Overcoming Siren Stress, and Other Wartime Realities
By Devorah Kur
I would ask you is to imagine I am holding a bottle of water. Now guess how much the bottle weighs? You would probably guess anywhere between 300g-600g(1/2 - 1lb). For the purpose of this exercise I am going to tell you that it’s not important how much the bottle of water weighs, what is important is how long I hold the bottle. If I hold it for 5 minutes I will be perfectly ok and it won’t be heavy for me. If I have to hold it for one hour it will become very heavy for me, and if I have to hold it the whole day or longer, my arm will cramp up and the weight of the bottle will be unbearable for me.
Stress is like this. We can manage our stress in small doses. We can even manage it for an hour at a time, but if we hold onto our stresses for a whole day and more, it becomes unbearable.
Dr Victor Frankl, Psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, and author or Man's Search for Meaning, writes, "Forces beyond our control can take away everything you possess, except one thing, your freedom to choose how you respond to the situation." His teachings have motivated me to speak up and help people see that yes we have choices here within all the chaos, stress and fear that is taking place in Israel at the moment.
Through his experiences, Frankl developed Logotherapy helps people find a way to cope with their suffering. It helps one to find the answers to “What now?” instead of “Why me?”
He tells the story of a 14 year old orphan who was alone in the Warsaw Ghetto who became a 'sewer rat' child smuggler because she was so small. Every night she would sneak out through the sewers to the other side to get medication and ammunition for the uprising.
One night she was caught. She was held for three days without food or water, eventually brought before the Nazi commander and thrown at his terrifyingly shiny black boots. He told her that she should beg for her life because life and death was in his hands. This courageous young girl overcame her fear and told him that he was correct in saying that he had control over whether she lived or died, but there was nothing he could do to her to make her beg for her life. The commander was absolutely stunned by her answer and in a fury threw her out. She escaped with her life and years later survived the war. What a role model.
In her TED talk, Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, speaks about how to make stress your friend. For years people have believed that stress kills. She quotes a study that was done on 30,000 people in the USA who believed that stress kills and others who managed their stress as a part of life. Over eight years these people were tracked and then death records were checked. 43% of those who believed that stress kills had an increase chance of dying, and those that didn’t believe that stress was harmful were no more likely to die and they had the lowest risk of dying in the study. So it seems, says Kelly, that the belief that the idea of stress is actually what is contributing to the likelihood of death, and not stress itself.
The result of this study proves that when you change your mind about stress you can also change your body’s response to stress.
So, how can we change our perception of stress? That pounding heart, those sweaty hands and your elevated quick breathing are all signs of anxiety and the stress response.
What if we suggest that instead of seeing these bodily responses as something hampering us, we look at it as something that is energizing us and empowering us to take action to meet the challenges in front of us?
When that siren blares and you notice the stressful responses in your body, it is actually your body preparing you for action. This is something to be grateful for. When we are able to see things in a different light we are able to create new habits or patterns of thinking. I have found this to be incredibly empowering. It is all about our attitude towards stress that makes the difference.
Recently I saw a patient who is struggling with bladder problems. In Chinese medicine, the organs are connected to different emotions. Bladder and kidney are connected to fear. So I asked her if there was anything she was fearful about especially at the time when she started presenting with symptoms. She told me that at the exact time she started symptoms her son was drafted into the army into a kravi (fighting) unit. Her body was speaking to her about her fears. We had been working together for a few sessions when she arrived one day in a mess to say that both her children had been called up into their fighting units and had already attended funerals of heroes who have been killed in action. She told me that there was nothing I could do to help her. I helped her to relax and close her eyes and began my treatment.
During the treatment I felt this strong feeling that Hamas is starting to enter, not only into our country but into our bodies as well, and we cannot allow this to happen. We have to stand up to the fears and the stress that we are experiencing otherwise we are letting Hamas win. I feel that we owe it to the heroes of Tzahal who are protecting our way of life to be strong and to stand united and not to fall apart.
Mark Twain says “I have known fears but most of them never happened.” How true is this. Fear is something out there in the future that might or might not happen. It is not something that is happening right now. The acronym for FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s not real.
When we think of a beautiful memory our whole body is relaxed and smiling. When we think of fear, or a horrible memory we tense up and contract into ourselves. Candice Pert speaks about this in her book Molecules of emotion, “When we are happy we are alive and buzzing with happiness juices. There are no drugs more powerful than those that you already have in your head.” More than 100,000 chemical reactions go on in our heads every second. Endorphins are the brains natural painkiller and are 3 times stronger than morphine. Serotonin naturally calms anxiety and relieves depression. Oxytocin is the bonding hormone. Dopamine promotes alertness and the feeling of enjoyment. These are waiting to be released every second of the day.
We can create our own supply of these chemicals any time we want. All we need to do is to put ourselves in the state (happy, gratitude or anger, resentment) for the desired release of chemicals. Stress is a huge drainer of happiness in the body, where cortisol gets released into the body. When our cells don’t get the support that they need, they cannot perform at their optimum. We can use our brains pharmacy to control our state of mind. Being happy is good for our health. Contentment in life strengthens our immune system whereas resentment weakens it. High energy vibrations like love, gratitude, forgiveness, compassion and joy have a positive effect on our body’s chemical reactions whereas the effect of the low energy vibrations of anger, frustration, hatred, jealousy, resentment, fear and guilt weaken us.
How can we use this to help ourselves and our country?
Every time we stress out we let off a negative energy around us. Just like when you walk into a room and you can ‘cut the tension with a knife’ or you walk into a room and know that something good must be going on. This is because we can pick up on energy vibrations around us. So, instead of tuning in to fear and sending negative energy outwards, let’s all tune in to the amazing courage that our soldiers are showing up with each and every day.
When a siren goes off let’s go into the miklat and send positive healing energy and thanks for the warning to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
The opposite of FEAR is FAITH. Let’s strengthen our faith and send gratitude for the amazing miracles that have happened to protect us from the thousands of rockets that have landed in open spaces. There is no way that this is a case of bad aim. We are being protected!
Before I made Aliyah I was told that one can only make a move like this when your faith is stronger than your fear. Well, here I am privileged to live in this amazing country of ours and my faith is stronger than my fears. I refuse to allow Hamas to enter my body, and I am not going anywhere.
So Let’s remember to put our stress down and to replenish ourselves and know that whenever we feel stressed it is our bodies preparing us for action. Let’s tap into the pharmacy in our brains and release the chemicals that help us thrive. Let’s choose the correct responses.
Let’s remember our incredible army is fighting to protect our country and our way of life and we want to be a part of that by not letting Hamas enter into our bodies, homes or thoughts and create fear and havoc. Let’s be inspired by the fourteen year old girl who showed such courage in the face of the enemy.
Am Yisrael Chai!