COVID – 19 UPDATES

Find agency updates, helpful blogs & articles, and other resources HERE

Jewish Bereavement Virtual Support Group

Free, Six Week Group

Thursdays, March 4 – April 8 | 2:00 – 3:15 PM | Via Zoom

Following the death of a loved one, each of us moves in our own time and in our own way, through a process of grief, mourning and adjustment. But we do not have to grieve alone…

This is a weekly group in which members converse openly and support one another through the grief process. Open to any Jewish adult, regardless of affiliation, who has lost a loved one within the past 12 months.

Facilitated by Chaplain Beverly Rubman, MA

No fee to attend, registration required. To register, contact Beverly Rubman at beverlyr@jfcsonline.org / 609-987-8100 Ext 139.

Have you hit the wall? Feeling exhausted by uncertainty, isolation, fear?

We are all dealing with the ongoing impact of the pandemic, some of us more than others. Even as the vaccine brings hope, we now face the frustrating process of registering for the vaccine – scouring websites, making phones calls, seeking new resources and information. After wave after wave of challenges, many of us are at the breaking point.

To combat the potential spiral into frustration and anxiety, first, recognize there is only so much we can control – this makes us human, but not powerless. What can we control? We can acknowledge our feelings, we can show ourselves kindness and compassion. Compassion for oneself is no different than compassion for others. Instead of pushing aside pain, concerns, anxieties, pause and tell yourself ‘this is really difficult right now.’ Then ask, ‘how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?’

Let’s walk through a simple Self-Compassion Practice that can help build mental and emotional resilience…

The following exercise is from resilience expert Linda Graham for shifting our awareness and bringing acceptance to the experience of the moment. It helps to practice this self-compassion break when any emotional distress is still reasonably manageable, through practice, you can create and strengthen the neural circuits that can do this shifting and re-conditioning when things are really tough.

When you notice a surge of difficult emotion – boredom, anger, stress – pause. Put your hand over your heart (this activates the release of oxytocin, the hormone of safety & trust)

Empathize with your experience. Say to yourself “this is upsetting” or “this is hard!” or “this is scary” or even, “ouch, this hurts!”

Repeat one or more of these phrases, or try a variation that works for you…

May I be kind to myself in this moment.

May I accept this moment exactly as it is.

May I accept myself exactly as I am in this moment.

May I give myself all the compassion I need.

These simple mantras break the negative thought loops.

Continue repeating the phrases until you can feel the internal shift – the compassion and kindness and care for yourself becoming stronger than the original negative emotion.

Uncertain times mean navigating changes in your life that you cannot control.

They may mean doing things differently, even reaching out for help — that’s part of being resilient, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

If you need additional support, reach out to JFCS at 609-987-8100.

An Introduction to Meditation

Meditation has gained a lot of attention as we all continue to see methods of relaxation and self care in the midst of these challenging times. Linda Kanner, one of our licensed clinical social workers, takes us through an Introduction to Meditation and the most common methods of meditation including Mindfulness Meditation, Movement Meditation, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Visualization Meditation and Guided Meditation. Also included are tips and resources for how to get started.

Are you feeling quarantine depression? How to combat fatigue, stress, and other signs of depression

Quarantine depression is part of our new daily vocabulary along with masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizer. This quarantine depression and fatigue is different from clinical depression because the feelings are brought on by the circumstances of the pandemic, whereas clinical depression can happen for a variety of reasons and does not have an external cause, can be chronic and persistent. 

What can quarantine depression look like?

