Managing Stress as Individuals, Partners and Parents: A Conversation with Ilana Rubenstein


People experience stress every day. Some of this stress is temporary, and some of it is long-lasting. While we may not be able to eliminate the stress from our lives, we can learn how to manage it, reduce it, and in turn, lead healthier and more fulfilling lives. In this interview, Ilana Rubenstein, a mother, teacher, writer, and distinguished occupational therapist, shares her wisdom about addressing stress in front of our kids, as well as dealing with stress during some of life’s most challenging times. 

How can we manage our stress on a daily basis?

As women, we often feel like it’s our job to fix things and make everything okay. But, in reality, everyone experiences stress. It’s just a part of life. So, the first thing that we can do is acknowledge how we’re feeling. Accept it, name it, and normalize it. Then, we can find the tools to manage our stress exactly where we are. We can seek out micro-moments of connection with ourselves and with others. We can also look for micro-moments of joy in our daily lives. You don’t necessarily need to go on a big family trip in order to destress. Instead, you can all take a five-minute breather, or a walk around the block. Find what gives you moments of joy in your daily life — and do it.  

What are some ways that Judaism provides outlets for dealing with stress? 

Judaism makes it clear that our job is not to be perfect. We need to show up and do our best, but ultimately, G-d controls the outcome. Acknowledging this can shift the expectations that we have for ourselves. We realize, I didn’t build the car of my life, and I’m not responsible for producing the gas. I’m steering the wheel — but I’m not doing it alone. 

What are some ways that individuals can manage their stress when dealing with infertility?

Infertility is one of the most painful experiences for a woman. One way to cope is through “letting go of coping.” When a woman accepts that she can’t micromanage every aspect of her journey, there is a part of her that opens up to that journey. This may not speed up the process, but it does put her experience in G-d’s hands. She can find new meaning, hope and connection, and gain important coping skills. These are hers forever and can be used throughout her life. 

When eating disorders strike a family, what are some ways to manage stress during mealtimes? 

We know that eating disorders are never really about food. They are about managing a whole world of internal emotions that play out with food. Regulating and normalizing eating is frontline treatment. The kitchen table has the potential to be a battleground or a place of healing. When family members eat in solidarity with the person who has an eating disorder, the person feels less alone. Families need to commit to eating a variety of foods, not labeling foods as good or bad, establishing a body positive space, and creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable addressing their needs, fears, and concerns.

What are some ways that families who have children with special needs can build community and find support?

The Jewish community is blessed with rich resources and networks to support families who have children with special needs. More and more parents are also speaking up and writing about their experiences, which helps to destigmatize their experiences and empower others who face similar struggles. As friends to families who have children with special needs, it’s important to speak up and name your discomfort. For example, you can say, “I am aware that I am lacking in knowledge, and this is uncomfortable for me. How can I help you and your family?” Once you own your discomfort, you give your friends permission to ask for what they need. 

How can single parents manage the stress that comes from feeling alone?

In Judaism, we thank G-d for our lackings. Why? Because if all of our needs were met, we’d never have the opportunity to seek out a relationship with G-d or other people to fill those holes. As single parents, we may not have a partner in our lives, but we can surround ourselves with a circle of support. We can choose to fill our lives with mentors, role models, and cheerleaders. And we need to recognize that everyone feels alone at some point. That is the human condition.

How can we address stress with our children?

The important thing is not to try to shield our children from stress. We need to let them know that it’s okay to feel stressed, and to give them the sense that we believe in their capacity to manage life’s struggles. Our job as parents is not to prevent stressful things from happening to them, but to give them the tools to deal with challenges and to instill in them the belief that they can fall down and then get back up… over and over again.

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