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  • November 03, 2021

    By Heather Hartman-Hall, PhD, Licensed Psychologist

    If you've ever flown on a plane, you've heard a flight attendant instruct everyone to put their oxygen masks on first before helping others, in the event of an emergency. This safety spiel isn't to encourage a "save yourself" mentality. You can do more good for others if you're breathing oxygen in a depressurized cabin than if you are incapacitated because you failed to put your mask on. In other words, if you always assist others first, you will quickly lose your ability to take care of yourself and those around you.

    However, if you’re a healthcare worker, self-care alone may not be enough to combat burnout. As a doctor or nurse, you have the weighty responsibility of caring for people in their most vulnerable state, and it’s a job that requires attention 24/7. Working in a high-stakes environment like a hospital can take a toll on your body and mind, even if you’re practicing healthy habits to prioritize your wellness. To achieve wellness in the healthcare setting, we need to care for ourselves, care for each other, and care for our organization at large through resources and programs designed to meet the needs of our employees.

    You can't take care of others if you aren't cared for.

    The demands in healthcare have never been higher than during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, burnout among healthcare providers, nurses, and staff is at an all-time high, too. Unfortunately, chronically stressed people rarely perform their best, which means that if you aren't prioritizing your wellness, it's affecting those around you, including patients. Likewise, if you don’t have the social or organizational support necessary to combat stress, it will be more difficult to get through challenging times.

     

    You can’t take care of others if you aren’t cared for. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, Dr. Hartman-Hall shares how prioritizing your physical and #MentalHealth enables you to help more people: https://bit.ly/3wk9Pxx.
    Click to Tweet
     

    The risks of neglecting your well-being.

    When you put everyone else's needs above your own, you put yourself at risk for physical and mental health issues that will ultimately get in the way of your ability to be there for others. If you don't prioritize wellness for yourself first, you're more likely to experience burnout, stress, fatigue, and overwhelm which affects your relationships both at home and at work.

    Research shows that a chronically stressed brain lowers our cognitive abilities and empathy—two important dimensions of delivering compassionate, quality health care. Stress also leads to toxic emotions, like envy and resentment, which affect our ability to build positive relationships necessary for working in a team environment. As a result, stress in the workplace can lead to more conflict and turnover.  

    When caregivers are at their best, they have a greater capacity to give their time and energy to others.

    When caregivers feel cared for, they feel better and have more bandwidth to care for others. Healthy employees capitalize on opportunities to learn and grow, which opens doors for new roles and responsibilities. Rather than just trying to "make it through," employees who are physically and mentally healthy thrive in the workplace, and everyone around them benefits. Co-workers can more effectively work together with less conflict and a better sense of fulfillment. More importantly, they’re able to be more attentive and careful both individually and collectively as a team, which leads to better, safer patient care.

    What does it look like to prioritize the physical and mental health of caregivers?

    If your focus is often on the needs of everyone around you, it's time to start checking in with yourself to see how you're doing. Everyone needs something different to feel their best. For some, a daily routine or habit before work, such as exercise, helps prepare them mentally for the day. Other individuals might be in a circumstance or mental state that would benefit from therapy.

    Self-care is a buzzword these days, but wellness encompasses more than just making time for healthy habits like getting adequate sleep and eating nutritious foods. Wellness considers cognitive, financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual factors that help you to feel your best. Social factors are also critical, which is why it’s important to work somewhere you feel cared for both by your colleagues and your organization at large.

    Practicing gratitude as self-care.

    One of the best things you can do for your wellness is the simple practice of living with an “attitude of gratitude” which can transform your physical and mental stateand those around you. Gratitude has long-lasting benefits for your health, and neuroscience experts link gratitude to social bonding, reward, and stress relief structures in the brain. Other studies cement these findings, proving that being thankful can also lead to less depression, more sleep, and better overall health.

    The impact of gratitude on our ability to care for one another.

    Expressing gratitude can make us happier and healthier, and when we’re more positive people, it benefits those around us, too. When we show gratitude to each other, it strengthens our ties to one another. Studies show that when we have better social support systems, we can more effectively combat stress and depression. With less work-related stress and more optimism, we’re more likely to find value in our work. This sense of purpose is a powerful antidote to caregiver burnout and turnover


    Expressions of gratitude don’t have to be complicated or costly. Whether you jot your blessings in a journal or you deliver an unexpected “thank you” to a doctor or nurse in person, the practice of gratitude can improve your overall well-being. A philanthropic investment in honor of a caregiver or care experience can also go a long way in demonstrating gratitude for a healthcare worker.


    Prioritizing caregiver wellness at the organizational level.

