Author Archives: Allison Peet

On the Brink: A Group for Religious Professionals Transitioning into Retirement



Retiring from active religious and spiritual leadership evokes many emotions–dread, joy, fear, anxiety, excitement…Questions arise: “How will I find meaning and purpose?” “What is my call now?”  “How do I adapt to all of the changes that aging brings?”  “How do I share my spiritual gifts while maintaining healthy boundaries?”

Utilizing Parker Palmer’s book, “On the Brink of Everything:  Grace, Gravity and Getting Old”, clergy approaching retirement, or recently retired, will gather four times to support one another by exploring the existential challenges retirement brings.

AUDIENCE  Religious professionals including rabbis, pastors, priests, imams and others who are considering their next stage of life
DATE / TIME  Tuesdays from 1-3:30PM

  • Sept. 7, 2021
  • Oct. 5, 2021
  • Nov. 2, 2021
  • Nov. 30, 2021
COST $200 for the full series of four sessions
LOCATION  All sessions will be held virtually by Zoom

For more information please contact Mark Minear at

Click here for a printable flier!


Diane McClanahan, M.Div., B.S.N.

Diane McClanahan, recently retired as Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. Her work at the Center included program development and facilitation of services for clergy and congregations including education, spiritual direction, clergy coaching, church consultation and conflict mediation.  She holds a bachelor of science degree in nursing from Duke University and a master of divinity degree from Yale Divinity School. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, she has served congregations in Connecticut and Iowa. Diane is enjoying retirement in Maine where she continues to offer spiritual direction to a limited number of people.

Mark Minear, Ph.D.

Mark MinearMark Minear is a licensed psychologist. He is also a recorded minister with the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker). His education includes an M.A. in church history from the Earlham School of Religion and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Ball State University. Now in his 10th year at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, he has a therapeutic niche of working with a wide range of clergy from various faith traditions across these years. His theoretical approach includes an integration of logotherapy (meaning-making), cognitive-behavioral, family systems, and mindfulness orientations. Now in the midst of his own journey into retirement, he is currently working part-time at the Center.

The Scandal of Particularity    

I can still remember the first lecture of the first class I ever took at Duke Divinity School.  Dr. Geoffrey Wainwright, In a very proper and professorial British accent lectured on “the scandal of particularity.”

You might ask, “What is ‘the scandal of particularity?’”. . . go on. . . ask. . . please. . .


(sigh). . . no one ever asks.

Well, Dr. Wainwright and I would like you to know anyway. “The scandal of particularity” is all of the messy challenges that come about when followers of Jesus say that the God of all creation, “The Ground and Source of all Being,” was also somehow mysteriously embodied in a vulnerable baby who pooped his diapers.

Ok, it is a bit more complicated than this, but this is one of the most “scandalous” parts and this is the time of the year when followers of Jesus begin to tell this first story in the first chapter of The Scandal of Particularity.

There are some other good parts too. There are lots of parts where Jesus pisses off good church people by saying the people they thought were doomed to Hell were going to be first in heaven.  There are parts where people who think they don’t matter and have very little power become center stage and examples of great love.  There is a very sad part where Jesus, after pissing off too many politically powerful people, because of all of that stuff I just talked about, is executed as a violent revolutionary.  Then, his inner circle of followers loses all hope and run for their lives.  Until, in the midst of their fear he returns to them in a new kind of body in some new and mysterious way giving them the courage to risk their lives as the “scandal of particularity” somehow, mysteriously lives and continues in them.

Why am I telling you this?  Because I am a part of this “scandal of particularity.” I am a follower of Jesus. I was baptized and raised in a United Methodist Church in South Mississippi. I have been loved and shaped by people from this tradition and those experiences have shaped me in profoundly positive and meaningful ways. None of these experiences or relationships are general.  They are all particular.  This is who I am, and I cannot talk about “faith” “meaning” “love” or “spirituality” without this particularity being a part of that conversation. Even if I do not explicitly say it, this particularity is there.

I believe that at the heart of all of the mysterious, yet very real, experience of spirituality is deep relationship.  I also believe everyone is spiritual, whether or not they choose to use that language or not.  To grow spiritually is to grow in relationship.

Growing in relationship is inherently a practice of vulnerability.  I only have one honest self to offer you and, if it is an honest self, it is also a “particular” self. If you reject it I do not have another authentic self to offer you.

