Cultivate Mental Health Through Gardening

by Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

With warmer weather upon us and more daylight every day, my thoughts have turned to spending more time outdoors. Last year I spent more time at home because of the pandemic, and during this time I rekindled my interest in gardening. I was not alone, as there was a surge in interest as evidenced by increased sales of plants and garden-related items. This renewed interest in gardening is expected to grow.

zucchini plant growing

Zucchini growing in my garden last year

Gardening is probably one of the most common ways of interacting with nature. The hands-on aspect of gardening is very appealing. After spending an hour in the garden I can see the results of my work right away. I find there is something satisfying about picking flowers or eating something that I grew, perhaps only minutes after I picked it. I even potted my herbs and moved them indoors for the winter, so I could spice up my wintertime meals. The fruits of your gardening labors may be more than the vegetables or flowers that you grow. It turns out that gardening can also be a great way to cultivate mental health.

Gardening and Mental Health

Although research on young people’s mental health and gardening is limited, within the larger area of studying nature-related activities, researchers have found that gardening has a significant positive impact on several aspects of health. They found a number of health benefits, including reductions in depression and anxiety symptoms and stress, and increased positive emotions, quality of life, sense of community, and physical activity levels. Some benefits can appear right away, but it is unclear how long they persist. It is reasonable to assume the gardening activity needs to be continued to sustain them.

Possible Pathways to Health: How are these benefits possible?

Gardening can be a boon to psychological, physical, and social health. What are the possible pathways for how these benefits can be achieved?

  • Direct exposure to nature and the outdoors by spending time outside has been found to have a restorative and calming effect. It shifts focus, provides an escape, and may facilitate reflection.
  • Beyond the more obvious physical benefits from gardening, it can indirectly have a psychological health benefit. The mechanism for how this works for psychological health isn’t clear, but it could be that increased physical activity is the “driver” of improved mood, as such a connection with physical activity has been demonstrated in other studies.
  • The food produced in gardens provides healthy eating options, which can directly contribute to physical health. People may be more willing to try something that they grew themselves.
  • Gardening is a purposeful activity with a tangible product. A harvest of colorful flowers or tasty vegetables provides a sense of achievement and feelings of success. Mastering new knowledge and skills (that is, things like knowing what and when to plant and the practical tasks of tending plants) can lead to a feeling of accomplishment, which can be a mechanism for mental well-being.

    man and boy in garden

    Make gardening a family activity

  • Social connections may develop by participating in gardening activities as a family or with another group such as a 4-H club. Community gardening allows people to find others with common interests and interact with others in a shared experience.

Young people may be exposed to gardening through a school or after-school community-based program, often accompanied by additional lessons, with the goal of influencing fruit and vegetable consumption. However, it may be more difficult to translate this interest into a home garden. On the other hand, an interest in gardening may grow from family connections.

Ideas for Getting Started or Expanding Your Garden

  • Start with a container garden and branch out from there.
  • Get your family involved.
  • Volunteer to help a family member or neighbor with their garden.
  • Research school-based or community gardens in your area. If one is not available in your area, what would it take to start one? Check out our post on how to create an action plan if starting such a project is something you want to take on. For some inspiration, read about a school garden outreach program started by OSU medical students.

It’s important to recognize that taking on a garden involves responsibility–you will have to tend to it on a regular basis, such as keeping it watered and weeded. The weather or insects may present setbacks. Will you still be interested in caring for your garden after the novelty wears off or you encounter problems? Recognize that having a garden may involve some expenses for seeds, plants, and equipment if not already on hand. If you need help getting started, your local OSU Extension office and Master Gardener Volunteer programs can offer gardening advice.