    Unfortunately, all the self-care in the world can’t completely eliminate burnout and stress in the healthcare setting. Unprecedented challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, make it harder for healthcare workers to attend to their own needs. That’s why it’s important that healthcare organizations make it a priority to support their employees. 

    At MedStar Health, we're working hard to create a culture that acknowledges when people need help and responds by extending services to improve their wellbeing. We offer a variety of wellness programs and resources designed to help meet the professional and personal needs of our employees. From wellness educational materials and free mental health resources to subsidized child care and in-person wellness rounds, we’re dedicated to giving our providers and associates the tools they need to thrive. 

    Prioritizing your health and wellness means that you feel supported by those around you. When we care for each other and have organizational resources to help us achieve wellness, we’re more likely to find our work meaningful and therefore have enough in our tank to give to others.


    Are you grateful for a healthcare worker at MedStar Health who has made a difference in your life or a loved one’s life?

    Let them know today.

    Express Your Gratitude.

All Blogs

  • November 03, 2021

    By Heather Hartman-Hall, PhD, Licensed Psychologist

    If you've ever flown on a plane, you've heard a flight attendant instruct everyone to put their oxygen masks on first before helping others, in the event of an emergency. This safety spiel isn't to encourage a "save yourself" mentality. You can do more good for others if you're breathing oxygen in a depressurized cabin than if you are incapacitated because you failed to put your mask on. In other words, if you always assist others first, you will quickly lose your ability to take care of yourself and those around you.

    However, if you’re a healthcare worker, self-care alone may not be enough to combat burnout. As a doctor or nurse, you have the weighty responsibility of caring for people in their most vulnerable state, and it’s a job that requires attention 24/7. Working in a high-stakes environment like a hospital can take a toll on your body and mind, even if you’re practicing healthy habits to prioritize your wellness. To achieve wellness in the healthcare setting, we need to care for ourselves, care for each other, and care for our organization at large through resources and programs designed to meet the needs of our employees.

    You can't take care of others if you aren't cared for.

    The demands in healthcare have never been higher than during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, burnout among healthcare providers, nurses, and staff is at an all-time high, too. Unfortunately, chronically stressed people rarely perform their best, which means that if you aren't prioritizing your wellness, it's affecting those around you, including patients. Likewise, if you don’t have the social or organizational support necessary to combat stress, it will be more difficult to get through challenging times.

     

    You can’t take care of others if you aren’t cared for. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, Dr. Hartman-Hall shares how prioritizing your physical and #MentalHealth enables you to help more people: https://bit.ly/3wk9Pxx.
    Click to Tweet
     

    The risks of neglecting your well-being.

    When you put everyone else's needs above your own, you put yourself at risk for physical and mental health issues that will ultimately get in the way of your ability to be there for others. If you don't prioritize wellness for yourself first, you're more likely to experience burnout, stress, fatigue, and overwhelm which affects your relationships both at home and at work.

    Research shows that a chronically stressed brain lowers our cognitive abilities and empathy—two important dimensions of delivering compassionate, quality health care. Stress also leads to toxic emotions, like envy and resentment, which affect our ability to build positive relationships necessary for working in a team environment. As a result, stress in the workplace can lead to more conflict and turnover.  

    When caregivers are at their best, they have a greater capacity to give their time and energy to others.

    When caregivers feel cared for, they feel better and have more bandwidth to care for others. Healthy employees capitalize on opportunities to learn and grow, which opens doors for new roles and responsibilities. Rather than just trying to "make it through," employees who are physically and mentally healthy thrive in the workplace, and everyone around them benefits. Co-workers can more effectively work together with less conflict and a better sense of fulfillment. More importantly, they’re able to be more attentive and careful both individually and collectively as a team, which leads to better, safer patient care.

    What does it look like to prioritize the physical and mental health of caregivers?

    If your focus is often on the needs of everyone around you, it's time to start checking in with yourself to see how you're doing. Everyone needs something different to feel their best. For some, a daily routine or habit before work, such as exercise, helps prepare them mentally for the day. Other individuals might be in a circumstance or mental state that would benefit from therapy.

    Self-care is a buzzword these days, but wellness encompasses more than just making time for healthy habits like getting adequate sleep and eating nutritious foods. Wellness considers cognitive, financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual factors that help you to feel your best. Social factors are also critical, which is why it’s important to work somewhere you feel cared for both by your colleagues and your organization at large.

    Practicing gratitude as self-care.

    One of the best things you can do for your wellness is the simple practice of living with an “attitude of gratitude” which can transform your physical and mental stateand those around you. Gratitude has long-lasting benefits for your health, and neuroscience experts link gratitude to social bonding, reward, and stress relief structures in the brain. Other studies cement these findings, proving that being thankful can also lead to less depression, more sleep, and better overall health.

    The impact of gratitude on our ability to care for one another.

