Israel-Hamas war: Managing emotional uncertainty during the war

Science and Health

Uncertainty is defined as the feeling of not being sure what will happen in the future (Cambridge Dictionary).

Of course, in life it is fundamental for people to learn to tolerate a certain degree of uncertainty. This important self-function is critical for people in order to maintain their mental health. Too much uncertainty can overwhelm people and stretch their coping mechanisms to the limit.

Israelis have learned to cope with many, many unknowns. We have fought many wars, been struck by many acts of terrorism, saddened by innocent lives destroyed by enemy states, and suffered from much criticism from the world for just trying to survive. Nevertheless, having lived in Israel for 37 years, I appreciate and admire the tremendous national resilience that Israelis have in living their lives fully, and that they have succeeded to build a beautiful, modern, and prosperous country.

However, the events of October 7 have pushed the nation’s uncertainty lever to the limit. And now, we are in the midst of a war with all its complexities and worries – defeating Hamas, worry about the hostages and getting them home, concern about keeping world opinion on our side, and constantly thinking about the future. All of this has filled our people with so many uncertainties.

After two months of fighting, with one short pause to get some of the hostages released, the IDF is back in full operational mode, and the country continues to remain united. There is a sense of strength that restarting the war has given the nation.

IDF soldiers on the ground in Gaza, December 14, 2023 (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON’S UNIT)

Yet, as the days and weeks go by, uncertainty builds. Will the war spread to other fronts? How long will the war last? Did the pause dampen the army’s capacity to continue to fight as successfully as it did before the pause?

Family members question when will be the next time they will have a chance to see a parent/spouse/sibling serving in the war. Will my family member or friend fighting in the war remain safe? How many casualties will Israel have in this existential war?


For those uprooted from their southern and northern communities: Will we be able to return, and will our community be safe after the war? What will the day after look like when we defeat Hamas?

There is a worry about those people who were directly impacted by the horrific attack on October 7. Is there hope for emotional recovery after going through such trauma? How much pressure will mount from Western countries to have a permanent ceasefire? How much will antisemitism continue to spread around the world? Will our government remain strong against a growing amount of criticism from the US administration?

Will our economy survive and recover? How many people will lose their jobs? Can I ever again rely on my government to keep me and my loved ones secure?

Signs that you have uncertainty overload

As noted above, we have many reasons to feel uncertain during these difficult days. Some of the indicators of uncertainty overload include the following:

  • Recurring thoughts about what is going on; lack of focus; distractibility
  • Increased tension, irritability; conflict with others
  • Feeling overwhelmed; changes in your mood, often without warning
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Withdrawing, desire to be alone and away from family and friends
  • Difficulties with studying, working, and concentration
  • Physical symptoms such as nausea, headache (stress-related), increased heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Intense or unpredictable feelings (for example, anger, sadness, fear, concern)
  • A sense of shock and disbelief
  • Strong need to seek information (checking TV, radio, online; talking with others)
  • A desire to check in with loved ones

IF YOU find yourself affected by any of the emotional states described above, here are some things you can do to cope.

  • Get accurate information about what is going on. Do not rely on rumors or speculation (rumors tend to raise our anxiety levels and are often blown out of proportion).
  • Maintain your social contact and connections. Talk about the events, but monitor how things are being said (i.e., are people sharing feelings, opinions, accurate information, or speculation, etc.). If you are not a talker, consider writing about your feelings and reactions.
  • Limit exposure to the news and social media.
  • Make time to help a family member or friend. Many grandparents that I know are actively helping out with grandkids.
  • I heard of people cooking meals, going shopping for others, or offering to take a baby out in the carriage so the mother can get some sleep. Soldiers’ wives can use that help.
  • Volunteer wherever it is needed. Many Israelis are doing so, and it is a powerful way to counteract feelings of uncertainty.
  • Identify the feelings you are having (such as anger, sadness, fear), and share them with others; chances are, other people you know are having similar feelings.
  • Try to maintain a regular, healthy routine with regard to diet, exercise, and sleep. While the events around you may be anything but routine, you will be better prepared to cope if you are healthy, rested, and alert.
  • Limit your use of alcohol and other substances – they impair your judgment and can exacerbate your feelings of sadness, anger, and hurt.
  • Go easy on yourself. People have very different reactions to this kind of situation depending on their life experiences, previous coping, support networks, general levels of stress, and many other factors. Allow yourself to feel what you feel without judging yourself.
  • Ask for support from people who care about you. Chances are, it will make both you and them feel better.

I am writing this article as Hanukkah comes to a close. It is my hope that the lights shone brightly over the Jewish nation and have given us the strength we need to succeed and be victorious. Remember, we are the descendants of the Maccabees! 

The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana and global online accessibility. [email protected] ;