Image: The word “stress” written in red pencil. (pedrofigueras/pixabay)
A publication called Student Loan Hero reported in January that 60% of Americans are feeling stressed over the Trump Administration. Their survey was limited to questions about people’s financial fears. Add to that all the people worried about the future of democracy, those fearful of nuclear war with North Korea, and all those worrying about the wild stories circulating in the news, and it’s a stressful, stressful time.
How can we possibly manage all this stress?
I am a firm believer in the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. – Reinhold Niebuhr
There are many things that I cannot control right now. One way to lower my stress is to take each thing that worries me and ask: “Can I do anything about this?” If the answer is “no” then I will be happier if I set it aside for a while. (I find, when I’m in a worrying mood, that telling myself I’m setting things aside “for now” is one way to assure myself that if the situation changes, I can get back to worrying about it.)
So, the next thing: are there mitzvot I can do?
- Can I take any action about the things I can control?
- Is there tzedakah [charity] I can give, either to a good cause or to a suffering person?
- Can I visit someone who is sick?
- Can I show up for a mourner?
- Can I write a thank you note, or make a call to thank someone?
- Can I make my home safer by fixing something?
- Can I notice someone who doesn’t get much appreciation, and thank them?
- Can I invite someone to share a meal with me?
- Can I learn a little Torah? Maybe read this week’s Torah portion?
- Can I save a life (or three) by donating blood?
- Can I do something to improve my own health and take care of my body?
- Can I attend services or pray the Shema?
- Can I speak up, if I see someone being bullied?]
- Can I make sure that my use of speech and social media is responsible?
- Is there something for which I need to make teshuvah? An apology?
- Can I rejoice with newlyweds or with new parents?
- If I am helpless to do anything else, can I be kind to people I encounter?
This is only a partial list – there are lots and lots of mitzvot that can fill my life with holiness and meaning, and make the world a better place in the process.
We learn from our blessings that God “sanctifies us with mitzvot” – that is, that doing mitzvot properly will make us better people. I like to think that each mitzvah I do helps build me up for the day when I am called on for a larger, more difficult mitzvah. Each mitzvah is a little soul-workout that makes me stronger.
When the moment comes that I will need “the courage to change the things I can,” I want to be ready. So in the meantime, I will do mitzvot!