COVID – 19 UPDATES

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

Moving Past the Pandemic: A New Anxiety

One year ago, the World Health Organization reported the COVID 19 virus as a global pandemic and the world changed. Requirements for social distancing, wearing a mask and staying at home, for most, resulted in anxiety. Most of us experienced fear and worry about contacting or spreading the virus; gradually, routines developed, and we cautiously adjusted, still with a good amount of stress.

One year later, as the vaccine rollout quickens, and more and more people are getting vaccinated many folks are having conversations about different fears. A survey released last month by the American Psychological Association found that 49% of adults feel uneasy about returning to in-person interactions once the pandemic is over. Vaccination status did not affect the responses – 48% of those who have already been vaccinated say they, too, feel uncomfortable with in-person interactions.

​These concerns are understandable. In the past year, we have heard over and over that home is the safest place, so feeling anxious about the prospect of being with people outside our “pod” or in larger gatherings is perfectly normal.

Returning to in person interactions while the pandemic is still ongoing is yet another transition.  For those who struggled with anxiety before the pandemic, the anticipation of an impending return to something like normalcy is cause for apprehension. For most, this adjustment will not be easy. Coping skills can help you tolerate, minimize, and deal with stressful situations and managing your stress will help you feel better physically and psychologically.

Coping Skills & Strategies

Review this list to see what might work best for you. It is good practice to implement skills in preparation of confronting changes as you re-engage with social activities.

  • Acknowledge feeling symptoms of stress – anxiety; feeling concerned, irritated, angry; having trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Gradually resume activities – set small goals, for example, meet a friend for coffee at an outdoor cafe
  • Practice communicating boundaries – saying no if you are not comfortable with an activity
  • Plan and think ahead – is there anything that could make you feel uncertain in this situation?
  • Buddy up – get together with a friend and support each other through the process
  • Stay focused on what is within your control
  • Practice mindfulness techniques
  • Develop daily encouraging mantras – they will keep you mentally strong
  • Exercise/keep active
  • Good sleep hygiene

Anxiety can become a problem that interferes with your daily life.

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

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC

Reducing Social Anxiety & Promoting Re-Engagement in Children (Pandemic Re-Entry)

For many children, who may have struggled with feeling comfortable when interacting with others pre-pandemic, having had a year of significantly reduced social interactions may have felt like a relief.  However, currently with schools, businesses, and public places re-opening many children are dealing with increased social difficulties as the pandemic eliminated any outside contact with others other than their immediate family members.  The five tips below may help to support your child with increased reengagement skills and reduced social anxiety.  

Talk openly about what social anxiety is with your child.

Explain to your child that children struggling with social anxiety may fear social situations that involve interacting with others (i.e. peers, teachers, adults) when in school, public or when attending gatherings. Children with social anxiety may experience negative thoughts and/or fears that others are judging or having negative beliefs about them. Talking to your child and normalizing their feelings of anxiety after being in quarantine, and expressing that their feelings are normal, is vital. To normalize their feelings, talk to your child about your own experiences with anxiety and how you overcame them.

Schedule time for your child to interact others.

Schedule time with friends and close family members via Facetime or Zoom – making sure to encourage your child’s use of the camera when on video calls to promote face-to-face interaction with others. (Should your child struggle with not feeling comfortable with using the camera, you may allow the use of audio only calls initially). However, efforts should be made to successfully achieve video face-to-face interaction with use of the camera feature, in order to work on strengthening social connections and reduce social anxiety.

Provide encouragement and support to your child

Provide encouragement and support to your child with attention on acceptance and sensitivity, making sure to avoid use of judgment, being critical, or showing frustration with your child. Help your child to identify, label, and express their emotions. Children will at times not be successful in achieving their socialization goals. It is difficult for children to face their fears, be sure to validate their feelings, talking to your child at their eye level and validating their emotions is critical for their successful reintegration with others. Utilize language such as, “I see this is hard for you, we can work on this together,” rather than “Why can’t you do it?” or “Why can you be like your sister/cousin they can interact with other kids?”

Encourage outdoor experiences and activities.

Encourage and support your child to increase his/her time engaging in outside experiences and activities. You may support your child by being available to visit a local park, leaving the house for some ice cream, playing a sport with your child on the driveway or front street, and/or visiting the grocery store will allow your child to have gradual exposures to being around others, while still practicing social distancing and wearing their mask.

Support your child with coping skills.