I also know that my particular tradition of faith is not perfect.  Christians, including me, do not and have not always acted like Jesus.  Worse yet, sometimes we have not even recognized and repented of it. Sadly, I and others in my faith tradition, have sometimes turned “the scandal of particularity” into “the scandal of exclusion”.

However, “The scandal of particularity,” is really about God’s inclusion of all people. It begins with a story of angels proclaiming Good News to “all people” and a story of Persian astrologers welcomed into the home of the holy family as some of their first guests.  There is no indication that they ever changed their religion before or after returning home.

I deeply value my particular experience in the United Methodist Church. I believe God was and is at work in if for good in me and in the world.  However, Jesus did not invite people to become “United Methodists” or even “Christians” he invited people to become beautifully human.  The first followers of Jesus were simply called followers of “The Way.”

You and I each have our own “scandal of particularity”. We all come from and speak from a particular experience of faith. Maybe yours has a formal name, worldview, and rituals.  Maybe it does not. Maybe you are still trying to figure out your own relationship with your religious tradition. Maybe you have no desire to be a part of a formal religious tradition.  Maybe you do not believe in God.

Still you, like me, live by faith. You, like me, live as if some things are more true and more real than others. You, like me, are more than just the sum of your biological parts, and you, like me, cannot ultimately test or prove the kind of things that give life its ultimate meaning. We are all a part of the same mystery of being. However, we all live in this mystery in “particular” ways.  While we may be able to talk about spirituality “in general,” we all live into our spirituality “in particular.”

I get very bored with conversations about spirituality in general.  Of course, if I have to choose between religious strife and religious tolerance, I will choose tolerance every time. However, I believe most of us long for something much more meaningful.

In my own experience, the kinds of conversations that have most transformed me in life giving ways, are those in which someone has trusted me with their own “scandal of particularity” while also allowing me to share my own. These are always sacred conversations and I often leave such conversations with a deeper since of connection and care for that person.

As Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life, I want to foster such conversations. I also want to model this in my own conversations with others. This blog is one such conversation. Often I will be speaking from my own particular religious tradition. As I mentioned earlier, even if I do not specifically allude to it, I am sure it will be there.  It is a fundamental part of what makes me who I am.          I find this tradition rational, inspiring, and compelling. It is the best way I know to become the person I was created to be.

At the same time, I expect that anyone who has thoughtfully chosen another worldview or religious tradition, has also done so for similar reasons. So, we all have our own “scandal of particularity.”  Because of this we often try to avoid the topic of religion. We may fear that the conversation will end in argument and division and, sometimes, it does.  However, I have found that when there is trust and respect and the goal is understanding and not to “convert,” some of the most sacred conversations that I have ever had have happened when someone has trusted me with their own “scandal of particularity” and also given me the gift of understanding mine.

Your partner in hope and healing,


To read more of Chris Waddle’s blogs, click HERE.

Save or Savor?


by Jim Hayes, Executive Director

February 2021 — This quote found me as I was working through a gratitude reflection over the Thanksgiving holiday. It continues to nourish my thoughts and I’m wondering why.

One of my strategies for surviving this pandemic has been to try to stay in the moment rather than letting anxious thoughts overwhelm the day. My rational mind reminds my lizard brain that if anxiety drives the bus, I might miss the beauty of a moment or a day. This is especially true in the midst of a pandemic, which has heightened anxiety for most of us. Each day, no matter the external context, is rooted in the everlasting now. I do my best to savor the moment.

Among the moments to savor are the stories of some incredible people who have contributed to the Center over the years. For a variety of reasons, a number of our “wisdom figures” chose to retire over the last few months. They all seem to be enjoying retirement immensely! We have all been nourished by their efforts and ought to take a moment to savor the wonder of how they made us better by offering their many gifts to help us advance our mission.

Susan Ackelson joined us in 1996. She helped so many people as a therapist, but also served as Clinical Director. She did so much to help us appreciate the significance of holistic healing by paying attention to not only the mind, but the spirit and body through her sensory motor work.

Susan Koehler, P.A., came in 2014. Her years of service may not have been as long as some of the others on this list, but the services she provided represented a significant shift in our work. She started as a consultant helping us to better understand how psychiatry might help our patients, but later joined us as a prescriber. Along with Dr. Geoffrey Hills, Susan provided a wonderful resource by having in house prescribers.

