Self-Care Saturday: Take Some Time for You

Do you ever feel like there are phrases that were created by people out in the world who just want to sell you things? That is what I think has happened to the phrase “self-care.” Companies have taken this phrase to create a reason why we need stuff, particularly their stuff, but it does not have to be that way. Let us take a moment to look at what self-care means and how we can achieve self-care time at home.

Self-care is vitally important to how we care for ourselves and includes our physical, mental, and emotional health. It is about taking time to check in with ourselves and making sure that all our needs are met. It also means engaging in activities that promote overall well-being and reducing stress. This last part is key because self-care looks different for everyone, and what I enjoy may not be enjoyable for others.

If you have not seen today’s Ohio 4-H Mental Health Month tip on the Ohio 4-H Facebook page, it is about creating an at-home spa day. I am one of those people who enjoys a good bubble bath, and this is a great way for me to practice self-care. Here are some things I will be grabbing from my cabinet: epsom salts, bubble bath soap, and essential oils, which I will enjoy while reading a good book. I will prioritize taking time to be alone, reflecting on this busy week and month (if I feel like it), and just enjoying my down time. Use items you already have at home, or purchase things you enjoy to create your own at-home spa day.

Not the bubble bath type? That is great too. Think about the activity that brings you joy and relaxation and make time for that instead. I hope your takeaway today is: find an activity that reenergizes you and reduces those feelings of stress. Maybe it is riding a bike, calling a friend to chat, reading a book, or just taking a nap. Whatever you need for your self-care should be the priority during your designated “Self-Care Time.”

Want to learn more about self-care and/or activities to try? Check out these resources from Extension programs across the nation:

Wishing you the best,

Aubry Fowler, Fairfield County 4-H Educator

Take an Imaginary Road Trip!

I love to travel. However, because of the pandemic I had to change most of last year’s travel plans, and I’ll be deferring future travel until it’s safe to do so. Although I can’t wait to get on the road again, there’s nothing to stop us from taking an imaginary road trip in the meantime!

When I got the idea about taking an imaginary road trip, the first thing that popped up in my Google search was Jason Reynolds, who is the seventh National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. First of all, who knew there was such a thing, and how cool is that. Second, it turns out Mr. Reynolds proposes the idea of just such a trip! In one of his “Write. Right. Rite.” videos, he puts forth the imaginary road trip challenge:

  • Pick a person you admire – why did you select this person to go on the trip with you?
  • Describe the best of the trip with this person.
  • Describe what the worst part of the trip would be with this person.

I decided to add a few elements of my own to this challenge:

  • What is your destination?
  • What is one thing that you want to be sure to pack?
  • What vehicle are you driving? Or maybe you’re taking another form of transportation.
  • What will you stop and see along the way?
  • What music will you listen to? Create your own playlist.
  • What are other details of your trip?

We can use the image of a winding road for the ups and downs that COVID has taken us through in the past year. It’s easy to feel disappointed when we can’t do the things we had hoped to do, that COVID kept us from doing. Instead, I’m choosing to reframe this time as an opportunity to think about where I want to go, to plan an imaginary road trip so I can take a real one when the time is right to do so.

Today’s Take-Away: Planning an imaginary road trip can be fun! To help you plan out your trip, I put all of this into an Imaginary Road Trip activity sheet for you to use. Take your creativity one step further and draw or search for images to illustrate your trip. Get your friends or family members in on the act and compare your trips. You’ll be cultivating social connections in the process.

One song that would be on my road trip playlist is Sheryl Crow’s Every Day is a Winding Road. With every passing day, I believe we’ll get “a little bit closer to feeling fine.” And who knows, we might actually make our imaginary trips a reality!

Check out our Ohio 4-H Mental Health Month resources and come back here for more information and ideas.

Yours in Health,


Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development


Dealing with Feelings

Surprise, frustration, excitement, disappointment, calmness, fear: Feelings, or emotions, are a normal part of our everyday lives. Everyone experiences them. We should resist labeling our emotions as “good” or “bad”—it’s how we react and respond to the emotion that’s important.