    Expressing gratitude can make us happier and healthier, and when we’re more positive people, it benefits those around us, too. When we show gratitude to each other, it strengthens our ties to one another. Studies show that when we have better social support systems, we can more effectively combat stress and depression. With less work-related stress and more optimism, we’re more likely to find value in our work. This sense of purpose is a powerful antidote to caregiver burnout and turnover


    Expressions of gratitude don’t have to be complicated or costly. Whether you jot your blessings in a journal or you deliver an unexpected “thank you” to a doctor or nurse in person, the practice of gratitude can improve your overall well-being. A philanthropic investment in honor of a caregiver or care experience can also go a long way in demonstrating gratitude for a healthcare worker.


    Prioritizing caregiver wellness at the organizational level.

    Unfortunately, all the self-care in the world can’t completely eliminate burnout and stress in the healthcare setting. Unprecedented challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, make it harder for healthcare workers to attend to their own needs. That’s why it’s important that healthcare organizations make it a priority to support their employees. 

    At MedStar Health, we're working hard to create a culture that acknowledges when people need help and responds by extending services to improve their wellbeing. We offer a variety of wellness programs and resources designed to help meet the professional and personal needs of our employees. From wellness educational materials and free mental health resources to subsidized child care and in-person wellness rounds, we’re dedicated to giving our providers and associates the tools they need to thrive. 

    Prioritizing your health and wellness means that you feel supported by those around you. When we care for each other and have organizational resources to help us achieve wellness, we’re more likely to find our work meaningful and therefore have enough in our tank to give to others.


    Are you grateful for a healthcare worker at MedStar Health who has made a difference in your life or a loved one’s life?

    Let them know today.

    Express Your Gratitude.

  • August 04, 2021

    By Andrew Radu, MD, MBE, Psychiatrist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center

    Did you know that most Olympic hopefuls begin intense training in their sport before their tenth birthday? After years of unrelenting pressure and stress related to athletic performance, it should come as no surprise that many elite athletes struggle with their mental health.

    Today, athletes are increasingly sharing their “humanness” with the public. They’re exposing mental health issues caused by a variety of factors. From toxic coaching and pressure from family, to scrutiny on social media. However, even athletes with strong support systems can suffer from feelings of depression and anxiety as they strive to meet their own expectations.

    It’s encouraging that elite athletes are finally stepping up to acknowledge their own mental health challenges. But calling them “brave” or “strong” may perpetuate the false narrative that individuals who are struggling in private with their mental health are weak or abnormal. It’s time to reframe how we prioritize our mental health, and that starts with elevating self-care in young athletes.

    It’s time to reframe how athletes address #MentalHealth. Sports psychiatrist Dr. Radu shares 3 ways to elevate self-care in young competitors on the #LiveWellHealthy blog: https://bit.ly/3A7x1jl.

    Click to Tweet


    Changing the narrative starts with prioritizing wellness above winning for young athletes.

    As a sports psychiatrist, I often see retired collegiate or professional athletes years after the demands and pressure of their sport has affected their psyche. While it’s never too late to seek help, there are preventative measures we can take to start showing young athletes that they are more than just winning machines.

    A true change in mental health and sports requires a shift towards ensuring we meet the developmental needs of young athletes, rather than teaching them that winning is everything. By preparing kids for the challenges they’re going to face early and equipping them to prioritize self-care above reaching a podium, we can help them support their holistic personal growth through participation in sports.

    1. Set achievable goals that go beyond “turning pro”.

    Many athletes define success for themselves as winning a particular event or title. And for the most elite, the pinnacle of achievement is becoming a professional athlete. Yet fewer than seven percent of high school athletes play their sport in college and fewer than two percent of college athletes go on to achieve professional status, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

    In that context, competitive sports have a tendency to create more losers than winners. That’s why it’s important for an individual athlete to set attainable goals and find meaning and value in the process, rather than the outcome. Setting goals that help you stay intrinsically motivated to get better or achieve mastery can ensure you feel successful, win or lose.

    I’ve found this to be true for myself. As a college fencing athlete, it wasn’t until my third and final appearance at the NCAA championships that I achieved my long time goal of becoming an All-American. I’d like to think that even if I had not accomplished my goal, I’d be able to look back on my career as an unmeasured success in terms of the life skills I attained and the relationships I forged.

    2. Evaluate your purpose for competing.

    Sports teach us a lot about camaraderie, the human spirit, and perseverance through adversity. But, often the intrinsic value of sports is overshadowed by the pressure to perform. If you start believing that your athletic achievements are all you have to offer the world, you can lose sight of what is good about you as a person. And, if you perform solely to meet someone else’s expectations, you might choose to push through a serious injury and cause long-term damage to your body.

