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Five (More) Strategies to Building Emotional Resilience

In my most recent blog, I presented five research-based strategies that can help us to develop and strengthen our emotional resilience – our ability to ‘bounce back’ from stressors. In this post, we explore an additional five research-based strategies that can help us increase our emotional resilience:

Have Social Support:

All of us need to feel that we are not alone. Social connectedness to others releases oxytocin which calms the mind and reduces stress. Reaching out to others is not a sign of weakness, but instead an acknowledgement of knowing your own limitations and that you value human connection. In times of difficulty, reach out to others and ask for help. Reaching out to others and asking for their help is often a gift you give to them. Think back to how you may have felt when you helped a friend. We feel useful, and resilience builds for both the giver and receiver.

Be a Lifelong Learner:

Learning is not just for the young, it is also for the “young at heart.” By constantly growing your mind and adapting to new information about the world, you remain mentally sharp. Ask yourself, “Am I stuck in my ways?” Be open to new ideas, meeting new people, exploring new interests, learning new skills. Learning does not have to always be a major accomplishment, such as learning a foreign language, but can be as simple as trying a new recipe.

Change the Narrative:

When something bad happens to us, it is common for people to ruminate about the experience, the decision, replaying it over and over again in our mind and re-experiencing the pain.

Instead of replaying a choice or event, explore new insights that resulted from the challenge, rather than simply ruminate. One way to ‘change the narrative’ can be expressive writing. For several days, write freely for 20 minutes about one situation that is bothering you – no agenda, no questions to answers – simply write about the thoughts and feelings you have about the situation. When we focus and give our thoughts structure and attention, we can gain new perspectives. We process the event which can help give us a sense of control.

Focus on Self-Care:

We will have a hard time being emotionally resilient if we are physically exhausted or poorly nourished. Take care of yourself – schedule an annual check-up, eat (mostly) healthy foods, get moving with exercise, limit caffeine, and spend some time resting or relaxing. Turn to online options such as Youtube, to find short, guided relaxation videos; a 10-20 minute relaxation video can be like mini-vacation.

Control your Destiny:

While we cannot control what happens in the world or what other people do, we have control over how we respond and think about a situation. It is not the situation that causes the stress or anxiety, rather, our reaction to the situation.

Have you ever noticed people in their cars stuck in traffic? You can have one person calmly listening to the music on the radio, waiting patiently, while another driver is fuming, pounding the steering wheel beeping his horn. Same situation, two totally different reactions.

One way we can help ourselves is to say “I have a choice how I’ll respond” every time we face a challenge or difficulty.

When you feel overwhelmed by stress, try one of these strategies, or one of those previously discussed. Each small step you take can help to build your emotional resilience.

For those times when you may need some additional assistance in dealing with life’s challenges, JFCS is here for you. Call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

This is the last of three blogs covering Emotional Resilience. View the previous entry here. You can also view Teri’s webinar on this topic by clicking here.

Teri Cheresnick, LCSW, LCADC

How to Manage Screen time during COVID-19

Is it possible to practice digital wellness during COVID-19?

Many parents have expressed concerns that their children have been spending too much time in front of screens during COVID-19. The American Heart Association is urging parents to drastically cut the hours their kids can use their phones, computers, tablets, television, and video games.  A recent study from Common Sense Media reported that pre-teens are spending six hours a day in front of a screen and teens nine hours a day.

Parents are challenged with new circumstances as screens are everywhere and children are now learning and playing online. As the school year begins, many children will now be required to spend time on devices for a majority of their school day, which makes it even more important to establish a balance during their recreational time. The reality is everyone needs to be flexible in setting rules and to consider the purpose and benefits of the devices our children use (and ourselves!)

Let’s look at a few suggestions: 

  • Most importantly, parents should model healthy digital behavior by limiting their own screen time and putting their devices down to engage with their children.
  • Set rules around the use of screen time. For example, preview programs, games, and apps before allowing your children to view or play with them; or, consider watching, playing, or using them with your child.
  • Establish time limits for screen use and stick to them! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends setting hours-per-day limits for children/teens and suggest use of the media time calculator to determine an appropriate amount of time based on the child’s age.
  • Designate a screen free day where physical activity, reading and spending time outdoors is encouraged.
  • Create media free zones such as no screens in the bedrooms and no device use during mealtimes.
  • Plan for screen breaks. Frequent breaks can stop the brain from becoming over stimulated and combat screen addiction.
  • A good rule is to stop all exposure to screens and devices one hour prior to bedtime.
  • Provide alternatives to screen time; play a board game, go on a hike or a bike ride.

