Elizabeth Brenner Danziger

Fear is the Mind-Killer

Doctor descends into human head as alpinist. Psychology and mental health concept. Vector ullustration.
A doctor helps a person's mind (iStock image)

Sometimes I’m fine. I go to the grocery store, wash the dishes, and do my work. Then, from nowhere, comes the thought of what might be happening to the hostages in Gaza; what could happen if the Israeli Arabs rise up; what will happen to the soldiers in the ground invasion; and most of all, what could happen to my children and grandchildren who live in Israel. When the fear strikes, it is like a demon has seized my brain. My breathing is shallow and fast. My eyes are wide. Fear rides through me like a wild donkey, trampling my equilibrium.

Then I think, “I’ve got to get hold of myself!” I know that my freaking out is not going to win the war in Israel, and can only harm whatever small good I can provide to my family and friends. And yet. When the fear rushes in, it is running the show. This is an unsustainable way to live.

I remember Franklin D. Roosevelt’s saying, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  This saying does not help me. The truth is that we have plenty of real dangers to fear, not only in Israel but worldwide, as the Hamas attacks embolden antisemites everywhere. I don’t think I am able to not experience fear. Fear is here to stay for the foreseeable future. What I need is a way to manage it.

Solutions come from many sources. Today, I remembered the Litany Against Fear  from Dune by Frank Herbert:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Many years ago, I printed out this “Litany Against Fear” and taped it to my wall. I don’t remember now what I was afraid of – certainly not terrorists – but it calmed me to remember that I must face my fear, and that if I allow it to pass through me, my core self will endure.

Other solutions help, too. To manage my own bouts of dread, here are four tools that have helped me:

Take a positive action. Fear breeds powerlessness. The best antidote is to take back our power by acting positively. I have written to elected officials, publicized media bias, and spent many hours playing online mini-golf with my grandchildren who are stuck at home in Jerusalem. The action need not be grand: Mustering a smile for a loved one might be enough.

Breathe When fear strikes, the fight-or-flight nervous system kicks into gear. Our bodies prepare for battle and our breathing becomes fast and shallow. We can override this impulse by taking a deep belly breath, holding it for a moment, and exhaling completely. No matter how unnerved I am, a few deep breaths return me to calmness.

Talk My friends and family are a lifeline. Hearing about others’ challenges and solutions gives me the strength to deal with my own. As the proverb says, “A trouble shared is a trouble halved.”

Pray Our Creator wants to hear from us. I was never much on reciting Psalms (Tehillim), but lately, I’ve been amazed at how relevant they are. A friend in Israel says that when the anxiety becomes intense, she repeats Psalm 116, verse 7: “Return, my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has been good to you.” She prays that her spirit returns to a restful place, and it usually does. Prayers don’t need to be in Hebrew or take a special form. We can simply follow Stevie Wonder’s advice to “Go and have a talk with God.”

We have been afraid in the past few weeks, and we are likely to feel fear again. We owe it to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our brethren in Israel to manage our fear so that we can continue to support those we love and repel our enemies. Fear is the mind-killer, but we can face it and overcome our foes.

About the Author
Elizabeth Brenner Danziger is the author of four books, including Winning by Letting Go (Harcourt Brace: 1985) and Get to the Point! (Random House: 2001). Her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is the president of Worktalk Communications Consulting. She has four grown children and many grandchildren. She has been living an observant Jewish life for 40 years.
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