Time to dig in and harvest the benefits of gardening!

garden vegetables

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References

Evans, A., Ranjit, N., Rutledge, R., Medina, J., Jennings, R., Smiley, A., Stigler, M., & Hoelscher, D. (2012). Exposure to multiple components of a garden-based intervention for middle school students increases fruit and vegetable consumption. Health Promotion Practice, 13(5), 608–616. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524839910390357

Masterton, W., Carver, H., Parkes, T., & Park, K. (2020). Greenspace interventions for mental health in clinical and non-clinical populations: What works, for whom, and in what circumstances? Health and Place, 64, 102338. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2020.102338

Ober Allen, J., Alaimo, K., Elam, D., & Perry, E. (2008). Growing vegetables and values: Benefits of neighborhood-based community gardens for youth development and nutrition. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 3(4), 418–439. https://doi.org/10.1080/19320240802529169

Shao, Y., Elsadek, M., & Liu, B. (2020). Horticultural activity: Its contribution to stress recovery and wellbeing for children. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17, 1229. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17041229

Skelton, K. R., Lowe, C., Zaltz, D. A., & Benjamin-Neelon, S. E. (2020). Garden-based interventions and early childhood health: An umbrella review. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 17, 121. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-020-01023-5

Soga, M., Gaston, K. J., & Yamaura, Y. (2017). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive Medicine Reports, 5, 92–99. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007

Van Den Berg, A. E., & Custers, M. H. G. (2011). Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress. Journal of Health Psychology, 16(1), 3–11. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105310365577

Connect the Dots for Mental Health

Ohio 4-H decided to focus on mental health during the month of January 2021. Mental health has always been important, but the need to focus on mental health was never more apparent than in 2020.

Throughout the month, members of the 4-H Healthy Living Design Team wrote about different dimensions of wellness. Even though our focus was on mental health, we touched on many other aspects of health– physical, emotional, social, intellectual, environmental, financial, and creative. We presented some background information, suggested strategies to address each area, and shared our own experiences.

If you look back over the month, I think you can see how all the different dimensions of wellness are related to each other. For example, one way to make mindfulness part of our day is to listen when someone is talking to us. In turn, this will lead to better social connections, which will enhance our social health. Social connection creates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being. In fact, research suggest that the quality of our social ties might be the single biggest predictor of our well-being. We can reach out to friends when we’re feeling stressed; in turn, we can check in with our family and friends to be the person that they turn to when they need support.

Of course, physical activity helps keep our body healthy. But that’s not all it does. Engaging in physical activity is recommended as a way to manage stress, which addresses our mental health. And even better when we can take that activity outdoors. Then we can practice mindfulness when we take in the sights, sounds, and smells when we’re walking outdoors.

Self-care strategies keep us healthy in many ways: in addition to physical activity, getting enough sleep; eating healthful foods; and making time for fun, learning, and creative activities are things we can do. Some of these strategies may require us to establish better habits to make them a regular part of our lifestyle.

The coronavirus pandemic has been challenging for everyone. It’s easy to think of what we didn’t get to do. However, I think you can probably think of some good things that happened last year. Among my family and friends there were high school and college graduations, weddings, new babies, new homes, new jobs, and other milestones. They may have looked different, but life kept on going. It’s important to pause and recognize the good things that happen every day, no matter how small.  Another way to see the connections is in the COPE with COVID suggestions put forth by Dr. Bern Melnyk, Chief Wellness Officer at The Ohio State University and Dean of the College of Nursing. You can see how these suggestions incorporate aspects of physical, mental, emotional, and social health, as well as gratitude and mindfulness.

Today’s Take-Away: Look for ways to pledge your health to better living. The resources developed for Ohio 4-H Mental Health Month are posted on our webpage. But even though the month is over, we will continue to share information, ideas, and inspiration about healthy living topics throughout the year.

Yours in Health,

Signature

Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Keep Calm and Puzzle On

Puzzles have been around for a long time. But who knew that January 29 is National Puzzle Day! And why not have a day devoted to puzzles – they’re fun. And because they involve focus and concentration, they also serve as stress relievers, which may explain their increased popularity during the pandemic. Even Bill Gates is said to be a fan.

Let’s puzzle on and focus on two favorites of mine: word puzzles and jigsaw puzzles.

