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Mental Health Awareness Month 2021: Tools 2 Thrive

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, where the focus is on bringing tools, resources and education to the general public. This year’s theme continues last year’s theme with “Tools 2 Thrive.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the mental health of individuals across all ages and backgrounds. A year on, many are still struggling to cope with the unprecedented changes the pandemic has brought to our lives. 

According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing

  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year.
  • 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year.
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.
  • 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.

Mental health among women and minority groups

For many, mental health issues still hold a stigma that often prevents individuals from getting the help they need. This stigma is often prevalent in racial and ethnic communities and certain cultural norms or beliefs sometimes create shame surrounding mental health issues. Additionally, systemic barriers often hinder access to mental health services, prolonging the suffering of individuals. 

According to Mental Health America, within the Latinx/Hispanic community, over 10 million people reported suffering from a mental illness in the past year. However, Latinos are less likely to seek mental health treatment than the average population with only 55% of Hispanics seeking treatment for depressive episodes compared to 70% of white non-Hispanics. 

You might be interested: Stress Awareness Month: Coping with post-covid stress and stress at work 

(Graphic Source: Mental Health America)

Women, especially mothers and caretakers, also saw an increase in mental health related issues this past year with 54% of mothers with children under the age of 18 reporting that worry or stress related to coronavirus has affected their mental health and three in four mothers characterize the impact as major or moderate according to data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation

(Graphic Source: Mental Health America)

Additional Resources 

Mental health is just as important as one’s physical health and taking care of your mental health is important. Everyone at one point or another will likely struggle with a mental health issue. Just as you would see a doctor for a physical pain or illness, seeking help for your mental health is just as necessary. 

(Graphic Source: Mental Health America)

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue, do not be afraid to seek out a professional. 

Below are additional resources and tools to help you get started this Mental Health Awareness Month. 

Stress Awareness Month: Coping with post-covid stress and stress at work 

After a most stressful year under a global pandemic, health and workplace related stress are higher than ever. This Stress Awareness Month re-balance your work and life by learning how you can better manage post-Covid stress and stress at work. 

Stress Awareness Month’s mission

April is Stress Awareness Month and today, April 16, is National Stress Awareness Day. Stress Awareness Month has been held every April, since 1992 and during this annual thirty day period, health care professionals and health promotion experts across the country join forces to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic.

Sponsored by The Health Resource Network (HRN), a non-profit health education organization, Stress Awareness Month is a national, cooperative effort to inform people about the dangers of stress, successful coping strategies, and harmful misconceptions about stress that are prevalent in our society.

“Even though we’ve learned a lot about stress in the past twenty years,” says Dr. Morton C. Orman, M.D., Founder and Director of HRN, “we’ve got a long way to go. New information is now available that could help millions of Americans eliminate their suffering.”

Dr. Orman has invited leading health care organizations across the country to develop and disseminate helpful educational materials and other information about stress during the month of April. He is also encouraging stress experts and other health care leaders to conduct public forums, discussion groups, and other informative community events.

Stress Facts

  • Stress contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and other illnesses in many individuals.
  • Stress affects the immune system, which protects us from many serious diseases. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system resulting in more illness such as colds and flus and COVID-19. Other conditions such as heart disease and metabolic syndrome can also develop due to prolonged stress. 
  • Tranquilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications account for one fourth of all prescriptions written in the U.S. each year. 
  • Stress can contribute to the development of alcoholism, obesity, suicide, drug addiction, cigarette addiction, and other harmful behaviors.

How to cope with post-Covid stress 

Since the pandemic began, Covid-19 stress and post-covid stress have become one of the major stressors for people across the globe. The CDC has provided some guidelines and resources for coping with Covid related stress below. 

post-Covid stress

Coping with post-Covid stress. Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Recognize the symptoms of stress you may be experiencing

The first step to coping with stress is to recognize that you are stressed. Many people, especially professionals in fast-paced job environments have become accustomed to brushing off signs of stress or have gotten so used to the feeling that they no longer realize what they are feeling is not healthy. As we have mentioned above, prolonged untreated stress can have very serious health consequences, so it’s important to recognize the signs of stress and make a plan to address and manage it. 

