What is a Healthy Response to Terror?

By Stu Jaffe, LCSW

Jewish institutions throughout the country have experienced a wave of terror in recent weeks – bomb threats and vandalism that have brought anxiety, foreboding and fear to Jewish community centers, synagogues and schools. Birmingham is no exception. Since January, the Levite Jewish Community Center, whose campus includes the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School and Birmingham Jewish Federation and Foundation, has received four telephone bomb threats. 

As adults dealing with these disturbing events, we face two emotional challenges: how to manage our own feelings and what to tell our children, grandchildren and students who are seeking guidance and reassurance.

Below are some observations and guidelines that can be helpful to anyone navigating this stressful journey:

1.  Remember You’re Only Human - When we feel threatened, our natural response is a “fight or flight” instinct - to run away from trouble or prepare to protect ourselves and those around us. In Birmingham, our Jewish community leaders are embracing the latter approach. They have taken aggressive steps to ensure our safety, including an ongoing dialog with law enforcement, adjustments to existing security protocols and more.

2.  Take Responsibility - Attend community forums and read newsletter updates to ensure you understand current security protocols. Having correct, current information increases our personal power in moments when we feel vulnerable and frightened. Follow these guidelines, including sharing concerns about persons or activities that seem unusual, and encourage others to do the same. Respect that some protocols may remain confidential to ensure the highest level of protection.

3.  Stay Positive - When discussing these issues with children, be aware of your own feelings and body language. If you are anxious and fearful, this will only reinforce the apprehensions they are already feeling. Allow kids to express their feelings and fears, and assure them that their feelings are valid. Reassure them that the JCC and other institutions are doing all the right things, including working with law enforcement, to ensure that they are safe - and that the threats have brought our community together and made us stronger. 

4.  Look Back - For many people, prior traumatic experiences that have not been reconciled can amplify concerns over present circumstances. If you are having what seems like an extreme reaction to these threats, consider whether past events may be influencing your response.

5.  Take Care - In times of emotional stress, it’s especially important to maintain healthy habits, such as:

-Getting enough sleep

-Exercising

-Discussing concerns with friends, family or a support group or counselor

-Practicing meditation, yoga or other relaxation techniques

-Relaxing by listening to music, enjoying nature, playing games, reading a good book, etc.

-Practicing thought interruption techniques that may help you avoid negative, piled-on thinking

-Recalling past stresses and repeating techniques that have helped you

6.  Ask a Professional - CJFS is providing small-scale support groups, as well as counseling, to help individuals and groups enhance their coping skills in response to real or perceived threats.

For more information about group and individual counseling opportunities at CJFS, please email Robin McMilin, CJFS Clinical Director, or call 205.879.3438.