Combatting Stress: Encanto as a Lesson in Community Support

March 30, 2022Crystal Hill

As a mother of a one-year-old son, 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. Especially as a parent preparing for both my and my son’s first Passover, the preparation of 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: sederim. is certainly stressful.

When I rewatched the film, for perhaps the thousandth time, I realized how Isabella, one of the main characters in the 2021 Disney musical film, also struggles with stress, and how I can apply the lessons learned to my own stressors. Fair warning: spoilers ahead! In a fascinating twist, the community helping rebuild the family’s home, affectionately named Casita, which is Spanish for “little house,” teaches both Isabella and her sister Luisa that they can be their authentic selves.  

Luisa’s experience speaks to many parents today, feeling as though we must be the strong ones and shoulder the burdens of our children along with the burdens of being an adult in today’s world. This manifests for many of us in physical and emotional exhaustion, as well as 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, so too can parents 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 things as much as anyone else would. 

However, one thing that Luisa and parents have in common is that we tend to forget we have a community built into who we are 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, and 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 prayer, which asks for the healing of the soul as well as the 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 villagers come 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 reach out and offer help when the weights we carry become too much.

Isabella also definitely struggles with stress, although it isn’t shown as explicitly as with Luisa. In her song “What Else Can I Do,” she admits to feeling like everything about her 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 (spoiler alert!), we see Isabella relishing her new abilities and inadvertently inconveniencing the townspeople with her new plants, including her would-be fiancé, Mariano, who, for the second time, gets punched in the face by one of Isabella’s flowers. However, this imperfection, and even inconvenience, doesn’t stop the villagers from being willing and eager to help after the casita implodes. In fact, we see Mariano, with his twice-bandaged nose, leading the community to come help with the rebuilding effort.

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 in dealing with our stressors. Once we have regained our mental and emotional strength, much like Luisa and Isabella do at the end of the movie, we can in turn 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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