Word Puzzles

To say that I like words would be an understatement. I remember doing all sorts of vocabulary builders in elementary school, and I would read books past my bedtime with a flashlight under the covers. Even now I subscribe to Merriam Webster’s Word of the Day. In 5th grade I placed second in a spelling bee and in a fire prevention essay contest. I didn’t really discover I was a good writer until I was in graduate school the second time around. So maybe there’s a theme there….hmmm.

Probably the most well-known type of word puzzle is the crossword puzzle. I found out that Arthur Wynn, a journalist from Liverpool, is credited as being the inventor of the first crossword puzzle, which was published in the New York World newspaper in 1913. Other word puzzles appeared more recently. Mad Libs was created in the 1950s. Word searches appeared in the U.S. in 1968, and now there are many variations.

Jigsaw Puzzles

The precursor to the modern-day jigsaw puzzle dates back to the 1760s in England. Called “dissections,” they were maps mounted on wood and cut apart, as a way to teach children geography. It’s interesting to note that researchers recently completed the first study of the process children use to do jigsaw puzzles. The study revealed that 3-year-olds use trial and error to put them together, but 4-year-olds are able to use information in the picture to complete the puzzle, indicating changes in how their brains process information.

Puzzles and Health – Besides being fun, puzzles have several other health-related benefits.

Intellectual Health: Puzzles demand a level of thought and focus. Spending time regularly working on puzzles improves memory and problem-solving skills. It’s great when fun and learning can be combined!

Studies have found that when we work on a jigsaw puzzle, we use both sides of our brain. Your left brain is logical and works in a linear fashion; it sees all the separate pieces and attempts to sort them out logically. You find the corners and all the straight-edge puzzle pieces first, right? Your right brain is the creative side – it sees the “big picture” and works intuitively. As you study the image and its details, your brain taps into visual-spatial patterns. I would argue the same is true for word puzzles. Although they may not appear so on the surface, word puzzles are about patterns, too – words, after all, are letters arranged in a meaningful way. In exercising both sides of the brain at the same time, we create connections between both sides, as well as connections between individual brain cells. These connections increase our ability to learn, to comprehend, and to remember.

Social Health: Puzzles also offer social benefits. When we work together with someone on a task, we strengthen our social connections. Those interactions keep us socially active, which is important for our mental health. Because jigsaw puzzles are pictures, they can bridge language barriers.

Mental Health: As we connect two puzzle pieces together (you know that feeling!), our brains release dopamine, which has a positive effect on our mood. When you concentrate while sorting pieces by color and shape or you scan back and forth to find the words in a word search, you tune out other distractions, so puzzling helps us keep calm. There’s something to be said for actually touching jigsaw puzzle pieces and using paper and pencil to complete a crossword. It also gives us a break from screen time.

What’s the deal with screen time? Screen time could be the topic of an entire post, but I’ll summarize here. Research has shown an association between time spent using screen media and psychological well-being.  For example, in one study, high users of screens were significantly more likely to display poor emotion regulation (not staying calm, arguing too much, being difficult to get along with), an inability to finish tasks, lower curiosity, and more difficulty making friends. Researchers have yet to establish a causal relationship – it’s a ‘chicken and egg’ thing: Which came first? Did screen use lead to these things, or were people with those characteristics more likely to use screens? And does the type of screen use matter? What else might be involved? We won’t solve that puzzle today, but suffice it to say that too much screen use and certain types of it might be problematic.

Screens and COVID – With remote schooling and socializing, screen time has likely increased during the coronavirus pandemic. It seems like a contradiction: We should connect to people (even if virtually), and yet we are cautioned against spending too much time on screens. Keep up those connections, but it’s still recommended that we take a break from screens when we can.

Today’s Take-Away: I hope that learning about the health benefits didn’t take the fun out of puzzles for you, but instead it gives you an appreciation of how fun, health, and learning are connected.

a page with letters and words

Mental Health Month Word Search

As we are getting close to the end of January and wrapping up our Ohio 4-H Mental Health Month, I created a word search (using the search generator below), using words that have appeared in our posts this month. You can download it here.

