Chedva Wielgus
Chedva Wielgus

Mental Health and the Gap Year: Words of Advice

(iStock)
(iStock)

You’ve finally arrived for what could be an exciting, transformative, and memorable year.  The gap year in Israel can be quite a transition, and although it’s a wonderful and exciting experience, you may find it difficult to be away from home.

Having worked at seminaries and as a staff therapist at Machon Dvir, a clinic in Jerusalem that specializes in treating many gap year students, I have first-hand experience helping students transition into their gap year.  As such, I’d like to outline a few of my go-to tips to help you maximize –  and successfully transition to –  your exciting year ahead.

Give yourself time to adjust

Allow yourself the space to transition. Everyone adjusts differently, and while you may witness your friends and roommates doing well and (seemingly) flying high, you may be having a difficult time adjusting to the rigorous schedule, doing your own laundry, or even adapting to public transportation. Culturally, Israel is likely very different from the place you’re used to (goodbye Amazon and Starbucks…), and being away from home can be difficult. I often hear gap year students say things like, “I’ve been told that by Sukkot  I should be fully acclimated,” or “By Chanukkah, I should be completely comfortable and integrated.” Don’t fall into this trap! 

The transition you undergo in your gap year can take time, and no two people adjust to their gap-year at the same pace.

Take care of you physical well-being

You will likely become preoccupied with all your program has to offer – learning, socializing, and touring the beautiful country – and you may forget about your physical well-being. Many gap year students don’t get requisite sleep, may forget to eat properly, or may neglect their health when feeling ill.  The clinic I work for uses a method of treatment known as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), a skill-based behavioral therapy that primarily focuses on increasing emotion regulation. One skill that I heavily employ is known as the “PLEASE” Skill. PLEASE is an acronym for skills that focus on taking care of one’s physical well-being. Often, when a client comes to the clinic in an emotionally dysregulated state, we will check in with our “PLEASE” Skills to re-balance. These skills are:

“PL” – Treating Physical Illness
“E” – Balanced Eating
“A” – Avoid Mood-Altering Substances
“S” – Balance Sleep
“E” – Get Exercise

This skill is applicable to everyone, especially to gap-year students. When you take care of your physical needs, and you eat, drink, and exercise properly, you will be more emotionally regulated. When you are running low on sleep and are not properly nourished, things can seem more challenging than they actually are. While staying up with your roommates until 2 am may be fun and exciting, doing this too often will lead to decreased concentration, bad moods, and difficult days. 

It’s important to look after your physical well-being from the start and get used to doing so to the fullest of your abilities.

See a therapist if needed

Give yourself time to adjust and take care of your physical needs. Keep in mind that when you’re faced with certain difficulties, seeing a therapist may be the best option. Mental health issues can deteriorate, while new issues may pop up during this year away from home, the first time away from home for many students, and at a time of transition into adulthood. Additionally, even if you may not be struggling with mental health issues per se, seeing a therapist to talk things out, work through homesickness, and get help navigating through the year can be beneficial. 

Nothing compares to having a professional help you transition and work through  such a transformative year. 

Following these steps can help students transition into what will be an amazing, growth-filled year!

About the Author
Chedva Wielgus is a clinician at Machon Dvir where she provides individual therapy and runs DBT skills groups. Chedva received her master's degree in Social Work from Wurzweilers school of Social work in conjunction with Hebrew University.
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