6 tips for mental health during Israel-Hamas war

Science and Health

During this war, one of the many challenges for Israelis is how to maintain a semblance of a positive mood against a backdrop of so much worry.

It is my view that Israelis are an amazingly positive people, in spite of all the hardships that this country has endured. The remarkable national resilience is inspiring. But these are different times.

Some of the serious concerns that people are feeling include worry over loved ones serving in the army; anxiety of evacuees about when they can return home; and not knowing how long the war will last. Families and friends of hostages are sickened by the fear that their loved ones will never make it out of captivity.

There is a collective national worry, as well as a personal worry.

And to add insult to injury, Israel, facing a just war to destroy the Hamas terror organization, finds itself increasingly isolated in the world, with antisemites coming out at a rate we have not seen since the Holocaust. Watching hundreds of thousands of people, including large numbers of university students, marching alongside pro-Hamas protesters who blame Israel for the atrocities committed by Hamas is both saddening and downright shocking, but not surprising.

IDF troops active in Khan Yunis area, February 18 2024. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)

So, yes, we have to be strong and dig deeper for our resilience.

In the psychological world, one proven method to strengthen resilience and better cope with trauma is known as grounding.

The six techniques detailed below help us to connect with ourselves and with others at a time when we are preoccupied with so many awful feelings that we can feel unmoored from ourselves, our family members, friends, job responsibilities, and studies.

The 5-4-3-2-1 five senses technique

First, find five things you can see, such as a poster next to you or the bird outside your window.

Next, find four things you can feel, such as the warmth from your socks or the softness of your pillow. Proceed to three things you can hear, such as the chirping of birds or the sound of cars riding by.

Then, identify two things that you can smell, such as the scent of a cup of coffee or peppermint tea, or the shampoo used in your hair.

Finally, identify one thing you can taste, such as the aftertaste of toothpaste or a sip of tea.

Deep belly breathing

Find a comfortable place to sit down. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your belly, below the rib cage. Allow the belly to relax, without forcing it inward by squeezing or clenching your muscles. Breathe in slowly through your nose to the count of four. The air should move into your nose and downward, so that you feel your stomach expanding. Wait to a count of four before exhaling slowly through your mouth to a count of six.


Just like its name, mindfulness is being focused and paying attention to something, almost anything. The trick is to stay focused on what it is that you are paying attention to. An example could be putting a raisin in your mouth and focusing on its shape, taste, texture, and contours. Another example is to look at the clouds in the sky and study their shape and movement. In fact, we tend to naturally use mindfulness all the time precisely to relax and get our minds off things that are bothering us. For example, sitting on a beach and staring at the waves for several minutes or watching the sway of trees blowing are mindfulness activities.

Listening to, or playing music

Music certainly provides a positive grounding experience. In order to relax, some people may choose classical music, jazz, or any other type of music they enjoy. When listening to music, you can focus your attention on the rhythm or the melody, or listen to a particular instrument. I like playing the guitar.

Painting or other creative activities/getting involved with a hobby

Many people turn to hobbies when they are tense and worried. There are some people who do crossword puzzles to get their minds off other things. Others like jigsaw puzzles. For some, cooking or baking something special is very therapeutic. Of course, the list is endless. All these activities can be enjoyable and are likely to have the added benefit of getting your mind off things that you don’t want to think about. These are healthy escapes.

Movement such as yoga and tai chi

These two ancient arts combine rhythmic breathing with a series of postures or flowing movements. The physical aspects of these practices offer a mental focus that can help distract you from racing thoughts. They can also enhance your flexibility and balance.

For children 

There are many things that can help kids get their mind off their worries. For them, the list is limitless, but play is a natural grounding technique for them. One of my grandchildren can spend hours building Lego models. Another one loves puzzles.

Children enjoy guessing games. One game that my wife plays with our grandkids is the well-known “I spy with my little eye.”

Sports are also effective grounding behaviors, and arts & crafts can also help children focus their attention away from the war.

WE ARE living in very challenging times, and we are all trying to cope as best we can. When at all possible, I highly recommend trying out some of these suggestions to help get through our difficult days.  

The writer is a cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist treating adults, children, and couples. He sees clients in Raa’nana, as well at his new clinic in Jerusalem. [email protected]; facebook.com/drmikegropper