The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 created fear, dread, and uncertainty among most Americans. Although many Americans have been aware of terrorism in the world, it is unprecedented for Americans to feel unsafe at home and abroad. Indeed, terrorist groups have launched a total of 3300 attacks on US targets since 1968. However, on 9/11, more than three times the number of Americans were killed than those that died in terrorist attacks over the last 33 years (Hoffman, 2002).
Since September 11, 2001, the threat of another terrorist attack has been a chronic stressor for many. For example, about two-thirds of Americans report fears of future terrorism (Silver et al., 2002) and 44% think that terrorism will increase over the next few years (Schuster et al., 2001). Fears of future terrorism are not limited to adults. Following the attacks on 9/11, 47% of children were worried about their own safety or the safety of a loved one, and there was a significant association between child and adult stress (Schuster et al., 2001). The terrorist events on 9/11 and their aftermath, including wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the uncertainty of future attacks on the US, have led to increased feelings of insecurity, fearfulness, and anxiety among many Americans.
How can Americans cope with this ongoing threat of terrorism? Is having some anxiety and vigilance normative? Are there forms of adaptation to the threat of terrorism that do not result in optimal mental health or functioning? Can we learn any lessons from how citizens in other countries cope with the chronic threat of terrorism?