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Calm Within the Chaos

Sarah Chana Radcliffe

Few Yamim Tovim cause more stress and tension than Pesach. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Reprogram your thoughts — and your schedule — and enjoy the holiday of freedom.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ask a room full of Jewish homemakers what is their favorite Jewish holiday. How many will answer, “Pesach!”? Not many.

Why? A large part of the difficulties of Pesach stem from negative thought patterns that lead to self-induced pressure and suffering. Let’s examine the popular Pesach misconceptions and discuss reframes that will allow us to approach the Yom Tov with less stress and greater happiness. Hopefully, once you implement the reframes, most of you will agree: Pesach is a wonderful Yom Tov!


Popular Misconception #1

Traditionally, homemakers have shivered in their boots when thinking about Pesach. For many, the preparations for the holiday, the Seder itself, the two rounds of Yom Tov sandwiched between the intermediary cooking days (aka Chol HaMoed) — all of it — seem somehow overwhelming (don’t ask me why).

A typical sentiment is expressed by Ilana: “I find that my days are always full. I don’t have ‘extra’ time, ever. I wake up sleep deprived because of the baby who needs to be nursed at night and the toddler who is always in my bed for one reason or another. I get the kids ready for school and do car pool and run errands. I work part-time. I have to make dinner and stay on top of laundry and shopping. When the older ones come home, there’s homework to do and bath time and bedtime. I really don’t see where I can fit in another enormous task like Pesach cleaning, turning the house over, making Yom Tov, and all the rest. Just thinking about it makes me feel unbelievably stressed.”

Ilana brings us to Misconception #1: It is helpful to think about all the work that Pesach will entail.   

Some women start worrying about Pesach preparations right after Chanukah, others not until the morning after Purim, and still others just two weeks before the holiday. Whenever it is that the thinking begins, stress starts to build. Even before lifting a finger to sort a drawer, empty a cupboard, or open a recipe book, a homemaker can send floods of adrenaline and other stress chemistry through her bloodstream — just by thinking of all that she has to do. She starts to feel overwhelmed without having added a single task to her day. What a waste of a perfectly awful mood! She’s aggravated for nothing! (It can be embarrassing to be aggravated about nothing, so a woman will usually find an outlet for her negative energy in terms of an unsuspecting family member.)

Instead of thinking about all the work that has to be done, a homemaker can carefully select thoughts that will generate calm, happy brain chemistry. As Sara Yosef advises in her brilliant book It’s All in Your Mind, instead of thinking about problems, think about solutions and positive outcomes.

In the case of Pesach, don’t start fretting about how much work has to be done in how few hours. In fact, when such anxiety-laden thoughts “pop” into your head, quickly replace them with good-chemistry thoughts. Picture the house all ready for Pesach. After all — it will happen. See everything clean and organized. The Pesach dishes are ready for use. The table is set. Don’t worry about how it got that way. Just see it as all done. Go ahead and put in any additional comforting, uplifting thoughts and images that you might enjoy: the Seder unfolding, the family being fairly cooperative, yourself relaxing, reading, playing with children and conversing with grown-ups — see an excellent holiday experience.


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