Traumatic Reactions to War, Exposure to Trauma, and Terrorism

In the past few and the past few weeks, many traumatic events including, but not limited to the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, the threat of terrorism, and the war in Afghanistan have created or amplified a sense of fear, helplessness, and anxiety in the nation. These situations have weighed heavily on the world climate. Currently, with the war in Iraq, and the continuing threat of terrorism in the United States, those of you who have had previous traumatic experiences may find yourselves experiencing thoughts, emotions, symptoms, and fears associated with previous traumatic events. You may have feelings of being uncertain about the future while telling yourself, “All will be fine in the world”. These feelings can be overwhelming and often times distressing. It is important to remember that the reactions you are experiencing are normal reactions to normal thoughts and emotions surrounding an abnormal situation. Remember, these reactions are not a sense of weakness or frailty. These are normal reactions all people will face. The reactions you may experience include: 

  • Shock and a feeling of numbness may occur because of the current world events. You may look at the war in disbelief wondering if it is a dream or if it is real.
  • Feelings of loss and sadness may occur after the shock and numbness leave. You may grieve over the soldiers who have died or the loved ones who were left behind. You may have intense feelings of loss if you have a family member in the armed service that is fighting in the war.
  • Intense anger is often associated with feelings of fear, uncertainties, and the loss of control. The intense anger may produce conflict in your family, at your job, or with friends and loved ones.
  • Anxiety may cause feelings of anger which are associated with the fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of a post war future. 
  • Anxiety and nervousness are the result of feelings of fear and hopelessness. These reactions may emerge in the form of the fear to fly, the fear to go to work, the fear of crowded public places, the fear of nationalities, and the fear of the unknown.
  • As with the aforementioned reactions, sadness and depressive feelings are normal. Often the sadness may take the form of spontaneous crying or an overall “blah” feeling.
  • Feeling alone, disconnected from others, self-separated, isolative, withdrawn, not wanting to talk.
  • Feelings of guilt for being happy and safe while others are suffering may occur. You must remember that it is normal to have good feelings and to live life to its fullest even during times of distress.
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, breathing difficulties, nightmares, insomnia, hypersomnia, high blood pressure, nausea, changes in appetite, bowel distress, mental confusion, bizarre/racing thoughts, irritability, sweating, chills, and panic.
  • Flashbacks, recurring thoughts, and intrusive images may emerge. These images and thoughts are often intensified by watching the on-going media coverage of the war and the threats of terrorism. 

What can you do to help with these reactions?

  • Diet, rest, exercise, and keeping to your normal daily routine are often helpful in keeping positive attitudes alive during this stress time.
  • Being close with family and friends while engaging in relaxing activities may help ease tension.
  • Seeking out professional help or advice may help relieve these overwhelming feelings.
  • Journaling your thoughts and feelings will often help get the racing thoughts out of your mind.
  • Turn off the television and reduce your need to watch the war coverage.

If you or a loved one has experienced any of these feelings for more than a few weeks, you may want to consult a professional for help. A professional may include your primary care physician, a therapist/psychologist, a psychiatrist, or even a member of the clergy. 

Some helpful resources include:

  • Employee Assistance Programs
  • New Perspectives, Inc. Trauma and Wellness Center
  • The American Red Cross
  • The National Institute of Mental Health
  • The American Psychological Association
  • The Center for Victims of Torture
  • The Delaware Psychological Association
  • The Rockford Center
  • The Delaware Mobile Crisis Unit