Battling post-war stress

Now that the war has ended, psychological healing must begin.

ptsd 88 (photo credit: )
ptsd 88
(photo credit: )
Now that the war has ended, psychological healing must begin. For those in shelters, displaced throughout various parts of the country, exposed to sirens and explosions, for those whose homes and possessions have been decimated and for those who fought - or had loved ones fighting - in Lebanon, this task will be painful and slow. In truth, we all have been impacted in some way by this war. While all of us have been affected by terrorism over the past several years, this war has indeed left us with little closure. Our job, to speed up our own personal healing process, must be to formally close this chapter so we can heal and move on. We have to do it for ourselves, our families and as a country. In the past we have shown tremendous resilience, and this time, as we have done previously, we will pick up the pieces and move on. Depending on just how much you have been through and the depth of your pain, moving on will in itself present challenges. While we have all paid the price and it is not always easy to be positive, we should all be proud of how we worked together over this past month. The following suggestions are meant as a guide and are in no way considered a substitute for psychotherapy. • Recognize your feelings. You may be surprised to discover that you feel quite angry, hurt, anxious or even despondent. By acknowledging how you feel, you can begin to put the feelings and deep emotions behind you and look towards a brighter future. • Talk about what you have been through. One of the best ways to get beyond the recent trauma and feel more in control again is to talk about your experiences. With each retelling of the story, the heaviness and the pressure is diminished and the devastation seems less. Talking can enable you to express your grief over your loss, give you a sense of perspective and help you reconnect with your loved ones. • Reduce further retraumatization. For those impacted by previous wars, this war may have felt surprisingly similar. Old feelings may reemerge and events you thought you forgot may be closer to the surface than you realized. Television, with its graphic pictures and repetitious stories, provides graphic representation of what you have reexperienced and does not help. Turn off the television and instead, go out for a walk, pick up a book or play a game with the children. • Go easy on yourself. You may be surprised to discover that you feel physically or emotionally quite unwell. Socially you may also feel at a real loss. You have held up very well during the war, but now that it is "safe" to fall apart, you might be surprised at just how worn out you are. It is perfectly normal to feel ill or depressed, to become anxious or develop fears, to have difficulty sleeping, focusing or to find yourself feeling irritable and jumpy. Don't be afraid to seek medical assistance to rule out anything medical and be aware that these "symptoms" are your body's way of letting you know that all is not yet right with your world. You may grieve for the many losses (income, family members, your house) you've endured with your whole body, and it is both painful and all-consuming. Lower your expectations for now and try to be realistic about just how much you can accomplish. • Look after your health. Now is the time to avoid sugar, caffeine, alcohol and drugs. Exercise, adequate sleep, a relaxing bath or massage and healthy nutrition all work together to help you heal faster. Meditation and prayer, if helpful in the past, can give insight and a good perspective. Remember that all of these things send your children a message that in spite of everything you have been through, looking after your own health is important. • Keep busy. While you may find yourself easily distracted, the more you are able to return to a regular routine, the faster you'll start to feel better. Plan your day as much as possible. Looking at short-term goals that you hope to accomplish and longer-term goals as the weeks and months proceed will help give your life a future-oriented focus. Structure is important for the entire family and will help provide a framework for moving forward. Whatever it was that kept you running before the war can help you as you slowly become involved again in life. Now may be the time to do some volunteer work. You may just discover that in helping others, you are also helping yourself. If you feel that you or your loved ones of any age are not coping well, make sure to seek professional help. What may demand mere reassurance now may require major intervention later if neglected. The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ra'anana. Her column "Psychologically Speaking" is featured biweekly in the Upfront section of The Jerusalem Post. Visit her Web site at