A Sabbath Message: Coping w/ Election Season – The Importance of Self-Care

“Guard yourself and guard your soul very carefully.” – Book of Deuteronomy, 4:19

With the arrival of the final Sabbath of the election season, I reflect on the toll this time has taken on all of us – individually and communally – a divided country during a challenging global health crisis. And yet, as I have mentioned before, our rich Jewish heritage offers its own prescription for self-care from this chaos: the Shabbat itself. By commanding this day of rest, our wise tradition understood the importance of stepping back from the whirlwind of our daily lives to pause and reflect. Now more than ever, we need to unplug and refresh our souls.

In considering the issue of self-care, it is most important first to dispel some important myths. Here are four which are particularly relevant to standing in the way of taking care of ourselves:                         

  • Self-care is an indulgence.
  • Self-care is selfish.
  • Self-care is a one-time experience.
  • Self-care is time-consuming.

The truth is that self-care is neither an indulgence nor selfish, as these are mindful changes which contribute to your well-being, as you move way from behavior patterns that are not helping you. In so doing, these changes will assist you to be more productive and help you to help others. Self-care must be an ongoing practice to build resilience and to help you face difficult times. And, no, self-care need not at all be time consuming, if you devote a few dedicated moments to it each day.

What can you do during this stressful season – and as the pandemic continues on – for YOURSELF? To be honest, I’m not always the best role model when it comes to taking time off. But right now, I’m writing to you from a vacation I’m spending with my family in the desert where I took the photo above. It was difficult coordinating three busy working schedules to get away – and I realize not everyone can do it, especially during the pandemic, but I know I badly needed it. But finding a way to reconnect with yourself is crucial. A daily walk in nature is one great idea. If you like to journal – or would like to try – that can be a great outlet. Connecting with friends and family is always a good idea, especially if you have been putting off contacting someone and you would like to be in touch. We are social beings and having been so isolated these last months, we long for this contact – I find after I talk to a friend, an immediate lift. If you’ve never tried meditation, this is a great time to start. We have terrific Mindful Meditation sessions we offer twice a month with a gifted facilitator, Renee Golan, join us! And you can add to this on your own daily by sitting quietly for a few minutes when you wake up and just BREATHE!!

And, finally, when we think about self-care, it is crucial that we also build a “mental health tool kit” for ourselves during this time, to have as we need it. Let’s be honest – this is a time of uncertainty, anxiety and for many, depression. These are all very legitimate emotions at a time like this, so we must be prepared the best we can. Even our election will likely not have a resolution on election night, a difficult situation, which in many ways mirrors the uncertainty we feel about the pandemic stretching before us. Did you know that our own Talmud tells us that counseling and emotional support is something we should seek to help us through these difficult times? The Gemara in Yoma (75A:2) in explaining a verse in the Book of Proverbs states: “This means he should tell his concerns, which will lower his anxiety.” Very forward thinking and good advice! It is so positive, I think, that the news media is starting to speak about the importance of our mental health and not just our physical health. Who will we call if we need to speak to someone or seek help in a mental health crisis – and what about our family members? “In this for the long haul” is the phrase of the moment and one to take to heart. So, pace yourself – physically and emotionally. Be kind to yourself and to others.

Together, we will get through this. Let us be here for one another.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom – a peaceful Sabbath to you in the midst of the chaos,

Ruth Steinberg, LCSW
Director, Jewish Family Service

Photo caption: Hiking with my family in Joshua Tree this week, I snapped this photo of a majestic image. Massive rocks and the iconic trees unique to this area, which have been here for millennia, remind us of the beauty and the steadfastness of nature always here, even amidst chaos.