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Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

Intentional Connections

Connecting with friends and family is essential for good health. We were made to connect with one another. In fact, we thrive on it, both mentally and physically. Researchers are exploring how social support and good relationships are converted into neurochemical signals that can boost one’s immune system. The quality of our social support and interpersonal connections can affect things like mood, motivation, coping skills, self-esteem and general well-being.

many hands together, friendship
hands, frienship

Recently I participated in a program where we learned to make a Vision Board and set goals for our own personal vision. The area I focused on was ‘heart.’ I wanted to be more intentional about connecting with family and friends. I do not want to look back later and have regrets about missed opportunities to connect with others, especially my kids who will soon both be grown and flown, leaving an empty nest. Having just sent one child to college this fall, and the other child to follow in two years, I’m keenly aware of how quickly the years roll by.

For each person on my goal list, I tried to think of specific ways we could connect. For my husband I made a goal to plan a monthly date. This could be something as simple as a walk in the woods, or a breakfast out. For my teenage son, I simply need to be available whenever he wants to talk or share about his day and take an interest in his thoughts. For my daughter who is now in college, I try to support her when she calls or needs help and send an occasional text of a cute picture or positive affirmation.

So how do we become more intentional about connecting? September 26, 2022 just happens to be National Family Day to remind us to reconnect and cherish family and loved ones. Here are a few tips to consider:

Go on an outing

Whether it is a day in the park, a picnic, or a movie, an outing with your family can provide an opportunity to reconnect and enjoy some quality time.

Eat together

Family meals are a wonderful way to learn about one another’s day and reconnect daily. There are so many benefits to eating together as a family.

Plan a game night

Games bring families together for fun. When families have fun together, lasting memories are created. Be intentional about spending time together and make family game night a regular part of the schedule.

Use technology to connect

Modern technology makes it easy to connect. This article on unexpected connections provides helpful tips on how to creatively connect with loved ones both near and far.

When we are intentional in connecting with loved ones, beautiful and meaningful moments await. Be intentional. Connect often.

Writer: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County, carter.413@osu.edu

Reviewer: Misty Harmon, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Perry County, harmon.416@osu.edu

Sources:

Create Your Own Vision Board: Bring your goals to life with a vision board! National 4-H Council, All State Foundation and Ohio State University Extension. https://4-h.org/about/4-h-at-home/emotional-wellness/digital-vision-board/

Perissinotto CM, Stijacic Cenzer I, Covinsky KE. Loneliness in Older Persons: A Predictor of Functional Decline and Death. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(14):1078–1084. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.1993

Uchino, B. N., & Way, B. M. (2017). Integrative pathways linking close family ties to health: A neurochemical perspective. American Psychologist, 72(6), 590–600. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000049

Live Healthy Live Well Blog from Ohio State University Extension, various posts:

  • College Send-Off: Are You Ready? By Shannon Carter
  • Empty Nest: Now What? by Misty Harmon
  • Take a Dine-In Day with Your Family by Lisa Barlage
  • The Case for Family Game Night by Shannon Carter
  • Unexpected Connections by Beth Stefura
  • Why We Need Connection by Jami Dellifield

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The grieving is palpable and genuine, yet many never met the Queen. How is this outpouring of grief so real? Why are so many people sad when they aren’t personally familiar with her?

2 white peace lily flowers with green stems
Peace Lily flowers

The passing of a figurehead, celebrity, or Her Majesty the Queen can stir up feelings of sadness and grief, not because you are going to personally miss the warm hug you received every morning from them, the phone call received on your birthday, or family game nights… but maybe they represented something deeper within yourself. A passage of time, an ideology, an innocence, or maybe they were that something that was consistent in your ever-changing world.

At first, you may not understand why the death of this person has brought up feelings of sadness and grief, and you don’t always have to fully unpack that baggage, but rather acknowledge the emotions, allowing yourself to feel whatever feelings that you need in that moment. It is okay to grieve the loss of someone you didn’t know personally, as it may not be the actual person you are grieving, but what that person symbolized for you.

Your grief may be your outward expression of your ability to empathize with the parents, siblings, spouses, family, and friends of the one that passed, and is a wonderful act of compassion and concern for the welfare of others.  

Grief looks different for everyone because it is a personal process that takes time, and we each address it in a variety of ways.  Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross gave us five stages of grief to better help us understand the process.

