10 Easy Ways to Feel More Calm and Happy

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Depressing thoughts and worries are like ticks. Like our least-favorite woods-dwellers, it is no easy feat to get these destructive thoughts unstuck from your brain. And, like ticks, these destructive thoughts suck out your blood and joy of life until they are finally torn off.

The best guide I know of to freeing ourselves from worry and depression is also my favorite book of all time: Battle Plans: How to Fight the Evil Inclination (Shaar) by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller and Sara Yoheved Rigler. Battle Plans provides practical advice on freeing ourselves from the thoughts that bring us down.

In cases of worry and a depressed mood, Battle Plans suggests the following strategies:

  1. Everything I Need I Have“: Focus on the fact that everything you need, G-d has given you. This is very challenging to feel at times when you are experiencing a difficulty in your life, but it can really help to count your blessings and to focus on what you DO have (i.e. a husband, children, a home, health, a supportive community and on and on…) rather than focusing on the upsetting current issue which is bringing you down. The next step, which is more challenging, is to try to locate the blessing, the Divine gift, hidden within the difficulty itself… This is definitely tough, but if you manage to feel gratitude to G-d for ALL that you have (the good stuff and the hard stuff as well) then you are well on the way to a life of joy.
  2. Do Kindness: When you are feeling down, few things make you feel better than putting another’s needs above your own. As a mother, don’t forget that performing acts of kindness for your relatives and family members should be your first priority. Run an errand for your husband, give a call to check up on your sick mother, read a story to your bored child. After that, performing kindness in your community can work wonders for the depressed soul.
  3. Undertake a Heroic Kindness: Is there a kindness that you think you cannot possibly manage right now for a dozen different reasons? Do it anyway. Accompany a community member to her chemo treatment, agree to invite your critical Mother in Law for Shabbat for the first time in a decade, organize a fundraising dinner for a worthy cause. The evil inclination will flee for its life.
  4. Notice Very Deeply: Everything is from G-d. Where can you sense G-d’s kindness and guiding hand within this difficult situation you find yourself in?
  5. Push the Kingship Button: Once you have detected G-d’s hand within this difficulty, you are ready to stop angrily rejecting it, and to, rather, accept it as G-d’s will. After you have accepted it, you can also start coping with the issue more effectively and rationally. What practical steps can you take to cope with and overcome the difficulty at hand?
  6. Respond with Torah: When you feel depressing and worrying  thoughts invading your psyche, try picking up a Torah book and reading a few paragraphs or pages. It doesn’t matter what form of “Torah literature” you read- the Torah portion, the biography of a Tsaddik, (or, my personal recommendation) Battle Plans… no matter what you read, the light of Torah will cause the evil inclination to run away, just like a floodlight in your backyard causes a burglar to run back to his dark hideout.
  7. The 3 A’s-

1. ACCEPT what is happening as G-d’s will

2. APPRECIATE G-d’s kindness hidden within the hardship

3. ADJUST your time frame. Troubles are fleeting. Health problems get cured, difficult children grow out of challenging phases, fertility treatments work, and money goes away and then it comes back again. Why worry about a problem that you most likely won’t even remember existed 5 years from now?

8. Surrender Control to G-d: When things don’t work out the way you want, and you feel anger and blame flaring up, try out the following visualization: the evil inclination is Rumpelstiltskin, with his red nose, striped hat with that annoying little bell on the end, and broken scepter, and he is hopping up and down and screaming: “Things have to be my way!! Things have to be my way!!” Then imagine off to the side a wise old rabbi nodding and quietly stating: “The way things are, is the way G-d wants them to be…” Then visualize taking a sledgehammer and crushing Rumpelstiltskin in all his glory and fury. Then repeat the words of the wise old rabbi, “The way things are, is the way G-d wants them to be…G-d is my king!” 

9.Direct Your Mind Away from Destructive Thoughts: Imagine your 11-month-old has crawled into a busy street. What would you do? You would pull her back to the sidewalk, and fasten her into her stroller so she wouldn’t wander away again. Anger, self-blame, or passive inaction serve no purpose here. And the wandering mind that is drawn obsessively to destructive thoughts that make you depressed, angry, or worried, is exactly like that baby who wandered into the street. Again, anger, self-blame, or inaction aren’t going to do any good here. What should you do? Fasten your wayward thoughts into their “stroller” or an unrelated permitted thought: a vacation you are planning, your guest list for Friday night dinner, a project at work. Pat yourself on the back every time you effectively drag your wandering thoughts back into their permitted “stroller.”

10. Prayer: And finally, most importantly, prayer works wonders. You should pray every day that G-d will help you to overcome the depressing and worrying thoughts that cause you so much distress. Your prayer should include: 1) Your earnest desire to overcome your evil inclination 2) Stating your knowledge that you cannot succeed in this without G-d’s assistance 3) Your request from G-d to help you succeed.

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