Via Planned Acts of Kindness

In an effort to help students strengthen their mental health practices, Los Altos High School’s Planned Acts of Kindness Club is organizing a virtual mental health speaker series with lunch presentations held every other Thursday.

Planned Acts of Kindness Club presents Mental Health Speaker Series

February 18, 2021

In an effort to help students strengthen their mental health practices, Los Altos High School’s Planned Acts of Kindness Club is organizing a virtual mental health speaker series with lunch presentations held every other Thursday. The series consists of five talks from mental health counselors, psychotherapists, certified yoga instructors and LAHS teachers, with topics ranging from expressing gratitude and self care to destigmatizing mental health discussions.

“To us, Planned Acts of Kindness doesn’t just mean being kind to others. It means being kind to ourselves, too,” Club President Jeannette Wang said. “We started this series in hopes of equipping our peers and ourselves with the tools to navigate situations regarding our own mental health and stress management, and those of our friends and loved ones.”

In case you didn’t have a chance to join the first presentation, The Talon has got you covered. Keep reading to learn more about information covered in the speaker series.

Stress Reduction and Management Techniques

The Planned Acts of Kindness Club kicked off its Mental Health Speaker Series on Thursday, February 11, with a stress reduction and management techniques talk. The presenters were Foothill College Wellness Coordinator Zaina Hamid, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Lisa Slede as well as their wellness student ambassadors Athenais Mortier and Raven Hayes.

The presentation outlined practical ways individuals can help those around them cope with mental health struggles. Letting others know that you’re present when they need it is one of the proposed strategies. This can be done effectively through following the QPR suicide prevention method: question, persuade and refer. Questioning is allowing the individual to open up and asking them to voice their feelings; persuading is offering professional resources and encouraging them to seek help; and referring is specifically taking the actions to guide them toward help and introducing them to the professionals.

Slede noted that it’s sometimes easy to overlook personal needs, and that “our brains are often wired to stick to the negative.” People subconsciously forget about the positive parts of the day, so Slede’s tip is to make a conscious effort to take in something good for about 25–30 seconds two to three times a day. She also recommends partaking in activities like yoga, mindfulness, meditation and positive affirmations, as well as taking naps to recharge and going outside to help balance mental health in day-to-day life.

The next talk in the series led by LAHS teacher and certified yoga instructor Jodi Hwang is scheduled for Thursday, March 4. This upcoming presentation will focus on mindfulness practice. To sign up, visit this link.

To learn more about Foothill College’s research, advice and wellness resources, visit this link.

Mindfulness Practices

Yoga-lover, former avid marathoner and English teacher Jodi Hwang was the second guest on the Planned Acts of Kindness lunch speaker series. On Thursday March 4, she led a mindfulness workshop, drawing on her past experience as a yoga instructor in Beijing and Shanghai.

The session began with simple breaths focusing on the heart, then transitioned into Ujjayi breathing, which releases tension and helps with concentration through slowing the pace of one’s breath. Ujjayi means “victorious” and is performed by breathing through the nose and tightening one’s throat, creating a “Darth Vader” or “light snore” sound.

The Ujjayi breathing technique was followed by a stand-up exercise with rocking feet forward and back. Hwang then demonstrated transitioning from Tadasana Mountain Pose to exhaling chair pose, as well as the tree pose.

The session ended with an imagination meditation exercise about feeling the kindness and warmth from individuals surrounding oneself and sending it back to them. Hwang referenced a study conducted by Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education in which individuals who practiced for seven weeks recorded an increase of joy, gratitude and life satisfaction, among other categories.

The next talk in the series led by LAHS Positive Psychology teacher Susana Herrera is scheduled for Thursday, March 18. This upcoming presentation will focus on self care and gratitude. To sign up, visit this link.

Self-care and Gratitude

Opening up the world of gratitude and self-care practices feels natural to Positive Psychology and Survey Composition Literature teacher Susana Herrera. On Thursday, March 18, Herrera shared her knowledge and tips with students as the third guest speaker for the Planned Acts of Kindness mental health series.

Herrera began by leading participants through the Quick Coherence technique, which involves heart-focused breathing and activating a positive feeling. The first step is to focus one’s attention on the heart and breathe through the chest and heart slowly. Once done, Herrera challenged students to make a sincere attempt to appreciate someone or something in their lives. She had everyone send a quick email or message to someone they appreciate, leading into the idea that gratitude is a gateway to positive emotions.

