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Reactions to Disaster

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But not all counselors are seeing increased sexual activity.

In Yale University's Sex Counseling program, an increasing number of patients are reporting loss of libido connected with stress from current events, says Philip Sarrel, MD, program director.

He reports that doctors across America are seeing a rise in office visits and a generalized loss of pleasure in everyday experiences -- signs of depression. "When mood is affected, leading to either an increase in depressed or anxious feelings, it's difficult to have erotic feelings," Sarrel says in a news release.

According to a nationwide poll, one in 10 Americans is depressed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Five in 10 are having trouble concentrating, and three in 10 aren't sleeping well.

Wyatt says many of her patients are depressed, "but they're still having sex."

"When a horrific event is not anticipated, that increases fear and anxiety because you never know what's going to happen next," Wyatt says. "People who have experienced trauma in the past, sexual or physical abuse, or unforeseen events that they couldn't control, may have a heightened sense of terror, [fear] of revictimization. They could be more vulnerable."

Nothing's the same, and we have to admit that to ourselves, she says. "We can't go back to 'business as usual.' We have to acknowledge that we're in constant flux. How could you go back to what you were doing? Everything you see on TV, or when you talk to someone, or see a picture, can remind you of a loss. You have to allow yourself to grieve."

To get through the difficult times, it helps to meditate, visit friends, to anchor yourself, so you know you're not the only one feeling vulnerable, Wyatt tells WebMD. "But for employers to expect the same productivity as before is an unrealistic expectation of what terror or trauma is really like. You don't ever get over it. You learn to live with it." That takes time, she says.

It's especially hard today, when there's such a sense of the unknown. "That's a huge abyss in our lives," she tells WebMD.

The stresses, the unknowns, are affecting everyone -- whether they live in targeted areas or not, Wyatt says. Research indicates that observing trauma can be just as traumatizing as actually being a victim of an attack.

No one feels invulnerable, she says. "Just because it hasn't crossed the Mississippi doesn't mean it won't."

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