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How to deal with a routine of war and how to preserve the children's optimism?

The surprise and speed with which things happened, and the ignorance regarding the fate of many people, arouses tension and distress in all of us. Bar-Ilan University's mental support team offers several ways to help us deal with the situation

A war with iron swords Kibbutzim in the Gaza Strip Reim parking lot at the place where a mass party took place and about 260 young people were murdered Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO
A war with iron swords Kibbutzim in the Gaza Strip Reim parking lot at the place where a mass party took place and about 260 young people were murdered Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO

In recent days, Israel is at war with an unprecedented number of casualties. In addition to this, the surprise and speed with which things happened, and the ignorance regarding the fate of many people, arouses tension and distress in all of us. Bar-Ilan University's mental support team offers several ways to help us deal with the situation. 

The distress can be expressed in different ways that can be divided into three main groups: emotional reactions: (fear and anxiety, depression and sadness, frustration and anger), physical reactions (accelerated pulse, rapid breathing, excessive sweating, muscle tension, tremors in the body), psychosomatic reactions (headaches, sensations in the body, loss of appetite, digestive problems, excessive fatigue and insomnia), and cognitive reactions (lack of attention, lack of concentration and confusion).

How can anxiety be dealt with?
Although a crisis situation invites many changes, trying to maintain a routine can help reduce anxiety, and create a sense of continuity, familiarity and security. This, especially when maintaining the daily routine, involves active activity and takes place in an interpersonal environment. Eating and drinking regularly and observing a proper number of hours of sleep are extremely essential. When these basic things are missing - this also weakens the mental ability to withstand stressful situations.

Also, it is advisable to reduce watching TV, reading on the Internet and exposure to videos about the condition. The flood of information increases the feeling of helplessness, and causes a multiple and repeated experience of events that happened and ended. Despite the stress, it is important to find time for fun activities that are not dangerous such as: a Zoom meeting with a friend, talking on the phone or watching a comedy.

The body responds to anxiety through physiological responses that do not always disappear when the threat is removed. Relaxation and fitness can help relieve stress and release hormones that improve mood. You can use special applications for mindfulness activities.

And finally, remember that it is difficult and burdensome to carry anxiety alone, and sometimes the burden of loneliness is heavier than the burden of anxiety. It is recommended to find close people, share your concerns with them, hear about their feelings and bear the emotional burden together. If you feel that you are having difficulty coping with the emotional burden, or you are suffering from a severe impairment in daily functioning, a burden of repetitive and disturbing thoughts, a feeling of disconnection from close people or from reality, it is recommended to seek professional help.

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How to preserve the children's optimism?

The "Iron Swords" war leaves its mark on all of us and the collective trauma also affects the children - who absorb what is happening from the media and the atmosphere at home. This, it must be remembered, after difficult years passed with the corona epidemic. How can you help them grow from the situation, and preserve their optimism and vitality? As part of a joint forum of experts held at Bar-Ilan University, several recommendations were made:

Prof. Esther Adi Yaffe, head of the preschool program at the Faculty of Education in Bar-Ilan, said that in the shadow of the cancellation of the frameworks in light of the security needs, it is important to try to maintain, as much as possible, joint meetings for children and their friends. "Even if it is not possible to have studies, it is important to find a place where you can meet the children regularly, as part of a new routine - organize activities for the children, send coloring books, organize meetings and talk with the children, if possible not only as a large group, but also in small groups". Adi Yaffe said, adding recommendations for educators:

"It is very important that teachers keep in touch with the parents, send them a WhatsApp and ask them to update them personally if the children have parents in the army or in the reserves and if any of the family members have been hurt, God forbid. The children haven't really started the year yet. From a social-emotional point of view, it is worthwhile to do constructive activities, while paying attention to children who are struggling. The teacher must know what difficulties the children face. Academically, it is recommended to repeat last year's material in the meantime."

Prof. Roni Geva, from the Department of Psychology and the Multidisciplinary Center for Brain Research, commented on the ways to recover from trauma: "The research shows that war trauma and especially direct exposure to violence, forced displacement, disconnection from attachment figures for a long time and the lack of a secure base, harm the mental resilience of babies and children, also If it seems in the first stages that everything is seemingly 'okay'. The more acute and prolonged the intensity of the injury and the exposure, the more severe the intensity of the post-traumatic reactions throughout life, and damage to the body's health, for example, the integrity of the cardiovascular system and mental resilience, is expected."

"However," she adds, "one of the great wonders that developmental psychology stands in awe of is the ability to resurrect. For example, many and many war survivors, for example the Holocaust survivors who experienced that war as babies or children and met with the worst of all, nevertheless stood up, established, created and instilled in the next generation optimism and a sense of capability. We investigate how out of the trauma and the exposure to the threats of war, normality, creativity, and consequently, joy in life, health and resilience are nevertheless possible."

According to Prof. Geva, "the study shows several important factors for reducing the difficulty and strengthening the mental resilience of babies and children during war: first, the active, effective and supportive presence of an attachment figure such as a parent, grandmother or grandfather, teacher, instructor in a class or movement, who is attentive to the child or to the girl, to their hardships and needs. The children will use this figure as a model for dealing with the difficulty, and as a source of empathy and reinforcement.

Second, preservation of routine, as much as possible. A routine signifies function and normality, a source of stability and helps children understand what is expected. Even when the whole foundation is shaken, the place and the characters are foreign, it is important to try to create a routine, even by simple means, something you do together when you wake up to a new day, something you do together when you get ready for the night, something you do when you enter a protected place.

Thirdly, and this is perhaps the most important of all, to try to strengthen the sense of the abilities of the boy and the girl even if the conditions are extremely difficult. Responsibility through a role, no matter how small, of the toddlers (for example: bring a pacifier, say come, see where the dog is) strengthens their belief in themselves and their abilities to be part of the campaign and everyone's success. This empowering feeling that we all feel these days, through taking on a task, volunteering, helping others find a solution - is essential for reducing the severe impact of war on mental resilience. This feeling is especially important for the more vulnerable among us, including children and toddlers."