In This Issue:
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
With non-stop news feeds about mounting national and international tension on top of natural disasters, I have found it difficult to focus. As with you, our team’s thoughts are with everyone affected by the recent hurricanes and earthquakes. It is often hard to know what to do and how to help when disaster strikes so many. And putting together a newsletter such as this can seem extraneous. But outside of supporting relief efforts to each of our abilities, I believe more than ever that focus on whole health is essential. By helping our communities to address widespread anxiety, depression, a sense of helplessness, challenging divisiveness, and applauding awareness and decency, we continue to have a positive impact on our fellow human beings. There is the long-known thought in chaos theory that the flapping of a butterfly wing in my backyard can transform weather systems halfway around the world. Deliberation, reflection, mindfulness are those many butterfly wings that may bring about a storm of well-being. In this edition of DIMENSIONS, we focus on emotional well-being, an extremely timely topic. We hope you enjoy a few of our perspectives.
A Study in Wellness
Cultivating Wellness in School
WENDY MORRISON, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
For the past year, I’ve had the privilege of working with the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program as a Fellow of the Wellness Leadership Institute (WLI). Through this opportunity, I was able to sharpen my leadership skills by designing and implementing wellness interventions in partnership with the Jefferson Center for Mental Health. The majority of my work was dedicated to the development of wellness and mindfulness programing for junior high school students in Alameda Jr/Sr High School, an ethnically diverse and economically disadvantaged public school in the Denver area.
The projects began out of a shared interest among the Jefferson Center and key Alameda School stakeholders to enhance the wellness and social-emotional oriented programming at the school. Research has consistently demonstrated the many benefits of incorporating such programming, spanning improvements in students’ academic functioning, behavioral self-management, positive health behaviors, and emotional functioning.1 With much credit due to my colleague and previous WLI Fellow Katie Greisch, as well as Jefferson Center and Alameda School staff, I’m proud to report on two of the initiatives that were successfully implemented at Alameda School and have laid the groundwork for continued programming.
Emerging from a thorough needs assessment and literature review, we created and delivered a universal prevention program designed to introduce wellness concepts to middle schoolers in fun and interactive small group classes. The classes comprise a full-length curriculum, called Wellness Hub, which include topics touching on all eight dimensions of wellness aligning with the SAMHSA model,2 but which we adapted for youth. The classes include hands-on, experiential activities to help students become familiar with wellness topics, such as learning to recognize healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, goal setting, stress management, and being safe on the internet. It was really fun to lead these classes, and so fulfilling to see students gaining new knowledge and the confidence to start using wellness strategies in their daily lives.
The second initiative was designed to progressively introduce mindfulness into the school, beginning with a small group of interested teachers and expanding to the larger school culture. As you may know, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention on purpose to our experiences in the present moment, with curiosity and openness. A growing body of research has shown that using mindfulness practices in schools has the potential to improve student academic, behavioral, and emotional outcomes.3 It is believed that incorporating mindfulness skills in the classroom may help with increasing self-awareness in students, which allows them to make positive choices both for themselves and in relation to others. Our mindfulness initiative began with a pilot study of self-selecting teachers who incorporated mindfulness techniques in their classes. My role was to help teachers integrate discrete and simple mindfulness techniques within the existing schedule. I found developmentally appropriate mindfulness techniques for students and coached teachers on how to flexibly introduce short activities during natural times in the classroom. I also collected outcome data, paying special attention to the acceptability and feasibility of the intervention from both student and teacher perspectives to help inform our next steps. Next, I worked closely with Alameda School staff to deliver a mindfulness training for the entire teaching staff (~100 teachers), followed by rolling out teacher-delivered mindfulness lessons during their advisement periods, reaching over 860 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. I was particularly touched to witness how infusing mindfulness into the school appeared to impact both students and teachers because it serves as an important reminder of the value of self-care.
This year was a fulfilling learning experience for me, filled with excitement, challenges, and growth. I’m grateful to the BHWP Team, the Jefferson Center for Mental Health, and the Alameda School for providing the opportunity for fruitful collaboration and creative programming to share the gift of wellness with a new population.
- Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing student’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). The Eight Dimensions of Wellness. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/wellness-initiative/eight-dimensions-wellness
- Felver, J. C., Celis-de Hoyos, C. E., Tezanos, K., & Singh, N. N. (2016). A systematic review of mindfulness-based interventions for youth in school settings. Mindfulness, 7, 34-45.
Wellness in Practice
CINDY MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
Resolutions in Harmony
MARY MANCUSO, M.A., Clinical Associate
Two weeks ago, I lost a precious family member—my black and white cat, Emile. While Emile was his formal name, I called him Bun because he always reminded me of a big fluffy bunny. Bun-Cat became his true name.
We were connected from the start. His “birthday,” the day he was left at the shelter, is the same as my own. Our first evening together, he reminded me that we already knew one other by placing his paw on my leg in a familiar gesture of caring. He was my companion while I lived in a city far from family and friends and my stalwart as I navigated a nerve-wracking chapter of my life. He loved climbing the hill to the bamboo grove in the back of our apartment to chew contentedly until twilight faded. And he would jump on the patio table to nibble on the pot of catnip I grew for him. He adored snuggles and, even in sickness, purred when I held him gently, caressing his sweet broken body.
The grieving process has been painful but also joyous as I remember our shared moments and realize his impact on my life. I have tried to be gentle with myself as I process Bun-Cat’s passing and feel gratitude for our time together. Family, friends, and colleagues have been kind and supportive by recognizing the significance of my loss, offering me comfort as well as space and time to grieve, while reassuring me that I was a good kitty mama even though I made a difficult, but needed, decision to help him transition into his next form.
As I mourn in various ways, I continue to practice self-care and openly share my emotions. My feelings often come without warning, but I allow them. And I try and remember that, “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away… The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence” –Terry Pratchett. My sweet kitty lives on in my love for him and his lasting effect on me, a vast and boundless undulation of Bun-Cat ripples.
CHRISTINE GARVER-APGAR, Ph.D, Research Associate
The title of my blog, “Balancing Acts,” stands out to me this month as I consider the topic of emotional wellness. “Unbalanced” might better capture my recent allocation of effort towards working and living. One of the problems with spending prolonged periods of time focusing on cognitively intensive tasks is that I become selfish. Tangible demands and deadlines take precedence over less tangible aspects of living. My relationships become increasingly one-sided because I don’t have the reserves to empathize with others. I prevent myself from going down emotional “rabbit-holes” (e.g., gazing at devastating images of misery wrought by recent natural disasters) because I might not resurface in time to meet the next deadline. Even work suffers because I have less consideration for fellow colleagues, am less creative, and can easily lose perspective of the broader impacts of the work we do.
I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way during times of stress. I am fortunate to be part of a family and to work with colleagues who both understand human limitations and are able to support one another when the going gets tough. I am keenly aware that for many of the people we serve, this type of emotional support at home and work is in short supply. Over the next few weeks, I am looking forward to reconnecting with friends, family, and colleagues, and approaching my work in a more relaxed, mindful way. It is time to regain some balance.