Supporting School Aged Children
By Sarah Sweeterman, LCSW
Supporting the children or young people in your life certainly looks very different right now. The challenges are present every day and it is draining. Across all ages and grade levels, we have had to adapt to new norms and expectations in order to help young people continue their education, whether that be online or through hybrid learning.
It is important to acknowledge that it may feel overwhelming at times. Here are a few tips to help you manage the ups and downs:
- Plan ahead. Pack or prepare your child’s lunch in the morning. When lunch time rolls around, you’ll have a little more time for what feels most important to you.
- Get organized. Create a spreadsheet of classes, assignments or homework for your kids and make copies for the whole family. Write reminders or due dates on a calendar.
- Ask for help. Stay in touch with your school’s IT department to get the technical assistance with learning programs and software you need. You do not have to do it all!
- Advocate for your child. If you hear something that you find problematic while your kid is on a zoom class, or you observe that your child is struggling with a certain practice, reach out to their teacher or administrator.
- Do the easy thing. When there isn’t enough time to prepare a meal for your family, order dinner instead.
Don’t have kids but want to support your colleagues? Many of us are spending hours on Zoom meetings, so let your coworkers know that if they need to tend to their kids, or have a little one join in the video, that this is supported. We are all in this together, and we know that navigating professional life while supporting children is a lot to balance.
People everywhere are struggling when it comes to helping children and young people continue their education in a way that feels safe and manageable. We encourage you to lean into the things that you can control and change, and to let go of the rest. For a comic portrayal of the parental struggles of remote learning, check out what Aubrey Hirsch’s one week of online school is like for her 7- and 5-year old.
Using Creativity to Cope with Stress
By Sara Sweeterman, LCSW
Many of us are feeling the effects of stress and isolation. This is especially true during the colder months when there are fewer opportunities to engage with others safely outdoors. Stress can encompass a variety of experiences, feelings and reactions and may look different from person to person. It can be helpful to have a collection of tools and techniques that serve as a creative outlet to help us cope.
Research has shown that creative activities can lead to benefits like increased mood, decreased anxiety, heightened cognitive function, reduced risk of chronic illnesses and improved immune health. Creativity helps us to express our feelings and to explore what’s troubling or inspiring us. Creativity does not have to mean art or making art. For you, creative time might mean cooking a meal, gardening, building something, taking photographs, shooting video, dancing or journaling. It might mean drawing while you drink your morning coffee, coloring while watching your favorite TV show or listening to your favorite music on a walk or while getting ready for bed.
If you’re looking for a new creative process to try, Amy Maricle, an artist, art mentor and creator of the Mindful Art Studio, shares some of her favorite creative stress relievers:
- Draw repetitive patterns. Repetition can be relaxing. Start by picking a shape, such as a circle, square or triangle, and keep repeating it. You may feel a sense of control with this repetition. But also let yourself drift into the unknown of what you are creating and let the pattern evolve as it will.
- Create a portable art kit. The next time you are taking a break from work or have a moment between errands, consider trying something creative for yourself instead of scrolling through your phone. A portable art kit can contain a small journal, colorful pens, miniature coloring books, playdough or colorful yarn or string.
- Collect natural inspiration. Nature and the outdoors, especially in beautiful Colorado, can be a great source for creative inspiration. You might bring home leaves that you photograph or use in a collage. Perhaps you collect a few flowers to arrange and display in your home.
- Schedule an art date. Consider incorporating a creative activity into your next chat or facetime with your friend, family member, team or buddy! You might suggest painting coffee mugs, learning to weave, listening to a new album or re-potting flowers.
Amy Maricle also offers a free course titled The Guide to Creative Self Care where you can assess and build upon your creative self-care habits.
Without a mindful intervention, we often choose passive forms of creative “hobbies” —TV and phone-scrolling are common examples. When we are engaged in an active form of creativity, self-judgements can fade away and we can nurture our inner child. What new and enriching activity will you explore?
Supporting Older Adults
By Jennifer Anton, LPC, Jefferson County Public Health
The COVID-19 pandemic presents challenges not only in caring for children, but also in caring for older adults in our lives. If you are one of many folks trying to meet the health and social needs of an older adult while balancing work (and sometimes children, too), you are not alone. Increased needs for home-delivered meals or groceries, increased social isolation, higher risk for serious health complications and guilt when a sibling must manage primary caretaking are just a few of the things you might be coping with.