Diane McClanahan joined us as the first full time director of Leadership and Spiritual Life in 2013. She established a number of new programs that not only benefitted the Center, but numerous communities of faith around the state. She also served many people as a trusted spiritual director.

Kathy Reardon allowed us to write a significant piece of appreciation in an earlier newsletter. She joined us in 2001. Her contributions are well documented, but my savoring of the Center’s work would be incomplete if I didn’t reflect once again on her contributions in healing touch, spiritual direction, and the establishment of the Prairie Fire spiritual formation program.

Roberta Yoder just retired last month. She joined us in 1996 as a career counselor. She has been a faithful and inspiring leader in what was virtually a one person program. So many people have Roberta to thank for discovering fulfilling careers. I always enjoyed my conversations with her around the topic of vocation. She certainly found a way to use her many gifts in the service of others.

There’s a bit of grief as I write this and reflect on these esteemed and highly valued colleagues. I miss them. Again, they all had a variety of reasons for why retirement made sense at this point in their lives and they left on the best of terms and continue to support the Center in a variety of ways. My savoring relates to the inspiration they continue to provide to so many. On a personal level, they certainly nourished my spirit in unique ways.

I have to provide one final bit of savoring by recognizing that we lost Larry Sonner on November 27th  to COVID-19.  He was retired from a variety of roles as a United Methodist Elder. One of his many contributions of a life lived well was to facilitate the gatherings of the supervisors in our training program for 25 years. We are so grateful for the many quality therapists he helped to shape in that quarter century. He and Sue, his spouse, contributed to the Center in many ways over the years. We offer our sympathy to her and the family, even as we celebrate the wonder of all that Larry did with his many gifts.

My reflections don’t even include other stakeholders and donors we’ve lost in 2020. The list is long and I’m afraid I’d forget someone if I started listing individuals. I’ll save that reflection for another time.

Savor these stories!

But we should also heed White’s advice to improve (or save) the world.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, we need to hold ourselves accountable to stewarding the gifts bestowed on us by creation. When I think of the many contributions over 100 staff and innumerable donors have added over the 49 year history of the Center, I am energized by their memories as I consider our role in advancing our important work. Along with the board and staff, I hope that we find ways to make a difference as we strive to serve the many needs in our community, especially related to holistic and mental health.

The world stands in need of improvement—maybe even a little bit of saving. You’ll be hearing from me in 2021 about strategies we have for writing the next chapter of the history of the Center. It will take all of us, using the many gifts we hold as a community, to affect positive social change. We are grateful for others who have done it before us, but also take seriously our responsibility to respond generously as well.

Thank you for all you’ve done to help us continue to serve in a challenging year. Savor the wonder of it all so that we might all be inspired to do a bit of “saving” in 2021.


To read more of Jim’s blogs, click HERE.

Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT)

Do you want to know essential information about your congregation to make the right decisions?

The Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT)® can help.

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center’s trained consultants, in collaboration with Holy Cow! Consulting, are ready to work with you and your leadership to administer the CAT, a process to collect, analyze and share information from your entire congregation.
The CAT is a method of organizational listening so that leaders can move forward with decisions in a way that includes everyone, not just the voices that are the loudest, and does not rely on opinions or guesses of the few.


When might your congregation benefit from a CAT process?

1. If your congregation is in transition, for example in a pastoral search or if you have just received a new pastor.
2. If your congregation is preparing for strategic planning.

3. If your congregation is launching a capital campaign.

The CAT is also an invaluable tool for reading the overall health and vitality of congregations, to:
  • measure the level of community satisfaction and energy
  • identify the critical success factors for improving organizational climate
  • envision the future
  • gauge readiness for change
  • uncover potential resources
Thousands of CATs have been administered throughout the country and the Center is ready to help you.  For a complimentary initial consult or for more information, please contact Chris Waddle, the Center’s Director for Leadership and Spiritual Life, by email:

Chris’ Blog

Chris Waddle, M.Div.

“I believe that the essence of spirituality is rooted in ever growing loving relationships with God, others, creation, and our best selves.  As the Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life, he helps leaders, communities, and individuals from all walks of life and religious beliefs nurture these significant relationships. Chris believes nurturing these relationships involves faith, vulnerability, wonder, and playfulness.”


