The advent of war concentrates the thoughts of Americans - and
the world - on events that almost everyone expects will change the
course of history in unpredictable ways.
Apprehensions about this war have been building worldwide in
recent weeks, and in the US, they have merged with the persistent
anxieties about terrorist threats and a declining economy.
Earlier this month, when Americans were asked by Gallup what they
considered "the most important problem facing the country," two
concerns tied for No. 1: The "fear of war/feelings of fear in this
country," and the state of the economy. Terrorism was third.
When the congregation at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San
Francisco held a forum last week to discuss the prospect of war,
pastor Laird Stuart found that "the level of apprehension was high
that we are about to do something that has enormous implications,
and that in itself is unnerving."
America has confronted periods of fear before, including the
threat of nuclear annihilation during the cold war from missiles
very close to US shores. What makes today's situation so difficult,
say people who regularly counsel Americans, is the dramatic shock of
US vulnerability at a time of unprecedented prosperity, combined
with a cultural environment that intensifies rather than ameliorates
It need not be so, they say. Terrorism happens mostly in the
imagination, and not only do Americans have the resources to deal
with their anxieties, but many of the fears troubling people today
"Having dedicated my life to helping people put fear in its
natural place, it's hard to watch the country be so undone by
unnecessary anxiety," writes Gavin de Becker, a national expert on
predicting and managing violence, in "Fear Less: Real Truth About
Risk, Safety, and Security in a Time of Terrorism."
Pastoral counselors, therapists, and terror-risk experts agree
that Americans can take spiritual and other practical steps to free
themselves from such fears, and use the anxieties born of ignorance
to inform themselves more fully about the challenges facing the US.
Fear is helpful only when it signals a presence of immediate
danger. When it's based on memory or imagination, it is unwarranted,
says Mr. de Becker.
What's needed first is to accept the new situation in this
country - there are no security guarantees - but recognize that this
has always been part of the human condition.
"We're just waking up to what the rest of the world has been
living with for a long time," says therapist Robert Gerzon. "We've
had tremendous success through our technology and government
programs in building up an unprecedented sense of security, and it
has created a feeling that life should come with a guarantee, and it
doesn't. What we need to do is deepen our spiritual life."
At the same time, experts like de Becker - whose firm has
designed threat-assessment systems for the US Supreme Court, and
congressional and local police forces - help people sort out the
real nature of threats versus the "terrorism by TV" that he says
exaggerates and misinforms. He details in his book why Americans
should no longer fear air hijackings and why any biochemical attack
would likely be less dangerous or pervasive than they have been led
High on everyone's list of practical steps to reduce fear is this
advice: Go on a media diet! Reduce consumption of TV news to one
program a day, and read newspapers instead. Avoid the gossip and
speculation of developing stories until there is some genuine
perspective on what's happened.
"The broadcast media wants to get people's attention, and the way
to do that psychologically is to make people anxious," says Mr.
Gerzon, author of "Finding Serenity in an Age of Anxiety." "Stay
informed but in a way that doesn't fill your mind with images of
catastrophe on a daily basis. …