Shabbat is the ideal day to focus on mental health

Jewish woman says the blessing upon lighting the sabbath candles (Via Jewish News)
Jewish woman says the blessing upon lighting the sabbath candles (Via Jewish News)

Over the last few years we have seen a gradual increase in people’s mental health difficulties. Some call it the silent pandemic. Is there anything that can stem the tide?

Thinking back 100 years ago, life was slower. People spent an entire day every week just doing the laundry. Today you can activate a washing machine by swiping an iPhone. Chores have become effortless automation or click and collects.

Now that we have so much less to do, why is everybody still always so busy?

One reason is our expectations have radically changed along with our pace. The world around us is hectic, competitive, loud and driven.

People race through life, leaping over hurdles and winning medals. Their energy is inspiring and admired by society. We are encouraged to find the quickest shortcut and the most convenient hack. We are constantly reminded that so much can be accomplished if you rush towards your goals with alacrity and speed. And yet in our haste we are overlooking the one vital ingredient we need to be truly human: time. If there is any lesson to be learned from the escalating mental health crisis, it is this. We need to give ourselves permission to take more time.

Relationships need to be nurtured on their journey not rushed through the fast track lounge. Enriching conversations need pauses, rhythm and thought. To appreciate, to connect, to think and to heal.

Each of these need time. We need to process. We need time to process.

We can appreciate and admire other people’s speed. But we need to avoid measuring ourselves by their pace. It is crucial to make time to think, to notice, to connect and to listen. We need to pause, and to reflect. We need opportunities to laugh and to cry and to let the tears roll down without brushing them away. Time is necessary to achieve but more so to recover, to reenergise and refocus. Just because a shortcut exists it doesn’t mean we have to take it.

Although it appears otherwise, there is no prearranged deadline at which we have to bounce back or get back to normal from life events. Grief, loss, celebrations and disappointments have their own organic pattern of integrating into our lives.

Patterns that can’t be predicted, rushed or bullied away. If these patterns aren’t honoured, if we can’t work with them, they soon start to work against us.

It is appropriate that the Mental Health Awareness has been established by Jami on a Shabbat. Shabbat is a day to stop doing and to start being. It teaches us to relinquish our control on the world around us. It teaches us that you don’t have to immediately reply to an email or like someone’s status.

Life can be lived slower. Shabbat is our permission to pause and is of huge benefit to our emotional well-being.

This Mental Health Awareness Shabbat let us come together as communities and attend to ourselves and to each other more fully. Let us give the gift of time to those who need it.

About the Author
Chana Hughes is the Rebbetzin of Radlett United synagogue in Hertfordshire, England. She works as a psychotherapist for the NHS in St Albans as well as privately. She helps adults and young people with depression, anxiety and other mental health related issues as well as couple and relationship difficulties. She lives in Radlett with her husband and family.
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