Pastoral Care for the Generalist – June 2021

Putting Down the Pushers – May 2021

What is faith? – April 2021

Anxiety amped up to eleven – March 2021

Whatever the Question, the Answer is Grace – February 2021

Self Care, Sanctuaries, and Playgrounds – January 2021

The Scandal of Particularity – December 2020

No money? No insurance? No problem.  We can help! – November 2020

No money? No insurance? No problem.  We can help!

“I want you to know that right now, at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, there are skilled counselors who are available, even if the one you care about has no insurance and no ability to pay.”


“You Saved My Life, Pastor!”

Click image for a printer-friendly flyer.

“Kyle was just calling to reserve a space at the church for a meeting, but something in his voice seemed a little off,” my friend told me. I asked my friend how Kyle was doing and he said, “Not so good, pastor.”

As I followed up with Kyle by asking some concerned questions, I realized he was deeply hurting and that he needed the care of a skilled counselor in addition to my continued spiritual care. My friend and I worked together to find Kyle that support.

A month later Kyle greeted me with a hug and said, “Thank you. You saved my life.”

Sometimes a listening ear, a courageous and compassionate question, and the right contact can be life saving. Literally!

Faith leaders often have visits and calls from people like “Kyle”. However, they are not the only ones. Anyone who has earned our trust and thinks of us as a “safe person” may give us a hint that they are hurting.  They may just need a friend with a listening ear to notice and say that they have time to listen.  This might be enough.  However, in addition to your continued friendship, they might also benefit from the gifts of a skilled counselor.  If so, the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is here to help.

During the COVID-19 epidemic it is understandable that people we know and love are experiencing more stress, anxiety, and depression.  It is OK to not be “OK” right now.  What is not “OK” is feeling like you have to go through it alone or that nothing can help. The good news is the DMPCC offers many ways of helping and connecting.

In addition to in person counseling at the Center and at our satellite location at Grace United Methodist Church, in Des Moines, we also offer telehealth sessions that allow anyone with an internet connection to meet with a counselor, face to face, online. If someone prefers a telehealth session, but needs a safe place with a computer, we can provide this, also.  If you are a faith leader or a member of a community of faith, you too might consider dedicating a safe, private space and a computer or tablet with a strong internet connection for anyone who needs a safe place for a telehealth session. 

That first decision to talk with a counselor can be frightening, that too is understandable.  One of the frightening unknowns is the cost.

As a faith leader or a friend, you too may be fearful that your recommendation of a skilled counselor could be a financial hardship for the one who has reached out to you for support.

I want you to know that right now, at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, there are skilled counselors who are available, even if the one you care about has no insurance and no ability to pay.  They will not be financially burdened, shamed, or judged. They will receive a skilled counselor who has the support of a whole team of care givers dedicated to hope and healing.

As a faith leader or a trusted person, I hope you will consider us an important part of your care team. Because, sometimes a listening ear, a courageous and compassionate question, and the right contact can be lifesaving.

To schedule a meeting with a counselor, please click below or call: 515-274-4006 ext. 108

Your partner in hope and healing,

Chris Waddle, M.Div.
Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life
Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

A different approach to the holidays

Billie Wade, writer

November traditionally kicks off the holiday season for many people. Preparation for the Big Three holidays—Thanksgiving; Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa; and, New Year’s Eve—sometimes begins in August. The time brings together a massive celebration of hope for the new year. We breathe a collective sigh as the current year approaches extinction. This year has presented us with unique challenges for which none of us could have prepared. Sheltering-in-place has been both a bane and an opportunity. As this year progressed, we found ourselves more and more uncertain as several major occurrences converged. But life is always uncertain, always has been, always will be. Only now, it seems, the stakes are higher and the stress more intense. COVID-19 and the resultant fallout, racial tension, political stress, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes add to the strain of everyday living. Those in northern parts of the country may or may not be looking forward to this year’s snowfall and yet more time indoors. Our foray into the holidays this year may take on a different meaning, one of deeper reflection and introspection. Gratitude may be a balm to us or may be difficult to grasp.

Fall and winter are notorious for increasing our mental health symptoms. Long nights of darkness turn into short days which unfold in slow motion. The holidays have a way of magnifying loneliness, depression, anxiety, and addictions. In my October 2020 article, I discussed SAD (seasonal affective disorder) which complicates other mental health symptoms. A report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states: Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. Their report includes sobering statistics of the effects of COVID-19 on these and other mental health distress—domestic violence, suicide, and alcohol and drug use. You can read the entire report here.

