Waiting for Spring: tips for tough times

I had a conversation with another mother outside of my kid’s school this week. It went as follows: “Will the next Corona test be positive? Is it even accurate? Will we be in bidud (isolation) tomorrow? I can’t go on like this! How much longer can we live like this?”

I think everyone has felt this way at times in the last two years.

Living through the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. Running to test; navigating constantly changing government regulations, vaccines and quarantines; keeping children and elderly safe and socialized – it’s exhausting! The trauma is compounded for Israelis, both native-born and olim, who live in the shadow of terrorism and war. The coping skills many of us utilize, our routines and rituals, have been completely interrupted by the pandemic.

But there are ways to find peace and meaning in the chaos. Simple ways. Ways that are accessible to everyone. As a psychiatrist working with young soldiers, working adults and the elderly, I have identified several key practices that are crucial to coping with difficult times.

1.Accept Uncertainty. Allow yourself to be angry, sad or disappointed by the loss of control of the world around us. Although you don’t know what tomorrow – or even the next text message – will bring, know that you will handle whatever comes.

2. Try Triage. Embrace the medical concept of triage. That’s the principle guiding a hospital’s emergency department when medical professionals decide how long you will wait to be treated, prioritizing the patient with chest pain while directing the person with a scraped knee to sit in the waiting room for three hours. Give your limited energy and attention to things that are important and that you can control. Be the triage person in your own life. Let the rest wait!

3. Find Joy in Small Things. Learn to value good conversation in well-spaced folding chairs in the grass at dusk. Take the family out to see the trees and the bugs and the birds. Talk to the neighbors. Read a new book. As a parent, at some point it occurred to me that our kids were not getting another childhood. We were going to have to make this one count! We started to visit national parks. We learned history, botany, etymology. Our kids learned to play outside with a few friends and be grateful for it. They learned to write on rocks with charcoal and not to touch the sap that runs out of the tree if they ever wanted to wear those clothes again!

4. Nourish Yourself. Long-term stress requires long-term solutions. The resources that get us through stressful times become depleted over time. Replenish them by caring for your body and mind. Eat well. Prepare food you enjoy. Take your vitamins. Exercise. Try a creative outlet. See if you have something to draw, write or sing. Do something new at work. Allow yourself to ask for help. Professional help is out there. Psychiatric medication and therapy help restore the chemical balance of the brain and improve quality of life.

5. Nurture Hope. We mark the holiday of Tu BiShvat this month. It’s an unusual holiday, a celebration of spring that falls in the middle of the winter. According to the Talmud, it marks the potential for growth in the coming year. It’s about the closed buds on the trees, not the flowers. In my experience as a therapist for 20 years, people grow similarly. Most of the work happens before the blossoming.

This year marks shemita, the biblical sabbatical year when, according to the Torah, the land of Israel rests and new plantings are delayed. But the shemita year is also traditionally the time for the people of Israel to focus on their own growth as the land around them goes a bit wild. We live in a wild time. Now is a great time to plant some virtual flowers in our own hearts and minds. Now is the time to celebrate the potential you are developing, which will one day blossom into a better reality.

About the Author
Dr. Nora Brooke is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist in private practice in Israel. She can be reached at
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