Student Stress & Response


As much as I wish this holiday weekend was celebrating the beginning
of summer, reality is sinking in. The dog days of summer are behind us,
U-haul trucks are flooding the streets, and students are back, which means September is here. Time to reset, adjust to new schedules, living situations,
and realign with the pace that has been ingrained in our psyche as the
academic school year begins.

Easier said than done for many.

As a mental health provider, I work with students and families who are
struggling with high stress levels before arriving to campus, early in the
semester, or later as they've been dragging themselves through. Low levels
of stress are usually manageable, but when it persists it increasingly impedes
on emotions, thought processes, physical health, relationships, and affects
everyday living.

In The Stressed Years of Their Lives, Hibbs & Rostain state that 3/4 of students
try and deal with serious stressors on their own, which many can but those
who can't wait too long to address. I see it often, an early response frequently influences positive outcomes, and those who wait too long to address generally have a much harder time managing the semester or may end up leaving school.

There are lots of signs when deciding to seek help and noticing them are key -
here are some:

+ Continual overthinking & worry about worse case scenarios
+ Indecisiveness and inability to sit with uncertainty
+ Noticeable change in mood, energy, focus
+ Frequently self-conscious, trying hard to fit in
+ Withdrawing and isolating
+ Uncontrollable or suppressed anger
+ Unable to relax, wind-down, sleep enough (or too much)
+ Increasingly falling behind, unable to meet daily demands
+ Intrusive thoughts, voices, understanding what’s real and not
+ Suicidal, homicidal thoughts, and concern w/ safety
+ Loss of hope, pleasure, self-care
+ Increase or harmful use of drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling
+ Keeping struggle to self and unable to express or ask for help

Whatever the experience the longer the wait/response, to the stressors,
may have a serious impact. Here are a few options in searching for support:

+ Schools may offer a few counseling sessions and/or help with referrals to therapists in the community.

+ Insurance companies can provide a list of “in-network” therapists in the city/location. is a site that helps people find therapists, based on location, specialty, insurance….. is a site that provides referrals for affordable
counseling for those who cannot pay full out-of-pocket rates and who may
not have adequate healthcare coverage.



If you were at the beach as a child you may remember the feeling on being ankle deep in the ocean water and, as the waves were approaching, the previous waves would run underneath (the breaking waves) in the opposite direction. This gentle current, or undertow, gave the unique feeling of gliding as well as testing one's balance and then possibly falling into the water. Ocean conditions seem obvious by looking at the water and waves, but what we don't see clearly is the undertow. While the undertow can be more problematic for children or less experienced swimmers, to get back to shore, the larger concern is the rip current which looks like a calm path of water between two breaking waves, but is anything but peaceful. Rip currents affect even the best of swimmers.

In my practice I see individuals, couples, and families trying to navigate a range of currents. Some are ankle to knee deep in an undertow, and others are reaching out for help when they've been pulled into life's rip currents, trying to gain some control as they lose more and more energy after fighting so hard to avoid being swept deeper into the water towards the ocean floor. When they arrive to therapy, the desperation to make it back to shore is so great, that it takes time to adjust to the pace needed to start understanding that calming oneself, while not swimming against the current, is essential to making it back to shore. And at times, it's the letting go, accepting vulnerability, and trusting that before the current brings them back to shore it may be that the waves pull them further out to sea where there is calmer and safer water. At that point, one's energy can be restored, panic is not getting in the way, and judgement becomes easier on how to move with the flow, not against, and allowing to see more clearly what's ahead to support getting back safely to shore.


FATHERS - Seeing & Being Seen


I remember hearing a story about a young boy who witnessed the World Trade Towers being hit on 9/11. He saw it from his classroom window and, after his father picked him up, they walked home and the boy drew a picture of what he witnessed. His picture resembled the horror, as well as adding elements (to the drawing) that could save the people from dying. This need to freely express himself, as well as showing compassion for others, says a lot about the living and familial conditions, that influenced his instinctive response, even if in his imagination.

I love how this story provides a glimpse into their relationship with only one moment in time. I imagine if the boy were with his mother, she would have her own unique presence to allow for her child to be safe. But in this story, the father picked him up from school and physically walked home with the child, providing a sense of safety, protection, and care that allowed the child to process the trauma immediately when he got home. I imagine this boy sees his dad today, not perfect, but as his hero.

