Israel-Hamas war: How to find moments of light in dark times

Science and Health

At times, I feel that I am losing track of the number of days and weeks we’ve been at war, even though I dutifully write “War Day X” each day on the calendar, lest we forget just how long our suffering has been going on.

Sometimes I try to convince myself that maybe today will be the last day of the war and that all our soldiers and hostages will return home, physically and emotionally healthy. At other times, I slog through the day, distracted by perhaps having access to too much news. In the same way that I never dreamed my family would live through a pandemic during my lifetime, I never imagined a massacre of the magnitude that we experienced on October 7. Did any of us?

It is okay to not be okay. After all, the days after October 7 have not been like those that came before. On October 6, we were happily dancing in the streets. What a difference 12 hours can make!

When people from abroad ask how my family is doing, I am not sure how best to answer. Sometimes I say, “It’s awful, but we’re managing.” Of course, “it” is not all awful, but I really want them to know just what we are going through. 

When I want to ensure that they truly understand just what our lives are like so that they can defend our position to others, I might say: “A huge piece of rocket landed on my son’s front lawn while he was bathing his children. He had heard the siren, grabbed them, and ran to the safe room.” Sometimes I leave out the discussion about my other grandchildren who cry because they miss their daddy, who’s risking his life deep in Gaza, and the other difficulties of having a spouse in reserves. 

WE HAVE been through a lot: At the Nov. 21 funeral of IDF soldier Arnon Benvenisti Vaspi. (credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)

My heart breaks for my clients dealing with the aftershocks of losing loved ones in the atrocities of October 7 or having escaped themselves. 

While delighted that some hostages have returned home, we have all been greatly impacted by what’s happened as we imagine what we’ll face in the days ahead. It’s all such a rollercoaster ride of emotions.


That said, in this moment I focus on the fact that I’m really okay during this difficult time. Truthfully, most of us are right now. The ceasefire, with its many issues, allowed those who could, to take a brief breath, regain a hint of feeling better, and prepare for the next phase – with whatever uncertainty it brings.

ALTHOUGH WE’VE been through a lot, we are resilient and most of us will bounce back with minimal outside help. However, we recognize that, at the very least, we are all “lightly wounded.” We jump more, look over our shoulders, sleep poorly, “talk war” incessantly, and aren’t as laissez-faire as we’d like to be. 

Our children, too, feel the tension, imitate siren sounds, draw war-related pictures, and are clingy. Nonetheless, in these long, unending days when it’s still too soon to process it all, we acknowledge that in our “new normal,” at times we can digest only little bits of what has happened. Some days are harder than others, and that’s just what it is right now. People are tired, short-tempered, stressed, and doing a balancing act.

Most of us will be okay, but war takes its toll. We are not the same as we once were. It’s not easy to process things when our loved ones are still on the front lines, the hostages are not all back, and we worry about what will be. Our hearts literally stop when we hear the announcements of those wounded or killed in battle.

Despite grieving on many different levels, trying to put little bits of normality and routine back into our lives is both necessary and good. We can each work to improve our own resilience.

HERE ARE some suggestions. While some have been mentioned before, they’re even more important now. Nothing may feel perfect during these difficult times, and that’s okay. What doesn’t work today may work tomorrow, so don’t give up.

Be in this moment as best as you can. Remind yourself that fear is a feeling about a possible event that has not actually happened and may never happen. Worrying about what may, or may not, happen in the future takes you away from seeing and enjoying all the good things that are happening today.

Mindfulness exercises, breath work, prayer, meditation, and music can all reduce your anxiety and induce a state of calm. Distraction techniques can also work to keep you in the right frame of mind. You just need to practice them.

Notice the beauty that is all around you. Focusing on seeing it can lift your spirits and change your outlook. There’s so much to be grateful for – in ourselves, in others, and in nature itself. 

Try this simple exercise: Every morning before getting out of bed, pick five things that you appreciate when you reflect back on the day before. The smaller, the better. Say these things aloud to give your nervous system a boost of positivity. It makes a difference in how you feel and see the world.

Keep busy. When stressed, your go-to may be to simply do nothing, or worse, to “doom scroll” on your phone. Being active and doing something that you enjoy boosts your psychological well-being. This is more important now than ever. Take breaks from the war and get involved in healthy distractions such as hobbies, activities with family members, and volunteering to do things for – and with – others. Giving and doing for others can be a win-win for you both. There’s no shortage of opportunities to offer help in a meaningful way.

