Future-Oriented Thinking and Adjustment in a Nationwide Longitudinal Study Following the September 11th Terrorist Attacks

 We conducted a three-year longitudinal study of the mental and physical health of a national probability sample following the September 11th terrorist attacks. Adjustment over the three years following the attacks was associated with higher levels of future-oriented thinking and lower levels of fear about future terrorism (as measured 1, 2, and 3 years post-9/11), even after adjusting for demographics, lifetime trauma, pre-9/11 mental and physical health, and 9/11-related exposure. Future orientation over the three years post-9/11 was associated with fewer pre-9/11 mental health problems, greater frequency of adulthood trauma, and using active coping strategies in response to the attacks. Fear of future terrorism was associated with greater frequency of adulthood trauma, more television watching immediately after the attacks, and using more planning and religion-based coping strategies immediately following the attacks. Thinking about the future can be a double-edged sword: Worrying about future terrorism may undermine well-being, whereas focusing on future goals may enhance it when coping with stressful events like the September 11th attacks.