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Post-Terrorism Stress Disorder

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, symptoms of a new disorder may be appearing.

In my consultations with businesses and in my personal observations, I am seeing some people develop new symptoms that resemble Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but do not meet all of the criteria of that well-researched disorder.

Eight symptoms and clusters of symptoms I have identified include:

Irritability - as the consequences of the terrorist attacks sink in, and no immediate resolution is in sight, symptoms of increased irritability arise.  Brief flashes of this occur in interpersonal interactions with strangers, but can also occur among loved ones. Customer service representatives are noticing that customers are more impatient and less tolerant.

Anhedonia - or the loss of ability to experience pleasure. Activities that were once pleasurable are no longer enjoyable. Some activities feel like too much work.  Some activities become a hassle rather than an enjoyment. 

Amotivational syndrome - When formerly enjoyable activities are no longer enjoyable, it is hard to get motivated to do them. Some examples are withdrawal from social contacts, withdrawal from hobbies, and withdrawal from commitments.  The person may display an overall reduction in activities and become more passive.

Fear - Fear (when the source of the fear is clear) and anxiety (when the source of the fear is less clear or unknown) are more frequent. The person may feel a heightened sense of alertness, jumpiness, or may startle more easily. 

Avoidance - Fear may motivate a person to avoid many things.  They may avoid travel, shopping, entertainment, crowds, cities, or certain buildings. 

Physical Changes - The person may experience changes in their sleep patterns. Then may have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, or may awaken earlier than usual.  They may experience changes in eating habits - increased or decreased eating. Appetite may increase or decrease. Sexual interest may also change.

Flashbacks - Although not as common, some people may find themselves reliving the events of the attacks. They may daydream or find certain images intruding into their consciousness.  

Regression - Some who have had previous problems with depression, anxiety, stress, or substance abuse may relapse or regress into old patterns of behavior. 

What to do if you find yourself exhibiting some or all of these symptoms?  The first step is already started. Identify if you are displaying some of these symptoms. 

If the symptoms persist or create additional problems in your life, seek counseling with a psychologist experienced in treating fear, PTSD and mood disorders. 

It is very important to do the things you are afraid to do. Do the things you once enjoyed, but no longer enjoy. Instead of trusting your feelings, act against these new feelings and attitudes.

Read books and listen to tapes on fear-free living.

Finally, do as many things as possible to help others. Helping others is often one of the most effective ways to reverse the slide into helplessness and hopelessness. Remember, there is hope and joy right around the corner -- do not wait for it to happen; make it happen.