Typically our APA hosts numerous in-person events for Severn families to get to know each other and volunteer for school programs. These interactions are an important part of developing a strong network of support, particularly families new to our community or with students in critical transition years. To give parents an opportunity to build their network while providing a useful resource, the APA teamed up with Severn parent Sara Corckran and her partner Erin Baldecchi of HappyYOUniversity for a "Let's Get Connected" virtual workshop full of actionable tools to thrive in our new normal.
Keeping It Simple
Since the outset of the pandemic, the way that we connect with ourselves and others has shifted, often creating additional pressure during an already stressful time. As we navigate our new roles at work and home, manage new relationship dynamics, and wade through the deluge of information about current events, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. While we can't change external events, we can make small changes to our daily routines to restore a sense of balance and bolster the connections that matter most.
During the APA workshop, Sara and Erin shared their expertise as certified life coaches with sample activities for the attendees to try in Zoom breakout groups. Each breakout session gave parents a different group to connect with and each activity offered a unique strategy for keeping stress levels low and positive emotions high.
Science tells us that a consistent gratitude practice can rewire your brain, encouraging your mind to seek out the positive rather than the negative. And when it comes to making a habit of gratitude, the simpler the better.
"Gratitude gives us the biggest boost of positive emotion. The biggest impact happens when we notice the small things and add gratitude as part of our daily lives and how we show up each day." — Sara
Somewhere within arm's reach, pick up or look at something that you are grateful for. It can be the smallest thing like your chapstick or a favorite photo. Think about why you are grateful. Write it down or share it with someone.
Gratitude ping pong. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes. Choose a partner, or do this at the dinner table with your kids, and go back and forth with things that you are grateful for. At the beginning it may be harder to think of things but it will gradually become easier and more specific. It's hard not to have a smile on your face by the end!
Depletion, Repletion, and Choice Points
As we go through each day, there are countless things that either build us up (replete) or wear us out (deplete). Sara and Erin encouraged the group to think about both, and set the intention to create more purpose behind their decisions. They described emotional well-being as a game of Jenga. The blocks represent things that make you happy or keep you grounded. As you become depleted, blocks shift or are removed altogether, leaving your emotional structure weakened.
"Really think about what it feels like to be depleted — you may have shorter patience, be extra reactive to things, or overindulge. Another sign can be not taking time for the things that are important to you. By becoming more aware of when you are depleted, what depletes you, and when your blocks are partially out, you can catch them and push them back in." — Erin
Choice points are times when you can choose to do something that might further deplete you or something that may fill you up. Sara and Erin encouraged the group to think about these choice points.
"Maybe you've had the experience where it is 8 o'clock at night, the kitchen is a mess and the kids are off doing their own thing. You think, 'I just can't do anything else.' so you turn on Netflix and end up watching episode after episode — it's really late and you took it farther than you expected. That moment when you turned on Netflix, that was your choice point. The choice was 'Do I turn on Netflix or do I make the push, clean the kitchen, pour a cup of tea, and sit with a book?' One of those choices is going to be more repleting and set you up for success. There is no judgment on what you choose, but have the awareness of when those choice points are in the day and set the intention for what you are going to do when that happens." — Sara
Make a list of things that replete you. Then make a list of your choice points and write out how you could make a repleting decision at that critical point in the day.
Bids for Connection
With Zoom meetings galore, working from home, school from home, and more, distractions are the norm today. But your mental and physical presence is extremely important to your loved ones and children. Sara and Erin encouraged the group to pay attention to small "bids for connection" or signs that someone wants to connect.
"Everyone makes bids for connections. They are small things. With teenagers, it may be an open bid like walking into the room and starting to talk to you. It could be more subtle, like a hesitation or a smile. They are sometimes so small that we miss them. And we have our own ways of making bids for connection. We might ask a question or reach out and touch someone's arm. When you notice those bids, that is a chance for you to stop whatever you are doing, turn towards them and have a moment of connection." — Sara
Think about bids in your own home. What do they look like? When do they happen, at certain times of the day? List these out along with ways that you can be more available for those bids. Set that intention so you don't miss them when they come along.
Bonus Tip: Hugs for Health!
With COVID-19 restrictions, many of us are getting only a fraction of the physical contact we once had. We are missing handshakes, hugs, and more from family and friends. Sara and Erin emphasized the importance of hugs with those that you can connect with.
"We aren't getting a lot of hugs these days except from the people in our family. So it's really important to get those hugs and to really make them linger. The 20 second hug or 30 second hug is amazing. If you tell your kids ahead of time, they won't feel so awkward and squirmy. While you're hugging, everyone just relaxes into it and it gives us all of those endorphins that we really need." — Erin
Bringing Us Together
These are just a few of the activities that Sara and Erin shared with the group. At the end of the session, they asked group members to think about a "nugget of wisdom" to take away from the session. Many remarked that they learned something from each other in addition to the valuable information that Sara and Erin shared. As we navigate our way through these trying times, we are grateful to the APA for organizing events to bring our community closer together. Virtually or in person, these connections matter.