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By Emily Sommers, MSW – September 3, 2019

Mindfulness, simply put, means paying attention to the present. It means taking a step back and noticing the world around you and paying attention to your thoughts and feelings.

With practice, mindfulness can help both adults and children cope with stress and anxiety, and it has been shown to have positive effects on both physical and mental health. 

Many students I work with enjoy mindfulness through journaling. However, as much as they may like to write and express themselves, many have much difficulty getting started. I truly understand that “block,” because I have experienced this before as well. 

Several years ago a colleague and I were inspired to take a journaling class taught by local journaling expert Barbara Stahura. Barbara’s love for journaling planted many seeds and inspired me to use a tool that means so much to me to this day. 

What I did not know, and was excited to learn, was that this tool could provide a certain emotional, physical, and mental release. I personally use it and continue to develop on this tool in my own practice of mindfulness. 

Journaling has become a very big part of my own self-care. I am also able to teach it to students and adults that I get to serve in the capacity of supports provided through Youth First. 

One of my favorite journaling techniques is tapping into something I will call “a non-negotiable” – gratitude. I have found so many different ways to tap into gratitude through journaling.

Within the last year, I was provided a profound and simple suggestion I want to share with you that was a game-changer in the way I look at my gratitude list today. It is the self-reflective question, “What happened today that made me smile?”

That one-liner prompt written at the top of the page with some willingness to shut off any possible distraction can provide an oasis of positivity that is the best dose of goodness one can give themselves.  

I encourage you to try this for yourself! All it really takes is some willingness, honest reflection and open-mindedness to go within yourself about what happened in the course of the day that simply made you smile. 

Sharing this technique as it was shared with me can create that “a-ha” moment for others too, and once practiced becomes even more convincing. 

I would also like to encourage a suggested technique to test just how good this business of mindfulness is and to pre-measure feelings before doing the journaling activity, or any mindfulness activity for that matter. 

List a few feelings you are experiencing. For example, your list might include, “tired, stressed, and overwhelmed.” Complete the mindfulness activity whether it is journaling or another form of mindfulness that appeals to you.

The next step is to post-measure your feelings after doing the activity. List a few feelings you are experiencing immediately afterward. 

Often there is a shift that takes place within the way one feels and many will share feeling more relaxed, calmer, and happier. The results are undeniable and very encouraging. 

Gratitude does have a contagious element to it and could be just the key to establishing that dose of mindfulness needed. Go grab a pen see what happens for you! 

By Emily Sommers, MSW, August 15, 2018 –

Just like the teachers, school social workers come into the building several days before the first day of school to prepare for the new school year.  

One thing I have noticed upon returning is that “summer brain” is a real thing!  Summer brain is not a good or bad thing; it just means it is time to change patterns and create a new rhythm.     

As school social workers we briefly talk about problems with students, parents, and teachers and tend to spend more time discussing solutions to maximize the success we hope for in our work.  So, if the problem is summer brain…the solution is mindfulness!   

Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment and noticing inner experiences like thoughts and feelings.  Research shows that mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety.  

Parents, children and teens may benefit from discussing their perception of mindfulness with each other and, hopefully, this article will encourage just that.  

What examples can you come up with where you are already using mindfulness?  You might surprise yourself and build confidence by starting there!  It is certainly very rewarding to do this with a classroom of students, no matter the age, who share their wisdom so freely.  

Here is a brief list to encourage mindfulness as we begin the 2018-19 school year. See if you and your family can add to the list.   

  • Create a “daily” gratitude jar where all family members can write down and contribute one good thing (or more) about their day or something they think they did well.
  • Establish a particular space at home for everything that will be needed for the following day to ensure backpacks are loaded up and ready to go. Making lunches together the night before can also be a family mindfulness activity.
  • Frustrated with an activity? Take a time-out and come back to it later.
  • Check your self-talk…is it kind and encouraging?
  • Write some positive inspirations and post them around you.
  • Deep breathing exercises and stretch breaks can be very helpful.
  • Challenge irrational thoughts by asking yourself, “Is this something that I can do anything about today?” If so, take the necessary steps to do just that.
  • Eat mindfully.  Notice how your food looks and smells. Rather than rushing, eat slowly, mindfully and take in all of the senses.  
  • Make a daily inventory of the things you felt you did well and those you felt you might have done better.
  • Remind yourself it happens a little at a time…not all at once!
  • Journal!  Journaling can benefit by providing an emotional and physical release as well as providing insight and inspiration.
  • Take a walk or enjoy any exercise you prefer.
  • Get outside in nature…enjoy the sunset and take in all of the sights, sounds and smells! 
  • Experience a loving-kindness meditation…YouTube has some great examples.
  • Listen to music.
  • Take time to laugh.

Easy does it.  Remember, mindfulness is all about the daily practice, and the more we practice something the more permanent it becomes.  Good self-care has a positive ripple effect to all of those around you, too.

By Emily Sommers, Courier & Press, Jan. 10, 2017 –

At the beginning of a new school year, bullying prevention initiatives kick off to help students get the year off to a good start.

Bullying is defined as repeated, harmful behavior against someone. Schools have different ways of communicating the message of “no tolerance” for bullying and the school being a “bully-free zone.” This may include a guest speaker at a large school presentation or in-class/small group presentations involving the school counselor, home school advisor or Youth First school social worker.

As a Youth First social worker, I have been a part of both types of presentations as we seek to educate and refresh students on having a safe school. The goal is for students to take away information about the different types of bullying — physical, verbal  and relational.

We also discuss cyberbullying with our middle and high school students, as the use of technology and social media sites is on the rise and starting at an earlier age. According to cyberbullying.org, cyberbullying is “when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.”

We discuss why bullying occurs and how it feels. We want students to know what is really behind the mask of a bully — a hurting person who is trying to gain power in a negative and hurtful way through their actions. We do this to foster compassion.

In the words of Lisa Seif, local private outpatient therapist and community advocate for our youth, bullies are “hurting people who hurt other people with their words and actions.” Bullies are experiencing their own inner conflict, and that is what is referred to as “behind the mask.”

We don’t typically have to spend a lot of time discussing how it feels to be bullied. A show of hands almost always reveals students present have either experienced bullying or witnessed it happening to someone else. Common reactions include fear, embarrassment, sadness, and anger.

 We talk about the “bystander,” who sits back and watches, versus the “upstander,” who takes appropriate action against what is happening to them or a fellow student.  We suggest ways students can take a stand, including confident action/attitude, nonthreatening communication, feelings statements, and simply walking away and not engaging.

Conclusion of bullying prevention presentations will typically include every school having a united front or a no-tolerance zone for bullying.

How can this be achieved? It is important to continue the conversation with students. Give them resources and talk about safe people inside and outside the school including parents, principals, vice-principals, teachers, counselors, home school advisors, Youth First school social workers, and friends who are making good decisions.

Youth and students are listening! They demonstrate insight every time we have this necessary conversation with them.

Parents, please help keep this conversation going throughout the school year.  Your child may need a refresher now that the year is half over. We need your help, as bullying is not isolated to the school community and often takes place outside of school.

Most importantly, bullying prevention is about being a friend to yourself first and establishing the necessary climate change “inside” so it transmits “outside” in the home, school, community  and in friendships and relationships. That means maintaining a healthy balance with the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual parts of ourselves.