According to an NBC news poll taken Nov. 15-17, 2015, 54 percent of Americans are worried about a terrorist attack here. On Nov. 23, 2015, the U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel alert, urging citizens to “exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation.” Terrorist groups such as ISIS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram and others may carry out planned attacks — although officials are quick to say there are “no credible” threats of attacks on U.S. soil at this time.
Still, it’s hard to ignore breaking news from around the world about suicide bombers, or erase images of police officers patrolling major airports carrying shotguns and AR-15s, accompanied by bomb-sniffing dogs. How can we cope with the feelings of anxiety and fear that terrorist acts foster? What are some practical things we can do to live our lives without succumbing to fear?
Dr. Anita Gadhia-Smith, a Washington, D.C., psychiatrist who not only counsels individuals, couples and families, but also has worked with a lot of our leaders in government, shares her thoughts on the topic.
Time to Draw upon Courage, Trust, Patience and Faith
Dr. Gadhia-Smith says that while life is a constant state of uncertainty in general, given recent events, a lot of people are really worried, particularly in cities named as potential targets, such as Washington and New York. The attacks in Paris “pierce our denial” that there is a safe place. We want to think that whatever happens it happens out there, over there, to somebody else. But those attacks “were particularly disturbing because it was the restaurant around the corner, a music hall, and places that we all go and frequent.”
Now it becomes apparent that there is no really safe place. This could happen anywhere. But this should not cause us to stop living, Dr. Gadhia-Smith says. “These are the times that we have to draw upon courage, trust, patience and faith that we can continue to go on and live our lives and also to make a decision that we are not going to be controlled by fear. Because if we make choices based on fear, then the terrorists win and they accomplish what they are trying to do. While we need to be aware and vigilant and pay attention to unusual things that seem like they’re out of the ordinary and report those things, we don’t need to live in a state of terror and fear.”
Be Vigilant, But Carry Out Travel Plans
How do you plan for and carry out travel plans at this time of uncertainty and unrest? Dr. Gadhia-Smith encourages people to go ahead and carry out the plans that they want to have.
“There’s this wonderful British saying, ‘Keep calm and carry on.’ Apart from going to Paris or Brussels right now, I think that people need to carry on and continue with what they would normally do.”
Social Media: Does it Help or Hurt in Allaying Fears and Anxiety?
There’s no question that social media is a big part of our culture now. Dr. Gadhia-Smith believes social media can hurt and it can help in allaying fears and anxiety, depending on the emphasis. A lot of postings on social media are created to get attention and to create emotion. “We have now a very attention-seeking culture where everyone’s looking for a hit. It’s such an instant society.” She stresses that social media can give us information but not highlight the terror and not put the negative spin on things but try to keep the content balanced, rational, and genuine without overemphasizing fear and hype.
“The more that we’re bombarded with these messages that are covertly frightening, the more that builds up in people. We have to limit our exposure to media and social media and think for ourselves and decide what is really rational. Also stay connected so that you know what’s going on but not overdose yourself on it.”