Abigail Loewenstein

Eighteen coping skills for uncertain times

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Eighteen coping skills for uncertain times

Abigail Loewenstein

Many of us have been feeling anxious, angry, upset, and sad since Oct. 7. Not only have we been experiencing the trauma of terrorism in Israel, we are also facing increased, more than tripled, antisemitism at home.

As a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety disorders, I ask my clients to remember three words: avoidance maintains anxiety. Avoiding our problems doesn’t make them disappear. The only way out is usually through.

But we also need to take care of ourselves. Self-care is not selfish. Flight attendants instruct us to put our oxygen masks on first so we can help others.

Here are 18 tips to boost your resilience during these stressful and uncertain times:

1. Allies. Recognize the friends who checked on you, who displayed a menorah, who genuinely wished you Happy Hanukkah (maybe even at the right time!), and who take the time to educate themselves on Israel and what it is to be Jewish.

2. Breathe. A simple diaphragmatic breathing exercise for anxiety is 4-7-8: inhale for 4 counts, hold for 7, exhale for 8. Put one hand over your belly button and the other on your chest and move your belly while keeping your chest still. Or simply extend your exhale at least one second longer than your inhale.

3. Community. There is strength in numbers, and you don’t need to go it alone. Find your community. Consider joining a Jewish organization that speaks to you. Get involved in your congregation – go to services if it’s been a while. I’ve been connecting more with Jewish friends and colleagues for support.

4. Donate or contribute. Focus your time and energy on causes you believe in. Practice Tikkun Olam – the Jewish principle of healing the world, one act at a time. Give tzedakah (financially, if you have the means), and make a donation. Volunteer your time. Reconnecting with our values and like-minded individuals can combat feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Mitzvot as small as picking up trash on your street or random acts of kindness can help empower us.

5. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Tapping. This technique blends positive psychology with self-acupressure; it works well for anxiety and other mental health challenges. Look up The Tapping Solution – this app and YouTube channel provide free content.

6. Feelings. Feel your emotions and practice letting them go. They might be uncomfortable but they don’t last forever. It’s important to name them, which takes us out of our emotional (limbic) brain and back into our thinking (prefrontal cortex) brain. Put your feet on the ground (ideally, barefoot on the earth but maybe not in New England right now) and use simple grounding techniques like “I see, I feel, I hear.” Avoid graphic content. Consider taking a break from social media, news, and triggering content. Anxiety is contagious; try to limit how much you spread it and notice when others’ anxiety affects you.

7. Grieving. We all grieve in different ways. Find a support group or create one. If you have lost a loved one, CareDimensions offers free support groups. As the expression goes, “grief shared is grief halved.”

8. Humor. Watch a comedy special. Tell your favorite joke to the lady at the checkout. Check out “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” Dig up a book of Yiddish humor. Laughter can be the best medicine. Jews know this well; it’s a coping skill for survival. Perhaps it’s why there are so many funny Jews out there.

9. Immersion. Have fun. Play games. Spend time with children. Do whatever it is that allows you to be in the zone. What do you do that causes time to fly by?

10. Keep a journal. Or engage in any form of creative expression to release feelings and energy. Dance, paint, yell your favorite songs in your car by yourself (oh wait, is that just me?).

11. Let them. Sometimes we don’t have the energy to teach others about antisemitism. Let them do their own work. Let the internet trolls be. Avoid political debates if necessary. You aren’t responsible for others’ actions or ignorance – just your own.

12. Mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is about being in the moment non-judgmentally. Get your head where your feet are. Connect to your senses, which help us stay present. Slow down. Monotask (don’t multitask). Find mindful moments – e.g., eat mindfully, mindfully do the dishes. Some of my favorite meditation resources include Headspace on Netflix (and the app), the Calm app, Insight Timer.

13. Nature, aka Vitamin “N.” Get outside in nature every day and engage all your senses. Mindful nature walks can be reinvigorating. Find an outdoor winter sport you enjoy like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or bird-watching.

14. Professional help. Therapy can be essential. However, not all therapists have experience and sensitivity in working with Jewish clients. You might ask about their expertise, training, and perspective on working with Jews. It can help to get a referral from someone you trust. The Jewish Therapist Collective has a directory (https://jewishtherapists.org/), and CJP created the Mental Health Access project (https://ma.cjp.org/find-a-therapist).

15. Rabbi. Reach out to clergy. Lean on your faith and spiritual practices, whether through prayer or Torah study groups. Kabbalah teaches us that we are like the stars, as light emerges from darkness. According to Rabbi Michael Ragozin of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, Shimon the Righteous said: “the world stands upon three things: the Torah, the Temple service, and the practice of acts of piety.” (Avot 1:2) and “Worship (serve) the LORD in gladness; come into His presence with shouts of joy.” (Psalm 100:2)

16. Build your foundation. To be healthy, we must first meet basic needs like eating well, staying hydrated, sleeping well, and having shelter. Like a house, we build our foundation from the ground up.

17. Exercise. Movement burns off stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which are triggered when we feel threatened. I feel best when I practice yoga, walk and play pickleball.

18. Zip Ups (Energy Psychology). You can protect and balance energy, reining in your biofield; click here. Energy medicine like Reiki and acupuncture are types of Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) that can mitigate stress. Θ

Abigail Loewenstein, MA, LMHC, CIMHP, RP, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. Email her at shalomsalem18@gmail.com.

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