Stay calm about North Korea threat, Guam mental health experts advise – USA TODAY


USA Today NetworkJasmine Stole, Pacific (Guam) Daily News
Published 8:56 p.m. ET Aug. 11, 2017 | Updated 8:57 p.m. ET Aug. 11, 2017

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Guam’s position in the Pacific ocean makes it a key strategic point for U.S. military planning.
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HAGATNA, Guam — Guam residents who are worked up about the latest North Korea news should recognize it’s a situation beyond their control, mental health experts say.

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday threatened a missile strike on Guam. Guam government officials have assured that the island is not in danger. That won’t stop residents from feeling worried and anxious, but experts said it’s important to find ways to stay calm.

“I see the headlines … and I know there are people that are more prone to anxiety than others,” said Annie Unpingco, administrator for the I Famagu’on-ta program at the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center’s child-adolescent services division. I Famagu’on-ta is Chamorro for “our children.” 

“For those that are going through that difficult time, they can give us a call and they talk to us on the phone or come in,” Unpingco said.

More: Trump: North Korea leader Kim Jong Un ‘will regret it fast’ if he threatens U.S. or allies

More: U.S. and North Korea are in regular contact through back channel diplomacy

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Kirk Bellis said Friday that he had to calm down some of his worried adult clients. He told them that it was OK to be afraid of things.

“Fear is common, it’s OK,” he said. “But it’s nothing that you need to be concerned about right now. Worry is a bad use of imagination.” 

Then he smiled. “Worry is only good for wrinkles.”

Continuing with your normal routine and having a predictable schedule can help combat anxiety, Bellis said. And if you need help, you don’t necessarily need a licensed mental health professional.

“Lean on someone that you know and trust who you know to be level-headed and calm,” Bellis said.

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North Korea is considering a missile launch near Guam, according to South Korean news reports. Residents of the U.S. territory share their fears and hopes amid the threats.
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Benny Pinaula, deputy director for the behavioral health agency, said people should remember that anxiety is a normal part of life.

If the news or other stressors becomes an issue for you, Unpingco recommends breathing exercises to help calm down.

Physical exercise can help people focus and distract from triggering thoughts, Pinaula said. Pinaula and Unpingco also said that prayer and meditation might help.

The Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center has counselors, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists prepared to assist anyone whose anxiety becomes excessive, Pinaula said.

The center’s doctors can also prescribe medication as a last resort, Pinaula added.

For children worried about the latest North Korea threat, parents should tailor their responses based on the children’s ages, Bellis said.

“For children who are in the age range of 5 to 10, it’s just basically reassuring them that there’s nothing to worry about,” Bellis said.

“That means the parent must check out for themselves how they feel before they talk because children are very perceptive in picking up anxiety in their parents.”

Adolescents these days are exposed to more information because of the Internet and social media, he said.

Parents should teach their adolescent children the difference between news and opinion, Bellis said.

“Have a … dialogue with the child about how people can see things in many different ways and that doesn’t make it the truth,” he said.

If kids aren’t asking about the North Korea threat, Unpingco said the topic doesn’t have to be addressed.

“By bringing it up and you don’t have a whole lot of information, you’re just going to create them to be anxious and concerned about it,” she said.

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