Coping with the War in Israel and Gaza

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Coping with the War in Israel and Gaza  

Jim Windell

          It seems that everyone in the world is watching while people struggle to cope with the sudden war in Israel and Gaza. But, each of us has to find a way of dealing with the horrific images and the feelings of anger, hopelessness and sorrow of those who survive in both areas. In many ways we can only sit glued to the TV to watch – and worry – about people in both Israel and Gaza who are trapped in a terrible crisis that was not of their own making.

          Whether you have a loved one who was in Israel when Hamas launched their attack or whether you know someone who lived in Gaza when the Israeli counterattacks began, you have to try to cope with innocent people murdered and try to better understand what it is like to be caught in the middle of a war. For the average citizen in both Gaza and Israel this is a time of ongoing sorrow, tragedy and humanitarian catastrophes.    

          The trauma and the war crimes we have heard about in Israel come on the heels of a year and a half of innocent people slaughtered in the Ukraine – not to mention the weekly mass violence in the U.S. It is little wonder that mental health experts say that being a news-watching eye-witness to everything going on in the world can trigger anxiety and depression in both adults and children.

          Dr. Gary Small, chair of psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center, said it’s important that people ration their exposure to disturbing images and news, given the impact they can have on mental health. “We live every day in a denial of the horrors out there in the world,” said Dr. Small, adding that catastrophic events, such as the massacres and kidnappings in Israel and the September 11 terror attacks, forcibly put the very worst of human behavior before our eyes.

          According to Dr. Small, we should balance staying up to date with news with activities that are calming, such as watching a light television show, spending time with loved ones or reading a book that is engaging in a positive way. “It’s important to be informed,” Dr. Small said, “but don’t stress yourself out.”

          As violent images and videos circulate on social media and television, Dr. Liat Jarkon, a psychiatrist and Director of the Center for Behavioral Health at New York Institute of Technology, urges parents to be wary of what their children see. Exposure to disaster news coverage is known to trigger post-traumatic stress in children thousands of miles away. Because of this, she advises parents in the U.S. to keep explanations simple and reassure children that they are safe and that the war is not happening in their backyard.

          “There’s absolutely no reason for them to be exposed to that,” Dr. Jarkon says. “As a parent, take precautions, remove the phone, remove the apps, and explain to them in a language they would understand based on their age what’s going on – that there are countries at war, bad things happen, but we’re okay right now, that’s all they need to know.”

          "The situation in Israel and Gaza is tragic," adds Dr. Stacy Doumas, Chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “It's okay to let children know innocent people have been impacted. Parents should help children avoid disturbing news and images, while providing them with age-appropriate information. Let them know that war is complicated, and information online is not always accurate. Address their fears so they feel safe and supported."  

          According to Dr. Phillip Izzo, any time we’re talking about war, we have to talk about post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr. Izzo, a psychiatrist with Main Line Health, a not-for-profit health system serving portions of Philadelphia and its western suburbs, says that being constantly surrounded with reminders of the war on news outlets and social media can have a range of impacts on mental health.

          “All of us might experience a little more vigilance, more anxiety given these events," Izzo says. “This speaks to the security we feel. It makes us think that perhaps we're not as secure as we once were." He said the emotions sparked by the war can be especially intense for veterans or people with family connections in Israel.

          “These are really kind of dire times and dire events we're dealing with," Izzo adds. He goes on to say that it is normal for people to feel anxious and depressed about the situation and it's good to express those feelings calmly to family and friends. But sometimes the emotions can be overwhelming. “You might see interruptions with sleep variations with appetite changes in energy or interests.”

          If daily life is impacted, Dr, Izzo recommends that people should consider disconnecting from constant news about the war and focus on healthy stress busters like exercise. “Finding time for yourself would be helpful.”

          Author’s note: This article was put together based on several news sources and websites, including Hackensack Meridian Health and Newswise.




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