February 24, 2024
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February 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

It’s 8:40 p.m. on Friday night and somewhere between a recent family member having a heart attack and never waking up, to our child’s need to decompress after a week, I sit back at my Shabbos table and request a breath. “My God, the neshamah that you have given me is pure.” I take personal inventory of my stress; I take another breath, reciting the same prayer over and over again.

It didn’t work.

It’s all just too much to handle. Too much to let go of. It’s just too much. I can’t shake it; enter retreat mode. This is the moment in which I need to find a way to cope. Should I have another glass of scotch at the Shabbos table? What if I retreated to the garage to tinker with that broken kid’s toy that needs fixing? Feeling paralyzed, my body is holding such intense energy that I can feel my heart beating. My thoughts are racing, anxiety begins to flow through my nervous system, and in that moment I make a decision.

Jews between the ages of 18 and 34 are more likely to report experiencing emotional or mental health difficulties and yet we seem to be ignoring the signs. So much is happening around us. Is it our fault? We are living through a war, for goodness’ sake! Might we just be intuitively seeking a sense of mental stability? We are trying to find a way to make it all feel normal. We reconvene with the community, cherish our loved ones, and sit by the fire with a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup.

Coping is defined as the thoughts and behaviors mobilized to manage internal and external stressful situations. We are still coping with world events that have uprooted our sense of security. For many, this jarring experience has created a new awareness of mental health and one that we have to both cherish and work upon.

The wise Talmudic sage Rabbi Tarfon once said, “You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.” Recognizing this double-edged sword, there is no doubt in my mind that these wise words refer to the reality that our mental health must always be considered in our life, and ceasing to do as such only causes pain. How do we work on this?

Coping. It’s a word so many of us have heard yet don’t know how to implement.

It might be relieving to learn that some of the most helpful coping skills, when practiced deliberately, are ones you already know and can access easily. Mindfulness and meditation, for example, are ways of slowing down, breathing deeply, and living in the present. If those feel too abstract or unfamiliar, journaling and other creative and artistic modes of expression also force us to slow down, focus on what’s in front of us, and process what’s happening inside in ways that can be deeply therapeutic. Physical movement helps us shift out of moments of fight or flight, allowing us to put heavy, foreboding thoughts and feelings into perspective. And of course, our social supports — our communities, families and friends — give us opportunities to offload our worries, engage our minds and fill our time with laughter, joy and meaning, even — or especially — when the world feels like it’s lost its way.


Brian Pollack, LCSW, CEDS-S, is an adjunct professor at Yeshiva University, certified eating disorder specialist and owner of Hilltop Behavioral Health. His work encompasses advocacy, national keynote presentations and continued education surrounding the treatment and prevention of eating disorders.

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