Dear Therapist:

I have always considered myself a healthy person and have never been diagnosed with any kind of mental health issue. Recently, due to the current events in Eretz Yisroel, I have this feeling of uneasiness that follows me around all day. I can't say I'm anxious but I certainly don't feel like my regular self. I feel more "alert" when I am walking down the street, considering travel plans, or even dropping my kids off at school. Is this anxiety or just normal considering the situation? Is there something I should be doing about it or will it just be ok on its own? I would appreciate your thoughts and recommendations. Thank you.



Recognize that your response is in no way abnormal. On two separate levels, the way that you are feeling and reacting makes perfect sense.

From a simplex, apparent perspective, your feelings typify those of many people. When we hear and see something that is disturbing, it is normal for us to feel uncomfortable and somewhat insecure. This can be viewed as a trauma.

Traumatic events are not necessarily only those that happen to us directly; when we experience a vicarious trauma, it can be just as unsettling. In fact, for some people and/or in some instances, an indirect trauma can be even more troubling than one that is directly experienced. There are various reasons for this. One reason is that when we experience something directly, we are typically forced to deal with it logically, thus reducing the unconscious mind’s tendency to repress, deny, or otherwise suppress the concerns with which we should be grappling.

From a slightly deeper perspective, we each have our own fears and insecurities, created and reinforced from early childhood through today. Therefore, we all react differently to similar experiences. So, no emotional reaction that we have is “normal,” if we view “normal” as the same as everyone else. That is, since no two people react in exactly the same way, “normal” is an arbitrary term. I think that a better term would be “problematic,” as in, “Is my reaction problematic?”

There are three basic factors that you should consider to determine whether your reactions are problematic. These are severity, duration, and progression.

With regard to severity, an important factor is whether your reaction is appropriate to the situation. It doesn’t sound like your feelings of anxiety are very severe at all. You are unsettled and more on edge than usual, but that seems to me like an appropriate reaction—as you wrote—“considering the situation.” More to the point, it seems to you like an appropriate reaction.

With regard to duration, generally speaking we don’t want to see a reaction lasting longer than it “should.” For a traumatic event that has ended (like a death), there is a specific point at which we can consider a reaction to be in the aftermath. However, in an ongoing situation such as the current one, it is a bit more difficult to pin this down.

In these circumstances (and possibly in most), progression is perhaps the most important factor. If a traumatic situation continues indefinitely, we might see anxiety increase or decrease over time, depending on a number of factors. Naturally, we want to see anxiety decrease over time.

However, recognize that feelings of fear are not necessarily bad. We want to feel afraid when we are in a situation that requires us to be vigilant. The key is that we want our fear to match the situation as closely as possible. If you feel significantly more anxious than you believe the situation warrants, and your anxiety is not decreasing over time, then your anxiety may be problematic.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200


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