Gauge your situation with great care and reach out when you need to. Watch for signs and symptoms in friends and loved ones and enlist help if necessary. Click here to schedule an appointment with the Center. 

Many of you know I am an avid journaler and maintain a daily practice of written gratitude, reflection, introspection, and exploration. You may not know I am an introvert albeit a gregarious one. I can spend several hours with individuals or groups of fewer than five people. However, I can tolerate chitchatting in groups of more than five people for periods of about two hours, longer if we are focused on a topic or activity, such as a class. Then, I must return to the sanctuary of my home to recharge and reset. So, the COVID-19 restrictions have been less difficult for me than for some of my friends, and I suspect, for some of you.

At first the idea of self-isolation excited me. I was almost giddy as I thought about how much time I would save in driving time, finding a parking space, dealing with traffic, inclement weather, gas. (Imagine gleeful emoji here.) Then, reality set in. Other activities swallowed the hours of travel time I saved. Whether I am, in fact, more productive is debatable. Somehow, I seem to be busier than before, a sentiment echoed by some of my friends. Zoom appointments consume much of my time, sometimes four meetings in one day. That recognition is not a complaint, but rather a statement of gratitude for videoconferencing that allows me to continue connecting with others. I love everything I do, and I enjoy working with an expanding circle of incredible people. Conclusion: Zoom is a good thing. The most popular platforms I know of are Zoom, Google Meet, and Facetime (Apple)—there may be more.

At first, self-quarantining offered many opportunities for getting stuff done—clean out the garage, organize the photo album, read from our growing stack of books we planned to get to someday, try new recipes. Many of us took up new hobbies or revisited activities we had laid aside as life took over. Confined to our homes with ourselves, we may have bumped into latent thoughts and feelings we had relegated to our subconscious years ago. We suddenly faced ourselves. This time is an invitation to acknowledge and honor our grief and to express gratitude during this year. We look toward January with hope for a “new and improved” upcoming year. It also is a call to commit to ourselves with intention what we want, where we want to go, who we want to be and create a plan to get there.

Our most powerful tools may be acceptance and action. We look at ourselves, our circumstances, our relationships, and the world at large and acknowledge that what we see may not be what we want but that it is, if we are honest, what we face. Having named the reality, we can move forward. Next, we ask, “What can I do now?” The answer may surprise you. It may be different than writing letters, participating in protests, posting on social media, or organizing a book club, although all are excellent endeavors. However, those actions are not suitable for everyone. Sometimes, the best we can do is self-care and that is more than enough. We look for ways to become peaceful within ourselves. Enhancing or increasing spiritual practices can be of enormous benefit to some people.

Then, we create a plan, any plan. Call it a vision. Call it a daydream. Call it wishful thinking. Call it an honest yearning of your heart. Give yourself more than a cursory, “I want to lose twenty pounds next year,” or “I want to save $x a month,” or “I promise to read a book a week.” These are great desires especially because they are specific and measurable. But, too often, we approach them without much thought. They become yet another defunct resolution. Think about what you need to transform your life into a self-celebration. Think about what brings you indescribable serenity. Think about the messages you recite when you communicate with yourself. Think of what brings you joy. Think of what nurtures and soothes you. Perhaps what you need is a bowl of oatmeal, a slice of toast, and a glass of orange juice.

Here are some tips for creating and executing a doable plan. (Please keep in mind some thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and patterns can be deep-seated messages we have carried a long time—even decades—and may require focused effort and patience  and, possible professional mental health support to accomplish or to heal.)

  1. Write what you want with crystal clear clarity. Try to avoid “walk more often” in favor of “walk twenty minutes every morning before work.”
  2. Think about why this is important to you. It may be murky at first. Record all your related thoughts.
  3. Define what do you need to make it happen. List every detail, then organize them into steps. Index cards are handy for this.
  4. Determine whether you need help
  5. For a list of activities to consider, see my posts: 23 Tips to Get Through the Holidays – November 2017, 23 Tips to Get Through the Holidays – November 2018, and 2019 Holiday Survival Guide – November 2019.
  6. This plan is flexible, making it doable for just about everyone. Do as much or as little as works for you. Revise and experiment and adapt.
  7. That’s it! Go for it! Celebrate the result!