Here are a few ideas and tips to help with supporting the older adult in your life:
- Reach out to Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) near where your family member lives. These organizations provide key services for older adults in the communities including home-delivered meals, personal care services, transportation, social engagement, health promotion and chronic disease management.
- Set up regular calls or video chats. Be sure to include friends and other relatives.
- Write “old fashioned” letters and cards and put them in the mail. This might include artwork from your child, pressed flowers from your garden, photographs from happy times together or a coloring page that you start, and your older adult can finish.
- Facilitate connection between generations. If you are caretaking children and an older adult, encourage ways for the generations to nourish a relationship together. This might include calls, reading together over the phone/FaceTime or writing letters across generations. If your older adult is living independently, stop by and have your child create chalk art or notes in their driveway.
- Remember to reach out to professional caregivers and keep the communication open. During public health restrictions, these providers serve as surrogate supports for older adults and a critical line of communication to knowing how your loved one is doing.
- Once a week, help with online food ordering from restaurants or grocery stores. You can print out a menu and set up an account for your older adult to easily order delivered food.
- Say thanks and acknowledge when one sibling/relative is the serving as primary caregiver. You can send a note, a gift card, or have dinner delivered to give them a break. There are many ways to express your appreciation for the time they are giving when you cannot.
- Most importantly, remember that you are a “care partner.” Older adults need the opportunity to have voice and choice in the decisions around their care. Not only are you sharing things with your loved one, you are also receiving things from them.
For a fun, illustrated storybook guide to caring for older people during the pandemic, visit NPR’s Goats and Soda: Stories of Life in a Changing World.
By Jennifer Anton, LPC and Amanda Davis, LCSW, Jefferson County Public Health
Burnout. We are hearing a lot about it lately on news coverage, in meetings with coworkers and with our friends and family. Brené Brown recently dedicated a podcast to it in which she speaks to Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski who suggest that burnout isn’t just happening at work. We’re struggling in all areas of our lives, collectively and individually. But what is burnout, and what can we do about it?
Burnout is defined as “…a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” Yep, we’re exhausted, and this has certainly been prolonged. “It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands.” This might be with work, family, school, community or other commitments. “As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.” (helpguide.org). It might feel as though nothing you do makes a difference. Sound familiar?
Maybe it feels familiar, too. Usually, our body will inform us when we are nearing our psychological limits or even have surpassed them. Physical aches and pains, fatigue, physiological triggers (crying, anxious feelings, shutdown) in response to situations that previously were not activating are common. It may feel like disillusionment, irritation, anger and disappointment about everything, or nothing in particular.
Maybe it looks familiar. You may be seeing burnout in coworkers, your child’s teacher, your child, public figures, maybe your partner or close family and friends. It may seem that our whole world is physically and emotionally exhausted and….well, we are! In trauma language, we’ve put the brakes on and have moved to a place of freeze.
But it’s important to remember burnout is not a personal failure or something to be ashamed of. It is a normal response to the unspeakable amount of stress we are holding individually and collectively. We might feel that we have to keep going and going because if we stop or “don’t pull our weight” at work or outside of work, we might be perceived as weak or not competent enough. The truth is that our bodies are beautifully designed for survival and have a chemical and physiological process that requires that we move through the stress response cycle to completion. According to Drs. Nagoski, if we get stuck in the tunnel of the stress response cycle, we will burnout. There’s no shame in this; it just is. The key is to complete the cycle.
So, what can you do? Maybe the better question is, what can we do? We talk about resilience and self-care and finding strength and hope in the difficult times. But at the end of the day, we can’t take care of ourselves without a system of support surrounding us. As Drs. Nagoski argue, self-care requires we “lean on” and “lean with,” instead of “leaning in.” This means creating spaces for compassion and caring that support our ability to take care of ourselves. Once that is in place, we can move through the stress response cycle using strategies such as physical activity, breathing, laughing, hugging, crying, creative self-expression and positive social interaction.
Often, it’s easier to offer help, than to receive it, and easier to accept help than to ask for it. What are some ways you can ask for help from others in caring for yourself? And, how can you surround others with support so that they can care for themselves? Where can you create sacred spaces for breathing, laughing, moving, creating and relating? Let’s collectively move through the stress response cycle to a place of connection and care for self and others.
