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September 28, 2001

Balance is key to coping with terrorist attack

Balance is the key to bouncing back from the trauma and anxiety caused by terrorist attacks against the United States Sept. 11. Regardless of how personally or directly the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center affect anyone, all individuals need to find a balance between reflecting on what has happened and moving forward with their lives, according to Jim Thompson, a licensed psychologist with The Richmond Center, Ames.

What is complicating most efforts at achieving balance are the method and magnitude of the hijackings and subsequent crashes, Thompson said, because they unleashed such a wide and intense set of emotions disbelief, sadness, anger and anxiety about the future.

"Each of us struggles with how to deal with our strong but divergent feelings," Thompson said. "We attempt to function somewhere between two ends of a continuum of reactions."

At one end is the desire to simply shut down, both our daily activities and our lives. At the other is such an eagerness to return to our old routines that we shut out feelings and images from the attacks.

Co-workers, friends and family members need to be understanding and supportive of each other. But when feelings and emotions are so strong that individuals can't function as employees, students or family members, Thompson said professional help from a counselor may be the ticket to getting back on track. Faculty and staff can use the ISU Employee Assistance Program for this purpose.

Serious symptoms
These symptoms are serious and might require immediate help:
  • Prolonged insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Panic attacks
  • Overwhelming feelings of hopelessness or guilt
Thompson said the Richmond Center has not had a noticeable increase in requests since Sept. 11, but noted that given the number of resources, including crisis hotlines, available in this area, people may be seeking help through other services.

Human resource services director Carla Espinoza said she suspects people still are trying to deal internally with their pain and sadness.

"I believe that as the shock wears off, people will be looking for help. Or they will get angry and the objects of their anger may be looking for help," she said.

Thompson said there is neither a magic formula nor a timeline for achieving an emotionally healthy balance.

"Generally, we tend to fare better emotionally if we emphasize reflection in the early aftermath and then gradually and steadily look to the future as time progresses," he said.

Thompson said some people are surprised at their emotions because they haven't lost someone they know directly. What many feel, though, is vulnerability and a loss of control over their lives. Feelings of confusion and being overwhelmed are normal at this time, he said.

To schedule an initial appointment through the EAP, call 232-5811. Crisis intervention services are available around the clock by telephoning 1-800-830-7009.

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Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
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