By: Chayi Hanfling
According to mental health research, stress levels have been sky-rocketing in the United States and across the world. Whether triggered by a volatile political landscape, economic insecurity, or health issues, the American Psychological Association cited that 75% of adults report that they experienced moderate to high levels of stress in the past month. Stress is physically damaging, causing frequent aches and pains and compromising our immune systems, and is also destructive to our emotional well-being.
Jewish wisdom provides us with some tools and ideas to help manage stress and weather the storm.
- You are enough.
Many people equate worth with productivity; we are what we do. This perspective creates an endless internal need to achieve in order to feel that we are worthy. Social researcher Brene Brown calls this “the hustle for worthiness” which creates a society governed by fear and shame.
Judaism, in contrast, posits that we are all created in the image of God and have intrinsic worth that is not defined by what we produce. In fact, for 25 hours every Shabbat we are forbidden from creative work.
I have found that individuals who equate their inner value with their productivity find Shabbat to be especially challenging. If I can’t achieve or produce on Shabbat then what and who am I? Judaism reminds us: you are worthy. You can make mistakes but you will never be a mistake. The endless burden of things to do can never threaten who you are.
- Value and honor your effort.
Judaism makes clear that it is our effort that counts, irrespective of whatever results may or may not be achieved. Although the outside world seems to function based on achievement and not effort, the reality is that we are only in control of the effort we invest and not in the fruit that it yields.
We are responsible to put in a reasonable effort; God then does the rest. What happens may not be what we wanted, but the results are out of our hands. The irony of course is that we are so often focused on worrying about what is outside of our control that we “forget” to do our part.
Each day instead of getting overwhelmed with what you need to accomplish, focus on what is within your control. Ask yourself: what is your reasonable effort for today and then invest your energy into your efforts and not into worrying over the outcome.
- You are not a dog about to be eaten.
Life can sometimes feel like a giant competition. It seems that there is a limited number of scholarships, job offers and promotions. According to the Jewish perspective, God is limitless and that no one can take away what we are meant to have. A wise sage once said that he was not worried that at the end of his life he would not measure up to great individuals in Jewish history; his only concern was that he would not measure up to the greatest version of himself.
So much stress results from comparing ourselves to others who seem to have more, do more, achieve more and succeed more. But comparisons are illusory. God doesn’t compare us to anyone else and neither should we. Look inward and ask yourself: what else can I be doing to become the best version of myself?
- Take a break, with love and connection.
Many of the college students tell me that they find the idea of Shabbat to be beautiful but they simply have too much to do to take that much time off. The truth is that whether you keep Shabbat or not, no one can be productive 24/7. We all need breaks and we’ll find a way to get them. The only question is: will the breaks be taken mindfully and consciously and in a way that will truly refresh and invigorate us, or will they be taken unconsciously in front of a screen and we’ll often feel more exhausted afterwards than before we started?
Taking a break from stress by spending time with others in loving and nurturing environments fills two needs: our need for rest and our need for human connection. So many people struggle with loneliness whether they are surrounded by others or not. Indeed, the loneliness that you can feel in a crowd is usually much more potent than what you feel when you are by yourself. Take care of yourself by taking a break with people who care about you in environments that facilitate love and connection.
Daily stressors may be a regular part of life but we don’t need to feel powerless to face them. Incorporating Jewish values into our mindset can provide us with the emotional fortitude we need to live our lives with joy and face our stress with strategy.