Editor’s Note: This story is Part 1 of a 2-part series recapping our favorite health tips from 2022. Part 2 focuses on easy steps for good health.
As the year comes to a close, give yourself the gift of renewed mental health with these suggestions from local providers.
Embrace mental health as part of your overall well-being
Impacts of the pandemic have been far-reaching, including to mental health.
“The destigmatizing of mental health over the past few decades took a giant leap the past few years as nearly every American was somehow affected by COVID-19,” said Justin Ross, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of the Workplace Wellbeing Program at UCHealth. “We need to change the conversation away from ‘having mental health problems’ to one that includes mental health being a collection of human experiences that we can learn from and improve.”
To confront stress, anxiety and burnout, Ross recommends strategies such as acknowledging sadness and loss; making connections, whether they’re with nature, new hobbies or community; managing expectations; and seeking professional help when needed.
“Mental health is something we all have. It’s how you feel, it’s how you think, it’s how you relate to others,” Ross said. “Mental health does not mean something is wrong with you.”
Prevent substance abuse with coping skills
Substance abuse often starts with stress.
“Often, the problems in our life can’t be resolved or fixed, and that lack of control can leave us feeling confused, disoriented and stuck,” said Amy Goodwin, a licensed professional counselor and behavioral health counselor with UCHealth Behavioral Health Clinic in Steamboat Springs. “Substances can give us the illusion that we are relieving our stress or distress without altering or evolving our behavior.”
Building strong coping skills can help people deal with stress without substances. Goodwin recommends slowing down with activities such as yoga and meditation to calm the nervous system; being aware of your thought patterns; connecting regularly with other people; eating healthfully; and exercising regularly.
“Exercise helps rid our body of stress hormones and increases the production of positive chemicals in our brain, thus allowing us to ‘reset’ our central nervous system,” said Goodwin.
Don’t forget to embrace creativity.
“Dance, make music, play, create, explore, love,” Goodwin said. “There are a lot of ways to remind your brain and yourself that your life is more than just a series of problems to be managed.”
Encourage positive self-image in kids
Since the pandemic, providers have seen an increase in anxiety, depression and eating disorders as adolescents and teens try to gain a sense of order in a world where they see themselves having little control.
These challenges can be especially hard through the middle school years.
“This is such a unique time in their lives,” said Sheila Fountain, a pediatrician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “Their bodies are changing, and they just don’t see themselves as good enough. Insecurities affect boys and girls and can be related to weight, shape, height, hair and skin.”
To help children through, Fountain recommends staying attuned to a child’s whole health, including mental, spiritual and physical health.
Encourage healthy habits while recognizing it can be intimidating for children to grow up in an area filled with world-class athletes.
“Instead of putting attention on physical abilities, talk about work ethic, commitment, perseverance,” said Fountain. “And it doesn’t have to be sports – it can be band, dance, robotics, a foreign language, anything that a child enjoys and makes them feel good about themself.”
Limit time on screens, especially social media, which inundates children with unrealistic expectations and unhealthy role models that are impossible, and even dangerous, to live up to. And note that real beauty comes from practicing kindness and being genuine.
“Let’s take the focus off looks and put it on being healthy and feeling comfortable with who you are,” said Fountain. “We want kids to say, ‘I am worthy, I am good enough,’ and celebrate differences.”
Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.