The power of the great outdoors

Senior Reach program staffers Nicole Hartzog and James Kuemmerle share healthful insights.

Regardless of our age, it is vital to our overall health that we spend some time outdoors. Humans have an innate connection and attraction to nature, often referred to as “biophilia.” Exposure to nature and physical activity outdoors improves mental health and well-being. Greater enjoyment and opportunities for more social interaction may contribute to the outdoor activity experience.

Studies have shown that going outdoors can have long term health benefits for older adults. Older adults often have low levels of Vitamin D. We can get this from sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency is related to many chronic conditions including cancer, heart disease and poor bone health.

Fewer than 3 percent of older adults meet the medical recommendations of 150 minutes per week of activity. Older adults can benefit greatly from physical activity; improving physical, emotional and cognitive functioning. Limitations in physical functioning, fear of falling and neighborhood design may prevent older adults from being active outdoors.

Five reasons to get outdoors

  • Boost Your Creativity and Focus

If you’re trying to solve a problem or come up with a brilliant idea, take a walk outside. One study found walking increased 81 percent of participants’ creativity, but walking outside produced “the most novel and highest quality analogies.”

  • Improve Your Mood and Self-Esteem

Green exercise, which is exercise in the presence of nature, has unique benefits above and beyond indoor exercise. One meta-analysis of 10 studies found that physical activity outdoors for as little as five minutes leads to measurable improvements in mood and self-esteem.

  • Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

It's estimated that over 95 percent of US senior citizens may be deficient in vitamin D, along with 85 percent of the American public.

Researchers have noted that vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in adults of all ages who have increased skin pigmentation (such as those whose ancestors are from Africa, the Middle East, or India), or who always wear sun protection or limit their outdoor activities.

Increasing your vitamin D levels is important, as researchers have pointed out that increasing levels of vitamin D3 among the general population could prevent chronic diseases that claim nearly one million lives throughout the world each year. Incidence of several types of cancer could also be slashed in half.

Vitamin D also fights infections, including colds and the flu, as it regulates the expression of genes that influence your immune system to attack and destroy bacteria and viruses. Research indicates about 30 minutes exposure twice a week for older adults is a sufficient amount, and remember to take common sense precautions with sunscreen, hats and the like, especially for extended periods of time outside.

  • Improve Your Workouts

Exercising outdoors yields increased benefits over indoor exercise. In addition to boosting your mood, outdoor exercise can be more challenging, leading to greater physical gains. For instance, if you walk, jog, or cycle outdoors, you’ll have to expend more energy to overcome wind and changes in terrain.

Among older adults (a population that generally tends to spend very little time outdoors), those who exercise outdoors accumulated significantly more physical activity than those who exercised indoors. There’s even research showing levels of the stress hormone cortisol are lower when people exercise outdoors as opposed to indoors.

  • Healing Potential

There’s something inherently healing about spending time outdoors. Part of it has to do with exposure to natural light. One study found people exposed to 46 percent more sunlight after surgery used 22 percent less pain medication per hour.

However, there are likely benefits even beyond the light exposure. Research shows, for instance, that older adults who spend more time outdoors have less pain, sleep better and have less functional decline in their ability to carry out their daily activities.

Take action

As you can see, with an increase in time spent out of doors enjoying the fresh air and nature, older adults can experience many benefits. Try adding a short walk in your neighborhood or nearby park a couple times a week and see how it improves your mood, focus, and overall health.

We would like to thank Wellness and Care Coordinator Nicole Hartog and Program Manager James Kuemmerle with the Senior Reach program at Community Reach Center for these insights during Mental Health Awareness Month. During this special month, and all year long, it is important for people suffering from mental health conditions and their loved ones to know that mental illness is treatable, and there is no shame in seeking assistance. In fact, asking for help is a sign of strength and a positive step forward that should be applauded.

To learn more about our Senior Reach program, visit our website at communityreachcenter.org or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday. Community Reach Center provides leading Denver mental health centers to visit. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County, including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

What’s positive about negative emotions?

Many of us have heard a pop song that dates to 1944. The opening lyrics are: “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive, e-lim-inate the negative, an' latch on to the affirmative, don't mess with mister in-between!”

These are good words to live by but beware the advice to “eliminate” the negative. As it turns out, negative emotions have their place in well-being. A common goal to be positive all the time is not all good. While it is important to generate positive emotions, problems can arise when people believe they must always be upbeat, and they must suppress their fears and emotions.

Psychologist Jonathan M. Adler of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering confirmed that anger and sadness are important aspects of life in a "Scientific American" magazine article titled, “Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.” He noted that, “Acknowledging the complexity of life may be an especially fruitful path to psychological well-being.”

