Choosing Ourselves

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By: Chana Shohat

Being a woman is not easy, especially in today's world where we are pulled in a million different directions by societal expectations, work and family duties.  Today, many things are possible and within our reach, and technology and innovation are words that every 5 year old knows, and yet, at the same time, we lead lonely lives; depression and anxiety rates are higher than they have ever been before, and loneliness is a state known and inhabited by many.

We pick up and move, at times, thousands of miles away, to raise our children and lead our lives far away from our families and friends.  We hope that new friendships will come, and often they do, but many times, the social and physical isolation of a young mother whose days are filled with the beautiful and yet oh-so-exhausting duties of caring for little people is overwhelming and suffocating, with no relief in sight.  

Many women, especially in their early motherhood years, are ashamed to ask for help, ashamed that they are not "handling" life as they hoped they would.  Most have no energy for fostering new friendships and building long-term, deep bonds with people when their days, their hearts and their hands are full to the limit.  

What often happens is that come their early to late 30's, many women are burned out—physically, emotionally, and some, even spiritually.  They are unable to be their best selves, as they are running on empty; their tanks have not been filled in a long, long time.

Recently, there have been many voices speaking out, both describing this problem and advocating for change in our societal expectations and how we structure our lives.  Rejuvenation days, spending time with friends and loved ones, and taking the time to "spoil" one’s self have become mainstream and accepted, so why do we continue to see this very troublesome trend of "mommy burn-out"?

I think a lot of it has to do with how we structure our everyday lives.  We consider taking care of our needs a "luxury"; we call it "spoiling" ourselves.  We seldom schedule daily activities just for ourselves, and we rarely stay quiet in our minds as we are racing from task to task, from responsibility to responsibility, as if they are sinking stones in the fast-flowing river, and if we don't quickly jump from one to another, we will drown...

So what do I propose we do?  We, the wonder-women of the 21st century, whose hands and minds are filled to capacity, and who would applaud cloning efforts (ok, I'm joking, but just a bit).

First and foremost, I propose that we actively create a support system.  We find people we like and love who build us up, who celebrate our beauty and who have our back, and we create a circle of friends and family on whom we can rely.  This is pretty much the most important thing we can do for our long-term well-being.

Secondly, we re-evaluate our day.  We sit down and write out what we do every day and see if there are enough positive, soul-feeding activities to keep us going.  It's like Dr. Gottman’s famous research paper which says that relationships need 5 positive interactions (i.e. positive words or hugs) for every 2 negative ones.  I think this is true for us as individuals, as well.  We need positive things in our everyday lives to stay sane and keep carrying the world on our shoulders.  

So what can these positive things can be?  

·        A phone conversation with a loved one or a friend from your "circle" (see above)

·        Good food that nourishes our bodies

·        Some sort of physical activity that we find pleasant, be it walking, dancing, yoga or plans for a future activity, if we are unable to actually do something today

·        Self-love, which we are so stingy with and so seldom shower ourselves with

·        5-minute breaks for meditation, prayer or just quiet are also priceless


I want to expand a bit more on the last point.  Most people tend to think that spontaneous relaxation will just happen to them, but realistically, we know that it's not so.  It doesn't sound great to schedule time each day for a brief rest, but unless we do, we may not get another chance that day.  We religiously take vitamins, but we somehow don't think that 5 minutes of decompressing a day is equally important.  Now, I don't expect us all to sit in lotus pose for hours on end, humming softly, but I think a 5 minute meditation break or prayer break (we are talking about connected, meaningful prayer) would make a world of difference.  

The Jewish tradition wisely gives us three prayers per day, and those people who are able to truly connect during their prayers describe a feeling of immense peace and tranquility.  On the other end of the spectrum are those who view prayer as a chore, and they rush through it as if they are late for the last bus on Friday afternoon.  I really think that if prayer is a terrible chore for you, and it brings you stress and agitation instead of peace and tranquility, you should pick an additional way to connect with HKB”H.  

The demands of today's society on us are immense, and we need to actively defend our bodies, our hearts and our souls.  Whatever you choose to do for yourself, please make it a conscious and loving choice.  May we all continue on our paths with renewed energy, and may our days be filled not just with stress and anxiety that accompany everyday life, but also with peace and gratitude in our hearts.  

 
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Chana Shohat

is a mother to four, a wife to one, a physician by training and by calling, and an artist deep in her heart. Recently, she's been learning to breathe underwater; thankfully, her life as a new immigrant in the land of milk and honey has provided her with ample opportunities for this new skill. Writing has kept her sane as the gills come in. 

Rochel LazarShohat; Chana