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New Yorkers find themselves in a state of fear

By Jason Fink



Fear. It’s not just the stuff of horror movies. It’s real, every day life now for New Yorkers.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Morgan Rautzham, a bartender at Suspenders Bar in the Financial District. “People seem scared and confused. They’re more anxious and more disheveled.”

Undoubtedly, the anxiety is fueled by the Dow’s daily roller coaster ride, unemployment skyrocketing and news about the economic future looking grimmer by the day.

“Down here it’s pretty evident people are stressed out,” said Rautzham, 24, who added that her customers are coming in greater numbers and staying later into the night.

However, experts in the field say there is also something else at work, a kind of self-sustaining anxiety fed by the 24-hour news cycle and the almost paralyzing amount of information at people’s fingertips.

“Throughout history, there are always times when people have been in a state of fear,” said Gerilyn Ross, director of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. “What’s different now, ... because of the onslaught of information we get 24/7, is you can’t turn it off. People are tuned in, turned on, and there’s no escape.”Another difference today is that people can go out and get the information they want, which can often do little more than stir the fears they already have.

Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital, said the wealth of information that is now a mouse click away can be a blessing but is just as often a curse.

“If people have an issue they Google it,” she said. “And very often they find information that is correct but they don’t see the other side of it. You have a bump on your skin - that could be a pimple and it could be cancer.”

In fact, stress can actually make people sick even if they weren’t before, Saltz said.

Scientists believe the fear response begins in a small section of the brain. When people are afraid, their body releases a flood of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases the heart rate so blood pumps faster. Meanwhile, cortisol begins the process of breaking down non-essential tissue, leading to elevated blood fats and sugar.

“Chronic anxiety can take a toll on our bodies,” she said. “Cortisol and other hormones run through your body without relief, people develop anxiety disorders or they turn to drugs or alcohol.”

Joseph Bailey, a clinical psychologist and author said he had also noticed more people clinging to their fears.

“After 9/11, I witnessed that there was a growing addiction to fear, an obsession with fear,” he said. “Marketers use it, the news media use it. What keeps us awake at night is not necessarily what happened but what might happen.”

Indeed, several New Yorkers interviewed recently said they had noticed feeling a general sense of dread about the future.

“The fear is that this is the tip of the iceberg,” said Rich Commodore, 36, of Brooklyn, reflecting on the economic downturn.

Asked his thoughts about people in the city living in fear, Commodore pointed to a group of police cars and one officer holding an automatic weapon. “You mean like that?” he said.

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