Identifying your emotions, understanding how they influence your behavior, and being able to manage them are considered a foundation of social emotional learning. When thoughts and emotions work together, it’s easier to make more effective decisions, solve problems, and achieve goals.

 Emotion regulation, also called self-regulation, is a term generally used to describe a person’s ability to effectively manage their thoughts and feelings, with the goal of taking actions that are necessary for success in school, relationships, and the workplace. Whether you realize it or not, you are using emotion regulation strategies many times throughout each day.

For example, self-regulation includes being able to

  • resist highly emotional reactions to things others say and do,
  • calm yourself down when you get upset,
  • adjust when something doesn’t go the way you expect it to and you need to change plans, and
  • handle frustration without an outburst. It is a set of skills that that develops over time.

Think about babies – what do they do when they are upset? They cry. This is their way to get attention, to communicate that they are tired, hungry, or frustrated. They haven’t developed many other ways to handle their emotions yet. As they get older, when they are able to talk, they can use words to express how they feel. At first, adults have to help children learn how to do this. Over time, they learn more strategies and to take charge of using them.

Now fast forward in time: How do you react to situations at home, school, and/or work that you find frustrating or overwhelming? Do you ever find yourself in a situation where your emotions get the better of you and you say or do something that doesn’t get the desired result?

When thoughts and emotions work together, it supports you in making more effective decisions, solving problems, and achieving goals. However, in teenagers, the parts of the brain that process emotions are more developed than the parts of the brain responsible for good decision-making and future planning. This means that for a while the two parts of the brain are “out of balance.” Those first reactions may come from the “emotional brain” before the “thinking brain” kicks in and regulates your response. Has someone ever said to you, “What were you thinking?” when they don’t understand your reaction to a situation?  If you can’t explain what you were thinking, it may be that you weren’t thinking as much as you were feeling and reacting to those feelings.

While you’re waiting for your brain to sync up, it doesn’t mean that you have to give up – you can learn to manage your emotions more effectively. The first step is tuning in to your feelings. Notice your body’s reactions and take a pause before you respond to a situation. You may notice that your heart pounds, your face may turn red, you clench your teeth, your hands might sweat, your breathing may become faster or slower, or your facial expression could change.

Emotion regulation strategies can help you manage your body’s response and how you follow through on your feelings. Here are some strategies you can you to deal with your feelings in a healthy way.

Examples of Healthy Emotion Regulation Strategies

  • Talking with friends
  • Exercising
  • Writing in a journal
  • Meditation
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Paying attention to negative thoughts that occur before or after strong emotions
  • Noticing when you need a break – and taking it
  • Seeking professional help

If you’ve been reading these posts, you may be noticing some common threads in these strategies. Mindfulness and self-care strategies figure prominently in these suggestions.

The strategies we choose to deal with our feelings are not always healthy ones. They may make you feel better in the short term, but may work against you in the long run. They can have an negative impact on your physical and mental health. Their effect on your relationships with others, a component of your social health, may be undesirable as well.

Examples of Unhealthy Emotion Regulation Strategies

  • Avoiding or withdrawing from difficult situations
  • Physical or verbal aggression
  • Overusing social media, to the neglect of other responsibilities
  • Abusing alcohol or other substances
  • Self-injury

Today’s Take-Away: Emotions are a normal part of our everyday lives. Emotion regulation is not aimed at eliminating emotions from our lives, but rather understanding them and controlling their influence when this influence is undesired. You can download the Dealing with Feelings activity sheet to help you think through a situation, how you respond, and what you could do instead.

See the Ohio 4-H Mental Health Month resources and come back here for more information and ideas.

Yours in Health,


Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Adapted from:

Murray, D. W., & Rosanbalm, K. (2017). Promoting Self-Regulation in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Practice Brief. (OPRE Report #2015-82). Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Rolston, A., & Lloyd-Richardson, E., (n.d.). What is emotion regulation and how do we do it? Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery.