  1. Denial – Refusal to believe the loss is real
  2. Anger – Can range from frustration to furry
  3. Bargaining – Attempt to strike a deal to change things
  4. Depression – Sadness when we realize our life is forever changed
  5. Acceptance – We understand our loss has happened and we can’t change it

Grief is a non-linear process meaning that we can process through the stages several times and in any order. However, if the grief process becomes overwhelming, too difficult, or persistent, reach out to a mental health professional as you do not have to deal with grief alone.

Written by Roseanne Scammahorn, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Darke County, scammahorn.5@osu.edu

Reviewed by Susan Zies Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Wood County, zies.1@osu.edu

References:

The Cleveland Clinic. (2022, March 21). The 5 Stages of grief after a loss. Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-stages-of-grief/

Mayo Clinic, (2016, October 19). What is grief? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/patient-visitor-guide/support-groups/what-is-grief

Parincu, Z. (N.D.). Sadness: Definition, Causes, & Related Emotions. Berkely Well-being Institute. Retrieved from https://www.berkeleywellbeing.com/sadness.html

Suttie, J. (2019). Why the world needs an empathy revolution. Greater Good Magazine, Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_the_world_needs_an_empathy_revolution

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The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been in existence since 2005, but it has always been 1-800-273-8255. While it has been great to have a number for people to call in a suicide crisis situation, a new government initiative is making it easier for people to get help. All a person has to do is call or text 988 to reach someone when they are in a state of emotional distress, having thoughts of suicide or harming others, or having substance abuse concerns.

One of the greatest advantages to this new number, besides making it easier for a person to remember, is that prior to making the shift, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was traditionally focused on supporting someone experiencing a suicidal crisis situation. Now, there is support for a person that just needs to talk through their anxiety, depression, or substance use distress.

Just as before, when a person calls the lifeline they will be linked to a trained professional such as a counselor, therapist, or social worker for support. These counselors are trained to reduce the stress of the challenge, provide emotional support, and link to local services if needed after the call is over. Research has shown that most calls to the lifeline can be managed or resolved over the phone; however, there are always exceptions.

Help us break down the stigma of receiving support by promoting 988! There is no shame in seeking out support. If you notice any of the below emotional, behavioral, or physical changes in someone, they may benefit from talking with a mental health professional. Keep in mind that most of these are compounded on top of each other and last for several weeks.

  • Fatigue
  • Increased irritability
  • Depression lasting more than 2 weeks
  • Social isolation
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Difficulty following through with tasks at work or school

Remember your mental health is just as important as your physical health. It will take all of us to embrace the change to 988, but thank goodness it is easy to remember!

Written by: Bridget Britton, Behavioral Health Field Specialist, OSU Extension britton.191@osu.edu

Reviewed by: Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Franklin County

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). Mental Health. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/index.htm

Center for Public Health Practice, The Ohio State University College of Public Health. Ohio Mental Health Resource Guides. https://u.osu.edu/cphp/ohio-mental-health-resource-guides/

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration. 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/988

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October is emotional wellness month!  What exactly is emotional wellness?  Emotional wellness encompasses the feeling of happiness and success. It is learning how to deal with the ups and down of life, coping with challenges and having control of your life and a sense of purpose.  When you are emotionally well you function more effectively in your workplace, community, and in relationships. 

Mental Health America (MHA) reports that over 40 million Americans suffer from at least one mental health problem.  Prolonged untreated mental health problems may lead to more severe psychological and physical health conditions such as: insomnia, hypertension, headaches, shortness of breath, impulsivity, and muscle aches.  Mindfulness, along with a healthy lifestyle, and stress management can help you deal with mental health problems.  Treatment can include medication along with healthy habits, yoga, meditation, and counseling.

Make your life better by establishing healthy habits. To encourage holistic health, focus on healthy habits which make you feel good!

  • Mindfulness:  Be mindful, focus on the specific moment you are in.
  • Journaling:  Write down your joys.
  • Meditate/Yoga
  • Laugh!  Laughing releases, the happy juice — endorphins. With endorphins surging through our bloodstream, we’re more apt to feel happy and relaxed. With each laugh, therefore, we’re relieving stress, reducing anxiety, and increasing our stores of personal energy.
  • Say “NO” without guilt.  Learning to set boundaries and spending time for yourself is imperative for self-care.
  • Read Books
  • Seek therapy
  • Communicate with others your feelings and needs.
  • Focus on the good.

