By CRAIG NUDELMAN
It’s been six months since we immigrated to Sydney, and one of the questions people are still asking Gabi and me is “How are you settling in?”. It’s a hard question to answer, but we approach it by considering how we’re living. Maybe the marker of how settled we are is what the structure of our days look like, and whether we have a routine.
In my first column after landing, I wrote about finding a rhythm and routine in our new country. The reason for this is that routine is extremely important for Gabi and me, and for our two girls, Jessica and Livi. For the children, routine is framed by when school starts, when break (or ‘recess’ as they call it here) is, and how long the periods are, followed by extra murals and homework (and reading stories before bedtime). For us, it’s about making sure the children go to school, going to work, fetching the children, feeding the children, putting the children to bed, and putting ourselves to bed after some downtime.
According to many mental health experts, routine is extremely important to ensure you have a stress-free life. Without routine, the chaos and unpredictability of how a day may flow can be very stressful and bad for one’s mental health. Routine can help us feel more in control in the frenetic world in which we live, where so little is in our control – government policies, our favourite sports team’s performance in World Cups or leagues, and wars taking place across the world. Some might see routine and structure as limiting. But I know from my two stints of unemployment that a lack of routine can lead to depression, apathy, and a lack of purpose.
Psychologist Dr Rachel Goodman, who works at NYU’s School of Medicine, explains that structure is necessary to limit those negative feelings: “If people don’t have structure and are sitting around with less to focus on, then they also probably will find themselves thinking about the stressful situation more, which can also lead to additional stress and anxiety.” Other benefits of routine, according to various studies, are lower stress levels, formation of good daily habits, taking better care of one’s health, and feeling more productive and focussed. Regular bedtimes, mealtimes, exercise regimes, and staying in touch with family and friends regularly all assist in creating a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
Judaism is also centred around routine. From daily prayers to the holidays and holy days, Judaism’s focus on the routine of day-to-day living is indeed something to look at favourably. I can’t say I am observant of most of Judaism’s laws governing how to live life as a Jew, but I appreciate that it ensures stability and control. Shabbat dinner has been a big help in our settling in Sydney. Our stable base of my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law’s family and our weekly meals are important for our end-of-week routine.
We’ve tried to create a flexible framework to provide stability and structure during this tumultuous period of settling into a new country. It’s a way to embrace change while also maintaining a sense of continuity from our past life.
So, on paper, it seems as though routine is good, and that we have indeed settled in well. However, I think the one mitigating factor is that sometimes a routine can become boring. When I first started work, I was quite excited to catch the bus and train every day; to be on public transport which worked well was novel and exciting. However, it has now become a bit tedious to wait for the bus, especially if it’s running late back home.
I remember when I was in hospital for my epilepsy monitoring and preparation for surgery. The routine was the bane of my existence. The nurses would begin waking us up at around 5 am, breakfast was around 7 am, and then the rest of the day hinged on mealtimes. The nursing staff taking my vitals, and the changing shifts all created this terrible, repetitive pattern, mixed in with me not having any seizures
and being stuck in a permanent loop. A year on, I’m glad I did it. I would do it again, but, boy, it was a shocker.
Routine is an amazing way to settle into a new country and lifestyle, and perhaps my family and I should regroup and see what routines we can start so that we create even more stability and structure in our days.
May your 5784 be free from uncertainty and negative disruption.
Chag Sukkot Sameach!
A former Capetonian, Craig Nudelman is now based in Sydney, where he has settled into Australian life with his wife Gabi, and two daughters, Jessica and Livi. He works for the Jewish Communal Appeal and enjoys singing as a member of Sydney’s Central Synagogue choir and the Sydney Philharmonia Choir. The Cape Jewish Chronicle is privileged to continue to receive regular articles written by Craig.
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