Allowing your child to be involved in creating a plan that works for your family is important, it will help them stick to it. Setting limits now will help your child properly manage their screen time and develop digital wellness skills.

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

Five Strategies to Building Emotional Resilience

In last week’s blog post, I discussed emotional resilience as our ability to bounce back and adapt to life’s stressors. In this post, I will explore five research-based strategies that can help to develop and improve emotional resilience.

Be an Optimist

This does not mean the “rose colored glasses,” but a realistic optimist. Someone who looks at any negative experiences around them and sees what is relevant to the problems they are facing. The realistic optimist disengages from the problems outside of their control and turns attention to problems they believe they can address. Acknowledge the problem, but then see what, if anything, about the problem directly impacts you and that you can work on. Be realistic about the world, and confident in your abilities that you can make positive changes to problems within your control.

Find a sense of purpose and meaning in your life:

Resilient people have a mission and purpose in life that gives meaning to the things that they do. When tough times roll in, they feel a greater purpose is behind them, propelling them forward. That purpose can be that “I go to work to provide for my family” or “my role is to care for my loved one.”

We can also start to develop our purpose in a small way. Over the next week, identify your focus. Take the time to acknowledge how you want to spend your time and energy. It could be as simple as “I’m going to call my friend because he’s been feeling down” or “I’m going to donate to a charity I believe in.”

When we have a purpose it nourishes us.

Face your fears:

When we avoid something we are afraid of, the fear inside us grows. When you face your fears, the intensity of the fear lessens. We cannot just talk ourselves out of the fear, but we have to address the fear one step at a time.

As an example, if we have a fear of speaking in public it can be helpful to begin addressing this fear by starting a conversation with a neighbor, then working up to giving a toast at a dinner party, each time taking a bigger step towards your goal. During this ‘exposure therapy’ we start to change the negative associations we have to situations or objects, being able to believe “that wasn’t so bad. I can do that.”

Be adaptable and flexible:

Resilience is figuring out a new way to behave when your old ways of behaving are not working or are not accessible any more. We have the power within us to make new choices, to try new ways of reacting. Resilient people use a number of ways to deal with stressful situations. They are not stuck on using one way of coping. Instead they shift from one coping strategy to another as needed. Imagine having a variety of tools in your toolbox to fix a problem.

Practice spirituality:

In general, we might say that spirituality includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, involving a search for meaning in life or simply a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness. Some people experience their spiritual life through a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue affiliation. Organized religion can provide structure, community, and meaning or identity. However, there are many ways that we can practice spirituality. Maybe through prayer or personal conversations with a higher power. Nature or art also provide for an expression of our spirituality.

Next week, I will share five more research-based strategies that you can use to help develop and improve your emotional resilience. However, for those times when you may need some additional assistance in dealing with life’s challenges, JFCS is here for you. Call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

This is the second of three blogs covering Emotional Resilience. See the next entry here. You can also view Teri’s webinar on this topic by clicking here.

Teri Cheresnick, LCSW, LCADC

Stress & Anxiety: Understanding Your Reaction to and Recovery from Stressors

Are you an Oak or a Willow?
We think of the oak tree as a symbol of strength and resilience, the tall and mighty oak! But consider what happens to many an oak tree when fierce storms come through. They topple, their branches get broken, they get uprooted.

But what about the willow tree? Their branches will never easily break no matter how strong the winds are; this tree is a survivor. Adaptable. Flexible.

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.” ― Robert Jordan

When stressors, the ‘storms’ of life, come blowing in, how do you react? Which ‘tree’ are you? And more importantly, how can we develop more of the willow’s ‘flexibility’? Stress is defined as the body’s reaction – and that can be physical, mental, or emotional reaction – to any change that requires an adjustment or response. So something happens in our environment which causes us to react., for example, we lose our job, we feel uncomfortable wearing a mask to go out, we’re dealing with a financial problem. Sometimes it is easy to ‘roll with the punches’ and deal with the stressors; and, then other times, not so much.

Our ability to adapt to, respond to, and recover from stressful events in our life is our emotional resilience. The word resilience comes from the Latin word for ‘resilio’ which means ‘to bounce back or rebound’. We are being emotionally resilient when we exhibit traits like resourcefulness, flexibility, or perseverance. We have little control over many of the unexpected life events that come our way, a sudden illness, death of a loved one, a car accident, a business failure; however we can develop skills, the emotional resilience, to weather the storms.

