LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- Sexual activity is up. Flying is down. Gas mask sales are soaring. People are gorging themselves on candy and ice cream but also ducking for cover at the smallest noise. The thought of driving into an underground parking garage can be chilling.
Americans are trying to cope with a new, previously unthinkable reality -- war and the prospect of further attacks at home following the September 11 attacks that left 5,700 people dead or missing and presumed dead.
And it has not been easy.
"To tell you the truth I was not really expecting to return home from PNC Park (baseball stadium) on Friday," said Richard Kubia, a television sound technician in Pittsburgh. "I had convinced myself that there would be a symbolic attack on one of our country's shining new ballparks as the last game of the season was played," he said.
The production trucks park in a garage which is under hundreds of tons of steel and concrete. "I wasn't too happy about having to be parked indoors from the very beginning of the season, but that garage takes on a whole other mindset now. It is very easy to get caught up," Kubia said.
Julie, a housewife in Los Angeles, said she thought about buying gas masks for herself, her husband and her two young sons, but then decided it would be futile to try to change one's fate under such circumstances. "Besides, I didn't want to get caught in a predicament in which the gas mask fit me but not my child or vice versa," she said.
Risa Mandelberg, owner of a card company in Los Angeles, said she's been waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares, but has found herself trying to have fun at several weddings since the attacks.
Fear of biochemical attack
"A lot of people are getting married," she said. "I went to a wedding right after it happened. There were a lot of tears and the rabbi mentioned the attacks during the ceremony. It was very sad."
Therapists say people's personalities and prior history to a great extent determine how they react to trauma, which explains why some are buying antibiotics fearing a biochemical attack, others are abandoning their diets with a vengeance and still others are pretending nothing's changed at all.
"An event of this kind triggers our personal fears and mobilizes our coping skills. These ways vary, are not limited to one, and may change over the course of events," said Catherine Riggs-Bergesen, a clinical psychologist in New York.
"Your emotional state before the event greatly determines how you are coping with it now and in what style," she added.
Not surprisingly, many people throughout the country are experiencing depression, fear and sleeplessness after witnessing on television or firsthand the horrific attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
What is curious, however, is that several psychologists have noted an improvement among some patients who had been treated for depression and anxiety prior to the attacks. But others say that many people prone to depression are depressed now by events.
Fear of flying
"I got a phone call this week from a patient I had 20 years ago who was afraid of flying," said Jerilyn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorders Association. of America and a therapist in Washington.
"He said he had taken three flights since the attacks because he had worked so hard to overcome his fear of flying. He said all the techniques we used made him less fearful of flying than others right now," she said.
One explanation is that people with anxiety disorders or emotional problems suffer as a result of turning inward. But now that the external environment is less stable, their problems seem less serious, experts say.
While many Americans are forging ahead with planned events, like weddings, business and family trips, many are hunkering down in ways that are reminiscent of America during past wars.
Indeed, some experts say that many people are turning to food, shopping, movies and sex as a means of escaping and coping with fear and sadness.
Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington sociologist, said there are many reasons people have sex during crises.
Times of high anxiety, she said, produce strong emotions which cause people to fall in love more intensely, decide more often to get married, and to have more sex. This last activity also serves as a temporary escape.
"It's blotting out the world and living in a moment of heightened pleasure as opposed to heightened peril or depression so you block that out and stop thinking for at least a little while and just be and enjoy and get down to those basic emotions," Schwartz said.
Schwartz predicted a "baby boomlet" would follow nine months after the attacks but one not nearly as big as the baby boom that followed the end of World War Two.
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More sex, less sleep: U.S. attack reactions vary
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