Turning Holiday Distress into De-stress
“You must be so relaxed after all those holidays,” said a well-meaning, non-Jewish coworker.” Ah, if only she knew.
Jewish holidays, which the Torah says should be “days of rest,” can have the opposite effect. Between family obligations and spiritual introspection, stress levels can be through the roof. Pile on emotion-laden memories, social pressures, and hyper-awareness of loss, and we have the recipe for some serious mental health challenges.
Top Ten Anxiety-Lowering Strategies to make room for more festive feelings.
STRATEGY NUMBER ONE
Take a breather. Sitting in synagogue services for hours? Feeling scrutinized at an intense family dinner? Consider excusing yourself and stepping away. Even a 15-minute break, spent alone and without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle the rest of the day. Clear your mind, slow your breathing, and restore inner calm.
STRATEGY NUMBER TWO
Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has died or you can’t be with loved ones, recognize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. You may be putting on a brave face in public, but be sure to find a safe space for noticing, naming, and working through your feelings. Inhabiting emotions, rather than inhibiting them, can help us overcome rough patches.
STRATEGY NUMBER THREE
Dive into your awareness. Is teshuva (repentance) aggravating your self-critical tendencies? Moving the focus outward, rather than inward, can help. Notice other people’s words, behaviors, and demeanor. Use the prayerbook’s blessings as a tool to be mindful of your own blessings.
Skokie July 4th parade (marching with banner and handing out resources)
STRATEGY NUMBER FOUR
Be realistic. High expectations can lead to great disappointments. The celebration you planned doesn’t have to be perfect, and the events of this year don’t have to be exact replicas of the idyllic past. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals may be added, adapted, or dismissed. Choose a few to hold onto, and be open to creating new ones.
STRATEGY NUMBER FIVE
Ditch the need to “have it all together.” Yes, Instagram and Facebook portray endless scenes of domestic perfection and personal achievement — but those are carefully selected images. Don’t compare yourself to those ephemeral impressions. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can, and that it’s okay not to be picture-perfect. Shut down your inner critic, and — when possible — speak affirmations out loud to yourself.
STRATEGY NUMBER SIX
Set aside differences. Friends and family members may say and do things that upset us. What’s their perspective, and what are their challenges? Are they upset about something in their own lives? Assuming that — or at least acting as if — their intentions are good can help everyone have a more pleasant time, and ease stress around any plans that go awry.
NSOU Table at Chicago Jewish Festival
STRATEGY NUMBER SEVEN
Structure your days. Breaking our routine can be a relief, but it can also be destabilizing, especially when we’re trying to accomplish too much. Set aside specific times for visiting friends and family, and check in with them about expectations. Schedule your visit with Aunt Bessie, rather than scrambling to see her at the last minute.
STRATEGY NUMBER EIGHT
Learn to say “no.” It’s one of the shortest words in the English language, but it can be the hardest to say — as well as the most important. Saying “yes” when we should say “no” can leave us feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Practicing a script can help, as can considering potential scenarios. Need some down time? Family and friends will understand if you can’t participate in every activity.
STRATEGY NUMBER NINE
Don’t abandon healthy habits. The holidays need not be a free-for-all. We all see the post-holiday weight-loss commercials, so we know that we’re not alone in the temptation. But overindulgence only adds to stress and guilt. Try these suggestions:
Have a healthy snack before holiday meals to bolster good choices.
Get plenty of sleep.
Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.
STRATEGY NUMBER TEN
Get off the grid. Experts say it’s healthy to turn off your electronics for 24 hours every week. The holidays are the perfect opportunity: you’re not expected to be working, and real life is sure to entertain you more than Netflix. What’s more, there’s a religious practice that justifies your absenteeism.
Remember that you have choices, some of which can alleviate pressure. There are new ways to observe old traditions (without breaking the bank on membership dues). Mishkan Chicago’s all about reclaiming Judaism’s inspiration and transformative essence. Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob has one-hour “judgment-free” High Holiday services. Silverstein Base Hillel is committed to pluralism. Chabad of Bucktown Wicker Park can provide community. And the list goes on!
Miriam Ament, Founder & President
Sari Steinberg, Director of Engagement
No Shame On U
No Shame On U Is A 501(C)(3) Organization Dedicated To Eliminating The Stigma Associated With Mental Health Conditions And Raising Awareness In The Jewish Community And Beyond. Our Goal Is For The People Who Need Help To Seek It. We Help Family Members And Friends Know How To Provide Proper Support And To Save Lives.
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High Holidays 2019 in Chicago Guide on ChiTribe
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