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What is this feeling? Understanding Mental Labor

Disclaimer: This post speaks specifically to the experiences of heterosexual, partnered, cisgender women, although individuals in other groups may resonate to the feelings discussed herein.

Do you feel overwhelmed by the never-ending list, running like a news ticker-tape across your mind every moment of the day? Does it feel that at the end of the day you’re exhausted physically and mentally, and yet, also that you might have forgot something you were “supposed” to do?

This is mental labor, sometimes termed emotional labor, and is most often referring to the work women do in managing household tasks, child care, and their own jobs. According to one study, a “majority of women reported that they alone assumed responsibility for household routines involving organizing schedules for the family and maintaining order in the home.” (Ciciolla and Luthar, 2019).

There are the big “to-do” list items: planning the grocery lists, making (and remembering!) doctors’ appointments for you, the children, your partner, creating carpool plans and (socially distanced) playdates interspersed with the emptying – and refilling – of the dishwasher, breaking up sibling fights, feeding the pet, bedtime routines and daily minutia. Societal norms continue to influence the roles in heterosexual households. Women continue to feel accustomed to and taking on the majority, if not all, household and child caring jobs. It is no wonder you feel completely wiped out by the end of each day! The pandemic has only increased the amount of mental labor women do, as we now school our children and work from home, blurring pretty much every boundary that exists.

Remember that running ticker tape? Mental labor is even more than managing the tasks at hand; it is constantly adding to the never-ending to-do list in one’s mind. It’s not just that while you’re trying to write this very blog-post, one child is asking you to watch his favorite show or another is asking you to look at his latest toy set-up, but more that while you type, you’re also thinking about when the playdate with your children’s “bubble” friends start and if you’ll have time to hit the pharmacy beforehand.

So as you try to balance all of this, your husband comes to ask “What can I do to help?” And internally your ideal response is “Why not just step in without asking permission?!” Yet, he is not entirely to blame, and neither are you. Our internalization of societal norms means you have become so accustomed to delegating tasks to your husband that you and he have become entrenched in the role of managers and employee. He does not recognize that he can in fact just do without direction. Not only does this leave you mentally spent, but also reinforces the lesson for children that it is women’s job to manage it all.

The expression “a woman’s work is never done” comes from a rhyming couplet that dates from the time of the American Revolution: “Man may work from sun to sun/but a woman’s work is never done.” Unfortunately, despite decades of advances in women’s rights and in the workforce, our home lives still reflect this old saying. Bringing this sentiment into this century, an excerpt from an essay by Kelly Gonsalves of MBG Relationships, may resonate with many:

“Even when husbands do unpaid work (like housework and child care), they still depend on wives to tell them what to do and when. So let’s say a husband is going to grocery shop for the family. The wife will be the one who looks at their fridge, their pantry, thinks about what they are missing, what they will need in the next week or so, and makes a list. The husband goes and shops, often even calling the wife if he can’t find an item to get her to guide him.” (Gonsalves, June 22, 2020).

So…where does that leave us? First and foremost, this not intended to place any or all blame solely on men. Rather, this illustrates that in a majority of households, with a man and woman, the emotional, mental and physical domestic load is not shared equitably. You did not need to read this post to know you feel this imbalance in responsibilities and mental fatigue, but now you are able to identify it by name. Naming a challenge can be a step towards confronting the causes.

If the message resonates and spurs you to action, what can that action be? How do you dismantle societal gender norms that are millennia in the making? That is well beyond my personal and professional expertise, but I can share simple tips that have worked for me…

  • Remember to delegate! The more your spouse and/or children are given the autonomy to complete their day to day chores, the more (physical and mental) muscle memory is built up.
  • Be open to mindfulness practices. I know, great, one more thing on your list! Or worse yet, how exactly does one find time to meditate or fully commit to it when mentally juggling a variety of to-do’s? By no means am I discouraging mindfulness; it’s an effective method of stress management, however, do not be hard on yourself if you cannot find the time.
  • Journaling is often an encouraged mindfulness practice. It can be anything from a mental dump of your day or your current thoughts, to a gratitude journal. If you want to make it focused toward the household/labor debate, consider writing down every task you did in the day to contribute towards the household. Share this with your partner; a visual can give deeper perspective into just how much of an imbalance is present. Take that opportunity to start a conversation about the mental fatigue you feel and how your partner can help. I have also found that journaling my thoughts for the day – whether it is related to a mental fatigue or other day to day experiences – it grounds me and I am able to release any mental tension and move forward.
  • If you are feeling this mental fatigue take a toll on you personally and affect your relationship, start a conversation with your partner.

