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Boston Bombing Aftermath: Fear, Empathy, Anger

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April 16, 2013 -- It’s normal to feel a range of emotions the day after the terror bombing attack at the Boston Marathon, even if you were thousands of miles away.

Los Angeles psychologist Emanuel Maidenberg, PhD, says that in the wake of all that horror, it's understandable that emotions are still raw and intense.

"People become vigilant, they look around, they become apprehensive," says Maidenberg, director of the cognitive behavioral therapy clinic at the UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.

Empathy for those killed or injured, as well as fear for your own safety and anger at the bomber or bombers, are also common and normal at this time, he says. Three people are dead and more than 150 are reported injured from two bombs that exploded near the finish line of the marathon Monday afternoon.

For people who witnessed the attacks, the same emotions can surface, he says, although they may be much more intense.

"Some people feel numb emotionally and some feel overwhelmed," he says. "Some people feel they have to start doing something right away to help other people." Immediately after the attacks, news reports told of runners who went straight to the nearby hospitals to donate blood.

"Some feel it's best to withdraw and isolate themselves," he says.

While the other emotions are healthy, withdrawing and isolating are not, he says.

For the runners, especially those turned back from finishing the race, he says, there is also disappointment and frustration.

Coping With Boston Attack: Handling Stress Now

For the first few days after such a catastrophe, Maidenberg says, sharing your feelings with others can help.

The tendency to stay plugged in constantly to news reports, though, can be mentally unhealthy, he says. "We want to know what's happening, who's behind it," he says. That helps us deal with some of the uncertainty.

But it can also keep you from your regular activities, which is good for healing, he says. He suggests limiting your news viewing.  "My advice is, you do want to seek accurate and timely information. Once or twice a day, check in," he says. The rest of the time, it's better to go about your typical activities, he says.

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