American Psychological Association, (2018) Stress Effects on the Body. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body

Miller, K. (2020). 14 Health Benefits of Practicing Gratitude According to Science.  Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-gratitude/

Powers-Barker, P., (2016).  Introduction to Mindfulness.  Ohioline: Ohio State University Extension. https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-5243

Written by:  Kellie Lemly M.Ed., Family Consumer Science Educator, OSU Extension, Champaign County, lemly.2@osu.edu

Reviewer: Roseanne Scammahorn, Ph.D. Family Consumer Science Educator, OSU Extension, Darke County, scammahron.5@osu.edu

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Every time I go to the store lately I see things declaring, “Happy Fall Y’all!” or some variation. While many people love all things fall, I am not a fan. Yes, you read that correctly, I am not a fan of fall. First, the changing colors on the trees means the leaves are dying in preparation for the long, cold, dark months ahead. The marked shortening of the days means that soon it will be dark when I leave for work and dark again shortly after I get home. “Sweatshirt weather” means it’s too cold to swim or stand up paddle board, two things I enjoy. While we still have time to take our boat out, we will have to bundle up while doing so. Then there’s the dreary, rainy, blah days that are characteristic of fall in Ohio. So, while many of you are basking in the season, some of us are struggling.

Woman with hat pulled down over her face. Face has a grimace.

For many years I did not realize why I lack the excitement and anticipation of fall like so many people I know. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized I have the winter blues, a milder form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that begins and ends about the same time each year. As the name implies and as many people understand it, winter blues and SAD often occur in winter, not late summer/early fall like my symptoms. After teaching about mental health, I finally realized that my disdain for fall actually has a cause. While winter blues and SAD typically DO occur later, they can actually occur ANY time of the year, and in fact, some people experience symptoms of SAD during the summer, sometimes referred to summer blues or summer depression. Since I do not have a background in mental health, I was surprised to learn this. Besides, how could ANYONE not LOVE summer and ALL that it offers? All joking aside, regardless of when someone experiences symptoms, there are things you can do to help.

As I looked back over my blog articles from the past, it appears I am inspired to write about this topic each year around this time. I think revisiting information about winter blues and SAD helps me to be more proactive in doing things to reduce my symptoms. The American Psychological Association provides these tips:

Person walking on a path through the woods with an umbrella.
  1. Experience as much daylight as possible.
  2. Eat healthily.
  3. Spend time with your friends and family.
  4. Stay active.
  5. Seek professional help.

I find exercising regularly, ideally outside, in addition to eating healthy, getting the appropriate amount of sleep, and spending time with my family to be helpful in warding off symptoms. It usually takes me a bit to get into a groove, especially as the days get shorter and shorter. Once I am able to get into a routine, I find I can actually enjoy some of the characteristic fall activities, though summer will forever be my favorite season.

Some of the risk factors for SAD include:

  1. Being female. Women are four times as likely to develop SAD than men.
  2. Living far from the equator. One percent of Florida residents compared to nine percent of Alaska residents suffer from SAD.
  3. Family history. A family history of any type of depression increases the risk of developing SAD.
  4. Having depression or bipolar disorder. Depression symptoms may worsen with the seasons if you have another condition.
  5. Younger Age. Younger adults have a higher risk than older adults. SAD can occur in children and teens as well.

So, as I remember all the fun summer activities that are no more, I will focus on things I can do to help me make the most of the changing seasons. Just don’t expect to see any fall decorations at my house until mid-October!

As always, if you or someone you love is struggling, don’t hesitate to contact a mental health professional or a primary care physician.

Written by Misty Harmon, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Perry County, harmon.416@osu.edu

Reviewed by Roseanne Scammahorn, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Darke County, scammahorn.5@osu.edu

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Seasonal affective disorder. American Psychological Association. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/topics/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder.

Harmon, M. D. (2019, October 21). Fall: A sad time of year. Live Healthy Live Well. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://livehealthyosu.com/2019/10/21/fall-a-sad-time-of-year/.

Harmon, M. D. (2020, December 11). What’s so great about fall ya’ll? Live Healthy Live Well. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://livehealthyosu.com/2020/10/08/whats-so-great-about-fall-yall/.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2017, October 25). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) | Michigan Medicine. (2020, September 23). Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hw169553.