Financial Wellness

Financial wellness is probably not the first to come to mind, but it is one of the dimensions of wellness we introduced earlier this month. When you are financially well, you a have a working knowledge of your budget and financial state. You can contribute to your savings and set financial goals for yourself that are realistic and achievable.

Money plays a crucial role in our lives, and not having enough of it can have an impact on our health, directly and indirectly. When financial health is poor, it can affect physical and mental health. Seven in 10 of Americans say they feel stressed about money. Debt can be a worrisome challenge. Keeping up with financial responsibilities can become overwhelming, producing feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear.

Financial uncertainty and the continuously emerging needs of the COVID-19 pandemic add to those insecurities. From layoffs to travel bans, school and business closures, to event cancellations and quarantines, COVID has affected our daily lives and will likely continue to affect household finances for years to come.

 What is your relationship with money? Do you have a budget? Do you stick to it? Do you understand your priorities and wants versus needs? Are you able to make ends meet? Are you able to save? Are you prepared for emergencies? Do you have a plan in place for your future?

Having a plan, prioritizing spending, and using resources efficiently is key to your financial stability. That can be a daunting process if you do not have the resources to effectively manage your finances or know how to get started.

Ohio State University Extension educators designed a Hope Chest to “help people help themselves” amidst these uncertain times. A temporary or transition spending plan is needed to manage financial stress.

The purpose of the Hope Chest is for individuals and families to:

Click on each of the links above for interactive tools and worksheets to help guide you through the process step-by-step. Completing all the steps will help you understand and control where your money goes. Visit the Accounting for Your Money Hope Chest webpage for more details in working through the process.

Starting good money habits as a teen will put you ahead for the rest of your life. Your future self will thank you!

Brandy Uhlenbrock, Program Assistant, 4-H Youth Development/Family and Consumer Sciences/Agriculture and Natural Resources, Clermont County


Your Thoughts Matter – a 4-H Project

Mental health matters for everyone. Mental health is not the same thing as the absence of a mental illness. Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Just like health doesn’t mean only the absence of disease, positive mental health doesn’t mean that people are always stress free and happy. Positive feelings alone aren’t enough (especially because there are some not-so-healthy ways to feel good). It means still being able to function when facing challenging times and knowing how to get support when you need it. You can also learn how to help others when needed.

We are encouraged to take care of our physical health before we feel sick. We may take advice to eat well, exercise, and try to get enough sleep to help maintain overall wellness. What if we took the same approach to mental health? Just as you may work to keep your body healthy, you can also work to keep your mind healthy.

One way to learn more about mental health is the Your Thoughts Matter: Navigating Mental Health 4-H project. Your Thoughts Matter is an advanced-level 4-H project designed for youth who are interested in learning more about mental health, why it is important to overall well-being, and steps that promote more positive understanding and action.

Topics in the Your Thoughts Matter project include:

  • What is Mental Health?: What mental health means and its impact on those around us
  • Mental Health Disorders: The difference among some common but serious mental health disorders
  • Stigma: How society communicates about mental health in casual speech and in the media
  • Self-Help and Resources: Self-help and becoming part of the solution

In this project, you will be prompted to complete all 10 activities and all the Talking It Over questions, take part in at least two learning experiences, become involved in at least two leadership/citizenship activities, and complete a project review.

Today’s Take-Away: You can listen to this short video for a project review. In this video, Luke Uhlenbrock, a 4-H member from Clermont County, gives an overview of the project and shares his thoughts about participating in the Your Thoughts Matter virtual SPIN Club last year.

This project book is currently available for download on the Stay-at-Home Projects page on the Ohio 4-H website. In addition, another virtual SPIN (Special Interest) Club will be offered later this year. We will share the dates when they become available.

You can also access other Mental Health Month resources on our Ohio 4-H webpage. Come back here for more information and ideas.

