‘Right now you are probably feeling very unsettled and quite overwhelmed. We all have had to deal with lots of information in a short period of time and things are changing very quickly. While you may have been feeling anxious, you have been and will continue to cope – both for yourself and for your family. One of the best ways to cope is to feel prepared, both in terms of physical logistics and psychological well-being.”
The quote above is from a talk I gave in 2006. Eight years later I have a sense of déjà vu, especially when I see the stress being experienced by people coming into my office this week. And then there’s the phone session I did with a woman in Beersheba who felt safer at home than traveling.
Let’s acknowledge up front that this past month has been incredibly stressful for most of us, with all that has gone on in Israel (and I purposely am not reviewing it to prevent re-traumatizing my readers).
Say it out loud: “Wow, this has been a very difficult month.” Now, do yourself a favor and prepare to move on.
This column is written to give us all some psychological first aid so we can, as much as possible, let go of what was, be in the present moment, and hopefully look forward to a safer future for ourselves and our loved ones.
Start with an honest assessment of how you think you are doing. In spite of all that has gone on, you are actually taking a minute to read this, so that in itself is good. Now, name five things that you can be positive about at this minute.
They can be small, like “the sun is shining and it is less hot than yesterday.”
That’s two already. With all that is going on, it is easy to lose sight of the positive things, and right now your nervous system has taken a beating and needs to hear these things.
Notice the difference between this IDF operation and previous ones. For those fortunate enough to be more than a stone’s throw away, has the Iron Dome won your vote for “Man of the Year” and is it helping you to personally feel safer? Does only hearing a siren that is specific to your area also help reduce anxiety? There is much that you can do to feel better. The key is to do something. So whether it is to put some water bottles in your bomb shelter or call someone who lives alone to check on them, you’ll feel better when in some small way, in spite of everything, you can exercise some control over your life. Pick five things you can do. Write them down and show it to someone. Trust me, it helps.
Remember, the goal of terrorism is to invoke fear. You may feel more vulnerable because predicting or planning anything may seem quite difficult at the moment and even the smallest things may seem challenging.
Seeing the situation as a series of challenges can give you the opportunity to overcome them one-by-one and cope better than you may have thought possible. Review for a moment all that you have dealt with successfully in past years and you will see just how resilient you really are. The choice in many ways is yours.
You may not have much control over what is happening right now but you certainly do have control over how you deal with it all. With this in mind, here are some suggestions for helping you and your loved ones both get through the day and maintain a positive attitude: • Talk to people who will make you feel good. Talk with friends who are calm and can help you bring a sense of humor to this crazy madness we all are experiencing. Stay away from those who increase your anxiety and if you must talk with them, be aware of the impact they have on you.
Pick up the phone, meet someone for coffee, chat online with a friend about things other than the current situation and pretend parts of your life are normal.
• Put things into perspective.
Running to a safe place or worrying about your child who was called up for reserve duty can be stressful. Be honest with yourself and don’t deny what is going on. However, it is very important to work at being “in the moment” and not replaying potential “what if” scenarios in your mind. At this very moment you are okay and as far as you know, so are your loved ones. Say it out loud and remind yourself several times throughout the day.
• Breathe. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose and slowly exhale very slowly out through your mouth. Pretend you have a candle in front of you and you don’t want to blow out the flame.
Do this a few times. Allow yourself to sit and feel calm.
Starting with your head and scanning down, just notice each part of your entire body.
Practice this at red lights, when you start your day, when you go to sleep and any time you are feeling anxious.
Calming your body through controlling your breathing and reminding yourself that you really are okay is one of the best techniques you can use to reduce anxiety.
• Keep to your routine as much as possible. Planning your day gives you a sense of control over your life, helps focus you and enables you to actually get things done. This is important for your entire family. When children can plan and know when mealtime is or when they may go somewhere, it gives them structure and lowers their anxiety. If it feels safe, get out and try to function as normally as possible.
• Enjoy quality family time.
Get everyone involved in planning and preparation so you can sit down to a calm and quiet family meal together.
Play a board game, listen to soothing music, watch a movie, or bake a batch of cookies with the children.
Remember, laughter lowers anxiety and relieves stress.
• Take breaks. Your body needs time to recover. Turn off the news. Stop checking Twitter and refreshing the news pages every few minutes.
Keep things to a “need to know” basis. You won’t miss something important.
Allow yourself some quiet contemplative time away from the replay of sirens and constant exposure to events as much as possible. Even a short break can be helpful.
Turn on the silent radio channel over Shabbat and give yourself time to sleep, pray, meditate and breathe. Let others take over so you don’t feel you need to be on guard 24/7.
• Look after your health.
Now is the time to emphasize good nutrition. We often “nosh” when we are stressed.
Choose fruits and veggies over a fast food and junk food fix.
Drink plenty of water and skip the alcohol. While alcohol and drugs may seem like a source of comfort, they can also induce a sense of helplessness, hopelessness and depression. Make exercise part of your daily routine. Whether you walk in the mall with a friend, go to the gym, or exercise at home, get moving and keep active. Do relaxation exercises to calm your body and enable you to sleep more peacefully.
• Volunteer. Do something for our soldiers, those in more dangerous areas or anywhere else where you or your family could help benefit others.
Make cards and notes, prepare food and other gift baskets to let others know that you care.
• Recognize that you may be experiencing greater stress than usual. Don’t be surprised if you are more irritable, have difficulty focusing and concentrating, feel your heart is pounding, have sleep and appetite changes, have more somatic complaints, replay previous wars and in general feel unwell. These are all very normal. Don’t retraumatize yourself by reviewing past events. Allow yourself to move on. If you are having difficulty doing this and feel you are still feeling the effects of previous wars, on top of the current situation, seek professional help.
Even one or two sessions can have you feeling much better in no time.
Now is the time to look after yourself and practice being your own best friend. Do for yourself what feels good right now and you really will be fine.
The author is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana, and author of the book, Life’s Journey: Exploring Relationships – Resolving Conflicts.
She has written about psychology in The Jerusalem Post since 2000. Send correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.drbatyaludman.