Category - Mental Health

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Busting Stress for Mental Health
2
Second Annual Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day
3
Wait to Worry
4
Promoting Healthy Technology Use for Youth
5
Five Easy Minutes
6
Making Connections for Mental Health
7
Movement for Mental Health
8
Food as Medicine for Mental Health
9
The Power of Positivity and Reflection
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Pillars for Mental Health

Busting Stress for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

Much of my work as a mental health counselor has focused on how to help my clients identify the root sources of their distress and to learn adaptive and effective means for managing these stressors in their lives. According to a 2017 report issued by the American Psychological Association (APA), “nearly two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) say the future of the nation is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, slightly more than perennial stressors like money (62 percent) and work (61 percent).” Since I don’t have a magic wand to wave to make these and many other of my clients’ stressors disappear altogether, I focus instead on how to help them understand the detrimental impact of stress on their overall health and wellness and look at small, yet meaningful steps they can take every day to help mitigate its impact on their lives. Because stress management is such a critical component of mental health, it is one of the Pillars that I will be discussing in today’s post.

As humans, we have evolved to manage short-term bursts of stress (ie: public speaking, taking an exam, competing in an event, etc.). What we are less-equipped to deal with is the longer-term nature of elevated stress that is now a common occurrence in our modern societies. When stress levels are high or chronic, the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, increase which can interfere with memory and learning, compromise immune function, increase blood pressure, and lead to an infinite number of physical health issues, as well as contribute to mood swings, depression, and anxiety disorders. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur with both short-term and long-term exposure to traumatic or stressful events and can alter neurotransmitters, hormones, and brain structures such as the amygdala, which processes our fear response. Please note there will be a more extensive post in the future related to the treatment of trauma.

Regardless of its origin, it is always important to help empower people to know how to identify and effectively respond to how they are experiencing stress in their lives. Here are some points that I work with my clients on:

● Make a list of stressors in your life and prioritize the top 3 you’d like to address first. Taking actionable steps towards root cause resolution is an integral part of your work as all other stress management strategies will otherwise remain band aid solutions. For example: if you know that you are stressed about test-taking, seek out help in how to feel more comfortable with this task; if you are stressed in social situations or public settings, consider contacting a local counselor to learn about social anxiety and how to better understand its origin and how to work through it.

● Learn about how useful taking slow, deep and intentional breaths can be. We hear it all the time, “Take a breath – Just relax!” As annoying as it may be to hear this from others in the moment of our distress, there truly is something to this idea. When we take longer, slower breaths from our bellies (diaphragmatic breathing), we are taking in more oxygen than when we breath in a more shallow way from our chests. Physiologically speaking, this increase in oxygen sends a message of safety and relaxation to the brain and body, allowing a feeling of ease to occur as the stressful feelings decrease. This 15-minute audio recording offers a wonderful educational overview on how breath can be a mediator to help us manage stress and learn to relax.

mental health tips to combat stress

● Learning about meditation or mindfulness techniques will help you pay attention to the moment, increase feelings of calm and focus, reduce jumbled anxious thoughts, as well as symptoms of depression and pain, and increase mental clarity and memory. Meditation extends the space between stimulus and response, helping us choose to respond versus react in any given situation (think about how helpful this will be with kids, partners, parents, colleagues, neighbors, the person in traffic, friends, etc.). I recommend “bookending” your day with a 10-minute meditation in the morning to set the stage for your day and 10 minutes at night to help you decompress and unwind for the day, setting yourself up for a truly restful, restorative night of sleeping – another essential component for reducing stress!

● Research various Meditation Apps that can be used easily from your phone or computer: Insight Timer, Breathe, Calm, and Headspace are a few I often recommend. They are easy to use and many of them are free. I have one client who sets a chime on her phone to go off every 30 minutes at which time she does a 2-minute mini-breathwork meditation. She finds this regular practice an essential component of how she remains calm and responsive (versus reactive) throughout her day. Also, check out this 15-minute segment on meditation.

● For more in-depth mindfulness training, check out Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBSR was developed by clinical psychologist Jon-Kabat Zinn to cultivate greater awareness of the ways unconscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can undermine emotional, physical, and spiritual health. It has been studied extensively at the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center for over 30 years, and is clinically proven to relieve chronic pain and illness.

● Consider trying yoga or tai chi, getting regular therapeutic massages, body-centered psychotherapy, enjoying daily walks in nature, connecting with people you enjoy and can relax with on a regular basis, laughing more, and working to find joy in simple pleasures and moments throughout each day.

● Remember that nutrient deficiencies and imbalances put a physiological strain on the body which adversely affects the way we think and feel. These physiological stressors can manifest as anxiety, nervousness, depression and anger. Remembering the connections between Food and Mood is a core component of stress management as research has proven that you cannot separate mental health from physical health. When the body is stressed, our emotional and mental wellbeing may be compromised. Eat and drink in ways that nourish the body and brain and produce endorphins and neurotransmitters that help us better cope with the stressors of daily life.

