Posts tagged " stress "

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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Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges
with Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

With so much out of our control, let’s focus on what we can control: changing ourselves.

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The Corona Cascade of Calamities

March 23rd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Most of us are feeling some sort of anxiety and stress these days. We are worried about our health and the health of those we love. We are anxious about our jobs and businesses surviving. We are coping with either more people in one space than we are used to and/or not seeing enough of other people. 

Anyone who has lived for a few years knows that stress can cause an overreaction to the normal ups and downs of everyday life.  Often, when we behave towards someone we love in a way that leaves us feeling ashamed, our reaction stems from being over-stressed. A dish left on the table or a toy left on the floor leads to nasty words rather than a reasonable response.

This plays out in the workplace as well. In analyzing medical mistakes, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that stress was a primary cause of errors. Whether you are providing health care, car rides or ketchup, poor decision making is often the result of an anxious mind.

What is stress?  Psychology texts offer dozens of definitions but it’s mostly feeling that important aspects of your life are outside your control.  You lack time to do what you think must be done.  Fate is flinging circumstances at you for which you lack the resources.  Costs are climbing faster than your ability to increase revenue. 

Stress overwhelms you when you feel that you’re not in control of consequential developments in your life. Paradoxically this makes you less capable of making smart decisions and executing them. It is not surprising that the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 have most of us feeling unstable.

I Samuel chapter 20 accentuates the deep bond between David and Jonathan. After confirming that Jonathan’s father, King Saul, wanted to kill David, Jonathan enabled David to escape. It would be hard to overestimate the greatness of his actions as recognizing David as the heir to the throne meant relinquishing his own royal hopes and aspirations. Yet, the following chapters show that a great tragedy results from David’s hasty escape. King Saul wipes out Nov, the city of the priests that had provided food for David as he runs away. Ancient Jewish wisdom sadly reveals that Jonathan must accept some of the responsibility for that slaughter. Why? Because in the emotional turmoil surrounding his farewell to David, Jonathan neglected to provide David with food and drink. This does not negate Jonathan’s laudable actions—however, it provides a chilling example of how stress can cause even the best of us to make serious mistakes.

The current crisis means that we need to be aware of our vulnerability to stress and be proactive in acknowledging and regulating our emotions and actions. Thankfully, God is always present and available but human contact is essential for our mental health. Even if it needs to be by phone, letter or internet we must be vigilant in reaching out to others in this time of social-distancing.

As many of you know, we are big proponents of keeping a written record of daily activities and thoughts. Responding to inquiries about journaling, we determined that we would like to encourage and help our friends to do the same. To that end, a few months ago our team began putting together a new resource, Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges with Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin. Each week provides a thought-provoking concept, a Biblical reference and a challenge. There is room to record your thoughts, attempts and successes (or setbacks) at meeting the challenge. Little did we know that by the time this journal was ready (it should begin shipping by mid-week), the world would be in upheaval. We have made the decision to go ahead with the release of this resource in the hope that it can serve as an outlet and a source of strength as we all work through these trying days. We close with prayers for you and yours. 

Psalm 130: A song of ascents: From the depths have I called you, Lord.
Lord, hear my voice, may Your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleas.

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From Stress to Salvation: A Passover Story

April 12th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 29 comments

To the dismay of my parents and the bewilderment of my wife Susan’s parents, some years back we sailed our family from Los Angeles to Honolulu on our small sailboat. We spent nearly a year in preparation. Susan planned the meals for the entire voyage and wrote down where each item of food was stored, while I strengthened the vessel and polished my celestial navigation skills. We departed on the fourth of July and by mid-month we were about a thousand miles from the West Coast and the same distance from Hawaii.

That night, as usual, I measured our water supply and in an exhausted state from too many hours on watch mistakenly determined that we had only one more day’s water left. In a terrible panic, all I could think about was how would I keep my family alive till we reached Hawaii. In my mind that became the only problem.

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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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