Prolonged Stress? Oh Yes! Achieving Homeostasis While Staying at Home

This session helps participants reflect on how their minds and bodies are responding to the prolonged stress and uncertainty of the pandemic. They will explore the ritual of Havdallah to help them acc...

This session helps participants reflect on how their minds and bodies are responding to the prolonged stress and uncertainty of social distancing. They will turn to the ritual of Havdalah to help them accept this temporary and not-normal time, and to look ahead to the future.


  • For participants to reflect on how their minds and bodies are responding to the prolonged stress and uncertainty of social distancing.
  • Turn to Jewish wisdom and ritual to help them accept this temporary and not-normal time, and look ahead to the future.


Opening & Check In (20-30 minutes)

Check in with participants by doing one or more of the following:

  • Roses and thorns: Invite each participant to share one good and one not so good thing that’s happened over the past month.
  • Memes: Invite each participant to share one of their favorite memes or videos that they have seen recently

Padlet: Invite each participant to comment on the photos on the padlet. If it is your ritual to light a candle and say the prayer for the new month, do so now. Encourage participants to light a candle along with you, or to hold up a gif of a candle.

Opening questions:

  • How do you define “normal?”
  • What signals have you used in the past to decide if or when something has moved from being “new” or “different” to “the normal?” (i.e., changes like going to new schools, etc.).
  • The Coronavirus is different from transitioning to a new school or moving to a new city in that it’s not a usual transition that people might expect to experience in their lives. But it is still something new and different. The last time we met, we were just starting to shelter-at-home/“quarantine.” Now we are 7 weeks in. What feels different for you now, versus then?

Stress & Homeostasis: Kahoot Quiz (10 minutes)

Here’s the link to the quiz:

Select “play” and share your screen with the group. Then invite participants to follow the instructions on the screen to log in via their phone or tablet (go to the website and type in the code). Their phone/tablet will be their controller during the game. Once everyone has entered the code (you’ll see if they have based on whose name appears on the screen), begin the quiz.

Here are the questions from the quiz:

  • What is the world’s least stressed out country?
    1. Canada
    2. The US
    3. Austria
    4. Iceland (correct)
  1. What is the main hormone that’s released when you’re stressed?
    1. Cortisol (correct)
    2. Estrogen
    3. Dopamine
    4. Testosterone
  2. What is it called when all systems in your body are operating normally?
    1. Homeopathy
    2. Superstatic
    3. Homeostasis (correct)
    4. Stasis
  3. A person’s body reacts the same way to an upcoming exam as they would react when being chased by a tiger. T/F (T=answer)
  4. Stress and anxiety are the same thing T/F (F=answer; see here for distinction:
  5. Women are twice as likely than men to report severe stress and anxiety. T/F (T= answer; from 2016 study from The Journal of Brain and Behavior)
  6. What percentage of Gen Z teens say their mental health is excellent or very good?
    1. 75%
    2. 32%
    3. 45% (correct – from 2018 APA study)
    4. 86%
  7. What brought teens the most stress before COVID-19?
    1. Mass Shootings (correct answer from 2018 APA study)
    2. Sexual harassment and assault
    3. Climate Change and global warning
    4. Suicide rates
  8. People can feel as stressed about an event they’re looking forward to as an event they’re dreading. T/F (T= answer)
  9. What can affect people’s moods?
    1. Sleep
    2. Physical activity
    3. The weather
    4. All of the above (correct answer)


Optional: Show the following video of Dr. Robert Sapolsky talking about the Human Response to Stress: Human Response to Stress

Share the following in your own words:

Our body in “normal” conditions is in homeostasis. Major stressors cause a flood of cortisol and other hormones to put us into fight or flight, until we return again to homeostasis. Cortisol is meant to help us with short-term stressors (for instance, being in physical danger if we’re being chased by an animal or dodging a car). If we stay in that “stress” response for too long, it causes physical and psychological problems (incidentally, this is why Zebras and other animals don’t get ulcers—they don’t stay in that prolonged stress response). In the first week or two of social distancing we might have been feeling a lot of stress and excitement. However, we’re now in the place where we might be getting used to it. Essentially our bodies are returned to homeostasis. This is good for us, physically and mentally. But it’s complicated too, because we might not want to be adjusting to this current situation. Maybe we hoped that it would be over with before we got used to it. That’s why it’s important to remember that this is not permanent. It is helpful for our minds and bodies to have moved into a place of normalcy, while also acknowledging that this is not the “normal” that any of us want to accept.

