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Anxiety and Faith

Anxiety and Faith

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Question:

I want to leave Judaism. Let me explain why:

In the past year I was diagnosed with a condition called Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This condition makes me extremely nervous and causes terrible panic attacks. I have extremely strong prescription medication to control the anxiety, and I have to carry tablets with me at all times. However, even the drugs don't control the anxiety.

More recently, things have worsened, and my problems with anxiety have progressed into depression. I have to take antidepressants as well as anti-anxiety drugs every day, and I see a psychologist regularly. None of this has helped. If anything, I'm getting worse, rather than better.

This makes me question the existence of G‑d. If there is a real G‑d, then He cannot possibly be just, as Judaism claims. I have never harmed anyone. I have never done anything that would make me deserving of such bad health problems. I have never killed anybody. I'm not a violent person. I help people when I can. Basically, I'm a good person. I've done NOTHING WRONG.

This leads me to one of two possibilities:

1) There is no God.
2) There is a God, but His moral compass is so screwed up that He would have trouble locating a parking lot. In which case, I don't want to follow him.

So, back to my original question. I want out, I don't want to be part of the Jewish religion anymore. It's done nothing for me. How do I get out?

-D______


Response:

Dear -D_____,

I know what anxiety and panic is. It's ugly. I have seen it wreck promising lives. I have also seen it conquered and vanquished. And I know that to win against anxiety, psychotropics are not enough. Anxiety can only be overcome with a deep and mighty sense of faith.

Faith has become a dirty word. Perhaps we should use another: Conviction. A deep, inner conviction that a howling arctic wind could not sway. It is a gift we have by inheritance, passed down since Abraham, selected and honed over hundreds of generations. It has carried us on eagle's wings through the worst of times to be the proud, indestructible nation we are today. For you to reject that conviction now is equivalent to a sick man refusing to swallow his medicine because of an ache in his throat.

Let's separate two issues: G‑d and your faith in Him. G‑d does not need your approval to be who He is. Abandoning Him changes nothing—just as a created being cannot fathom its Creator, so it cannot affect Him. Whether or not you have faith in Him can only change you, your state of health and where your life is heading.

You especially need to hear this, because the words you write to me are those of the passive victim. Nothing is more conducive to anxiety than a sense of helplessness, as though you were riding the passenger seat through life. The first step to conquer anxiety must be to take the reins of your life back into your own hands.

Reaffirming your own inner conviction does just that. It says, "I don't care how things look and what the world appears to be doing to me. I know with all my heart and soul that there is a Director of All Things who holds my hand, who knows my soul from the inside and leads me through life in the way that is best for me. I may not have the slightest inkling of how any of this is for my benefit, but I do not need to understand for it to work. I only need to hold tight and keep moving ahead."

As soon as you have done that, you have taken the driver's console into your hands. You leave the highway up to Him and deal sensibly with each incident as it comes along. You have a partnership; you are not alone. And when the panic swells, creeps or jumps out at you , you smile back and say, "This too shall pass"—and it does. And then you keep trucking along.

Of course, you can always choose to go it alone. You can believe the universe to be a big, hostile monster with you, the lonely and innocent victim swallowed up inside. But if you want to survive and make good of all the talents and opportunities G‑d has given you, pull out from under the covers the faith you have in your heart, inherited from the generations before you: That the Essence of All Reality is good, and that you are intimately related to that essential good, and that therefore, whether you can perceive so or not, everything that befalls you is for the good.

Choose life.
--
--Rabbi Tzvi Freeman for Chabad.org

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Linda Sherman September 13, 2017

I would like to openly confess that I too suffer from Anxiety and Depression, but the more I dive into Judaism the more "settled" I become. I too felt like the reader in the post..that God was a horrible person for making me this way and allowing life to get me. Through study I have learned that my belief in God and my new belief in Hashem is totally different..shame on me and my attitude and "spiritual tantrums" when all I had to remember is that the Great Architect can help us with all things if we just find one speck of light...so it takes both meds and conviction for me.
Shalom Reply

Louise Leon PA, USA October 15, 2017
in response to Linda Sherman :

Loved your comments except for you "shaming" yourself.
All power to you. Reply

Melanie Rose Portland, Ore August 29, 2017

Awesome commentary by Tzvi. I experience intense anxiety as well. But first let me say, it is not G-D's responsibility to find us a parking spot. G-D gave us life. It''s our responsibility to find a parking spot (or just take a cab!!) and to choose healthy thoughts-ergo, our feelings change, ergo behavior changes, ergo we take action (do a mitzvah, volunteer, do mentor work) helps to reduce anxiety. I'm on anti anxiety meds- they help but I still have to do my part I've chosen to get involved in life, making emotional connections. This does more to reduce anxiety. To answer the question: "what has judaism done for me?" " What have we done to be better Jews? Core tenet of Judaism: Tikun' Olam. "Heal the World" Judaism: a great partner for us with anxiety. We are called on to reflect, change & take action to ameliorate our lives. As Jews we are gifted with moral obligations,this requires us to act/do=antidote to anxiety and panic. Let Judaism in, it's underlined with hope! Reply