● Be aware of the mindset you bring to each day, remembering that this world doesn’t owe you happiness and peace. Become more conscious of your contribution to the stress you are experiencing and learn to tease apart what is worth being worried about and what has become habituated. Remembering that there is an impermanence with everything helps us understand that even our difficulties are passing through. This perspective can help us with cultivating contentment and feeling gratitude for what is instead of focusing on what is not. This, in turn, will help reduce some degree of stress. Consider this from poet Mary Oliver, “Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body out into the morning and sang.”

● Cultivate contentment and gratitude as a way to gain perspective on your stress. From The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, the 8 Pillars of Joy are discussed: 4 Qualities of the Mind (Perspective, Humility, Humor and Acceptance) and 4 Qualities of the Heart (Forgiveness, Gratitude, Compassion and Generosity). I’ve chosen a few quotes from the book, which I highly recommend:

“Grateful people report more positive emotions, more vitality and optimism and greater life satisfaction as well as lower levels of stress and depression.”

“Scientists have long known that our brains have evolved with a negative bias. It was no doubt advantageous for our survival to focus on what was wrong or dangerous. Gratitude cuts across this default mode of the mind. It allows us to see what is good and right and not just what is bad and wrong.”

“There is always the choice available to us and an ability (if we choose it) to reframe any given situation more positively — With our Mind we create our World.”

By virtue of being human, some degree of stress is inevitable but chronic stress that undermines your mental health is not. Pick one bullet point from the list above and get started on your way to reducing the impact of stress on your emotional and mental well-being. Lastly, consider the following short mindful meditation from Nobel Prize winner, monk, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hahn’s book, Being Peace:

“Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.”

Additional resources to further your education and information:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967

https://www.nami.org/find-support/living-with-a-mental-health-condition/managing-stress

https://www.mqmentalhealth.org/posts/stress-and-mental-health

https://chriskresser.com/your-gut-microbiome-and-anxiety-whats-the-connection

http://www.buddhanet.net/audio-meditation.htm

https://www.soundersleep.com/


Julie Bomengen is a Vermont Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with 22 years of experience in the field of mental health. Julie is also a Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC), a certification of the Nutritional Therapy Association. She lives, works and plays in Lamoille County.

Second Annual Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day

By: Suzanne Masland, District Director, Morrisville Local Health Office

Jon Gailmor, Performing Artist

Last week, performing artist Jon Gailmor and Copley Hospital chaplain Alden Launer, joined the Compassionate Bereavement Coalition (CBC) and many families in celebrating the Second Annual Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

The event included an invocation from Alden Launer and a naming recognition ceremony. Jon Gailmor led attendees in uplifting songs and attendees participated in a lantern release just as the sun was setting over the memorial stone that was dedicated “In Remembrance of Our Children” on this beautiful evening.

The SIMON Project (The Sudden Infant/Child Mourning Network), a resource for education, advocacy and support, and the CBC raised funds to purchase the memorial stone for families who have experienced the loss of a child in pregnancy, to stillbirth, or in infancy. The memorial stone was placed in the Pleasant View Cemetery in Morrisville, VT. The memorial stone will be open to the community and any family who may wish to add their child’s name to the memorial. This will not be a community burial site. Instead, it is intended to serve as a tangible place to recognize and honor those babies who are gone too soon. 

Copley Hospital chaplain Alden Launer

The Pleasant View Cemetery trustees donated the site for the memorial stone. The Third Annual Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day will take place October 15, 2020 at the Cemetery. The date, October 15, is chosen because it is the National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This is a day when families around the globe light a candle at 7 p.m., local time, to create a continuous wave of light spanning the globe for a 24-hour period in honor and remembrance of children who have died during pregnancy or shortly after birth.

Memorial stone with the setting sun

To add a baby’s name to the stone, call Jenn Chittick at 881-2917 or email Wendy Hubbard, Maternal Child Health Coordinator with the Morrisville Health Department at wendy.hubbard@vermont.gov. Please let either of them know if you want to apply for financial assistance.


Wait to Worry

By: Michele Whitmore

Life can be challenging. Often our emotions seem like a never ending roller coaster that we did not buy tickets to. This roller coaster symbolizes all of the things in our life, our work, our health, or in our relationships that can go wrong and we frequently find ourselves worrying about those things…

Prevent anxiety mental health

But when you really think about it, more often than not, these things go as planned and we worried for nothing.

One of my favorite messages from a business man who is also a motivational speaker, is about waiting to worry. Unfortunately at the moment, his name escapes my memory. Nonetheless, I share his message A LOT (ask my family and friends!) and when worrying starts to take over for me, I think about his message and it helps me keep things in perspective.

“Why wait to worry? Wait until you actually have a reason to worry—something that is happening, not just something that might happen. When I’m tempted to get alarmed, I tell myself, ‘you’ve got to wait to worry! Until you know differently, don’t worry.’

