In this Issue... - We Return to Community after Social Distancing - We Encourage Body Acceptance - We Feel the Benefits of Sunshine - We Journal for Self Care
Social Anxiety after Social Distancing
As vaccination rates increase, businesses and restaurants re-open, families and friends reconnect, and the world begins to look more like it did a couple of years ago, we are finding the pandemic has transformed the way we live and learn. After more than a year of social distancing and acclimating to numerous changes including virtual learning, online socializing and home-based work, it's understandable that society reopening may lead to an increase in social anxiety.
It's normal to feel nervous in some social situations. With social anxiety, everyday interactions cause significant distress, self-consciousness and embarrassment. It can even impact the way you think about yourself, your opportunities, others, the world, the future, the past, the present, and the meaning of your life.
While feeling fearful of new situations, experiencing anxious thoughts about interacting with others, or worry about embarrassing yourself in public might be a new experience for many, for those who struggled with social anxiety before the pandemic, you might feel better understood. Whether this is a new or old feeling, re-integration and increased social interaction will be an adjustment for everyone.
Here are some tips to help you manage social anxiety while returning to a more social life:
Take it slow. Gradually reintroduce new activities. Start with what feels easiest first and work your way up.
Set priorities in your life. You can reduce anxiety by carefully managing your time and energy with people and activities you enjoy.
Reach out to friends you've lost touch with over the last year. The fear of rejection might make you hesitant, but chances are, they'll be happy to hear from you. It feels great when a friend checks in and asks for a life update. Even so, simply making the effort is often more important than what you say.
Evaluate your friendships. Time for friends is always in limited supply, and if spending time with someone isn't good for your mental wellbeing, it's okay to break up with a friend.
Set boundaries for what you are comfortable with. Everyone's boundaries will be different. If you want to avoid physical contact, it's okay to keep physical distance, say no to hugs, and continue to wear a mask.
Practice self-care and relaxation techniques.
Talk about your concerns with a friend or someone you trust. Seek out therapy when you need it. You're not alone.
Every Body is a Beach Body: Tips for Body Acceptance this Summer
It's okay not to love our bodies all of the time. Body acceptance, or body neutrality, is about accepting our bodies as they are right now, even if we still have insecurities. Because of the unrealistic beauty standards that proliferate our society and the sky-high pressure to have the perfect summer body, accepting our bodies this Summer could be even more challenging. During the height of the pandemic, we all spent more time indoors and at home where many people experienced loneliness, stress, anxiety, depression and boredom. As a result many of us gained weight. However, weight gain is natural response to such unprecedented stress and nothing to be ashamed of.
Whatever perceived imperfections might get you down about your body, you can practice body acceptance:
Stop negative self-talk in its tracks, and replace it with positive affirmations. If you wouldn't say it to a friend, don't say it to yourself. This might be challenging at first, but keep practicing! Believing your self affirmations can take time and repetition.
Unfollow social media accounts that promote diet culture and unrealistic beauty standards.
If you are returning to an exercise routine for the first time in a while, be patient with yourself. You might not be as strong/fast/flexible/etc. as when you left off, but believe in yourself and enjoy the process of doing something good for your body.
Wear clothing that fits and feels comfortable. Acknowledge that it is okay to change sizes.
Appreciate what your body does for you more than how it looks.
Identify3 things you love about your body. It could be anything, even your elbow, freckles, or scars.
Here Comes the Sun: Mental Health Benefits of Sunshine
Oregonians don't see the sun for many months each year, so the summer sunshine is usually a welcome reprieve from the grey, wet winter. (As the Beatles say, "Here comes the sun. It feels like years since it's been here.") Research shows that sunlight can benefit our mental health in a number of ways.
Sunlight has been linked to serotonin, a chemical many antidepressants boost, and Vitamin D. Studies have found that on cloudy days serotonin levels tend to be lower, contributing to decreased mood, depression, and anxiety. However, on sunny days serotonin levels are higher, leading to greater feelings of calmness, focus, and satisfaction. Low levels of Vitamin D have also been linked to depression, and Vitamin D deficiency can cause lower levels of serotonin, which helps regulate our mood and sleep cycle. Exposure to sunlight, which our skin converts to Vitamin D, can help reduce symptoms of depression in those who are Vitamin D deficient.
Sunlight exposure can help regulate your sleep cycle by letting your body know what time it is. Darkness triggers your body to produce the hormone melatonin, which makes you sleepy. Getting sunlight exposure during the day and limiting screen time at night can help you get a better night's rest.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) refers to depressive episodes corresponding to changes in the seasons. Although people can experience SAD during the summer, it most often occurs during the winter. During the winter, days are shorter, the sky is cloudier, and the cold rain may keep people inside. Changes in weather may lead to changes in mood, increased lethargy, and hopelessness. Less sun exposure is believed to contribute to occurrences of SAD. Getting sunlight when you can and using light box for a few minutes each day when the skies are clouded over may help people with SAD boost their mood.
