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

Make Mindfulness Part of Your Day

Mindfulness is the ongoing process of paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, and experiences in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judging. Earlier this month I wrote about getting started in mindfulness – what it is and why it’s important. Today’s post offers some ideas for make mindfulness part of your day.

Mindfulness can help us do two things throughout our day:

  • Be focused – you are able to concentrate on what you’re doing
  • Be aware – you recognize distractions as they arise and return to focus

Let’s break down two types of mindfulness practices:

Formal mindfulness can be practiced through things like breathing exercises, guided relaxation, and meditation.

  • Set aside time for mindfulness practices. Although the beginning and/or the end of the day make sense, there is no “right” time. Just figure out what makes the most sense to you. You can start out slowly and gradually increase the amount to time you devote to these practices. Setting aside a regular time may make it easier to establish mindfulness as a habit. However, short mindfulness breaks throughout the day can help us to make a transition from one activity to the next and can aid in focusing on the task at hand.
  • Find an app that can aid your practice of mindfulness, with body scan, guided relaxation, or calming sounds. Read these reviews of five mindfulness apps to decide if one of them might work for you.
  • Record yourself or a friend or family member reading a guided relaxation script. If apps aren’t your thing, you could make your own recording. Make sure to speak slowly and pause as you read.

Informal mindfulness means going about your daily activities in a more mindful frame of mind.

  • Pay attention while you go about your everyday activities such as eating, doing chores, or taking a walk. We are often rushing through our day on autopilot. Instead, shift your focus to the sights, physical feelings, sounds, smells, and tastes of these activities instead.
  • Spend some time without the distractions of technology and social media. To stay connected, we need to disconnect! Put your phone aside when interacting with others. Listening is an important skill to learn, and it will help you cultivate social connections. But it’s hard to pay attention when someone is speaking is notifications from your phone keep distracting you.
  • Get outside. Research continues to show that there are many mental and physical benefits of practicing mindfulness in nature.

Resources for Mindfulness

1. Here are some resources for audio recordings of guided relaxations:

2. A brief mindfulness activity that you can do involves your five senses.

Focus on your five senses, one at a time. Try to mindfully experience each sense as you focus on it.

    • Look: 5 things you can see
    • Feel: 4 things you can touch
    • Listen: 3 things you can hear
    • Smell: 2 things you can smell
    • Taste: 1 thing you can taste

Today’s Take-Away: The point of practicing mindfulness is to make it a habit or routine as part of a healthy lifestyle. Use the ideas and resources shared here to make mindfulness part of your day. Take it a step further and get others to join you – build in mindfulness practices as a regular part of your 4-H club meetings or other gatherings.

Yours in Health,

Signature

Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Resource: Banks, B., & Bercaw, S. (2018). Get Experience in Mindfulness: An Awareness and Acceptance Stress Management Program for Ages 10 & Up. University of Delaware.

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 they may work against you in the long run. They can have a 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,

Signature

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. http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/perch/resources/what-is-emotion-regulationsinfo-brief.pdf

New Year, New Habit!

Create habits

New Year, New Habits!

It can be difficult to discuss January without using the word new – new year, new start, New Year’s resolution, and sometimes even a new waist size after indulging in one-too-many holiday treats! No matter the ‘new’ you envision, ideas of starting a new habit – practicing mindfulness, calling family more often, or embracing gratitude  – run through our minds at year’s open. But what is a habit, really? It can be tempting for us to make habit building complicated. However, researchers remind us that habits can be simple, automatic responses to simple environmental cues. So, let’s give our lofty New Year’s resolutions a break for a moment, and explore what we really need to know about setting sustainable habit goals this year.

I am sure many of us can think of one or two bits of advice about habit formation we’ve heard over the years. Maybe, like me, you have been told that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. In fact, a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology concluded that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days – 66 days on average – to build a solid habit. Now, before you become completely overwhelmed by the idea of potentially waiting more than 8 months to make that morning walk a routine, the same study suggests that many factors play a role in determining how fast habits are formed and how strong those habits will be.

The good news – success is simplicity and it starts with what you can control. Studies show that having a realistic plan and repeating simple behaviors within the same or similar settings, every day, has a major effect on reducing the time it takes to form and sustain a new habit! Additionally, the Learning Center at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill recommends that gathering social support from friends or family, as well as building in a reward for following a new routine, further contributes to success.

Well, what does all this mean? In short, consider starting with a simple, achievable act you can repeat every day in the same space, at roughly the time. If your New Year’s resolution is to form a new habit of starting every day with yoga, try the following:

  • Begin your first 1 to 3 weeks by waking up at the same time each day, sitting where you plan to do yoga, and taking a few mindful breaths.
  • Ask a family member or a friend to support you by holding you accountable. (Holding you accountable is different from judging you; we talk about judgment in our “Getting Started in Mindfulness” post earlier this week. Taking part in the Healthy Body Healthy Mind SPIN Club is another way to hold yourself accountable).
  • When this simpler habit has been built, then add some yoga poses to your morning process.
  • Promise yourself the reward of a special treat after each week that you follow your routine.

