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War Talk May Cause Anxiety, Panic

Psychoanalysts Say You May Need to Reach Deep to Find Out Why

WebMD Health News

Jan. 22, 2003 -- Questions about war, terrorism, and the economy confront us every time we turn on the television or pick up a newspaper. And for certain individuals, these external crises can -- and will -- trigger internal crises, say leading psychoanalysts.

"We are bombarded with news about crises in business, government, and religion and it's over-stimulating," Kerry J, Sulkowicz, MD, New York-based psychoanalyst, tells WebMD. "And it leaves us with the feeling that some of the basic pillars of our society are disintegrating and we are seeing some huge cracks or threats in the foundations of [these pillars]. That is deeply unsettling and for some it may precipitate profound personal anxiety," he says.

The American Psychoanalytic Association is holding its Winter 2003 meeting this week in New York.

"There is a heightened public awareness about dreadful events and that dovetails with individual anxiety in people who are predisposed to having anxious, phobic, or fearful reactions," says Sulkowicz, also chair of the American Psychoanalytic Association's committee on public information.

Such simple strategies as turning off the television may help, he says.

But "if you experience continuous symptoms of anxiety such as sleeplessness, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, and irritability, and if it isn't going away when you turn off the television, talk to someone who can explore your reactions and what it is about these external situations that can trigger internal crises," Sulkowicz says.

There are many different types of therapists that you could turn to, but psychoanalysts say they may be able to offer a different perspective.

Psychoanalysis prides itself on getting at the deeper, underlying issues that plaque the unconscious mind. It is based on the observation that individuals are often unaware of many of the factors that determine their emotions and behavior.

What makes now so different from past crises?

While other periods in history have been marked by feelings of intense fear, the availability and proliferation of instant communications have literally removed borders, Sulkowicz says. "A crisis is no longer delineated to one area or one country any more," he explains. News is disseminated rapidly and within minutes, people in the U.S. can know about something that happened or may happen in Afghanistan, Iraq, or anywhere else in the world.

"When it comes to viewing current events, most people have a normal level of denial, but the more anxious you are -- for whatever reason -- [the more prone you are] to respond anxiously to any stimuli," says Leon Hoffman, MD, New York-based child psychoanalyst.

"People who experience an overabundance of anxiety over social events need to turn the television off and stop reading newspapers and magazine articles about subjects that make you worry," Hoffman stresses. ""If talking to your friends and family does not work, talk to a professional."

"Reducing stimuli can help but it's not the only part," Sulkowicz agrees. "The internal part is to allow yourself to recognize the need for and getting help," he says.

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