Toy boat floats on green pond

10 Survival Strategies for Tough Times

Image: Toy boat floats on green pond water. Photo by SofiLayla/Pixabay.

Here are the things that keep my boat afloat during these difficult times.

  1. Rituals. Life’s small rituals are very important. When I get up, I want my coffee. But I don’t want someone to hand it to me, I want to make it, because the making of coffee is one of my morning rituals. I measure the coffee, put it in the cone, heat the water, pour it over, and… coffee! After I have drunk the coffee, I’m ready for the world. For others it may be a bedtime ritual, or a bathing ritual, or the ritual of putting on cosmetics. These little rituals of life orient us so that we can keep our equilibrium.
  2. Prayer. I put my worries and my hopes into words, and I either write them out or say them. When I have no words, I listen, in case God or the Universe or somebody wants to communicate. I also say the prayers of Jewish tradition that help me navigate, that remind me of my path.
  3. Charity. The Hebrew words is tzedakah, but it means giving from the cash resources I have to alleviate the suffering and privation of others. This reminds me that there are many people in the world worse off than I am. Tzedakah helps me keep my perspective.
  4. Acts of Kindness. These are also known in Hebrew as gimilut hasidim. It isn’t enough for me to give money. I spend some time doing acts of kindness, which have gotten tricky in the age of Covid. Used to be, I did volunteer work. Now that I’m sequestering away from the virus, I do acts of kindness by being a better listener when someone needs comfort. Or I cook some food to share, and drop it off on someone’s porch.
  5. Study. Torah study serves several purposes. If I aim high enough at difficult material, studying completely occupies my brain, and gives me relief from worry. I can’t translate Aramaic-infused Hebrew AND perseverate over the government at the same time — I’m just not that smart! — and by studying Torah, I am learning more about that map I’m trying to follow.
  6. Busy Hands. This takes several forms: cleaning the house is mundane self-care, but it also reminds me that I am responsible for my corner of the universe. Gardening gives me a sense of connectedness to the natural world. Knitting literally keeps my hands busy, so that I don’t eat my emotions, and it gives me things to give away to friends and the many support people in my life.
  7. Creative action, aka Arts and Crafts. I am not a great artist, but I enjoy putting the colors together for my knitting. I draw cartoons — mostly pictures of turtles or lions– on blank cards, for my wife to color. She loves to color, and I love to draw the cards. Then we put notes on the bank and mail them as postcards to friends. Finally, we cut each others’ hair and laugh at the results. Making a little bit of beauty in the world makes us feel better. Getting our hair out of our eyes is a relief!
  8. Saying “I love you” and “Thank you.” I try not to let a day go by without letting the people I love KNOW that I love them. I might say it straight out, or I might tell them something specific for which I’m grateful. It lifts them up and it lifts me up, too. Another daily vitamin for the spirit is gratitude: thanking someone. They might be a public person who has done something I like, or someone who has done me a kindness, but I try to give thanks to someone every day. Thanking God is good, but I find that thanking people has a special oomph of its own.
  9. Care of the Body. Eating right, keeping clean, and exercising are not glamorous activities, but they are another way of acknowledging my place in creation. I’m a bodily creature, and I’d better take care of this body if I want to keep living in it.
  10. Music and Art. I try to read something good, or look at art, or listen to good music every day. I need the art of others. The arts affirm the best in humanity, including in me.

Looking back on this list, it seems so mundane! But it’s the truth, it’s what keeps me going. If you have a little Jewish knowledge, you may also have noticed that most of these things are mitzvot, commandments. Torah is an excellent guide to living!

What keeps you going in these difficult times? What keeps your boat afloat?

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

11 thoughts on “10 Survival Strategies for Tough Times”

  1. What I do to stay sane is walk every day, and read.

    I keep in touch with my shul through Zoom and attend Torah study sessions and blessing services.

    I text my siblings regularly.

    I read every day.

    I also open and close my day with morning and evening blessings.

    Finally, I see my therapist twice a month so I have someone non jugmental to talk to. That is fundamental.

    1. Anne, I am so glad you are doing all those things! Shul is so helpful to me, too. Texting is golden. And the therapist — how could I forget therapy? Thank you for these additions.

  2. I think that keeping connections alive is one of the things that is floating my boat. Zooming with family and friends, zoom for meetings, facebook, texting, talking on the phone. I have loved that zoom has made it possible to attend services in Cedar Park, TX with Rabbi Rebecca Reice :+)) The electronic connections have just taken a bigger role, as a substitute for any other way to be present with those not in your home. So many of the things on your list are familiar for me. Knitting, reading, watching the birds at the feeders. Great hugs from my husband water my soul, and snuggling with my little dog warms my heart. Stay well!

    1. Yes, I have loved being able to attend services with friends; I’m sure that Rabbi Reice loves having you attend!

      The electronic connections can be powerful. I confess that I get “Zoomed out” after hours of working on Zoom, but it really is important to make time for those tender connections of friends and family.

      You stay well, too, Teme!

  3. Rabbi Adar, many thanks for this so-helpful checklist, especially re: re-establishing ritual in our lives.

    Another thing I do is to select several comics from each day’s newspaper. Then in the evening, I read each one aloud aloud and act it out for my house-buddy’s amusement. Fortunately, she’s easily amused!

    1. Maureen, Denise mentioned comics also! Where do you get your comics? Do you still take a paper newspaper, or are they available online?

      I love the idea of acting out comics! I think I need to add “PLAY” to the list. My wife and I make our postcards together, and really they are more “play” than they are “art.” Finding ways to play with others can be a powerful form of connection.

      Linda plays games on Facebook, asking survey questions for friends to answer. Some of the answers are quite amusing, and some let us get to know friends better. Some elicit funny stories, too. Someone asked on Twitter if there was anyone who had met a great grandparent– the stories to that question were wonderful.

      1. Hi, Rabbi, yes, we still get a daily local paper. It’s a horror, though. To the right of Atila the Hun. Edited by an anti-vaxer. But it’s the only one available for a hundred miles around. Our longtime local paper closed down 2 yrs ago.

        Here’s a great free web site for 100+ comic strips that I also use:

        And since you mentioned daily arts, maybe you know this free app? For me, it’s almost as necessary as a.m. coffee is for you! They e-mail you a new art piece daily. I paid a one-time fee, maybe $2, to get rid of the ads:

        I enjoyed reading about your note cards and Linda’s Facebook questions. Those are both great to kerp connections alive, aren’t they?

  4. I read the comics, solve word puzzles in the newspaper while savoring my first cup of coffee. And play Words With Friends.:)

    1. Which comics do you like, Denise?

      You’ve made me notice something I hadn’t before: when I got a paper newspaper, I always read the news PLUS the comics. Now I only read the news without the leavening of the comics. I have not thought about how that may have affected my stress levels and the news.
      Interesting food for thought!

  5. Your list of rituals is great — mirrors some of mine, especially the coffee part, but excluding the knitting and the activity that knitting distracts from :). I should mention that your postcards are true treasures! Happy Inaguration Week…my prayer for the entire week is that we are entering a BETTER world now.

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