Resolutions to current stressors are neither easy nor swift. Getting through this time is tough for all of us. We can take comfort in knowing we are not alone. Globally, the pandemic virtually every country. Nationally, we also grapple with myriad domestic issues. Regionally, we face natural disasters. From our states to our communities, additional problems arise. There are ways to reach out, to soothe ourselves and each other, to hold the Light of Hope lightly in our awareness, to breathe, just breathe.

Be well. Be safe. Be at peace. Cultivate joy. Wear your mask.


Licensed Psychologist

Career Opportunity: Licensed Psychologist

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, a well-established nonprofit organization, is seeking a full-time, licensed psychologist to join our team of multi-disciplinary clinicians who are committed to a mind/body/spirit therapeutic approach and serving all ages. We are seeking a licensed psychologist with a preference to applicants experienced and interested in psychological assessment. We receive assessment referrals from psychiatric and medical providers for differential diagnosis, neuropsychological screenings, presurgical evaluations, and clergy evaluations.  We receive psychological testing requests for clients of all ages.

Please send a letter of interest and vita to: Kelli Hill, Ph.D., Director of Clinical Services, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, 8553 Urbandale Avenue, Urbandale, IA  50322, or email

Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization offering a broad range of mental health services, serving more than 4,000 individuals annually including 700 children and teens plus their families. Thanks to a broad base of community support, the Center serves people from all walks of life including those who are uninsured or underinsured. Although best known for its 48 years of quality, professional mental health therapy, the Center provides multi-faceted services, programs and classes:

  • Counseling, including specialized services for children and adolescents
  • Psychiatry (medication management)
  • Psychological testing and assessment
  • Training for graduate students, clinical professionals and the community
  • Holistic approaches such as biofeedback
  • Spiritual direction
  • Career coaching
  • Leadership and spiritual life programming
  • Conflict transformation and strategic planning services for congregations, nonprofits and businesses

For more information about the Center, visit our website

The two faces of autumn

Billie Wade, writer

Autumn is a time of change. Leaves turn vibrant colors of red, orange, gold, and brown, then float to earth to protect it from winter. The weather turns cool and brisk. Autumn is a prime season to take in the unique sights, sounds, and smells—all free for us to appreciate and celebrate. The crisp air refreshes our lungs from the summer heat and humidity and gives our skin a break from mosquitoes. Autumn asks us to slow down and relax, to consider our life over the previous nine months and where we want to go now. It is an excellent time to look inside ourselves and ask questions to which only we know the answer. A little introspection may reveal some activities we want to accomplish before winter sets in. As trees release their leaves we are challenged to let go as well—people, places, stuff, and ideas that no longer support where we are now or where we want to go. Letting go is a good thing. It is a celebration of where we have been and the wisdom we have acquired and a welcoming of something new into our lives.

While some people may dislike the brown tree branches, I find them fascinating. They provide an opportunity for me to pause and look at the skeletons of trees that survive year after year. I smile when I see a bird’s nest and I know the bird will return in the spring to sing a beautiful song and begin a new family. I live across the street from a flood-control berm with grass and trees. The transition from season to season seems to happen overnight. One spring night, I go to bed and wake up the next morning to previously bare branches now hidden by bright green leaves. Likewise, in autumn, morning greets me with bare tree limbs as high winds dislodged the loosened leaves during the night and scattered them over the earth.

2020 has been a year of changes we have not faced in our lifetime. Much of the change has meant relinquishing our grip on what we held dear, accepting, surrendering, adapting, and creating. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a complete upheaval of virtually every facet of our lives. Stress brought on by COVID-19 cannot be underestimated. The quarantine has left many people isolated, alone, lonely, and with limited or no means of assistance. Some people find themselves quarantined with abusive partners or family members. Normally active people feel stuck indoors. Current affairs, domestic and global, may add to the tension.

I usually dread autumn because I dread what follows—winter. That attitude effectively robs me of gratitude and joy in the present moment, the only one I have. Five seconds ago are gone, five seconds from now are not yet here. When I get off track, I try to recognize what I am doing and then gently remind myself to “come back” to now. I am not always successful. Most years, I feel the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—increased fatigue, major depression, disruptions in my sleep—beginning between early September to mid-October. There is no predictable pattern. These signs are different from the depression which usually affects me and sadness different from grief. It is not a separate disorder but is layered on top of what I already feel. The cause of SAD is unknown. The most prevalent theory is decrease in sunlight in autumn and winter may be the culprit. The shift from daylight savings time also may be a factor as we attempt to adjust to an hour more or an hour less. SAD usually lifts for me between mid-January and mid-March. I may awake one morning feeling like a different person.

