Tips To Prevent Holiday Stress and Depression

relax_stress_words_on_compass_conceptual_imageSubmitted by Gabe Carlson, Wellness Coordinator


When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
  2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  3. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try these alternatives: Donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
  6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
  7. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  8. Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.
  9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
  10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional

Checkpoints Will Keep Your Teen Organized

checkingBefore an airplane takes off, the pilot runs through a checklist to make sure everything is ready. Even pilots who have flown thousands of flights still go through their checklist every time they fly.

Your teen can develop his own checklists to make sure he has what he needs:

  • In the morning. What do I need for school? Book bag, homework, lunch, gym shoes, a signed note.
  • Before class. What do I need for my first class? Textbook, homework, pencil, paper.
  • In class. What is the assignment for tomorrow? Do I understand it? Are there long-term projects? When are they due?
  • Before leaving school. What books do I need to bring home for homework? Check assignment sheet.
  • At home. What are the most important projects? What is my study schedule?
  • Before bed. What do I need for school tomorrow? Place all items by the door.

Reprinted with permission from the October 2013 issue of Parents Still make the difference!® (High School Edition) newsletter. Copyright © 2013 The Parent Institute®, a division of NIS, Inc.

Reading Aloud Together

Build the Habit of Reading Aloud Together

Man and two children sitting in living room reading book and smiWhat’s one simple thing you can do to help your child do better in school this year? Read aloud with her often.

Reading aloud is a way to introduce young children to the world of books. It is also a way to encourage children to make reading a daily habit.

And studies show that even long after children learn to read for themselves, they still enjoy read-aloud time.

Here are some tips to make your read-aloud time at home more successful:

  • Make reading aloud a priority. Plan for it. Set aside time for it every day, and then just do it.
  • Read books you both enjoy. There’s nothing worse than having 100 pages to go in a book neither of you can stand. If you have any doubt your child will like a book, skim it before you start.
  • Read some books that are a little too hard for your child to read alone. This is a great way to increase your child’s vocabulary.

Reprinted with permission from the September 2013 issue of Parents make the difference!® (Elementary School Edition) newsletter. Copyright © 2013 The Parent Institute®, a division of NIS, Inc.

Are You Staying Connected to Your High Schooler?

Man and girl on bikes outdoors smilingTeens often act like they want their parents to disappear, when in fact, they actually want to stay connected. Studies show that teens who remain close to parents are happier, healthier and do better in school. They also stay closer as adults.

Are you staying connected? Answer yes or no to the questions below to find out:

___1. Do you have a regular “appointment” to do something fun together, one on one?

___2. Do you do things your teen likes?

___3. Do you listen to your teen’s music?

___4. Do you volunteer to drive your teen and his friends places?

___5. Do you try to spend less money and more time with your teen?

How well are you doing?

Each yes answer is a way to build stronger bonds with your teen–both now and in the future. For each no answer, try that idea from the quiz to strengthen your relationship.

Reprinted with permission from the October 2013 issue of Parents Still make the difference!® (High School Edition) newsletter. Copyright © 2013 The Parent Institute®, a division of NIS, Inc.

Establish Routines and Positive Habits for the New School Year

AL-gKs_0371It’s the beginning of a new school year–the perfect time to set the stage for learning success. To make sure your child shows up at school ready to learn:

  • Get a head start. Many families find that organizing at night prevents morning “rush hour.” You can review school papers, pack and refrigerate lunches, set backpacks by the door and agree on outfits.
  • Establish sleep routines. Choose reasonable bedtimes so everyone is rested when the alarm clock goes off. Do your best to stick with them.
  • Develop morning habits. If your child does the same things, in the same order, each morning, it’s less likely that she will forget a step. For example, make bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and put on shoes.
  • Choose a homework time. With your child, pick a time when she will have the most energy and motivation to do assignments. Create a quiet study spot, complete with necessary supplies, where she can work at the same time each day.
  • Use organizational tools. What will help your child stay organized? She might use calendars, to-do lists or a folder system.
  • Set priorities. Schedule things like schoolwork, family meals and even free time on a calendar. Treat them like appointments. If there are openings, your child can add activities.

Reprinted with permission from the September 2013 issue of Parents make the difference!® (Elementary School Edition) newsletter. Copyright © 2013 The Parent Institute®, a division of NIS, Inc.

Encourage Your Preschooler to Talk About Daily Activities

ai_gsf_0129_11434When your child begins school, her teacher will want her to talk about her thoughts, ideas and experiences. This kind of communication is a very important part of preschool and kindergarten.

Here are some ways to help your child get ready:

  • Get the story behind your child’s drawings. When your child draws a picture, ask her to tell you about it. Then write a sentence or two of her description underneath her drawing. Read her story together.
  • Talk about your own day with your child. For example, say more than, “We’re going out.” Instead, try, “We are going to the grocery store this afternoon. I need to get some fruit and a box of cereal. You can help me pick them out.”
  • Help your child tell a story in sequence. This helps her learn that one event follows another. For example, ask her, “What are some of the things you do after dinner and before bed?” If she’s not sure, say, “You brush your teeth. Then what do you do?”
  • Encourage your child to provide details. Say your child tells you that she went out to the playground with her preschool class. Ask her questions that will help her recreate more of that experience. “What color is the slide?” “Did you like playing on the swings or on the monkey bars more?” “Who was playing with you on the playground?”