What happens to the many children that don’t have the paternal presence and consistency that is so essential in early development? Joseph Chilton Pearce says the very biology of transcendence, that moves one towards meaningfulness, is that between the ages of 15-18 years old, if a young person is not presented with some great people or great vision, what sets in is a massive cynicism – because when not presented with a “big picture” then it is a massive dying off of brain cells and (without) this guidance the direction turns backwards.

 Parental incompleteness is complicated and often intergenerational, but many of those stories go untold. When families share their stories, and talk about family histories with one another, it can allow for an opening, an understanding of the absence, brokenness, hardness, and distance that influences the “father wound,” so many children and adults suffer from - shaping worthlessness, longing for acceptance, and feeling insecure.

 Pearce’s words resonate with me personally, as well as what I’ve witnessed with families I’ve worked with over the years. Seeing both the presence and absence of fathers being able to provide the big picture, in life, has such significant consequences, and (however present or absent the father) is likely a result of their own relationship with their father, or possible father wound.

 There’s a powerful story in Dr Meg Meeker’s book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, where she says that “my father spoke a single sentence that changed my life.” Although, she said, it wasn’t his words, it was “his tone, inflection, and confidence,” when she overheard her dad talking on the phone (to his friend) about her. “My father believed something about me that I couldn’t believe in myself. He gave me a belief in myself and always made sure that I knew that he loved me.”

I imagine Dr Meeker sees her dad today, not perfect, but as her hero.


Thinking about health

Spiritual - what do I believe in, value, how does this guide my life, how attuned am I to my mind body spirit connection?

Environment - what types of environments am I part of, purpose of each, how do they influence me, and what is my influence, how much of myself can I be in each?

Nutrition - what am I eating & drinking, how much thought do I give to it, why & when do I
eat & drink?

Physical & Movement - am I moving my body enough, resting enough, playing, improving health & preventing disease? How is my sleep?

Emotional – how do I view of myself, notice signs of distress, managing my emotions, my impact on others, others on me?


The further we move away from our own brokenness, out of touch with our own darkness, we often harden. Loneliness, lacking compassion, inability to be present, and unintentionally sending wrong messages, interferes with the light and influence we have during our most vulnerable times being connected to our broken self.


"Rembrandt is as much the elder son of the parable as he is the younger. When, during the last years of his life, he painted both sons in Return of the Prodigal Son, he had lived a life in which neither the lostness of the younger son, nor the lostness of the elder son, was alien to him. Both needed healing and forgiveness. Both needed to come home. Both needed the embrace of a forgiving father. But from the story itself, as well as from Rembrandt's painting, it is clear that the hardest conversion to go through is the conversion of the one who stayed home." -Henri Nouwen



Even if I don’t see it again

nor ever feel it I know it is

And that if once it hailed me

it ever does

And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction

not as towards a place but it was a tilting

within myself, as one turns a mirror

to flash the light to where it isn’t

I was blinded like that

and swam in what shone at me

only able to endure it by being no one

and so specifically myself I thought I’d die

From being loved like that.

- Marie Howe




Over the past year I’ve made an extra effort to introduce mindfulness meditation in my sessions with people. In my own life, I’ve grown to rely on taking moments throughout the day to simply focus on my breath, reground myself, and to calm my mind of the many thoughts or emotions that can carry me away at times. So, I thought this may be helpful to include, in my meetings, as a brief meditation at the beginning, or a pause at heightened moments during a conversation to notice what’s happening, or simply at the end of a session before wrapping up.

I always check in afterwards and ask what they’ve noticed and frequently hear that it was calming, some noticing tension in parts of their body, others realizing the intensity of thoughts flooding their mind, some more in-tune to heart rate, and becoming attuned to their deeper emotional state.

Although the feedback isn’t unexpected, when it’s shared by someone in such a personal way something happens in that exchange. There’s also an energy shift that seems to happen when sharing a quiet space together, while over time creating an unspoken trust. As a result, the thin (or at times thick) layer of superficiality is pealed away. Taking the time to focus within seems to take away the need to avoid the small talk and reflect more from one’s internal experience.

In meaningful dialogue, I find there’s a balance of both listening and sharing – a give and take with one another. I’m noticing with even a short period of focused breathing, or guided meditation, it’s influencing a deeper level of comfort with sharing things someone may have been holding back on and a greater openness.


I recently read a children's book, on Martin Luther King Jr, with my daughter. When I told her my January blog was going to be a reflection on MLK, she asked if she could give me something she wrote. Thank you to my daughter for her thoughtful words and meaningful contribution. Here it is with a few minor edits...