Naomi Garbo May 24, 2017

I was told by secular acquaintances that I was involved in a cult! It was suggested that I take anxiety medication. I worked most of my life in the medical field and knew this was bad advice. It only made my faith in God stronger. Sometimes the "evil inclination" tries to sneak in. My course in "Finding Balance" that I am in the process of viewing online, is much help. Thank you Chabad.org Reply

JDV May 24, 2017
in response to Naomi Garbo:

Maybe they are jealous and don't even know it! Reply

louise leon PA, USA May 24, 2017
in response to Naomi Garbo:

Shalom Naomi..... Great post. In my experience there is a lot of trial and error re: prescribing "correct" meds. And then again, no meds could be the "best" meds. Reply

Levi Tribesman Boston January 4, 2016

The root of depression is arrogance? That doesn't sound right... Reply

Anonymous January 4, 2016

Getting along with it While struggling with this issue and after I started taking medication I had terrible side effects on the first days that had been warned by my phychiatrist cause my body needed to get used to the pills. The anxiety and the panic attacks were even 10 times higher on the first days. But after a few weeks those crisis get lower. Meds wont get rid of it but they will make easer for you to control it. Especially for the those who suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. As an advice. Staying away from negative people and people who cannot do good for you even though you think you do is a very helpful tool. Also try to get time for yourself. I realized while on treatment that anxiety is triggered most of the time in social events although But a panic attack while being alone is also a terrible experience.lol. For those who think you cannot live a jewish life because of a mental disorder. They are wrong. Cause anxiety or panic attacks always end up getting down. Reply

Anonymous January 3, 2016

I love this article however I would really appreciate an article that deals with chronic deppression or "atzvut". I have heard that the root of deppression may be "Gaiva" haughtiness and that Simcha poretz geder so possibly the way to get rid of deppression may be to focus on compassion and what others need and also to be more humble in your mind. Reply

Anonymous PA/USA December 24, 2015

to JDV I totally agree with you !!!! Reply

JDV August 30, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I have learned that self knowledge is a great hedge in anxiety management. My anxiety and that passed onto my son, will not disappear. So if we can't work through it, we have to work around it. For example, i know that leaving things to the last minute makes me anxious as hell, I try to pace myself whenever possible. This is especially true when traveling. Poco a poco. Reply

JDV December 23, 2015

Anxiety I have anxiety also and pills don't do it all. We need guidance so that we can go in the right direction and the Jewish religion, especially this web site, can provide that. shalom. Reply

Anonymous PA, USA August 15, 2015

Wow I totally enjoy reading the wonderfully insightful comments offered to those suffering from anxiety/panic attacks.
Although I suffer from other "mishagas" (issues), I can totally relate to the need to find "sanity" in our "insane" lives.
As for me, I believe that chemical changes in my brain cause an on-going mental condition that requires meds. I am actually grateful through trial and error that I learned to understand my need for meds. Of course, this is not true for everyone.
Some people self-medicate with alcohol/drugs/other addictions...however one needs to discover the appropriate coping mechanism/support system/spiritual belief that "at the end of the day" leads to peaceful rest. Reply

Craig Virginia August 12, 2015

Grit and Belief will come Panic attacks are nasty occurrences and I've had a few, not because of a syndrome but following extremely harsh and unfounded retaliatory attacks after standing up for myself against persons who violated disability discrimination laws. Most physical conditions are intertwined with emotion and have psychological footprints. Life can be tough for those of us with incurable conditions and after living with one for over 40 years I know that persistence has been a key, as have faith in G_d, understanding/help from friends and family. Giving up or saying, "why me," won't help. Consider taking on a hobby and read how/why Theodore Roosevelt did the things he did. He became my hero and I believe you might find that he was an amazing person, though others (e.g., FDR, Abraham Lincoln) were also successful humans who did all they could with the life each was given. G_d was with them, guided them, and is here for us, during bad times. Belief will come and can't hurt to try and accept. Stay tough. Reply

e. chadwell virginia May 24, 2015

Please read 'Magnificent Addiction'. He is the God who hears. Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA April 4, 2015