Ways to Build Emotional Resilience:
1. Be an optimist
2. Find a sense of purpose and meaning in your life
3. Face your fears
4. Be adaptable and flexible
5. Practice spirituality
6. Have social support
7. Be a lifelong learner
8. Change the narrative
9. Focus on self-care
10.Control your destiny

Over two additional blog postings, I will further discuss these ten research-based strategies that can help us to develop and improve our emotional resilience. For those times when you may need some additional assistance in dealing with life’s challenges, JFCS is here for you. Call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

This is the first of three blogs covering Emotional Resilience. You can also view Teri’s webinar on this topic by clicking here.

Teri Cheresnick, LCSW, LCADC

Crafting a Calming Jar – For kids of all ages!

Sometimes when we experience big emotions like worry, anger, frustration, overwhelm or sadness, we can get stuck in our thoughts and feelings. We may feel disconnected from our environment, from our bodies and from the present moment. When these big emotions seem to overwhelm us, we can help to ease them by coming back into our bodies and the moment by noticing sensations through sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.

These magical glitter jars are the perfect sensory toy for children and grown ups alike. Designed to soothe and relax, the swirling patterns created by glitter, water and optional additions are ideal for calming down a stressed out child (or adult, for that matter) – leading to their alternative name, ‘calm down jars’.

Crafting a personal glitter jar is a fun project to engage in and the result is a tool that can be used again and again.

Ingredients for Calming or Sensory Jars

  • Plastic or glass bottle or jar
  • Warm water
  • Glitter

 Optional (use whatever you have around):

  • Glitter glue
  • Vegetable oil
  • Clear liquid soap
  • Baby oil
  • Sequins
  • Watercolor or food coloring

Directions:

The main ingredients that are needed are the glitter, warm water and a bottle or jar of some material. Plastic bottles may be better for younger kiddos. The optional ingredients change up the movement of the sensory experience. 

To begin, fill the jar halfway with warm water. The warm water makes the combining of the ingredients easier. Next, place several tablespoons of your chosen glitter into the jar or bottle. Using a funnel can help with getting the glitter into a smaller opening. Put on the lid and shake until blended. Don’t be worried if this takes several minutes and keep on vigorously shaking. Once blended, fill the jar with warm water until full. If you’d like, you can super glue the lid or cap shut.

Adding additional emulsifiers like oil, glue or soap, can slow the movement of the glitter or create a lava lamp effect. Adding sequins, small toys, seashells or food coloring can enhance the look of the calming jar.

When your jar is complete, just give them a good shake, then watch until the glitter settles in the bottom of the jar to refocus and refresh an overwhelmed mind.

Julie Bond, LAMFT

Support Goes Virtual, JFCS Offers Counseling & Connection in Group Settings

July 10, 2020

Summer 2020 is bringing to light new challenges for all in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Where many programs are reduced in size or cancelled entirely in light of health and safety guidelines, all ages are left with more time filled with uncertainty, isolation, and stress.

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) is expanding mental health services to meet the changing needs of the Mercer County community.

“For the past few months we have been focused on getting information out into the community,” said Michelle Napell, JFCS Executive Director. “Many people were facing unprecedented mental and emotional health concerns. And for those managing ongoing mental health conditions, the challenges were even greater. We knew at the time, the priority was broadcasting insights and advice from our counselors out to as many individuals as possible.”

Since late March, JFCS has provided free, weekly webinars open to the broader Mercer County community. Topics included dealing with anxiety, stress management skills, and issues tailored toward youth and teens such as coping with the loss of routines and other missed experiences. In addition, the counseling team has blogged about additional, topical mental health concerns.

“As time wore on, it was clear what people were needing most was connection,” continued Napell. “We are now combining our mental health care expertise with the desire for social interaction with the introduction of virtual support groups led by the counselors.”

JFCS already maintained a virtual Caregiver Support Group for older adults caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, or other chronic illness. The virtual model proved successful and was well received by Caregiver Support Group members which paved the way for the clinical department to develop new groups.

“We identified the target populations that would most benefit from support groups based on what our counselors were hearing from their clients and concerns expressed by community members on the Drop-In calls,” said Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC.

The first session of the Social Support Group, a group targeted for older adults and seniors who are feeling isolated, was held on Thursday, July 9. Seven local seniors joined in and had a positive conversation, sharing resources and support.