Follow these steps and you might just build that new habit in as little as 18 days!  But don’t be discouraged if it takes longer. If you miss a day, just pick up where you left off.

Your take-away for today: Turn that New Year’s resolution into a simple habit and make a realistic plan for change. Lucky for you, we have just the tool to get you started! Download this Hunt 4-Health card to start your journey toward healthy habits (the embedded links will take you to an activity; they’re also listed on the back of the card). Grab friends or family and commit to completing the entire card together. Be sure to set up a reward to enjoy when you complete several challenges. The fun of completing the challenges may itself become the reward. Who knows, you might form a new healthy habit!

To take it a step further, follow this link to check out even more healthy offerings on the Ohio 4-H Mental Health Month website. Habit formation is different for everyone, so get creative and make it fun! Your ‘Hunt 4-Health’ starts right now!

Tyler Kessler, 4-H Educator, Adventure Central

Getting Started in Mindfulness

hands hold mug of tea

        Getting Started in Mindfulness

Mindfulness has become a popular term. But what exactly is it? Mindfulness is the ongoing process of paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, and experiences in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judging. How can you get started in mindfulness?

To start, let’s break down this definition:

  • On purpose – Doing something on purpose, or being intentional, means you don’t leave it to chance. You make it a priority to use mindfulness techniques and to go about your day in a mindful manner.
  • In the present moment – Often we are worried about things that happened in the past or might happen in the future. This worry overtakes us to the point where we can’t focus on the present. Being mindful means that we focus on what we are experiencing in the here and now. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t think ahead and plan, because that’s important too.
  • Without judging – Sometimes we are so hard on ourselves. We get down on ourselves for not doing better and then feel like a failure. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t “make the best better” and try to improve our skills. It means we need to be kind to ourselves, because these negative thoughts can actually have the opposite effect – we give up trying to do better. Without judging also applies to how we approach others.

We are also often quick to judge others and their motives. I try (but don’t always succeed) to give people the benefit of the doubt, and hope that people will extend that same consideration to me when I’m having a bad day. I was reminded of this one time on an airplane trip a few years ago. The woman next to me had the air blasting and was fanning herself. I did an internal eyeroll and thought to myself, “This is going to be a long flight.” As we were nearing the end of the trip, we struck up a conversation. It turned out she had been flying all day and was on her way to a funeral of a family member. Boy, did that put me in my place. You never know what someone else is dealing with that might explain their actions. At least I kept my thoughts to myself and didn’t say anything mean to her. It was a good reminder to withhold my judgment. And if there is anything that 2020 taught us, it’s to approach life with a healthy dose of grace.

            Watch: Everyday Mindfulness

Today’s Take-Away: This short video explains what everyday mindfulness is, and how being aware of what is going on around you and inside of you can help make life more enjoyable and less stressful.

Why mindfulness? Research shows that mindfulness can improve mental health and well-being. When young people learn and practice techniques for mindfulness, it can help them pay attention, which can lead to better school performance. It can also reduce stress levels.

As Patrice Powers-Barker, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, reminds us in her Introduction to Mindfulness fact sheet, the purpose of practicing mindfulness exercises on a regular basis is not necessarily to get better at it. The goal of the practice is to make mindfulness a habit or routine as part of a healthy lifestyle. As the 4-H slogan says, we “learn by doing.” As with anything new, it can take a while for these techniques to seem natural and become part of your routine.

To Learn More…

Mindfulness is a way to bring connection between the brain, mind, body, and behavior. In yesterday’s post, I shared the upcoming Healthy Body Healthy Mind SPIN Club. The activities in this SPIN Club, such as yoga and breathing exercises, will help you learn some mindfulness techniques. This SPIN club is a great place to start your mindfulness practice.

Extension Educators Shannon Carter and Pamela Montgomery will be offering a program next week to introduce teen volunteers, adult volunteers, and 4-H parents to the concept of mindfulness. The Mindful Wellness program will be held on January 12 from 5:30-6:30pm. This one-time program is designed to equip healthy people with practices and skills to strengthen the mind and body connection and promote holistic health and wellness across the lifespan.

  • When: January 12 from 5:30-6:30pm
  • Where: Zoom (link sent after registering)
  • Who: Designed for adult volunteers, teen volunteers, and 4-H parents
  • What: Extension Educators Shannon Carter and Pamela Montgomery will lead this session.
  • Cost: It’s free to participate.
  • Register here.

It’s never too early to encourage the practice of mindfulness. In her Cloverbud Connections article, Aubry Fowler, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development, Fairfield County, shares some ideas for working with Cloverbuds (ages 5 to 8).

We’ll revisit the topic of mindfulness as part of Ohio 4-H’s Mental Health Month. Come back for more information and ideas!

Yours in Health,

Signature

Daily Dose- What is Self-Care?

Have you felt yourself being more emotional lately? Maybe it is harder to decide what you want to do, or you are feeling “on edge?” According to The Cleveland Clinic these can be signs of stress. The feelings that we get when things in our life are uncertain can add to our stress. There are many ways you can help deal with these feelings, but one of my favorites is to take some time for self-care.