I have a dream. Do you remember Dr King, the fighter of rights, the person that helped half of the world? You probably know who helped us treat people better, if you don't, it was Dr King! When he was 11 years old, he played football and baseball, and his best friend was white and, of course, Martin was black. One day his white friend's mom told him that they can't hang out with each other anymore. Plus they can't anyway because of a dumb rule that whites and blacks don't go to the same school, just because their skin color is different! I know sad, huh, but anyway Martin didn't understand why. 

That night at the dinner table Martin told his mother and father what had happened that morning, they told him why, and Martin flipped out. Hate is all he wanted to think about, his friend and his father, but his mother told him, "hate is the last thing you put in your mind no matter what." Martin agreed hate is the last thing he should put in his mind, so he did. 

Martin got older and stronger and he wanted freedom now. He wanted it so bad he went to jail more than one time for doing that. My point is to TREAT PEOPLE LIKE THEY WANT TO BE TREATED. Please!




There is something intriguing about a person’s first name. The meaning, who chose it, where it came from, as well as how it identifies and connects us. I think of my friend Moses, who I met in 2001. I had never met anyone by the name Moses, but know the Old Testament stories of the brothers, Moses & Aaron. This in itself connected us, in addition to my friend’s kindness and loyalty. He never forgot a birthday and taught me the importance of visiting people when they’re in the hospital, especially those who would rarely have visitors. His inner light was bright and full of compassion. At the end of 2018, I’m remembering Moses and all those who have died. I’m thankful for who they were and the impressions they left that continue to be a guide.



It seems nearly impossible to go through a day without hearing about major social and political injustices throughout the United States and the world. It’s clear that people and groups in power have a lot to do with the exploitation, and abuse, with a goal of self-preservation. There doesn’t appear to be any interest in transformation, or change, just self-protection. These worldly adversities are an added weight creating deeper cracks in the foundation and jeopardizing our structural integrity - with a need for extensive repairs made of Truth, the only real sustainable and secured reinforcement.

“Each of us is born with two contradictory sets of instructions - a conservative tendency, made up of instincts for self-preservation, self-aggrandizement, and saving energy. The other is an expansive tendency made up of instincts for exploring, for enjoying novelty and risk - the curiosity that leads to creativity belongs to this set. We need both of these programs. But whereas the first tendency requires little encouragement or support from outside to motivate behavior, the second can wilt if it is not cultivated. If too few opportunities for curiosity are available, if too many obstacles are placed in the way of risk and exploration, the motivation to engage in creative behavior is easily extinguished.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Mihaly’s quote makes me think about the process of ongoing spiritual transformation. The self-preservation makes sense in our early years, children to young adults, with those closest to us supporting and helping define a healthy identity and purpose. Yet, many did not have the safe attachments that require consistency and reliability - as a result spend a lot of life trying to sustain a certain level of safety and self-preservation, while living a life that is not compatible with one’s true self. I sense that the self-preserving ends up creating the self-doubt, insufficient relationships, and overcompensation to protect from inadequacies and vulnerabilities.

To live life fully, as adults, it requires the hard work, and discomfort, of moving away from extreme self-focus, looking at the bigger picture, and opening up to the search outside of ourself and transforming towards truth and relationship.


May your summer have extended moments of fun, at the beach, walking your dog, going for a swim, barbecuing with friends, singing along at a concert, dancing, watching fireworks, traveling with family, reading a new book, bike riding, playing with kids. If we can have experiences that allow us to be present, and express ourselves in light and imaginative ways, it has the potential to bring a sense of relief and allows us to love in deeper ways. 


Learning from Trees

Last Tuesday, I woke up and did my best to head out early and shovel as the first wave of the blizzard hit. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I kept telling myself it’s mid-March and spring is just days away!

When I walked outside I looked at the lovely fern tree in our yard. It has been on my mind quite a bit this winter. Mainly, because I didn’t cover the tree and it has been taking a beating from the extreme cold, snowy, and windy winter. I wish I had a good excuse for why the tree isn’t covered, but it's also not the first winter it hasn't been covered up.

I love this tree and it's an important part of our yard. The branches grow vertically from its base, straight up to the sky, and its green all year. Although today, it looked like it was in disarray and doing its best to make it through the storm.

                                                       3/13/18 - blizzard day

                                                       3/13/18 - blizzard day

When seeing the tree, I immediately went over and shook all the snow to lighten the load from the branches. By now, the durable tree was becoming so weighed down by the snow and was quickly losing its natural shape. As I was shaking the tree, I got this feeling I wasn’t as helpful as I intended to be and maybe doing more harm than good.