Yours in Health,


Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Thoughts on Martin Luther King Day

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963)

Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial at night

Photo credit: Avalon Havan

I have visited the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial many times, most recently just shy of a year ago. At first, I saw it only at night, on night tours of our nation’s capital. Having since seen it during the day, I prefer the night view. Dr. King’s image looms large, literally emerging from the stone, the stone of hope (“out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope” from the “I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963). It always gives me pause, an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of Dr. King’s words.

On this day when we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s inevitable that we turn to his words, and how they speak to us, even so many years later.

It’s easy to see how Dr. King’s words relate to health: Every person, regardless of where they live, what race they are, and what income they have, should have equal opportunities to stay healthy. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But we have much work to do to make this a reality.

In an uncharacteristically short post, I will leave you with a cover of James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light” by two a cappella groups, The Maccabeats and Naturally 7. Here are the lyrics of this song:

“Shed A Little Light”
Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King
and recognize that there are ties between us, all men and women living on the Earth.
Ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood, that we are bound together
in our desire to see the world become a place in which our children can grow free and strong.
We are bound together by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead.
We are bound and we are bound.

There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest

Shed a little light, oh Lord, so that we can see, just a little light, oh Lord.
Wanna stand it on up, stand it on up, oh Lord,
wanna walk it on down, shed a little light, oh Lord.

Can’t get no light from the dollar bill, don’t give me no light from a TV screen.
When I open my eyes I wanna drink my fill from the well on the hill,
do you know what I mean?

Shed a little light, oh Lord, so that we can see, just a little light, oh Lord.
Wanna stand it on up, stand it on up, oh Lord,
wanna walk it on down, shed a little light, oh Lord.

There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist, there is a hunger in the center of the chest.
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
and though the body sleeps the heart will never rest.

Oh, Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King
and recognize that there are ties between us.
All men and women living on the Earth, ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood.


The task before us: Let us recognize that there are ties between us and work to make the world a better, healthy place for all.

Yours in Health,


Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development


What Does Your Zip Code Have to Do with Your Health?

map with push pinLast week when I wrote about social health, I did so from the perspective of the individual, that is, what can someone do to cultivate social connections. This week I’d like to expand the concept of social health to include a much larger perspective. But what does your zip code have to do with your health?

What influences your health? The obvious answer is things like the food you eat, how much you exercise, and your family history. But people living just a few blocks apart may have very different opportunities to live a long life, in part just because of the neighborhood where they live.

As an example, let’s look at a map prepared by the Center for Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. This map shows several zip codes in Cleveland, Ohio, with up to a 12-year difference in life expectancy between them.

Map of Cleveland, Ohio, illustrating life expectancy by zip code (Center for Society and Health, Virginia Commonwealth University)

Were you surprised to learn that life expectancy can vary so much in nearby locations? In some parts of the country, the gaps are even larger. And life expectancy is just one of the measures with these sorts of differences. Access to care, access to health information, and quality of life are all affected by where one lives. The first question that should come to mind is, “Why?” Why is there such a difference? Why is a person’s zip code a stronger predictor of their overall health than other factors, including race and genetics? There is no simple answer. Gaps in health status across neighborhoods are complex and stem from multiple factors.

It’s important to understand that it’s not the zip code itself, but the conditions that exist in the area the zip code represents. In that sense, the zip code is the proxy for the social and neighborhood conditions. A proxy means that zip code stands in for something else.

The answer to why is too big for just one post. It starts with understanding social determinants of health. So let’s start there.

 Social Determinants of Health

To understand what’s going on, we’ll consider a concept called the social determinants of health. Social determinants of health refer to non-medical factors that influence health, such as employment, income, housing, transportation, child care, education, discrimination, and the quality of the places where people live. They have a big impact on people’s health, well-being, and quality of life. However, surveys show that most Americans are unaware of the how these factors affect health.

Think about it: People who don’t have access to grocery stores with healthy foods are less likely to have good nutrition. That raises their risk of health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity — and even lowers life expectancy relative to people who do have access to healthy foods.

