“In G-d We Trust” – How to Effectively Overcome Stress
Essays 2019 / Stress
A large part of our day is often spent on countless worries and stress. We worry about work, deadlines and bills. We stress about summer plans for next year, the lesson plan that needs to be ready for next week and the flight we need to catch tomorrow. In truth, however, not only does stress not help the situation, it is counterproductive. It gets in the way and distracts us from focusing on getting things done. If only we would be able to get rid of this major time waster, perhaps we would find ourselves with the time and brain space we need to actually take care of the things that come up and require our attention.
This essay will discuss what causes a person to get stressed, and how Chassidus empowers us to use Bitachon and change our perspective, thereby eliminating the stress. With these tools, Chassidus enables us to use our time to work on accomplishing things, rather than on worrying about how they will get done in time. This essay is primarily based on Sichos and letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe regarding the concept of Tracht Gut Vet Zein Gut.
What is Stress?
Before we can discuss how to get rid of stress, we first need to understand what exactly we are dealing with. What is stress and what causes a person to feel this overpowering emotion?
The CAMH, Center for Addiction and Mental Health, defines stress as the body’s natural reaction to combat a situation it sees as a threat or challenge, whether physical or psychological, that it feels is above the body’s capabilities. It goes on to explain that this feeling of stress often comes as a response to “high pressure and overwhelming demands” placed upon us. (camh.ca, 2010)
In other words, we get stressed when we are in a situation where something is expected of us and we feel we are unable to deliver. This may be due to a variety of circumstances, such as time restraints, lack of resources, other things on our mind, or even just the magnitude of the task at hand. In situations like these, where we feel we are not capable of coping with the demands, we often end up getting overwhelmed and succumb to the stress, resulting in nothing getting done. We get so worked up that we cannot calm ourselves down enough to start working.
It is almost as if each of us is carrying a custom sized bag on our shoulders with just enough room to hold the amount of tasks and responsibilities that we are able to handle. As more demands are placed upon us, the load gets heavier and heavier until it reaches the point where we feel it exceeds our maximum capacity. At this point, rather than sorting through the bag to see how we can make it lighter, we tend to just give up and drop everything. Would it not be helpful to be able to shift some of this heavy load onto someone else?
Who is Really in the Driver’s Seat?
In general, we like to feel that we are in control, that we have the power to do or not to do. This selfimposed responsibility quickly overfills the bag on our shoulders, weighing us down. With this understanding, we can logically suggest that the easiest way to get rid of stress is by discarding the illusion of control, effectively removing the bulk of the heavy load.
Truthfully, this concept is not so foreign to us. We do it often, even subconsciously at times, when we rely on something or someone else for assistance. For example, poor people rely on the rich, strong people rely on their strength, and smart people rely on their wisdom. However, all this is subject to change (the rich can lose their wealth, the strong can lose their strength, and the smart can lose their wisdom) because the money, strength and wisdom is not really theirs. (Raishis Chochma, 12.3)
The problem is that we are so used to relying on security systems to keep us safe, on doctors to keep us healthy and on our jobs for money, that sometimes we forget about the fact that safety, health, money and everything else comes from Hashem and is controlled solely by Him. We forget that He is the only one with the ability to decide and control what happens in this world. (Chovos Halevavos)
In short, the first step to getting rid of stress is realizing that everything is up to Hashem and that He has unlimited means with which He can ensure that the outcome is the best one possible. It is all in His hands, so what is the point in stressing? (Igros Kodesh, vol.17)
He Can, but Will He?
Based on the above, we seem to be saying that the way to get rid of stress is by believing in Hashem. But what does it mean to believe? On a basic level, this is done by acknowledging that whatever happens is not in my hands, since Hashem is the only one with the ability to affect what happens in this world. This level of belief in Hashem is called Emunah.
There is also a higher and deeper level of belief called Bitachon – trust in Hashem. The difference between the two is so slight that it is often overlooked and the terms are used interchangeably. In truth, however, they are different. While Emunah is believing that Hashem has the ability to affect the situation, Bitachon is relying on that ability and trusting that Hashem will help the situation and do what is best for me. A person who lives with Bitachon is one hundred percent sure that whatever happens to him, even if it appears to be negative, is from Hashem and is what is best for him. (Lekutei Sichos, vol.36)
However, even with all this, one may still find reason to be stressed. What if the situation turns out to be seemingly negative? The fact that I can work on myself to remember that ultimately it is for my good does not change the fact that at the moment I am struggling.
Tracht Gut Vet Zein Gut – Ultimate Bitachon
A man once wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe that his father was in critical condition and he was unsure of what to think. The Rebbe’s quick reply was, “Tracht Gut Vet Zein Gut – Think good and it will be good.”
Tracht Gut Vet Zein Gut is a well known teaching of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad Rebbe. With this saying, the Tzemach Tzedek teaches us that by thinking positive thoughts, we can actually bring the positive outcome into reality. Into our reality. (Lekutei Sichos, vol.36)
Tracht Gut Vet Zein Gut, thinking positively, is a higher, more complete level in trusting Hashem. It is the belief that not only will Hashem do what is ultimately best for me, but also that he will do it in a revealed way. A person who practices this level of Bitachon is completely calm as he knows he has nothing to worry about. (Lekutei Sichos, vol.3)
Why Does It Work?
This seems to completely contradict the fact that Hashem is the only one who can affect what happens in this world. How is it possible that my thoughts can bring about the desired outcome?
