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The Root Source of Stress

By Jewel Safren, LCSW


STRESS! People say that stress is the number one thing that they want to eliminate from their lives. We stress about everything: money, relationships, kids, work, bosses, weight, traffic, school…. And what kinds of advice do we hear about how to lessen stress? Make lists, leave more time, don’t talk to your mother-in-law, stay on a budget, stay on a diet…. Well, what happens when, like most of us, you can’t do those things? You feel even more stressed—because now you feel guilty too!


Let me tell you an epiphany I had about stress. I’m constantly taking classes in my field, so one day I was in Brooklyn doing a workshop. It finished at 5 PM. I get in my car to go home to New Jersey. The traffic was, of course, horrible. I was thinking things like, “How can they end at 5?! The traffic is so bad. What were they thinking? It’s going to take me two hours to get home!” My mind was racing and I was mad. I was sitting at a red light when it hit me: It is NOT the traffic that is upsetting me. The traffic is the traffic. It is my thinking that is upsetting me. I am upsetting myself. Then I asked myself one question: Do I want to ruin the next two hours of my life doing this to myself? I realized I did NOT have to think these thoughts. Instead, I put in a CD of Rabbi Tatz—and I was absolutely fine. It still took me two hours to get home, but I was fine. When I realized I did not HAVE to think those thoughts, my mind got very quiet.


Our thoughts come so quickly and compulsively. It sometimes feels almost like they are attacking us. When we realize that we do not have to focus on those thoughts that are bothering us, our minds can get very quiet. In that quiet, we can experience a sense of space or freedom.


We all take our thoughts way too seriously. We think because we think something, it must be true, significant, important, valuable! In truth, we have hundreds of thousands of thoughts a day, and most of them just pass through without us taking too much notice. It’s the ones we latch on to and think are significant that can cause us suffering. Even when they’re just thoughts about traffic. I thought only an idiot would not be upset about two hours stuck in traffic. It never occured to me that I did not have to think those thoughts, that I just didn’t have to go there.


The nature of thought is fluid. The deeper you understand this, the more easily you can just let go of the thoughts that pass through your mind. Which do you prefer? “Oh, there’s a lot of traffic. OK.” Or: “Oh, there’s a lot of traffic. Oh no, I HATE traffic, I hate everyone in traffic, why doesn’t this city get more cops to direct this mess!” I think we can all agree on option A.

I have been known to stress about something, thinking I will never be able to get it done. And in truth, maybe it does take me a couple days to do it…but I stressed about it for two weeks before that. Know what I’m talking about? We feel that the more we think about a problem, the better! We are trying to figure it out and solve it, so more thought = more helpful, right? Well, no problem has ever been solved by fussing and obsessing. It’s only when our minds are quieter that a solution comes to us. Have you ever had a problem and a solution comes to you in the shower? Or you can’t figure something out and you go to bed and in the morning you see a solution? Its like that. All the obsessing quiets down and there is room for a new thought to come through. In Yiddish the word einfal means “falls in.” The eureka moment is an einfal.


And interesting enough, the calmer you are, the easier and more naturally you will be able to get things done. It will be easier for you to be in “the zone.” You know that place where you are just doing what you are doing without much effort? It sometimes happens when you are engrossed in a project, or exercising. That’s the direction we are looking to go in. We are looking to go toward the good feeling—not the high anxiety feeling.


If you are thinking, “Ha! Easy for her to say, but I have REAL stressful problems.” I promise you that any situation you have will be experienced as less stressful if you can allow your thinking to quiet down. Your problems will be the same, but new ideas will occur to you. There will be room in your head for something new to einfal. Regardless, if you can relax your thinking you will fall into a more peaceful experience and feel closer to the Divine.


And if you are thinking, “This sounds great, but I am such a nervous, anxious person, I could never do that.” I want you to know that there is nothing you need to do. It’s just an understanding. Once you get it, it can change your life immediately. Beyond all your anxious thinking is a space where you can experience your connection to the Universe and the Divine. Our experience of this is our natural state before we get locked up in all our fretful thinking. There is nothing for you to do or improve. There is nothing missing or broken. There is nothing inherently wrong with you. It’s something that is there inside you. Just knowing that is very relaxing and comforting. You mean I do not have to DO anything to become less stressed? No. You’re perfect just as you are. But the more you understand how the mind works, the more you will experience that for yourself.


Jewel Safren is an LCSW with decades of experience helping her clients get to the root cause of their emotional struggles while maintaining stability in their personal lives. Jewel lives in Fairlawn, NJ, with her husband, and uses her frequent flyer miles to visit her four kids and three grandkids (and one on the way!). You can contact Jewel at (973) 464-8556 or jewelsafrenlcsw@gmail.com.

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