Coping With Anxiety

Nov 26, 2014

Jewish Parenting
with Miriam Levi (author of Raising Children to Care and participant in “Raising Our Children to Have Good Midot”: a Darche Noam Yarchei Kallah panel discussion on Tuesday, August 8, 2000)

Coping With Anxiety

What Brings On Anxiety?
Anxiety is the result of future-oriented thoughts. We imagine what might happen–things working out badly, a situation getting out of hand, being unable to cope, not being in control–and how awful and unbearable that reality would be. Some sample thoughts:

  • “Oh no–the children refuse to go to bed! I’m not going to get any rest this evening and the children won’t be able to get up and they’ll miss their transportation and I’ll have to take them in the car … and my whole morning will be ruined!
  • “She didn’t finish her arithmetic homework and she’s so far behind. How will she ever catch up? It would be terrible if she gets a failing mark!”
  • “My children are always fighting–they’re going to have such bad midos when they grow. I can’t bear thinking about it!”

Anxiety producing thoughts can be readily identified by the “What if . . .?” (“What if this horrible fighting continues?”) or “What’s going to be . . . ?” “(What’s going to be with these kids?”) element in them.

Avoiding Anxiety
A simple way to avoid anxiety is by assessing the possibility of our fears actually being realized. Often we’re highly exaggerating that possibility. For example, the mother of the girl who didn’t do her homework might ask herself how likely it is that the girl will get a failing mark.

But that won’t work if we believe there’s a good chance that things may really work out badly. In that case, we go for the “elegant” solution. Rather than convincing ourselves that the feared outcome is unlikely to occur, we face that eventuality. We imagine the worst happening and recognize than even if it did, it wouldn’t be so very horrible, and we’d be able to cope. Thus the mother in our example can keep herself calm by picturing her daughter actually getting a failing grade, and refraining from viewing that as a catastrophe.

Of course, the “elegant solution” is easy to apply in a relatively trivial matter, such as the possibility of getting a failing grade. But it might not be so simple for the mother who is anxious about her children developing bad midos. Here, as in all truly serious matters, the following way of viewing things is recommended: “I will do the best I can to make things work out well. But whatever the outcome, I will remind myself that I am in Hashem’s hands, place my trust in Him, and make peace with whatever He decrees as my fate.

There are some people who believe that they must be anxious in order to propel themselves into taking action.Another common notion is that by being anxious, we show that we’re concerned–that we care–that it matters very much to us. Both of these are wrong. Anxiety is simply a waste of valuable energy. Appropriate concern is all that is called for. It will convey caring, as well as propel ourselves into taking action.

When no action can be taken, this still does not call for anxiety. If nothing can be done, then we work on developing an accepting attitude, as described above.

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