 Waiting to worry helps me develop the habit of not worrying and that helps me not be tempted to worry. I frequently ask the audience what they were worried about this time last year and I get a lot of laughs,” he said, “because most people can’t remember. Then I ask if they have a current worry—you see nods from everybody. Then I remind them that the average worrier is 92% inefficient; meaning, only 8% of what we worry about ever comes true.”

I hope you can see the worth in the above message. There are so many things in our lives that go well, that go as planned, that are exactly how they should be and there are very few (8%?) that don’t. Let’s try to spend more time focusing on the former and not the latter. Let’s try to wait to worry.


Michele Whitmore is the Associate Dean of Students at Johnson State College. She works closely with Student Service Departments within the College to provide purposeful events to students that will strengthen their professional leadership, personal growth, life skills development and social engagement. Thus far, the College has provided educational programs that cover LGBTQ issues, alcohol and drug use, sexual assault prevention, socio-economic struggles, and healthy choices related to eating well and being fit, to name a few. Michele writes about the outreach and program opportunities that enhance the wellness of a campus community.

Promoting Healthy Technology Use for Youth

By: Jessica Bickford

As kids across the region head back to school, the role of and attention they give to their electronic devices often increases. As parents and educators, this often leaves us struggling to monitor and keep up, wondering,

  • What types of apps are being used?
  • How much time is ok?
  • How do we monitor it?
  • Does technology impact sleep and learning?
  • Technology can be a great tool… how do we balance heathy use?
  • What’s FOMO and Finstagram?
  • Will technology impact learning?
  • Can technology increase substance abuse?
  • Will technology impact mental health and emotional development?
  • And more…

In this post I’d like to share a few highlights from Michael Nerney’s* May 2019 presentation, “Don’t Hit Send: The Impact of Social Media on Brain Development,” that will help to answer some of parents’ questions and take a deeper look about how we engage with our youth around technology. These presentations were hosted by Healthy Lamoille Valley at Green Mountain Technology and Career Center and Craftsbury Academy.

If you would like to watch the presentation, I have included a GMATV link at the end of this post. Plan an hour and a half or break it up in chunks; there is valuable information throughout!

Why are devices attractive?

We know that they (youth) are not addicted to their device or they’d never get a new device, but they upgrade their devices all the time… it is clear, through the research…that they are emotionally dependent upon the immediacy of the connection to their peers and others.”

– Michael Nerney

Michael explored why the youth brain becomes wired to social media. In short, “Likes” create the chemical dopamine, a positive reward in the adolescent brain. At a certain point, the brain reaches a saturation threshold and it begins to require more activity to get the same “positive” dopamine reward feelings.

Plus, youth are impacted by their peers. Technology provides the opportunity for immediate peer feedback.

Youth need risk for positive development, and they perceive technology as an area of “safe” risk.

Practical tips for monitoring youth technology usage:

1.  Delay accounts/technology. Wait until your child is developmentally ready before introducing new technology.

2.  When preparing to give your child a phone or electronic device, create a contract for legitimate and valid purposes of having the device. Don’t just give phone over and say, “I hope nothing bad happens…” When you are 13, you don’t get to erase what you see. This website shares helpful examples. http://www.theonlinemom.com/

3. Set expectations that parents have all passwords and that students do not share this information with others, no matter how close the friendship/relationship may seem. (“Don’t fall for the ‘If you love me, you’ll show me by sharing your password’ trap”.)

4. Monitor, monitor, monitor. Set phones, devices, and accounts up so they can be monitored or shut off remotely.

5. Check in often about social media use. Look at the phones with your kids. “Show me what this app does.” Talk about manipulation techniques used online. 

6. Keep devices out of bedrooms and place a charging station in a family area, where devices go at a set time in the evening. Sleep is crucial and the light from the screen impacts melatonin production. Sleep cleans our brains and gets us ready for learning new information the next day. Kids who text after 10 o’clock are often getting 5-6 hours of sleep vs. the 9 hours they need. They are missing at least one whole complete cycle of sleep.

7. Know the abbreviations. (For example, ASL = Age, Sex, Location.)  Here’s a list: https://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/textmessageabbreviations.asp.

8. Limit time on devices. The more they play with or use technology, the more likely it is to impact sleep patterns, learning, and mental health.  Research shows having a phone next to you can turn 2.5 hours of homework into a 5.5 hour project; it can take 7-9 minutes to reflect, respond, and refocus after each text.    

9. Model positive device and technology use. As parents and caregivers, we set the tone and expectations by what we do.

10. Remember, not everything needs to be digitized. The act of physically writing increases memory and academic performance.

These tips are not limited to phones. Here are additional areas of digital dependence that can produce measurable changes:

  • Online gaming.
  • Digital pornography is changing lives and relationships.
  • Online gambling.
  • Phantom Vibration Syndrome.

