As I was looking through the materials in my office, I noticed a Self-Care Checklist buried under some papers. It is a colorful sheet which I unearthed and shared on our Friends of JFS group on Facebook (Please join our group). It made me wonder how many of us are really taking care of ourselves.
As an infrequent flyer, the one thing burned into my memory from the flight attendants’ opening dialogue is the following:
“In case of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop down in front of you. Please pull the mask down toward your face and place the mask over your mouth and nose. If you are traveling with a child, please attend to yourself first, then the child.”
The number one rule is to make sure that you are safe and then you can try to help others. If you collapse, there is no way you can help others. Thus, the need for self-care.
Self-care includes getting enough sleep, setting boundaries, asking for help when you need it, moving your body, being compassionate with yourself, eating foods that fuel your body, reading good books, enjoying nature, etc.
The bottom line is that we need to be cognizant of our choices and limitations if we are to remain healthy. To ignore our limits would be dangerous and, I daresay, against halacha (Jewish law) which mandates that we take care of ourselves so that we can properly serve Hashem. Self-care will also aid us in having healthy relationships with our loved ones and community. One of the dictums that we recite daily is “serve Hashem in simcha (joy).” With all the pressures and tensions that surround us, is this a realistic goal?
Recently, I joined a workshop on Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) presented by the Partnership2Gether Global Network. It featured one of our own, Karen Riffer-Reinart of South Haven, Michigan. Karen, who is an LMSW specializing in Cognitive Behavioral therapy, was the presenter. For those who may not know, EFT is an alternative treatment for physical pain and emotional distress. It’s also referred to as tapping or psychological acupressure.
People who use this technique believe tapping the body can create a balance in your energy system and treat pain. According to its developer, Gary Craig, a disruption in energy is the cause of all negative emotions and pain. Though still being researched, EFT tapping has been used to treat people with anxiety and people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There are many books, articles, and videos online for those interested in this subject.
EFT is a multi-step process. First you must identify the anxiety that you are experiencing. Once that is done, you need to make a positive affirmation, such as “even though I am anxious about_______, I still love and care about myself.” While reciting this mantra, one is to tap 9 parts of their body and end with a hug. One starts by lightly tapping the fleshy part of the hands, then the top of head, over the eyebrow, side of the eye, under the eye, under the nose, chin, beginning of the collarbone, under the arm, finally hugging yourself. At each step, you tap 7 times while reciting the mantra. (Check out How to Tap with Jessica Ortner: Emotional Freedom Technique Informational Video on Youtube.com.) When you have finished this routine, you will have experienced a reduction in stress.
Exercise is another great way to maintain one’s emotional and physical health. When you exercise, a number of neurotransmitters are released, including endorphins, endocannabinoids, and dopamine. Exercise also promotes neuroplasticity and increases oxygen supply to your brain. Or in layman’s language, it makes you feel better. You’ll have more energy, mental acuity, and an overall good feeling.
I must admit though, in today’s world, setting aside time for exercise is hard. We’re putting in crazy amounts of time at work and then when we get home, there’s always something to do! Who really has 30-60 minutes to set aside to exercise? I’ve felt this way a few times and have even viewed exercise as an imposition, something else to create tension in my life. Baruch Hashem, that feeling doesn’t last too long because I know the good feelings and benefits that I get from working out. I make it one of my priorities, like that of learning Torah, as both are necessary in order to serve Hashem properly.
One last method that I would like to suggest is learning Mussar. Mussar is a program of behavioral modification based upon our Torah. These books are not something to be read and put away. Rather, they are teaching a lifestyle which one must implement if one genuinely wants to experience the greatest benefit. Mussar teaches us how to view the world and see things for what they are. As we learn to cede results to Hashem, we see our anxiety and stress dissipate and, if totally internalized, disappear. (If you would like to know more about this course of study, let me know.)
The bottom line is that using either EFT or regular exercise is going to better your mood and overall health. Imagine the benefits if you combine them along with mussar! Start now and embark on the path to both a healthier and less stressful life.
Sei gesund (Be healthy!)
Rabbi Fred Nebel
Jewish Family Services Director