Re: David If you have trouble knowing that the essence of reality is good, then it is probably because the reality you know is exile. Hatred of G-d’s creation or hatred of G-d himself will exile you further from the good things in life. IMO one can’t hate or doubt his or her way to prosperity. G-d wants real, honest, and fervent love. In order to discover the wonders of the good life, one needs to have hope, and not doubt that there is much goodness that G-d wants for you to be a part of. The first step I think may be to search for something in this world you find that is good, and thank Hashem for it, and then do it again until your reality is cognitively reframed. Gd probably won’t reward you the moment you decide to love Him, and His creation. That may take time. One needs to believe first in his or her idea of heaven, and then through observance and hard work it becomes possible to cross the bridge into a heavenly world, where through good deeds one builds their own heaven. Reply

Anonymous March 31, 2015

The forked tongue Anxiety and Faith is that really what we are talking about or maybe Adam and Eve and the family tree. I always thought that Hashem made the perfect being, until I fell off my high perch and cracked my head in that pursuit of balance in life. You see... even though I couldn't enjoy the fruits of the garden of Eden," let's say a prince with no palace" because this journey is justified. Someone has to know that anxiety with faith in this world under God, Blessed Be His name is a human condition and that is your choice. If you measure yourself to the King (Hashem) and forget His virtue's then your speech reflects that of falsehood to nature and of all the people around you. One should not suffer to feed the suffering of another persons pain. Kindness and light in the public domain we glow closer to theses days. Be some respectful to all things because we don't know it all.


Reply

Levi Tribesman Boston March 31, 2015

David-- I don't understand.
How could someone invalidate your feelings and experience? Just due to their viewpoint? Those things are so personal and easy to maintain. Seems you'd have to give someone permission to invalidate. Reply

David Detroit March 25, 2015

What if you just can't believe that the essence of all reality is good? What if your experience tells you otherwise? I respect your faith but I feel hurt that you invalidate my feelings and experience. Reply

sheila ginsberg los angeles February 12, 2015

I do not believe that all anxiety is a result of underlying problems or fears. I think it was Harvard Medical research that has associated anxiety with physical symptoms. The autonomic nervous system and mitral valve abnormalities have been suspected in panic disorders. Do not be so sure that the cause is not physical. Reply

Levi Tribesman Boston February 6, 2015

-D_____
I believe your anxiety is a reaction to something. Most likely involving an experience you aren't able to remember & resolve or being unable to cope or function. Anxiety is about feeling unsafe. Is something missing in your life? Intimacy, your ability to earn money, problems coping with personal disorders ie. eating, physical appearance, extreme shyness, abuse [physical or emotional], poor health? There are 100 other possibilities.... Anxiety is a symptom. There has to be a reason for it. The answer is within you. To start, fire your therapists. They aren't helping you. Find new ones. Learn to meditate and use stress reduction techniques. Eat a good diet and exercise a lot. Pray if it helps. Blaming this on God is useless and won't help you at all. My best wishes in your search for answers. Reply

Michal January 6, 2015

The journey My heart goes out to you. I struggle with extreme anxiety and ptsd. To say I know exactly how you feel isn't true. I have an idea of just how much pain you feel. I can relate, no 2 cases are the same. At least you're trying that for me in my situation is the mountain. Ive learned and struggled through all my health issues that in hindsight shows me a bigger picture that I couldn't see. I struggle daily yet know its a lesson to help others and grow myself. I urge you to not give up its a fight only for the truly strong. You are strong! Reply

louise leon PA, USA December 28, 2014

to Chonye I couldn't have said it better !
I have already blogged the following, I'm sure. As for my faith search, I needed to "suspend disbelief" long enough to allow belief to take root. Although I totally identify as a Jew, I've read many different books on comparative religion. It all boils down to several seminal "rules." All monotheists believe in one G-d by definition. Since there is only one G-d, there is only one G-d for Christian, Muslim, and other monotheists.
Which doesn't preclude polytheists who have as much right to believe as they do.
Happy all Holidays to everyone...and a special prayer for peace in 2015. Peace in the middle east, peace on earth and peace in our homes.
And above all, todah l'el (thank you G-d) for all good things. Reply

chonye December 23, 2014

its fine! Someone once came to the previous Rebbe of Lubavitch and cried "Rebbe what should I do, I'm having doubts [in G-d]!?
The Rebbe asked "so what's wrong?"
"I'm a jew!"
Replied the Rebbe "As long as you know Jews shouldn't have doubts, its fine."

I.e. you don't need to stress over doubts, neither listen to them.
Just say it's okay, I've got a yetzer horo, an evil inclination. Reply

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