    Some young athletes start out by having fun but continue pursuing competitive achievements. They may do this out of pressure from family members or coaches who are living vicariously through them. Kids can easily feel the weight of pressure when the focus shifts from friendly competition to a pre-professional atmosphere where they’re treated like adults before their brains are developmentally ready. If your participation in a sport is no longer fun, it’s time to reevaluate why you’re doing it in the first place.

    Do you enjoy competing? Are you having fun in your sport? Losing is often painful but can be transformative. Training and competing should bring you joy and meaning. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, consider stopping or taking a break before it begins to take a toll on your mental health.

    3. Keep the bigger picture in mind.

    We incorrectly assume that achieving a performance goal, like winning a national championship or an Olympic medal will bring happiness. But in reality, it often does the opposite. Many elite “winners” acknowledge that a feeling of emptiness can come even after accomplishing a lifelong goal.

    When playing a sport is all you know, it can be hard to figure out where you belong in the world after your career ends. Many elite collegiate and professional athletes struggle to adjust to “civilian” life after they’re no longer competing. I know this struggle firsthand, having transitioned abruptly from my collegiate fencing career to medical school. The world goes on as it did before, and many retired competitors will admit that something is lacking in their current life. Or, they look back on their career with regret at what they were unable to accomplish.

    Even if you do reach the pinnacle of your sport, you’ll still come face-to-face with the end of your elite athletic career at some point. In case you get injured or age or your abilities decline, what do you want your life to look like? Although many of us would like to stay young forever, all of our bodies will age eventually. Staying involved as a coach or a mentor can help ease the challenges of this difficult transition.

    One of the ways we can help athletes avoid struggles with mental health or burnout is to reframe the role sports should play in our lives while kids are still young. Instead of making a professional career the end-all-be-all measure of success for youth athletes, we can encourage kids to diversify their passions with non-competitive hobbies, like art or music. This helps shape well-rounded individuals who have a variety of interests that bring a sense of fulfillment in any stage of life.

    Shed the stigma of seeking help.

    Historically, mental health has been overlooked in athletes who are otherwise deemed to be exceptionally physically healthy. For professional athletes living in the public eye, many hesitate to seek care for mental health struggles for fear of judgment or perception of weakness.

    However, it is completely normal and valid to experience bouts of depression, anxiety, or burnout when competing in sports. Whether you feel self-induced pressure to perform or you’re bearing the burden of living up to the expectations of those around you, you don’t need to feel ashamed to acknowledge when it’s too much.

    Mental health challenges look different for everyone, but if you’re feeling hopeless, finding it hard to concentrate at school, or struggling with everyday activities, don’t be afraid to seek professional help from a psychologist or counselor.

    Mental toughness is a necessary quality of all high-performing athletes. But having a strong mind that’s capable of overcoming struggle doesn’t mean that you have to—or should—do it alone.


    Are you an athlete struggling to care for your mental health?
    Click below to learn more about MedStar Health’s behavioral health services.

    Behavioral Health

  • July 02, 2021

    By Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, MD

    After more than a year of COVID-19 social restrictions, the U.S. pivoted from “you’re safer at home” to “get vaccinated and get back in action!” within a matter of weeks.

    For some, the change was a major relief. But for many, the quick transition added fuel to a growing inferno of pandemic-related anxiety. Will I get sick if I return to the office? Is the vaccine safe? What if someone confronts me for wearing a mask?

    Whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in the middle, feeling a little rational anxiety—fact-based concerns—about “returning to normal” is expected and reasonable. However, excessive rational or irrational anxiety—unfounded worry—can prevent people from smoothly resuming social and career encounters that benchmark a healthy, happy life.

    When I see patients for behavioral health care, I ask how the pandemic has affected them. Answers vary based on personal factors, such as whether they:

    • Caught the virus or witnessed a loved one get sick
    • Are suffering from long-term COVID-19 side effects, such as depression, memory loss, or “brain fog”
    • Worked from home or in person with the public
    • Lost their job
    • Had their children at home 24/7
    • Homeschooled their kids
    • Took care of aging parents
    • Were safe at home during lockdown

    Even people who weren’t overtly affected personally by COVID-19 may be “languishing”—struggling to feel “normal” again after months of societal turmoil. The truth is, life is unlikely to revert to the “normal” we were used to, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    Despite the tragedies of the pandemic, some positive changes will hopefully continue, such as more choices for remote employment; increased telehealth options; and the precedence for staying home from work when we’re ill.

    Still, rational and irrational anxiety is causing roadblocks for many people who want and need to move on from the pandemic. The good news is that re-entry anxiety is manageable when you are ready to start healing. Let’s discuss the differences between rational and irrational anxiety and what support services are available.