Looking for further support? Join me at a weekly Pandemic Parenting Group. Held Wednesdays at 12 PM, the virtual group is a space for parents to share their experiences, find support, understanding and insights! Register for our upcoming session.

Claire Brown, LCSW

Works Cited:

Ciciolla, L., Luthar, S.S. Invisible Household Labor and Ramifications for Adjustment: Mothers as Captains of Households. Sex Roles 81, 467–486 (2019).

Daminger, Allison. The Cognitive Dimension of Household Labor. American Sociological Review (July 2019)

Gonslaves, Kelly. What Is The Mental Load? The Invisible Labor Falling On Women’s Shoulders. MindBodyGreen Relationships. June 22, 2020.

Reconnecting with Our Roots, A Message for Rosh Hashanah

We hope this note finds all our community members healthy and well. During times of uncertainty and disruption, we often find comfort by reconnecting with our roots. In the past months, many folks have literally returned to their hometowns and the security of their family home.

 As we approach this most-unusual High Holiday season, we hope you, too, find comfort in connecting with your roots – to the familiarity of Jewish traditions, rituals and values. There is stability and control to be found in marking this New Year, like we have so many times before, and defining a new beginning for ourselves and our community.

In these challenging times, JFCS remains firmly grounded in our guiding principles of Help, Hope and Healing. By remaining true to our principles, we have been able to adapt to the changing needs of our clients and grow in line with our mission. These concepts also work to help connect us with our Jewish roots.

HELP …a concept most often associated with mitzvot and Tzedakah (charitable giving). From a young age, we become familiar with the importance of performing acts of kindness and making charitable donations. Helping others, specifically those most in need, becomes an ingrained habit.

HOPEL’Dor V’Dor (from generation to generation) for Jewish families: this is the thread that connects us to those who came before and those who will come after us. There is hope that every time we share our values, traditions and history, the next generation will carry forward these lessons and build upon them. We constantly look forward with hope.

HEALINGTikkun Olam – repairing the world. In the Judaism, we learn that we have a responsibility to see beyond individual acts of kindness and to contribute to broader change to heal what is broken in our local, national and global communities.

In honor of the New Year, ask how can I help? How do I help others find hope? How can I help heal my community?

Help a neighbor by volunteering to make calls to a local, isolated senior, or donate $50, which can support one week of Kosher Meals on Wheels for a homebound older adult.

Give hope to those who are struggling emotionally by directing them to the JFCS Drop-In hours, or making a contribution of $500 which can support someone in need of ongoing counseling.

Be part of healing the increasing food insecurity in Mercer County by organizing a food drive for the JFCS pantries, or make a gift of $5,000 which can fund two Mobile Food Pantry distributions, reaching 100 families.

Reconnect with your roots and make a gift to JFCS that honors the values embodied in Help, Hope and Healing. Your generosity will aid those most in need – a gift marking a transition to a new start.

Wishing you the peace, prosperity, health and happiness rooted in our celebration of the New Year.

Michelle Napell, Executive Director 

Arlene Pedovitch, Board President

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Suicide is a major public health concern. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there were 48,344 people who died by suicide in the United States in 2018 and 1.4 million suicide attempts.

Feeling suicidal is not a character defect, and it does not mean that you are weak, or flawed. It means you are experiencing an overwhelming amount of pain than you cannot manage at this time. When you get the right support and begin to talk about your feelings, you can overcome your problems and the pain and suicidal feelings will pass. Emotions are not fixed – they are constantly changing. How you feel today may not be the same as how you felt yesterday or how you’ll feel tomorrow or next week.

The best way to prevent suicide is to recognize the warning signs: 

Someone at risk for suicide may exhibit or express emotional signs…

  • Empty, hopeless, trapped, or having no reason to live
  • Extremely sad, more anxious, agitated, or full of rage
  • Unbearable emotional or physical pain

There are also changes in behavior that may indicate someone is at risk for suicide…

  • Make a plan or research ways to die
  • Talk about feeling helpless or having no reason to live; “I am better off dead,” or “I wish I was never born.”
  • Withdraw from friends, say good bye, give away important items, or make a will
  • Take dangerous risks such as driving extremely fast
  • Display extreme mood swings
  • Eating or sleeping more or less
  • Using drugs or alcohol more often
  • Recent trauma or life crisis

If someone says they are suicidal, or behaves in a way that makes you think the person may be suicidal, don’t play it down or ignore the situation. Many people who die by suicide have expressed the intention at some point. You may worry that you’re overreacting, but the safety of your friend or loved one is most important.

