Please welcome Kiara Thomas, our new Wellness Intake Specialist! Kiara, already affectionately called “Kiki” by our students, brings to Acalanes 10 years of experience in youth development with kids in a variety of ages. Her passion and hope is to support young people in being the best version of themselves. In the next 2 weeks, Kiki will be joined by three graduate school level Wellness Interns (Elana Maslow, Amy Pernick, and Marisa Travalini) from local Marriage & Therapy and Social Work programs.
We have already hit the ground running in the first week and a half with approximately 140 student visits to the Wellness Center (not including larger outreach events). Students are showing up for a variety of reasons including: feeling overwhelmed and social anxiety from transitioning to in-person classes at a full school campus; conflicts with friends and social circles; stress about academics and college; and simply needing a welcoming and comforting place on campus. In the next 2 weeks, we are hosting lunchtime mixers and a Wellness Carnival to help students get to know us and each other and increase their sense of belonging at school.
With all of this in mind, please take the time to check in with your kids and help them unwind from the stressors of school when they are at home. This could mean providing them their favorite snacks, encouraging them to engage in relaxing activities, or simply leaving them alone. It’s only Week 2 of the school year and we need them to have the stamina to make it to Week 43.
For updates, tips, and advice, follow Wellness on Social Media: Instagram @acalaneswellness
Allen Choi, Wellness Coordinator
It’s been such a weird year with so many struggles. Whether your student is back on campus for hybrid or in distance learning, it’s tempting to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, especially with the vaccine on the horizon for some adolescents. In the meantime for students, challenges remain--including doing this latest iteration of school. And we’re learning that there’s a lot they don’t know how to put into words. Some “postponed” their grief and sense of loss over the last year and find it hitting them now, all at once. Others have hit a wall of this going on too long and feel they can no longer imagine things going “back to normal”. Creating a non-judgmental, no advice space for them to talk about how it feels to be them right now is a good idea. For them to deny, or judge, their feelings will not support their mental health. And chances are, you may be feeling the exact same way having hit “the pandemic wall” yourself. You can find a great article on the subject here.
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.