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By Leah Lottes , LSW – Jan. 21, 2020

For many, the recent holidays reminded us to be thankful no matter what our circumstances are, focusing on being thankful for what we have rather than what we don’t have. The holidays are a great time to express gratitude. However, expressing gratitude every day is even better!

Gratitude is beneficial for your mental and physical health, so why not express gratitude every day?

As listed by Amy Morin on the website psychologytoday.com, here are some of the ways gratitude can benefit you:

Gratitude can improve your physical health. People who express gratitude tend to experience fewer aches and pains. These individuals are also more likely to take care of their health by attending regular doctor visits and maintaining a healthy diet with exercise.

Gratitude can help you sleep better. If you express gratitude at the end of the day by writing down a few things you are thankful for, you increase your chances of having a better night of sleep.

Gratitude can help boost your self-esteem. When you are thankful, you are more likely to appreciate your positive life experiences rather than focus on the negative ones. You are also less likely to compare yourself to others which can help you appreciate the accomplishments of others. Gratitude is also likely to increase your overall happiness.

Gratitude can help foster resiliency. Expressing gratitude is a great way to cope with stress and trauma at any time in your life. 

One of the best things about gratitude is that you can express it at any age. Because gratitude has been proven to have so many benefits, the younger you teach children about it, the better.

According to Dr. Kevin Solomons’ website borntobeworthless.com, there are many ways you can express gratitude throughout the day. The easiest way is by simply saying thank you to people when they help you out. Thanking someone for their help not only makes that person feel good but also makes you feel good, which encourages you to keep saying thank you.

When adults say thank you to others, this encourages kids and adolescents to do the same. Parents and teachers can model this behavior every day to students at home and in the classroom.  

Another way to express gratitude is to send thank you notes. This is a very good way to encourage kids and adolescents to say thank you. When you instill the habit in them when they are younger they are more likely to continue the habit throughout their lives.

It’s also important to teach kids that writing thank you notes isn’t just for gifts. A nice hand-written note can be sent to show appreciation when someone does something special for them.

An additional way to express daily gratitude is by keeping a journal. This can be something as simple as writing one thing you’re thankful for each day. Getting into a routine of adding to your journal allows you to train your brain to be thankful every day. Teachers can incorporate gratitude into their days by taking having students write down what they are thankful for or allow them to share their gratitude out loud. Parents can also do this activity together with their kids to show what they are thankful for and how it is important to their lives.

Expressing gratitude has many benefits. It may seem like a small task, but it’s the little things that can make such a big difference. Gratitude positively affects your mindset and your lifestyle, and that in itself is a reason to be thankful.  

By Katherine Baker, LCSW – Dec. 31, 2019

As the year closes and a new one begins, many people focus on improving their health and well-being. Being human in a world filled with drama and losses can be exhausting. 

All too often human sleep patterns are out of sync, causing many of us to be exhausted, grumpy, and on edge.  Not only are children and teenagers affected by the lack of sleep; it has become a human condition affecting everyone. 

Most people can thrive, however, by following these basic tips to help in their day-to-day functioning:

1.  Remember to focus on a sleep routine. Have a set bedtime for yourself and try to stick with it as much as possible. Your brain and body will thank you.

2.  Remember to set limits on social media. Take a social media break from all of your devices one or two times a month. Try it for two hours and work your way up to longer periods of time.  Again, your brain and body will thank you. Besides lack of sleep, the use of social media and the stress and anxiety it is causing impacts our society in numerous negative ways. Think about how your life is affected by your use of social media.

3.  Remember, you are responsible for your day.  You are responsible for how you feel and what you do; nobody else is.  You are in charge of your life!

4.  Remember, everybody doesn’t have to love you or even like you.  If someone does not approve of you, it will still be okay.

5.  Remember, it is important to try.  Even when faced with difficult tasks, it is better to try than to avoid them. You may not be able to do everything, but you can do something. Find your talents.

6.  Remember that you can be flexible. There is more than one way to do something.  Everybody has ideas that are worthwhile. Some may make more sense to you than others, but everyone’s ideas are important. Listen and consider the options.

7.  Remember, other people are capable.  You can’t solve other people’s problems as if they were your own. They are capable and can solve their own problems. You can show care and concern and be of some help, but you can’t – and shouldn’t – do everything for them. 

Start the new year by getting enough sleep, taking charge of your day, demonstrating flexibility and giving your best. Only take on what you are capable of handling. You will soon see a difference in your outlook and stress levels!

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW – October 29, 2019

Over the summer I participated in a free online class offered by Yale University called, “The Science of Well-Being.” It is taught by Dr. Laurie Santos. 

I have recently learned that Dr. Santos will be starting a podcast called “The Happiness Lab,” which I am looking forward to listening to this fall and recommend you check out as well. 

Happiness has always seemed like an unattainable achievement in our society. We are often plagued with the messages that society sends us about happiness. 

It turns out that many of the things we think we want in life do not actually bring us happiness. In her class, Dr. Santos talks about the myths we believe about happiness and what science tells us actually does bring happiness. 

What does society tell us is supposed to make us happy?  According to Dr. Santos’ research the most common myths include: true love, having the perfect body, owning expensive possessions, getting good grades, having money, and having a good job. 

Dr. Santos uses the psychological term of “hedonic adaptation” to explain why these things do not make us happy. In simple terms, this means that we become used to whatever it is we have.

For example, if someone won the lottery, at first it would bring increased levels of happiness.  But eventually they would become used to being rich and yearn for more, more, and more.  Hedonic adaption means that any level of happiness does not last for long. 