  • Feeling fatigued even when you haven’t engaged in physical activity or upon waking
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Feeling “on edge” or having difficulty dealing with normal life stressors
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Lack of interest in maintaining relationships, even over virtual methods, such as text, email, and video calling

Tips and Strategies to Manage Quarantine Depression:

  • Do something each day, it doesn’t have to be a lofty goal, anything is better than nothing and you will find pleasure in checking something off your list.
  • Exercise. Go outdoors for a walk, ride your bike, or sit on the porch; the benefits of the fresh air and Vitamin D from the sun can help to boost your mood.
  • Meditation. The psychological benefits of meditation are wide ranging: heightened creativity, decreased stress and anxiety, decreased irritability, improved memory and even increased happiness and emotional stability.
  • Listen to music. It has been proven scientifically that listening to your favorite music improves your mood. 
  • Practice self-compassion. Turn off that critical dialogue, what we say to ourselves influences everything; start using supportive, encouraging words.
  • Focus on what you can do and accept the things you cannot change.
  • Keep a daily gratitude journal; this will help you appreciate the positives which can help reduce stress.
  • Stay connected. Even though we cannot be physically together, make that phone call, write an email or letter, send a text to check in with your friends and family.

A licensed therapist can help you identify the causes of your depression and provide the necessary support to help improve your quality of life. Reach out to JFCS

  • During our Drop-in Hours (Mon, Wed, Fri 10 AM – 12 PM or Tues, Thurs 5 – 7 PM) call 609-987-8100 Dial 0
  • Connect with our intake coordinator for ongoing counseling at 609-987-8100 Ext 102, we are currently providing therapy via phone and video calls

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

Tips, Resources & Support for Holiday Season During COVID-19

This time of year is usually full of eager anticipation, cheerful gatherings, acts of kindness and charitable giving. Like so many aspects of life, this year the holiday season will look different than ones that came before. While we will all have to continue to be creative in how and where we gather with family and friends, observe holiday traditions, and participate in the season, we can still make this year meaningful and special.

Coping with Separation & Loss During Celebrations

Do you or your families need a refresher on Zoom? Don’t let anyone feel left out of the virtual celebration, share our step by step Zoom Guide.

Consider a drive-by potluck dinner. If you can’t bring yourself to reduce the recipe of your favorite holiday dish, coordinate with loved ones who may be within driving distance and organize a drop-off potluck. Make the full holiday serving size, divvy up into individual portions, and make a no-contact delivery to loved ones who are close by. OR, if you are far apart from loved ones, especially elderly family members, consider ordering them a prepared meal to be delivered.

Find more tips like this in…

Remember, this year, safety is most important to ensure future holidays celebrations can be shared together in person. Review the CDC Guidelines and Recommendations for Thanksgiving & upcoming holidays.

If you are a caregiver, this holiday can be extra difficult managing the stress of your role in the midst of the pandemic, and without the extra family support during this season. We are here for caregivers.

If you have experienced loss this year, this difficult and distanced holiday time can feel especially challenging to navigate.

  • For those of the Jewish faith, join us on December 9 for a special program “Light in the Midst of Darkness: Chanukah in the time of COVID for the Bereaved” Register in advance (fee $10)

Additional resources for the bereaved:

Time for Traditions

Practice gratitude. Here are a number of resources for nurturing gratitude for Thanksgiving and beyond.

Find comfort in the familiar of tradition. Put out the special tableware, the traditional recipes, and find religious services streaming online.

Embrace the nostalgia of the hand-written card. When we are all missing family and friends more than ever, a hand-written (or even hand-made if you want to avoid the stores) card can mean so much to the recipient.

Dress up! Even if you are hosting a smaller gathering than usual, or celebrating solo, dress up in your formal holiday attire. Wearing your holiday best can bring about the celebratory spirit!

Missing out on the cookie baking marathon with your loved ones? Set up a video call and bake “together.” This can be a special opportunity to record your family members passing down beloved family recipes which can be cherished for generations.

Find more tips like this in…

Community Event: Interfaith Thanksgiving Service dedicated in memory of Rabbi Feldman

Thurs, November 26 @ 11:00 AM

Join for a special interfaith service for the holiday. STREAM LIVE

Make this time Special with Service

This has been a challenging year for many – job loss, food insecurity, seniors feeling especially isolated. In this season of giving, find ways to make a difference in your community…

Participate or lead a Thanksgiving/Holiday Food Drive. Check with local pantries if they are collecting specific items for the upcoming holidays or if they are in need of pantry staples.