Examples of social determinants of health include:

  • Safe housing, transportation, and neighborhoods – for example: Some neighborhoods are unsafe for children to play outside. Lack of transportation may limit people’s ability to get work and health care.
  • Education, job opportunities, and income – for example: Communities with weak tax bases cannot support high-quality schools and jobs are often scarce in neighborhoods with struggling economies. High school graduation is a leading indicator of healthy adult behaviors and health status.
  • Access to nutritious foods and physical activity opportunities – for example: Opportunities for residents to exercise, walk, or ride a bicycle may be limited. Stores and restaurants selling unhealthy food may outnumber stores with fresh produce or restaurants with nutritious food.
  • Racism, discrimination, and violence – for example: Segregation can negatively affect health by creating communities of concentrated poverty.
  • Polluted air and water – for example: Closeness to highways, factories, or other sources of toxic materials may expose people to pollutants.

People’s awareness of social determinants of health has come to the forefront during the coronavirus pandemic. For example, access to testing, the likelihood of having pre-existing conditions, and the types of jobs people have that may increase their exposure affect some groups more than others (e.g., homeless people, racial and ethnic minority individuals).

Just promoting healthy choices won’t eliminate health disparities, because they are embedded in so many aspects of society. It’s a job too big for any one person. The first step is to become aware a situation exists. Then find out what might be happening in your community to address health issues.

Today’s Take-Away: A place to start is with your zip code. You can download this activity sheet to examine Health-by-the-Numbers.

You can find more resources on Ohio 4-H’s Mental Health Month page. Come back for more ideas and information about health.

Yours in Health,


Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Adapted from:

Center for Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Healthy People 2030.

Body Image

Body image is how we feel about our bodies. It’s how we view our physical appearance, based on our own observation and what we perceive as others’ reactions to it. We compare our image of ourselves to what we think is the “ideal” image.

No matter what our size or weight, we can develop either a positive or negative view of our bodies. What we think of as the “ideal” body image has changed over time and can vary between cultural groups. Although we may think of body image issues as more prevalent in girls and women, it is now recognized that body image is also an issue relevant for boys and men. Research indicates that around half of children aged between 6 and 12 years old experience some dissatisfaction with their appearance. And body image concerns can begin as early as preschool.

Why is body image important? Those with a positive image of themselves feel more comfortable and confident in their ability to succeed. They don’t obsess about calories, food, or weight. And, they have the energy they need to enjoy physical activity. In contrast, those with a negative body image feel more self-conscious, anxious, and isolated. They are at greater risk for excessive weight gain and for eating disorders. Given these issues, it’s important to consider the impact of body image on our overall health. If you wonder about how pervasive body image is in our culture…there is actually an academic journal titled Body Image.

What are some ways we can adjust our thinking about body image?

 Focus on Health, Not Weight

Shift your focus from weight to health. Stop getting overly concerned about numbers on the scale. Instead, concentrate on great-tasting foods and fun physical activities. It’s not necessary to be counting calories or restricting your food intake. Focus on enjoying regular meals and learning how to make smart, tasty choices. Whatever our age or size, we feel better when we take care of our bodies because we want to have the energy to do all the things that we want to do. We can still have goals to focus on developing better eating and fitness habits.

Bust the Myth of the “Perfect Body”

Realize that the media shapes attitudes and beliefs that contribute to what we view as the ideal body. Therefore, it’s important become a critical viewer of media messages. Question the images you see on television, in magazines, and on the internet and social media. These images encourage social comparison. However, many of these images are retouched or changed so the bodies appear “perfect.” Don’t internalize the message that equates being thin with beauty, success, and health. The pressure to conform to the ideal image spills over to having the perfect profile picture and the number of “likes” we get. Don’t get sucked in.

Find Physical Activities That Fit

Feeling fit, strong, and capable is one aspect of positive body image. All of us need to find regular physical activities that we enjoy. Some of us are natural athletes — we love sports. Some of us do better at individual activities, such as walking or riding a bike. Some of us may find our niche in yoga, karate, or a hip-hop dance class. It matters more that we’re physically active that the specific activity we do. See our previous post about the different types of physical activities of physical activity we need.