In addition to SAD, research has shown that rates of eating disorder occurrences also rise during the winter. This suggests that Vitamin D, melatonin, and serotonin may play a role in the increase of disordered eating behaviors. Spending more time outdoors and exposure to sunlight can help people struggling with eating disorders to lift their mood and manage symptoms.
Fortunately, you can receive the benefits of sunlight with as little as 5 to 15 minutes of exposure. If you are going to be outside in the sun for longer, you should wear sunscreen to protect your skin, and make sure to stay hydrated when it is hot.
Journaling for Self Care
Writing regularly in a journal can be a simple, accessible tool for self-care. Journaling provides us an opportunity to sit with our emotions and release them, reframe our thoughts, identify patterns, and prioritize self-care and our mental health. You can work with whatever materials you have available, like a composition book or printer paper, and take just 5 minutes out of the day to develop a journaling habit. Be honest with yourself - no one else will be reading your journal - and be kind to yourself. You can write about anything you want, but if you are feeling stuck, here are some prompts to help get you started:
Write one paragraph about what made you happy today.
What self-care activity have you always been curious about trying?
What do you wish others knew about you?
What do you need right now?
Spring News, May 2021
In This Issue - We Raise Awareness for Mental Health Month - We Redirect Negative Thoughts - We Quiet The Mind - We Explore Self-Expression Through Creative Writing
Each year millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. During May, we join the national movement to raise awareness about mental health and promote a positive approach to mental health and well being. This a time for making choices and taking inspired action to fight stigma, provide support, educate ourselves and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness, and their families.
If you are interested in tools or activities to get involved and improve mental health, Mental Health America offers education, tools, screenings, podcasts, blogs, policy and more. You may also consider the following podcasts for support and sharing:
Many people experience negative thoughts for one reason or another. We beat ourselves up for our slightest failing, get stuck in a loop of worry, talk ourselves out of sensible risks, or get wrapped in a blanket of shame. It is, however, when this negative noise becomes constant and pervasive that people find this behavior to be particularly detrimental to their mental health and wellbeing. Some people find the following techniques can help them to redirect those negative thoughts into a more productive image of oneself.
Remind yourself what you like about yourself. Come up with a list of things that you like about yourself, be them big or small. If you feel like it would be helpful or fun, keep it in a journal. Continue to add onto your list as you think about it over the next days, weeks and months. Even if your initial list is short, as time goes on it will continue to grow and grow.
Seek out positive thoughts. It can be as simple as picking out a few things from your day that you liked, even if they were small, or even a few objects you like around your house.
Create positive reframes. Try replacing thoughts like, ‘I can’t do this,’ or ‘I’m not good enough,’ with ‘I am trying my best,’ or ‘I will give it my all.’ Think about the times you use the word "never" or "always" and ask yourself if that's really true? Or, if it's more like "sometimes" that's true.
Avoid thought stopping. Thought stopping is the process in which a person sits down and tries to identify negative thoughts so that they can nip them in the bud. The problem with this is that it often leads to dwelling on those negative thoughts about oneself. Instead focus on what is positive rather than stopping the negative.
Quiet The Mind
When caught in a cycle of anxious thoughts and feelings sometimes it can be helpful to practice quieting your mind to lift fears and worries. Quieting your mind does not mean stopping to think at all, it means reducing the chatter in your head. When you can quiet your mind, your ability to focus improves, you can think more clearly, and your awareness expands.
The act of quieting the mind and relaxing your thoughts can take different forms depending on what you are looking for, what you are comfortable with, and what your worldview is.
For some people, meditation is a tried-and-true practice for quieting fear-based thoughts, but there are other methods that are equally effective. For some people quieting the mind looks like relaxed breathing with slow, deep, rhythmic breaths. Others practice progressive muscle relaxation, a practice where you work your way through your own body by focusing mentally and physically on different limbs, tensing your muscles to the rhythm of your breaths before moving on to another part of their body. Other options to quiet the mind might include mindfulness assisted with guided imagery, where videos can be readily found online. Other individuals who perhaps find different religious practices to be beneficial to their mental and spiritual health may practice prayer.
This only goes to show how people can practice different methods with different meanings to them and find similar benefits when it comes to quieting the mind. It can be useful to try multiple techniques and perhaps give one your own personal flair to see what works best for you.
Regardless of which practice is right for you, look for a quiet place without too many distractions, perhaps a quiet room or in nature if that is your preference.