Practice good self-care. To be there for others, you need to look after yourself. Be your own best friend by taking time to relax, experience pleasurable activities, and focus on healthy eating and sleep. Taking note of what makes you feel good can enable you to give yourself these gifts. As difficult as it may be, find a way to take a break from the news.

Increase your social connectedness. After COVID and now with the war, social connection is more important than ever. While on some days you may want to hibernate, connection is not just for you but also for those who love and need you. Making the time to reach out to others is an important element in helping you feel good. 

A good conversation with a friend provides a place to feel safe, heard, and validated. Surround yourself with people who make you feel supported and cared for and who put a smile on your face, while simultaneously reducing contact with those who increase your stress.

Remind yourself of “feel-good” memories, even if you can’t experience them at this moment. Picture your “happy” place; you’ll be there again soon. We all need good things to think about. 

If you tend to be negative, try to reframe your thoughts. Journal writing may provide a healthy way to express your emotions and to reflect and look back at events as you move forward. If you’re feeling sad, ask yourself if you’re depressed, feeling helpless, and viewing life as hopeless – or just unhappy with where our ailing world is now. If it’s the former, seek professional help.

Interactions with others right now may be more challenging than you’d like. You might find yourself arguing with those you love and having a hard time being patient enough to listen to how others are feeling. Try to be empathic and reach out to them by asking what might be helpful for them at this time. Perhaps you need to let them know what you need. If you’re having difficulty in your relationship, seek professional help. A non-judgmental ear may allow you to see things differently.

Life lessons from the war

While now we must be focused on winning the war, the war will end and there will be a day after. The lessons that we have learned, as individuals and as a nation, are enormous and must never be forgotten as we plan for tomorrow.

After a traumatic event, it’s not uncommon to search for meaning as we attempt to put purpose back into our lives. At the same time, we need to give ourselves permission to be human. We have been through a lot, and the above coping strategies will help us all in the days ahead. Perhaps right now too, with so much pain, we are meant to be unhappy, uncomfortable, and less settled. Maybe it’s precisely these feelings that will strengthen us, creating the momentum needed to enable us to grow and move forward.

Prior to the war, we weren’t as accountable to each other as we needed to be. 

We isolated ourselves in our homes and our hearts, lacked appropriate social contact, looked down at our phones, and failed to speak the same language to one another. 

We forgot how to hear one another and seemed not to care about someone else’s pain. We called each other names and cared more about shouting about what we “knew” to be right than taking the time to listen to our neighbor. We lacked unity and purpose.

And now…what lessons have we learned?

We’ve learned that we have choices that we each need to make. We can let this war destroy us, or we can use it as a catalyst for growth. We can work on ourselves to see the good in others. This requires not only watching our speech but also looking at how we relate to each other. We need to rebuild together. 

Whether secular or religious; Ashkenazi or Sephardi; Right or Left in our political leaning, if we remember that we are all created equal and are all one nation, we can create greatness together like never before. Now is the time to focus on what unites us. We can all see where this gift has taken us over the past two months. Having seen what our country was like before the war, our new take-home message is very clear.

In spite of the war, we all feel it. We are so much nicer to each other. It’s wonderful to be part of something so much greater than what we had. We take great pride in our beloved soldiers, who are the kindest army in the world and who risk their lives for us daily. 

We feel the pain of each hostage family and experience the outreach among every segment of the population.

Through it all, we are greatly strengthened by our solidarity. We have shown ourselves and the rest of the world that as we stand together, we are a force to contend with.

Finally, we must believe, now more than ever, that we deserve to be here. 

This requires strength on the part of each one of us. We’re fighting for our very existence like never before. We need to believe in ourselves and stop searching for friends in all the wrong places. It is time to create a mission statement for our country and establish our collective vision by determining what we want. The time has come to follow our hearts and our dreams and rebuild. We have shown that we desperately value our state, our homeland.

The war has, in many ways, brought out the best of our Jewish values and helped us to reconnect with each other. It’s time to be the best we can be and stand up for what we all want and deserve. We’ve shown that the foundation of our existence is rock solid. Now we must build the home that we all want – together. 

By appreciating who we are as we focus on the future, and by reflecting on the good that has emerged from the bad, we turn darkness into light and show the world that we are that Light unto the Nations. 

The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana and author of Life’s Journey: Exploring Relationships – Resolving Conflicts. She has written about psychology in The Jerusalem Post since 2000 and specializes in trauma, grief, and bereavement. [email protected];