    Post-pandemic #anxiety is a real and common problem. But help is available to manage the rational and irrational stressors of re-entering society. Elspeth C. Ritchie, MD, MPH, discusses tips to reclaim your quality of life: https://bit.ly/2UlFyQ9.

    Click to Tweet


    Rational vs. irrational anxiety.

    Rational anxiety is rooted in truth. For example, at the time of this writing, the U.S. is widely lifting domestic travel restrictions. Simultaneously, new virus variants are emerging and we’re hearing news of catastrophic viral spread in Brazil and India. It’s natural to worry whether our country is on the right track.

    Other rational pandemic-related fears may include:

    • Going in public after having COVID-19: If you or a loved one were affected by the virus, it’s rational that you might be more concerned about spreading the virus or catching it again.
    • Traveling by mass transit: Close proximity with others in an enclosed space can be a recipe for illness—a fact-based concern, regardless of the pandemic.

    Irrational anxiety is characterized by unsubstantiated worry or fear when there is clear evidence to the contrary. In daily life, this may include hesitance to enter a tall building or feeling terrified by an innocuous sight or sound.

    Irrational pandemic-related anxiety may include conspiracy theories, such as:

    • Obsessive worry that Americans are being microchipped through the vaccine: More than 80% of U.S. adults use smartphones, which already enable geolocation. The idea of going to such great lengths for tracking is as unreasonable as it is unlikely.
    • Fear of developing COVID-19 from the vaccine: This is scientifically impossible, since there is no actual virus, alive or dead, in any of the approved vaccines.

    Both rational and irrational anxiety can absorb one’s thoughts, making it tough to focus, perform daily tasks, or even leave home. However, both can be treated with a thoughtful approach to how we perceive and react to pandemic-related stressors.

    Related reading: How to spot depression and anxiety in teens.

    8 anxiety management strategies.

    Some patients with newly diagnosed or existing-but-worsened anxiety may benefit from medication. However, symptoms often can improve significantly with supportive, guided behavioral changes to help you regain control of anxious feelings.

    1. Control the controllables.

    A proven technique for managing anxiety is to focus on what you can control and minimizing what you can’t. Throughout the pandemic, many patients had trouble sleeping due to racing thoughts, such as an overwhelming fear that we were all going to die. I’ll admit, this worry crossed my mind at the beginning of the pandemic.

    Yes, all of us will die someday. That is not something we can control. But what we can control is how we handle the present. I typically recommend that patients work through an internal dialogue about what they can and can’t control. This can help you find positives on which to focus your thoughts.

    For me, my “controllable” was getting up, getting ready for work, and presenting my best self for my patients. What might “controllables” look like in your situation?

    2. Practice deep breathing.

    Take deep breaths through your nose and exhale out of your mouth. Repeat this 10 times. Focusing on manual breathing subconsciously refocuses your mind away from whatever was bothering you, if even for a moment. Deep breathing is a form of mindfulness, which is key to more sophisticated awareness practices, such as meditation.

    3. Set healthy boundaries.

    Several friends invited me to dinner a few weeks back. We’d all been vaccinated, but I requested that we all sit outside where it’s well-ventilated. I still preferred to wear my mask, and I decided in advance that I would leave early to avoid excessive hugging, handshakes, and crowds. What I told all my friends was that I had to be home at a certain time, and no one gave me a hard time about leaving before they did.

    It’s up to you what you are comfortable with. Conversely, we owe it to each other to be kind if someone isn’t as ready as you to unmask or hang out at an event or in a restaurant.

    Related reading: 6 signs you should be concerned about your mental health.

    4. Exercise outdoors.

    Moving and getting a change of scenery can help reset the mind and body. I enjoy walking around the koi ponds and flowers at MedStar Washington Hospital Center when I have a few moments between appointments.

    If you live in Southern Maryland, you may have easy access to enjoy outdoor activities such as fishing, crabbing, canoeing, and boating. In Baltimore, you might catch a baseball game. Find an activity you enjoy and take your mind off worrying for a while.

    5. Give back.

    It can be tough to make yourself participate when you have anxiety. However, volunteering can temporarily replace racing thoughts by helping you focus on something positive. Animal lover? Volunteer at a pet shelter. Enjoy reading? Offer to read to kids at your local library. Worried about the homeless? Help out at a food bank. There’s always work to be done, and plenty of opportunities to help in your passion area.

    6. Laugh a little!

    At the start of the pandemic, I began carrying a stuffed lemur in the pocket of my hospital coat. Patients and colleagues would walk by, give me an odd look, then burst out laughing. Every time, I would beam ear-to-ear behind my mask. Laughing feels good, and it feels even better to make others laugh!

    7. Prepare for naysayers.

    There will always be a few people who feel it is their right to ridicule others for wearing or not wearing a mask as restrictions are lifted. At work, ideally you could turn to your boss or human resources professional to proactively manage or mitigate these situations. However, that’s not always possible.

