Rx for Winter Weather

Brrrr … cold to the bones and tired of it?


Literally, many of us may be TIRED of the cold winter weather over the last few (too many) weeks. This may have to do with less exercise in the winter months, which can make us feel more lethargic, as well as the double whammy of less sunlight, which spurs increased production of the sleep chemical melatonin, and less vitamin D. All of this can combine to create an overall “blah” feeling – a.k.a. the “Winter Blues.” There’s the winter blues, and then there’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, a more serious condition similar to depression. So how can you tell which is which?

While the Winter Blues is a mood that can wash over us all during the confined winter months, it lasts hours, not days or weeks. Seasonal Affective Disorder is most often a significant drop in mood that starts in late fall and lasts through till spring (though for some people it can be the opposite and be present in the summer months instead), and may include some anxiety symptoms in addition to sadness. Signs of this condition include:

· a deeper level of sadness (even depressed) most of the day for more days than you feel “good”,
· feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness,
· low energy and fatigue,
· changes in sleep habits (too little or too much),
· loss of interest in typically enjoyed activities,
· feeling sluggish or agitated,
· difficulty concentrating,
· changes in appetite (not as hungry or eating too much).

While it is normal to have days where you feel down or less energized, if this lasts for several days and it is hard to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, it may be necessary to check in with your doctor. This is especially important if sleep or appetite has changed, or if there are feelings of hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide. Often the treatment for SAD may include considering medication but also the use of specialty light bulbs or a “light box” that mimics the effects of the sun and produces similar chemical changes to lift mood.

If your “blah” feeling comes and goes and is more of a nuisance than a major concern, here are some suggestions for beating the winter blues:

· Maintain a regular exercise routine, even if this means kitchen dance parties!
· Try to maintain a healthy diet that includes fresh fruit as a source of sweets rather than dense baked goods and carbs (that interfere with chemicals related to mood and sleep).
· Purposely schedule social outings to keep you from isolating, and maintain fun social connections (not just school or work) that help to lift mood chemicals.
· Try not to increase reliance on screen time to “feel better”, as this can accidentally isolate you and exposure to light interferes with chemicals that help with sleep and mood.
· Plan weekly family or friend “game nights”, “movie nights” or karaoke parties for a break from the blah. If snow makes travel tougher, do this over Skype! (permission granted for necessary screen time J)
· Reorganize or look through pictures to connect to fun and energized memories.
· Play music much more often.
· Binge watch classic ’80’s and ’90’s sitcoms (‘Seinfeld’ reruns anyone?)
· Sit by a sunny window – if you can find one!

DSC_9010 Jessica Stewart is Moses Brown’s school psychologist.



Parent forum: senior year survival strategies

Jessica Stewart, school psychologist

Jessica Stewart, school psychologist

Senior year brings heavy course loads, leadership roles in sports teams and activities, SATs, college applications, acceptances and rejections, exams, financial aid planning, college choices, AP exams and senior projects… then TLTI (“The Last Time I’ll…”) Syndrome, prom, baccalaureate and graduation. Seniors are shouldering so much responsibility while trying to savor this capstone year – it’s stressful for the whole family. The Parents’ Association devoted its December upper school meeting to “Senior year: plan for it, survive it, enjoy it.”  About 40 parents of current and future seniors gathered in Krause Gallery to hear from school psychologist Jessica Stewart, upper school head Debbie Phipps and dean of students Kevin Matson on what to expect and how to cope. “Survivor” parents with older kids shared ideas that worked for their families. 

Jess Stewart offered strategies to help parents build and nurture strong, open relationships with teens, anticipating stressors such as competition for college admissions; pressure and validation from inside and outside the family; recovering from rejection; age-appropriate separation and independence; and, with the end of high school, new beginnings. “The most important things are open communication and judgment-free support,” she said. “It’s critical for parents to begin to see their kids as independent young adults with their own goals and dreams—that may not be fully understood yet, and that’s okay! Engaging with our young adults in a way that values their right to define themselves and their dreams, and still be accepted and valued by the adults in their lives, gives them a platform from which to jump beyond themselves and return for grounding when they need it.”  

