Before looking at what might help with stress, it would be helpful to understand a quick description of what happens when an individual is stressed. When someone is stressed by their perception of a situation their body releases hormones[i] called cortisol and adrenaline which when produced at high levels for a long time can cause someone to feel physically unwell. This can trigger feelings of anxiety, anger and depression which might need to be helped with medication.
Medication will just deal with the effects physical effects of a stressful lifestyle, making it easier to cope with choices we need to make. Nevertheless, medication cannot take away the thoughts which cause the body to produce the hormones which can sometimes cause extreme negative feelings. Medication should be taken with doctor’s advice as this might help but additionally there must be extra help to counter the negative thoughts about a situation (which could help that the medication might not be needed in the first place).
When the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chassidic movement) taught an idea it was not just a nice warm concept but it was based on firm philosophical truths. These concepts can help in coping with the stress which we encounter during our life.
One of the ideas which the Baal Shem Tov taught[ii] was that “a Jew is never alone; wherever he goes, wherever he stands, G-D is with him”. The original statement by the Baal Shem Tov was said in Yiddish and when he referred to G-D, he used one of the names mentioned in the Bible (ה- ו-ה - ' ), which is a description of G-D as he is above the limitations of nature. The Baal Shem Tov is teaching that through a process of self contraction, G-D is able to be found within nature and that type of G-DLY power is available to a Jew in all situations which they find themselves. G-D is not bound by the rules of logic and nature, with this teaching the Baal Shem Tov is instructing us that G-Dliness which is above nature can also be found in nature.
When looking at stress, many times it is caused by an individual seeing themselves as a self contained entity. That entity has to sustain itself, relying completely on its own abilities and choices to make its way through life. When the situation depicts a naturally bleak and dark picture for an individual or their family etc. this can cause severe stress. The stress is based on the natural course of events which seem to indicate a bad outcome.
The individual might even believe in a higher power but cannot see that such a force will cause a change of nature for one tiny individual in such a world. The teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, that no matter what the material or spiritual standing of a Jew, they are not alone, describes the real reality an individual find themselves in constantly. This teaching is not a surprise on the national level as we have witnessed many miracles for the Jewish people, even over the last 70 years (for example the many wars Israel has won against outstanding odds). The Baal Shem Tov is going even further, explaining that not only for our nation as a whole does G-D do miracles but even for a single Jew, living in Tel Aviv, London, Manchester, New York, Los Angeles, some village in the middle of no where etc. G-D will help.
Since G-D is not limited to just doing miracles which break the boundaries of nature, He is also able to help in a way that is above nature within nature. An individual could for example owe money which they do not have the funds to pay back and the institution to whom they owe the money might have a policy of not giving extensions to loans etc. Nevertheless, the person could be helped through a (miraculous) decision to make an exception and extend the loan or the individual might be offered a better paying job etc. How G-D is going to help is up to His decision but He has the ability and cares enough for each individual Jew that He could help in any situation. We know that G-D acts in a way of measure for measure, reciprocating our actions. What is demanded from ourselves in stressful situations, is that we try to remain calm with the knowledge that we are not alone and to make a vessel for G-D’S blessing (which would include both trying our best in a natural way to solve our difficulties and adding in trying to perform what he requests from us in the Torah).
This does not mean that immediately there will be miraculous thunder and lightning, with all our problems being solved. What it does mean is that we are then able to tap into something beyond nature which will help us through our issues in a natural way.
Many times stressful situations are a test we are put through, to see if we will put our trust in something which is beyond our limitations or if we will just think of ourselves as the only master and decision maker of our future. On occasion we are able to cope with the stress, taking into account that we are not alone but other times we will need a friend, Rabbi or an orthodox therapist to help us through a hard time and see the bigger picture. When we get a firm reality check, then the more trust, the less stress!
[i] Tovian, S., Thorn, B., & Coons, H. (2016, July 18). Retrieved from www.apa.org: www.apa.org/helpcenter/stressbody.aspx