Support your child with the development and implementation of social anxiety coping skills. Skills that can help in reducing your child’s social anxiety include the following strategies: timed breathing skills such as, square breathing which involves creating a mental image of a square box, inhaling from your nose for a count of four, holding air in your lungs for a count of four, exhaling from your mouth for a count of four and holding your breathe for a count of four, (see a guided video here). The square breathing sequence can be repeated three times to receive the best results with reduced anxiety. Another skill to reduce anxiety is the use of a grounding skill using your five senses, where you can have your child locate and explore – 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell and 1 thing they can taste. This exercise intercepts anxiety producing thoughts and helps your child to be present in their space. (see guided video here).

Arlene Munoz, LSW

COVID-19 Anniversary: Why We Look Back, How We Move Forward

“Remember how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be.” – Rick Warren

 

Why is it important to mark an anniversary?

Anniversaries – whether marking a wedding, a union, a birthday, a new job, or other significant milestone – are most often days of celebration. These occasions give us reason to celebrate and reflect on the previous year and how the event being celebrated has added to our lives.

Anniversaries can also mark more somber occasions, this could be the loss of a loved one, or even a larger event in our community or in history. Why is it equally important to mark the passage of time in respect to loss, heartache, or tragedy?

It is important to acknowledge that all significant events make us who we are. A marriage marks a new beginning, a new path forward, as much as losing a loved one can also define a new stage in life. Each experience becomes a part of your story.

Where we may take a wedding anniversary to reflect with our partner on the past year, or years, and reminisce about how the partnership has grown, when we reflect on the anniversary of a tragic event, it is an opportunity to recognize growth as well. What have you learned in facing a loss? How have you shown resilience? How have you learned to cope with grief, or sadness, or struggle?

To the end, any anniversary that you acknowledge has worth, you assign its worth simple by recognizing the event or day as an anniversary. And if there is value to you in that day, then there is value in the emotions and reflection that come with it.

In the coming weeks, we will be reaching the anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic taking hold of our lives. On March 4, 2020 New Jersey officials announced the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in New Jersey; two short weeks later, the state entered a near-total quarantine lockdown that brought our lives to a halt.

What do we find by looking back?

The coronavirus outbreak impacted major aspects of our lives: working remotely at home, online education, and religious services. We had to get creative entertaining outdoors with a minimum number of family and friends staying six feet apart, drive-by birthday greetings and Zoom parties. Suddenly we were wearing face masks and washing our hands so often our skin became red, sore, and dry. Families were not able to visit loved ones in nursing facilities or attend to funeral rituals due to the need for social distancing. And travel was not happening.

Although none of us could have prepared for such a tragic period during our lifetime, there is value in recognizing the anniversary and in reflecting on what we have experienced in the past year.

There has certainly been much lost in the past year…

The start of school, graduations, weddings, funerals, sitting Shiva are all time-honored rituals and traditions that COVID severely disrupted. The lack of physical expression (hugs, kisses) has left a void in the way we process grief. A challenge during this time has been creating new rituals so we can partake in these significant occasions. Connecting on Zoom, social distance get-togethers, lawn signs to express congratulations to a graduate or celebrate a birthday demonstrate how resourceful and creative we have been establishing meaning to special events.

It is important to acknowledge our losses. Feeling sad is a normal part of grieving and it’s important to give yourself permission to be sad and to acknowledge the other emotions you might be feeling. Remember to take care of yourself, this could be sitting with a cup of tea listening to your favorite music, eating healthy, or journaling your thoughts and feelings.

Where there was loss, there was also gain…

Reflect on personal accomplishments – did you start a new hobby? Secure a new job? Spend more quality time with family? Learn a new skill? Prioritize your mental health?

Now, not all of us will emerge from this quarantine with a healthy sourdough starter on the counter, fully reorganized closets, filled with newly crocheted blankets, and that’s ok too. Simply getting through each day, maintaining your health, being able to move forward during this challenging time, that is an accomplishment to be proud of as well.

Beyond our personal spheres, there are positive takeaways to be found from the last year in how communities banded together to help the most vulnerable during the pandemic. Around the world folks came together to support their family, friends, and community by providing emotional and financial support, food, protective gear, and social justice.

Food drives were organized, masks hand-sewn and delivered to seniors, neighbors shopped for each other to keep crowds out of stores, we stood on balconies to applaud the herculean efforts of frontline workers, grassroots efforts launched food pantries and meal distributions across heavily impacted communities.

Looking for more inspiration? We can look at the global scale and celebrate that in the past year…

How do we look forward with hope?

We may feel as our lives are indefinitely paused because we don’t know how life will look after the pandemic, but we can have hope. Hope is a belief that things will get better, it is linked to the power of our mind and plays a vital role in giving us the benefit of emerging from adversity. This is not an opinion, it is science.

Hope takes away the burden of the present moment making it less difficult to bear. It helps us to believe in a better tomorrow. I am hopeful that you can be hopeful and look for that better tomorrow.​

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)