One of the parents attending offered these notes to summarize the highlights:

  • Choose a weekly time when you and your child can talk without distractions to establish or further develop a strong rapport. You want him to feel that you are the safe person he can come to when he feels stressed; show him he’s important enough to own this time on your schedule. Be his partner, advocate, or consultant, not his boss or interrogator. Try to communicate your observations without judgment.
  • Establish times when talking about college is off-limits.
  • Encourage your child to seek additional sounding boards: advisors, teachers, friends, friends’ parents.
  • Don’t be part of the problem – keep your own anxiety separate from your child’s, and find an outlet in your spouse, friends, exercise, etc.
  • Ask how you can help. Rather than a general “let me know if you want me to help you,” offer specific ways to support her process: being a sounding board, gathering materials, compiling deadlines, helping with travel plans. After a while, ask again. She may welcome your help with the unexpected.
  • Students face a relentless onslaught of questions and suggestions about college. Help yours have quick answers to neutralize that conversation. “I have a good plan.” Period. Or, “I’m casting a broad net so I’ll have a lot of choices.” Period.
  • Far ahead of colleges’ decision time, reinforce that denials are not a measure of worth. Let your language about “success” highlight that there are many roads to the life he wants.
  • Be flexible to allow your child to find her way and best timing. Not all people are ready for college at the same time. Working, developing a specific talent, or traveling first may be a better choice.
  • Freshman and sophomore families, start thinking and talking about colleges early – but not too early. Our freshmen cannot know who they’ll be and what they’ll want as seniors any more than they knew as fifth graders how they’d feel as freshmen. On the other hand, know your student: looking ahead may help her comfortably explore goals while the pressure is still low. College tours can be good conversation starters.
  • Finally, three parents recommended this article they read in November 29’s New York Times.

Alcohol and the brain and body: simulation gives students a first- hand understanding

MSWellness_playbutton“This project is the culmination of our unit on alcohol where we learn how alcohol is absorbed by the body, the progressive effects of alcohol on the brain, and how and why drinking effects people differently. This activity demonstrates how a person will be able to handle basic physical activity (like walk quickly in a straight line) based on their blood alcohol concentration. We compare the walking activity to driving a car when impaired. While the activity is fun and funny, the students hopefully understand the how the level of impairment affects ability and the possible consequences of drunk driving.”

– Betsy Sherry, health services coordinator

Keep it simple

Several years ago I sat in wonderment at the National Athletic Administrators conference. Greg Dale Ph.D., a sports psychologist from Duke University, addressed the pressures on youth athletes. He offered a simple way to alleviate them: Let them play.

I invited Greg to visit with us at Moses Brown last month. His session with the students started the momentum for the afternoon, and involved the children as active participants. He advised them that pressure comes from within, and theIMG_0050 release of that pressure also comes from within. One technique Greg introduced to help students move on from making mistakes and avoid dwelling on them is to “flush” them away. Many of the teams have already reported that they are beginning to use this method.

Greg’s message in the coaches’ session was to be open-minded, and to keep lines of communication open. He pushed us to think about the culture that we create for our student-athletes. In one particularly interesting activity, Greg asked coaches to move to opposite sides of the room if we agreed or disagreed with a statement. Given the statement “openly gay students are fully accepted by their team,” many moved to the agreement side. However, when one coach suggested that “fully” is certainly not the norm, healthy dialogue convinced some that perhaps we need to think more carefully about this particular situation.

The parents’ session was by far the most lively and provocative of Greg’s presentations. With more than 70 parents in attendance, his message to them was simple: Get a life. He showed a slide titled: “You know you need to get a life when…” The first response was “You attend practices.” Greg asked which parents attend practices, and why. Raising his IMG_0030hand, one parent answered: “Because it’s fun.” Greg responded, “For you or your son?” He advised that parent to go home and ask his child if his father’s attendance at practice was fun for him. Another parent suggested that she attended practices to provide her daughter with comfort and to make sure she was safe. Greg suggested that this mother had “trust issues”. While Greg delivered some tough messages to the parents, his presentation was light, fun, and filled with energetic interaction.