Self-care is making sure we pay attention to our own well-being (whether that be mental, emotional, or physical). It is taking some time to purposefully do things that make you feel good about yourself. Although this sounds simple, it is often something we overlook.

Self-care is not being selfish. If you have ever flown on a plane, you’ve heard the flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else. Self-care is your oxygen mask. And it is especially important in these times of uncertainty.

Here are some suggestions about how to practice self-care.

  1. Find ways to express how you feel, especially if you don’t know what it is you are feeling. Talk to a friend or trusted adult.
  2. Make time for low-stress activities to do by yourself. One such activity I like is coloring or doing craft projects.
  3. Listen to your favorite music.
  4. Get outside. Take a walk. Bring your pet along if you have one!
  5. Do a puzzle.
  6. Have a routine (brush your teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast).

The current challenging times mean that self-care is more important than ever. Practicing good self-care can help you tackle life’s challenges. But self-care isn’t only for times of stress. Regular self-care is good for you when times are good. It can help you be more resilient to face new challenges.

Today’s Journal allows you to write in some ideas you may have about self-care for yourself! Maybe it is something you do by yourself, or something that you decide to do with your family at home. Be creative when you can’t get together face-to-face – you can even do virtual self-care sessions with your friends and family.

Download Today’s Journal

In Great Love,

Daily Dose- 4-H Meeting Mad Lib!

Today is National Tell a Story day! Stories come from all places including friends, families, experiences, or even from our imagination. A story can be a way to share history with others, connect to family members, or even entertain us.

For National Tell a Story day I decided to celebrate with a story where you get to decide some of the fun details of our story. Today’s story is about our first meeting back face-to-face! I am using a style called mad lib which gives a template for another person to fill in the blanks. The trick is, you fill in the blanks before you see the story!

I had a blast developing this template and testing it on my family. I hope you will enjoy (and share yours) as well!

Mad Libs originated in 1953. You can read the full history of them here!

Today’s Journal – Tell a Story

 

 

 

Daily Dose- Design a Masterpiece

A noted quote from Albert Einstein reads: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Einstein didn’t mean that knowledge wasn’t important, but rather that imagination helps us create knowledge. When people let their imagination go and think about “what if…,” new ideas follow. Everyday objects that we take for granted were once ideas that first existed in someone’s mind.

Imagination is related to creativity, and creativity to art. If you are inspired to explore your imagination through art, check out the “Getting Started in Art” is a perfect stay-at-home 4-H project that is now available as a PDF. Join Heather for an introductory lesson here:

 

Today focus on how using your imagination can lighten your mood! Did you know drawing can strengthen your creativity, improve your memory, and help you de-stress? Find your inner artist today and comment down below with your masterpiece you have made!

Draw a picture, paste in clippings from the paper, magazines, or scrapbooking materials you may have! Show us your masterpiece on social media at the Ohio 4-H Healthy Living Facebook page!

PDF Link to Today’s Journal Can be Found Here!

The first picture is from one of our Ohio 4-H Health Heroes Nat! She came up with this idea to help cheer everyone up! Below are more Franklin County 4-H’ers showing off their masterpieces as well! Post credit to Natalia Kresic, Mahoning County 4-H member and Ohio 4-H Health Hero, Heather Gottke, and Theresa Ferrari.

 

 

 

 

Daily Dose- Create Your Own Playlist

What do you think of when you think of the word mindfulness? Mindfulness is defined by Merriam-Webster as “… the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” That’s a lot to digest, so let’s break it down. Simply put, being mindful means being aware and paying attention. When we are nonjudgmental, it means that we are accepting of what is, without thinking of it as good or bad – it just is. It means taking a pause to take stock of our thoughts, feelings, and what is going on around us.

Being more aware can help us appreciate what is going on around us now. Have you heard the expression “taking time to stop and smell the roses?” Well, that’s what mindfulness is all about! The stream of information that we have running through our heads is constant and can cause a lot of stress. When you become aware that you may need an “attitude adjustment, how can you shift your thoughts in a more positive direction? What are you doing to help yourself to be in the moment and keep from being overwhelmed?

I decided to do today’s 4-H journal activity because of my love of music and its ability to transform my mood, reset my attitude, and soothe me. I played instruments all through high school and into college. I find joy in all sorts of music and the artists who create it. Allow yourself to think about what music makes you happy right now. What do you enjoy? What brings you great joy?

Some of my favorite songs right now include:

  • “Be a Light” by Thomas Rhett, Keith Urban, Reba McEntire, Chris Tomlin, and Hillary Scott
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake
  • “Try Everything” by Shakira
  • “Good Morning” by Mandisa and Toby Mac

Today’s 4-H journal activity is to create your own music playlist of songs that you enjoy right now. Write down the name of the song and the artist. You can doodle pictures or music notes to your page and decorate it as you choose!

We’ll share more ideas about mindfulness in future posts! In the meantime, you can read more about mindfulness here.

Download PDF Here

Enjoy!