If we look closely at the teaching of the Tzemach Tzedek, we will notice that he specified the word Tracht Gut – think good. It is not enough to just tell ourselves that everything will be fine; we need to actually bring ourselves to think and believe what we are saying.
This takes a lot of effort on our part, as it does not always make sense logically. If we look back to the story of the man who was told to think positively, we can see that there was no logical reason for him to think, or hope, that his father would get better. His father was in critical condition, and the doctors were all very pessimistic. Yet, as soon as he received the Rebbe’s answer, he made a conscious decision to think positive thoughts. The next day, the man received the news that his father had made a miraculous turn for the better right around the time that he had started thinking and believing that there would be a positive outcome. (A Chassidisher Derher, 5776)
Back to our question, the answer is that we do not actually change the situation. As explained above, Hashem is the one who runs the world. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in one of his Chassidic talks that the way Hashem runs the world is in a way of Midah K’neged Midah – measure for measure. Therefore, when Hashem sees that we are putting in effort and going the extra mile to have Bitachon, which, as mentioned above, is illogical and unnatural, He decides to go against nature as well and go the extra mile to bring us the good we asked for in a revealed way, even if we do not necessarily deserve it at this point in time. (Lekutei Sichos, vol.36)
Practical Application: Using Bitachon to Battle Stress
The number one benefit to living with Bitachon is that it enables us to get rid of our stress. When we live life confident that Hashem will take good care of us, we can be completely relaxed and free of all worries because we know that we are in good hands. (Igros Kodesh, vol.17)
Let us talk practically. How can I apply this knowledge when I wake up in the morning completely stressed about everything that I need to take care of? What steps can I take to calm myself down, so that I can start working on getting things done? Here is a sample thought process that can help me remember that I could and should leave the stressing to Hashem:
- There is no reason to stress. The outcome is not dependent on me, rather it will be whatever Hashem decides. (Emunah)
- I am in good hands. Hashem loves me, and He will only do what is best for me. He has been taking care of me since before I was born, and He does a great job. I can be sure that whatever He arranges to take place is what is best for me, even if I do not understand how or why. (Bitachon)
- Think positively. Everything will work out in a revealed way. Hashem will make sure that I can see the good in the situation and in the outcome regardless of whether or not I deserve it. (Tracht Gut Vet Zein Gut- complete Bitachon)
You may argue that when you have a program to run, an assignment to hand in, or a flight to catch, Bitachon is the furthest thing from your mind. However, the only way for you to truly be able to relax with complete peace of mind is by remembering that Hashem is the one in the driver’s seat. (Igros Kodesh, vol.25)
Additional Points to Keep in Mind
We cannot ignore the fact that implementing this new perspective will be hard the first time. In fact, it will be hard the second and third time as well. Keep in mind that, just like everything else in life, Bitachon gets easier the more you practice it, and the more you practice it, the more you will find yourself living a more relaxed and stress free life. For “anxiety can only be overcome with a deep and mighty sense of faith” (Freeman, n.d.).
This cannot go without saying that we cannot leave everything up to Hashem. We cannot just sit back and stare at the ceiling because “Hashem will take care of it”. It is true that He will take care of it, but he also wants us to do our part. (Kuntres U’maayan) For example, I cannot sit at home, thinking that Hashem will make sure I get to the airport and catch my flight. I need to actually get up, pack and organize a ride, actively doing my part to make it in time. The difference is that now I can focus on the part that is up to me, instead of stressing about the part that is up to Hashem.
The story is told of a poor beggar who was making the long journey to the next village by foot, shlepping along his big heavy bag. As he was walking down the road, a wagon pulled up next to him, and he was invited inside. The beggar accepted the ride, but, to the owner’s astonishment, insisted on holding the bag on his lap. After repeatedly inquiring as to why the poor man did not want to put down his bag, he was told, “Is it not enough that you are carrying me in your wagon? I should ask you to carry my bag as well?!”
This story may or may not have actually happened, but the lesson for us is clear. As Jews, we know that Hashem is always taking care of us. He carries us, and our worries, through the calm, tranquil times as well as through the difficult ones. So why must we insist on pointlessly carrying our worries on our own? Why must we let ourselves become stressed to the point that we cannot function? Let us leave the worrying and stressing to Hashem, as we can be sure that He does not need our help. (Igros Kodesh, vol.4) Once we do this, we will be able to focus on taking the necessary steps to do what needs to be
Get the load off your shoulders and focus on what is actually up to you. “You do your best, and Hashem will do the rest” (Finkelstein, 2007).
A Chassidisher Derher, Cheshvan 5776, p.55
Chovos Halevavos, Shaar Habitachon, Chapter 3
Finkelstein, C. (2007) The Burksfield Bike Club, p.79
Freeman, T. (n.d.) Anxiety and Faith, chabad.org
Retrieved from: https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1382056/jewish/Anxiety-and-Faith.htm
Igros Kodesh, vol. 4, p.255
Igros Kodesh, vol. 17, p.99
Igros Kodesh, vol. 25, p.295
Kuntres U’maayan, Maamar 25
Lekutei Sichos, vol. 3, p.883
Lekutei Sichos, vol.36, Sicha Parshas Shemos
Raishis Chochma, 12.3
Unknown, unknown. (2010) What is stress?, camh.ca
Retrieved from: http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/health_information/a_z_mental_health_and_addiction_information/stress/Pages/info_stress.aspx