Site-Name. (n.d.). Chestnut Health Systems. Get Help Now. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://www.chestnut.org/how-we-can-help/mental-health/learn-the-facts-mental-health/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/.

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How are you feeling today? In a world full of 24-hours news that tends to focus on negative events, an ongoing global pandemic, and growing divisiveness, “happy” might not be the first emotion that comes to mind. According to NORC at the University of Chicago, only 14% of American adults said they were very happy in 2020, which is the lowest percentage since the poll has been conducted over the past 50 years.

Closeup of diverse senior adults sitting by the pool enjoying summer together

If you find yourself in the 86% of adults who are not feeling very happy, is there anything you can do about it? The wonderful (and happy) news is that the answer to this question is an enthusiastic “YES!” Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. Scientists in the field have found proven ways to increase a person’s level of happiness.

Action for Happiness is a non-profit organization in the United Kingdom and their mission is to create more happiness in the world. In a joint endeavor with Vanessa King, they developed the Ten Keys to Happier Living, a framework based on the latest research relating to physical, psychological, and mental wellbeing. The first 5 keys focus on daily life and how we relate and interact with the external world, while the last 5 keys focus on qualities that are internal and shaped by our attitudes. The Ten Keys are:

  1. Giving: Do things for others
  2. Relating: Connect with people
  3. Exercising: Take care of your body
  4. Awareness: Live life mindfully
  5. Trying Out: Keep learning new things
  6. Direction: Have goals to look forward to
  7. Resilience: Find ways to bounce back
  8. Emotions: Focus on what’s good
  9. Acceptance: Be comfortable with who you are
  10. Meaning: Be part of something bigger

You can remember the ten keys because together, they spell out GREAT DREAM. You can download a free, in-depth guidebook that provides an introduction, an image, a question, a quote, and practical action ideas for each key.

Knowing ten ways to increase your happiness is a great start. Now comes the fun part: trying out these keys for yourself. Commit to trying one of the keys today and make plans to try the others over time. Not only will you have fun and learn new things, but you have the potential of joining that small and fortunate group of people who report being very happy. As the Dalai Lama has said, Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.

A final note: Positive psychology recognizes that not everyone feels happy all the time nor does it dismiss real problems that people experience. If you have a difficult time feeling happy, even when you keep trying, reach out to a friend, a professional, and/or a support service, like Ohio CareLine. Also keep in mind that many medications can have mental health side effects. Don’t struggle alone and remember that asking for help is a sign of great strength.

Resources:
To learn more about happiness and find additional educational resources, visit https://go.osu.edu/mental-health-and-well-being-warren-co

References:
Action for Happiness. (n.d.). Great Dream: Ten Keys to Happier Living. https://www.actionforhappiness.org/media/530511/ten_keys_guidebook.pdf

King, V. (2016). 10 Keys to Happier Living. London, United Kingdom: Headline Publishing Group.

NORC (2020). Issue Brief: Historic Shift in Americans’ Happiness Amid Pandemic. NORC at the University of Chicago.
https://www.norc.org/PDFs/COVID%20Response%20Tracking%20Study/Historic%20Shift%20in%20Americans%20Happiness%20Amid%20Pandemic.pdf

Peterson, C. (2008, May 16). What is positive psychology, and what is it not? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-good-life/200805/what-is-positive-psychology-and-what-is-it-not

Stanton, L. (2020, December 10). Serious mental health side effects related to Singulair. Live Healthy Live Well, Ohio State University Extension.
https://livehealthyosu.com/2020/12/10/serious-mental-health-side-effects-related-to-singulair

Stanton, L. (2021, July 13). How happiness protects heart health. Live Healthy Live Well, Ohio State University Extension.
https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/07/13/how-happiness-protects-heart-health

Written by: Laura M. Stanton, MS, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Warren County, stanton.60.osu.edu

Reviewed by: Shari Gallup, MS, Certified Health and Wellness Coach, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Licking County, gallup.1@osu.edu

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sun shining on a bed of wildflowers

As health restrictions are lifting from the pandemic, I have been able to interact with more people in person. When others ask how I’m doing, I say “fine” … but what I really want to say is “meh.” I’m doing okay… not depressed… but not great either. I find that I really have to psyche myself up for another week of work, and for certain tasks at work and home. I usually rise to the occasion, but it takes a lot of energy to overcome the urge to seek the solitude or even the isolation that I thought I couldn’t wait to escape.