Autumn and winter are often a time of increased stress, anxiety, and deeper depression, now complicated as our time with family friends, work, recreation, and travel became almost nonexistent seven months ago. The holiday season looms large, perhaps more so than in past years. There may be less money to buy gifts. Holiday festivities are limited because of COVID-19 safety protocols. Winter vacations have been cancelled. These major disappointments may bring on frustration and anger with few if any outlets for expression. Transitions from summer to autumn to winter may feel like a downhill slide as we think about cold winds, icy streets and walkways, and gray or white skies. We are bracing ourselves with trepidation as we anticipate even more isolation and time indoors. Or we may celebrate getting out of holiday expectations others have for us, relieving us of being subjected to strained relationships and dissention.

Here are some ideas for getting through autumn and winter:

  • Write your thoughts and emotions—all of them. Explore why the entry is important to you. If necessary, write goals and strategies.
  • Join groups. Seek groups that interest you and find out if they meet on videoconferencing—Zoom, Google Meets, Skype, FaceTime (for Apple users), or others. Many online meetings are “attended” by people across the United States and around the world. What you learn will amaze you. Because of videoconferencing, I now have friends in Canada, Germany, Barbados, England, Australia, and New Zealand. Videoconferencing is a lifesaver used by therapists, yoga instructors, orchestras, and an enormous number of organizations and individuals.
  • Move your body as much as possible even if you start with simple stretches. You can check out YouTube or type words into the search feature of your favorite search engine. Narrowing your search to specifics yields better results—such as “30 minute chair yoga” rather than “yoga.”
  • Spend time outdoors. Even a short walk or standing just outside your door have the potential to refresh you and clear brain fog. Breathe in and out slowly while you focus on the air moving in and out of your nostrils.
  • Nurture your body. Rest and sleep when you need to. Adequate sleep will strengthen you physically and improve your mood. If insomnia is a problem, ask your primary care provider for tips and strategies. For long-term, chronic, or severe insomnia, medication may be required. Healthy food choices may alleviate some fatigue and sluggishness.
  • Look for seasonal patterns of sadness or depression. You may want to discuss Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with your primary care provider or mental health professional. Schedule an appointment with the Center HERE.

The above suggestions are starters. You may find other practices and modifications that work well for you. Whatever this time of year means for you, pausing to gain perspective will ease stress and contribute to appreciation and enjoyment. Be well. Be safe. Be at peace.

Oh, by the way, to help slow the spread of COVID-19, WEAR A MASK!, and to make your voice heard, VOTE!  – Billie

Learn how Bank of America cares for their employees!

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center recently partnered with Bank of America to offer wellness services to BOA employees.

October 2020 – It’s called preventative maintenance, an upstream approach to health and well-being.

Corporations and organizations are very aware of the many difficulties and challenges employees are facing during the pandemic and the chronic, long-term stress it is causing. One of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center’s generous donors, Bank of America, is taking a proactive approach.

Bank of America staff in Iowa have launched a series of physical and emotional wellness opportunities for their teammates called Get Iowa Moving.  They are running four different activities every other week from September through October. Activities include, walking outdoors, guided mindfulness meditation, chair yoga, and desk exercises. All sessions begin with a reminder of the benefits and programs the bank offers and how to take advantage of them, especially though their employee networks. Bank of America knows that members of their employee networks feel more connected and engaged at work, which is an important component of overall wellness.

Annie Brandt

“I was talking with my market president about ways we can connect with our team in this virtual world, and she reminded me of her often repeated mantra, ‘Move your body, heal your mind.’  I thought of the things Bank of America is offering teammates across the country like chair yoga and guided mindfulness meditation. I thought it could be a fun way to further engage our Iowa teammates if we made it local and special for us.”  Says, Annie Brandt, Bank of America Senior Vice President and Market Manager for Iowa.  Annie is also a long-time supporter of the Center, 2019 Women Helping Women co-chair and volunteer.

Would you like to get your team involved in preventative healthcare? Learn more about the Center’s mindfulness offerings HERE.

Allison Peet

Written by Allison Peet, certified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction instructor.