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Self Care in the Age of Corona
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JOFA Blog

Self Care in the Age of Corona

Courtesy of Nicole Nevarez  and 
Courtesy of Daphne Lazar-Price
Courtesy of Nicole Nevarez and Courtesy of Daphne Lazar-Price

Both of us run national organizations. We each work full-time, with intense and fulfilling jobs. Even though we commute to our offices regularly, we also have the privilege of working remotely. And yet, we’ve never considered ourselves “stay-at-home.” That is, until COVID-19 creeped into our lives. With increased restrictions that range from social distancing to out and out quarantine, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the rapid shifting social norms. 

The Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 75a) states “If there is anxiety in a person’s heart, let that person quash it [yashḥena]” (Proverbs 12:25). Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi [dispute the verse’s meaning]. One said: They should forcefully push it [yasḥena] out of their mind. And one said: they should tell [yesiḥena] others. This ancient text recognized that an important form of self care is to share our concerns, fears and anxieties with those around us. In fact, it prioritizes those healing actions over trying to cope with anxieties on our own. So let’s talk. 

We are so often taught that non-stop action and achievements are key to a successful life. Yet our tradition teaches us that in fact stopping, pausing, and recharging must be a priority.

Often we think of self care (a diluted buzz term at this point) as an action – exercise, a massage, coffee with a friend – but as we do those things less right now, if we are choosing social distancing, we can avail ourselves of the rare opportunity to slow down and charge our batteries. We are so often taught that non-stop action and achievements are key to a successful life. Yet our tradition teaches us that in fact stopping, pausing, and recharging must be a priority.

Shabbat is one of Judaism’s most prolific, most universal, core and defining traditions. One that unites us across identity and observance.  In the earliest words of the Torah, Genesis 2:2-3 reads, “On the seventh day God finished the work that God had been doing, and God ceased on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation God had done.” God creates a protected space in time whose only purpose is to be a holy day of rest.

No matter one’s interpretation of Shabbat observance or even of God and commandments, we can see lessons and messages in our core text. Shabbat amounts to taking a step back and desisting from interfering with our world’s ever-moving cogs. Shabbat calls for a moratorium on our weekly pursuit to fill every moment with calls, appointments, and meetings. Productivity on Shabbat amounts to distancing ourselves from the mundane, disconnecting from the world, and focusing on those in closest proximity to ourselves. This puts us on a path and a quest to achieve spirituality. Just as our tradition says “enough,” so must we. In today’s non-stop world, this idea is countercultural, almost impossible to comprehend and for many anxiety provoking. If we are not doing, who are we? This moment of crisis when so many of us are in a forced state of retreat, could also be an incredible opportunity to mull over and actualize some space and to shift focus into self care as we are all under added stress and anxiety.

 

In today’s non-stop world, this idea is countercultural, almost impossible to comprehend and for many anxiety provoking. If we are not doing, who are we? This moment of crisis when so many of us are in a forced state of retreat, could also be an incredible opportunity to mull over and actualize some space and to shift focus into self care as we are all under added stress and anxiety.

Consider self care an actual response to the general insanity of this moment with specific actions you can take. Yes, we mean wash your hands, avoid crowds, etc. But we mean something much deeper too – real self care means to slow down, honor that we all need some space and more rest, because this kind of emotional upheaval is deeply fatiguing. For those of us who are now home trying to work with kids in our space, allow yourself permission to get less done and be distracted. It means letting go of the things we absolutely cannot control. When we are facing so much that is unknown, and when we do so distanced from others or in isolation, we can only deal with what is right in front of us.

Areyvut, community, yes is another core Jewish traditional value. We are mandated not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor (Lev. 19:16) and to show love for the other as we would for ourselves (Lev. 19:18). But we must also recognize that we must first care for ourselves. It is the age-old adage of the oxygen mask. If we don’t take steps to protect ourselves, we can’t be good to anyone else.

For those of us who share space with others (spouses, children, roommates), now is a good time to work on strengthening those relationships. We will have to connect more virtually — whether it is by email, phone, webinar or text. And we should deliberately block out time to connect with those who find themselves entirely isolated.

We will make plans for the future, of course, especially those of us who are  postponing and canceling in-person meetings and events. For those of us who share space with others (spouses, children, roommates), now is a good time to work on strengthening those relationships. We will have to connect more virtually — whether it is by email, phone, webinar or text. And we should deliberately block out time to connect with those who find themselves entirely isolated. 

Humans crave information and direction. And yet, since the days of the ancient Israelites, the Jewish people have a long history of walking through the unknown, the literal wilderness.  

Perhaps the hardest part of this moment in history is not what we do know about COVID-19, but rather the unknown short and long term social and communal ramifications resulting from this moment. So, take a breath and ask yourself – what do I need to do to care for myself at this moment? And how can that help prepare me to help those around me? 

 

Nicole Nevarez is the inaugural National Director of Ta’amod: Stand Up! an initiative to end gender harassment and abuse in Jewish communal workplaces. She is also a coach, trainer, facilitator and consultant on healthy organizational culture.

Daphne Lazar-Price, is the executive director of JOFA, The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

Posts are contributed by third parties. The opinions and facts in them are presented solely by the authors and JOFA assumes no responsibility for them.

If you’re interested in writing for JOFA’s blog contact dani@jofa.org. For more about JOFA like us on Facebook or visit our website.

 

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