Dear Therapist:

I have tremendous anxiety from the news, especially nowadays when there are so many videos of terror attacks and other terrible things. I saw a video of a terror attack and I think about it all the time. I had this problem a few years ago but it didn't bother me again until recently. Whenever I go to Manhattan I am so afraid of something terrible happening. Please give me advice on how to deal with this.



There are various types of anxiety and a number of techniques designed to deal with them.  If you have general anxiety that tends to be exacerbated by specific news stories, you may be focusing on the obvious, more intense anxiety.  However, if your general anxiety is an underlying factor, decreasing this can reduce the higher anxiety that is triggered when you’re affected by a specific event.  It’s easy to blame your anxiety on the fear of a terrorist threat.  You seem to recognize, however, that your level of fear is greater than the actual threat level calls for.  This likely means that something is happening, without your conscious awareness, that is causing you to feel anxiety.  These unconscious emotions can be much more powerful than your conscious efforts to logically eliminate the fear.  Although you may tell yourself repeatedly that your fear is not warranted, your unconscious mind continuously tells you to be afraid.

Working on general anxiety can seem complicated.  You would first need to discover whether you actually have general anxiety.  If you acknowledge that you do, you would then work on its history, underlying fears, triggers, and many other factors.  Although this may seem daunting, a proficient therapist can help you to identify and work on these.  Decreasing this core anxiety can go a long way toward decreasing more obvious fears that appear closer to the surface.  For instance, if someone grows up afraid of being bullied, this can lead to a general sense of timidity and fear in adulthood.  When this old fear is triggered by news of a terror attack, it can force the childhood emotion to the surface.  Working on resolving the childhood fear can reduce the general anxiety as well as fear that is related to specific triggers.

Another approach would focus directly on the fear by focusing on its emotional aspect.  This approach would ignore the instinct to avoid the issue or to remind yourself that there’s nothing to be afraid of.  It would focus instead on what you are afraid of (even if it doesn’t seem to make sense).  For instance, thinking about how a terrorist attack might occur, how it would affect you, and how you would react can help you to focus on your logical thoughts about it—instead of simply feeling afraid.  Identifying and challenging your specific fears intellectually can help to decrease them.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317


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