We’d love to hear from you!  What has worked well in your home? Are there ideas that you’d like to try?

Resources

Here is a link to watch Michael’s complete presentation. (Start at about 3 minutes in.)

Here is a link to view Michael’s PowerPoint presentation:https://www.healthylamoillevalley.org/wp-content/uploads/DON%E2%80%99T-HIT-SEND-Presention-Michael-Nerney.pdf

The book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Life of Girls by Nancy Jo Sales explores the impacts of sexting.

The Online Mom website provides knowledge, advice, and tools to help “parents protect their kids and encourage responsible behavior as they make the most of the new digital world.” http://www.theonlinemom.com/

* Michael Nerney is a consultant in Substance Abuse Prevention and Education, with over twenty-six years’ experience in the field. He is the former Director of the Training Institute of Narcotic and Drug Research, Inc. Previous to the Director position, Mr. Nerney held a position as a training specialist for NDRI. His particular areas of expertise include Psychopharmacology, Adolescent Chemical Dependency, and Managing Violent Incidents.


Jessica Bickford works as a Coordinator of Healthy Lamoille Valley, where she has enjoyed writing for their blog. Writing for Copley’s community blog is a natural extension of this experience! Healthy Lamoille Valley focuses on making healthy choices easy choices, realizing that when we have access to healthy options we are less likely to choose behaviors that are harmful. Prevention is really a lifestyle of wise choices that enable us to live life to the fullest.

Five Easy Minutes

By: Daniel Regan

I have a simple suggestion that could enhance the quality of your life. It may give you a sense of inner peace and could even, in the long run, prolong your life.

Give yourself the gift of five extra minutes. I don’t mean extra minutes to stay in bed or on your phone; rather, a five-minute cushion (10-15 is even better) before your next appointment, commitment, or task.

Try it. It might lower your blood pressure and change your life. 

Did anyone watch the NBA playoffs in June? Those who did, commentators and casual fans alike, could not help but note series MVP Kawhi Leonard’s unhurried style of play and approach to the game. He seemed always to anticipate and be prepared for what came next. In the midst of a highly stressful activity and setting, he nevertheless appeared—well—at peace.

It doesn’t take his extraordinary skills and preparation to glean an important message for the rest of us, as we live our everyday lives: try to move through life quickly and purposefully, but not frantically. Doing so will enhance tranquility and heighten your ability to focus.

I am realistic. Some will scoff at this simple suggestion, reject it, conclude their lives are too complicated for five extra minutes. (And if truth be told, some don’t care about making good, time wise, on their commitments; but that’s another story.) Why are some of us addicted to stress? It’s more than just an individual refusal to deprive ourselves of anything—even a proven danger like stress to our health and wellbeing.

Ours is a nation developed upon stress. It’s not just the current demands of our fast paced technological era. Much earlier in our nation’s history, the industrial era kept workers on edge so they would work hard and produce. That philosophy may have helped grow the economy, but it did not necessarily contribute to our psychological health. Stress may produce sweat, but not necessarily the best work, much less satisfaction or happiness.

So give yourself five extra minutes—to complete that required task, meet that person, show up at an appointment, pick someone up, etc. Not permitting yourself that cushion can have negative consequences. One morning I tested and verified that assertion: Had I backed out of my driveway in a rush, and skimped on looking behind me, I might have struck the little girl from next door or crashed into the car that suddenly made a U-turn and came up the road behind me. Or I might have turned left too soon, onto a busy thoroughfare, which would have added to the long list of accidents by impatient motorists. And that was only in the first five minutes after my departure from home.

So save your reaction to stress for those situations that truly require it. Meanwhile, do yourself a favor and take a few extra minutes. Doing so might even prolong your life, which would make a whole lot of time cushions very worthwhile.


Dan Regan, a sociologist, is the former dean of academic affairs at Johnson State College and continues to work part-time for Northern Vermont University.

Making Connections for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

A client reported to me in session recently that something “just felt different” over her weekend. What she was ultimately able to identify is that she felt like she and her kids were becoming a part of her community. We spent time in session discussing what community means and why it matters. According to Sorab Asora, community means “empathy, inclusion and belonging, a sense of purpose, cultural understanding and exchange of ideas.” This sense of connection or belonging is what helps people thrive physically, mentally, and emotionally, which is why it is another critical Pillar for Mental Health.

According to Martin Seligman – a leading psychologist and founder of “Positive Psychology” – regardless of where you find your community, becoming a part of one is a major factor in being happy and balanced. Seligman asserts that community helps to foster the characteristics (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments) that produce healthy and happy members of society.

