Dear Rachel,

The last couple of years have been cataclysmic. I got divorced, both my children got married, I moved out of the house that I lived in for the past 20 years, and I became estranged from several friends and family members. I was also fired from my job, a close friend died, and I had to deal with a minor medical issue. Due to all this stress and change, my confidence has been terribly shaken, and I’ve become nervous and defensive. How do I restore my equilibrium and get back some sense of security?


Dear Going With the Flow,

Life is dynamic. Life is about change, and all of us experience upheaval in our lives, though admittedly not to the extent that you have in such a short period of time. As an aside, the Jewish people as a nation have experienced much upheaval and relocation; hence, the term “wandering Jew.” I suspect that G‑d keeps us on our toes so that we are able to withstand these life journeys. People become used to things, inured, reconciled and blasé; they don’t like being shaken up. But G‑d has different plans because we are in this life to work and to grow. And you’ve obviously been working hard!

I understand how everything you mention has thrown you for a loop. Each of us has different abilities to withstand change. In general, it’s not a good idea to link our feelings of security and well-being—and certainly, not our confidence—to things outside of ourselves because those very things (jobs, places of residence, health, relationships) are going to change throughout our lives. If we depend on them for our feelings of self-worth and identity, then we’re going to lose our footing more often than not, especially since very little is within our personal control.

Here are a few ideas to help you manage the myriad changes in your life.

1. Differentiate between the good and bad.

Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Annie Spratt on Unsplash

A wedding, though stressful is not the same as a divorce. A minor medical issue that is resolved is something to be relieved about. Celebrate the good changes in your life and look for the good in what, on the surface, seems negative. A lost job means a new opportunity; a move means potential new friends and experiences. Try to look at everything with a good eye, and you will create a good experience.

2. Mourn your losses so you can move on.

Admit the pain and feel it, respect it, honor it and then release it. Holding on to it is emotionally and physically unhealthy. That’s why people sit shiva after close family members die.

3. Let go of the past.

You don’t live there anymore. When you move, you take valuable things with you and leave the rest behind. The same is true when you move forward in time. Leave the things that don’t serve you well anymore behind. Release them with peace, not anger. G‑d often changes our circumstances when our current ones no longer serve a purpose in our lives. Trying to hold on to them is like trying to fit into a sweater you wore when you were a kid. It just doesn’t fit anymore, no matter how hard you try.

4. Focus on your connection with G‑d.

G‑d is with you through everything, and everything in your life occurs as part of His Divine plan. Talk to Him, cry to Him, pray to Him and thank Him. Ultimately, your relationship with G‑d is from where your greatest sense of self and security is going to come.

5. Get a support system and ask for help when you need it.

This can include family, friends, neighbors, professionals. Share the burden, and you will halve it.

6. Recognize that your core value as a human being is not affected by whether you are married, healthy, employed or popular.

These things, of course, are nice and important, but they do not determine your intrinsic worth as a person. Doing acts of goodness, making people happy and doing mitzvahs are the best way to feel good about yourself and increase goodness in the world. Extend yourself outward, and you will bring more joy inward into your life.

7. Find some pleasurable activity that isn’t dependent on other people.

Art by Lora Martini
Art by Lora Martini

Fill yourself up with positive energy—join Torah study, take a walk, read, journal, scrapbook, dance, attend a class. Revitalize and nourish yourself so that you can get your bearings again and be the calm in the storm.

8. Take life one hour, one day at a time.

Focus on being here, now. Embrace the change, instead of fighting it. Have faith that there’s a reason you are where you are now. Be grateful for what you have in your life and look forward optimistically to what the future may bring, like grandchildren, new friends, new love. The sea ahead is brimming with possibility.

Wishing you much to be grateful for, and smooth sailing ahead!