How to get help: seek out a trained professional as quickly as possible.

24/7 Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255)

New Jersey Suicide Prevention Helpline 1-855-654-6735

Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741

The Trevor Project (crisis intervention & suicide prevention support for LGBTQ+ youth)

1-866-488-7386 / Text START to 678678

Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 PRESS 1

Five (More) Strategies to Building Emotional Resilience

In my most recent blog, I presented five research-based strategies that can help us to develop and strengthen our emotional resilience – our ability to ‘bounce back’ from stressors. In this post, we explore an additional five research-based strategies that can help us increase our emotional resilience:

Have Social Support:

All of us need to feel that we are not alone. Social connectedness to others releases oxytocin which calms the mind and reduces stress. Reaching out to others is not a sign of weakness, but instead an acknowledgement of knowing your own limitations and that you value human connection. In times of difficulty, reach out to others and ask for help. Reaching out to others and asking for their help is often a gift you give to them. Think back to how you may have felt when you helped a friend. We feel useful, and resilience builds for both the giver and receiver.

Be a Lifelong Learner:

Learning is not just for the young, it is also for the “young at heart.” By constantly growing your mind and adapting to new information about the world, you remain mentally sharp. Ask yourself, “Am I stuck in my ways?” Be open to new ideas, meeting new people, exploring new interests, learning new skills. Learning does not have to always be a major accomplishment, such as learning a foreign language, but can be as simple as trying a new recipe.

Change the Narrative:

When something bad happens to us, it is common for people to ruminate about the experience, the decision, replaying it over and over again in our mind and re-experiencing the pain.

Instead of replaying a choice or event, explore new insights that resulted from the challenge, rather than simply ruminate. One way to ‘change the narrative’ can be expressive writing. For several days, write freely for 20 minutes about one situation that is bothering you – no agenda, no questions to answers – simply write about the thoughts and feelings you have about the situation. When we focus and give our thoughts structure and attention, we can gain new perspectives. We process the event which can help give us a sense of control.

Focus on Self-Care:

We will have a hard time being emotionally resilient if we are physically exhausted or poorly nourished. Take care of yourself – schedule an annual check-up, eat (mostly) healthy foods, get moving with exercise, limit caffeine, and spend some time resting or relaxing. Turn to online options such as Youtube, to find short, guided relaxation videos; a 10-20 minute relaxation video can be like mini-vacation.

Control your Destiny:

While we cannot control what happens in the world or what other people do, we have control over how we respond and think about a situation. It is not the situation that causes the stress or anxiety, rather, our reaction to the situation.

Have you ever noticed people in their cars stuck in traffic? You can have one person calmly listening to the music on the radio, waiting patiently, while another driver is fuming, pounding the steering wheel beeping his horn. Same situation, two totally different reactions.

One way we can help ourselves is to say “I have a choice how I’ll respond” every time we face a challenge or difficulty.

When you feel overwhelmed by stress, try one of these strategies, or one of those previously discussed. Each small step you take can help to build your emotional resilience.

For those times when you may need some additional assistance in dealing with life’s challenges, JFCS is here for you. Call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

This is the last of three blogs covering Emotional Resilience. View the previous entry here. You can also view Teri’s webinar on this topic by clicking here.

Teri Cheresnick, LCSW, LCADC

How to Manage Screen time during COVID-19

Is it possible to practice digital wellness during COVID-19?

Many parents have expressed concerns that their children have been spending too much time in front of screens during COVID-19. The American Heart Association is urging parents to drastically cut the hours their kids can use their phones, computers, tablets, television, and video games.  A recent study from Common Sense Media reported that pre-teens are spending six hours a day in front of a screen and teens nine hours a day.

Parents are challenged with new circumstances as screens are everywhere and children are now learning and playing online. As the school year begins, many children will now be required to spend time on devices for a majority of their school day, which makes it even more important to establish a balance during their recreational time. The reality is everyone needs to be flexible in setting rules and to consider the purpose and benefits of the devices our children use (and ourselves!)

