Rosh HaShanna

How to Lower Stress During the High Holidays

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In less than a month, the Jewish holiday season begins with Rosh HaShanna and continues through Yom Kippur and Sukkot. We’re talking about many holiday meals and intense family interactions while trying to maintain a meaningful spiritual experience and spending hours in the synagogue. Piece of (honey) cake. Not. You know how some people make a big deal out of preparing for Thanksgiving dinner? How about shopping for, cooking, and serving about 15 Thanksgiving dinners (at least!) during a three-week period? And, as for family drama? Don’t ask!

Feeling overwhelmed? Take a deep breath. And, another. Now, begin with the end in mind. When Rosh HaShanna arrives, what state do you want to be in: Relaxed? Excited? Fully present to the experience? Exhausted? Resentful? Ready for the holiday physically and spiritually?

You get to decide. Let’s say you’ve chosen Relaxed and Ready for the holiday. That’s how you want to be. Now what do you need to do in order to be that? Time for another deep breath — and lists. Create a chart of the holiday meals and start building menus. Find out which family members are coming for which meals. If you enjoy hosting, now is the time to invite people. If you don’t enjoy hosting, or have plenty of family to feed, you are not obligated to overload yourself with guests. If this is something you would like to do anyway, pick one or two meals and invite people you enjoy being with.

OK, so you have the meals mapped out with number of guests and possible menus. Now look over the list of food you decided to prepare. Can an average human being eat that much food, especially one meal after another? What can you eliminate? Do you really need an appetizer, two main courses and six side dishes at each meal? (NO!) What can you delegate out? If you hate making dessert, assign a designated dessert maker for each meal. Does one of your kids like making salads? I think you get the idea.

Here’s a tip: Write the menus on the left side on the page and build your shopping list on the right side. This way you’ll be sure to buy the ingredients necessary for each dish. Check your pantry for what you already have in order to lower expenses. Don’t forget drinks, wine or grape juice, challot or the horseradish for the gefillte fish. Remember candles for candle lighting, memorial candles and, maybe, a few hard candies to get through hours of prayer. (I won’t tell.)

Now look at your calendar. Starting from the day before Rosh HaShanna and working backwards what do you need to accomplish each day in order to be relaxed and ready when the holiday begins? When do you need to do your shopping? When will you bake and cook things that can be frozen in advance?

When will you shop for new clothes for yourself and your family? Does someone need a haircut? The more you have planned and scheduled, the more relaxed you will be, because you know what needs to be done and when it will get done.

Lots of meals means lots of dishes and cookware. While trying to be ecologically responsible and making the effort to recycle, sometimes disposable dishes and pans can be lifesavers. Pull out your menu list — which aluminum pans and disposables do you need? Make a list and store up in advance.

Remember to breathe.

You’ve listed everything you can think of that you need (and probably stuff don’t need.) You’ve planned your menus and made your shopping lists. You’ve scheduled your shopping and cooking. Things are looking good. The holidays seem slightly less overwhelming. Now schedule in some time for yourself. It could be a nap before the holiday begins, exercise, a massage, or a half-hour each day with a good book. Whatever rejuvenates you.

The high holidays are not only about eating. (No, really.) They’re also about feeding your soul. What small thing can you do to enrich your spiritual experience of the upcoming holidays? You can attend or listen to a lecture related to holiday themes or read an inspirational article or book.

Take time to think about the year you want to have. Make yourself a warm drink, find a comfortable spot and just ponder. Start with the end in mind — yes, that again. Where do you want to be a year from now regarding personal growth and your relationships-with yourself, your loved ones, the ones you don’t particularly love and your circumstances?

Speaking of relationships…which ones are your “flash points”? What can you do to improve your chances for harmony during the holidays and beyond? Here’s a secret — they’re not going to act differently all of a sudden, and the only control you have is over yourself — particularly over your mouth. It would be great if all your thoughts about others were loving and accepting (and you can work on that), but I’ll give you permission to be human. What you can do is the ancient, mystic, readily available, low-cost practice of KYMS — wait for it — Keep Your Mouth Shut. Thumper’s parents had a good motto. No, you do not have to speak your truth and give constructive criticism. Really, you don’t.

And listen, honey, if you’ve chosen to overdo it on the cooking and hosting, then own your choice. Don’t take it out on everyone around you. The best antidote to resentment is making a choice and taking responsibility for it.

If your loved one drops a bombshell on you – this can help.

To summarize: Think about the holiday experiences that you want and the people you want to share them with. Write lists. (Yes, you can use an app or google docs or whatever works for you.) Now cross off whatever isn’t necessary or realistic. You do not have to paint your house before the holiday. You do not need five course meals. Everyone is on a diet or allergic to something anyway so keep the food simple and healthy. Decide when you are going to do what you’ve chosen to do and schedule it your calendar. Delegate and ask for help.

Make time to rejuvenate and feed your soul.

KYMS. Just try it and see what happens. Think of it as an experiment in personal growth.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year.