Life & Culture

Self care the Jewish way: according to ancient sages and...Stacey Solomon

The High Holy Days are a good time to reflect on how we look after ourselves, says Viola Levy


high angle view Chilling day asian chinese beautiful woman relaxing in bathtub in summer staycation

There’s a famous joke that goes: “How many Jewish mothers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” “Don’t worry about me, I’ll sit in the dark.” Indeed, there’s a long tradition of parents (mainly women, let’s be honest) sacrificing their own needs for the sake of their children.
Thankfully many of us are bucking the trend and realising that self-imposed martyrdom doesn’t benefit anyone. As a newly minted Jewish mother myself, I’m particularly conscious of not burning out, which is why I’m determined to kick off the new year in the spirit of self-care.
The High Holy Days are a time of transformation and fresh starts. Having recently embarked on a new life adventure by becoming a solo parent, it’s been a tough but incredible challenge, which has made me realise the vital importance of self-care practices — up there with sustenance and sleep. Having been child-free for roughly 20 years of my adult life, I have become fairly adept at taking care of myself and am not about to change now that I’m a parent.
No longer the preserve of the smoothie-sipping, Lululemon-wearing elite, self-care is becoming more normalised in recent years — and to be honest it’s about time. Many of us (particularly those from a guilt-ridden, over-achieving culture) were raised with a mentality that any attention you paid to yourself was “self-indulgent” or “selfish”. Yet self-care is nothing new — take it from Hillel the Elder, the famed Jewish scholar born around 110BCE. When his students asked him where he was headed, he declared, “To fulfil a commandment from God! I am going to take a bath… If statues of kings that are made in the likeness of a mortal of flesh and blood require cleaning and polishing, how much more so our bodies, which were created in the likeness of God.”
From a sage to a modern-day purveyor of wisdom … the ever-popular television presenter Stacey Solomon is also a fan of some well-deserved tub time.
“Sometimes, I have to make a point of saying to myself: ‘You know what, Stace? If you don’t have a bath one day this week, it’s not going to do you any favours. If you don’t turn your phone off for the day today and say ‘no’, you’re going to be impacted negatively.”

Spending time in nature is another easy way to kick back and unwind. According to mental health charity MIND, exposure to nature has been found to help with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression (needless to say, self-care is no magic cure for these conditions). Pushing my son in his pram through our local park and stopping to admire the rose garden has helped me get my nature fix and provide some much-needed respite in a day otherwise geared around nappy changes and nursery rhymes.
Writing a journal is another popular mindfulness practice that can fit into a busy schedule. Falling asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow means that waxing lyrical into the wee hours isn’t an option. But just jotting down things I’m grateful for (when I can remember), such as highlights of the day and what I’ve learned, can be enough to be beneficial. I spoke about this to my schoolfriend Ed — someone I remember being a calming influence when I was tearing my hair out (literally) while doing my A-levels. He’s now a life and career coach ( who is also a huge fan of journaling. “The more you focus on something in your mind, the more space that thing takes up in your mind,” he explains. “Your perspective and outlook, sometimes also called mindset, are huge factors in how you approach each day. If you have a negative view of things (as we all do sometimes) you’ll naturally read new situations in a more negative way.”
The importance of not dwelling on gloomy thoughts is echoed in Jewish teachings too. In the Torah it says, “Don’t be drawn after your negative thoughts and desires.” While in Ethics of the Fathers, it says: “Who is strong? The one who tames and controls their negative internal world” (4:1). Scent can be extremely powerful when it comes to banishing the blues. The aromatherapeutic benefits of perfume have been well documented, moving beyond just another beauty product, but instead a powerful tool to help us cope when life gets too much. So which perfume ingredients should we be looking out for?
“Most people have a positive association with citrus aromas,” explains Jo Kellett, Tisserand Aromatherapy’s essential oil expert and in-house aromatherapist. “They are energising and uplifting. Rose, clary sage and jasmine all have properties that are considered ‘euphoric’. They can also be nurturing and emotionally supportive. While essential oils from woods can feel like a blast of fresh air. This is turn allows us to feel strong and grounded.”
Perfumer and author Mandy Aftel, whose scent Forest Bathing is designed to mimic the ancient mindfulness practice made popular in Japan, agrees. “Essences from trees are just so relaxing and rejuvenating,” she says. “I made my scent Forest Bathing to smell like the forest air, with Japanese cypress.” For those who don’t normally wear scent, Aftel also offers a Perfume Pomander Kit, which allows you to add droplets of the perfume on a felt ball and carry it in your pocket, to be lifted and sniffed whenever you want to feel soothed and uplifted. (Fun fact: this exact method was used during the Plague to cope with the stench of rot and decay.) This all being said, I don’t pretend to be the perfect parent and claim to “have it all figured out”. There have been many mental stumbling blocks on this journey, but I keep trying. As we celebrate Rosh Hashanah’s spirit of transformation, it’s important to take the wheel of our well-being, not just for our own sake but for loved ones too — especially any little people who take their cues from us.

Self-care starter kit:

The Five Minute Journal, £26,
Lime Blossom Hydrating Face & Body Mist, £14,
Mindful Thoughts for Birdwatchers, £6.99,
Morrocan Rose Bath Oil, £36,
Lemongrass, Grapefuit & Basil Reed Diffuser, £18

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