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Coping With Anthrax Jitters

It seems all of America is on edge these days. Already traumatized by the attacks on the World Trade Center and now facing the threat of a biological attack, New Yorkers are increasingly turning to psychiatrists, therapists and anti-depressant drugs.

Dr. Marylene Cloitre, the director of the Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital and a professor of psychology at Cornell University Medical College, told CBS News therapists are seeing about a 20 percent increase in the number of anxiety complaints.

"They say, 'Since that date, I can't sleep as well. My concentration is poor. I'm not getting along with people as well. Is this normal?'" Cloitre said in an interview on The Early Show.

Even though it's been six weeks since the attack, people continue to exhibit distress. A predominant emotion she finds in her patients is fear. Her advice is to continue to take action and make decisions about everyday life.

"What I tell people is that they're not crazy, that they're not neurotic, that there's nothing to be ashamed of their feelings, but that terrorism is psychological warfare. And if people can understand that what's going on is that we're being manipulated and provoked to feel fearful, that that's one way to frame and think about what's happening and maybe get people to feel a lot less fearful."

Most people, she said, do not want to be manipulated or provoked into a situation of tremendous fear.

She also advises patients to get as much information as they need be able to go forward feeling as safe as they can be.

"But once you've got the information, you know that's all there is to know, I think people should make a concerted effort to go back to their routine life, to remember that there's not threat around every corner, but there is good friendship. There are wonderful things with life. Just to balance out that sense of fear with some sense of safety," she added.

An emergency coping mode people seem to be opting for is buying sleeping aids and antidepressants. And despite public health officials' admonitions against stockpiling drugs to protect against bioterrorism, new prescriptions for Cipro, the only drug approved to fight anthrax, have soared in New York this month.

For the week ending Oct. 5, New York pharmacists filled 18,348 new prescriptions for the antibiotic, compared with just 11,313 for the same week in 2000, an increase of 62 percent, according to NDCHealth, a health-care information services company based in Atlanta.

"I've heard people tell me a lot of different things like, 'Should I get a prescription? Should I get a lot of water?' And my view is, people need to feel safe,” said Cloitre. “If they need to get water, fine. If they need to get a single prescription, you know, within reason, fine. I think people are so on edge that they should do what it takes to make them feel comfortable."

The following are some coping strtegies Dr. Cloitre recommends:

  • Talk to another person about what they are worried about
  • Figure out a few activities that calm you down and make you feel better
  • Balance your schedule
  • Focus on a particular task
  • Seek professional help if you see that you are having trouble functioning on a regular basis and if your productivity has gone down by 25 percent or more.
But Dr. Cloitre asserted, "People have many more coping strategies and much more resiliency than they give themselves credit for."

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