The holiday season is often a time when people reflect on the things that they appreciate most in life. Research suggests that gratitude has a variety of benefits including improved mental and physical health as well as more satisfying social relationships. A recent article published by the Greater Good Magazine suggests that gratitude may also help individuals cope with stress and manage challenging emotions and situations more effectively. In the midst of the busy holiday season, remember to slow down, be present, and appreciate life’s blessings.
Here’s what the therapists at Stillpoint shared about how they cultivate gratitude in their lives during the holiday season:
“I have a tradition of traveling to Tennessee with my family to visit my in-laws for Christmas. They live in the mountains and their neighborhood is peaceful and secluded. I always make it a point to turn off my electronics and be present with my family and the beautiful scenery. This helps me to stay grounded and feel gratitude for all that I have. I am reminded that I can form a path for my daughter, creating loving memories through family tradition.” -Audrey Keeton, MSW, LCSW
"I bake. Most of the year I do not bake, but at Christmas I pull out my mother's and grandmother's recipes, and I bake. Sometimes I bake with my children and sometimes I bake by myself. In either scenario, I feel gratitude for the people who have been part of my life, who taught me their traditions, and who have loved me. I feel gratitude for the opportunity to share this tradition and this love with my children." -Jessica King, MSW, LCSW
“One way I cultivate gratitude around the holidays is that I take the time to enjoy and reflect on the little moments like cooking the food, the little messes that come along with it, the laughter, and the joys that come along with starting my own traditions as a newlywed!! Take some time this holiday season to slow down, set boundaries, and enjoy those little moments that can often be so big when it comes to gratitude within our lives.” -Crystal Guarascio, LPC
“I try to remember that the holiday offers time for me to be present in my own life and that regardless of any obligation I might feel, I get to decide what to do with those moments.” -Shanna Dickens, LCSW, LCAS
What are some ways that you can cultivate gratitude in your life during the holiday season?
Click here to read the full article on gratitude from the Greater Good Magazine.
This has been on my mind this week- the idea of self-care for younger kids. Typically, when we think of the word "self-care," we think of adults who may need help managing the chaos in their life. I'd say that this is an accurate definition; self-care is often most applicable to the grown-ups of the world. However, kids can benefit from some self-care as well. Sure, kids can and should look to adults to provide peace and comfort, but I don' t think that means they can't also learn ways to self-regulate and help themselves feel better.
Kids can have hectic lives too. I think we sometimes forget that. From an adult lens, childhood can look so simple and structured. But if we think back to what it was like to be a kid, we start to remember that all of the so-called small problems felt like big huge monster problems. People's perception is their reality, and that extends to children too.
Practicing self-care helps children build emotional regulation skills from an early age. Here are a few ways that we can start to help our kids learn about healthy, age-appropriate self-care practices.
Journaling is a powerful self-care activity for kids. Not only is it a great way to express their feelings, but it also gives them a double dose of writing practice. Practicing the same skills that they are learning in school can be helpful in their academic growth. My experience working in schools has taught me the value of integration when it comes to counseling, wellness, and academic education. Anytime you can get kids to read and write outside of school is going to improve their educational experience.
Kids can use journals in so many different ways. Just like an adult self-care journal, it can be used for daily reflection, goal setting, writing down ideas and dreams, drawing, doodling, or simply just venting. Oh, and don't forget about decorating the cover- these journals have self-care written all over them.
There's a reason that children are required to have recess and physical education at school. Kids need unstructured time to wind down and casually socialize with their peers. It's necessary for proper brain development and fosters a healthy brain climate. We all need to do a better job remembering that our brain is a part of our body. It has needs too.
Okay, so this is my soapbox. I don't know if it's like this everywhere, but where I live kindergartners don't get nap time. I find this crazy. I operate on a siesta mindset, so I think nap time, or at least a time for rest, should be universal for all ages. However, there's no question that kids need rest. Not only is it vital for physical and developmental growth, but resting also helps us to manage stress better.
Having kids begin to identify when they need a break to rest and self-initiate the process is a considerable step in emotional development. One of the most common behavioral goals for students is to help them learn to know when they need a break and appropriately ask for it. If we teach our kids to practice awareness of their mental and physical needs, they will be better prepared to grow and handle natural challenges.
"I'm taking care of myself right now."
The key to making all of these things self-care is to help kids identify it as self-care. In my practice with adults, I have found myself repeatedly reminding my clients to make sure that they recognize the self-care that they are already doing. We often take these things for granted, and it can help to start rewiring our brains to notice the self-care nature of our day to day tasks and activities. The trick is being mindful and proclaiming aloud any bit of self-care that we experience. The earlier in life that we can instill this way of thinking, the better; it's much easier to wire than to rewire.
Amanda Smith is a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on identifying and capitalizing on existing inner strengths and using them to help formulate a personalized plan for wellness. Amanda is a school social worker who primarily works with teens and adult who are experiencing anxiety, depression, and general life concerns. You can find out more about her in her bio .
Raise your hands if you have ever been to a training about compassion fatigue or secondary trauma. Now raise your hands if it was helpful. I suspected as much. If I had a dime for every time someone said the words self-care, I could retire. Cue the eye rolls. What people who treat trauma know is that a scheduled bubble bath is not going to negate the effects of being in the trenches day in and day out. But we want to be able to continue to do the hard work, right? There is something inside of us that is instinctually good at it and there is nothing quite so fulfilling as easing another person’s pain. So, I want to go to a training that talks about how to create an armor to shield your heart from the anguish while still being able to be effective. I want to hear about lines drawn in the sand that don’t get crossed regardless of who is asking. I want to create an internal compass that lets you know when you have veered off track and a mechanism that helps you to regain your footing. I believe that therapy can do just that if we get past our shame, if we can lay down the idea that we can do it all and never falter. We don’t have to see it or experience it to feel it. Isn’t that the definition of empathy and compassion after all, the ability to feel for another person?
If you are a helper, please don’t ignore your own distress. It won’t make you a hero, it will just prevent you from showing up for yourself and others when it counts. Just because you joined a helping profession doesn’t mean that your feelings and needs no longer count. I would argue that if anything we need to model the healthy boundaries and coping skills that we hope to see in those we have helped.
So, if someone hasn’t said this to you lately, let me be the first: You matter. What you do matters. Protecting yourself and addressing secondary trauma is the only thing that is going to make those first 2 statements maintain their integrity.
Shanna Dickens is licensed clinical social worker in Wilmington, NC. Shanna has been a therapist for over 12 years specializing in the treatment of adolescents and adults who experience trauma, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and secondary trauma in helping professionals.
The Therapist Blog
Musings from the other side of the couch