There have been a lot of articles about stress lately (I get stressed out just reading them!). How multi-tasking leads to stress. How an insecure job market, financial overextension, information overload, dual-income families, and marriage all lead to stress. What are we doing to ourselves? Even free time makes us anxious! In a world where everything is supposed to be faster and easier, why doesn't it feel better?
There are many downsides to a stress-filled existence -- marital challenges, pressured and unhappy children, health risks. But perhaps the biggest loss is the sense of joy and optimism that should carry us through the day. Perhaps the biggest downside of keeping busy every moment is that we never stop to enjoy any of them. Perhaps the highest price is the loss of happiness, the inability to achieve peace of mind. Can a person who is "stressed-out" take pleasure in their spouse and children? Are they too wound up to enjoy their beautiful backyard or a relaxing dinner? Do they need memos that read "tell my wife I love her" or "read a story to the children" and "don't forget to concentrate while doing so!"?
All too often we keep ourselves busy to bolster our self-esteem and avoid introspection. All too often we keep ourselves busy to avoid the complications and true effort of our interpersonal relationships. All too often we keep ourselves busy because we don't know any other way, and it's too stressful to change!
Trust in the Almighty is the only key to a truly stress-free existence, to real peace of mind.
My friends in the medical profession can list ad nauseum the stress-related symptoms they see these days: too many pains without probable physical cause; too many unsubstantiated trips to the doctor's office. Too much depression and too many pills. This is progress?
There is an ancient Jewish solution that helps battle the stress in our lives, but it's not easy. It doesn't involve meditation or pressure points. It can be done without feng shui or any channeling of past lives. And no kabbalistic insight from Madonna will help you.
It's called Bitachon -- trust in the Almighty, and it's the only key to a truly stress-free existence, to real peace of mind.
Bitachon means recognizing that the Almighty is One, and the whole world is an expression of His will. Since the Almighty is all good, everything in the world that happens is an expression of God's goodness.
The implications of this are ultimately very freeing. If we could really internalize this idea, we would revolutionize the way we live our lives. If you're a control freak like me (I haven't descended to pink hangers for my girls and blue for my boys, but I do insist on keeping my children's books in numerical order where applicable!), then letting go of the illusion that you run the world is a big challenge. Like those who sit by the plane window to keep an eye on the wings, I have this sense that if I relax my vigilance, my world will spin out of control. At the same time, I know intellectually it's not in my control to begin with. But if I take a deep breath, then let it out, and for a moment recognize I'm not flying the plane, that it's all out of my hands, I have a moment of peace.
The goal is not only to extend those moments, but to remove the other impediment to peace of mind -- fear. Many of us live with free-floating fear and anxiety that settles on different issues de jour -- from terrorist attacks to earthquakes to tragic diseases, God forbid. In the event that the ostensible cause for anxiety is removed, it efficiently finds another issue on which to rest.
But what if I truly recognized that everything that happens is for the good, that everything is a personal gift from the Almighty? My anxiety would just float away.
So I'm working on it. My anxiety is far from floating. My stress level remains high. But I know the solution; I know the mantra to recite and it has real words to it : "The Almighty runs the world; He loves me and only wants my good." Isn't that what we tell our children? To achieve this recognition and the concurrent freedom is truly life's work. It isn't easy, far from it! And it's tempting to think that the right pharmaceuticals, the right amulet, the right teacher can do all the work for you. We so desperately want to believe in magic. But there is no magic here. There's just the slow, steady constant work of acknowledging that we're in good hands and He won't let us fall.
To achieve this recognition and the concomitant peace of mind, we have to employ a full battery of tools to master this essential concept. Begin by learning. Every story in the Torah speaks to this issue, the miraculous history and survival of the Jewish people speaks to this issue, every book on personal growth speaks to this issue -- as do the gifts in each of our lives. Learn in order to reinforce this idea. (There's no such thing as "Been there, done that" in Torah study.)
Take your stresses and link them to God.
My husband suggested another tool: take your stresses and link them to God. Whatever we agonize about -- money, weight, your children, world peace - they haunt us on and off throughout our days. So each time you think a stressful thought, respond, "The Almighty will help." Enlist your anxieties in the battle for Bitachon.
Encourage your friends and family to recognize God's hand in their lives. I know many people who relate these incidents at their Shabbat table, or their weeknight dinner time, or while driving carpool.
Count your blessings. This is the most obvious tool, but in some ways the most difficult. In a good mood, this is a wonderful tool. In a bad mood (when we need it the most), we grumble about its ineffectiveness. Do it anyway. Regularly.
And make a spiritual accounting. How am I doing? Am I working at it? The most meaningful things in life are only acquired through tremendous effort (don't you hate it when people tell you that?!) But who can imagine how great the reward…
We are all searching for that elusive peace of mind, and far too often it's through ineffective, even damaging, means.
It's available. The Almighty is anxiously (pardon the pun) awaiting our return. Just close your eyes, lean back…and let go.