Of course, you can take advantage of existing puzzles and word games. You can take it a step further by creating your own. Creating word puzzles used to be a time-consuming task…until the internet arrived. Now there are countless programs and online tools that help you create your own puzzles in no time. These are just a few:

Snow is predicted this weekend; time to keep calm and puzzle on and have a little fun in honor of National Puzzle Day!

Yours in Health,

Signature

 

Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Resilience

I think we all can agree that we have COVID-19 fatigue, and what we thought would go away in 2020 is still with us. As we are winding down Ohio 4-H Mental Health Month, I am hopeful you have found a few tips or tricks that you can add to your mental health tool kit and pull out whenever you need a little boost.

Today’s “Thoughtful Thursday” post really hit home for me. Helen Keller has always been an inspiring individual, and I have read so much about her and all the things she was able to accomplish. If you do not know much about her, now is a great time to research her and reflect on today’s quote.

One of the groups I work closely with in Fairfield County are the Junior Leaders. This group of teens, ages 13 and up, work with peers from all over the county to promote 4-H, develop leadership skills, and conduct community service projects. In 2019, this group of teens decided to use another Helen Keller quotation on their club shirts. “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.” I think this quotation holds as much power today as the one in our social media post!

During this time of COVID, I know I feel like I am spinning my wheels and not accomplishing nearly as much as I should be. But I do not think that is what I should be focusing on. Instead, I need to shift my thinking and focus on the good things happening around me and getting back to how I felt before ‘the world shut down.’ Resilience is just that, the ability to recover from any difficulties and to come back stronger than before. Another definition of resilience that I love is ‘toughness,’ which I think we all have developed from experiencing and surviving the pandemic thus far.

For some of us, we need that support and connection from others to do great things, and it is important that we realize that trait in ourselves. My challenge for you today is to take time to reflect on what makes you resilient and what you may need to come back stronger than before. When things return to ‘normal’-ish, I hope you are able to share those skills and activities you have discovered during this difficult time with your 4-H club members, family, or friends. Let us all work together so that we can accomplish all the things we want to do and more to make our world a better place.

Wish you all the best,

Aubry Fowler, Fairfield County 4-H Educator

 

Continuing to Cope with COVID

It’s no surprise that COVID-19 has increased concerns about mental health. One reason we feel stress is because of the uncertainty of the situation. Is school going to be in-person, virtual, or hybrid? How many times will it change? Will high school graduation be in person or virtual? When will I be able to see my grandparents? Now that we are coming up to nearly a year of wearing masks; changes to home, school, and work; and experiencing restrictions on in-person gatherings, we’re wondering when it’s going to end.

It’s normal to feel stress and worry during a crisis. However, the particulars of the pandemic have taken this stress to another level. In addition to uncertainty, there are several other things that contribute to it. Stay-at-home orders, school closures, and restrictions on activities and gatherings have limited social interactions. Young people have experienced disruption by missing out on life events that are part of a final year of high school and milestones such as graduations. In the process they also missed out on many opportunities important for social development. There is a large body of research that links social isolation and loneliness to poor mental and physical health. What can we do?

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, and it is normal to experience a wide range of emotions. We can’t wave a magic wand and make everything return to ‘normal.’ However, there are a number of healthy ways to cope with stress. These recommendations seem so simple, maybe too simple, right? Yet, they are offered over and over again by mental health experts, from well-respected organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Mayo Clinic.

I have categorized the recommendations for coping with stress into Four Cs.

  •  CARE – Take care of your body (and mind).
  • Relax and recharge. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
    • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and substance use.
    • Continue with routine preventive measures (such as vaccinations, health check-ups, etc.) as recommended by your healthcare provider.
    • Get vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine when available.
  • CREATE – Make time to unwind to do some activities you enjoy. Creative activities like art are especially engaging. Maybe you will discover a new interest. Some people like to keep their thoughts in a journal. Expressive writing helps people process difficult emotions and find meaning.
  • CONNECT – There are actually three ways to Connect.
    • (Dis)connect – Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed, but hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting. A recent study found that one major contributor to anxiety for people of all ages was increased engagement with media. Especially problematic is exposure to conflicting information. Consider limiting news to just a couple times a day and make a conscious effort to spend less time in front of a screen disconnecting from phone, TV, and computer screens for a while. This is challenging when so many aspects of our life are being conducted virtually.
    • Connect – with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Social connections are important for your overall health.
    • Connect – with your community- or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, maintain your connections with organizations through online meetings.
  • CONTRIBUTE – Find purpose in helping the people around you.
    • Support a family member or friend.  Reach out to others to stay in contact, especially if they live alone. If you know someone who can’t get out, ask if there’s something they need. Don’t rely only on social media; make a phone call or write a note.
    • Do something for others. Find ways to contribute to your community. Be sure to follow recommendations on social distancing and group meetings.