Want to get out into the community? Food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens continue to see rising demand. Reach out to organizations in your area and inquire about volunteer opportunities. Many organizations are relying on volunteers to facilitate large-scale grab and go meal distributions.

  • Help at JFCS! We welcome volunteers to help pack prepared bags of food for our on-site and mobile food pantries. Contact us: BethE@jfcsonline.org / 609-987-8100 Ext 126.

Share a smile with a senior. The restrictions of current quarantine orders dramatically impact older adults. Consider making holiday cards to be shared with isolated seniors. Reach out to local senior care facilities or organizations to inquire about how to best distribute holiday greeting cards to their residents/clients.

  • JFCS is collecting cards for our senior clients which will be distributed to those who receive delivered meals and food. Contact Eden Aaronson to learn more: EdenA@jfcsonline.org / 609-987-8100 Ext 113.

Make a donation. Find an organization close to your heart and make a gift that is meaningful to you to support them. Share with family and friends why this cause is important and encourage them to do the same.

  • You can help make the holidays special for JFCS clients by donating gift cards to our L.I.G.H.T.S (Love is Getting Holidays Gifts to Share) program. Learn more here.
  • By making a general monetary donation to JFCS, you are enabled us to continue our vital support to the community through our food pantries, senior support and mental health care. Make a donation today.
Embrace the Opportunity for NEW Traditions

Never had time to make a Turkey Trot before now? Most charity walks/races have gone virtual and can be completed from anywhere! Make a team with family and friends no matter how distanced you are, and embrace the chance to create a new tradition with them.

  • You can participate in the Mercer County Turkey Trot Nov 21 – 28! Proceeds help support Mercer County food pantries including JFCS. Sign up today!

Create a Secret “Snowflake” gift exchange through the magic of Amazon Prime (or any online store). Organize a gift exchange through a broad network using social media or keep it to a close-knit group with whom you may not be able to gather in person with this year.

Seek out virtual holiday concert or performances, coordinate virtual “watch parties” of your favorite holiday movies with your loved ones, enjoy outdoor, socially distanced opportunities like drive-through or walk-through light displays, and explore local opportunities like Palmer Square holiday weekends or Morven Museum & Garden Festival of Trees.

This Thanksgiving, enjoy an Interfaith Service, dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Adam Feldman. Stream the program liveThursday, November 26 at 11 AM.

Festive Foods

See a guided video by our very own Andrea Gaynor to make your own Sufganiyot (Jelly Doughnuts) for Hanukkah!

Our registered dietitan has shared tips and recipes for budget-friendly and time-conscious Thanksgiving dishes.

Check out additional family friendly recipes:

Games & Crafts

Get crafty and creative this holiday season with these activities fun for all ages!

Do What Works Best for YOU and Your Mental Health

It has been said that during the pandemic, sometimes it takes more effort to accomplish less. The emotional and mental toll of the past months may leave many feeling exceptionally fatigued by the holidays before they have even arrived.

If you need to keep things simple to protect your mental health, then take the time for self-care. If you’re feeling over-Zoomed before weeks of virtual holiday drinks, be honest with your family and friends and let them know you cannot join all of the engagements.

Find information & tips in our blogs:

And, if you need to talk to someone, reach out to JFCS

  • During our Drop-in Hours (Mon, Wed, Fri 10 AM – 12 PM or Tues, Thurs 5 – 7 PM) call 609-987-8100 Dial 0
  • Connect with our intake coordinator for ongoing counseling at 609-987-8100 Ext 102

Feeling stressed about the election? How to cope with anxiety & uncertainty in the days and weeks ahead

You may be experiencing symptoms of Election Stress Disorder.