In the days following, I received many emails and phone calls praising Greg’s presentations. Several parents attended because they’d been told to do so by their children. My most veteran coach (with over 300 wins) told me that Greg’s presentation was the best professional development activity she had ever attended.

As a community, we need to remember the messages Greg Dale delivered: Let them play, communicate, and get a life. Keep youth sports in perspective. Kids play sports to have fun. If we contribute to their experience in a negative way, then we need to re-think our involvement.

– Jeff Maidment

MaidmentJeff Maidment is director of athletics at Moses Brown School and first heard renowned Duke sports psychologist Greg Dale speak at a National Athletic Administrators conference. Jeff invited Dale to share his important message with MB students, coaches and parents at the start of this school year. Dale spoke to parents about helping their children excel at athletics while keeping things in perspective for long-term well-being and healthy development. He consults with collegiate and professional teams and organizations around the world, including The World Bank, Habitat for Humanity International, Airports Council International, and Pfizer. Dale has written four books on leadership and performance, including The Fulfilling Ride: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Athletes Have a Successful Sports Experience, and has offered expert advice in a series of videos for coaches, athletes and parents. Featured on Good Morning America, MSNBC and numerous national radio programs, Dale also is a member of the sports psychology staff for USA Track and Field.

Yoga is “undoing”

by Debby Neely, sixth grade

Debby and her class work with Joy Bennett,  learning some of the same breathing and movements Joy teaches veterans. Her program called "the Resilient Child" will be offered at Kripalu.

Debby and her class work with Joy Bennett, learning some of the same breathing and movements Joy teaches veterans. Her program called “the Resilient Child” will be offered at Kripalu.

When I came to Moses Brown School twenty-eight years ago, I brought my interest in yoga with me. I was introduced to yoga in the early 1970’s and immediately noticed how breathing could change my response to things. Calming my own breathing, and focusing on that, brought me to a sense of my own control over a situation. The ancient yogis said that breathing is a thousand times more important than movement. It’s no wonder to me that breathing is now used as a method to quell post-traumatic stress in soldiers. Middle school students may find it daunting to own their responses and responsibilities, but their mindful awareness of breath can be a friend in times of stress.

The movement of yoga has been meaningful to me, too. I have peppered my room with pictures of yoga poses: impossible contortions, or daring to dream that we can push ourselves and make the impossible accessible? I’ve always hoped the children would imagine the latter. As we move and practice, gently, our spines elongate and flex, the muscles slowly move and we can extend, relax and have mastery over ourselves in ways we thought impossible.

It is always a shock to the children that in the midst of creating active verbs or composing metaphor, I would say, “Now let’s do some yoga.” We create with our bodies, too. Our brains and our bodies are inextricably linked. We breathe, we move, we stretch and our minds relax. Sometimes that’s enough to jog the creative process. Recently I’ve been pondering a new concept: that yoga is “undoing,” undoing the stress and striving, the competitive edge and forcing ahead of daily life.

We can lie down and breathe and be. Even in English class.

Mindfulness, yoga at MB help get your attention back where it belongs

By Matt Glendinning, Head of SchoolPeaceGarden

Do you ever worry that the prevalence of digital devices and social media is eroding children’s ability to focus and concentrate?  With good reason.  This blog post from Mind/Shift highlights some of the drawbacks of being plugged in all the time, and quotes well-known psychologist Daniel Goleman, who advocates for more attention to mindfulness in school curricula.

Quaker schools have a built-in advantage here, where weekly Meeting for Worship encourages quiet reflection, pause and introspection.  And if that’s not enough, visit our meditation labyrinth in the Grove, or on Tuesday or Thursdays join our faculty/staff mindfulness meditation group at 7:30 am (school psychologist Jessica Stewart’s office), or yoga sessions led by Anni Barnard right after school (Sinclair Room).