A colleague pointed me to an enlightening article on languishing and it captured so much of what I have felt in the past few months. Psychologists describe languishing as slightly withered, wilted or faded. The pandemic has left a lot of people feeling this way. Initially, the pandemic may have incited feelings of fear, anxiety, dread and paralysis… and as these feelings have faded, they have left languish in their wake.

Emory University Professor Corey Keyes has been publishing about languishing since 2002, but it took the pandemic to bring greater attention to this work. Keyes describes languish as the absence of feeling good about life and lacking purpose or meaning in one’s life. Languish is the middle ground between depression and optimal well-being or flourishing. While depression is clinically diagnosable with the presence of certain behaviors, languish is feeling indifference, emptiness, and stagnation. Keyes’ research found languish to be a predictor of developing depression and anxiety as well as increased risk of suicide attempts. We need to acknowledge and treat languish so it doesn’t turn into depression later, and so we can live our best lives.

How do we move from languishing to flourishing? Thankfully, there are research-backed steps we can take. In fact, there are entire programs at universities dedicated to helping others flourish: The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University, Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at the University of Oklahoma, and The Wellbeing at Work project at the University of Notre Dame. Here are some of their highlights:

Name your feelings – It helps to identify emotions and give them a name. Once you identify languish and name it, you can start to deal with it. You might start to notice examples of it all around you in family members, friends, co-workers.

Find your flow – Flow can be described as feeling fully engaged or even engrossed in an activity that motivates and excites you. For me recently, that has been home improvement projects, from the smallest detail like a broken switch plate cover, to larger re-wiring or painting projects. As long as I have something to keep me focused, I can find my flow. As one project concludes, I line up another. Perhaps the activity that will get you into flow is learning something new. The act of learning a new task or skill can engage your brain and sharpen your focus.

Free yourself from disruptions – Give yourself what your brain might be craving: time to become engrossed in an activity and let it captivate you. We find joy and purpose when we can gain a sense of progress on an activity or task.

Focus on a small goal – Is there a goal you can set to increase your skills or strengthen your resolve? Find a challenge that is meaningful to you and commit time to it each day.

Cultivate gratitude – Recognize and savor the good in your present situation. Imagine your best possible self, and volunteer or provide acts of kindness for others to make your best self a reality.

Start wherever you are… and if that is languish, decide to take a small step toward blooming and flourishing. If languish is like a fading photograph, then imagine steps toward flourishing as a color touch-up, bringing vibrancy back into your life. Share your journey with someone, as you just might help them out. It could be refreshingly authentic to answer ‘meh’ next time someone asks how you are doing.

Written by: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County

Reviewed by: Jenny Lobb, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Franklin County

Sources:

Grant, A. (2020). There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing. New York Times. Published April 19, 2021, Updated May 5, 2021

Keyes, C.L. (2002). The Mental Health Continuum: From Languishing to Flourishing in Life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43(2), 207-222. doi:10.2307/3090197

Keyes, C. L., Dhingra, S. S., & Simoes, E. J. (2010). Change in level of positive mental health as a predictor of future risk of mental illness. American journal of public health100(12), 2366–2371. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2010.192245

VanderWeele, T.J. (2017). On the promotion of human flourishing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., 31:8148-8156.

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It has been almost a year working from home. I look back on the year and have realized how much I have grown practicing self-care. I am going to be honest I can promote and share self-care practices, but it doesn’t come easy for this mom of four! Looking back on the first few weeks working from home learning all the technology, transitioning the kids to virtual schooling, I remember feeling scattered, unable to focus, nervous, and completely overwhelmed! These feelings made me even more frustrated because I am a working mother of four, and an educator. I take pride in my ability to be flexible and adaptable in any given situation. They now have a term for this feeling, pandemic paralysis, a loss of function or movement of your limbs or an emotional way, where you procrastinate, you can’t move, you can’t act, and you’re not doing the tasks that you need or have to do.