The article further notes that unpleasant feelings go hand in hand with enjoyable ones to make sense of life. Further, negative emotions also aid in survival, because bad feelings can be a sign that something is “not right” and something needs attention.

One of the purposes of therapy in mental health is to learn to acknowledge and express a range of emotions. And by the same token, it’s important to learn to identify and cope with the inevitable ups and downs of life.

Some techniques

Techniques to facing emotions include questioning the emotion when it becomes present. When anxiety arises, ask yourself what you fear. Or when sadness arises, ask what makes you feel the loss. When anger arises, ask yourself what triggered the feelings. And when happiness arises, ask yourself why you feel so good and be grateful.

Overall, taking time to consider feelings as they arise helps to identify triggers that generate the emotions. This helps to gain better skills for anticipation of emotions in a variety of situations.

Mindfulness

There are a variety of mindfulness techniques to recognize emotions and find balance. If you feel angry frequently, commit to calming activities each day. In general, those who practice these techniques feel better over time. Also giving your time to activities with others increases feelings of connectivity, which often helps to recognize and face emotions as they arise.

Nobody wants to be a Debbie Downer or Negative Ned, but it is crucial to realize negative emotions have value, which just needs to be put into perspective. So, let your emotions breathe, but if the intensity of feeling sad continues for a week or two, it may be time to act. Self-help often comes first, but if you are really struggling, don’t waste any more time. Talking to mental health professional is a wise move to see if signs and symptoms of a potential mental illness need to be addressed.

Learn more about our services at communityreachcenter.org or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area, including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton

Recognize Challenges Facing Moms as Mother’s Day Approaches

Mother playing tambourine with her sonFlowers, a nice meal out or simply some time being pampered at home by family are great gifts for any mom on Mother’s Day. However, along with those signs of love and gratitude, what many women who come to our mental health centers say they could benefit from throughout the year is for people in their life to better understand and acknowledge the high degree of stress they face.

In fact, in a recently released book titled “Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving,” sociologist Caitlyn Collins shares her findings after five years studying parenthood in four wealthy western countries. Her conclusion: mothers in the U.S. have it the worst of those studied. The additional countries evaluated in this study were Sweden, Germany and Italy.

 

Understanding the Different Types of Stress

To get a better sense of what moms go through, it is important to understand the different types of stress. We explain at our mental health clinics that not all stress is bad. A surge of hormones and elevated heart rate is a normal, healthy response for a person who is excited but not afraid, such as when they are publicly thanked for their efforts at a school event or are interviewing for a new job. Sometimes this is called good stress.

Stress that is temporary but negative is what is called acute stress. When a rude driver cuts someone off in traffic, that person’s stress response kicks in briefly to help them prevent a crash. As long as they then allow (or encourage) the stress to dissipate, it typically is not harmful. 

The biggest stress-related danger to moms (and people in general) is chronic stress. This is stress associated with repeated or continual difficulties in life. Over time, it can cause a wide range of physical, mental and emotional problems.

 

Motherhood and Chronic Stress

Many mothers today experience chronic stress. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the most common is that they feel overwhelmed by all the “hats” they feel they must wear to support their family. These include roles like:

  • Nurturing mother
  • Schedule keeper
  • Disciplinarian
  • Cook
  • Devoted wife
  • Housekeeper
  • Youth sports fan/manager/coach
  • Veterinarian

Plus, many women work outside the home and must face the pressure that comes from feeling like the two commitments conflict and consequently either their performance at work or their performance at home (or both) suffers.

 

Great Ways to Improve Mom’s Days

Fortunately, here are a few steps families can take to lighten mom’s load and help her enjoy life more fully. For example:

  • Take a task permanently off her plate. Even something simple like having another family member be responsible for feeding the family pet every day can be freeing to an overworked mom.
  • Initiate stress-relieving activities. While mothers should learn to take action to relieve their stress, it is certainly appreciated when a family member encourages mom to go for a walk, do some yoga or enjoy a creative outlet like painting or knitting.
  • Ask questions and listen attentively to the answers. “How are you doing? Tell me about your day?” These kinds of questions encourage a mother to open up and relieve some of the pressure that chronic stress creates.
  • Encourage her to get help. If a spouse or another adult feels like a mom could benefit from professional counseling, it is a very loving thing to do to gently encourage her to seek help from a mental health center.

