Combatting Stress: Encanto as a Lesson in Community Support

March 30, 2022Crystal Hill

As a mother of a one-year-old, I’ve watched Encanto more times than I can count. Around my second time watching it, I realized that “Surface Pressure” is an amazing metaphor for the struggles I face as a parent. As a parent preparing for both my and my son’s first Passover, cooking and cleaning before the first sederSederסֵדֶר"Order;" ritual dinner that includes the retelling of the story of the Israelite's Exodus from Egypt; plural: s'darim. can be stressful!

When I rewatched the film for perhaps the thousandth time, I realized how two of the main characters, Isabella and Luisa, also struggle with stress. I also discovered how I can apply the lessons learned from the movie to my own circumstances. Warning: spoilers ahead! When the community helps rebuild the family’s home, both Isabella and Luisa realize that they can be their authentic selves without fearing that by doing so they will let down their community.  

Luisa’s experience speaks to many parents today. Many of us feel we must be the strong ones and shoulder the burdens of our children and our own burdens of being adults in today’s world. This manifests for many of us in physical and emotional exhaustion and burnout. Being mindful of the expectations placed on us can feel overwhelming at times. Much as Luisa does all the heavy lifting (literally) for the town, parents can also feel as though they’re doing much of the heavy lifting for our families. This analogy is strengthened by the fact that Luisa’s gift seems to be most closely tied to the miracle and her family. The day after Mirabel sees cracks in Casita, Luisa begins to lose her power, and by the end of the day, she is struggling to lift heavy objects as much as anyone else. 

One thing that Luisa and parents have in common is that we tend to forget we have a community or can seek one out. The synagogue as a beit knessetBeit k’nesetבֵּית כְּנֶסֶת“House of assembly.” A synagogue or gathering place for prayer, study, and other communal activities. It is the most common Hebrew term for synagogue, which also may be called a beit midrash (a house of study) or a beit t’filah (a house of prayer).  , a house of assembly, shows how important community is in both religious and social settings. Much as the village comes together to help the Madrigals when they have nothing to offer (it is unclear whether their gifts will return), so too does the Jewish community come together when we ask for help.

There is a compelling case for including those with mental health challenges such as stress in the Mi Shebeirach, which asks for the renewal of spirit and body. By including those who are feeling that their mental load is becoming too much, Jewish communities can help remove the stigma around mental health. 

Doing this is especially vital in modern-day North American society. Much like when the village comes together to help the Madrigals rebuild, including those suffering from stress in the Mi Shebeirach tells them to “lay down their load” and allows the community to offer their help when the weights we carry become too much.

Isabella also definitely struggles with stress, although it isn’t shown as explicitly. In her song, “What Else Can I Do?” she admits to feeling like she needs to be perfect, which limits what she can do with her gift. While we see that she can grow sundew, cacti, jacarandas, etc., the implication is that she has restricted herself to only growing symmetrical or “perfect” flowers, mostly roses.

Right before Casita crumbles, we see Isabella relishing her new abilities and inadvertently inconveniencing the townspeople with her new plants. However, this imperfection, and even inconvenience, doesn’t stop the villagers from being willing and eager to help after Casita implodes.

Leaning on our community for support shouldn’t be predicated on how perfect we are before we need help. While t’shuvahT'shuvahתְּשׁוּבָה"Return;" The concept of repentance and new beginnings, which is a continuous theme throughout the High Holidays. is important if we have harmed others in the past, the role of the community is to be there for each other when we need help. After all, none of us is perfect! 

By truly being ourselves, we can bring something new to our communities but, like Isabella and Luisa, we can only flourish when we have reached out for help dealing with our stress. Once we have regained our mental and emotional strength, we regain our ability to help our community flourish and become more vibrant.

If you are suffering from stress, please reach out to your support network and allow them to help you.  

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