“One group member expressed dismay at missing weekly card games with friends, immediately another member offered to play cards online with this person,” said Bellardo. “Another member shared that she has ‘traveled the world’ with virtual tours offered online; two others from the session will be joining her on the next ‘trip.’ The connections and comradery were almost instantaneous and demonstrated how much this interaction is needed by seniors.”

The groups will run weekly or biweekly based on the response from the community. All groups are offered free of charge and on drop-in basis; there is no multi-session commitment required by attendees.

  • Youth Mindfulness Group: This group is designed for youth 6 – 10 years old. Participants will be guided through age-appropriate mindfulness discussions and techniques. Next session, Tuesday, July 14 at 5 PM. Register in advance.
  • Pandemic Parenting Group: This group will offer parents a chance to share their struggles, challenges and successes during the pandemic. Next session, Wednesday, July 15 at 3 PM. Register in advance.
  • Social Support Group: This group is targeted for older adults/seniors who are feeling the emotional and psychological impacts of isolation during COVID-19 restrictions. There is no formal structure, participants are invited to speak, listen, and learn. JFCS counselor will help facilitate and manage discussions within group. Every Thursday. Next session Thursday, July 16 at 9:30 AM. Register in advance, one link provided for all upcoming sessions.

For individuals who prefer to connect one on one, JFCS continues to offer Drop-In Hours. Drop-In Hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 10 AM – 12 PM and Tuesdays and Thursday 5 – 7 PM. Callers can reach a counselor at 609-987-8100 and Dial 0 to be connected to an available counselor.

For more information about program offerings, visit the JFCS website or call at 609-987-8100 Mon-Thurs 9 AM – 5 PM and Fridays 9 AM – 4 PM.

What is teletherapy?

Telehealth meets Mental Health during a Pandemic

While teletherapy is not new, recent policy changes due to COVID-19 have reduced previous barriers and promoted access to virtual services. Offering teletherapy is consistent with JFCS’ values of keeping everyone as safe as possible while this pandemic continues. Teletherapy gives you the option to communicate with a therapist on the telephone or video chat; you chose how your therapy works, the goal is to make it agreeable to your needs. When comparing virtual therapy with office visits, more than 63% of clients reported no difference in the overall quality of the service, according to a study published in January of 2019 in the American Journal of Managed Care.

Similar to traditional therapy, teletherapy with a counselor can support you with a range of issues such as depression, anxiety, relationship issues, trauma or chronic stress. Zoom, Doxy and Facetime are examples of platforms being used by healthcare providers across the country.

As a result of teletherapy, therapists have been welcomed into the client’s home, introduced to family members and their beloved pets. Adult clients report virtual sessions provide them with flexibility, making it easier to maintain appointments while being in the comfort of their homes. Clients have said that it is easier for them to open up, be vulnerable and talk about difficult issues when in their personal, comfortable environments. Children today are comfortable with technology which makes teletherapy very natural for younger clients.

Interventions are creative with hands on activities and interactive games. According to a 2012 Marketing Chart survey, 42% of teens are more comfortable sharing information and are even more open online than in person. American Well (Amwell) reported in 2017, that experiencing therapy inside the comfort of the home setting normalizes mental health care, and is especially useful for the generations of people who are accustomed to interacting with others online.

Here are a few suggestions to prepare for a teletherapy (phone or video) session:

  •  Make sure you are in a private space with no distractions
  •  Jot down questions prior to the session
  •  Keep paper and a pen close by so you can take notes
  •  Make sure you have good cell and/or internet connections

Teletherapy, either by telephone or video chat, is providing a crucial lifeline during this pandemic and JFCS is here to support you. If you are feeling a sense of loss, stress, sadness, relationship or parenting issues, please call 609-987-8100 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists.

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

Anxiety and Re-Opening during COVID-19

Readjusting to life during a global pandemic was difficult enough; now as businesses, dining and entertainments spaces reopen across Mercer County and NJ, moving though the different stages to reopen safely adds new stressors to our lives.

Thoughts you may be having, emotions you may be feeling, and answers you may be searching for…

What is the right decision for my family and myself?

My friends are comfortable, why aren’t I?

I feel ready to reenter but, my friends don’t, am I making the right choice?

If I rejoin society will I be putting my elderly parents at risk?

I am scared to reenter!

I feel stressed about what decision I should make!

My thoughts are going a mile a minute!

The truth is there is no right or wrong answer. This decision is an individualized choice. No one can tell you how you should feel or act. Everyone has different comfort levels and that is okay. It is important to not compare our self to others.