Indeed, involvement in a supportive and caring community and having positive personal and intimate relationships that are enduring, loving, and reliable is essential to experiencing true connection – something that humans desire and arguably need on the deepest of levels. While my personal bias is to encourage these connections to be in real-time and in-person, I have learned that quality connections that are being made online have similar positive impacts. Still, my hope is that those individuals who are spending a significant amount of time connecting online also have opportunities for meaningful, face-to-face interactions on a regular basis. There is much being written stating that online relationships are not a direct substitute for the human contact that we all benefit from. Regardless of where the connections occur, the kindness and care that comes from another human being — someone to witness our suffering, validate our stories and experiences, and to simply matter to someone despite our imperfections — can make all the difference in terms of an individual’s mental and emotional well-being.

From a Psychology Today article entitled, “On Belonging”:

“recent neuroscience studies have revealed that the brain uses similar circuits to deal with our social pleasures and pains as with our more tangible delights and woes. For instance, the brain’s reward system has been shown to respond as strongly to social rewards (e.g. social recognition) as it does to money. On the other hand, when social ties come undone and connections are severed, the resulting social injuries may not only become sources of copious ill-effects, but may also affect our brains in similar ways as physical injuries would. Thus, as some neuroscientists have suggested, human beings could be wired to feel pain when we are bereft of social connection, just as evolution has wired us to feel pain when we are deprived of our basic needs (e.g. food, water, and shelter).”

What you can do today!

  • Make a goal to do something with another person in your life at least one time/week. Enjoy a walk and talk or peddle your bike, meet at a cafe for food and drink, visit an art gallery together, see some local community theater, go for a drive, wade in a river, or go for a swim in a lake. Anything goes, as long as it’s done on a regular basis, with another person you feel you can trust and be yourself with.
  • Take a chance and reach out to someone you like, but haven’t spent much time with. Extend yourself and approach the idea of connection, working to deepen the relationship, knowing how it can feed your spirit and boost your mood.
  • Look for ways to become involved in your community, thinking about ways to match your interests with the needs of your specific community. There are an infinite number of areas for engagement. For example, if you’d like to help out with seniors, think about serving on the board of “Meals on Wheels” or volunteering at the Senior Center. If that’s not your preferred population, talk with your local school’s volunteer coordinator to find out whether you can help with their mentoring, after school, or school garden programs. There are opportunities at the North Central Vermont Recovery Center, libraries, second hand clothing stores, your local food cooperative (MOCO), local farms, community food shelf, and more!
  • Think about taking a class in your community. There are endless opportunities to get involved and learn something new – no matter your age! Check out events and activities being offered at such places as Morrisville’s River Arts, Community College of Vermont, Green Mountain Technology Center, Northern Vermont University, UVM’s Adult Learning, music classes with local musicians and educators, pottery, art, or photography classes with some of Lamoille County’s amazing artists.
  • If you are certain that the relationships in your life aren’t serving you and you need to change them up or possibly end them, think about reaching out to a local counselor for support. Talking with someone can truly make the difference between remaining in and suffering in dysfunctional relationships and finding the will and agency to make the changes that can support your overall health (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) and happiness.

The experiences that come with direct, face-to-face relationships are meaningful in ways that can’t always be quantified. The research is there, no doubt, but more importantly, is the intuitive sense we all have that when we are in a flow with and connected with others, we feel better. We feel we belong and that we matter. In all of my work, with everyone I’ve ever worked with, this is a universal desire and one that is indeed worth pursuing.

References:

Sorab Asora – No Stigmas “Community Engagement and Positive Mental Health” May 2017

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Sydney: Random House.

Pogosyan, Marianna, Psychology Today, “On Belonging” April 2017.

Resources to Further your Education and Information:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-cultures/201704/belonging

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rethinking-mental-health/201603/gregg-levoy-meaningful-work

https://choosework.ssa.gov/blog/2016-05-27-mental-illness-on-meaningful-work-and-recovery

https://nostigmas.org/learn/community-engagement-and-positive-mental-health

Raz, G. (Producer). (June 10, 2016) Becoming Wise (Audio Podcast) https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/481290551/becoming-wise

Movement for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

“Get some exercise!” — I know you hear it all the time, but bear with me because while most people understand that exercise is good for the body, fewer of us think about the connections between movement and mental health. We are going to dive into why movement is a pillar for mental health and how being active on a daily basis supports optimal brain health, as well as emotional and mental well-being.

As hunters and gatherers, our ancestors moved to survive. Every day for the majority of each day, they sprinted, jogged, climbed, carried, and jumped intermittently, walking an average of 6 miles and running ½ to 1 mile each day. Needless to say, our human bodies were designed to move! Fast forward to today and research reveals that the typical U.S. adult is sedentary for 60% of their life and sits for six to seven hours per day.  Clearly, there is a mismatch between what we are designed to do and what we are doing, and this disconnect is having major implications for our physical health as well as our emotional and mental wellbeing.

So why does movement help mental health?

