We hear about gratitude every Thanksgiving because that’s what the holiday is all about. But we don’t always deliver on our intentions. With the holiday occurring at a particularly challenging point in the pandemic, it’s a good time to think about gratitude in a new way. Or better yet, we can think of it in three ways! Gratitude is a skill, a strength, and a medicine.
Gratitude is a skill in that you get better at it with practice. In fact, it can become a habit. As we begin to look for reasons to be grateful, they become more apparent. Being appreciative is also a strength. Did you know that people who are grateful are more resilient, sleep better, feel better, and are kinder to other people and themselves?
Finally, gratitude can be thought of as natural medicine in that it has a beneficial, healing effect on the body. When we feel grateful, it’s accompanied by sensations in the body. It might feel like warmth or a pleasant swelling in the heart area. Wherever we feel it, the sensation is caused by the release of serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. When we cultivate gratitude (deeply versus as a passing thought) the parts of our brains involved with language and recall are activated and we drop into presence. You can cultivate a grateful mood by listing things you’re grateful for-- people, things, places, experiences. Ask your family or friends to join you. As with most things, gratitude is even more effective when you’re doing it while connecting with others.
For updates, tips and advice, follow Wellness on Social Media: Instagram @acalaneswellness
We learned a lot this week from a state-wide wellness webinar about what students most need right now. To put it simply, they need the four R’s: Reassurance (this is temporary and everything will be okay); Routine (loss of structure is destabilizing--human beings need it); Regulation (in times of stress, we must practice self-care to calm the central nervous system response to a steady diet of uncertainty, complexity, and volatility) and most importantly, Relationships (ones that offer love without condition, safety, and understanding.) We also got to hear from grief experts about the very unique type of loss students are suffering. Worthy of your time, here is an excellent article on helping your kids with grief and loss from the Greater Good Science Center. This coming week, we continue to offer programming that leans toward “fun and games” as students have expressed a need for that. We’re also offering something cool and different on Tuesday at 5pm as we interview a class of ‘18 Don, now Tiktok celebrity, about how he’s prioritizing wellbeing and sharing it with others. Be well and stay in touch! (CS 4/24 @3:20)
This week’s blurb brought to you by the leadership of the BC2M (Bring Change To Mind) club: We are a nationally-affiliated club focused on building awareness of and de-stigmatizing mental illness.Our goal is to create a stronger support system that recognizes that all ranges of mental health are normal! We would appreciate your help in promoting our club and our projects. We are currently working on securing a well-known suicide survivor public speaker (Kevin Hines) to talk to students and the greater community about mental health. We meet Wednesdays at lunch in the Wellness Center. It’s a positive and welcoming environment and most meetings include fun activities and projects. Follow us on Instagram: bringchange2mindacalanes
~Alara, Anna, Claudia, Emily, Kael, Katya and Sadie (CS)
We were planning to focus on the Eight Sources of a Meaningful Life but are postponing in light of the need to talk about sleep-- officially a public health crisis per the Centers for Disease Control. No aspect of wellbeing can be achieved without adequate sleep. We’ve all heard the requirement for adolescent sleep (not “time spent in bed”) is 9-10 hours. We have yet to meet a student who reflects they are achieving the low end of that range. For more information on this subject, search Cal professor and sleep expert, Dr. Matthew Walker. He provides immediately actionable steps for reducing “time spent trying to fall asleep.” We’re already implementing some of these with our own families. And when you notice your student is dis-regulated, flip the script: before trying to problem-solve, ask how much sleep they got and encourage curiosity about how they feel physically, emotionally and cognitively when they don’t get enough sleep.
We’re so thrilled when students share stories with us that demonstrate their own resilience. Along with compassion, resilience is one of our favorite qualities and it’s our very favorite process. The simplest definition is the ability to bounce back from difficulty. A more encompassing definition is: “Resilience is the ability to stay with a sense of flexibility and harmony in the face of challenges and to recover when we leave that flow.” When conditions are hard or things go sideways, be sure to encourage your kids to practice acceptance of difficult outcomes at the same time they process learning--if any is offered (as we adults know, sometimes bad things just happen.) Kids who practice resilience and receive positive validation for doing so will cultivate an even greater capacity to rise to the many challenges that go along with being human.
