I feel as though I am swimming. Sometimes I’m going upstream, against the current. Sometimes there is a weight on my body, further slowing me down. The water is cool and refreshing, and it’s supposed to be enjoyable—so why does it feel so oppressive and burdensome?

I consider myself to be a generally happy person. But there are days when my brain is so fired up with worries of what-ifs Why does it feel so oppressive and burdensome?and how-coulds that my fight-or-flight instincts take center stage, resulting in mental paralysis, emotional hyperactivity, and the never-ending feeling of swimming upstream while weighted down.

Most days begin with gratitude. I’m thankful to be an emissary of the Rebbe and to work as a preschool director. I’m filled with joy at seeing my beautiful, healthy children waking up in the morning. And then, sometimes all it takes is a teacher telling me she is moving away, or a parent letting me know she has decided to switch to public school, to set my anxiety in motion. I imagine worst-case scenarios emerging: I will never find a replacement teacher this late in the game, more families will pull out when they hear this family is leaving, and on and on. I slowly spiral deeper down the rabbit hole that I have created for myself. Before long, I imagine no school and no job. Sound familiar?

I know I am not in this alone. I hear it from friends, infer it from comments, and see it in the eyes of people around me. More telling is the way people parent and make life choices, so often basing their decisions on fear and worry. (Think: “You have how many kids? How will you afford to pay for college, cars when they are 16, and savings for their future?”)

Fear is all around us. The Facebook news feed filled with information about the hazards of GMOs and spray sunscreen. The you-think-your-child-won’t-walk-off-with-a-stranger-well-you-are-certainly-wrong video on WhatsApp. And, of course, the things that hit closer to home—a sick relative, a pink slip, a child’s diagnosis—that fill us with dread.

Just the other day a friend who is going through a particular challenge said to me, “I can handle this challenge, it’s okay, it’s just that you don’t know which bad news is lurking around the corner.” Living with this thought is neither positive nor healthy; it is swimming upstream with a heavy weight. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” as Franklin Roosevelt so famously stated in his inaugural address.

When I am self-aware enough to notice my actions are based on fear, I stop and take stock: Did I contribute to the situation that is causing me distress? Was I party to the choices being thrust upon me? Essentially, I need to turn my fear into faith and a cognitive therapy of sorts.

The critical teaching of the Baal Shem Tov is that our entire existence is based on divine providence, hashgacha pratit. Everything that happens to us is orchestrated by the One above, specifically tailored to our existential needs and growth. And all our actions are predetermined, except moral and ethical choices.

This message is so deep and vast that I have not fully grasped it. But it is with this mindfulness that I can come back to myself. I remember that I did not cause the teacher to need to relocate to a new city, nor cause the parent to decide carpooling and tuition for preschool are not her priority. Nothing here is in my control, and none of it means failure for the future. Even if, in the future, I could trace back to this moment in time and say, “I knew it! I knew this would cause me to fail,” I actually did not know anything, and I had no control over the situation anyway.

The Nothing here is in my controlappropriate response to the above situations would be to vigorously search for a new teacher, enlighten the parent about the importance of staying in a Jewish school, and assure the other parents that there would not be a mass exodus. It’s a response quite the opposite of paralysis and drama. Because that is all I can do, that is all I should do—turn my fear into faith and positive actions.

Then there is the place where I really want to be at, and that is joy—no matter the circumstances. And really, what better gift can we give ourselves and our children, friends and colleagues than being pleasant to be around? Here is the bottom line: I teach my children deliberately about the dangers and opportunities of friends and strangers. I did not invent the sunscreens or the GMOs that may or may not be harmful. Because I am not in control of these matters, I am not going to let my fears of them grip me and take over.

The emotions each of us experience are real: there is disappointment, hurt, sadness and pain. But there is also joy, awe and laughter. We must try to reject the mind-numbing negativity that fear imposes, and instead focus on faith and, hopefully, real joy. Then we will best be able to serve G‑d.