  • Moving our bodies is the simplest way to improve mood due to the endorphins and mood-boosting chemicals, serotonin and dopamine, that are released when we are active and engaged in something that is pleasurable. When we engage in regular, consistent activity, our brain’s dopamine receptors are sensitized which enhances the reward and pleasure experience. Movement becomes more and more rewarding and beneficial over time. Keep at it!
  • Symptoms of anxiety and depression have been found to decline when these same mood-boosting chemicals are released.
  • Stress can be reduced when we are active due to the increase in concentration of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that can modulate the brain’s response to stress.
  • Improved brainpower and memory enhancement results when we move our bodies because new brain cells are created through a process called neurogenesis. Workouts increase a brain protein called Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which promotes the survival of neurons, thereby facilitating such things as decision-making, higher levels of thinking. and learning processes.
  • There’s something to be said for the feeling of confidence that comes with and after participating in something physical that challenges us.  Even when it’s hard or doesn’t yield the desired effect right off, there is the opportunity to feel strong, capable, motivated, and proud of what you did or what you are in the process of doing. By moving your body in any way, you are saying that you matter and have value — that is something that translates into self-love and confidence. Keep at it!! Today, tomorrow, and the day after that — just keep moving.
  • While you’re moving, move on out to the great outdoors! Research tells us that the extra Vitamin D that comes from the sunshine (even when it’s cloudy, we are getting some degree of Vitamin D), fresh air, and being among the healing elements of nature add to the overall mental health benefits of moving our bodies outside. Pick one outside activity to try out this week. How about a walk on the Rail-Trail?  Also, much has been written about the idea of “nature deficit disorder” in our population, particularly among children. Get your kids outside moving with you – you’ll be shaping lifelong behaviors that will serve you in profound and deeply meaningful ways.
  • Moving our bodies helps us relax more which, in turn, can support a healthy circadian rhythm which improves sleep, which in turn, makes us feel better, mentally and emotionally. See how all of this is inter-connected?! Check out my earlier post if you need a reminder of why sleep is also a pillar of mental health.
  • Engaging in some form of physical movement on a regular basis helps improve productivity and creativity.  Research is revealing that working for 45 minutes and then taking a 15 minute break and getting up and moving our bodies provides us with a burst of energy that improves productivity and brain functioning while also improving mood.
  • Moving our bodies can be even more beneficial when we move with others as we often feel more inspired and supported, and less alone when we are engaging in an activity with a friend or joining a group of people who are working towards a common goal. As one idea, how about contacting the Green Mountain Club and joining in one of their scheduled walks/hikes? Bring a friend along or make a new friend in the process.
  • People who are struggling with addictions of any kind benefit from having positive, healthy substitute behaviors to engage in. Our brains release dopamine – the reward chemical – when we are engaging in things that are pleasurable. Exercise can produce this pleasurable state, thereby offering the potential of being that substitute behavior for people who struggle with addiction. Also, movement reduces depressive symptoms and stress, which improves mood and has been shown to help diminish cravings for drugs and alcohol.

As you can see, physical movement is essential for positive mental health outcomes. Think about the activities you enjoyed as a kid – roller skating, swimming, dancing, hula hooping, playing basketball, rowing a boat, jumping rope, hiking through the woods, or walking along a stream. Find something you love and do it. Do it slowly at first, with a friend at times, alone with your thoughts at other times. Pick up the pace next time and feel your breath move through your body. Look around while you’re moving outside and find gratitude for the beauty of this community we live in. Breathe fully and deeply and find love and compassion for yourself, knowing that any movement or activity you engage in supports your body, your mind, and your emotional well-being. 

Resources to further your education and information:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-simply-moving-benefits-your-mental-health-201603289350

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/how-your-mental-health-reaps-the-benefits-exercise

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/people-in-nature/200901/no-more-nature-deficit-disorder


Julie Bomengen is a Vermont Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with 22 years of experience in the field of mental health. Julie is also a Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC), a certification of the Nutritional Therapy Association. She lives, works and plays in Lamoille County.

Food as Medicine for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

Around 400 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” While this quote is commonly used in reference to physical health (think about doctors prescribing heart-healthy diets to reduce rates of heart disease), in today’s blog post we will be extending the tenet of “Food As Medicine” to mental health as well. Indeed, recent research confirms what Hippocrates said so long ago: nutrition is a key pillar for supporting positive mental health outcomes. 

Simply put, our mood and food are intimately connected and bi-directional, each impacting the other. When we pay attention to the cues our bodies give us, we can often mitigate unwanted and unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms. For example, when I have clients tell me they are anxious, one of the first things I ask them about is their caffeine and sugar consumption. If you are experiencing a racing heart, pressured speech, or a cranked/on-edge nervous feeling, it may likely be that you have thrown your body chemistry out of balance by either over-consuming caffeine and/or eating too many-fast burning carbs which can lead to blood-sugar dysregulation or hypoglycemia, resulting in a yo-yo effect on your mood and energy levels. Perhaps an easy first step is to be curious about how you might feel differently if you were to reduce your caffeine use or eat a more nutrient-dense breakfast that stabilizes blood sugar levels and evens out your mood.

