| Family Reflections |


How to cope with the Pre-Pesach chaos


There are two dictionary definitions of the word overwhelm: 1) “too much to deal with” and 2) “a state of intense emotion that is difficult to manage.” There’s actually a third definition found only in Hebrew-Yiddish dictionaries: 3) Erev Pesach.

When a person wants to describe a feeling of intense exhaustion, chaos, and panic, she can simply say, “It’s like Erev Pesach” and everyone will immediately understand. Pesach preparations require massive organizational feats, serious physical labor, extensive financial layouts, professional crowd-management strategies, nerves of steel, and more. Some people have some of the required competencies, some have none, and most have a mix of some and none.

Coping with Overwhelm

So how does one manage overwhelm so that it doesn’t become... overwhelming? There are some tried-and-true strategies that can be employed to bring stress down to a manageable level. Let’s take a look:

  1. This first one is so good because it makes you feel like you’re really making progress even though you have done nothing. For this reason, it’s one of my favorites. It involves writing down all the things you have to do. At the top of the page, write “To-Do List for Pesach” and then just start writing (allow a few hours for this). Just let the tasks spill out in random order, writing down everything that comes to mind on any topic tangentially related to Pesach such as cleaning, shopping, meal planning, shopping, baking, shopping, Seder prep, shopping, Chol Hamoed activities, travel, hosting, shopping, shopping, shopping, and so on. When you’re done, heave a big sigh, congratulate yourself, and take a well-deserved nap.
  2. The second task is almost as wonderful as the first because it similarly involves doing nothing. You will now organize your random list of tasks. Using names, numbers, or magic markers to color-code and group topics, put all the tasks pertaining to a given topic into individual groups. For example, you can make a group called Seders. You might have a group called “To Buy” and one called “To Clean” and so on. If you have time, collect all the items in each group and rewrite them on separate documents so that you can easily see the tasks. If you do this on a computer, you can then easily reorder the items in each group according to their priorities such as “urgent,” “do soon,” and “if this doesn’t get done, we’ll survive.”
  3. Now comes the real work. Still, if you do this right, you can significantly reduce overwhelm. Perform one of your priority tasks. But here’s the trick: Do one task — or even part of one task — and then reward yourself with lavish praise (“Wow! You’re amazing! You knocked that one off the list! Bravo! You’re the best!”) and a prize (“Let’s buy you some well-deserved chocolates!”). Because of all the positive perks associated with performing a task, you’ll find that feelings of joy, excitement, and optimism will replace and eradicate the irritable, stressed, and anxious feelings of overwhelm. If you want to stick to a healthy eating plan, consider a wide range of prizes such as purchasing nonessential clothing or trinkets, buying and/or reading a book, walking along the boardwalk, and so on instead of chocolate. (To allow enough time to get ready for Pesach and follow the task-praise-reward protocol, you’ll have had to start this long before you read this article. But keep it in mind for next year. Meanwhile, right now you can skip the reward part and simply lay on the lavish praise to yourself for accomplishing each task.) Since there are so many tasks to perform, you’ll be drunk with affirmation, validation, and self-adoration by the end of each day and this, too, will mitigate the harmful alternative of wallowing in overwhelm.
  4. Here’s one technique that can powerfully reduce Pesach-related overwhelm while being useful every day throughout the year as well: Consciously slow down your breath while standing in lines, making telephone or online orders, unpacking groceries, directing the family traffic, working in the kitchen, and otherwise performing any Pesach-related (or life-related) task.
  5. Finally, for Erev Pesach, the Seders, the Yom Tov meals, Chol Hamoed, last days, and post-Pesach cleanup-and-restore, you’ll need an extra powerful technique to help reduce overwhelm. If you know what that one is, please share it with us because, personally, I have no idea what that would be.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 889)

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