Overwhelm in a Global Pandemic
By Sarah Sweeterman, LCSW, and Jennifer Anton, LPC, Jefferson County Public Health, December 3, 2020
We have heard it, read it, felt it and acknowledged it — the weight of a global pandemic has been overwhelming. Combine this with the fact that we are walking through pivotal moments in our country’s history, it’s no wonder we are bone-tired. As human beings, and as a society, we aren’t especially wired to deal with ongoing ambiguity. There is a lot to hold right now, it’s heavy, and we have been carrying this for much longer than we anticipated. As we have been forced to find inner strength to cope with these events in new ways, we are still troubled by the possibility for more change and transition on the horizon which could disrupt our wellbeing. How do we get through?
Recently, a group of Jefferson County Public Health employees got together to talk about this feeling of overwhelm and came up with some ideas that have helped them:
- Make every effort to go outside. What a beautiful time of year it is to be in Colorado. Take a moment outside to ground yourself in nature. Feel the cool air on your face. Experience the colors, lights and sounds of a new season on Earth. Hear the breeze move through the trees. Nature is in transition, and we can move alongside this with grace and admiration for change.
- Plan for change. We’ve already changed our clocks and the sun is setting earlier. Instead of cutting activities out of your daily routine as we approach the shortest day of the year, make time for them earlier. By planning for these changes, you may gain a sense of control over the day and will not need to sacrifice the activities that you enjoy.
- Stay connected with others. Whether this be with your family, friends, neighbors or coworkers, having a place to let go of the heaviness can be incredibly sustaining to your well-being. What we all have in common right now is what we are collectively living through. Let’s hold authentic space for each other to acknowledge what we are carrying.
- Stay curious. Although we have transitioned out of the banana bread phase of the pandemic, it is not too late to try something new. What have you been curious to try? Pick one thing that feeds your curiosity. Latte art? Watercolors? Meditation? Speaking of meditation, check out this mindfulness app recommended by a staff member. Or visit the Jeffco Schools virtual calming room with sounds and music, visual relaxation, yoga stretches and “color & create” ideas.
- Lean into what you can control and let go of what you cannot. Letting go isn't about giving up, but rather acknowledging what can be done by you and surrendering the rest. You cannot do it all, and that is okay.
At the end of the day, what we have is each other as we journey through this common experience. We encourage you to make some time this week to reach out for connection and find moments for quiet so you can lighten your load.
It’s Time for a Mental Wellness Tune-up!
By Sarah Sweeterman, LCSW and Jennifer Anton, LPC, October 14, 2020
How many of us have seen the low-tire pressure light illuminated on our car dashboard and thought, “I wonder how long I can ignore this warning light?” Sure, we can all operate on a low tire for a while. But doing so over time can damage the frame, which in turn, impacts the entire vehicle.
It’s the same for mental wellness. A properly inflated “wellness tire” is an integral piece of a safe and healthy life. Ignoring the warning light of stress, just like ignoring the low-tire light, could have an impact on our overall wellbeing.
Take the time to do a tune-up!
Our community has been in the throes of a worldwide pandemic for 7 months. We’re exhausted and quite frankly, “over it.” More than ever, it’s important to recognize the warning lights that may be coming up for you, and to give attention and support where you are feeling deflated. Here are some steps you can take:
- Identify areas in which your tire is low.
- Notice your body. Where are you holding tension? Are you feeling tired, or experiencing low energy? Trouble sleeping? How are you nourishing your body?
- Check in with yourself. What do you need to feel safe and supported? What feels heavy on your mind and heart? Are you taking time to tend to your needs?
- Reconnect with your supports to help inflate your tire.
- Schedule a time for consistent check-ins with a buddy, friend or family member.
- Engage in self-care activities that shore up your physical, mental, spiritual or emotional strength. If you are looking for ideas, try some of these.
- Incorporate times in your day that bring you intention, grounding or joy.
- 1 minute: Listen to a baby laugh (at a sneeze no less).
- 2 minutes: Enjoy your favorite drink. Don’t do anything else but pay attention to what it gives you: warmth on your hands, sweetness, tang, quench of thirst. Enjoy it.
- 3 minutes: Try a window-swap.