The 2020 election season would have been a stressful one even during normal times but, compounded with a pandemic it is creating, for some, incredible stress and frustration. If you find yourself experiencing what has been described as Election Stress Disorder you are not alone; according to a study recently conducted by the American Psychological Association, 68% of Americans are feeling significantly stressed by this presidential election. For some, tomorrow and the weeks ahead will be highly emotional, so it is essential to consider how to manage your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Below are a few suggestions that could provide you with a balance:

Try to keep things in perspective.

It’s common to experience strong feelings of distress related to elections. To help you cope, validate whatever emotions you’re experiencing, while working to reframe intrusive thoughts like hopelessness or despair. If you are feeling discouraged by current events, remind yourself that situations may shift in the future.

Set boundaries with family and friends.

Having boundaries means offering one another the space to celebrate, mourn, and process feelings as needed. Avoid minimizing or judging other people’s reactions, especially if those reactions are different than yours. Give people space to cope in the ways that best suit them.

Try not to dwell.

Instead of dwelling on fears by letting your mind run wild, ask yourself if there are any action steps you can take to improve the situation and/or your mental health. Anxiety functions to make us feel powerless; doing something – anything – can help empower and bring us back into healthy coping.

Self-monitor your emotions.

Prepare for delayed results; it may take days or weeks, self-monitor and respond appropriately to your emotions. If the outcome is not what you were hoping for, find peaceful and adaptive ways to advocate for what you believe in.

Limit your news consumption.

Make opportunities to disconnect from the media, particularly if you find yourself becoming distraught, anxious, or emotionally reactive. The news is sure to be more exhausting in the coming weeks, which is why a plan for consumption can be beneficial.

Tomorrow, Election Day.

On the day of the election, start off with a moment of gratitude and self-care; this may look like journaling, a short meditation or being in nature.

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

What happens in therapy? What should you know about starting therapy?

Let’s start with the first steps…getting connected with a JFCS therapist.

When you first call for a therapy appointment at JFCS, you will speak with our intake coordinator who will ask a few questions to gather some background information to pass along to the therapist with whom your case is assigned.

You will be asked for a general description of why you are coming to therapy – what is called the presenting problem. The reason the intake coordinator asks is to be sure that we are able to provide services for the problem you are dealing with. For example, if someone is experiencing a drug addiction, we would refer them to another provider as we do not provide substance abuse counseling.  The intake coordinator is bound by the same HIPPA laws regarding confidentiality and privacy of healthcare information as the therapist.

When one of our therapists is assigned to you, they will phone you and schedule an initial assessment session which will last for about one hour. This time is a ‘getting to know you’ session, where the therapist will complete what is called a Biopsychosocial Assessment, asking questions to better understand your background, current problems, symptoms, as well as strengths. Oftentimes, more than one session is needed to gather information to conduct a thorough assessment. We don’t want anyone to feel rushed while sharing their personal story of life experiences

At the initial assessment session, paperwork will also be reviewed, such as HIPPA forms, agency policies regarding attendance and other issues. Once the assessment is completed and it is determined that JFCS is the appropriate level of care for your presenting problem, the therapist and client will together develop a Treatment Plan which defines the problem and goals for treatment focus. It is important for both client and therapist to understand what is the ‘endpoint, or when will both know that therapy has been successful.

What does a typical therapy session look like?

Therapy can be held individually, as a couple, with a family unit, or in a group with a common treatment focus. Therapy is also available to anyone from childhood to elderly adults. Here at JFCS we can provide therapy services for children starting at age 5 and up to adults of any age.

Sessions are usually held every two weeks and last approximately 45-50 minutes. The length of treatment can vary depending on the complexity of issues which are the focus of treatment. The treatment goals and decisions for how often and how long to meet are collaboratively discussed by the client and therapist.

Currently, for the health and safety of all during the COVID-19 pandemic, all therapy sessions at JFCS are being conducted through video teletherapy on Zoom or by phone. Many other agencies and therapists throughout NJ are also providing services via video teletherapy.