    If you feel comfortable speaking your mind, remain polite but firmly state, “I respect your decision. Please respect mine.” Sometimes it helps to plan out what you will say or do in certain situations. Role playing with your therapist or a friend can help build your confidence.

    8. Take your time.

    Whether you are anxious about returning to work or taking your first post-pandemic vacation, incremental steps are key. In our practice, we often recommend “extinction” or “exposure therapy,” which incorporates visualization to manage stressors.

    For example, if a patient is afraid of crossing bridges, they’ll start with visualizing themselves crossing the bridge. Once they’ve mastered that, we arrange for them to cross a bridge with a loved one. Over time, they can work up to crossing solo. Some patients never cross alone, and that may be sufficient for them. The point is to set realistic, personally achievable goals you can stick to and go from there.

    As we all adjust to our post-pandemic society, remember: Everyone’s timeline will be a little different based on their mental health and their experiences over the past tumultuous year. If anxiety is interfering with your life, don’t hesitate to seek help. We’ve been here for you, and we will be here—no matter what curveballs the next year throws our way.


    Struggling with post-pandemic anxiety?
    The mental health team at MedStar Health is here to help. Call 202-877-3627 or click below.

    Request an Appointment

  • December 09, 2020

    By Cheryl Hughes, Licensed clinical social worker, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

    It’s never easy to deal with a loss, but the holiday season has a tendency to bring up painful reminders of deceased loved ones. And this year, many Americans may be dealing with grief over the holidays for the first time, as we mourn family and friends who lost their lives to COVID-19.

    It’s not just death that can cause grief over the holidays. In fact, it’s likely that most people are coping with a variety of losses this year, from the loss of a job to a loss of a relationship as a result of being geographically distant or feeling isolated from people they love.

    The #Holidays can intensify feelings of loss, whether it’s a loss of a job or a loved one. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, two social workers share 4 tips for dealing with loss this holiday season: https://bit.ly/3qGLkaG.

    Click to Tweet


    The holidays can intensify feelings of loss, especially in 2020.

    Starting around Thanksgiving, many people who have lost loved ones experience sorrow as they’re reminded of memories from those who are no longer near. Holiday traditions meant to bring joy, like trimming the Christmas tree or listening to holiday music can trigger feelings of intense grief as we remember holidays past and wonder how to celebrate the festive season without the people we love.

    Grief is complicated and looks different for everyone. Sometimes, it’s surprising. Whether your loss is fresh or you’ve lost someone decades ago, unexpected feelings of sadness and loss can surface that aren’t necessarily attached to a specific memory. For some, these moments of grief can appear out of nowhere. For others, grief over the holidays is expected and dreaded. This year, the public health crisis that has affected all of us in different ways may result in added grief on top of an already emotionally-loaded time of year.

    There’s no right way to grieve, but there are things you can do to try to cope over the holidays while acknowledging and expressing your sadness.

    How to deal with grief over the holidays.

    1. Accept the emotions that you’re feeling.

    The holidays can generate exaggerated feelings as the pressure to “be merry” collides with the reality of our grief. Grief can present itself in a variety of emotions, from sadness or anxiety to irritability or anger. Everyone grieves differently. But that can be difficult when you’re around family members who expect you to show sadness in the same way—or even hide it. But, you’re human and allowed to feel a wide range of emotions, including both grief and joy. Sometimes you may even feel happy and sad within a few minutes. It’s healthy to acknowledge your emotions and accept how you’re feeling rather than try to escape it.

    2. Show yourself kindness.

    It may sound simple, but self-care is one of the best ways to deal with grief over the holidays. Think about how you would care for others in your life experiencing loss, then apply the same measures of compassion and grace to yourself. When grief hits hard, try to find things to do that help you to feel supported and restored, whether that means getting outside for some exercise, meditating, or journaling about someone—or something—you miss.

    3. Find ways to incorporate memories of your loved ones into holiday traditions.

    One way to deal with grief over the holidays is to memorialize the legacy of someone you’ve lost and keep their memory alive. Whether you incorporate them into existing traditions or establish new celebrations, it can be therapeutic to remember the lives of those who’ve died. Here are a few ways you can honor the life of loved ones over the holidays:

    • Set a place for them at the table
    • Tell stories about them related to the holidays
    • Create an altar with favorite pictures and mementos
    • Write them a letter or email
    • Prepare a lost loved one’s favorite holiday dish
    • Light a candle in their memory

    4. Talk to someone.

    Experts know that grief needs to be heard and witnessed. Try to find someone who you know is a good listener and admit to them when you’re having a hard time. Healing can begin when we’re able to speak our grief into existence.