As the day moved along, I had this thought that, as difficult as it may be, maybe I should stop reacting with trying to save the tree, and let it try to get through this storm on its own terms in the natural element. So, I decided to step back and allow for natural consequences and respect the tree to respond as it will.

In Peter Wohlleben’s book, "The Hidden Life of Trees," he talks about trees being highly social and that they care and support each other to help with stabilizing one another - even in extreme weather conditions. He also talks about how they feed and support one another, without having conditions for each other, no matter what type of tree - and that while caring for others the tree is also caring and taking care of itself - seeming to realize that to feel well the trees need one another.

Suzanne Simard, an ecologist and professor, at the University of British Columbia, also talks about the trees being in network with one another, and the elaborate root systems underground are massive communication pathways. She refers to trees not being individuals, due to constantly interacting with one another and helping each other to survive. She also refers to the high levels of resiliency, among the trees, as a result of the different species and the diversity of the network. This resiliency develops through the back and forth communication among the community of plants and trees, and those that are most in need, receive carbon and wisdom from the others, including how to enhance their defense system.

Another fascinating observation Prof Simard states is from the older trees. At the end of their life they are passing along an increased amount of their resources, especially to their kin, but also to their network to support the community's growth and stability.

After learning about this research, I’m hopeful that my tree will be okay, as well as knowing its ability to self-heal has little to do with being alone.

                                                  3/15/18 - 2 days after storm

                                                  3/15/18 - 2 days after storm

Together with

My wife and I recently had a mid-year meeting, at school, with our daughter's teacher. We talked about the usual things, what's going well and areas to work on. The teacher then shared about a time she noticed my daughter struggling with an assignment. She said she went over to her desk and sat next to her. She added, "I didn't say a word, I just sat with her. I knew she could do the work and I sensed being with her would help her out. And she completed the assignment."

Of all the things she talked about, at the meeting, it was this simple gesture that spoke volumes and left such an impression on me. Even as I write this I'm not sure she realizes the influence she had. The words that come to mind, regarding the teacher's action, are peaceful and gentle. These are not always the actions taken with those closest to us who are struggling. Yet, I imagine most of us can think of a time in life when something similar had a positive impact us, whether with someone close to us or outside our inner circle. 

When I work with people, families, there is often the desire for the "quick fix" approach, a will power mindset, or pushing better ideas, one's ideas on someone else. Our culture promotes these hierarchical approaches. In my experience, this often has little to no traction and moves others further away. The slowing down of the pace and expectations, while sitting with moments of silence and uncertainty, has such a powerful force that movement and decision making gain much greater traction. It also creates an inner space for trust, healing, and deepening of relationships.

Is there anyone in your life who may need you to spend some quiet time together?

Loneliness at Work, School, & Home

Last week, I attended a talk by the former US Surgeon General, Dr Vivek Murthy, on “How Loneliness Is Bad For Business.” Dr Murthy made a health comparison of those intensely struggling with loneliness to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. While practicing medicine he said the most common illness he felt he saw, from those hospitalized, was loneliness. He also mentioned a study of students on 51 college campuses, which included nearly 30k surveyed, and more than 60% reported feeling profoundly alone. Another survey from several years ago reports half of CEO’s experienced loneliness that interferes with their performance.

As I was listening it struck me how the feelings of being alone and having minimal social connection, in the workplace, were similar to the descriptions that couples and families share about their feelings of disconnection at home. The inability to openly share one’s life experiences with others can be depressing, and provoking anxiety and anger. It can also create a silencing, followed by shame, and brings about issues with self-doubt, loss of voice, hopelessness, rejection, and brokenness.

Another similarity is that families and organizations have an opportunity to bring people together, share philosophies, culture, accept uncertainty, hold different perspectives, and get to know one another in a deeper way. Yet, although families tend to do a better job at it, many fail to do so – and even more so with organizations/companies – and this is when things fall apart.

For those who are in a position to reassess and make changes regarding the stability of a family, or work group, these questions may help with addressing loneliness and need for deeper connections:

-       Am I present and listening?
-       Often trying to fix or have all the answers?
-       Is there a greater need for transparency and openness?
-       Is hierarchy and power becoming a barrier to connection & inclusion?
-       Allowing for input and feedback?
-       Able to sense problems and opportunities?
-       Acknowledging mistakes and insufficiencies?
-       Balance with decision making and providing guidance?
-       Tolerating different perspectives?
-       Facing the truth or hiding/ignoring?

“You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.” 
                                                                                                                   Saint Teresa of Calcutta