Dear Dr. Haimoff,

I can’t turn off the voices in my head. I have racing thoughts and I’m always anxious about something. I’m always thinking about all possible scenarios and preparing myself for the worst. I have trouble focusing and even listening to people talk and it is very frustrating. It gets to be the worst at night when I am trying to fall asleep. My friends and family also notice that I seem on edge and worried all the time. I wish I could make it stop but I can’t seem to. Sometimes it feels like I’m trapped in my own mind and it makes me want to cry. I wish I could be just a normal person who is happy and enjoys life. I appreciate any words of advice or encouragement.

Thank you,


Dear Jacob,

That sounds really tough! It is torturous to be stuck in our own heads with our negative thoughts. This is actually a common problem that many people I treat in my practice complain about. What you are describing is basically anxiety in a nutshell. Anxious thoughts could follow us all day long and make it very difficult to focus or enjoy life. Even though it is meant to be an adaptive feature for our survival, it is clearly more harmful than it is helpful. I will try my best to help you and others who can relate to this problem.

Some psychologists explain that anxiety is a very future-oriented thought disorder (where depression is sometimes called more past-oriented). The hallmark feature of anxiety is “What If?” questions. As in: “What if I fail the test?” “What if I make a fool of myself?” “What if I have no one to talk to?” “What if the plan doesn’t work?” “What if something bad happens to me?” Instead of being focused on the here-and-now, anxiety takes us out of the present and keeps us focused on the future and theoretical. This could make it difficult to fall asleep at night or pay attention to our immediate environment throughout the day.

So what can you do to help this problem? The first thing I recommend to clients in my practice and when giving lectures on this topic is mindfulness. Mindfulness or grounding techniques are methods to help control our thoughts, settle our mind, and enter a more peaceful and relaxing state. One can practice mindfulness as a form of meditation, but really any activity we are engaged in can be performed in a mindful way and still achieve the desired effect.

What is something that you do that when you do it, nothing else in the world matters? When everything in the outside world seems to slip away and you are totally in the zone, in the moment? People usually answer things like playing sports, exercising, painting, drawing, dancing, playing an instrument, and even cooking and cleaning. Anything that draws in our attention, and gets us to focus on just the task at hand, feels really good. It is like a massage for our mind. That is mindfulness. The trick is to be able to do other things that way, too.

There is a deep connection between this idea and Purim as well. The Torah reading from Purim morning is the story of Yehoshua’s battle against Amalek, at the end of Parashat Beshalach. The last pasuk of the reading states “And he said his hand is on the throne of Hashem…” (Exodus 17:16). The verse uses an abbreviated word for the name of Hashem, two letters instead of the typical four-letter name. Rashi famously comments that the name of Hashem can’t be full or complete, as long as the nation of Amalek still exists in the world. It is as if G-d’s full glory and presence can’t be felt, like a dimmer lamp on halfway, until Amalek is eradicated.

What does Amalek stand for and why is their power so destructive? There is a well-known idea that Amalek stands for safek, doubt, because they have the same gematria (numerical value). Amalek is the power of safek, of sowing doubt in us. It causes us to question everything, to be unsure, to be anxious. Anxiety is sometimes called the doubting disease. Living in a constant state of doubt is terribly unpleasant.

What does this have to do with the name of Hashem being two letters versus four letters? The ineffable name of G-d, otherwise known as the Tetragrammaton, spells out three Hebrew words: hayah, hoveh, yihiyeh, which stands for past, present, and future. It means that Hashem is everlasting and transcends all sense of time. G-d is simultaneously in the past, present, and future. Interestingly, when Hashem’s name is only spelled with the first two letters—yud and hei—we can only spell two of the three tenses, mainly past and future. The vav is missing, which is the letter needed to spell hoveh, present.

To put this all together, the message is that Amalek, doubt, takes away our present, enabling us to be depressed about the past and worry about the future, but not live in the moment. Amalek owns that. Amalek takes that away from us. We can’t live mindfully; we can’t enjoy life and be fully present. And therefore, we are anxious.

On Purim we take the power back. We fight against our own inner Amalek nation, our “worry bully,” as we sometimes call it in child therapy. Purim teaches us to live in the moment. To eat and drink, sing and dance, be silly and carefree. To appreciate being alive. To think of others and celebrate the Jewish nation. Purim is mindfulness.


Rabbi Saul Haimoff, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice. He specializes in treating children, adolescents, and adults with anxiety and behavioral disorders. He is also the co-author of the “Handbook of Torah and Mental Health” and a public speaker on topics related to Judaism and psychology. For more information, visit or email


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