Facilitator’s Tip: Here’s a great place to take a short break or lead participants in a physical activity that reduces anxiety. Here are a few options:
·         Shake it out activity: Invite participants to stand up and lead them in shaking their right hand five times, their left hand five times, their right foot five times, and then their left foot five times. Then shake right hand four times, left hand four times, right foot four times, left foot four times. Keep repeating until you get down to one shake of each hand/foot.
·         Invite participants to spend a minute in a legs-up-the-wall yoga pose. You can see a photo and information about the pose here:
·         Have participants do this 5-minute Qi Gong yoga routine. Qi Gong is a centuries-old system of coordinated body-posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used for the purposes of health, spirituality, and martial-arts training.
·         Introduce participants to a TRE exercise, which activates a natural response in the central nervous system that calms the body and releases tension. A good way of introducing it is asking participants whether they’ve ever seen a dog shake or a bird flap it’s wings when it’s on the ground. This is the same stress response. Here’s a video with some exercises. We recommend that you try this at home first before sharing it with the group and decide whether it’s something that feels authentic to you to share:

Viewing the Havdalah ritual as a metaphor (10 minutes)


Many of you mentioned earlier both things that you can’t wait to end about this period…as well as things you have appreciated about this time, or things that you hope our community/society/etc. learns as a result.

We can borrow some wisdom here from the Havdalah ritual. First, Havdalah literally means “separation” — and here we are, in a period of real, physical separation from each other, and an experience so separate and distinct from our day to day lives. Havdalah marks the moment of separation between Shabbat—a period each week that is distinct and separated from the rest of the week— and the mundane, day to day of our normal week. Yet each week when we mark that separation, some aspects of Havdalah are about holding on to some of what made Shabbat so special and different, to bring with us as we create a hopeful new beginning of the “normal” ahead of us.

Invite participants to take out a piece of paper (scrap paper is fine) and something to write with. Instruct them to divide the paper into two separate pieces by folding down the center and ripping it in two. Then:

  • On one piece: write one thing that you are looking forward to having end, to separate very distinctly from, when this period ends. (give everyone a moment to write)
  • On the other, write one thing you hope to hold onto—either for yourself, or for society—as we move into a new, and hopefully, better, normal.

Ask participants to share what they would like to hold onto.

I want you to tuck these in your desks, nightstands, somewhere near you in your room where you can easily them out as reminders for yourself—when you’re feeling really “over” this. You can remind yourself both of what you are going to get to leave behind as soon as this ends as well as what you are enjoying about it now and what you hope to bring with you to make a better normal.

Closing (10 minutes)

Share the story of Gam Ze Ya’avor (This too shall pass) which you can find in different versions: one here, another is here.

Facilitator’s Tip: You might share the following additional context about the story of Gam Ze Ya’avor. The story is often attributed to King Solomon who also is traditionally credited for Ecclesiastes/Kohelet which includes the famous line “To everything there is a season” (which has been set to music by the Byrds.)
  • What stood out to you in the story?
  • In what ways might it apply to the current pandemic?

Invite participants to write the letters Gimel, Zayin, and Yud on the back of their pieces of paper ( , or to put the two papers in an envelope that says Gam Zeh Ya’avor on it (

Then, ask participants to read aloud what they wrote on the other paper (what they are excited to leave behind). After everyone is finished, say together, “gam ze ya’avor.” This too shall pass.