Today’s Take-Away: There are many healthy ways to cope with stress. Sometimes even when you practice self-care and coping strategies, stress can overwhelm you. Some mental health situations may call for professional help. You may find this resource My Mental Health: Do I Need Help? from the National Institute of Mental Health helpful.

 

 

 

 

 

If you or someone you know needs to be connected to professional resources, Ohio State University’s Center for Public Health Practice has compiled Mental Health Resource Guides. Go to u.osu.edu/cphp/ohio-mental-health-resource-guides/, find the county you need, and select it to bring up local resources.

Yours in Heath,

Signature

Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

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

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,

Signature

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.

Sincerely,
Justins Sig
Justin Bower

Myths vs. Facts about Mental Health

Because we don’t talk as much about mental health as physical health, it’s possible that you’ve heard some myths. Getting the facts is important. Let’s explore some common myths vs. facts about mental health.

 1.  Having positive mental health means that you will not feel stressed or unhappy.

 FALSE – A person with positive mental health can still feel stressed, anxious, or unhappy.

Everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health. Your mental health can change over time. Having good mental health doesn’t mean that people never go through bad times. When these feelings begin to have negative effects on a person’s daily activities and relationships, it is a sign that the person has negative mental health.

Everyone goes through tough times, and no matter how long you’ve had something on your mind, it’s important that you talk to someone about it. Talk to your parents or a trusted adult if you experience any of these things:

  • Can’t eat or sleep
  • Can’t perform daily tasks like going to school
  • Don’t want to hang out with your friends or family
  • Don’t want to do things you usually enjoy
  • Fight a lot with family and friends
  • Feel like you can’t control your emotions and it’s affecting your relationships with your family and friends
  • Have low or no energy
  • Feel hopeless
  • Feel numb or like nothing matters
  • Can’t stop thinking about certain things or memories
  • Feel confused, forgetful, edgy, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Want to harm yourself or others
  • Have random aches and pains
  • Smoke, drink, or use drugs
  • Hear voicea

2.  Over 50% of mental health disorders appear by age 14.

TRUE – The start of approximately 50% of all adult mental illness occurs by age 14 and 75% by age 24.

Mental health problems don’t only affect adults. Children, teens, and young adults can have mental health problems, too. Adolescents and young adults are at high risk for developing a mental disorder.

Why is this so? It’s more than one factor, and there is a lot that we still don’t understand. One reason is that adolescence is a time of many developmental changes in the brain that affect thinking and emotions as well as rapid physical growth. These changes do not always occur in sync with each other. This gap between brain development and other aspects of development creates a window where mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, such as depression, can emerge. In addition, teens are still learning skills for self-control and regulating emotions.

 3.  One in every 5 American adolescents is living with a mental illness.

TRUE – 20% of American youth have been diagnosed with a mental illness. This statistic does not include youth who are experiencing mental illness but have not sought professional help and remain undiagnosed.

Unfortunately, less than 20% of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. Early mental health support can help a someone before problems interfere with other developmental needs.

There are several reasons why people don’t seek treatment. People may not know who to talk to or where to go to get help. Many people are reluctant to ask for help because of the stigma connected to mental health and mental illness. Although attitudes about mental health and whether it is okay to discuss mental health are changing, stigma still exists. You can help stop the stigma by talking about mental health. Remember to treat people with mental health problems with respect.