Common signs of stress include: 

  • Feeling irritation, anger, or in denial
  • Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating

Know the common work-related factors that can add to stress during a pandemic

  • Concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
  • Taking care of personal and family needs while working
  • Managing a different workload
  • Lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform your job
  • Feelings that you are not contributing enough to work or guilt about not being on the frontline
  • Uncertainty about the future of your workplace and/or employment
  • Learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties
  • Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule

How to cope with post-Covid stress at work 

According to the CDC’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, 29 to 40% of Americans report being “extremely stressed at work.” And this percentage is only getting higher. Below are some helpful tips and coping mechanisms to help you manage your stress after this most stressful year! 

10 Tips for stress management

  1. Re-balance work & life and develop a solid routine

If you’re spending all your time focusing on work and no time for yourself, then you are bound to burnout. Being available around the clock might make you seem like the perfect worker, but it isn’t healthy. We all need time for ourselves, so make sure you schedule in some dates on your calendar for some “me-time” and fun activities. 

Set boundaries in your work and home life and stick to them to avoid potential stress. This means setting aside time for socializing and setting rules for when you will check emails or take phone calls. Establishing a solid routine and schedule will also help to balance work and life and eliminate stressors. 

  1. Exercise regularly

You’ve probably heard it about a million times, but exercise truly does make you feel better. Regular exercise balances the nervous system and increases blood circulation, helping to flush out stress hormones. You don’t need an elaborate fitness routine either, even just a short walk will make a difference. Eleven minutes a day is all you need to start to see changes. 

  1. Eat well and limit alcohol and stimulants

Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine may temporarily relieve stress but have negative health impacts and can make stress worse in the long run. Well-nourished bodies cope better, so be sure to start the day off with a good, nutritious breakfast and avoid processed foods and sugar throughout the day. And don’t forget to stay hydrated! 

You might be interested: Wheatgrass: How you can boost your health while working from home

  1. Surround yourself with supportive people 

Having people you can rely on will help alleviate some of the built-up tension you may be feeling.

Talking face to face with others releases stress hormones that reduce stress. After this past year of lockdowns and social distancing, talking face to face has become scarcer. But remember social distancing is only about physical distance, so you can still meet up with friends and family for a social distant walk or outdoor gathering–just be sure to take the proper safety precautions when meeting. 

  1. Devote time to hobbies and leisure 

Research shows that engaging in activities that bring you pleasure reduces stress by almost half and lowers your heart rate as well. So indulge in your hobbies! Garden, read, listen to a podcast, make some art, binge your favorite show. Don’t be afraid to disconnect for a bit and have some fun. 

  1. Practice meditation techniques 

Relaxation techniques activate a state of restfulness that counterbalances your body’s fight-or-flight hormones. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness all work to calm your anxiety. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on being present and enjoying a simple activity — whether that’s a short walk around the park or appreciating a meal at your desk. There are also plenty of meditation apps or videos out there that can help guide you through exercises when you’re feeling particularly stressed. 

  1. Get enough sleep 

Getting less than seven to eight hours of sleep makes your body a bad stress-managing machine. Proper sleep is a crucial ingredient to fighting off stress. If you find that stress keeps you up at night, address the cause and add extra meditation into your day to make up for the lost sleep.

  1. Re-evaluate negative thoughts

When you’ve experienced worry and chronic stress for an extended period of time, your mind may tend to jump to conclusions and read into every situation with a negative lens. For example, if a coworker doesn’t say hi to you first thing in the morning, you might react thinking “they’re mad at me.”

Instead of making automatic judgements, try distancing yourself from your negative thoughts and simply observe.

  1. Take a vacation

Sometimes you just need to get away–even if it’s just a “stay-cation.” With travel restrictions still keeping many of us from sandy beaches and sunshine, taking a vacation may seem like a distant dream. But we all still need breaks from time to time, so embrace the spirit of a vacation and give yourself some time off. Leave your cellphone and laptop at home and just switch off for a few days. The rest and relaxation will help you refocus and improve your outlook.

  1. See a counselor, coach or therapist

When it gets to be too much to handle, don’t be afraid to reach out. When negative thoughts overwhelm your ability to make positive changes, it’s time to seek professional help. Make an appointment with a counselor, coach, or therapist and let them guide you toward managing your stress in positive and healthy ways. 

For additional resources visit CDC.gov

Dr. Ginny Baro shares mindfulness practices for coping with Covid-19 stress

As our world continues to change in unpredictable ways, we are all trying to find ways to cope with our feelings of uncertainty. For many, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought on increased stress and anxiety. Some may even feel as though they no longer have control over their lives. These feelings are fueled by ruminative thinking  and fixating on the future and on hypotheticals. This loop of thoughts perpetuates our emotions of anxiety and stress. Instead we must break this cycle and try to ground ourselves in the present moment. Fortunately, there are many mindfulness practices for coping with Covid-19 that can help us redirect our negative thoughts.  