At Community Reach Center, a leading Denver mental health clinic, we help mothers and anyone who feels overwhelmed by stress take immediate action to address their stressors. Then, going forward, we teach strategies for being proactive in minimizing or preventing stress to enjoy a happier, healthier life. Learn more about our services at communityreachcenter.org or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County, including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

Moms, navigating and balance

Mental Health Awareness Month and Mother’s Day coincide in the month of May. It is a time to celebrate mothers and recognize how they do so very, very much for us all. We can all appreciate how they navigate the multiple challenges of life and, at the same time, do their best to keep their inner balance.  

Let’s talk about one of those challenges, such as how to return to work for women experiencing PRD (Pregnancy Related Depression). Navigation and balance … ahh yes. Those two things can be difficult in any situation. Being a mom and experiencing PRD or significant anxiety as well as returning to work outside of the home can overwhelm the most balanced of women.

Perhaps some women reading this have already been diagnosed and are seeking treatment. Others may be reading this and wondering if what they are feeling or experiencing is “normal.” At the risk of giving women who may be struggling and headed into a life transition with yet another “to-do” list, I offer the following items in the spirit of support for the journey.

Phone a Friend

Who can you call or text day or night to just share how you are doing at any given moment?  Ask a friend or family member if they are willing to be your lifeline as you head into yet another transition. Have them on speed dial – I know, a thing of the past – and reach out just to say “Whoa, I am having a rough day,” or “I really need to talk, when do you have time?” or “Hi, just wanted to reach out.” 

Be Gentle with Yourself

Women can be our own harshest critics. New moms often feel the societal pressure to look and feel joyous and full of love. While it helps when our family and tribe are gentle and supportive, it can be most important that we give that gift to ourselves. This can be an affirmation on a sticky note or a jar full of affirmations you pull from when you need those messages. 

Start with One

Confide in others you trust (both inside of work and in your personal life) about what you are going through. Many women who have experienced pregnancy related depression and anxiety identify this as both the hardest and the most important thing to do. This confidant may be a therapist, your baby’s pediatrician, your friend, your partner or a trusted friend.  Start with one. 

Connect

Speaking up can lead to connecting.  This connection may be made through an online platform, a Facebook page or a local support group.  Knowing you are not alone when you may feel the most alone you have ever felt is essential. Humans are driven to connect, yet when we need it most, we tend to stay in isolation. Remember the “Phone a Friend?” Maybe they would go to a support group with you. 

Lastly a note to the loved ones and co-workers out there:

Dear Family and Friends:

New moms are overwhelmed and often feel like they need to do it ALL and with a smile on their face.  Please ask the new mom in your life how she is doing today and then simply listen. Bring her a cup of tea or coffee. Leave positive notes of encouragement just because. Acknowledge that what she is experiencing is difficult, exhausting … whatever it is for her and then remind her that you are there for her.

Please, resist the urge to “fix” her or the situation. She is not broken but struggling and feeling or being supported is what we all need to feel empowered during the tough times and support is the No. 1 thing she needs right now.  

There is no magic in the ideas on this page but where the real magic lies can be in the spark that moves someone to reach out for support and someone else to reach back, be present and listen.

Enjoy Mother’s Day!

This guest column is written by Carol Vidaurre who is a therapist at Community Reach Center in Early Childhood Services. Carol has been working with children and families for over 24 years as an educator, advocate, social worker and therapist. She has extensive experience in working with children who have experienced trauma and supporting children and families to navigate life’s challenges. She holds a master’s degree in special education and a master’s degree in social work. Carol is a mother to two fine young adults who she said continue to help her learn new things every day about what it is to be a mom.

We have a broad and diverse continuum of mental health services at your Denver mental health provider, Community Reach Center. To learn more about our services, visit communityreachcenter.org or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday. We have outpatient and residential centers in the northside Denver metro area, including Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

Help Spread Awareness During Mental Health Month in May

Hands holding green ribbon for mental health awareness monthSince 1949, May has been recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month or simply Mental Health Month. Founded by an organization called Mental Health America, the observance is a time for mental health professionals, educators and people, in general, to spread the news that mental health is a key component of overall health. It is also an opportunity to highlight the fact that getting help from a mental health services provider is no different than seeking treatment from your family doctor.

Each year, the observance has a theme or area of focus. In 2019, Mental Health America says it is “expanding upon last year’s theme of #4Mind4Body and taking it to the next level, as we explore the topics of animal companionship (including pets and support animals), spirituality, humor, work-life balance, and recreation and social connections as ways to boost mental health and general wellness.”