Some mental health situations may call for professional help. If you or someone you know needs to be connected to professional resources read Ohio State University’s Center for Public Health Practice Mental Health Resource Guides. Go to u.osu.edu/cphp/ohio-mental-health-resource-guides/, find the county you need and select it to bring up local resources.

Today’s Take-Away: Get the facts about mental health. In this post I shared just a few of the myths and facts. You can check out MentalHealth.gov and download our Ohio 4-H Mental Health Myth vs Facts resource to learn more.

Check out our Mental Health Month resources. And come back for more information and ideas!

Yours in Health,

Signature

Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

“Mental Health Facts” resource developed by Amanda Raines, 4-H Educator, Hardin County

 Adapted from MentalHealth.gov

Just Breathe! to Manage Stress

“Just breathe!” is advice we may have heard as we prepared for exams and other big events. We breathe in and out all the time, without thinking. Surely it can’t be as simple as just breathing. Actually, it’s good advice, and it is something that we can learn to use to our advantage. In this post we’ll discuss ways you can “just breathe” to manage stress.

Recognizing and managing stress is an important life skill to learn. The stress response is actually a series of responses that begin in the brain. Your brain sends a distress signal (in the form of hormones) to other parts of the body, such as those that control breathing and blood circulation. They are part of the body’s automatic response, and they happen so quickly we’re not really aware of it, we just feel the effects. The key is to interrupt this process. Because deep breathing techniques shift that focus, they are one of the best ways to calm yourself when you feel stressed.

Some key points about breathing:

  • Breathing affects the whole body.
  • Breathing exercises are easy to learn.
  • You can try different techniques to find out which work best for you.

How does breathing work to manage stress?  Researchers are working to better understand how stress and breathing affect the brain. We know deep breathing increases the oxygen supply to the brain. It appears that focused breathing activates parts of the brain that control emotions. It relaxes the nervous system, and therefore it also improves mental concentration, learning capacity, and decision making. Slow, deep breathing helps you concentrate, and therefore it helps you to disengage from distracting thoughts and sensations. When you find yourself drifting, bring your focus back to your breath.

The good news: Focused breathing exercises can be simple, quick, and done almost anywhere.

Here are two of my favorite breathing exercises.

1) Alternate Nostril Breathing **Caution those with asthma to avoid this exercise.

  1. Stand or sit up tall.
  2. Use your index finger and thumb of your right hand for this exercise.
  3. Start by pressing your index finger over your left nostril. Inhale slowly through your right nostril.
  4. Press your thumb over your right nostril and at the same time lift your index finger away from your left nostril. Exhale slowly through your left nostril.
  5. Once you have exhaled completely, inhale slowly through your left nostril.
  6. Press your index finger over your left nostril and exhale slowly through your right nostril.
  7. Repeat at least three times.

2) Countdown to Calm

  1. Stand or sit up tall.
  2. Inhale slowly, and using one hand, lift one finger at a time as you count to 5.
  3. Exhale slowly, and as you do so, lower one finger at a time as you count backwards from 5.
  4. Repeat at least three times.

Today’s Take-Away: Focused breathing exercises can be simple, quick, and done almost anywhere. You can download a tip sheet with the two breathing techniques above, as well as five more. I hope you’ll find one or more that you can make part of your stress management toolbox.

Justin Bower, 4-H Educator in Logan County, has recorded a 23-minute presentation titled Continuing to Cope with COVID. He discusses lots of techniques to support physical, emotional, and mental health, including breathing. Check it out!

Promotion for Healthy Body Healthy Mind SPIN Club

Register by January 14 for the Healthy Body Healthy Mind SPIN Club

Remember, you can sign up for the Healthy Body Healthy Mind SPIN Club that starts next week on January 19 and runs once a week for 6 weeks. You can also find more resources on the Ohio 4-H webpage.

In addition to ways to focus our breathing, there are two other ways to help with the build up of stress: physical activity and social support. We’ll be covering these topics in future posts. Come back for more information and ideas.

Yours in Health,

Signature

Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Breathing exercises from “Just Breathe!” in the Coping with COVID: Lesson Plans to Promote Mental, Emotional, and Social Health.