Health

The Stress and the Pain

July 2, 2014

Right now, all of the members of klal Yisrael are suffering the pain of receiving the awful news that our t’fillot (prayers) were not answered the way we were hoping they would be. If it is any reconciliation, as Rav Asher Weiss pointed out at the beginning of his weekly shiur only an hour after the terrible news broke, we don’t have “t’fillot reikan,” empty prayers. If our davening didn’t bring the result we wanted in this area, it served a purpose that we may yet not understand. But our pain is great and the accompanying stress can be crippling. We can’t undo this tragic event, although we hope that the authorities will have the wisdom to make the proper decisions so that our enemies will think twice before attempting this again. How can we cope? What can we do to alleviate and deal with our stress?

The word “stress” is used in many contexts. Emotionally speaking, we can be “under stress” and we can “stress out.” Physically speaking, we can stress structures or devices to determine how they will hold up, and we can stress parts of our body to achieve strength or flexibility. In the world of mental health, stress is defined as a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. Our bodies carry something called a “stress response” – meaning, we have an involuntarily defensive reaction to a stressful event. This response helps us to remain extra alert and focused, and it can produce a sudden burst of energy. One of the most common examples of a stress response would be slamming on the brakes of the car when someone suddenly cuts in front of you in order to avoid an accident. The stress response can also sharpen your concentration and keep you on your toes, enabling you to perform more productively in a particular task.

Certain kinds of stress can indeed be healthy. But when the reaction goes beyond the types of responses discussed above, not only can it be debilitating, it can be dangerous. If your stress response is turned on too much of the time, and certainly ALL the time, it will almost always lead to serious issues – both psychological and physiological.

Recent research as well as emerging science conclusively links stress to pain of all types, heart disease, digestive disorders, sleep disorders, depression, obesity, autoimmune diseases and skin conditions such as eczema. And while the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol can have a positive effect on us in small amounts – enhancing our memory, immune systems and helping to produce a greater threshold for pain, the downside is that having too much cortisol in our system impairs our cognitive functions, causes blood sugar imbalances, muscle loss and fat gain, higher blood pressure and weakens our immune system.

Sometimes, stress can be dealt with from the point of view of practical steps. For instance, someone who is stressed because of an overcrowded schedule can make changes in their schedule. But for times like now, when there is no hands-on practical solution, we must look elsewhere. For those of us who have emunah and bitachon in Hashem, we know that davening, reciting T’hillim and limud Torah are all positive ways to deal with these difficult times. Beyond that, there are some practical measures that might help us in addition.

These are based on suggestions from Don R. Powell, Ph.D. of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine.

  • Maintain a program of healthy eating, good health habits and adequate sleep.

  • You might not feel like this right now, but exercise anyway. This promotes physical fitness as well as emotional well-being.
  • Balance work and play. All work and no play can make you feel stressed. Plan some time for hobbies and recreation. These activities relax your mind and are a good respite from life’s worries.
  • CHESED! Help others. We concentrate on ourselves when we’re distressed. Sometimes helping others is the perfect remedy for whatever is troubling us.
  • Take a warm shower or bath. This will soothe and calm your nerves, and relax your muscles.
  • Have a good cry. Tears of sadness, joy or grief can help cleanse the body of substances that accumulate under stress, and will also release a natural pain-relieving substance from the brain.
  • Learn acceptance. As we mentioned, a difficult problem can be out of your control. When this happens, accept it until changes can be made. This is better than worrying and getting nowhere.
  • Talk out your troubles. It sometimes helps to talk with a friend, relative or your Rav. Another person can help you see a problem from a different point of view.
  • Do relaxation exercises daily. Good ones include visualization (imagining a soothing, restful scene), deep muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing muscle fibers), meditation and deep breathing.
  • Budget your time. Make a “To Do” list. Rank in priority your daily tasks. Avoid committing yourself to doing too much.
  • As difficult as it might be right now, develop and maintain a positive attitude. View changes as positive challenges, opportunities or blessings.
  • Modify your environment to get rid of or manage your exposure to things that cause stress when possible.

    Our pain is great and we cannot even imagine what these families, rachmana l’tzlan are going through. But we are all feeling it and being with your friends and relatives who are feeling the same things can help you through. May Hashem grant us the ability to cope and may he bring true peace to klal Yisrael. May Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal be malitzei yosher for all of us and their families should be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. And may the achdut we have displayed over the last three weeks continue.