Hearing the sound of a missile attack siren is a scary experience for people of all ages.
For many, being in a protected area may involve other family members or being with neighbors in a building’s miklat (shelter room) or stairwell. Both personally and from talking to others, I feel that being in a protected space with others is psychologically supportive. People try to calm each other by smiling, telling a joke, engaging in conversation, or doing something nice for one another.
I have experienced this firsthand. On the first day of the war, after the first sirens were heard, we were sitting on the stairs, and one of our neighbors walked down the steps, giving out cookies to anyone who wanted one. During the following sirens, the same neighbor brought down other foods. We all smiled at her and showed appreciation for her generosity. Certainly, this had a calming effect and helped us get through a difficult experience we all shared together.
However, for some people who live alone, the experience of being in a safe room is different. They do not have the benefit of sharing that time with others. Estimates show that 590,700 Israelis lived alone in 2022. Over 200,000 of these individuals are over 65.
I asked two of my clients to tell me what it was like for them to be alone during a missile attack.
‘I need to take care of me’
Rachel, in her early 50s, has been living alone for many years after divorcing her husband. She told me that when she hears a siren, she immediately goes into the protected room in her apartment. She closes the door; and in order to keep herself calm, she tries to think about who she will call after she leaves the room. To cope with her anxiety at those moments, she thinks about all the blessings in her life, her new job, and her health. She also thinks about her boyfriend.
Rachel is a spiritual person; she told me that she has complete faith that God will protect her and the Israeli people during this crisis. “I take my charger for my phone and everything that I need I bring it into the protected room, and I begin to think about who I will call as soon as I come out. I am going to call my friend, speak to my boyfriend or my mother in the States. I don’t watch TV. I don’t look at social media. I don’t let the outside forces start the anxiety for me. I am responsible for myself, so I put the boundaries in place. I need to take care of me.”
‘I turn the lights off and do deep breathing’
Sarah, 25, lives alone. She has many single friends who tell her that they don’t have a protected space, so they go to their stairwell. For them, the benefit is that they are with others. “During a missile attack, the sirens make me very anxious. I enter my protected room and close the door, and I am alone.
“I have 10 minutes; my heart is pounding and my anxiety is very high, so I put on music or do some writing. I don’t listen to the news. I turn the lights off and do deep breathing. It helps me get back to a more normal state. I am scared for sure.”
BOTH RACHEL and Sarah are using coping mechanisms that have proven efficacy. Rachel uses gratitude, positive thinking, and emunah (faith in God) to help her deal with being alone in her protected space. Sarah uses music and writing to keep her mind off the scary thoughts. She also uses deep breathing to slow her breathing down and ward off anxiety. Both women purposely limit their exposure to media.
Below, I have added some advice for people living alone during missile attacks.
Tips to help you cope
- Stay informed: Keep yourself updated with the latest news and alerts from reliable sources. This can help you stay prepared and make informed decisions. You can download the Home Front Command app.
- Create a safety plan: Plan ahead and identify safe areas in your home where you can take shelter during an attack. Make sure to keep emergency supplies such as food, water, and a first-aid kit handy.
- Reach out for support: Connect with friends, family, or neighbors who live nearby. You can also seek support from mental health professionals or help lines.
– Homefront Command National Emergency Portal list emotional hotlines: www.oref.org.il/12550-21203-en/Pakar.aspx
– The Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War, or NATAL: 1-800-363-363.
- Practice self-calming exercises: This may include meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, or listening to calming music. Looking at photos of happy memories or important people in your life is very calming. Put some picture albums in your safe room, or look at the photos on your phone.
- Stay positive: Try to maintain a positive outlook and focus on things that bring you joy and happiness. This can help you stay resilient during difficult times.
IT’S NOT unusual for people to suffer from anxiety during a war and even have full-blown panic attacks. People living alone may be more at risk of experiencing a panic attack while staying in their protected room. Panic attack symptoms include a pounding heart, shortness of breath, light-headedness, sweating, trembling, nausea, tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes, and an overwhelming sense of impending doom.
But despite how frightening these episodes can be, they are not inherently dangerous. Deep breathing is very effective during a panic attack in reducing symptoms. Panic attacks always pass. My advice is “Don’t panic about the panic.”
Remember, living alone during wartime can be very stressful. It’s normal to feel anxious or overwhelmed during such situations. However, by taking care of yourself and being prepared, you can reduce the impact of the situation on your well-being.
The writer is a marital, child, and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana and global online accessibility. email@example.com; www.facebook.com/drmikegropper