Dear Dr. Yael,
I was brought up in a home with a lot of stress. My parents were always nervous, worried and abrupt. They are both children of survivors and were brought up in very tense homes. My husband, on the other hand, was brought up in a very warm home and is a more relaxed person.
Baruch Hashem, we are happy together and are expecting our first child. My husband and I love your column and are looking for ways to create a positive home environment for our child.
Can you share some suggestions as to how we can make that possible?
I will answer your question with an analogy that I frequently use in my lectures. I begin by raising a glass of water and asking the audience how heavy they think it is. Answers
generally range from 5 ounces to 20 ounces. The reply I give is: “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.
“And that’s the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on. As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before picking it up again. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on with the burden.
“So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down. Don’t carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever burdens you’re carrying now, let them down for a moment if you can. Relax; pick them up later after you’ve rested. Life is short. Enjoy it!”
Over the many years that I have worked with clients, it has become clear that a person’s attitude is all that is important. And that is why in therapy we work on changing two things: a person’s behavior and attitude.
We all know people who have had difficult lives, but are generally happy, and others who have relatively easy lives and are basically unhappy. It’s all about choice, bechira. We can either look to focus on all the negative events that happen to us, or try to see the positive in everything. Dwelling on the negative creates stress and aggravation, while being positive allows us to relax. In a similar fashion, if we learn how to see the good in people we will be hurt less often.
The root of stress is worry, or daga in Hebrew. It is spelled daled, alef, gimmel, hey – the first five letters of Aleph Bais, minus one. What is missing in the letter bais, the first letter in the word bitachon, belief. If we believe that Hashem is the source of all things, we have nothing to worry about.
So, how do we keep ourselves from worrying and being stressed? Create a saying for yourself to use when things get difficult, something like, “What will be will be whether I worry about it or not, so I will be calm and not think about it. I will do what I can to have a positive outcome and leave the rest to Hashem!” When you face a challenge, stop, take a deep cleansing breath and then repeat this mantra to yourself a number of times. The more you say it, the more you will believe it.
Another thing that can cause stress is anger. When we get angry, when we yell or scream, when we lose control, we are causing harm to others and to ourselves. How do we keep from getting angry? Let’s go back to the deep cleansing breath and our mantra.
That may be fine, you are thinking, but what happens when someone gets angry with us. How do we respond to that without stress?
Many times in this column we have discussed countermoves – or changing the way you react to something. For example, if your spouse or child is yelling, your normal reaction might be to yell back, which, of course, just leads to more yelling on both your parts. However, if instead you answer calmly and respectfully, it’s hard for the other person to continue the fight, which will reduce the stress and anger. Another example, if a child spills juice all over the table, it can be hard not to get upset. However, my favorite countermove is to just hand the child a paper towel and let him or her calmly clean up the mess. You can even sing a short song about cleaning up nicely or about accidents happening and it being okay. After all, children need to learn that making mistakes doesn’t mean someone will scream at them.
As you expand your family and become a parent, it is essential that you not allow your parents behavior to live rent-free in your brain. Practice your mantra and reacting to stressful situations in a calm way. It will help you build a happy and peaceful home.