Let’s look at a few suggestions: 

  • Most importantly, parents should model healthy digital behavior by limiting their own screen time and putting their devices down to engage with their children.
  • Set rules around the use of screen time. For example, preview programs, games, and apps before allowing your children to view or play with them; or, consider watching, playing, or using them with your child.
  • Establish time limits for screen use and stick to them! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends setting hours-per-day limits for children/teens and suggest use of the media time calculator to determine an appropriate amount of time based on the child’s age.
  • Designate a screen free day where physical activity, reading and spending time outdoors is encouraged.
  • Create media free zones such as no screens in the bedrooms and no device use during mealtimes.
  • Plan for screen breaks. Frequent breaks can stop the brain from becoming over stimulated and combat screen addiction.
  • A good rule is to stop all exposure to screens and devices one hour prior to bedtime.
  • Provide alternatives to screen time; play a board game, go on a hike or a bike ride.

Allowing your child to be involved in creating a plan that works for your family is important, it will help them stick to it. Setting limits now will help your child properly manage their screen time and develop digital wellness skills.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC (Director of Clinical Services)

Celebrating the Jewish High Holidays during COVID-19

The Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (beginning September 18) and Yom Kippur (beginning September 27), will be celebrated in new ways this year.

The pandemic will dramatically impact how the Jewish community “gathers” and observes these important holidays. At JFCS, we understand it can be an overwhelming prospect and are providing a number of resources for you, your family, friends, neighbors and our entire Jewish community in Mercer County.

JFCS Resources

Holiness at Home: Observing the High Holidays Outside of the Synagogue, Webinar hosted by Andrea Gaynor, LCSW and Beverly Rubman, Chaplain that explored the many ways in which Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, presents opportunities to prepare both spiritually and psychologically. The webinar also discussed how to make High Holiday virtual services more personally meaningful and relevant.

Bereavement and the Holidays During COVID-19

Readings & Articles

Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days: A Guided Journal, Kerry M. Olitsky and Rachel T. Sabath

Mahzor Lev Shalem for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

Beginning Anew: A Woman’s Companion to the High Holy Day Gail Twersky Reimer and Judith A. Kates

God is a Verb, Rabbi David Cooper (Modern Kabbalistic view of God and spirituality)

New prayers and poems https://www.ritualwell.org/

Diverse articles on the High Holidays https://www.myjewishlearning.com/

Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation https://www.schusterman.org/

  • Complete downloadable Rosh HaShanah Seder
  • Schusterman Family Foundation Haggadah

Five Strategies to Building Emotional Resilience

In last week’s blog post, I discussed emotional resilience as our ability to bounce back and adapt to life’s stressors. In this post, I will explore five research-based strategies that can help to develop and improve emotional resilience.

Be an Optimist

This does not mean the “rose colored glasses,” but a realistic optimist. Someone who looks at any negative experiences around them and sees what is relevant to the problems they are facing. The realistic optimist disengages from the problems outside of their control and turns attention to problems they believe they can address. Acknowledge the problem, but then see what, if anything, about the problem directly impacts you and that you can work on. Be realistic about the world, and confident in your abilities that you can make positive changes to problems within your control.

Find a sense of purpose and meaning in your life:

Resilient people have a mission and purpose in life that gives meaning to the things that they do. When tough times roll in, they feel a greater purpose is behind them, propelling them forward. That purpose can be that “I go to work to provide for my family” or “my role is to care for my loved one.”

We can also start to develop our purpose in a small way. Over the next week, identify your focus. Take the time to acknowledge how you want to spend your time and energy. It could be as simple as “I’m going to call my friend because he’s been feeling down” or “I’m going to donate to a charity I believe in.”

When we have a purpose it nourishes us.

Face your fears:

When we avoid something we are afraid of, the fear inside us grows. When you face your fears, the intensity of the fear lessens. We cannot just talk ourselves out of the fear, but we have to address the fear one step at a time.

As an example, if we have a fear of speaking in public it can be helpful to begin addressing this fear by starting a conversation with a neighbor, then working up to giving a toast at a dinner party, each time taking a bigger step towards your goal. During this ‘exposure therapy’ we start to change the negative associations we have to situations or objects, being able to believe “that wasn’t so bad. I can do that.”

Be adaptable and flexible:

Resilience is figuring out a new way to behave when your old ways of behaving are not working or are not accessible any more. We have the power within us to make new choices, to try new ways of reacting. Resilient people use a number of ways to deal with stressful situations. They are not stuck on using one way of coping. Instead they shift from one coping strategy to another as needed. Imagine having a variety of tools in your toolbox to fix a problem.

Practice spirituality:

In general, we might say that spirituality includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, involving a search for meaning in life or simply a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness. Some people experience their spiritual life through a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue affiliation. Organized religion can provide structure, community, and meaning or identity. However, there are many ways that we can practice spirituality. Maybe through prayer or personal conversations with a higher power. Nature or art also provide for an expression of our spirituality.

