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February 20, 2017 by

A Jewish Therapist’s Tips for Surviving in the Trump Era

sleeping woman“The air I’m breathing feels different,” a friend said after the inauguration. Clients report waking from dreams screaming at Trump and his supporters. I, myself, wake through the night, agitated. 

The confirmation of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, arrests of immigrants who have lived productively here for decades, Mitch McConnell silencing Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor—these are troubling times. I sign petitions daily, call my state and federal Congress people weekly. When I couldn’t get through to his Washington office, I even mailed a handwritten full-page letter to my Congressman detailing my concerns. Anxiety makes for activism. How do we sustain our commitment, hold steady in the midst of chaos? 

Deep breaths, sleep, healthy food, exercise—these are necessities. Mani-pedis, bubble baths, hot showers, massages and vacations are wonderful but not sufficient. I need more. How do all of us nurture our souls knowing we’ve signed not for a sprint but for a triathlon? 

As a Jewish therapist, I turn to Jewish traditions and psychotherapy. Both schools of thought rely on the foundation of mindfulness, the ability to get out of our heads and into our bodies to stay in the present. Anxieties blossom from thinking of the future—the “what if….” Depression grows from reconsidering the past—the “I should’ve….” Staying in the present through our senses keeps us grounded. I can be present in the real world: I see myself placing my keys by the door. I can also be present to my internal world:  “My stomach is flipping.”

To ground myself, I practice staying in the moment: “I’m sitting on a white smooth leather sofa, wearing navy velvety corduroy slacks and a light blue cotton shirt, writing on a yellow pad of paper.” Seeing, touching, hearing, even smelling keeps me present. Now I breathe deeply and allow my body to feel calm. From this calmer place, I can realize, “my flippy stomach is telling me I’m having trouble digesting all this news.” I decide to limit my exposure. No lunch table discussions of politics. No broadcasts before I go to sleep. 

Each of us has an individual preference for how reflect. I find comfort in daily “hitbodedut,”described by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. New to this practice, I set a timer for 15 minutes and talk out loud (to God? to the Universe? to the mysteries beyond me?).  Talking out loud rather than silently meditating keeps me more focused. I take in all I have—my health, my family, my friends, my practice, my learning—and recognize that which is in and out of my control. No matter how chaotic this world is becoming, I’m relieved that every day I can count on the sun rising and setting, the sky ever changing, the moon cycling the Earth. This steadies me before I start my day.  

Friends find time to reflect sitting quietly or journaling. Others prefer reflecting while running, walking, or even doing the dishes. No matter the approach, the goal is always the same: move into the present in order to understand what you need to deeply nurture your soul.

Soul foods come in all shapes and sizes. As an introvert, I prefer solitude, journaling, reading poetry or a good book, visiting with one friend. My more extroverted friends prefer connecting with book clubs, networks, political groups and support systems of like-minded souls. Some fill their souls with stimulation like parties, dancing, zumba classes, concerts. Others find comfort in order—balancing the bankbook, rearranging drawers and closets. By taking the time to reflect, we can each answer, “What do I need right now?”

The desire for particular soul foods changes from time to time. Sometimes I need a “fix,” visiting with my young grandchildren. When I lived through chemo, I ate lots of dark chocolate, rented every Eddie Murphy movie and laughed myself silly. Now I watch Saturday Night Live on YouTube. Some days live theater or a museum visit lifts my soul, reminding me of creativity and beauty. And sometimes I simply need to take time to grieve—to move through the denial, bargaining (the Electoral College really did vote him in…), past anger into accepting. Grief rolls not in stages but in waves. Over and over I return to anger, then acceptance, then anger then acceptance. I’ve lost my innocent views of America. It’s taking me time to shift my mindset.  

These challenging times call for more than meeting our basic needs. They call for enriching our souls. The important message I must give myself is: slow down, reflect on what I need through each day in order to have the strength to stay the course. As Hillel taught, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”


Barbara Stock


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.