    And, when you’re in the listener’s role, remember that it’s not up to you to fix it. There’s no fixing grief. Instead, listen without judgment and remember that anything they’re feeling is okay.

    This is especially true for parents of kids who may also be grieving. Kids need permission to feel all kinds of emotions, even if their grief manifests differently than yours. If you can help them normalize their feelings, whether that’s joy amidst sorrow or guilt coupled with happiness, you can help them to work through the grieving process in a healthy way.

    When to seek additional help for grief.

    If you don’t have anyone to talk to, or you’re experiencing overwhelming grief for weeks or months, it may be helpful to seek counseling services from a therapist or psychologist. It’s healthy to ask for support, even if it’s outside of your inner circle. A professional counselor can serve as an active listener who can help you find healthy ways to cope with your grief, especially over the holidays.

    Whether your grief is new this holiday season, or you struggle with sadness this time every year, know that you’re not alone. And, those feelings won’t last forever. While the holidays may never feel the same, time and support can help you to make it through to the New Year a little bit easier.


    Are you looking for help with dealing with grief this holiday season?
    Click below for more information on MedStar Health’s behavioral health services.

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  • December 02, 2020

    By Gillian Louise Adams, MD

    Mental health refers to the general state of how you regulate your behavior, feelings, and thoughts. There’s no standard for measuring what’s normal for you versus what could be a reason for concern in someone else, but poor mental health could negatively affect:

    • How well you get along with family and friends
    • Your productivity at work or school
    • Your interest in activities, social settings, and other situations
    • Energy levels
      …and more.

    Anxiety is an appropriate response to stressful situational triggers.

    From navigating a public health crisis to feeling high political tensions, it’s no wonder that many people are feeling a little uneasy in 2020. And truthfully, stress is a perfectly normal and appropriate way to respond to situational triggers such as COVID-19, a job loss, or uncertainty around the election.

    In fact, many people who have never had depression before 2020 have been diagnosed this year. And I’d estimate that about one-third of my patients who already have a depression diagnosis have experienced worsening symptoms during this challenging year.

    One-third of American adults who have #Depression experienced worsening symptoms during 2020. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, Dr. Adams shares 6 signs that it’s time to prioritize your #MentalHealth: https://bit.ly/2JGCjx3.

    Click to Tweet

    For some, healthy habits can reestablish their mental health, helping them to maintain their equilibrium. For others, a situational trigger can cause a downward spiral that leads to anxiety or depression. When that happens, it may be time to reevaluate how you take care of yourself.

    If you just don’t feel like yourself, it could be a sign you need to take care of your mental health.

    If something just feels off, don’t ignore that feeling. When you don’t feel like yourself for an extended period of time–say three weeks–that’s a good sign that you should reprioritize your mental health. While it may be hard to pinpoint what exactly that feels like, it could manifest itself in the following six signs of a mental health concern:

    1. Disrupted sleep.

    Poor sleep could be a red flag that you’re experiencing depression or anxiety. Whether you have trouble falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep — also known as “early morning wakening”, when you wake up and cannot fall back asleep — it could be a signal of a mental health concern. Frequent oversleeping could be a sign as well, demonstrating that your body is fatigued to the point of burn-out.

    2. Irritability or being more emotional than usual.

    Experiencing irritation, anger, feeling snappy and easily frustrated, or mood swings that fly from one extreme to the other could be a sign that your mental health is out of whack. Depression and anxiety can make it harder to self-regulate your thoughts and feelings, which is why you may be more reactive or sensitive than usual.

    3. Loss of joy.

    It’s normal to have a bad day every now and then, and life is bound to bring you some sadness at some point. But, if you routinely find less happiness and enjoyment in activities that you used to love, it could be a sign that something’s not quite right. For example, if you used to enjoy golfing or playing guitar but feel uninterested in participating in either of those activities right now, that could be an indicator that your mental health is out of balance.

    4. Change in appetite.

    There are a variety of ways depression and anxiety can affect how much you eat. For some, stress and anxiety may result in a loss of appetite, as they may not feel hungry or have the energy to eat. For others, binge eating comfort food can provide temporary relief from depressing thoughts and feelings. If you notice that you are overeating or undereating to the point where you observe dramatic changes in your weight over a short period of time, it could be time to seek help for your mental health.

    5. Worsening physical symptoms.

    Depression and anxiety can bring on physical side effects, including sweating, rapid heart rate, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, and headache. If physical symptoms come on suddenly with no other medical cause, it could be a sign that your mental health is declining.

    6. Low energy.

    Feelings of fatigue and lethargy are also common in people who are struggling with their mental health. Feeling mentally or physically sluggish can make it harder to concentrate, follow conversations, or think quickly. If you have low energy to the point where it’s hard to find the motivation to get out of bed, consider talking to your doctor.

