The Stress and the Pain

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02 Jul 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.



Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a BEHAVIORAL CHANGE and WELLNESS COACH with over 19 years of professional experience. Alan is the creator and director of the “10 Weeks to Health” program for weight loss. He is available for private coaching sessions, consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs both in his office and by telephone and skype. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at Check out the his web site – US Line: 516-568-5027.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.