Reprinted with permission from the September 2013 issue of Parents make the difference!® (Early Childhood Edition) newsletter. Copyright © 2013 The Parent Institute®, a division of NIS, Inc. Source: C. Wright, A Parent’s Guide to Home and School Success: Kindergarten, Brighter Vision Publications.


Car Seat 101

Written By Michelle Greenough, Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician

Mother Fastening Safety Clip On Baby SeatAs the mom of two, I have had my hands on a fair share of car seats.  From carriers to convertibles, forward-facing only to combination, and boosters – you name it, I have bought it, gifted it, looked at it, owned it, and installed it.  I am rule follower to a fault so, you better believe I have done my research on any safety seat we have ever owned and practically memorized the instruction booklets!  I vividly remember installing my first infant carrier base.  It took both my husband and I an hour, at least; it was winter and we were sweating!  I was so proud when we took that seat to a local dealership for one of their checkup events and they told me we had done it perfectly!  I also remember being told that about 95% of the car seats they see come in are installed improperly!

Now, I am also a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician and I see many of the common mistakes that parents make when it comes to car seat selection and installation.  Here are some things to think about when shopping for a car seat.

What is the best Child Restraint?

  • Does it fit your child?
  • Does it fit your vehicle?
  • Will you use it correctly every time?

 Should I use a used Child Restraint?

  • Do you know the complete history?
  • Are all labels and instructions present?
  • Do you know if there are any recalls?
  • Are all parts present and in working order?
  • Is the seat free of cracks, loose rivets, and other damage?
  • Is it no older than 6 years old?

 What are the laws in Iowa for car seats?

Some key points about the law:

  • Children under 1 year old and less than 20 pounds must be in a rear facing car seat.  BEST PRACTICE, determined by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is that children remain rear-facing until at least age 2 or until they reach the maximum height and weight requirements of their restraint.
  • Children 1-6 years old must be in a safety seat or booster.  BEST PRACTICE says that most children are not developmentally ready for a booster seat until at least age 4 and should remain in car seats with harness straps until they reach the highest limits for that seat.  Many seats will now forward face anywhere from 50-80 pounds.
  • Children ages 6-11 must be in a safety seat, booster, or vehicle safety belt.  BEST PRACTICE says that most children will not be physically large enough for ad adult seat belt until they are between 8 and 12 years of age.  Even then, they should be checked to see if they fit properly without a booster.

Unfortunately, the laws in Iowa are among the 12 worst when it comes to states not keeping up with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations.

For more information about Child Passenger Safety and resources in our area, including check-up events, please check out Blank Children’s Hospital at



Exciting School Start

Written by Shahna Janssen, Director of Community Education

back_to_schoolI have run into many WDMCS families this summer and when I’ve asked how their summer is going, I’ve always heard the same answer, “Fast!”  And  I couldn’t agree more!  Then, when I asked my kids if they were ready for school to start again, I got an enthusiastic, “Yes!”  I really wasn’t expecting that, but it was very good to hear. It reminded me of how fortunate we are to be part of the West Des Moines Community School District.  We have great schools, outstanding teachers, and strong and capable leaders.  All of that has translated into a wonderful school experience for my two kids and thousands of others students. I’m excited by the learning and growth I’ve seen in them each year, and apparently they are too.  I hope that your school year gets off to a fantastic start!

Sue Roberts the 2012-3 Susan Asklof Enthusiasm Awardee


Sue Roberts at the WDMCS Welcom Back accepting the Susan Asklof Enthusiasm Award.

The 2012-13 Susan Asklof Enthusiasm Award was presented to Sue Roberts at the West Des Moines Community School District’s welcome back celebration on Monday, August 19. Sue an associate at Western Hills Elementary School.

WDMCS Community Education began giving this award in memory of Susan Asklof, the district’s wellness supervisor from 1986-1991. Susan helped many students and staff understand the importance and reward of a healthy lifestyle. The recipient of this award is an employee who exemplifies her amazing qualities: Lives Life Fully, Loves Unconditionally, Learns with Joy, Laughs Heartily, and Leaves a Legacy.

Here is excerpt from Susan’s nomination form written by one of her peers.

“It is said that laughter is the best medicine. It is this medicine that Sue brings with her to work each day.  Sue uses her time with the students to share a smile and laugh. She sends a message that ‘we can do this together.  Sue’s positive attitude is evident in her smiles along the way as she shares with her students the joy in their successes and laugh together as they learn something new each day.”

Gabe Carlson, WDMCS Wellness Director spoke about Susan and the amazing life she lived.

Iowa Senior Olympics

The 27th Iowa Senior Olympic games gathered athletes from Iowa and out of state to compete in several different sports.  The games officially started on May 31 through June 16, with 590 athletes participating.  A variety of games were offered for all athletes to compete in including softball, tennis, golf, shuffleboard, pickleball, horseshoes, football throws, table tennis, basketball, badminton, track and field events, and bowling.  The event was made possible this year due to the support of sponsors and the 125 volunteers.