been able to put things out of your mind in the past. There has always been danger of terrorists, nuclear war, "conventional" war, mugging, burglars, asteroids from space that might hit the earth, car crashes, plane crashes, train crashes, disease, tornadoes, mud slides, fires and -- if nothing else -- death in old age.

If you need to see a counselor, see a counselor. Many people will try to deny, rationalize to themselves to avoid going to a counselor. Many are afraid to open up about feelings and secrets, believing they might lose control or be overwhelmed by emotion and look foolish. Some people don't want to go to a counselor because they want to continue to feel bad -- they don't want someone taking away their feelings and fears or they feel they deserve to feel bad because of some sense of guilt. What they actually say, though, is, "Why bother going to a shrink? He's not going to put the World Trade Center back up -- he can't stop terrorism." And it is true -- a counselor won't change the basic facts of present day life. What a shrink can do, and does do, is help you find ways to get back to level-headed, optimal thinking. A counselor can help you remember or discover ways to set aside panic so you can be more functional and more optimally alert. A counselor can help you find a way to relax once in awhile so you can work harder, be more alert in general and keep resources high. It's like going to an optometrist to get your vision sharpened. Going to a counselor doesn't mean you are weak-willed, dependent or dumb -- though not going to one when you really know you should, may be.

Don't let yourself give in to mindless hate and rage. Be mindful that "getting even" usually means becoming what you are against and then some. Do not trade your better qualities for lesser.

Author's Bio: 

G. M. Johnson, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist and
psychotherapist who works with children, adolescents and adults. One of his primary areas of specialization is in working with survivors of rape, molestation, brutalization and other trauma. You can find longer, more detailed articles by Dr. Johnson providing on down-to-earth information and ideas about dealing with emotional issues, anxieties and other
mental health issues at his head-cleaners website.