Sunday, October 24, 2021

The holiday season is behind us and we can finally breathe a sigh of relief. That exhale that includes upcoming regularly scheduled programming, no divides within the week, and weekdays followed by weekends, not mid-week Yamim Tovim followed by Shabbat.

This expansion of time, where we can finally achieve regular structure and adjust to scheduling is one that sends the promise of new habits being formed; this school year, for instance, has felt challenging for many as days start and stop, rather than allowing for steady acclimation to a “no Zoom” option. Students may have had difficulty getting used to the new classroom, teachers, or subjects because there simply has not been enough time to do so. October brings the opportunity for new behaviors and schedules to become locked in and practiced over and over, allowing for adjustment and exposure. The more we engage with change, the less scary and unknown it will become.

For the parents who may be sending their kiddos back to school, or for the individuals working in settings that do not automatically provide days off for the holiday, the open calendar following the conclusion of the holidays with few—if any—days off can feel not only helpful, but needed. Our habits take time to solidify and form and the way we act and interact tends to be filled with less tension when we are rested and able to predict what is ahead—aspects of life that may be more difficult during the busy holiday season.

And yet, October can also be extremely daunting. Not having breaks, the expectation to dive in, nothing specific toward which one might look forward can feel overwhelming. One aspect of the holiday season is that it also may have allowed for some to ease in, especially in school settings, and now there is a large, open time ahead.

And for others there is a combined excitement toward structure and also a fear of the expanse; the person experiences a dialectic, and it is not mutually exclusive. For many individuals, when we are over-booked we tend toward anxious symptoms and when we feel “under-booked” there may be a tendency toward low or depressive states. It can be difficult to find a balance that does not lead to over-thinking, endorsing cognitive distortions, or feeling stuck or numb, perhaps surrounded by existential thoughts.

There is no guide-book for managing either of these experiences, showing secrets of how to get by during this time in the most effective manner. Rather, it is about the individual first and foremost recognizing the patterns, validating the emotional experience, and resisting / challenging judgments about this way of coping/reacting. It can be so tempting to berate oneself, especially when the person is relieved at the thought of structure and also, feeling overwhelmed by it. Reactions are there for a reason and are not mandated to be changed. Instead, give yourself space and permission to feel this way as it does not work to “bully” yourself out of it.

Then there is the importance of recognizing the balance between goals, structure, free time, and self-care. For some folks this may mean setting goals that emphasize the importance of taking each day as an individual unit, or even breaking down a day into various units and goals accordingly. For others this may mean prioritizing alone time without this becoming isolation—a distinction that can usually be discerned by the individual depending on mood and the experience of “recharging batteries.” Setting the intention to evaluate time spent on tasks, responsibilities, and unavoidable events as well as ways to “unwind” is essential. For some, this can be nearly impossible—I’m thinking of all the working moms out there, as an example. Vent, cry, reach out for support, set up identifiable goals / intentions that take less than 60 seconds but can allow you to reconnect or even connect with yourself.

Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 14 and older in New York and New Jersey (virtually at this time) struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work and a Metro-NY supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, please visit www.temimah.com.

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