Today’s Take-Away: Don’t buy into the media images of the “ideal.” Focus instead on a holistic view of health.

Yours in Health,


Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Adapted from Hayes, D. (2020, August 20). 5 ways to promote a positive body image for kids. Eat Right. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Laughter and Self-Care: Laughter is the Best Medicine

 Laughter is like a windshield wiper. It doesn’t stop the rain, but it allows us to keep going.

I don’t know about you, but we’re only two weeks into 2021, and it’s already been a bit overwhelming. When we feel stressed, it’s time to indulge in some self-care strategies. Today I’m going to explore how laughter can help us combine fun and self-care.

Although we often use the words “laughter” and “humor” interchangeably, they have different definitions. Humor refers to the stimulus, such as a joke; laughter is the response. It’s a physical response: there are distinct sounds and certain facial expressions that accompany laughter. I’ll bet you can hear the difference between a giggle and guffaw, chuckle and chortle, shriek and snicker, roar and howl. And have you ever laughed so hard you cried or got out of breath? (I have!) Sometimes your entire body gets involved: think of the expression ROFL used in text messages – rolling on the floor laughing.

Speaking of sayings, have you heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine”? It turns out, there is some truth to this saying. Laughter makes us feel better. It can elevate our mood, perhaps because it decreases stress hormones. The act of laughing can release tension in your body, and it has been used to help people manage pain.

If you think that cognitive neuroscience and laughter don’t go together, then you need to watch this TED Talk. Cognitive neuroscientist Sophie Scott shares some surprising facts about laughter, and yes, it’s pretty funny too.

Among some of the interesting information that Dr. Scott shared:

  • Animals laugh too.
  • Laughter is social. You’re 30 times more likely to laugh if you’re with somebody else than if you’re alone.
  • Your brain can distinguish whether laughter is “involuntary” or “posed.” So, you could say that laughter is all in your head.

Why does laughter work? Laughter in general may help us to feel good, and shared laughter can strengthen our relationships. It shows we’re on the same wavelength. Laughing together makes us feel closer and gives us something to share with friends. Humor can add to the shared experiences that are the foundation of relationships (“Remember that time when….”). Thus, laughter can help us build social connections, which contribute to our overall health.

In public speaking, using humor is one of the recommendations, in short, because humor works. Humor is useful in public speaking because it helps you connect with your audience. It can keep the audience’s attention and make your presentation more memorable. The use of humor should be appropriate and in good taste – If you question whether it’s appropriate, then it probably isn’t. Use the grandmother test: Is is a joke you’d feel comfortable telling your grandmother? It’s okay to poke fun at yourself (called self-deprecating humor). As noted in the business newsletter Inc., “laughing at your imperfections allows you to recognize them, accept them, and then move along,” and thus it can work to your advantage in building relationships. But you should not use humor to mock someone or laugh at someone’s expense. And unless you are a stand-up comedian, it is better to go with the less-is-more approach and use just a few well-placed jokes.

Here are some suggestions for injecting more laughter into your life.

  • Watch a comedy show or an old TV sitcom or read a funny book.
  • Play with a pet, they do some pretty funny things.
  • Spend time with people who make you laugh.
  • Play a game like charades, Pictionary, or Apples to Apples.
  • Write song parodies (change the words to popular songs).
  • Tack up jokes, funny sayings, or memes in your desk area.
  • Look up some jokes on the internet. Write each one on a slip of paper and put them all in a jar. When you need a mood boost, pull out a slip and read the joke.

Reading about laughter and looking up jokes on the internet has certainly put me in a better mood. I had so much fun looking up jokes that I almost forgot I was writing this post! Here are a few that made me chuckle:

  • What gets more wet the more it dries? A towel.
  • Why can’t your nose be 12 inches long? Because then it would be a foot.
  • Why couldn’t the pony sing a lullaby? Because she was a little horse.
  • Why did the math book look so sad? Because it had so many problems.

