No-Pills Anxiety Buster

By Dr. David H. Rosmarin

The cherished holiday of Passover commemorates the freedom of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery and our beginnings as a G‑dly nation of our own. Moreover, we hope to instill the beautiful values of the Seder night deep in our hearts and carry its uplifting message through all of life. For many, however, the Torah injunction to purge all leavened bread and related products (chametz) from one’s home is neither cherished and beautiful nor uplifting, and represents an onerous task which is filled with anxiety and stress.

Last year, the Center for Anxiety received a consult request from a man whose wife refused to allow leaven into the house throughout the entire year. More recently, we were involved in a case of an individual who refused to touch any surface that had ever come into contact with chametz. Needless to say, these efforts are far beyond the requirements of Jewish law (by any standard). Both cases represented a full-blown anxiety disorder that caused severe distress and impairment. More commonly, Passover cleaning can simply be a trigger for worry and stress. Whether severe or just a nuisance, however, it doesn’t have to be this way.

If you are stressed out or anxious about Passover cleaning, here are three simple things you can do:

– First and foremost, one must clarify, with a trusted rabbinic authority, what is and is not required. In our experience, those who are anxious about Passover (or other areas of Jewish law) have not asked for guidance and remain uninformed about their religious requirements. By neglecting this crucial step, they choose to accept a far greater burden than is recommended, thereby creating more stress and anxiety than necessary.

– Second is to get organized with the following two-pronged approach: (1) Create a master to-do list which lists everything that needs to be done before Pesach–this document may be a full page, or even multiple pages long. (2) Each day, create a daily to-do list (culled from the master list) that contains no more than you are realistically able to accomplish on that day. The goal of this approach is to stay on top of everything that needs to get done while not taking on too much at any one time.

– Third is to boost your psychological resources with sleep, exercise, and a good diet, to the extent that you can. Granted, this is easier said than done–and more often than not, putting a sleep or exercise routine into place is easier months before Pesach preparations begin. Nevertheless, setting a clear bedtime and getting out for a walk or jog even once a week is a giant step forward. If need be, reward yourself for getting to bed on time or exercising.

Following these three steps takes self-discipline, but the reward is immense: A wonderful, memorable holiday with one’s family and friends. v

David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., is an instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Center for Anxiety in Manhattan, a clinical-research facility with a focus on the Jewish community. He can be reached at 646-837-5557 or


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