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PREPENT DAY 20+21: Stress? Smile! Plus a few more tips for the last shabbat of summer.

PREPENT DAY 20+21

Elul 20-21 5775  – September 4-5 2015

Connecticut

 

Jews of German origin can be so uptight and insistent on getting everything just right and in order that they invented a special word for the Friday afternoon hours just before Shabbat when everything simply has to be done to perfection and right on time: ‘The race to the lace’, some call it, referring to the lace doily the local matriarch puts on her head as she lights the Shabbat candles, and all work must stop.

But mostly it is known as ‘HETZ’, a German-Jewish word related to the English ‘hectic’ that describes the frantic stressful attitude to getting it all done and so as to avoid desecration of the sabbath – the ironing, cooking, cleaning, washing, etc. etc. HURRY! 30 minutes till Shabbat!

I am 50% of that origin and grew up with HETZ as a matter of fact. Friday afternoons were an odd combo of great music on the radio, the excitement of getting ready for the feast and the family time, and a lot of tension and small or big fights. I do recall, may I be forgiven, a fist fight  over setting the table, just minutes before the sabbath siren sounds (can it be more stressful?) and the Sabbath Queen’s smooth sailing into our spic and span clean home.

HETZ was one of the reasons I started exploring more liberal ways of being Jewish in the world. What if Shabbat did not have to start at the exact minute some rabbis estimated but when we are ready at home? Even if it’s later? Even if the sun had just set? Sometimes those extra 30 minutes make all the difference between stress and pleasure, between focusing on just the destination – or enjoying the process as well. Good music, time to calmly set the table, a glass of wine way way pre Kiddush, slow shower and shave.  

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There are many ways to Sabbath and the secret to success is often about better preparing ahead – but it has also to do with how we handle stress and what we can each do to reduce stress as much as possible and have a few tricks up our sleeves for when it comes up.

For me, these days and weeks are super busy and the stress level is high: Lots of deadlines to meet, summer loose ends to wrap up, a year to begin and many balls to juggle. I catch myself sigh, clench my teeth and fists, wake up at odd hours with worry, lash out at colleagues, ride my bike with road rage elements that are dangerous and quite without grace.  

Stress happens. But there are simple ways to take it on.

Prepent 20+21  – half way through our journey to better self and life this new year, brings on Sabbath with a focus on how to stress less and nip HETZ in the bud, not just on Fridays. What can we do to reduce stress this Friday, and what can we do when it happens – this Saturday. It’s a two-step intention.

This helpful article with 20 tips for stress relief lays out what happens to our body when stress triggers us:

“When we’re stressed, hormones like cortisol flood our systems, producing the “fight or flight response” in which our heart rate goes up, we breathe more heavily (requiring more oxygen) and our blood vessels constrict. While in the pre-civilization world, the increased blood flow to our heart and muscles helped us escape from predators and dangerous situations, we find ourselves in a very different position now. Our bodies can’t tell the difference between an approaching grizzly bear and a ticked off spouse or a particularly epic traffic jam, so our stress response is triggered when there’s no imminent danger.”

The 20 tips for stress relief offered here are not new nor rocket science and yet are good reminders for simply and quickly de stressing our increasingly bombarded lives.

A ten minute walk is a really good idea. As is a snack, some good music, or the one about finding the pressure point in the palm of your hand and just sitting there for a moment, breathing, pressing, calming down.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of working with a great group of thinkers and designers at Reboot and IDEO to come up with one more ways making life – and Fridays – less stressful and more meaningful and fun: FRIDAY – the app!  is now in beta for your useful way of bringing on an unplugged Sabbath and destressing all the way to the blissful weekend that we all need so much.  Highly recommended as another way of reconnecting to the low-tech ways our ancestors figured out to make our lives more joyful and less tense.

And here’s one more tip to get us into stressless mode this Sabbath and beyond: Smile.

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Smiling, even faking it, many studies show, helps reduce stress.

I’ve been using it. By myself, and when with others, I feel the stress come on and make myself smile or intuitively use humor to deflate a tone and laugh our way to less stress and whatever is needed. It doesn’t always work but is always worth it.

I was interviewed for some TV show earlier this week and was horrified to see my face on the monitor – so serious! I had to force myself to smile without looking like an idiot – to reduce the anxiety, calm down and look more friendly. Fake it till you make it is not always bad advice.

What is causing you stress these days? What is one or more ways you can adopt or develop as you feel it coming on?

Smile as you read this. Pass it on…

: )

Let’s smile into this last Shabbat of summer.  Smiles are infectious.

With all due respect and gratitude to my Germanic origins – relax already. May we all find ways of reaching the sacred moment when the candles are lit and the week is over and the simple blessing of a moment in time is honored, and welcomes, with a sigh – and a smile.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

~Amichai

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