Today’s Take-Away: Find some ways to add laughter into your life and spread it to those around you. See our previous post on Mad-Libs that you can use at one of your 4-H Club meetings. Then maybe you can try making up one of your own.

Yours in Health,


Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Eye Mites & My Mental Health

By Justin Bower, Logan County 4-H Educator

When my wife and I moved to Logan County we planned on settling into this community and one of the things an adult is supposed to do when they move is to establish relationships with local providers and physicians. So my wife and I started looking for a Primary Care Physician, optometrist, dentist, and audiologist. This past week I finally was able to have my first visit with our eye doctor and I was surprised to be diagnosed with a Demodex infestation in my eyelashes.

Demodex is a mite that lives in the eyelash follicles and sebaceous glands in the eyes. They live in the follicle during the day and then come out at night and crawl around the face and leave a build-up of cylindrical dandruff in the eyelashes. This can cause red, puffy, irritated eyelids, and dry eyes.

Demodex is a type of mite that lives in or near hair follicles. Photo from BMC Genomics

As I was trying not to freak out about the little bugs that live in my eyelashes my doctor calmed me down and assured me that Demodex is quite common and very treatable. It’s more common with adults who are over 45 (some research suggests 75% of adults over 45 have had Demodex mites) so it was a little odd that I had quite the build-up of junk in my eyes for my age but my doctor had a plan. He gave me a certain wash for Demodex that I rub on my eyes every morning and evening. He also emphasizes the importance of washing my eyes regularly with warm water and a cloth. I’ll keep using the wash and in two months I go back to my optometrist to make sure they are gone.

For more information about Demodex Mites check out this YouTube video.

So what does any of this have to do with Mental Health? Well since my eyes also got dilated that day, I came home and wasn’t able to see details clearly since my pupils were so large from dilation. I was home alone, couldn’t do any work on a screen, couldn’t watch TV, couldn’t check my phone, so I just sat. As I was sitting I felt myself getting angry. Now I could have been angry about a lot of things (the frustrating state of our country, the exhaustion of dealing with COVID, the overwhelming amount of work I’ve had recently, the frustration of working from home, etc.). Yet, my anger came out saying “Great! Mites! Because why not one more thing!?!? It’s not enough to deal with everything else but now I have to fight microscopic bugs in my eyes!” As I sat and stewed for a bit I tried to challenge my anger and change my thinking.

You see, health is complex. This month Ohio 4-H is promoting mental health BUT the important thing to recognize is that physical health is linked with mental health. It is harder for people who struggle with physical health to be mentally healthy and the opposite can be true too. For example, if someone doesn’t have a healthy immune system it is possible for that person to establish chronic depression through a poor immune system.

“You can, and perhaps should start having conversations about your mental health with your Primary Care Physician.”


Also, as my wife and I have been having to fill out all the forms for our first-time doctor visits there is always a section about mental health. It’s pretty routine for your primary care physician to ask about your mental health and how you are doing. It’s so important that we are regularly going to our doctors. Our doctors are there as a team to understand the complex tapestry of your health. They work together to show you where you are doing well, where you can do better, and where there might be a concern. A common myth is that you have to wait till you get a psychiatrist or therapist to start talking about your mental health BUT you can, and perhaps should start having conversations about your mental health with your Primary Care Physician. They might be able to give you some insight, recommend someone, or clarify some questions you might have.

As much as I’m frustrated with having eye mites I know that taking care of my body and my health is key to keep fighting the mental battle and exhaustion I am feeling about this pandemic, my work, and my country. So if getting diagnosed with Demodex mites forced me into a time of reflection to better my own mental health, then I’ll keep moving forward, eye mites, mental health, and all!

Here’s my challenge for you:
Make sure you are checking in with your doctors regularly.

  • If you do not know how often you should be seeing each doctor, give them a call and they should have a recommendation.
  • If you need to establish a relationship with a doctor, ask your friends and family in the area who they use and see if they are taking new patients.

Justins Sig
Justin Bower