May 25, 2024
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May 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Getting Sand in Our Shoes

If you’re reading this and have school-aged children, you likely just survived spending over a week with your children while they were off for yeshiva break. Several people congenially asked my wife and me if we were doing anything special during the break. Of course, it’s a very popular thing to take a vacation or go on day trips during this time. Yeshiva break is an opportunity to get away from work and the other mundane realities of daily life and let loose…enjoy oneself and have fun (or, at least relax a bit and let down one’s sheitel, so to speak). And yet, I wondered, not for the first time, if we rely too much on these occasions to enjoy ourselves. Do we spend most of the year running around like rats in a maze, relying on the couple of times a year when we take a vacation in order to de-stress?

As my mind is wont to do sometimes, one thought led to another and I hearkened back to a math and science teacher I had in high school. His name was Mr. Katz and he was as smart as they come (before his teaching career, he worked for NASA). His intelligence and demeanor reminded you of a very serious, no-nonsense professor. So, it was somewhat ironic that one day, he lamented to our class that adults have forgotten how to play in a sandbox. After I stopped scratching my head, I understood the profundity of his message. He was commenting on the reality of adulthood and suggesting it was regrettable. As children, we have a more carefree attitude. We’re able to live in the moment and relish it. We’re excited and our curiosity is piqued by even the littlest of things that we encounter in life.

As we emerge from childhood and transition into adulthood, our carefree attitude and our childlike wide-eyed wonder at the world begin to take a backseat to the heavy responsibilities that descend upon us. Work deadlines, bills, packing lunches, laundry, and parenting take center stage. Without even realizing it, we stop taking joy from the little things in life, like a butterfly fluttering by, a dandelion blowing in the wind, and a helium-filled balloon that won’t stay still long enough for us to catch it. In other words, we forget what it’s like to play in a sandbox, that timeless classic of childhood.

All too often, people contact me for psychotherapy after their emotional problems have taken deep root and they’ve been in pain for a long time. It’s no surprise. It’s often the case that we focus on our problems only after they’ve reached a certain crescendo. It’s unfortunate because there is so much preventative self-care we can do to preserve our mental health and ward off a trip to a psychotherapist. Preventive mental health care is a larger topic for another time, but taking time to “stop and smell the roses” goes a long way to maintaining good health.

When we laugh or smile (a true smile that engages our entire face), chemicals called endorphins are released into our brain. Without getting too technical, endorphins are natural opioids, or feel-good chemicals, that reside in our brain. The release of endorphins results in lower stress levels and an improvement in our general mood. You can see where I’m going with this. By regularly taking pleasure and delight in the world around us, we smile and laugh more frequently. This releases endorphins more often, which means our emotional well-being improves. All for the price of nothing.

Of course, vacations and “staycations” are great. But, by the time we have time to take the time to go on a vacation, our hair has turned greyer, we’ve developed a few more wrinkles, and the Costco econo-sized Tums jar is noticeably less full.

Mr. Katz understood the pressures of adulthood as well as anyone and regretted their toll on our inner child. He realized that, as teenagers, we were at a pivotal point in our lives when our personality was solidifying and our life goals were starting to take shape. This was an opportunity to emphasize the importance of taking time out of our daily lives to get in touch with our inner child, to take joy and find happiness in the little things.

So, as we all transition out of yeshiva break and find ourselves diving headlong into the mundane world once more, let us all remember the wise words of Mr. Katz. I’m not sure where to find a sandbox these days, but, thankfully, there’s no shortage of butterflies, sunshine, cute little babies, and puppy dogs. You know, the everyday things that make us smile.

Dr. Gur-Aryeh is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Saddle Brook, NJ. He works with a wide variety of clients seeking mental health treatment and specializes in mood disorders and addiction in particular. If you would like to contact him, you can do so at [email protected] or at 201-406-9710.

By Shoval Gur-Aryeh, Ph.D.

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