Did you know that our mental health is dependent on our body’s ability to make neurotransmitters, such as our “feel-good” chemicals, serotonin, dopamine, GABA, glutamate, and norepinephrine?  Did you know that we need amino acids to make the neurotransmitters and that amino acids come from the proteins we consume?  While the importance of eating good quality proteins cannot be overemphasized, it is equally as important that our bodies are digesting and breaking down these proteins into the amino acids that are the building blocks in the production of neurotransmitters. Approaching our consumption of food in a more intentional and slower manner and taking the time to awaken our senses as we eat is an important step in ensuring optimal digestion. With peak digestion comes prime production of the neurotransmitters that support positive mental health. 

Lastly, there is growing research on the link between gut permeability (a.k.a. leaky gut), inflammation in the body and depression. Doing whatever you can to reduce inflammation by watching your stress levels and eating the types of foods that soothe and heal your intestinal lining helps support positive mental health outcomes (more on this in a later blog post).

Specific steps that can support positive mental health:

  • Hydrate with water immediately upon waking. Drinking water supports cellular health and helps with mood, energy, mobility, and pain. Aim to consume 50% of your body weight in ounces of water every day. For example: If you weigh 150 pounds, shoot for 75 ounces of water per day. For every cup of caffeinated beverage you consume (these have a dehydrating effect on the body), compensate with an additional 2 cups of water.
  • Eat food before consuming your coffee in order to mitigate the impact of the caffeine on your body’s nervous system. 
  • Choose longer-lasting sources of foods in the morning to prevent the mood swings and irritability often associated with eating sugary, processed foods. For example, make a simple breakfast sandwich with bacon (cook a few pounds of bacon over the weekend and store it in your freezer for easy use throughout the week) or sausage, eggs and greens, or make a breakfast bowl with rice, quinoa, scrambled eggs, greens, and cheese. This website offers multiple ideas on how to start your day with superfoods that support your physical and mental health.
  • Eat your meals slowly, chewing each bite longer than you think you need to (or want to) to ensure the proper breakdown of nutrients in the body.
  • Consider consulting with some of our local nutritionists or working with a health coach who can help you follow-through on meal planning and support the changes that can sometimes be difficult to make initially.
  • Remember that even small changes will impact your mental health. Start to identify what foods make you feel poorly and what makes you feel best. Paying attention to how you feel helps. Keep a food/mood journal for 3-4 days, writing down everything you put into your mouth – solids and liquids. Notice your moods and digestive issues. Are you bloated and uncomfortable, is your heart racing, do you have energy, are you experiencing foggy brain, are you angry or irritable? Charting this information will help you remain objective and clear about what is and what is not supporting your mental and emotional health. Food is information, thereby, putting healthy ingredients into our bodies helps optimize both our physical and mental health and functioning.
  • Understand that Excitotoxins – aspartame, sugars, artificial sweeteners – all have an impact on our focus, energy, and mood. Consider exchanging them for stevia, raw honey, or maple syrup. Similarly, eliminating additives and preservatives from foods will reduce their damaging impact on your mood.
  • Eliminate harmful trans fats and oils, which lead to inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. As you work to decrease inflammatory processes by using healthy fats and oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter, you will be supporting optimal mental health functioning and reducing the risk of depressive symptoms.

Additional Resources to Further your Education and Information:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201509/when-food-is-medicine

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/09/food-mental-health

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rhythms-recovery/201703/eat-right-feel-right-mental-health-nutrition

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/28/well/eat/food-mood-depression-anxiety-nutrition-psychiatry.html?utm_campaign=Chris%20Kresser&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=71957723&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_XeO7wHLYkxiu89irzH7xIryxnphpBSEiG-mBm2s66VwSbfQV4jPINyWWiq582Wj6EaACKW-vtinV-rd5ifqtjbpE2WQ&_hsmi=71957723


Julie Bomengen is a Vermont Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with 22 years of experience in the field of mental health. Julie is also a Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC), a certification of the Nutritional Therapy Association. She lives, works and plays in Lamoille County.

The Power of Positivity and Reflection

By: Leah Hollenberger

Northern Vermont University recently held its “Dinner with the Boss,” an event that welcomes students and alumni to give students experience in networking. Alumni were asked to share one “gem” they felt would be most helpful to students just beginning their journey in pursuing their chosen career. The advice was excellent, thought-provoking, and inspirational.

Common to each piece of advice was the importance of being authentic to yourself, using reflection to determine what is truly meaningful to you, and the strength of community. In short, embracing your heart as well as your mind and nurturing connectivity.

It reminded me of an exercise I did years ago as a participant in the ALIGN pilot program at Marlboro College. Through self-examination, careful observation, and reflection, I was able to develop a short specific list of what I need to have in my life on a monthly basis to stay healthy, positive, and engaged – what I would define as a successful life. I keep this list, typed out, in my desk drawer and I refer to it when I am frustrated, overwhelmed or stressed out. Typically, I quickly determine that I’ve neglected one of those items and refocus my actions. The exercise effectively improved my ability to reframe challenges in a positive, nurturing perspective instead of from an unhealthy, negative framework. Change is constant and I continue to use these tools that embrace heart and mind, my “attitude of gratitude,”  to guide me in meaningful action.