- 5 minutes: Listen to a quick meditation Body Scan
- Reach out to a mental health provider for additional support as needed. You can find providers on the Jeffco Community Resources page.
As we continue to journey on this unpredictable road, keep in mind that driving with a flat tire can be ineffective, frustrating, and dangerous. Disregarding your warning lights could lead to burnout, exhaustion, anxiety or depression. Take a moment to give yourself the tune-up you need.
Pushing through Disillusionment
By Mental Wellness & Resources Team, Jefferson County Public Health, September 25, 2020
Feeling apathetic and exhausted lately? Prefer to crawl into bed instead of getting on another video call? You’re not alone! Living through a mass event like COVID-19 means experiencing emotional highs and lows, and these don’t always remain consistent. Research shows that there is a pattern that emerges when communities experience a major disaster. The graphic below might look familiar. At the beginning of the pandemic we experienced moments of joy and heroism, as residents clapped for healthcare workers from their balconies and showed up in unprecedented ways for one another. We saw our community join forces to face this challenge head on. Physiologically, our bodies responded with an increase of endorphins as we came together urgently to fight a crisis.
But six months later, it’s likely we’ve entered the disillusionment phase. Things might feel stagnant, as we continue to live through COVID-19 and can’t easily see an end in sight. Our bodies and minds have come down from the collective urgency and are now grappling with the fallout of those endorphins. There’s less clapping for neighbors, fewer fly-overs for first responders, and no more “Good News” shows. The X axis of this graph seems prolonged as we hover up and down through new surges and wrestle with the efforts to find a vaccine or strategies for this new normal.
Although the downward phase helps to explain our experience of collective tension, holding of breath, or stagnation, it’s important to notice that the graph begins to trend up again. If you are feeling more vulnerable to stress and anxiety right now, know that these feelings are a normal response during this abnormal time. To combat feelings of disillusionment, it is more important than ever to cultivate connections with others and find small moments for gratitude and joy. We encourage you to acknowledge your inner sources of strength as well as your outer sources of support. Check in on a neighbor or friend, do simple activities that bring you joy or meet up with an old friend at a park. These connections are the things that will sustain you until we begin the trend up towards recovery and reconstruction.
by Mental Wellness & Resources Team, Jefferson County Public Health, September 9, 2020
Collectively, we may be feeling an emotional toll from the current landscape of our world. We are experiencing a lot right now, ranging from a relentless pandemic, to witnessing racial injustices, to the chaotic start of school for many young people.
The events in Wisconsin and Oregon serve as a stark reminder that racism continues to be one of the greatest threats to public health. Silence in the face of racial inequity and violence against Black people is not neutral. Mental wellbeing includes acknowledging that which pains people personally and that which harms our collective community.
In a time when there are so many intersecting and overlapping experiences which impact community wellbeing, maybe the answer is not just to encourage individual resilience or self-care. Those are important, but they are not enough. We also need to promote collective resilience through change-making as a community endeavor. One person’s healing and wellbeing is linked to that of their neighbor’s. This is similar to how we think about wearing masks to stop the spread of COVID-19.
In this article Mona Hanna-Attisha, pediatrician and professor at Michigan State University and Director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative says:
“To expect resilience without justice is simply to indifferently accept the status quo…This is how we begin to transform the concept of resilience from an individual trait to one that describes a community — and society — that cares for everyone. Rather than hoping a child is tough enough to endure the insurmountable, we must build resilient places — healthier, safer, more nurturing and just — where all children can thrive. This is where prevention and healing begin.”
As we address multiple individual and collective traumas, remember that we are strongest when we come together as a community. Healing happens when we work collaboratively and empathically to solve problems, build trust and co-create resilient spaces. Through reflection and shared learning, we are also making meaning out of these convergent experiences, with equity as a guiding force. Collective resilience is sustained by joy and hope, and we encourage you to look for and elevate joy and hope wherever you can.
In what ways are you reimagining resilience as a community endeavor? How can we co-create healthier, safer, more nurturing and just places in Jeffco? Where do you sustain joy and hope?
Share your story or ideas on Facebook and tag @jeffcopublichealth and we’ll highlight you here!
Click the link above or go to https://stories.opengov.com/jeffersoncountyco/published/wzJ1PYlNU to see more Mental Wellness tips and stories of hope from the JCPH team.