    How to improve your mental health at home.

    Not every sign of a mental health concern means that you have a mental health disorder, like anxiety or depression. But it could mean that you need to change something in your routine before your mental health worsens, or leads to something more serious.

    One of the best ways you can care for your mental health is by establishing healthy habits. These may include:

    • Aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep per night with no screen time for 30 minutes before bed
    • Eating healthy, balanced meals that consist of whole foods
    • Exercising for 30 minutes a day, at least five days per week
    • Hydrating well with water, eliminating excessive caffeine
    • Practicing mindfulness and meditation
    • Talking to someone you trust and consider safely expanding your social bubble
    • Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption (Women should drink fewer than 8 alcoholic beverages per week. Men should drink fewer than 14)

    When to see a doctor.

    If healthy habits still don’t improve your mental health, don’t be ashamed to seek help from a professional. Talk to your primary care provider about what you’re going through and be prepared to answer questions related to your:

    • Medical history
    • Physical symptoms
    • Current concerns, thoughts, and feelings
    • Use of alcohol or drugs
    • Relationships
    • Routines

    A primary care doctor can recommend next steps, which could include treatment options such as counseling or medication. They can also provide advice for helping you to navigate the new normal that 2020 has forced upon us.

    If something just doesn’t feel quite right, don’t delay seeking help. With the right support, you can start feeling like yourself again, even if the world appears to be turned upside down.

    Want to learn more about our behavioral health services?
    Click the button below for more information.

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  • August 21, 2020

    By Carissa Colangelo, MS, ATC/LAT, PTA, CSCS, MedStar Sports Medicine

    In a world where it seems everything in our normal daily life has changed in a very short period, it can feel like we are out of control. It is important at times like this that we stop and be mindful of creating or maintaining healthy habits with focus on controlling those things that we can. Here are a few tips to consider.

    It’s important in times like these that we be mindful about creating or maintaining healthy habits in our daily lives. Carissa Colangelo, MS, gives tips on how to do this during #COVID19 on the #LiveWellHealthy blog: https://bit.ly/34nrAjM.

    Click to Tweet

     

    Have a good sleep schedule.

    Maintaining a regular sleep schedule, particularly during times of high stress, is vital to our physical and mental health. Sleep helps boost your immune function, improve focus, control your mood, and increase resistance to stress. If you don’t usually get 7-8 hours of sleep, now is a great time to start making it a habit!

    Maintain healthy eating habits and stay hydrated.

    Having healthy eating habits is crucial, but can be especially difficult when the refrigerator is only a few steps away. Try to stay on a normal eating schedule and avoid unnecessary snacking. You might be someone that is used to constantly being on the go, so now is a great time to slow down, try that new recipe, and get creative. Don’t forget about getting adequate hydration throughout the day.

    Create boundaries for yourself.

    Many of us are in situations where you find your work life and home life have morphed into one. It’s important to create or continue work life balance and create boundaries. This includes both physical and mental boundaries. Your workspace should not be in the same place you sleep. You should try to adhere to clear set start and stop work times (as much as you can control) to allow yourself time to refresh, reboot and separate yourself from your work day.

    Keep a daily routine.

    Your normal daily routine may look completely different from your current one. Regardless, having a schedule and routine is great for creating better focus on tasks and allowing for better management of your time. It also helps maintain self-discipline, and creates self-accountability.

    Socialize.

    It’s common to feel isolated during these times. That’s why now more than ever, it’s important to continue communication with friends and family. There are several different virtual options to accomplish this. You can schedule daily or weekly phone calls, or if you have access to a smartphone or computer, use video chat services like FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype. Maintaining your normal social infrastructure and staying connected with friends and family is vital to your mental health.

    Take time for positive reflection.

    Honest reflection is important in times like this. When things feel heavy it is important to focus on continued successes, find things that bring you joy and reward yourself. Remember, sometimes success is in the small things in life!

    Manage stress and anxiety.

    It’s important to allow yourself time to recognize these feelings and deal with them in a healthy manner. If you are feeling stressed or have anxiety about what is going on around you, take time for yourself to calm those feelings. Suggestions for managing stress include practicing progressive relaxation techniques, meditation, and deep breathing.

    Stay physically active.

    Physical activity may take some creativity as your usual team sports and gym routines are put on pause. Look to replace them with a body weight or exercise band strengthening program you can do at home. Remember, it is still okay to get outside and get some fresh air during a run, walk, or hike if social distancing is maintained.

    If you already follow these recommendations, keep up the good work and stay focused! But if not, try starting with one of these simple suggestions, and make healthy habits part of your new normal.

    Click below for more information from MedStar Health on COVID-19.

    COVID-19 Information