Posts tagged " anxiety "

How can (the world and) I cope with so much stress?

March 26th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 11 comments

Hi Rabbi Lapin and Susan,

I remember that you’ve talked about dealing with anxiety and stress in previous ‘Ask the Rabbi’ columns, but I’m wondering if you have any more advice for what we are going through in today’s COVID-19 crisis?

Thanks,

Pamela T.

Dear Pamela,

You are right that we have written about stress and anxiety previously and you are also correct that there are special circumstances now. 

A crisis grips the globe and reverberates in our own homes and in the homes of everyone else.  Our own work and that of others have been curtailed and the resulting financial stress casts its own pall.  People we know and love are suffering from health complications and health workers are stressed.  There is more than enough to keep us awake at night.

Ancient Jewish wisdom gifts us with three timeless truths for troubling times.

First, in normal times we train ourselves, and those we are privileged to raise, not to be focused on the present.  Some things, like giving away money to others with less than we have are uncomfortable to do, but we do them because our obligation to our past and the teachings of our parents compel us. Other things like exercising, eating wisely and saving money are burdensome but we do them because of our obligation to the future.  We do certain arduous things today so that you will be able to do other desirable things in five years’ time.

However, times are not normal and much of our thinking must focus on getting through today.  Asking oneself, “How will I possibly make it for another three weeks of this?” is a mistake. It can feel overwhelming and hopeless.  Instead, tell yourself, “I just have to get through today. Things are changing day by day and tomorrow I will deal with tomorrow.” We love this quote from Corrie ten Boom:  “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Upon being dispatched on his mission at the burning bush, Moses asked God what name shall he use for God when telling Israel of their forthcoming redemption.  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that God said, “Tell them I will be with them in future ordeals and oppressions as I am with them in this one in Egypt.”  Moses pleaded with God and explained that there is no benefit in telling them now of other trials and tribulations that lie ahead. In crisis times, it’s enough to deal with today. God accepted Moses’ request and replied, “Tell them just I will be who I will be.” (Exodus 3:13-14)

Right now, each day of making it is a triumph.  Pat yourself on the back, try and get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow will be tomorrow.

Second, it’s worth remembering that God created us for a reason. Just as we earthly parents love seeing our children follow in our footsteps, so does our Father in Heaven.  He loves seeing us, His children, mastering our emotions and behaving courageously and generously.  There is something deeply satisfying in accomplishing a challenging task.  Winning an athletic contest, even completing a jig-saw or crossword puzzle puts a glow on our souls. In crisis times we are in a brutal contest with our lower, more animal selves.  Acting with others in a Godly way will be strangely satisfying. There is strength in being able to give, even if it is something as simple as making a phone call to an older relative that reduces our feeling of helplessness.

Finally, start now to train yourself to become a generalist.  Understand that crisis times can seldom be fully comprehended by experts and specialists.  The infantry commander on the ground sends a message back to HQ, “The most important thing right now is more artillery.” Meanwhile, the naval commander communicates, “Nothing matters more than fuel for our ships.”  The bomber pilot radios back to base, “If we can’t overcome enemy anti-aircraft fire, all will be lost.”  It then falls to the commander-in-chief to determine how to allocate resources and where to focus effort.  Each of his warriors told him the truth, but it was the truth as he narrowly saw it.

In his book, The Psychology of Science, (Jewish) psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote: “…I remember seeing an elaborate and complicated automatic washing machine for automobiles that did a beautiful job of washing them. But it could do only that, and everything else that got into its clutches was treated as if it were an automobile to be washed. I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail…” 

Understandably, right now, doctors with a lifetime invested in their medical careers see one truth.  Economists see another truth.  Historians may see one more, and so on.  Newspapers, television, and other media are ravenous for content and will happily publish information be it from the infantry, the navy, or the air-force.  Your job, as commander in chief of yourself and your family, is to be a generalist and using data from experts and specialists try to integrate it and arrive at an accurate picture of the overall battlefield.  Then you are in a better position to determine strategy. For today.

Going through a difficult time with others focuses our attention on the fact that our lives are interconnected with others and we need to cry out to the Lord not only for our own needs but also for His other children.

