Coping with Trauma in the Wake of the 9/11 Anniversary

Joselyn Spence
NBA Director of Mental Health and Wellness Joselyn Spence.

This September marks the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A moment that impacted lives in the United States and across the world, especially those located in New York City, Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, as well as the families of those whose lives were lost.

In addition to September 11, the months of August and September usher in memories of several major hurricanes: Ike, Irma, Harvey, and Katrina. This is especially true as the current hurricane season looms for those who are surviving the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

All of this is happening amid a continuing global pandemic that has recently surged due to the recent delta variant. There is increased stress as students return to school despite rising cases, and debates around mask-wearing and vaccines continue. 

Those who have been involved in the war in Afghanistan are navigating a range of emotions connected to the recent withdraw of troops and the Taliban takeover. Many are also experiencing the impact of the economic and political crises in their communities.  

These events have been traumatic and beyond challenging for everyone. There has been a significant amount of loss and disruption to our lives, which naturally can give rise to trauma symptoms and symptoms of grief and depression. Many of us do not feel safe and have not for a long time. During this time, it is important to understand and normalize stress and trauma responses to what we have endured. You do not have to feel shame or guilt around your initial response to trauma. Many awful things have happened in ways none of us could have predicted or expected, and it has changed our lives in ways we could not have imagined.  

With this in mind, some symptoms you might be experiencing are:  

  • Irritability triggered by small things
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping longer than usual
  • Feelings of anxiety, being on-guard (hypervigilant), and worry that the same event or something else will happen to you or others
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Burnout and decreased energy and interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • Brain fog, difficulty remembering things, concentrating and completing tasks
  • Flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts about the event, and related details
  • Feeling spiritually disconnected from God and your community and/or unable to pray

While these symptoms are normal responses to trauma and loss, you should not experience them at high levels for an extended amount of time. Assessing this can be challenging since the pandemic is ongoing.  If these symptoms lead to severe impairment with your work, your relationships, or with caring for yourself, and the symptoms last over a month without decreasing, or if recent traumatic events have been difficult to process, please seek professional services as soon as possible. You deserve to feel well and have the care and support that you need. 

In the meantime, here are some ways to cope: 

  • Acknowledge your feelings and please be gentle with yourself and others. Share with others how you are feeling and what your needs are.
  • Have patience with yourself, decrease demands, and delegate tasks where you can to allow space for grieving and for your body to rest. 
  • Reduce stimuli by eliminating or reducing the use of social media, watching/reading the news, and triggering conversations with others.
  • Communal lament and support are a major part of our faith and a way to create a safe space of care. Connect with others to share your stories and memories of September 11 and other events. This could be done by gathering friends and family on a Zoom call or watching a SoulCare recording with a loved on
  • Create and practice rituals that put your mind at ease. This can include prayer, breathing exercises, lighting candles, making food, listening to music, making art, or moving your body in other ways.
  • Talk to wise counsel such as a therapist or spiritual director.
  • Nourish yourself well with healthy food, drink, rest, moments of joy, and exercise.

It is normal for coping skills to change when you are in a constant process of coping, healing, and rebuilding due to the constant shifting of our current reality. Be intentional about your Sabbath practice and offer yourself an extra dose of compassion during this month, and always.

I pray God’s peace is with you and that you are aware of God’s peace, especially when you need it most. 

Additional Resources

Clergy Resources for Crisis and Trauma

CDC Guide for Coping with Stress

NBA’s SoulCare Sessions

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 2021 Trauma Response Roundtable

CCDOC Resources for Coping with Trauma