 

Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week

As part of Mental Health Month, the first week of May is a time for focusing on how mental illness affects children and their families. It is easy for adults to think of childhood as a time of carefree fun and overlook the fact that mental health issues can be present or develop at any age. In fact, the same mental health conditions that affect adults can impact children. This includes:

  • Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders, such as binge-eating disorder, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which affects a person’s ability to communicate with and interact with others
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which causes hyperactivity, impulsive actions and difficulty concentrating
  • Schizophrenia, which causes people to experience psychosis or losing touch with reality

The symptoms of mental illness can be different in children than adults, so it is important for parents and other caregivers to be familiar with the signs of mental health conditions. It is also important for people to understand that while children do go through behavioral “phases” as they mature, concerning behaviors should not necessarily be attributed to these periods.

 

How to Spot Mental Health Issues in Children and Teens

The sooner a mental health condition is identified, the more successful mental health services can be in treating it. Here are some signs to look for:

  • Mood changes that last for at least two weeks and interfere with relationships at school or at home
  • Intense feelings of fear or of being overwhelmed by life, which may be accompanied by rapid breathing or heart rate
  • Trouble concentrating or sitting still
  • Physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches, which are more commonly a sign of a mental health condition in children than adults
  • Significant changes in behavior such as lashing out verbally or physically, or expressing a desire to hurt others
  • Substance abuse, which may be a coping mechanism for a mental health disorder
  • Unexplained weight loss, frequent vomiting or loss of appetite
  • Self-harm such as cutting or burning of the skin 

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should talk with your child’s doctor. If appropriate, you should also consider talking with their teachers or school counselor to better understand the scope of the behavior. With that information, you and your doctor or mental health services provider can decide what action, if any, should be taken.

 

Mental Health Conditions are Treatable!

During Mental Health Month in May and all year long, it is important for people suffering from mental health conditions and their loved ones to know that mental illness is treatable and that there is no shame in seeking assistance. In fact, asking for help is a sign of strength and a positive step forward that should be applauded.

If you have questions about the mental health services we provide at Community Reach Center, contact us online at communityreachcenter.org or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County, including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

 

Mental health and finding the key to happiness

Keeping fit takes effort and practice. Stretch, focus, exercise, rest, repeat. It turns out happiness works much the same way. Pause, reflect, refocus, act, repeat.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

On one level, Lincoln is talking about perspective. As surely as the sun shines, there will be rainy days. As surely as there will be fun times, there will be negative events. Stress and adversity are part of life. Those who can endure the tough times with perspective generally experience happier lives.

On another level, a decision to be happy must be backed with training, as in a disciplined approach to establishing new habits or having coaching from someone else. Honestly, it is not as easy as putting on a top hat, so be ready to gear up. In short, time management and exercise are two key elements recommended to gain good habits to replace habits that are counterproductive.

Perspectives

Many, many books describe how to be happy and most often a first step is to decide to be happy, just as Lincoln observed. Happiness is an achievement that requires both inward and outward effort. It requires commitment and grit.

Here are a few tips:

  • Get ready to work at it. As with physical health, it takes plenty of exercise to see results and gain strength. Similarly it takes time to find your new way of looking at life that results in more smiles and feeling healthful.
  • Counteract negative thoughts. Do your best to notice negative thoughts and retrain yourself. Learn about positive self-talk and practice meditation, breathing and relaxation to reduce the stress and anxiety that contribute to negativity.
  • Go with forgiveness. Holding a grudge can affect mental health as well as physical health. Work on “letting it go” whenever you can.
  • Surround yourself with what you love. If singing in a choir gives you glee, find one. Or, if biking with others makes you perky, find a bike club and pedal. If spending time with specific people helps, then make the time to rub elbows often.
  • Think about your eating habits. Consider what you like to eat and identify eating habits that can be improved. Where you see opportunities for improvement, consider making dietary changes that are permanent lifelong habits. On-again, off-again diets are not so good for the body or the mind. We always turn to the Mayo Clinic for a time-tested approach to smart eating and securing new lifelong habits.
  • Money can’t buy you happiness. Regardless of what we pursue in stuff, consumeristic conquests cannot secure an enduring state of happiness. Consider your values and share your perspectives with those around you. Focus on health, relationships and accomplishments over material possessions.

Taking stock

These are just a few tips to gaining more happiness. If you have tried self-help approaches but still find yourself feeling glum for extended periods of time, consider talking to your primary care doctor or seeing a counselor. If your mental state is affecting your work, relationships and health, it’s a good time to visit with a mental health professional.

We have a broad and diverse continuum of mental health services at Community Reach Center. To learn more about our services, visit communityreachcenter.org or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday. We have outpatient and residential centers in the northside Denver metro area, including Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.