One day in the afternoon when I was feeling overwhelmed, all I could think of was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In our house a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is not the literal sandwich that you may be thinking of! I have 12 yr. old triplets and at one time I could hold all three of them in my lap. Since they have outgrown my lap we have come up with a ‘peanut butter and jelly sandwich’. I am the sticky peanut butter and two of them are the slices of bread and then we have the jelly on top! Feeling anxious, I stopped everything I was doing went and laid on my bed and said, “I need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich”, and they came running and we laid there with our legs and arms all intermingled. We giggled, smiled, and talked as we laid there all snuggled together. Afterward I felt so much better. I no longer felt anxious and was able to go back to working.

Did you know when you are hugged it relaxes muscles, increases circulation, and releases endorphins.  This can reduce tension and soothe aches and pains. Hugging increases levels of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. These are the happy hormones that promote positive feelings like pleasure and happiness which boost our mood and relieves stress and anxiety. Research has shown that hugs can boost immunity, lower stress, increase self-esteem, and reduce depression.

The day I was feeling the need for a hug I had my children. But if you are feeling the need for a hug and have no one to hug, you can trick your brain and give yourself a hug.  By hugging yourself your brain will release the same hormones and you will have the benefits of a warm hug.

How To Hug Yourself:

  1. Wrap your arms around yourself. Bring your left arm across your chest and place your left hand on your right shoulder or upper arm. Bring your right arm across your chest, placing your hand on your left shoulder or upper arm. You can reverse the order, just find a position that is most comfortable for you.
  2. Give yourself a nice big squeeze. Press both arms into your body. Mimic the pressure that you feel when you get a reassuring bear hug.
  3. Hold for as long as necessary. Sometimes a quick hug is all you need, while other times you might want a lingering, gentle hug.

References:

Dunfee, L. (2019). Am I in Control or is My Stress? Live Healthy Live Well Blog, Ohio State University Extension.  Retrieved February 25, 2021 from https://livehealthyosu.com/2019/04/01/am-i-in-control-or-is-my-stress/

Carter, S. (2021). Overcoming Pandemic Paralysis. Live Healthy Live Well Blog, Ohio State University Extension.  Retrieved February 25, 2021 from https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/01/28/overcoming-pandemic-paralysis/

Lamburg, E., (2020). Health Benefits of Hugging, Backed By Science.  The Healthy. Retrieved February 25, 2021 from https://www.thehealthy.com/mental-health/benefits-of-hugging/

Ocklenburg Ph.D., S., (2018). 3 Surprising Ways Hugging Benefits Your Well-Being, Psychology Today.  Retrieved February 25, 2021 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-asymmetric-brain/201812/3-surprising-ways-hugging-benefits-your-well-being

Written by:  Kellie Lemly, MEd, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Champaign County, lemly.2@osu.edu

Reviewed by: Dr. Roseanne Scammahorn, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Darke County, Scammahorn.5@osu.edu

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Lately I have been feeling even more isolated and alone than I did at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have found myself retreating and not reaching out to others in the same ways that I did a year ago. But a couple weeks ago, some friends called and asked me to join them for a small girls’ night out dinner. We safely socially distanced from others, and the four of us enjoyed an evening at a hotel together. THAT event has changed my train of thought. I was feeling bad for myself and feeling very lonely, which is not easy as an extroverted person. But what I realized was that even if I cannot spend time with people physically, I do not have to wait for them to contact me. Connection is a two-way street. I can reach out even while staying “safe”.

Connection looks different in every relationship. Sometimes you have a connection because of chemistry with another. Sometimes it is a “forced” interaction because you are colleagues, in class together, or share a common interest. We communicate through verbal and non-verbal signals that can drive connection or cause disconnection. Social media is also a major form of connection for many of us.

YOU WERE MADE FOR CONNECTION. Even if you are an introverted person, I am sure you still have a small circle of people you trust and who are important to you. Interactions drive our daily lives. Connecting with others helps us remember that we matter. Our brains thrive from connection. 

We were also made to show connection through safe, physical touch. Hugging releases oxytocin* and dopamine* and directly impacts cortisol* levels. It is recommended that we should receive 10 second hugs– 8 a day for maintenance, 12 a day for growth, and upwards of 18 for optimal mental health.