Next week, I will share five more research-based strategies that you can use to help develop and improve your emotional resilience. However, for those times when you may need some additional assistance in dealing with life’s challenges, JFCS is here for you. Call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

This is the second of three blogs covering Emotional Resilience. See the next entry here. You can also view Teri’s webinar on this topic by clicking here.

Teri Cheresnick, LCSW, LCADC

August 21 is Senior Citizen’s Day! Celebrating Seniors

August 21 is Senior Citizen’s Day, recognized across the country as a day to celebrate our seniors. JFCS celebrates and supports older adults here in our Mercer community all year round – the retirees who serve as dedicated volunteers, the Holocaust Survivors who are staying connected through technology, the older adults who join in our weekly group to help each other through this difficult time, the seniors across the community who are aging independently in their homes.

In honor of Senior Citizen’s Day, we are sharing resources, information and groups tailored for our senior community.

Connecting with your elderly loved ones…

Looking for Senior Resources?

Support for Seniors

  • Join our weekly Social Support Group, designed for older adults to connect during a time of social distancing and isolation. Register to join weekly.
  • For Jewish seniors, the upcoming holidays may be a lonely time, and we’re offering special programs to address some of the emotional challenges you may face during this time.
  • Are you a Caregiver? If you are caring for a spouse with chronic illness, join our upcoming Caregiver Support Group beginning Sept 15. Click to learn more & register.

Stress & Anxiety: Understanding Your Reaction to and Recovery from Stressors

Are you an Oak or a Willow?
We think of the oak tree as a symbol of strength and resilience, the tall and mighty oak! But consider what happens to many an oak tree when fierce storms come through. They topple, their branches get broken, they get uprooted.

But what about the willow tree? Their branches will never easily break no matter how strong the winds are; this tree is a survivor. Adaptable. Flexible.

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.” ― Robert Jordan

When stressors, the ‘storms’ of life, come blowing in, how do you react? Which ‘tree’ are you? And more importantly, how can we develop more of the willow’s ‘flexibility’? Stress is defined as the body’s reaction – and that can be physical, mental, or emotional reaction – to any change that requires an adjustment or response. So something happens in our environment which causes us to react., for example, we lose our job, we feel uncomfortable wearing a mask to go out, we’re dealing with a financial problem. Sometimes it is easy to ‘roll with the punches’ and deal with the stressors; and, then other times, not so much.

Our ability to adapt to, respond to, and recover from stressful events in our life is our emotional resilience. The word resilience comes from the Latin word for ‘resilio’ which means ‘to bounce back or rebound’. We are being emotionally resilient when we exhibit traits like resourcefulness, flexibility, or perseverance. We have little control over many of the unexpected life events that come our way, a sudden illness, death of a loved one, a car accident, a business failure; however we can develop skills, the emotional resilience, to weather the storms.

Ways to Build Emotional Resilience:
1. Be an optimist
2. Find a sense of purpose and meaning in your life
3. Face your fears
4. Be adaptable and flexible
5. Practice spirituality
6. Have social support
7. Be a lifelong learner
8. Change the narrative
9. Focus on self-care
10.Control your destiny

Over two additional blog postings, I will further discuss these ten research-based strategies that can help us to develop and improve our emotional resilience. For those times when you may need some additional assistance in dealing with life’s challenges, JFCS is here for you. Call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

This is the first of three blogs covering Emotional Resilience. You can also view Teri’s webinar on this topic by clicking here.

Teri Cheresnick, LCSW, LCADC

Preparing for the Jewish Holidays during COVID-19

August 28, 2020

The Jewish High Holidays begin in one month. The celebrations of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, mark an important time for the Jewish community. Families and friends gather for large meals to celebrate together, synagogues welcome in hundreds from the community to observe. However, like so many significant events, COVID-19 has disrupted plans for the High Holidays.

With the prospect of Zoom gatherings and streamed services, it can be difficult to manage our emotions and feel prepared to mark these days of celebration and reflection to the fullest.

On Thursday, August 27, Andrea Gaynor, LCSW and Beverly Rubman, Chaplain, will co-host “Holiness at Home: Observing the High Holidays Outside of the Synagogue.” The webinar will examine the many ways in which Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, presents opportunities to prepare both spiritually and psychologically. Also, they will discuss how to make High Holiday virtual services more personally meaningful and relevant.

View the Recording of the Webinar Here!