There are many programs, books, blogs, and Instagram accounts available today that embrace this authenticity and provide tools to individuals and communities.

  • Marlboro College continues to offer a similar leadership program to the pilot in which I participated.
  • The Positive Education movement, based on the work of Martin Seligman’s work in positive psychology, embraces heart and mind via curriculum and in-school programming.
  • Resiliency efforts, including the Resilience Beyond Incarceration program with the Lamoille Restorative Center and programs at the Lamoille Family Center that address Adverse Childhood Experiences, utilize this work.
  • Whole Heart, Inc. has a wellness model, similar to the exercise I did, that gives you a way to personally define your successful life.
  • Ted Talks has several presentations regarding positive psychology.   

My favorite piece of advice from “Dinner with the Boss” was a spur-of-the-moment adlib from an experienced educator. It demonstrated heart and mind by showing how a simple action can guarantee inclusivity without making a person declare a need while at the same time increasing the odds that her key message would be heard. What was the advice? “Always use the microphone.”

What tools do you use to encourage authenticity? What advice would you give a young person starting to pursue their career? 


Leah Hollenberger is the Development and External Relations Officer for Northern Vermont University. She helped create the Live Well Lamoille Blog while serving as Vice President of Marketing, Development, and Community Relations for Copley Hospital. A former award-winning TV and Radio producer, she is the mother of two and spends her free time volunteering, cooking, playing outdoors, and producing textile arts. Leah writes about community events, preventive care, and assorted ideas to help one make healthy choices.

Pillars for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

Hello! I’m excited to offer you my first Live Well Lamoille blog post.  I will be covering topics related to Mental Health and hope that what I share will be interesting, educational, and applicable to you in your lives. I will be speaking about mental health from a Mind-Body approach which will include biological, psychological, and social perspectives. This style is inclusive, holistic, and integrated, and will allow for an exploration of mental health that is educational and functional.

The work I do as an outpatient mental health therapist includes discussion of “Pillars of Health.” These Pillars serve as the foundation for health and wellness and are paramount to any discussion about mental and emotional well-being. Pillars include:

  • Attention to Quality of Sleep and understanding the influence of our body’s Circadian Rhythms
  • Regular Physical Movement and Activities that are engaging and fun
  • Nutrient-Dense Foods that support optimal health for the individual
  • Involvement in a Supportive and Caring Community
  • Positive Personal and Intimate Relationships that are enduring, loving, and reliable
  • Meaningful Engagement in Work (paid or voluntary)
  • and lastly, a Robust Toolbox of Skills and Resources to Manage Current Stressors and/or Past Traumas.

I would argue that when we pay attention and subscribe to these Pillars of Health, the majority of disturbances in our health and wellbeing can and will be mitigated, if not eliminated. While it will always remain true that we cannot control for every variable that impacts our health and wellbeing, there is a hopefulness that comes with knowing that we have more agency and ability to manage and shape our health than we might have believed. Of course, if optimal health was achieved simply by knowing about these “Pillars,” we’d all be in good shape.

The truth is we benefit from a supportive environment in which to address our health goals. It can be hard to make and sustain changes, and due to bioindividuality (the fact that each of us has very specific needs for his or her own health according to age, constitution, gender, size, lifestyle, and ancestry), there is no “one size fits all” formula. Still, there are common themes and clear ways to feel better from the inside out. 

My goal is to help you understand and feel confident about how to take charge of your Mental Health. I look forward to teasing apart the “Pillars” and discussing other important and pressing themes such as addiction, depression, anxiety, and suicide, as well as the impact of a sedentary lifestyle and excessive screen time, and how a deficiency of time spent in nature all contribute to poor behavioral health outcomes.

For now, start paying attention to each of your own Pillars of Health and complete a self-inventory to determine which ones might need support and reinforcing. For example, ask yourself:

  • How is the quality of my sleep? Do I feel rested in the morning?
  • Am I moving my body in some way every day?  What impact does movement have on my mood?
  • Am I feeding my body and brain the nutrients it needs to function well? How are my moods impacted by what I eat or when I eat? 
  • Am I involved in some type of supportive community? If not, why? 
  • Are my relationships strong and reliable? How do these relationships impact my attitude or mood?
  • Am I doing work that I enjoy and find meaningful? Do I have effective outlets for managing stress?

Take some notes and stay tuned for how to optimize your mental and emotional health!

Best,  Julie


Julie Bomengen is a Vermont Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with 22 years of experience in the field of mental health. Julie is also a Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC), a certification of the Nutritional Therapy Association. She lives, works and plays in Lamoille County.