It’s gotten worse. It used to start about halfway through the day. Then I noticed it first thing in the morning. Now I wake up that way – totally stressed out!

The pain in my neck (no, not one of my children, the real pain!) starts to spread down my shoulders and back the minute I get up. What’s going on? Why is everyone I speak with talking about their level of stress; why is everyone complaining about the tension and anxiety they live with? It seems that every additional responsibility, every new commitment seems to sink us deeper.

Yet it can’t be that we have it harder than our ancestors did. Most of us are neither working in the fields nor giving birth there (that “natural” experience wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be!). We aren’t washing our clothes by the river (although my dryer has been on the blink), nor getting our water from the well.

Yet we feel constantly overwhelmed. Even our young children talk about pressure (I’m not sure why; I ignored that D on their report card) – and insist on buying one of those stress buttons or balls from Staples.

Part of this may be endemic to the world we live in. Between regular land lines (soon to go the way of the rotary phone I’m sure) and cell phones, between Blackberries and the internet, we are constantly bombarded – more messages to return, more information to assimilate and process. And work, non-stop work. Especially if you work at home. Or online. (Does anyone need any other argument for keeping Shabbos?)

Additionally, with all our “time-saving” devices, we have ramped up our use of time. For many families, not a moment goes unscheduled. I’m all for recognizing the value of time, for not wasting the precious gift but sometimes if we don’t stop, we accomplish less. We burn out. There’s a big difference between being productive and being compulsive.

So how do we respond to these demands that really seem to be 24/7? Perhaps the best place to start is with our expectations. We frequently delay certain events (cleaning the garage, straightening out that junk drawer) until things settle down, until they return to normal.

This is as normal as it gets. Our job is to accept it.

This is faulty reasoning and misguided expectations. This is no alternative "normal;" this is as normal as it gets. What we have right now -- with all its craziness and chaos -- is reality, with the ongoing challenges and commitments.

There’s always something happening – graduations, bar mitzvahs, packing for camp, plane tickets to buy, school supplies (always!), seminary applications, work projects and deadlines, weddings…and those are mostly positive stressors!

Our job is to accept. If we don’t rail against these demands, if we don’t tell ourselves that really our lives should be calm and orderly, we will have less stress.

Stress is frequently the result of the dichotomy between our expectations and reality.

A clearer perspective on reality can change all that, and in the process, lower our stress. Only in movies do they never take out the garbage or fret over how to pay the bills and how to get extra tutoring for children with learning issues. Only in movies are their clothes and makeup immaculate, their weight perfect, their refrigerators full (and beautifully organized!).

 

Real life has a lot of built-in stressors. The secret is to accept them instead of fighting them. That, and as always, prayer. We definitely need the Almighty’s help. We just can’t do this alone.

There are magazine articles and books full of tools that are meant to help deal with stress. Some work, some don’t. The attitude change is the crucial first step. I would love to list some of those tips here but I really gotta run – someone’s at the door, the phone’s ringing and the airlines are having a seat sale…