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Wellness & Values in Uncertain Times

As our campus's closure stretches on, SFFS Director of Community Engagement Guybe Slangen and Mental Health Specialist Katherine Preston have put together resources to empower our community to not only look for ways that we can help others during this unprecedented moment in our lives—while also practicing the self-care that is so important, especially during times of uncertainty. 

On this page, you will find a series of wellness tips from Guybe and Katherine, as well as a resource document with dozens of different volunteer and community connection opportunities. Both lists will continue to grow, so please check back often to see what's new—and take good care, Friends! 


LETTING OUR LIVES SPEAK FROM HOME


Looking for more ways to get involved and support those in need? We have put together a list of opportunities called, "Let Your Life Speak From Home." We will continue to gather information and will update this regularly. And please feel free to share any opportunities you know about, but don't see here—just email gslangen@sffriendsschool.org. Thanks for your support!

Let Your Life Speak from Home

 

 


WELLNESS TIPS FROM KATHERINE AND GUYBE
 

CURIOSITY, COLLABORATION, & BIG EMOTIONS

Why This Matters:

“Emotions are constructed by our interactions with other people,” and as parents, “we are co-creating the emotion system for our kids,” says Dr. Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. We are reminded that all emotional expressions from children are demonstrating a wish for connection. This article offers an overview on how to connect with big emotions in a positive and productive way. 

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What You Can Do:

Try the RULER method...

  • R: RECOGNIZE our own emotions and those of others, not just in the things we think, feel, and say but in facial expressions, body language, vocal tones, and other nonverbal signals.
  • U: UNDERSTAND those feelings and determine their source— what experiences actually caused them— and then see how they’ve influenced our behaviors.
  • L: LABEL emotions with a nuanced vocabulary.
  • E: EXPRESS  our feelings in accordance with cultural norms and social contexts in a way that tries to inform and invites empathy from the listener.
  • R: REGULATE emotions, rather than letting them regulate us, by finding practical strategies for dealing with what we and others feel. Read the full article here

“We need to get curious and question and observe to go underneath and figure out how we can support (our kids)... Kids do well if they can, but also parents do well if they can.” Bay Area clinician Dr. Rebecca Branstetter, School Psychologist and Elizabeth Sautter, Speech and Language Pathologist are offering practical, detailed advice for what to say to stay calm and curious. Their free webinar is full of useful information and follow-up resources “3 Keys to Help Your Child Cope, So They Can Stay Calm, Focused, and Even Happy During the Covid 19 Pandemic.” The speakers will give instruction in how to:

  1. Collaborate to build a family schedule 
  2. Co-Regulate 
  3. Add Mindfulness

You can check out the Free Parenting Webinar here

HOW TO SHARE THE NEWS OF THE WORLD

Why This Matters:

From death, to job loss, to racism and inequality, the daily news is filled with challenging topics. We as adults are taking in news all the time from many sources, but we do have some limited control over what our children take in: what we discuss in front of them and what and how we tell them difficult news. “There are far too many difficult subjects in the world. But most of us wouldn't want to give up our dynamic, information-rich culture. The trade-off is frank, yet compassionate conversation that helps us all make sense of things that seem senseless.” 

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What You Can Do:

When you have difficult news to share, consider taking a few factors into account. First, ask yourself why you wish to share the news and what you want them to learn from what you share. Then consider their age and developmental stage, and think about how you share that information in a way that they can receive it and process it. Common Sense Media offers guidelines specific to a child’s developmental stage. Parents can help by modeling coping skills and offering coping suggestions, as well as normalizing your child’s reaction. 

And don’t forget to balance your intake of negative news with good news, too. Sharing these with your children can offer positive examples of hope, joy, and connection. Here are a couple of resources for you to explore and consider:

  • Some Good News is a 2020 web series created and hosted by American actor and filmmaker John Krasinski on YouTube (Warning: be prepared for tears… of joy!)
  • Reasons to be Cheerful was founded by artist and musician David Byrne, who believes in the power of approaching the world with curiosity.
  • The Good News Network is an American online newspaper which publishes positive and uplifting news stories.
THE POWER OF STORYTELLING AND STORY-LISTENING

Every year, our 5th-Graders do a wonderful oral history project in their drama classes. Throughout the year they have pen pals at a number of senior centers across the city; through the letters they write, they get to know each other, and it eventually leads to meeting in person at Friends, where the seniors sit down for interviews with their 5th Grade friends. Through these conversations they are asked about their lives growing up, sharing childhood memories, and any lessons learned along the way. The students use an app from StoryCorps to help guide them and record these sessions. From there, the students take the interviews and turn them into dramatic productions in their drama classes, which then get performed in front of the seniors at the end of the year. It’s all pretty awesome. 

