The ground war in Gaza is intensifying. Skirmishes are growing along the northern border with Lebanon and in the West Bank. Everyone I talk to still seems to feel on edge. And a client of mine I was recently training told me how helpless she felt by not being able to do more for Israel. Which made me think, “beyond the call to donate money, is there anything else we North American Jews can do? If not for Israel directly, then for ourselves, to support our own mental health and express our Jewish pride when our very identity is under assault around the world? The answer is yes.
“We need to take care of ourselves during these tumultuous and frightening times says Abby Rosen, Ph.D., a practicing psychologist in Annapolis, MD. “Listening to the news can be very traumatizing. We need to have discernment to know when to turn off the news, and connect with family and friends to feel the support of community.”
To that end, I offer six simple suggestions we can practice daily to feel a little less anxious, less vulnerable and scared as we go about our lives against a backdrop and barrage of escalating tensions. All focus on the healing power of connecting with others, even if only momentarily, to remind us that we are not alone at a time when the world feels like a lonely place right now.
1. Acknowledge someone when you walk by them on an empty sidewalk. Give a nod. Or crack a smile. Or take that one step further and say hi. Just hi. Or smile and say hi. The simple act of acknowledging another human being whom we don’t know (and likely may never see again), helps us, even in that fleeting moment, to feel connected to another soul. In our inward looking culture where anonymity is the norm, surprising someone with a friendly smile or a greeting, is an effortless way to make two strangers people feel good.
2. Go one better and compliment someone you know. Everyone loves to be noticed for something nice. And they are typically unexpected, making them even more appreciated. But it’s not just about making someone else feel affirmed. Extending a compliment is self-affirming too. In a 2020 research study, investigators found that people who extended compliments, felt better for having done so even if they were initially anxious.
3. Call someone. Someone whom you know would welcome a call — someone who lives alone. Or someone who is infirm. Or someone whom you’ve not been in touch with recently. Much like paying a compliment, the emotional and psychological benefit of reaching out and touching someone goes both ways; A “check-in” call makes someone feel good and that makes you feel good too. Research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, demonstrated that there is a strong relationship “between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally and behaviorally compassionate
4. Take the phone call one step further and write someone. Send an email to say “just thinking of you.” Better yet, send an e-card with that same message. There are many free e-card websites where you can choose from a range of cards to let someone know they are important to you. But if you want to really surprise someone with your good vibes, don’t e-mail your wishes. “Snail mail” them. Write a hand written letter or card to someone. When is the last time someone received that? Or you did that? It’s a mental health win-win. Sending a greeting card or writing a letter brings us closer to others.
5. Tip#5 turns the concept of complimenting inside out. As important as it is to spread positive vibes, so too it is equally important can you use a different word to avoid repetition to hold off from unleashing bad vibes. When we make a dedicated effort to refrain from gossiping (“lashon harah” in Hebrew), we demonstrate our commitment to upholding one of Judaism’s most fundamental tenants – living a principled, ethically focused life. And studies have shown that acting morally can result in feelings of well-being.
6. And lastly, affirming our Jewish identity, our connection to our history, to our faith to our community, holds equal potential to boost our mental health through expressing our pride as a people. One way to achieve that is to consider buying a mezuzah. There’s no stronger a statement of identity than a slender little box affixed to the post of the front door that says, “I am Jewish. I am proud.”
Not comfortable in this climate of uncertainty and fear with making that public a statement of identity? Mezuzahs can be placed indoors as well, on doorposts of any interior rooms. Inside or out, a mezuzah’s age-old message is a constant visual reminder that we are here. That we belong. That we will prevail. And that is one more reason to feel good about ourselves and good about being a Jew.
Lorne Opler, M.Ed., is a freelance writer, college instructor of Health Promotion and personal trainer in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. His website is: www.trainerlorne.com