  • Oxytocin promotes feeling of contentment, reduces stress, and promotes bonding.
  • Dopamine is linked to Parkinson’s disease (low levels) and Schizophrenia (high levels). Dopamine is the pleasure hormone. Lack of dopamine can lead to procrastination, self doubt, and lack of enthusiasm.
  • Cortisol is our fight or flight hormone. It’s your body’s main stress hormone. It works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood and motivation.

In high stress states it feels like our body cannot contain emotion without someone to hold us. Touch is not a single sense. Having your back rubbed stimulates neurons that release oxytocin, dopamine, and cortisol. Vicarious touch can help us to soothe ourselves. A hunger for touch means a need is not met.

We are also our own biggest barrier to connection. We tell ourselves we are okay. We tell ourselves that we can handle it. We tell ourselves we don’t want to bother anyone. I encourage you to please stop doing that to yourself. Think about how you feel when someone reaches out to you and wants to spend time with you. It makes you feel wanted and needed and important. 

Take control of your own well-being. Pick up the phone. Write a letter. Send a text. Make a list of who you miss and start putting “Connect with _____________________” on your to-do list every day. It will make a difference. I know it has for me.

Written by: Jami Dellifield, Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Hardin County

Reviewed by: Misty Harmon, Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Perry County

RESOURCES

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Last year, I transformed into a self-proclaimed bird nerd. The change started in the spring of 2020 when I started working from home because of COVID. I placed my desk next to a window and in April, I noticed a robin building a nest. Watching the robin sit on her nest for hours upon hours was fascinating and I was quickly hooked.

In May, bluebirds visited my suburban backyard for the first time and after putting up a bluebird house, we hosted the pair of bluebirds and their 3 adorable babies several weeks later. I was fascinated by the whole process, from the nesting, feeding, and successful fledging (developing wing feathers that are large enough for flight). I cheered the first day the babies flew out of their box and also experienced sadness when they left their house for good. My sorrow was quickly replaced with joy when a pair of Baltimore orioles passed through for a couple of days. I was enthralled watching the colorful birds eat the grape jelly I set out. Summer brought ruby-throated hummingbirds and warblers. This winter, I am enjoying a barred owl who lives nearby and occasionally graces me with his majestic presence.

Picture of a Barred Owl by Laura Stanton.
Barred Owl
Photo by Laura M. Stanton

Although the joy of birding happens right outside my window most days, whenever possible, I safely visit different habitats to expand the variety of birds to watch. Whether I am inside or outside, I notice so much more than just the birds. I notice positive changes happening within.

The benefits I have experienced from watching our feathered friends have been confirmed by research. Why is birding good for your health? Watching birds:

  • Promotes mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the moment, and without judgment. Whether you are birding inside or out, you are in the “here and now” which has been shown to decrease stress, anxiety, and rumination, and improve attention, memory, and focus. In addition, mindfulness can reduce chronic pain.
  • Requires stealth and silence. Spending time in silence lowers blood pressure, increases blood flow, and enhances sleep. Silence can also be therapeutic for depression.
  • Encourages meditation. During meditation, you eliminate the “noise” in your mind, creating a sense of calm and peace that benefits your emotional well-being and your overall health.
  • Relies on your sense of sight and hearing. A study found that just listening to bird song contributes to perceived attention restoration and stress recovery. Click here to listen to a sample of common bird songs.
  • Prevents nature-deficit disorder, a phenomenon related to the growing disconnect between humans and the natural world. Americans, on average, spend approximately 90% of their time indoors.
  • Benefits your heart. Regular exposure to nature is associated with improvements in cardiovascular disease and longevity.
  • Stimulates a sense of gratitude, which is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.

Sources
Carter, S. (2016). Nature deficit disorder. Live Smart Ohio. Retrieved from https://livesmartohio.osu.edu/mind-and-body/carter-413osu-edu/nature-deficit-disorder   

Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books: Chapel Hill, NC.

Powers-Barker, P. (2016). Introduction to mindfulness. Ohioline. Retrieved from
https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-5243

Stanton, L. M. (2020). Barred Owl. JPEG file.

Stanton, L. M. (2020). Noises off: The benefits of silence. Live Smart Ohio. Retrieved from
https://livesmartohio.osu.edu/mind-and-body/stanton-60osu-edu/noises-off-the-benefit-of-silence

Written by Laura M. Stanton, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Warren County, stanton.60.osu.edu

Reviewed by Misty Harmon, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Perry County, harmon.416@osu.edu

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