In one of our previous answers to a question about stress and anxiety we wrote:

Have you ever tried to open a door using the wrong key? No matter how much you jiggle the key or how irritated you get, the door won’t open. You need to try another key.

Our culture suggests that life should be stress-free. We think in terms of entitlements. We expect life to be easy and enjoyable with a fillip of excitement added on demand through side activities we choose to indulge in. That is the wrong key for life.

Life is actually a challenge. While we are on this earth, we are challenged to constantly make choices, each one of which forms our character. One of the constant choices we have is whether to face life’s difficulties courageously or fearfully. Do we feel victimized and helpless every time something goes wrong or do we ask God’s help to meet our challenges? Is our default emotion dissatisfaction unless something makes us happy or is our default emotion happiness?

We aren’t ignoring that there are real and terrible trials in life…Our first suggestion would be to ‘get a new key.’

We also wrote: …one of the most powerful portals to happiness and optimism is gratitude.

Make the first words out of your mouth as you wake up, “I am grateful before you, Living and everlasting Lord, for returning my soul to me with graciousness; your faith (in me) is great.” This prayer from ancient Jewish wisdom, which in Hebrew starts with the words, “Modeh Ani,” opens the door to greet each day with gratitude and a recognition that God is on your side cheering you on to make correct choices throughout your day. Stress and anxiety have less room to roam when you have such a Partner at your side and you look forward to a day of responsibilities, challenges and commitments that you can fulfill rather than entitlements that you should receive.

We aren’t minimizing the health and economic concerns we are facing. These are compounded by not being able to get together with those we love and, for those dealing with children, with needing to be endlessly energetic, creative and loving. Yet, being grateful is still our primary advice.

Please limit your news-watching.  Don’t let yourself be seduced into the universe of the Cassandras out there telling you the world is coming to an end. Keep up an exercise regimen and healthy eating.  At one and the same time, there are tremendous technological opportunities for growth such as virtual museum tours, classes and lectures, but don’t spend your day looking at a screen. Keep your sense of humor front and center along with your Bible and your prayers.

May the Lord guard you from all harm; He will guard your life  (Ps 121:7)

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Teenage Depression

March 10th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 15 comments

I have been a regular listener of your podcast for quite some time now.  I first found the podcast after returning from Israel, where I had the pleasure of staying with Jewish friends and getting to know a little more of their faith and culture.  When I came home I started searching for ways to continue learning from that worldview because I greatly admire the Jewish perspective. 

Not long ago you did an episode where you  spoke of depression and you said something that resonated with me then, and continues to stay on my mind.  To paraphrase, you said, “Happiness is not the opposite of depression, the opposite of depression is purpose.” 

I have a teenage daughter who struggles with depression; she has every symptom.  We have her seeing a counselor who was the first to mention to us that she is very likely clinically depressed.  This brings me to my twofold question; I hope you can provide information that will help us.

How does a depressed person find purpose, and how does a parent guide a depressed teen toward their purpose?

Thank you for any wisdom you have to share.

Regards,

Matthew M.

Dear Matthew,

Thank you for your kind words;  we are terribly sorry to hear of your daughter’s struggles. You are clearly a loving father and doing whatever you can including working with a counselor. We are sure you understand that anything we say is intended as general advice since we neither know your daughter’s specific situation nor do we have special expertise with teenage girls (other than having raised quite a few of our own) or with clinical depression.

Before we touch on your question about purpose, we would like to suggest that you become familiar with two resources. The first is Dr. Leonard Saks’ book, Girls on the Edge, which Susan recommended in her Practical Parenting column. Dr. Saks, a pediatrician, shares fascinating research on teenage girls. From our perspective, one of the most interesting is his conclusion as to the importance of faith in keeping girls emotionally healthy, but his book will give you much insight. We also recommend becoming familiar with the folks who made Screenagers, a movie that focuses on the effects of technology on our teens. They note that social media seems to be affecting girls, in particular, in an emotionally harmful way.

As the above resources will help clarify,  your daughter’s depression is part of a trend. You could say that in some ways our society has been behaving in ways that promote depression and anxiety in youngsters. For example, for many years we have been a “panic” culture and the GICs are epicenters of hysteria.  Not surprisingly, it has impacted the children.  Another culprit is the media which constantly warns us in deathly tones of the newest threat to our survival. Many schools and teachers exacerbate this to the point of assigning students to write letters to politicians and newspapers pleading for them to “act now” to keep the world or the environment or our democracy safe. The threat changes with political winds, but the common theme is that danger constantly lurks.