People have the general tendency to return to a stable level of happiness. The good part of this is that even if we have a negative life event we will eventually return to this stable level of happiness. 

So what are some practices that we can do to increase our levels of happiness and mood?  Luckily for us, these practices are free and easy to use. According to Dr. Santos, the secrets of happiness are:

  • Meditation – a practice to help someone become present in the moment and tune out distractions.
  • Savoring – the simple act of appreciating and being present in the moment.
  • Gratitude – taking time to appreciate the blessings in your life.
  • Kindness – acts of kindness toward other people.
  • Social Connection – having friends and being part of a community can make you more likely to survive fatal illness and less likely to die prematurely.
  • Exercise – 30 minutes a day can boost moods and happiness levels.
  • Sleep – at least seven hours a night for adults and nine hours a night for teens.

So now that you know the secrets of happiness, start using these practices daily. It may just help you live a better life!

By Krisi Mattingly, LCSW – August 6, 2019

Sleep deprivation is an epidemic in America today. Poor sleep habits have been linked to problems like depression, anxiety, ADHD, increased risk for heart disease and cancer, memory issues, compromised immune system, and weight gain. 

Students are busier than ever with more expectations and demands of their time, so sleep may not seem too high on their priority list. There is also the added lure of the internet, social media, and electronics like video games or TV.

Getting the recommended amount of sleep, however, is one of the most important things you can do for your mental and physical health.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9 to 11 hours of sleep for grade schoolers, 8 to 10 hours for teens, and 7 to 9 hours for adults.  If your family has been struggling to get the proper quantity or quality of sleep lately, here are some tips to make sleep a priority in your household.

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Try not to deviate from this too much, even on weekends or days off.
  • Establish a routine. Try to follow the same routine each night before bed. A good one for younger children is the 3 B’s – take a bath, brush teeth and read a book. 
  • Limit screen time before bed. TV and other electronics are stimulating to the brain. The “blue light” can suppress melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Turn off all devices 1 hour before bedtime. A good solution: Set up a family overnight charging area for smartphones and tablets in an area far from the bedroom.  
  • Don’t force yourself to sleep. If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something calming, then return to your bed when you feel tired. Some ideas are reading a book, writing in a journal, drawing, listening to music, or taking a warm bath.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine at least 4 hours before bed. Consuming these substances can hinder your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Avoid napping. If your child likes to come home from school and crash, try to keep them from doing this if possible. If not, limit naps to 30 minutes or less.
  • Only use your bed for sleeping. Using your bed for watching TV, using a smartphone or working will lead your body to associate your bed with these activities. If you reserve your bed solely for sleeping, your body will recognize this and hopefully fall asleep easier.
  • Exercise and eat well. Being active during the day and eating healthy are both vital to better quality sleep. However, you should avoid eating big meals and strenuous exercise 2 hours before bed.
  • Sleep in a comfortable environment. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature, quiet and dark. Darkness promotes sleep and healthy levels of melatonin.

If you can use as many of these suggestions as possible, you should notice big improvements in your sleep habits. If the whole family follows these guidelines, everyone will be more healthy, productive and agreeable!

By Jenna Whitfield, MSW, January 2, 2019 –

Is your teen getting enough sleep? If not, it could be impacting their life in negative ways. According to webmd.com, lack of sleep is one of the top sources of stress for teens. The recommended amount of sleep in order to function and perform well is 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep.

A whopping 91 percent of teens do not achieve the required hours. Although the majority of teens get less than recommended amounts of sleep, almost 75 percent of parents are unaware that their children are sleep-deprived due to various reasons. The question most likely coming to mind for most parents is, “why is my teen not getting enough sleep?”

The first situation keeping students away from a restful night is a jam-packed schedule. While being involved in extracurricular activities can have many benefits for a teen’s social development and mental well-being, there are also downfalls. If they are constantly moving from activity to activity while trying to juggle school work, family time, and friends, they may have limited time to sleep.

The second factor playing a role in sleep deprivation is having a digital device near their bed. It’s true that we live in a technology-driven world, but your teen’s screen time could be cutting into much-needed sleep time.

I’ve had students share that they even go as far as keeping the sound turned on their phones at night so they can wake up if someone sends them a message. Others have shared that they regularly play video games past midnight.

These behaviors are becoming more and more popular, but oftentimes teens do not realize how their screen time is impacting sleep. Encouraging your teen to limit screen time, especially at night, can help establish healthy routines.

There is much research on how sleep deprivation affects teens. They are in a crucial developmental period and sleep is extremely important to their brain development and well-being.

When a teen does not receive an adequate amount of sleep per night there is a higher probability he/she will experience one or more of the following consequences:

  • Increased risk of injury
  • Inability to self-regulate behaviors
  • Decreased ability to focus in school
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Increased risk of drug or alcohol use
  • Increased risk of obesity

Don’t worry! While there are a number of potential consequences, there are also a number of symptoms to warn the teen and his/her guardian that they may be facing sleep deprivation.

Behaviors to look out for include, but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • More easily displays aggression/ anger
  • Misses more days of school than normal
  • Exhibits laziness
  • Falls asleep in class or while doing homework
  • Sleeps 2 or hours later on weekends
  • Naps for more than 45 minutes regularly

If these symptoms are making you think of a specific teen, it may be the time to talk about the importance of sleep. Convincing a teen to limit their screen time or to take a break from their busy schedules might be challenging, but in the end everyone can benefit!

If you need advice on how to start this conversation at home, reach out to a Youth First Social Worker or a counselor in your child’s school.  Remember, sleep is important for everyone, so make sure to take care of your teen and yourself!