There are both advantages and drawbacks to this mode of providing therapy. Some of the benefits of engaging in therapy remotely are: there’s no need to travel to an office – you receive services in the comfort of familiar surroundings; it’s an easy process – your therapist emails you a link which you click on at the time of your session to connect for a session. Our team at JFCS has found that clients, overall, have enjoyed the many advantages of video teletherapy.

What would be helpful to know about therapy? 

Roles: The relationship between the therapist and client is a professional relationship. This means that the relationship’s purpose is to benefit the client and that there are established boundaries or limits that are deemed appropriate according to the ethical standards set by the therapist’s profession, ex. social work code of ethics. This therapeutic relationship is different from your other relationships. The therapist is bound to keep confidential the information you share with them, with a few exceptions, ex. harming self or others. You can feel confident that what you talk about will stay with your therapist, this may not always be true of your conversations with friends and family.

Therapists reveal very little about themselves to clients, and if they do share something of a personal nature, it needs to be in the service or benefit of the client. The focus of the session is on you, the client; the therapist is there to assist with compassion and without judgment.

While it may seem like a nice idea to be able to continue a relationship outside of the therapy sessions, this is not possible. The therapeutic relationship is not a two-way relationship where both parties get to know each other. The role of the therapist is to help their client, never the other way around. Most therapists genuinely care about their clients and want to see them improve. Establishing healthy boundaries helps with this process.

Guidelines: At the initial session, most therapists will provide information to the client regarding the agency’s policies, such as the cancellation/no show policy, policy related to fees and insurance, how to best contact your therapist between sessions, etc. Discussing this information early on can help to clarify expectations and responsibilities for both client and therapist and help prevent any future misunderstandings. If you have any questions at any time, do not hesitate to bring them up to your therapist.

Expectations:  Along with a strong therapeutic relationship, there are several factors that can promote positive therapy outcomes.

  • Regular attendance to the sessions
  • Being willing to have the “difficult” conversations
  • Sharing honestly in session
  • Fully participating in therapy
  • Being open to feedback
  • Completing any tasks or written exercises outside of session

Feeling unsure about therapy?

If you are hesitant about meeting with a therapist, let me share this:  Do you think it would be realistic – or a good idea, for a person to go through their entire life, and never see a medical doctor for physical problems? Probably not.

Throughout our life we are bombarded with many outside toxins, viruses, germs, and we also have body parts and systems that wear out or get injured. To alleviate these various illnesses and problems we may need professional help, medical help, to deal effectively with the problem.

It is the same with our mental health. Is it realistic to think that we can go throughout our entire life without needing some professional help for our mental health related problems? Our mental health is just as important as our physical health.

When you are in need of therapy remember that JFCS is here for you. Call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

Teri Cheresnick, LCSW, LCADC

Are you feeling the winter blues? Darker days affecting your mood?

Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder During the Pandemic

As we brace for the winter months when the days will grow shorter and become darker, the psychological effects of the lack of sun can go beyond “winter blues” to a form of depression known Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD).  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer. Depressive periods linked to the summer can occur but are much less common than winter episodes of SAD.  It is estimated that SAD effects five percent of the U.S. population each year. With the additional complications and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of SAD may be more pervasive than usual this year.

Why is sunlight so important?  Exposure to sunlight is believed to increase a hormone in the brain called serotonin which is associated with boosting your mood and helping you to feel more focused and calmer. The darker lighting at night triggers the brain to make another hormone called melatonin which is responsible for helping you sleep. 

Symptoms of SAD are similar in nature to the symptoms of any other depression: feelings of sadness, difficulties getting out of bed, sleep problems, low energy, loss of interest in activities, difficulty concentrating and feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of death or suicide. In addition, SAD symptoms might include a craving for carbohydrates, overeating, turning to drugs, alcohol or tobacco to cope, self-isolation/distancing more than what is recommended.

