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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Coping After 9-11

Q. I am a 50-year-old male, in good health. I exercise on a regular basis, playing tennis. I work out of my home as a sales representative and my job is very unstructured. Ever since the disaster on September 11th I have had trouble concentrating on my work and staying on task. I bounce from project to project. I also was drinking more than usual, and stopped completely a week ago. What do you suggest I do to bounce back?

A. You are not alone. Many of us have been struggling to cope with the brave new world we find ourselves in, in the aftermath of these terrible attacks. Many people find themselves unusually tense, hyper-vigilant, and unable to concentrate or sleep well. These are not necessarily abnormal reactions, in light of the very real threats we continue to face. But if they have gotten to the point, in your case, that your social or vocational function is beginning to suffer, it would be prudent to get some professional help.

Your over-use of alcohol is especially worrisome, even though (to your credit), you have been able to stop. In the mean time, my suggestions would be to avoid over-exposing yourself to news coverage about the terrorist threat; try to plan your day in a more structured way; talk about your feelings with a friend or loved one on a regular basis; and find something meaningful and productive to do with your feelings about the September 11th attacks. For some people, this might involve writing an article or essay on how "9-11" has affected you.

For others, it might mean volunteering to help out at a hospital or nursing home, where you will see many people far worse off than you. Other people might decide to find some fellowship in a support group--and, if you have a history of problem drinking, joining AA could be helpful. You might also find the book, "The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook", by Martha Davis et al, of some use. If you have persistent problems with your concentration, sleep, or mood, as well as trouble functioning in your job, I would advise seeing your family physician and/or a mental health professional. Medication and/or counseling might be very helpful for you.

December 2001

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