Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2001
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Terrorist attacks generate employee stress

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Terrrorist attacks generate employee stress

By Matt Kelly

The recent terrorist attacks have been accompanied by a storm of emotional dislocation, according to Alan Cohn, director of the University’s Faculty and Employee Assistance Program.

Cohn, in speaking at faculty and staff forums to groups of employees last week, said that in the wake of the attack, war veterans have been experiencing a resurgence of feeling and post traumatic stress, members of some minorities are concerned about handling disparaging remarks and counselors have had a wave of calls on how to approach the issue with children.

“Tragedy: Dealing with the aftermath”

Oct. 4 Newcomb Hall South Meeting Room, 9:30 to 11 :30 a.m.

A general trauma can increase and build on personal stress, said Cohn. He warned that while the acute stress period lasts three to four weeks, some people’s coping mechanism is to delay its onset.

One man who attended Cohn’s session said many of the people he encountered were “brittle, edgy and angry.” He said it seemed as if the attack had brought a lot of other problems to the surface.

A woman said while there seemed to be a strong bond of community between the students and the alumni in the financial community who survived the attacks, she felt that the staff was excluded from this.

“It seemed like they were saying ‘the best thing to do is focus on your job,’ when what I wanted them to say was ‘It’s all right not to focus on your job.’,” she said, adding that it seemed incumbent on employees to find their own answers. Then she felt guilty, she said, and only since has she found other people who feel the same.

Coping mechanisms

• Take time out for leisure and pleasant activities
• Separate speculation from facts
• Get good rest and eat healthy foods
• Turn off the television when stress levels increase
• Maintain as much of a normal routine as possible
• If stress persists, contact the Faculty and Employee Assistance Program or your physician

Another man said he had tried to force himself to focus on work, but it was like trying to break through a barrier. He said he was in a severe “funk” over the weekend, then he felt a level of relief at returning to work. He acknowledged that he had “seen too much” on television.

Cohn reassured employees that everybody was on the same journey but in different stages. He said that focusing on work is one coping mechanism, as is postponing the impact. He cautioned employees that reaction to the trauma was similar to a roller coaster ride, with highs and lows.

Stress, and reaction to it, manifest in different ways, Cohn said. Some throw themselves into work, others withdraw, need more sleep or have outbursts of anger. He counseled employees to have patience and tolerance with coworkers feeling a sense of despair and helplessness.

“When you deal with anger, remember that fesar is always behind it,” Cohn said.
One employee fears the reactions these attacks may trigger, citing increased road rage he has witnessed in Northern Virginia, as well as reports that the house of a man from Pakistan had been burned.

An overwhelming feeling of powerlessness and despair typically follows terror attacks, Cohn said. He said the people who want to regain control of their lives can lash out.

One employee suggested that the University send out daily messages of tolerance, which employees could in turn pass on to their friends.

Some of the employees were concerned about media reports of “sleepers,” terrorists who had been sent into the country many years ago and have been living normal lives awaiting an opportunity to strike. One woman said a Saudi family recently moved onto her block and she is concerned. Another employee said he has Muslim friends and he is confident he knows them well enough that there is not a danger. He suggested that people concerned about their neighbors should get to know them better.

Cohn said that there are no guarantees in life for anyone.

Employees were also concerned about feelings of uncertainty, of another attack or the threat of war. Cohn said uncertainty and ambiguity are fed by a lack of facts. He suggested that people limit how much they watch on television and focus on the known factual information, without the speculation.

Cohn himself said he deals with his own stress by talking with friends (“Venting is a coping mechanism.”), limiting the amount of television he watches and by spiritual activity.

“You have to step out [of the stressful situation] for a while, to cleanse and rejuvenate,” he said. “Otherwise you can get overwhelmed with sensations.”


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