Faculty Publications and Other Works -- Nursing

Source Publication

Health Care for Women International

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2003


According to terror management theory (TMT), an event that heightens awareness of death produces the need to defend against existential anxiety. The horrifying events of September 11, 2001 (9/11), created an unparalleled opportunity to apply TMT beyond the laboratory. This study examined post-9/11 stress (via perceived stress scale [PSS] scores) and interview responses of a diverse community sample of American midlife women (ages 35-60). Previous studies showed that many women have high stress during midlife, suggesting that 9/11 could have a unique impact on this segment of the U.S. population. Education of the sample ranged from 12 to 23 years. Seventy-five percent had children and 70.6% were married. Data analysis showed that 4 to 6 months after 9/11, 61% of the women were still distressed, exhibiting symptoms of fear, sadness, anger, powerlessness, distrust, and vigilance. Highly stressed women (upper 25% on PSS) differed in several respects from low-stress women (lower 25% on PSS). As predicted by TMT, core values central to a woman's world view were activated by 9/11. Patriotism and altruism increased, but bigotry intensified as well. Major changes (e.g., marriage, moving) were undertaken only by a small percentage (18%), but all expressed the view, "None of us will ever be the same again." Women who had experienced previous trauma felt that their background actually helped them cope.

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