Kitty Bryan thought it was just her 8-year-old son who was stressed about the sniper shootings. Still harboring fears from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he kept asking if the 13 shootings and 10 killings this month were an extension of terrorism.
“I was stressed also explaining things to him,” said the Potomac Falls mother of two at a stress seminar sponsored by the Community Resilience Project of Loudoun County.
“There’s a lot of uncertainties. We’re a society that likes to have answers. … We can’t say it with this. It continues on and on,” said Kasey Pritchett, outreach worker for the Community Resilience Project and one of four leaders at a seminar on coping with sniper-related stress, which was held Oct. 23 the day before two suspects were arrested for the shootings. “Talking about how we’re dealing with it is a jumping off point,” she said.
REGIONALLY, residents cowered behind gas pumps, ran into stores and looked over their shoulders. Somebody could have been lurking, Pritchett said. “Hurry up,” she added.
“Each one of us has a pretty normal reaction in a pretty abnormal situation,” said Pat Kropp, project staff member. “There is no one untouched here.”
Stress is “the body’s natural reaction to tension, pressure and change,” as defined by the Community Resilience Project. Stress can be acute in response to an individual situation or cumulative as several stress factors build up over time.
“There’s always been stress in our lives,” Kropp said. “Before 9/11, each of us experienced stress. … Since 9/11, we’ve had all these other things.”
The randomness of the sniper shootings could have added stress by bringing on fear, anger, anxiety, sadness and crying, fatigue and exhaustion, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, increased worry, hyper-vigilance and a desire to stay home, according to the Community Resilience Project literature. Children may have reacted by fearing the dark and being left alone, clinging to parents, regressing to immature behaviors and refusing to go to school.
Bryan said when something stressful happens in her life, she tells herself, “I can’t deal with this. The next thing you know, I’ve dealt with it.”
THE COMMUNITY Resilience Project literature lists several coping mechanisms for handling stress resulting from the shootings, including:
* Understand that chances are small of becoming a victim.
* Identify the feelings that are being experienced and understand that they are normal.
* Talk to others about the feelings.
* Stay healthy by sleeping regularly, eating healthy, balanced meals and exercising.
* Ask for help if needed.
Other coping mechanisms include meditation, relaxation and breathing exercises, along with trying to return to normal routines, the group leaders said.
“Each one of us has strength. We have resilience,” said Marcia Keene, staff member. Resilience, as defined by the project, is the “ability to ‘bounce back’ after a setback” and adjust to the new situation.
“Sometimes in difficult situations, there are positive things that come out of it,” Keene said, adding that she now knows most of the people working in her building.
For Bryan, the sniper shootings have prompted people to become more observant of their surroundings. This observance also allows people to “notice where the beauty is and what’s going on in [their] neighborhoods,” Keene said.
THE COMMUNITY Services Board administers the Community Resilience Project of Loudoun County, which is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide community outreach and support. The Loudoun County project is part of the Community Resilience Project of Northern Virginia, which was established in October 2001 after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The project offers several free services including individual and group counseling, support groups, stress management, emergency preparedness, county service referrals and financial guidance.
“We have to do things different to continue to feel safe,” Pritchett said.
For more information about services and seminars, call 703-737-8524.