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KNOXVILLE — People experiencing stress over fears of a possible war in the Middle East can take action to improve their mood and head off depression, a University of Tennessee psychology professor said recently.

Dr. Derek Hopko said stress is a normal part of life, but fears of terrorism and the possibility of war in Iraq may push some into depression.

“The September 11 terrorist attacks were a significant stressor,” Hopko said. “The incidents of anxiety and depression in the United States increased fairly significantly. We saw a dramatic increase in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression in Manhattan.

“We know those stressors have a big impact on the psyche of American citizens. Partially as a result of those events, people are a little more vigilant about the possibility of war in the Middle East, and that upsets them even more.”

Hopko said people feeling additional stress at the thought of war in Iraq have two options.

“They can become more educated about what’s going on in the Middle East, because sometimes additional knowledge gives people additional strength to cope with events,” Hopko said.

“The other option is to choose not to expose themselves to information about current events in that region, and basically avoid the topic. This is a typical response when people are anxious or depressed.”

All of us in our day-to-day activities experience a variety of stresses, some major and some minor, Hopko said.

“The way we handle the stress is a function of our coping resources, like friends and family, outside interests and hobbies, and religious convictions.”