Still Feeling Jumpy?

Ten Ways to Calm Those Nerves

Medically Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD on September 01, 2002
From the WebMD Archives

The trauma of Sept. 11 continues for many Americans in the form of "feeling jumpy" or anxious as they go through their daily activities. Jerilyn Ross of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America says that's normal. "Right now, many people are having trouble sleeping, feeling very emotional, or experiencing restricted emotions. They may feel irritable, have trouble concentrating, have trouble getting recollections of the events out of their minds. It is important to know that these are common reactions and they will go away with time. As a nation we are going through one of the most horrible things that has happened to us, and for most of us, the most horrible thing that has happened in our lifetime."

Here are 10 tips from Ross on how to soothe yourself:

Talk about your feelings: "One of the most important things to do right now is talk about it, [but] recognize that everybody reacts differently to a trauma. It is perfectly normal for people to have different reactions. There isn't any one way to feel or think."

Use deep breathing: People who are anxious hold their breath subconsciously, which makes them nervous. Deep breathing is very simple and very helpful, says Ross.

Be good to yourself: "Spend time doing things you enjoy doing. Whether it's playing with a child, favorite sport, or listening to music, it is important to have a good balance."

Get back into a routine:" In particular, I encourage people to make sure they take care of themselves by making sure -- even though you may not feel like sleeping or exercising or eating -- to make sure that you get rest that you need, exercise, and eat three meals a day.

Speak up if you're uncomfortable: "We need to go about our day-to-day activities -- go on airplanes, go to concerts and museums -- but with an extra eye. If you see something you're not comfortable with, don't be afraid to speak up. If you are in a crowded place, note where the exits are. If security clearances don't seem adequate, say something. It's important to realize we do have some control over these situations."

Do a reality check: "We have to look at the odds of this happening again. Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? No."

Practice positive thinking:"When we start having those frightening thoughts, one thing we should do is ask ourselves 'Is this a productive thought or something my imagination is reacting to?' If it is a productive thought and actions need to be taken, then take the necessary steps. If it is a nonproductive thought that will only add to anxiety, it's important to refocus your thinking with a more positive thought."

Limit your exposure to the media: "I tell people if the news is bothering you, it's OK not to watch it, or at least don't watch it before you go to bed. Read a fun novel instead.

Educate yourself on panic attacks: "Once somebody has been medically checked out following a panic attack and they are reassured that this not a cardiovascular or other physical health problem, then they can be assured that it is probably a panic attack, which is frightening but not dangerous. It is important to understand that panic attacks themselves are our body's way of preparing us for the threat of danger in that the adrenaline increases, the blood rushes to vital organs, and our body's natural flight response. When this happens in the face of an immediate and real threat to our well-being, it is what enables us to respond accordingly and get out of harm's way."

"Now, should a person continue to have panic attacks that are unprovoked by any real threat, or should the fear of having one stop them from carrying out their daily functions, they should speak to a health professional."

Don't be afraid to get help:" If you find that you are continuing to have nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, emotional numbing or avoiding activities and places, or that you are experiencing irritability, trouble concentrating, feeling detached from others and if these continue after several days or weeks, it is important to know that you can -- and should -- get professional help. Severe stress or traumatic stress can be effectively treated. If you find yourself or a loved one not able to move forward and get on with your daily routines, please think of it as a strength rather than a weakness to seek professional help."