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Feeling anxious? You aren't alone

Personal tensions mount as people face the uncertainty of world events.

Personal tensions mount as people face the uncertainty of world events.

March 10, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

If you've had trouble sleeping and feel more irritable lately, you are not the only one: Local mental health professionals say more people than usual are having those and other symptoms of increased anxiety, probably due to world events.

"People are more tense and stressed than usual due to the whole situation with the uncertainty about whether we are going to a war or whether we are subjected to terrorism," Hagers-town social worker John Kenney said.

And it is not just people who get therapy or medication for anxiety who are feeling the change, mental health professionals say.

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People who are feeling anxious should "recognize there is an increased level of anxiety across society and they are not alone," said Mike Shea, administrative director for Behavior Health Services of Washington County Hospital.

"I think people are more anxious and stressed out," said Mark Lannon, the Mental Health Center's executive director. "The whole notion of the economy and the war: It all contributes to a state of unease."

Louis F. Ahalt Jr., a licensed social worker, said for some the anxiety is caused by the possibility of war and terrorist attacks while for others it is the economy and the heavy winter,

"It is all part of the mix," Ahalt said. "People are distressed."

Ahalt said normally the patients he treats just talk about problems in their personal lives, not world events, but lately they are talking about war and terrorism, he said.

Some of the anxiety and stress predates world events and is the result of a progressive trend in which Americans, "a nation of workaholics," are working longer hours and taking less vacation time, Ahalt said.

Donna Bage, a Hagerstown social worker, said it is not unusual for her to help patients who are more stressed and anxious than normal but it is rare for her to become anxious and stressed, as has been the case as she pays attention to the news about a possible war and terrorist actions.

Bage said if she, someone who usually does not have anxiety problems, is having difficulties, then many others in society probably are as well.

Additionally, a number of patients who had stopped coming to her for therapy have returned since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to resume therapy, she said.

The increased anxiety can affect people's behavior at work because a common consequence of anxiety is increased edginess and irritability, mental health workers say.

"People are more irritable. There are more relationship problems, more frustrations with the little things," Ahalt said.

There have been more employees of local businesses calling through a hospital employee assistance program, Shea said. For example, a boss may notice an employee is acting more irritated than usual and before problems escalate, the supervisor could suggest the employee call the hospital through the confidential program, he said.

Anxiety problems can put a strain on families, especially when an anxious person becomes more withdrawn and does not explain the problem, Kenney said.

But the anxiety problems also sometimes bring family members closer together when they realize that while they can't control world events, they can affect how well the family gets along, Bage said.

Social workers and therapists said the world events are making their work more complicated.

Normally about 80 percent of what people worry about when anxious are events that never occur, Shea said.

But it is hard, Ahalt, Shea and others said, to tell patients that they should not worry about the possibility of war or terrorism.

"It becomes important to validate their concerns and say there are very good reasons to feel what they are feeling," Ahalt said.

"We should encourage people to talk about their feelings as well as get on with their lives," Lannon said.

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