Dr. Ginny Baro, CEO and Founder of ExecutiveBound

Supporting your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being

Dr. Ginny Baro, an international executive coach, motivational speaker, leadership expert, author, and CEO and founder of ExecutiveBound has been practicing mindfulness and self-care as her way of coping with pandemic-related uncertainty.

“For approximately the first three to four weeks, adjusting to the shelter-in-place order was tough,” says Ginny. “Other than to go food shopping, it felt like I was under house arrest. I soon realized that more than ever, paying attention to my self-care was going to be critical.” 

Her executive coaching and career advancement company, ExecutiveBound, offers a plethora of resources to individuals looking to accelerate their professional growth and strengthen their leadership skills. One of these resources includes Ginny’s Inspired Morning Practice, which Ginny herself has been doubling down on since the pandemic began. 

The program focuses on grounding activities such as meditation, journaling, reading, eating healthy foods, and exercising. Practicing these activities for at least 14 days will help you build a consistent routine that supports your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.  

“These are activities I can control,” Ginny says, “which help me ground to perform my work and feel my best.” 

While this practice was not created specifically for the Covid-19 pandemic, it is exactly what we all need right now. 

Medical experts  agree that practicing mindfulness has been found to reduce stress and increase well-being. Additionally mindful practices have been shown to help in the treatment of many mental and physiological problems such as addiction, anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, cancer, and chronic pain. 

Preparing healthy meals as part of the Inspired Morning Practice program

Extending mindfulness to others 

Being mindful also means being mindful of others. During this pandemic, both personally and professionally, Ginny has also worked to reach out to others and offer support and resources. 

“My focus has been on reaching out to friends, family, and colleagues to check-in with them and let them know I’m here for them,” she says.

Like many of us, she has been connecting with friends and family, networking, and engaging virtually. On April 10th, she and her family members gathered via Zoom to celebrate her mother’s 75th birthday over cocktails. 

“It was all we could do, given the circumstances.” 

On social media, Ginny has been intentional about providing as much value as possible to her professional network. 

“I find solace in sharing motivational messages along with tools and strategies to help us cope and continue to lead and manage our teams while taking care of our loved ones and our well-being,” says Ginny.  

Ginny at home with her son

During this time, Ginny has also experienced a surge in creativity which she has channeled into expanding her virtual offerings. From writing multiple blog posts about leading, managing, and motivating remote teams to her FearlessLeadershipMastermind course through which she is donating meals through Feeding America, Ginny has used her creative spark to help others stay grounded and cope during Covid-19.

“From my perspective, this global health crisis is a wake-up call to super-size our faith, our gratitude, and our commitment to make this life count,” Ginny says. “I’m grateful for friends, family, clients, a budding loving relationship, and rejoice in the fruit of a long-standing mindfulness practice that allows me to be fully present for all that surfaces, with love, compassion, and curiosity for myself and others. To all reading this, I wish that you are safe and your loved ones healthy.” 

 

You might be interested: How mindfulness meditation changed a Latina entrepreneur’s life

Tips for practicing mindfulness each day 

In addition to Ginny’s Inspired Morning Practice, here are a few other mindfulness practices for coping with Covid-19. 

  • Practice S.T.O.P. This stands for Stop, Take a breath, Observe your feelings, and Proceed. This method helps you  to slow down, stop your anxious thoughts, and bring you back to the present moment. Whenever you feel like your thoughts are taking over, take a moment to S.T.O.P. 
  • Try a guided meditation. There are many videos available online where you can follow along as well as countless apps that offer short meditations to help you center and refocus. 
  • Go for a walk (while practicing physical distancing). Walking and hiking with her son has been another one of Ginny’s go-to practices during quarantine. Together they have explored the many parks and woods in their area. 

    Ginny and her son on a nature walk

     A change of scenery and soaking up that much-needed vitamin D, is great for your mental health. When you walk, take note of what you see. Take deep breaths. Observe your surroundings and be present in the moment. 

Ginny taking in the beautiful scenery at Stoke States Forest, Sussex County, NJ

For additional self-care and mindfulness practices for coping with Covid-19 check out these resources