With the start of the second semester, we’ve introduced several new policies to support student well-being and engagement in classes as well as developing new support programming by Wellness staff to broaden our reach. The Wellness Center will focus on short-term therapy, meaning 3-5 visits unless there are extenuating circumstances. During each day we will have one period set aside for same-day or same-week appointments. We will also be closed for the first 10 minutes of every period so that students are accounted for during roll call. Students who are in crisis may still go to the counseling office should they have an immediate need. As always, students may be referred by parents, teachers, or peers via this link: wellness referral. We continue to enjoy supporting all the Dons we’ve met so far and look forward to getting to know even more this semester.
Allen Choi, Wellness Coordinator (ext. 7150)
Casey Sasner, Intake Specialist (ext. 7136)
We’ve been having great conversations in wellness about stress-- the pros and cons; how to manage it; and what the physiology of stress is. Sometimes students are overwhelmed by their stress and other times, we see them keeping it in perspective and using it as a tool to propel them to the finish line. In the center, we’re really busy triaging stress in ways that parents can use at home. Letting students vent about their stress and unplug from it in healthy ways is key!
One of the concepts that has really resonated is “rest and digest” learning. Cramming for hours on end and pulling all-nighters don’t work-- they actually keep our nervous systems in fight-flight mode. Learning embeds when it rests so a good night’s sleep as well as appropriately-timed and managed breaks from studying will help the learning sink in. Wellness will be open for drop-ins before and in-between finals. We’ll provide friendly support, guided awareness of breath meditations, and stress-relieving activities. Use the parenting opportunity to be the cheerleader your student needs-- they got this!
Beware of “anxiety avalanche”! With finals coming, many students are experiencing “catastrophic thinking.” When we’re overwhelmed with work, the worrying mind takes over and gets in the way of productivity, mood, and overall wellness. Recognize the spiral, and then intervene. Start by asking your kids if they can identify the root problem which is the source of the cascade. Maybe it’s a particular class, grade, or friend problem. Or maybe it’s a destructive self-judgment thought, like “I’m not good at school.” Once they name the root, you can encourage them to apply logic. Can they prove their thought is true? You can also encourage mindfulness practices-- switch from thinking mode to SENSING mode; recognize needs and resulting emotions; practice self-kindness. For more on catastrophic thinking, click here. Finally, and probably most importantly, know that top-reported student needs are space, understanding, and no additional pressure!
Whether it’s about academics, relationships, sports or extracurricular activities, even the most routine student conversations reveal the power and influence of the adolescent inner-critic. The voice that tells us we’re not good enough is destructive and inhibitory but it is possible to change its tone. Practicing self-compassion has so many evidence-based benefits from increasing your compassion for others and enhancing motivation, to reducing your output of the stress hormone, cortisol. How to practice self-compassion isn’t complicated: treat yourself the way you would treat a cherished friend. How self-compassionate are you? Remember that kids model themselves after us. This link to a self-compassion test from Dr. Kristin Neff will show you how you’re doing at being self-compassionate. You’ll find lots of resources on her site for learning more and beginning your practice.
I am thrilled to be working with the Acalanes Unified High School District (AUHSD) this year!
I am currently attending St. Mary’s College where I have successfully obtained my School Counseling credential, and am now finishing the Marriage, Family Therapy portion of my Masters in Counseling. I have been in the education field for about 10 years, beginning as a teacher and now moving into a more therapeutic space with students. When I’m not at work, I’m spending time with my family and friends, traveling around the world, or relaxing with a great book or movie.
I believe we all have a story to tell, that our experiences and relationships impact who we are, and that sometimes we fall off our paths and need support to see the way. I look forward to giving my all and working with the AUHSD community this year!