Once upon a time, King Solomon sent one of his servants on a search for a ring that could turn a happy person sad, and a sad person happy. This seemed IMPOSSIBLE. The servant traveled all over and searched high and low. One day, in a neighborhood market, he noticed a ring for sale. The servant explained to the salesperson that he was in search of a ring that could, “Make a happy man sad and a sad man happy,” as King Solomon had requested. The salesperson simply smiled and handed the servant a ring that said: “Gam zeh ya’avor (This too shall pass).” Little did King Solomon know we’d be in a mental health crisis and really need this guidance!
Now this statement has felt dismissive at times. I didn’t always connect with this phrase. Like, “this too shall pass,” yada yada. Sure, it may pass, but before it passes, its really, really hard. Like, don’t tell me this will pass when I have to live it first, HELLO.
As I grew, I changed and evolved. I became a mom three times. I have experienced postpartum anxiety. I have experienced my own ups and downs. I developed my own therapy practice, specializing in anxiety. It is then that I began to realize the statement “Gam zeh ya’avor” was actually everything I ever needed. I now lean on this phrase as a guiding principal of my work.
Gam zeh ya’avor guides my work with anxiety in three ways:
Everything is temporary.
The No. 1 most fearful piece of anxiety symptoms is the fear that they will never end. Before we do anxiety work, we truly feel that we will have to live in an anxious and panicky way FOREVER. We feel that way even as adults, at times. However, for kids this is much worse. Kids do not have the complete brain functioning to really understand that things are temporary, so the fear is that much BIGGER. They cannot use their own resources yet to ease the discomfort. This is where parents come in. As parents, we have to hold the sense that these feelings are temporary. WE have to not be afraid of the anxiety and panic, because we know these discomforts are not dangerous. We need to be open and forthcoming with our children that while their feelings are valid and tough, they are temporary. We also have to believe, as parents, that the struggle will not continue forever. We will be able to see that child as they once were. Maybe bubbly, maybe free-spirited, maybe lighter.
A foundational tool I use in my practice working with parents of anxious kids and other clients with anxiety is exposure. We have to actually do the thing that makes us anxious. We have to create steps to work on increasing our tolerance of the very things that trigger us. As parents, we have to encourage our kids to do the things that make them anxious. And THIS. IS. HARD. To complete this, we have to have a solid understanding that our children will make it through the exposures and begin to decrease their anxiety. The point of exposures is to survive the exposure and make it to the other side. The very essence of this is highlighting that, while we push our children to what feels like their limits, we are holding on to the fact that this, too, shall pass.
Lastly, there is a feeling that feeds anxiety in the most powerful way and that is hopelessness. Hopelessness is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The very idea that we do not have hope will keep us dark, and low, and alone. Hope saves us. Hope informs us that there is a light we are working toward. That we will be down, but then up again, and then maybe down again, but then we get to go back up. To hold hope, we have to believe there is another side to this whole debacle that is mental illness. To have hope, and to hold it so tightly, we have to remind ourselves that this, too, shall pass.
And that is how a Jewish mom of three and a therapist serving clients struggling every day with anxiety uses an age-old Jewish adage as a foundation, a faith, that we can always fall back on. The highest highs and the lowest lows: Gam zeh ya’avor.
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