Coping with Tragedy in the Middle East

The death, kidnapping, destruction, and terror due to recent events in Israel, Gaza, and the impact on the entire the Middle East region fills us with sadness. Many of our VUMC colleagues have family and friends in the region. They may be traumatized at what they see and hear, yet feel powerless to do anything but hope and pray. We try to make sense of that which is senseless and irrational. There is immense pain, heartache, and suffering yet there is also resilience.

How do we cope with such chaos, devastation, and destruction? There's a feeling of being totally overwhelmed, hopeless, and helpless. Emotionally, the psychological impact is to feel trauma, fear, and terror. It is hard to get a handle on how to re-gain a sense of control and predictability. We want to find a solution to this complex cultural problem.

Traumatic events, including the aftermath, invoke the most basic threat--that of survival, notes author and psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, Ph.D. in her book "Shattered Assumptions". There are occasions when we are forced to recognize the risk and real possibility of the randomness of events and the fragility of our own mortality. Trauma can produce symptoms in individuals including anxiety, fears, depression, nightmares, nausea, memory loss, identification with the victims, flashbacks, fear of repetition, fatigue, and problem-solving difficulties. While these can be a normal response to such an abnormal situation, it remains profoundly distressing.

"We often are triggered by the similarity of these events to the commonalities in our own lives," notes Jim Kendall, LCSW, CEAP. "To cope with this requires incredible courage and resilience." If you or a colleague are having difficulty coping, here are some things you can do:

  • Listen to others and validate the feelings that you have.
  • Focus on the things you have control over.
  • Reflect on the fact that at the moment, you are safe.
  • Prioritize your own self-care.
  • Seek support from friends, colleagues, or a professional if your distress begins interfering with your function, your work, or your relationships.

Please be kind to each other. This may be a very difficult time for you. For some additional psychological support, VUMC faculty and staff can call Work/Life Connections-EAP at 615- 936-1327 and make a confidential appointment to meet with one of our counselors.