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Ask Alina – Middle East Carnage Brings Back 9/11 Depression

Dear Ask Alina,

What happened over the weekend has shaken me to the core. Reading about the attacks on innocent children and families in the Middle East, all I can do is hug my children and say a prayer. I was a young adult during the 9/11 attacks and remember vividly watching the world change on TV. I was depressed for months and remember going back to my parents’ house just to feel a little bit safer. 

I am now finding myself depressed again, but no longer have my parents to run home to, and have my own kids I need to protect. I am struggling to let my kids go to school and my husband to work—I want us all to bunker up in the house and stay safe together. I know that is not realistic, so I come to you for help.


Alameda Post - Storm clouds over a dark landscape

Dear Stephanie,

What we are witnessing these last few days is unimaginable. I, too, was around during the 9/11 attacks. And although we had information overload then, it was mostly from two sources—newspapers and television—and the images we were seeing were mostly on constant repeat. Today’s social media gives us more “IRL” (in real life) information which turns out to be a lot harder to process. Days after 9/11, I literally turned off the television and made a conscious effort not to turn it back on. I could no longer watch the same images repeatedly. The next time we had a similar response was in March 2020, when many people were glued to the media watching the COVID-19 numbers.

The advice I offer you now is similar to what I shared with many clients in 2020—and to the advice I was given by Mental Health Clinical Supervisors in 2001. However, my advice is not a substitute for therapy. I encourage you to find a therapist you can work with to help you manage your overwhelming feelings.

  • Limit media consumption. While staying informed is essential, consuming too much news and graphic content can increase anxiety and fear. Reduce your exposure to social media. Unfollow or mute accounts that are sources of negativity and vivid images. Set specific times for checking the news and avoid excessive exposure. Avoid checking the news before bedtime.
  • Engage in physical activities. Exercise releases endorphins, which can boost your mood. Even a short walk can make a difference. On days you have more time add long walks, swim at a local gym, or take aerobic classes—being around people who also are taking care of themselves with exercise will add another layer of self-care.
  • Practice mindfulness. Try meditation. Use YouTube or phone apps to practice deep breathing and grounding exercises, or try gentle yoga. These activities can calm your mind, help your nervous system relax, and help you stay present.
  • Use good sleep hygiene. Go to bed at a consistent time, prioritize getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep, and create a consistent relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Limit alcohol. Alcohol can exacerbate anxiety and depression, so it is best to consume it only in moderation.
  • Stay connected. Surround yourself with friends and family, even if it is through video and phone calls. Research online communities and support groups, which can provide a sense of connection. Limit isolation.

Know that it is OK to feel empathy and concern for events happening around the world, but it is essential to take care of your own well-being first. Managing depression and anxiety during a crisis is a necessary and ongoing process. Look for a therapist in your area by visiting Psychology Today or Yelp.

Everyone’s experiences and feelings are unique, so do what is best for you.

Alina Baugh is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Ask Alina is for informational purposes only. This article does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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