By Simcha Feuerman, LCSW-R
OHEL Director of Operations
“One who has developed his intellect at the expense of his character can be compared to a tree whose branches are greater than its roots—a wind can come along and blow it away.”
—Pirkei Avos 3:22
Some of us were affected terribly. Flooded houses, ruined businesses, financial losses, and injuries. Others got off “easy” with loss of power. It’s not over.
At this time we can truly understand that famous dictum in Pirkei Avos, figuratively and literally. How we handle ourselves over the next few weeks can serve as inspiration to our family members, friends, and fellow citizens for years to come.
It is normal to get anxious during such severe weather and its aftermath. What we want to avoid at all costs is panic, rage or losing our cool.
When a person is in a state of panic or high anxiety, the blood drains away from the frontal lobes of the brain (which are in charge of higher order thinking) and activity focuses on the region of the brain called the amygdala. This part of the brain is emotional and mostly instinct, and operates with very little forethought.
This is good for some emergencies when instinct is more advantageous than calm deliberation, such as during a raging fire when you would rather be rescued by a firefighter than a philosopher. You need action and not someone who ponders or contemplates.
However, if a person is induced into a state of panic when he really needs to think, he won’t be able to slow down and act rationally. His brain is hijacked. You rationalize it as righteous anger—but it often is just anxiety and panic. The person with road rage says to himself, “That other crazy driver deserves to be run off the road!” He drives with the mentality that he is in a war zone. But, thank G‑d, we are not really in a war zone, and have no right to behave as such. There are no missiles over our heads, at least not for us Jews in the diaspora.
Judaism understands the psychology of panic, and in fact not only is panic physically debilitating but it is also spiritually debilitating. The Torah speaks of the Jewish army and how if one soldier panics he could cause the “hearts of his brethren to melt.”
Everyone has their threshold where they lose their composure. For some it is when they are in pain, for others it’s when it is too cold or too hot, and for others it is when the electricity goes.
Once the horse of panic starts galloping out of the barn, it is almost impossible to get him back in. Parents and heads of households have a responsibility to monitor their emotions and speak with gentleness, love and understanding way before the crisis gets heavy.
Check your brain. Are your thoughts racing? Is your pulse and breathing rapid? Time to take a few minutes and slow down. Your body can calm your thoughts just as easily as your thoughts can cause your body to tremble. Take slow deep breaths with your eyes closed. Sip a hot tea. Hug your children and reassure them that they will be safe. Listen to music. Talk to whomever you’re with. Panic leads to mistakes and mistakes lead, G‑d forbid, to injuries.
Listen to others and take their ideas into account.
Ohel can help any individual with any questions. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
May Hashem watch over all of us during this difficult time and may we grow closer from the time we spend together as families. v