To avoid or at least minimize SAD symptoms, it would be helpful to start now and establish good mental health habits rather than wait when the shorter and colder days are upon us. Here are some strategies to try:

If you cannot go outside, bring the sun indoors.

Light therapy can be a great way to fool your brain into making more of the chemicals that make you feel good — the same chemicals that you’re missing during a bout of seasonal depression. Search for lights that mimic natural light or light therapy boxes.

Healthy body and healthy mind.

Eat healthy, get plenty of exercise, meditate, engage in spiritual connectedness, and stimulate your intellectual curiosity by exploring new ideas.

Essential oils.

There are a variety of essential oils that are recommened to help relieve symptoms of SAD; such as, bergamot, lavender, sandalwood, sage, basil, chamomile, lemon, peppermint, jasmine, and orange.

Do what you enjoy.

Make time for your hobbies – music, cooking, playing an instrument, dancing, drawing or journaling.

Balanced life.

Make an effort to achieve balance between your personal and professional life and treat them as two different worlds.  This is especially important for anyone working from home because of COVID-19. Try and keep separate spaces for work/school and relaxation; remember to “log-off” after your usual work day and disconnect fully when transitioning to your personal time.

Get support.

If your symptoms are affecting your daily life and functioning, a licensed therapist can provide you with a variety of coping skills and support to improve your mental health well-being. JFCS is here for you. Call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed professionals.

You can also be immediately connected with a counselor during our Phone Drop In Hours:

Monday, Wednesday, Friday 10 AM – 12 PM

Tuesday & Thursday 5 – 7 PM

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

Why do people go to therapy? How can therapy help?

There are many reasons why someone may go to therapy, but a few of the reasons are:

  • You’re having difficulty managing your emotions. While everyone feels upset, sad, or angry at some time in their life, it’s important to pay attention to how often or how intensely you feel these emotions. For example, if you feel continually sad, hopeless, or disengaged in your daily life for at least two weeks or longer, it may be a sign of clinical depression which is different from an occasional depressed mood.
  • You notice a decrease in your level of effectiveness in your role at work, home, or school.
  • You are experiencing noticeable changes in your sleeping pattern – sleeping too much or too little or changes in appetite – either overeating or not eating enough.
  • You are having difficulty in your interpersonal relationships.
  • You’ve experienced trauma, whether it’s sexual abuse, domestic violence or another trauma that you haven’t recovered from.
  • You no longer find pleasure in activities you once enjoyed. When you struggle with a psychological issue, feelings of disconnectedness can cause a person to have a loss of interest in hobbies, socializing and other activities.
  • You are experiencing grief. Grief can be a response to many losses, not just the death of someone we care about. We can grieve the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job – and sometimes we need help to process these painful feelings.
  • You use an unhealthy substance or activity to cope with stress. At times when we are feeling overwhelmed we look for relief by using something to numb our emotions – and that can be alcohol, drugs, or sex.

How can therapy be beneficial?

Therapy is more than just talking things over with someone and getting things off your chest. While talking to a friend or loved one can be helpful, sometimes more than just a sympathetic ear is needed.  Some ways that therapy can be beneficial are:

  • Therapy can help a person learn to identify and change behaviors or thoughts that are adversely affecting their life.
  • Therapy can assist with developing more healthy, effective ways to cope with and solve various stressors and problems. And therapy can assist you in having more meaningful relationships.
  • If someone has a diagnosable mental health disorder such as depression or an anxiety disorder, therapy can also help the individual to understand the illness, eliminate or decrease the symptoms, and improve their daily life interactions.

According to Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist, therapy “is an honest, objective and confidential space that allows a person to explore uncomfortable feelings, understand its root causes, place it in a context and learn coping skills to overcome those feelings.”  Additionally, “it’s a trusting space where you can be vulnerable and explore deeper issues that require the assistance of a trained professional, such as trauma or high-risk behaviors”.

If you or someone you know may benefit from therapy, JFCS is here for you. Call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

Teri Cheresnick, LCSW, LCADC