Anxiety about Terrorism


Terrorism has once again dominated the news with the attacks in Brussels earlier this week.  Many people are increasingly frightened that they will one day become a victim of such an attack.  A Gallup poll conducted in December, 2015 found that half of all Americans are either ‘very worried’ or ‘somewhat worried’ that they or a family member will become a victim of terrorism.  Perhaps you are among that number.  I’d like to offer a couple of suggestions for you in managing your level of anxiety about terrorism.

The first strategy has to do with accurately assessing your level of risk to be a victim.  In 2014, 17 people were killed by terrorists in America.  If we examine the numbers for other causes of death we can compare those with terrorism:

Cause Deaths Risk Over Terrorism
Flu 3697 217 times
Falls 3208 188 times
Car Accident 35369 2080 times
Talking/texting while driving 3154 185 times
Falling out of bed 450 26 times
Lightning 33 2 times

I trust you take the point.  I feel confident that half of all Americans are not ‘very worried’ or ‘somewhat worried’ about falling to their death out of bed, even though it is 26 times more likely to happen than dying at the hands of a terrorist.  We humans are not so good at intuitively assessing risks in our lives, so being mindful of this data can help us get a better perspective.  When our reaction is not in proportion to the level of danger, anxiety is the result.  So it would do us well to be clear about exactly what the level of danger is.

In addition to the cognitive strategy I just discussed, I would like to suggest a behavioral strategy: get away from your screens!  Immersing ourselves in the news about terrorism also causes us to misperceive the risk.  Although a terrorist attack is a real thing that happened in the world and is a tragedy, the media’s job is to make money and maximize viewers.  Some degree of sensationalism goes on and by repeatedly viewing the images and listening to experts talk about what to do to protect yourself, you overestimate the risk, heighten your anxiety, and prevent yourself from recognizing and enjoying the relative safety we have in this country.  Schedule brief times to check in with the news, but limit this exposure.

It may also help you to get positively engaged to increase your sense of control.  Perhaps you can donate blood or give money to organizations who respond to assist victims of terrorism in the world.

Finally, as with any kind of anxiety, it helps to engage in some deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to lower your level of arousal.  You can find some examples of these in the Resources section of my website at   You can also learn about me and my practice there as well as how to contact me if you would like to find out whether therapy with me is right for you.

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