According to the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center of University of California, Los Angeles, in 21 days, a person’s brain can be trained to see more positive in the world by simply writing down three statements of gratitude per day.

Further building upon the essentials of gratitude, happiness and well-being, Herrera debunked the assumption that the external world is predictive of our happiness level, citing positive psychology advocate Shawn Achor’s research from the Happiness Advantage that, “90 percent of your long-term happiness is not predicted by your external world but of the way your brain processes the world.”

Herrera mentioned the five pillars of well-being, or PERMA: positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishment. These pillars are what make human beings thrive, she said.

Herrera concluded the talk with a call to action: She urges individuals to “start with where you are and be grateful.” One’s brain on gratitude reduces fear and anxiety by regulating stress hormones, evokes positive thinking, wires and fires new neural connections, and enhances serotonin and dopamine levels. She emphasized the impacts of gratitude on the central nervous system, and that gratitude leads to psychological benefits (a happier you), physical benefits (a fitter you) and social benefits (a better you).

The next talk in the series led by Santa Clara County Behavioral Services Department counselor Vanessa Cornejo is scheduled for Thursday, April 8. This upcoming presentation will focus on tackling mental health with family and friends. To sign up, visit this link.

Discussing Mental Health with Family and Friends

Licensed marriage and family therapist and counselor for the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services counselor Vanessa Cornejo led the fourth presentation in the Planned Acts of Kindness series, held on Thursday, April 8, at lunch. Cornejo’s presentation focused on acknowledging changes in loss, grief and mental health during the pandemic, as well as how to destigmatize mental health discussions within family situations.

While recognizing it will be an adjustment, Cornejo advises individuals to return to school when the opportunity arises, citing its great mental health benefits and role in facilitating the transition back to normal life. Key ways to make the transition back to school less stressful are embracing awkwardness both in verbal and physical communication, being aware of the differences in the first-day-of-school “vibe” and starting conversations with peers to open up the atmosphere.

Cornejo also emphasized the importance of being aware of changes in mental health and surrounding oneself with positive, hopeful individuals. When peers are facing challenges and communicate them with others, Cornejo finds that we are often too quick to give advice. Instead, she recommends being an open ear, reserving judgement and expanding our listening skills, as challenges impact everyone differently. We also need to be careful with what we say to make sure we don’t have an accidental negative outcome.

Guardians might not always be able to understand the impact of mental health issues on their children’s lives. Cornejo advises students to have an open and educational conversation with their guardians on what mental health is to combat stigma and ensure that they take mental health issues seriously. 

Cornejo provided resources for students which can be found here: Mental Health Resources For Parents of Adolescents and Young Adults, Coping in Hard Times and Alcohol and Substance Misuse.

The final talk in the series led by psychotherapist Sharon Martin is scheduled for Thursday, April 29. This upcoming presentation will focus on stress management and self-care. To sign up, visit this link.

Stress Management & Self Care

Psychotherapist Sharon Martin shared her expertise on the intersection between stress and perfectionism in the final talk of the Planned Acts of Kindness Mental Health speaker series on Thursday, April 29. Her presentation, called “Taming Perfectionism and How to be Kinder to Yourself,” focused on the self-inflicted stress students experience throughout high school and beyond.

Martin began by defining perfectionism as setting high standards, and seeing mistakes and flaws as defining traits. She highlighted several techniques, such as normalizing mistakes, and challenged individuals to see failure as an opportunity for growth rather than letting it define them.

Martin urged individuals to notice how they treat themselves, practice affirmations, identify double standards and subconscious negative thinking and replace them with realistic and self-accepting thoughts. Statements like “My worth isn’t based on my achievements” and “I value learning more than being right” can make students aware of their strengths, she said.  

Choosing growth over perfection and tolerating the discomfort of mistakes is a key aspect of taming perfectionism, according to Martin. In a school setting, she encourages students to impose time limits  for completing assignments so that they do not get caught up in it and meet realistic expectations without additional stress. 

Martin cited a 2018 meta-analysis of 95 studies on perfectionism, concluding that perfectionism was consistently correlated with higher stress levels and did not lead to higher performance levels. Ultimately, she explained that perfectionism can lead to detrimental effects such as burnout, stress-related health problems and negative impacts on one’s relationship with oneself and others. This includes choosing work over fun, deprioritizing relationships, lack of fulfillment and diminishing self worth.

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