Dealing With Fear

Q: It’s hard to imagine things becoming more difficult these days, but when these issues of violence began to stir up, the difficult only became more overwhelming.

Trying to explain the concept of curfew to my younger children was quite challenging. In general, so many issues that have come up lately are frightening for a child (or for anyone for that matter) to understand. People staying away from each other, not being able to hug their grandparents — it’s such a balance to try and create a sense of normalcy for children.

What makes it more complicated for a child is trying to convince them that things are getting better. On the one hand, their pediatrician is now coming to the office with just a face mask (instead of a spaceman outfit). That’s already somewhat reassuring.

Our children hear that our city will have day camps open, iy”H. And yet we’ve had curfews and the unsettling fear of possible violence echoing around the city. I guess because we are frightened ourselves, it’s hard to reassure our children.

As we are finishing school in the next few weeks, the possibility of change in everyone’s schedule is also unsettling. Not knowing if sleepaway camps are opening up in other states that allow it — or allowing children to go to other camps that we never considered before, due to their being the only ones available.

Making decisions that never before came our way is unsettling. Any general advice in dealing with these issues?

A: In recent weeks, we have focused on the need to find the tightrope balance of living in the present. If one goes back to the past (perhaps we’d like to believe those were the “good old days”), we fall into the trap of imagining a nostalgia for something that definitely had its limitations. Compared to the present uncertain reality, the past does seem like something we did not appreciate sufficiently. However, focusing on this leads us to a sense of despair.

On the other hand, focusing on the future can cause a sense of panic and uncertainty.

Focusing on our opportunities in this given moment takes much mental self-discipline, yet bears the most productive results.

What are ways to respond to fear, when this reality comes upon us? One needs to recall one’s individual toolbox of effective coping mechanisms when situations of crisis occurred in the past. What techniques, what attitudes and what actions helped you manage these circumstances?

For some, facing fears head-on, by imagining what the worst-case scenario might be, helps decrease anxiety. Imagining that the present fear will be much less overwhelming two months from now can be helpful to others. Visualizing the present fear as a wave that will ascend and descend can be a comforting image, if meditated upon. Deep abdominal breathing has been shown to decrease physical anxiety, affecting one’s emotional state, as well. The need to decrease the toxicity of fear of the future is succinctly expressed in the concept of Shlomo Hamelech’s ring having the words “Gam zeh yaavor” (this too will pass) inscribed on it.

One effective tool used in fear management is that of facing one’s fear in a direct way (when possible). If a child has a fear of monsters in his/her backyard, a parent can go with the child at night with a flashlight, and show that his fears are unfounded. Fears of violence can be discussed openly with your children, reflecting that nothing has directly affected anyone in your area (unless your neighborhood is actually at risk).

In general, attempts to set aside a definite time to focus on one’s worries (and attempt to push away obsessive self-questioning outside of this time frame) have been proven to be a helpful coping technique. “Worry time” can be a daily mental exercise, and since it has a limited time frame, it helps to create a positive perspective — that worry indeed can be manageable. Though problems may not necessarily be solved in this time, the sense of containment reflects how negative perceptions need not control one’s continual daily existence. Hatzlachah rabbah.