We mention these things to emphasize that your daughter may be surrounded by people opposing her interests and a culture working against your goal of her being mentally and spiritually healthy. While you will make your own efforts, as long as a teenager is in that environment parents are running up the down escalator. It takes extra and sometimes extreme effort to combat those influences.

Let us get to your question about purpose. Being a person of faith helps a great deal with this. If we humans are the result of no more than a long process of unaided materialistic evolution, then our existence is random.  Everything about our lives is just random happenstance.  Our lives have no real meaning. However, if on the other hand,  a good and loving God created us and put us each on this planet, then He did so for a reason. Our life quest is to discover and fulfill that unique purpose for which He created us. His world was not complete without us!

While we are on that search (many of us are on that search for most or all of our lives), we are meant to be givers. In direct opposition to today’s selfie culture of entitlement, we need to create an ‘elsie’ culture of obligation and responsibility. Something as small as smiling at and greeting people you pass on the street or who are behind the counter in a store yields great internal rewards. Depending on a teen’s interests, he or she can find purpose tutoring at a Boys and Girls Club, visiting or entertaining at a senior center or making dinner for local families who have newborns or ill children. At first, this might mean taking on one of these activities as a family. Giving to others is one of the best ways to make ourselves feel better. If each day a teen has something on her calendar that makes someone else’s life better, then getting up in the morning is imbued with purpose.

One of the best ways to formalize this important life element is with a job.  We’d encourage you and other parents to explore the possibility of your children having a real ‘for-pay’ job.  They might absorb one of the principles in our book, Thou Shall Prosper, that customer service is akin to worship service.  Having a job means taking care of another person’s needs and taking care of the needs and desires of another of God’s children makes our Creator smile. More importantly, it provides our lives with purpose.

Another area to explore is for teenagers to acquire and assume responsibility for a pet such as a dog or a cat. (Or a llama.  A goldfish doesn’t really help very much!)

We’d like to issue a caveat. Help teens wisely pick an activity. Take care to avoid getting involved in fighting climate change, advocating for gun control or any other political hot potato designed to make them feel hopeless and ineffective.

We pray that you and your daughter find ways to overcome this hurdle and that she moves forward to a bright and optimistic future.

Blessings,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin.

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I Can’t Sleep, but I Don’t Want Medication

September 25th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 19 comments

I have been having trouble sleeping lately. I know I should go talk to my doctor about it but I don’t want to be put on medication. I have been having these anxiety attack for over 4 months now.

I find comfort and instant relief when I read the bible. Do you have any other suggestions for me?

Thank you.  I look forward to your answer

Enid

Dear Enid,

We “coincidentally” saw your question as we were having a discussion about the increase in anxiety in society today. It is hard to avoid the word, whether you are talking to educators, medical professionals, reading ads touting medication or simply keeping one’s ears open.

This should not surprise us. At one and the same time our society has been increasing the voices sounding doom and gloom while removing those constants that anchored us. For years now, schoolchildren have been used as pawns to attend rallies and write politicians and newspapers in order to preempt terrible consequences. It didn’t matter if the feared enemy was loggers (presented as a menacing threat when our children were growing up in the Pacific Northwest), corporations, or political positions and candidates. Something or someone was/is always threatening their world. More than one generation of adults has now not only failed to protect the innocence of the children with whose care they were entrusted, but has actively hurt them. The first generation of those children are now grown and, not surprisingly, increasing numbers of adults find the world a scary place.

(more…)

Can you recommend ways to deal with stress?

August 17th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 2 comments

Question:

I was wanting to know if there is any ancient Jewish wisdom regarding how to handle stress and anxiety in everyday life.

Thank you Shalom and God Bless.

– La’Shar

Answer:

Dear La’Shar,

There are so many different ways we can approach your question, and it is one that touches on each of our lives. Perhaps, that is the starting place. Have you ever tried to open a door using the wrong key? No matter how much you jiggle the key or how irritated you get, the door won’t open. You need to try another key. (more…)

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