Strategies for coping in a climate of fear 

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Psychologists are concerned by the level of fear and anxiety generated by recent media coverage of potential terrorist attacks in Australia.

Amanda Gordon, President of The Australian Psychological Society, says people should look after themselves and find ways of managing their anxiety, but also ensure they keep the threat in perspective to guard against overreacting.

‘It is easy to become frightened by reports of an imminent terrorist attack,” says Ms Gordon.

“Some coping strategies that people can use include calming fears with relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, distraction or positive imaging.Spending time with people you love and care about is also an important support in distressing times,” she said.

“It is also important that people are realistic about the risk of being involved in a terrorist attack. It is still much more likely that a person will be injured in a car accident driving home from work,” she said.

“The consequences of fear can be very unhealthy for your wellbeing. Fear can create prolonged stress reactions, intense feelings of anger, trigger phobias, insecurity, intensified negative perceptions about public order (eg, the streets are not safe), prejudice against groups, the need to identify an ‘enemy’ and demonising of particular ethnic groups,” she said.

“While a threat posed by a very small group of people may be genuine, we need to be careful that we don’t generalise and stereotype particular ethnic groups. Greater security will come from an Australia that respects diversity and is inclusive and supportive of people from all cultures,” said Ms Gordon.

Tips to help you cope with your fear

  • Learn to distinguish between real and imagined fear
  • Consume news reports in a critical and evaluative frame of mind
  • Learn to think critically about the variety of threats such as terrorism or bird flu
  • Bring rationality to your emotionality

Tips for parents

  • Reassure children of their own safety, and help them make sense of what is happening in a calm and reasonable manner - begin a dialogue to help them gain a basic understanding that is appropriate for their age and responds to their underlying concerns
  • Provide an adult’s perspective to help them understand and make sense of what they are viewing and listening to.
  • Take this opportunity to let them know that if any emergency or crisis should occur, your primary concern will be their safety, make sure they know they are being protected.

The APS provides a free referral service for the general public, GPs and other health professionals who are seeking the advice and assistance of a qualified psychologist, online at or call 1800 333 497

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Amanda Gordon is available to comment on this topic, please call 0411 428 250.