While we’re sad to not have these performances this year, the 5th Grade is still reaching out to their senior friends by way of letter, art, and cards. The core of the drama project is about the power of stories—both in the telling of your story and listening to someone’s story—and how it can bring people together in impactful ways.

Why This Matters:

Stories are powerful. Stories build connection, empathy, humility, and improve communication skills. As StoryCorps highlights, “stories can remind us of our shared humanity, they can strengthen and build the connections between people, they can teach the value of listening, and they can weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters.” And during difficult times like we’re in now, there’s no shortage of stories that are being created everyday by everyone everywhere. In grocery stores, hospitals, on sidewalks, and in your own home.

What You Can Do:

StoryCorps has recently been promoting a new effort, StoryCorps Connect, which is focused on recording stories during this pandemic. They have put together a platform for anyone to interview anyone and capture their thoughts, experiences, and feelings during these challenging times. Mind you, to use the platform they say you must be at least 13 years old; however, the questions they share can be used for any conversation you and/or your children may want to have with a neighbor, a grandparent, their friends, or perhaps even you. For example:

  • How has living through this experience made you feel? 
  • Are you afraid? What frightens you? 
  • Has this experience changed you? If so, how?
  • If you could ask anyone from your life, living or dead, for advice on getting through this, who would it be and what would you ask them?

And a bonus if you use their platform (and if they are old enough), “The audio and a still photo from each interview goes into [StoryCorps] archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Your interview becomes part of American history, and hundreds of years from now, future generations will listen in. We think of StoryCorps as an ever-growing archive of the wisdom of humanity.” Nice to think that while hopefully this virus will not be around forever, your story will!
 

CARE FOR YOUR COMMUNITY (STEWARDSHIP)

Why This Matters:

In a recent NY Times piece entitled, "The Science of Helping Out," the author shared some simple advice to help guide our thinking and doing during this crisis: “To help yourself, start by helping others.” The article then dives into some fascinating and compelling research and data that defends this thesis. “Much of the scientific research on resilience—which is our ability to bounce back from adversity—has shown that having a sense of purpose, and giving support to others, has a significant impact on our well-being.” Here are some key points:

  • Some research has focused on the “helper’s high.” Studies show that volunteering, donating money, or even just thinking about donating money can release feel-good brain chemicals and activate the part of the brain stimulated by the pleasures of food and sex. 
  • Studies of volunteers show that do-gooders had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol on days they did volunteer work. Studies also show that having a strong sense of purpose protects us from stress in the short term and predicts long-term better health, a lower risk of dying prematurely and even better financial health.
  • In a series of studies of 2,274 people, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago found that after middle-school students mentored younger students about studying, they ended up spending more time on their own homework. Overweight people who counseled others on weight loss were more motivated to lose weight themselves. This feeling responsible for other people—a concept called “felt obligation”—can also help us cope with whatever challenges life brings. As it turned out, the people who had higher levels of felt obligation coped better with their own life challenges.

“Small acts are important,” said Dr. Steven Southwick, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. “Part of that might have to do with just getting outside of myself, and finding meaning and purpose in something bigger than myself.”

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What You Can Do:

So, with all this in mind, what are some small acts you can do as a family? How about some more art? More specifically, art with a positive message. You’ve probably seen signs in windows, or chalk art on sidewalks, thanking our front line workers, or sending out some hope or positivity to the world. Here’s a few examples:

Why not give it a try with your family? Make your windows or your front door your canvas, and send some goodness out into the world. It’s good for others, and it’s good for you!

THE HEALING PROPERTIES OF CREATIVITY

Why This Matters:

“Doing creative things today predicts improvements in well-being tomorrow. Full stop.” In her research into the positive effects of creative pursuits, Tamlin Conner found the results to be definitive.

Resistance, boredom, and increased symptoms of anxiety are likely signs of your child's emotional distress at this time of change and uncertainty. Parents sometimes recognize that their child is upset or fearful, but their child doesn’t know how to talk about those feelings, or may not even be aware of them. When emotions flare, the ensuing conflict may be unrelated to the real concerns underlying the emotion—this is true for all of us. 
 