Be kind and have patience with yourself. Go at your own pace. Take some therapeutic deep breaths.  Stay hydrated and maintain balance with your nutrition. If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping due to the many thought you are having listen to a guided sleep meditation.

If your anxiety seems to be too challenging to manage on your own please, please contact a professional for support. JFCS is offering daily Drop-In hours if you need a one-time consultation with one of our counselors. We are also accepting new clients for ongoing counseling, currently provided through teletherapy. Call us at 609-987-8100.

Mara Myerson, LCSW, LCADC

Supporting those around you and caring for yourself

The COVID pandemic is a stressful time and is effecting people across the world. It can be confusing and hard to see someone you care about not acting like themselves. Taking on the additional task of helping a family member who is having a difficult time requires practical and emotional help. It is also important to ensure that your physical and mental wellbeing remain a priority; ignoring your own self care is a recipe for burnout.

How to help your loved one…

If a loved one is having a difficult time coping with worries, fears, stress or other emotions, it is important to acknowledge their concern; try to see things from their point of view, this will help you understand their perspective. Use effective communication skills with active listening by being engaged and interested in what they are saying.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” – Ralph Nichols

In addition, observe the non-verbal communication such as the tone of their voice, facial expressions or eye contact.

Allow the person space to vent, listen but do not give advice. You can help them do this verbally by giving them a sheet of paper to write down their fears and the best way to deal with them. Over time, the venting of emotions will slow or stop because you are not fueling the fire by disagreeing, correcting them, or by telling them that everything will be okay.

In difficult times we all need additional love. Have patience. Don’t blame or shame. Remember to be empathetic. This will lead to more honest conversations.

Provide hope, it can instill motivation and change someone’s perspective. Reframe the COVID outbreak and have a conversation about what this time is teaching us.

Aim to have opportunities to be together free of COVID conversation. Focus on connecting and strengthening your relationship. Take advantage of the time when your kids are not around and do something fun. Perhaps you can plan a date night; i.e. it can be a picnic in the living room. Plan a meal and cook together or play music and dance. Or, simply dim the lights and get comfortable on the sofa together. If you do not live with your loved one, consider safe opportunities such as a distanced, outdoor get together.

Recognize that there are limits to what you can do to support your loved one. You cannot “fix” them and it may be necessary that they receive professional help.

JFCS offers drop in hours Monday – Friday for a 30 minute session, or you can make a referral for outpatient counseling.

How to help you, the caretaker…

Self-care is a key component to overall positive mental and emotional health. In order to help those around you, it is important to identify your own feelings and emotions. Allow yourself to feel.

If you are personally feeling overwhelmed, journaling could provide you with a release and outlook on what you are going through.

Take time for yourself to reduce stress and unwind. Stay calm. Engage in mindfulness exercises, like adult coloring books/worksheets, reading, working on a hobby, or a relaxing bath. This time will allow you to re-energize as well as recognize that you are important and need to have time to yourself.

Consider joining a support group where you can connect with other people experiencing similar circumstances.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC

Returning to Work During COVID-19

If you are returning to work after being on family medical leave during COVID and have not experienced working from home, you might experience different thoughts and feelings. How will it be to work virtually from home? How will I create home and work life balance? What if I don’t feel comfortable sending my infant or toddler back to daycare? How will I work fulltime from home while caring for an infant?

I personally am feeling overwhelmed, guilt, stress, anxiety, sadness, grief. These are all appropriate thoughts and feelings you may experience returning to work after being on medical leave during COVID and you are not alone.

Tips to help with the adjustment of returning to work during COVID.

  • Be patient with yourself. It may take some time to adjust going to work virtually when the last time you worked was before the pandemic.
  • Talk to your support system about how you are feeling, you do not have to go through this alone.
  • Identify the coping skills that work best for you and have them readily available before you start working.
  • Be kind to yourself without judgement.
  • Take a lunch break to fuel your body and rest.
  • Schedule time for a walk to move your body and get fresh air. Identify what self-care looks like for you.
  • Create daily routine.
  • Pick a time you will stop working. Turn on a timer and end work when the timer goes off.

If you continue to have a challenging time adjusting back to working during COVID, contact a professional for support. JFCS is offering daily Drop-In hours if you need a one-time consultation with one of our counselors. We are also accepting new clients for ongoing counseling, currently provided through teletherapy. Call us at 609-987-8100.

You do not have to go through this alone!

Mara Myerson, LCSW, LCADC