To Greater Well-Being in 2021: PAU Psychology and Counseling Faculty Weigh In

Thursday, December 17, 2020
Palo Alto University has a deep bench of psychology and counseling faculty, many of whom also maintain a private practice. With a new year around the corner, we asked them for advice and ideas that can lead to greater well-being in 2021. We share their thoughts with you!
Maryasha Katz, Adjunct Faculty, Counseling   
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Early morning walks. I spend each day on an early morning walk listening to Podcasts. My recent find "Poetry Unbound" has been nourishment for the soul. I have been inspired in the midst of so much devastation to seek out meaning and compassion for self and the world we live in. I created my own 30 day Poetry Challenge. I write a poem a day. It helps me to focus my mind on one moment, idea, breath, sensation. My partner loved the idea and started doing it also. We now read our collection to one another on Friday nights. It creates a rhythm beyond the daily news sound bites and taps us into the rhythms of the seasons and our souls.

Rowena G. Gomez, Professor, Department of Psychology   
Rowena Gomez
Practice self-compassion. I think many folks are good at showing compassion to others, especially during the pandemic, but not so great as being compassionate to themselves. Self-compassion gives us space to breathe and take the time to take care of ourselves in a healing and kind way.
Laura Khoury, Adjunct Faculty, Department of Psychology   
Laura Khoury
Taking care of basic needs can be a great start toward well-being. When we are tired, hungry, and/or sedentary, our mood can dip (think of those Snickers commercials where someone is being a bit of a "diva" because they're hungry). Three things you can do are: Prioritize sleep by going to bed earlier and getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night; eat consistent balanced meals; and walk outdoors for 20 minutes three times a week. 
Alayna L. Park, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology   
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Be present. Our minds tend to jump to the past or to the future. We think about what we should have, could have, or would have done, or we worry about what could go wrong next week, next month, or next year. We cannot change the past, and there's only so much that we can do to influence our future. We can control is what we do right here and right now. If you find yourself reliving the past or worrying about the future, try to bring yourself back to the present moment using your senses. 
Notice five things that you see, four things that you feel, three things that you hear, two things that you smell, and one thing that you taste - and then proceed with your day. 
Take some slow and deep breaths. When we feel stressed, we tend to take short and shallow breaths. Try inhaling for four seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, exhaling for four seconds, and then repeating until you start to feel a sense of calm. 
Alternatively, you can pretend that you're blowing on a steaming cup of hot chocolate, as this mimics slow and deep breathing. For many people, it might take 5-10 minutes of slow and deep breathing before you start to notice your body relaxing. The more that you practice this breathing, the better you will be at calming yourself down when you are stressed.
Desa Karye Daniel, Adjunct Faculty, Counseling   
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Reflect and think about “What I’m Leaving in 2020." I personally do this by writing a letter for my future self to open on January 1st 2021. In this letter I write about all of the accomplishments, lessons, and things I am most grateful for in 2020. This has been a wonderful way for me to give myself perspective and grace. This also helps me feel the year is complete and gives me permission to choose different and do different things for myself. To help people get started with this process I highly recommend Alex Elle free community tools which help with the writing process. 
Sharadon Smith, Adjunct Professor, Department of Psychology   
Sharadon Smith
Write a letter. This is something I tried on Thanksgiving because I was not able to spend it with family. Write to someone who has been meaningful in your life and tell them why you're thankful for their contribution and/or call them up and read the letter. In a study that did this, the participants felt a significant increase in happiness, meaning, optimism, and life satisfaction for up to three months after reading the letter.
Donna S. Sheperis, Professor, Counseling   
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Be gentle with yourself. Turning the calendar page to 2021 does not make a magical difference. But it can be a time to remind yourself to take good care of YOU in the New Year.
  • If something feels stressful, consider its purpose. Is it necessary? Or simply expected? If you didn't do it, what would be the worst outcome? Could you live with that?
  • At the end of each day, ask yourself what felt productive, what felt meaningful, and what contributed to your mental health. If you are only productive, everything else suffers. Focus on what went well, no matter how small, and build on those successes!
Lisa M. Brown, Professor, Department of Psychology   
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Take time to express your gratitude this holiday season. Because the act of expressing appreciation is a social emotion, sharing feelings of gratitude helps people to feel good, recall positive memories, and shift their focus from negative to positive. 
This may be a difficult holiday season for many people because they can't see family or take part in traditional holiday activities that involve convening with others. Sending a note to let family and friends know how much they mean to you and why, has the potential to make both the note-writer as well as the recipient feel better. It’s hard to be stressed and grateful at the same time.
Donya D. Wallace, Visiting Assistant Professor, Counseling   
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Think of well-being as a journey rather than a destination. This simple shift in concept allows for grace and patience as we may sometimes find ourselves distracted or having fallen off the path along the way. Well-being as a journey recognizes improvements might not come instantly, but if we maintain a sense of purpose and direction, in time, we will reach our desired goal. Set small goals prompted by actions that are specific and measurable so that a sense of accomplishment is achieved as the new wellness behavior is practiced. For example, instead of stating "I want to get out and walk more", try instead to write down a plan like, "I will take a walk around the park" (specific), and go one step further, "I will walk around the park every evening after work for one hour". 
Recognize that well-being is not a “one shoe fits all” experience. There can be some variance in what it looks and feels like from one person to the next. Where one lives may impact the frequency in which one can engage in outdoor activities.  Genetics can predispose some to physical and emotional conditions and culture can shape the ways in which well-being is defined and practiced. With this in mind, consider what well-being looks like for you and engage in those things that support your own personal experience of the concept. 
Lynn C. Waelde, Professor, Department of Psychology   
Lynn C. Waelde
Watch your breathing. So often, we think of self-care as activities we do after work or home responsibilities to compensate for daily stressors. Self-care means doing activities throughout your day, during work and home responsibilities, in order to achieve calm and emotional balance. The simple act of watching our breath throughout the day and noting how we feel can alert us to times and opportunities for taking care of ourselves. 
Janet Negley, Adjunct Professor, Psychology & Counseling   
Janet Negley
Here's something that has helped when the drudge of Zoom calls, being stuck at home, missing my close friends gets me down: I picked a few simple and easy goals I can work towards because I am stuck at home, activities I wouldn't normally have time for due to work hours and commute time. Among them: Reading through every stack of magazines I have collected, one magazine at a time; and getting back to yoga through online classes. The main idea is to remember that in these hard times, in the midst of distress and discomfort, there is also some gift for each person: just try to find it.
Kelly Coker, Professor, Counseling   
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I shared these tips with students for dealing with the pandemic. They come from the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM).   
Accept your anxiety right now: It is normal and expected to feel anxious. Remind yourself that you can tolerate this anxiety, and that it is okay to welcome it in. If it feels like you are constantly ruminating, however, tell your anxiety that you will allow it a period of the day to hang out with you. You can sit with your anxiety and write about it, or talk through it with someone, or just sit and breathe with it.
Be compassionate with yourself! How are you holding space for YOU? How are you staying connected to those important to you? How are you injecting some fun in your lives? How are you maintaining a daily plan, routine that works for you without overwhelming you? Taking the time to put yourself and your own needs first, even just briefly, will help you stay equipped to continue to support others.
And finally, Professor Kelly Coker shared shares this simple checklist for dealing with struggles of isolation that many have been experiencing during the pandemic:
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