Art and creative play are very helpful ways for human beings to express emotions, and they don’t require the sophisticated skill of identifying and translating emotions into words. Studies have shown this ability to simply process emotions nonverbally is healing in and of itself. Through making art and creative play, one can express thoughts and feelings through metaphor, which is often a more accessible and less threatening way to access feelings for children and adults alike. 
 
Another benefit of creative endeavors is an opportunity to exert some control when so much autonomy has been lost while we shelter at home. Educators recognize that creative activities such as art, music, dance, and creative play support cognitive development, imagination, creativity, and identity formation. As the renowned developmental psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott found, “It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.”

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What You Can Do:

Most of us have experienced the therapeutic benefits of sketching drawing, journaling, singing, making music, dancing, and just playing, and we should not underestimate the benefits of these activities to sustain and heal all of us during challenging times, and to help us process difficult feelings. 

Check out this article on the research supporting the link between creative expression and well-being from the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley. “We can add creativity to the list of ‘actionable things’ people can do to take charge of their well-being,” according to Conner.

GET YOUR EMPATHY ON

Why This Matters:

“Get your empathy on” recommends Lisa Damour, acclaimed psychologist when offering her best advice on raising children during a pandemic. Damour believes that when our children are “overly self-centered,” we should begin with empathy as a way to respond to their sadness and sense of loss. “It can be easy at these times to feel brittle and short-tempered, and the more we can do to be tender with ourselves and everyone who is in our close quarters the better we are going to all come through this.”

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What You Can Do:

Listen to an interview with Dr. Damour in the first 30 minutes of this New York Times Book Review podcast for tips on how to lead with empathy when parenting during the COVID crisis. 
 

PRACTICE GRATITUDE

Why This Matters:

In the spirit of simplicity, and focusing on “what matters most” we would like to recommend developing a gratitude practice. There has been a significant amount of research that shows that a gratitude practice improves social and emotional well-being. Dr Christine Carter in her book Raising Happiness has found from her research that gratitude, along with resilience and connection, is necessary for a happy life. Also at Greater Good Science Center (GGSC), Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude offers this:

“First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life. The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves…” Learn more here from GGSC about all the ways gratitude increases health. 

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What You Can Do

While we cannot meet face to face in real life (IRL), there are ways to be grateful for what we have, and ways to stay connected to each other and the greater community. Check out these 10 tips for incorporating more gratitude into your life.

KINDNESS IS CONTAGIOUS

“In this time of collective stress… a reminder that 'Contagion is real, but it doesn’t just work for viruses. It works for kind words and generous thoughts, and acts of selflessness and honesty.'”
– [From the New York Times Daily podcast / 3.15.20 interview with Tom Hanks]

Why This Matters:

“Witnessing acts of kindness inspires others to pay it forward," says Mr. Zaki, a psychologist at Stanford University in California. In 2016, he published an article in Scientific American, "Kindness Contagion," that included findings of studies about how people “catch” cooperation and generosity from others. "This deep-seated desire to help and connect with others intensifies during times of crisis and it crosses lanes of class, race, and other divisions that typically keep people apart.” [From The Christian Science Monitor / "Why Tough Times Can Mean Better Neighbors"]

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What You Can Do:

Kids are naturally wired to help, and we can fuel those habits through simple acts. “When in doubt, it’s best to empower kids—especially young ones. They can help wipe down surfaces. They can put stuff away. They can cook. They can’t do any of these things particularly well, but it’s a kindness to let them try. Action, as you’ve likely noticed, is a powerful treatment for the pain of powerlessness.” [From Fatherly newsletter /3.15.20]

WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

Why This Matters:

From crisis to connection, it’s important to remember we’re all in this together, and even though we’re apart from each other our community will get us through. And there have been some beautiful examples of people creating and sustaining community from a distance:

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What You Can Do:

Here’s a simple way to reach out and check in on neighbors with a free printable postcard that you can fill out and share. You can also send letters, cards, or art to hospitals or our senior center friends. Check out the Let Your Life Speak From Home for contact info and details. 

And don’t forget to also keep our SFFS community connected! Keep sharing snapshots of your lives during our campus closure to stay connected: of kids building forts, baking cookies, or taking FaceTime screenshots with friends. Let's take comfort in the fact that we're all in this together.