Explore Creative Writing
Express Yourself With Creative Writing Creative writing offers a unique opportunity to foster self-expression, build confidence, clarify thoughts, and bolster empathy and communication skills. Research published in January 2018 in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment linked this type of writing to improved emotional and mental health. You don’t have to be a pro to give it a try — just get out a notebook or open up a Word document and explore the following prompts:
1. Write a letter to yourself highlighting your strengths - snail mail it to yourself. 2. Imagine how you would introduce yourself to a stranger, now write that same introduction from the perspective of your closest friend. 3. When I'm in physical or emotional pain, the kindest words I can offer myself are...
Winter News, Jan. 2021
In This Issue - We Celebrate Black History - We Acknowledge Loneliness - We Honor Self-Compassion - We Encourage Mindfulness
Celebrate Black History
Throughout history and to this day, Black men and women from around the world have made extraordinary contributions to our societies. This month we shared in our newsletter a few profiles, resources and activities that inspired us:
Social Justice Informed Mental Health Literacy (SJM)
Mental health literacy is important across all communities. It is the ability to understand mental health problems and their treatments, decrease stigma and increase help-seeking behaviors that enable us all to obtain and maintain positive mental health. However, with traditional mental health literacy, Black history is left out of the conversation. With histories, and often still current realities, that include racism, oppression, isolation and desolation, barriers including stigma, lack of representation, lack of transportation, healthcare costs, and community beliefs can limit access, participation and equity. These barriers must be acknowledged and addressed in order for real healing to begin.
If you are looking for a way to participate in mental health literacy, here are a few social justice principles that any person can consider:
- Reflect on your own beliefs and experiences. Look at how they were created and where there is room to grow. - Practice compassion and empathy. - Validate the history of harm in Black communities. - Acknowledge the resilience of past and present Black communities. - Listen to concerns and advocate for changes to Black mental healthcare. - Advocate for more accessible mental healthcare for Black communities. - Get involved in other social justice movements with Black communities such as police brutality, gentrification, or criminal justice reform to name a few.
Feeling Lonely This Month? You Are Not Alone. Feeling melancholy or down around this time of year is common and completely normal. Longer winter months and Valentine's Day "expectations" can lead to risks of social isolation and feeling lonely — whether or not we’re living through a global pandemic.
While there are various ways you can reduce loneliness through connecting with others (and you may be intimately familiar with your gaming console, zoom, text apps, and the good old fashioned cell phone), consider the relationship you have with you. This relationship may be the most important to feeling less alone.
Set aside a period of time each day to check in with yourself. You could meditate, journal, practice yoga, create a gratitude list or host your own dance party. This activity can be done in as little as five minutes, but it’s helpful to do it every day so it becomes a healthy habit.
When it comes to Valentine’s Day, treat it as a day to express gratitude, learn something new, pamper yourself, or maybe all of the above. Order dinner in, plan a walk, snuggle with your kitty, read a book, bake cookies, teach yourself a new skill (knitting?), or take an online class.
Even if you feel lonely, you don't have to be alone in your actions. Studies have shown that acts of gratitude can help us feel more positive and have stronger relationships. Consider buying the person in line behind you at Starbucks a coffee, smile at the grocery store clerk, or reach out to a loved one for a little support. If your feelings of loneliness don’t go away or feel unbearable, or if you are feeling anxious or depressed, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love Yourself a little More this Month: A Few Tips for Improving Self-Confidence February is often consider the month of love, yet we are not always loving or compassionate toward ourselves. Below are a few acts of self-efficacy (trusting your own capacity for judgment, and belief in your own abilities and personal qualities) you can take to improve self-confidence and increase self-love.
Practice self-compassion. Remember that no human is perfect. Some people hold themselves to higher standards than they do other people, forgetting that they too can and will make mistakes. A part of this is acknowledging your mistakes and failures and remembering your capacity to forgive yourself for them as you do other people's mistakes.
Limit how often you judge yourself. Regulate how long you either think about your perceived negative traits or even actively put yourself down mentally or verbally. Self improvement can be a wonderful thing, though it can be detrimental to your self-confidence to only focus on your faults instead of prioritizing taking steps to avoid repeating behaviors you do not like.
Enter a cycle of self-care. Taking risks to improve your situation can come from increased self-confidence. An increased self-confidence can also lead to taking risks to improve your situation. If you are not already in this cycle, take steps to put yourself into it by actively caring for yourself.
Scan Your Body for Calm A body scan is a technique that focuses on different parts of your body, where you move your attention progressively from head to toe (or toe to head) and brings your awareness into your physical sensations. A 2-3 minute body scan can help you: