Mental Health Awareness Month

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Mental health affects how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

To kick off Mental Health Awareness Month, we are offering up tips and strategies for coping, managing stress, maintaining relationships and more to stay healthy and resilient during difficult times.

Dhruti Patel, senior agent shares ways to “Breakup with Burnout” in the first installment of our month-long series. Watch the full video at

For more information about Mental Health Awareness Month, go to

Check back here for more videos throughout the month of May!

Personalize Your Plate!

It’s March and National Nutrition Month! It’s important to make good food choices year-round, however, this annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics choose this month to reinforce healthy eating habits. This year’s theme, Personalize Your Plateshowcases that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and health. We are unique and have different bodies, goals, backgrounds, and tastes. Here are some ways you can build a healthy ‘personalized’ plate for your own mealtime.

Choose a variety of nutritious foods that you like from the groups below: 

  • Brightly colored fruits and 100% fruit juice
  • Vibrantly colored vegetables
  • Fiber-rich whole-grain foods
  • Low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt or fortified plant-based alternatives
  • Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, soy foods (tofu and tempeh), beans, lentils and nuts

Be creative when adding them to your plate. For example, add your favorite nuts and dried fruit to oatmeal or other cereals. Wash and cut your favorite vegetables for ready-to-eat snacks or lunch bags. Increase whole grains by making sandwiches on whole-wheat bread. If whole-grain bread is not your ‘go to’ bread, make ‘checkerboard’ sandwiches. Use one slice of whole wheat and white bread. It will help you slowly get used to the taste and texture of this nutritious alternative.  

Plan ahead to make nutritious meals for the week. Every Sunday, I take inventory of all my food sources – fridge, freezer, and pantry. Next, I choose recipes based upon my inventory and pencil in on a calendar the main dishes for each day of the coming week. For example, Monday-macaroni and cheese (Meatless Monday), Tuesday-chicken, Wednesday-chili, etc. Then I add veggies, broccoli for Monday, carrots for Tuesday, and a hearty green salad for Wednesday. Finally, I complete each menu with our favorite whole grains, fruit, and dairy item. The time spent planning a week’s worth of meals in one day saves an enormous amount of time the rest of the week. There’s no more mad dash to throw a meal together or run out for fast food. And, since the meals are on the calendar, other people in your household can grab the recipes and ingredients for that day and get the meal started. 

To keep this meal planning cycle running smoothly, make sure you maintain a well-stocked food supply and keep a running grocery list. I keep my list in plain sight on the fridge so anyone in my household can add items to the list.

Honing your culinary skills can also help you personalize your plate. Creating delicious dishes using different cooking techniques like sautéing, stir-frying, and grilling, add texture and enhance the flavors without adding a lot of extra ingredients, fat or calories. Following healthy recipes is easier if you understand the cooking terms. Whether you are a new chef or a seasoned chef (no pun intended) looking to be more kitchen savvy, consider tuning in to TV cooking shows and learn from the pros, watch cooking YouTube videos or check out cooking classes at local community colleges and other places in your area.  

To learn more about how to Personalize Your Plate, go to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, National Nutrition Month page at Check out the free downloadable tip sheets available in English and Spanish to get you started. Bon Appetit!

Safe Celebrations for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the start of the most wonderful time of the year – but this year it looks a bit different. 

Traditional Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends are always the best, but this year can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu. Obviously, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household. If you do plan to spend Thanksgiving with people outside your household, take steps to make your celebration safer.

Attending a Gathering

Make your celebration safer. In addition to following the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer like washing hands properly, take these additional steps while attending a Thanksgiving gathering.

  • Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils.
  • Wear a mask, and safely store your mask while eating and drinking.
  • Avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as the kitchen.
  • Use single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items like food containers, plates, and utensils.

Hosting a Thanksgiving Gathering

If having guests to your home, be sure that people follow the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer. Other steps you can take include:

  • Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.
  • Limit the number of guests.
  • Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use.
  • If celebrating indoors, make sure to open windows and provide ventilation.
  • Limit the number of people in food preparation areas.
  • Have guests bring their own food and drink.
  • If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils.

Consider Other Thanksgiving Activities

  • Host a virtual Thanksgiving meal with friends and family who don’t live with you
    • Schedule a time to share a meal together virtually.
    • Have people share recipes and show their turkey, dressing, or other dishes they prepared.
  • Watch television and play games with people in your household
    • Watch Thanksgiving Day parades, sports, and movies at home.
    • Find a fun game to play.
  • Shopping
    • Shop online sales the day after Thanksgiving and the days leading up to the winter holidays.
    • Use contactless services for purchased items, like a curbside pick-up.
    • Shop in open-air markets staying 6 feet away from others.

Don’t forget to practice gratitude this Thanksgiving, especially if you and your family are healthy and well! 

Blog contributed by Morgan Page (’21), University of Maryland College of Arts and Humanities

Three steps on starting a ‘happy, healthy lifestyle’

With the holidays just around the corner, many people experience added and unwanted stress. On top of stress, holiday snacks and treats are a big part of the next two months and if you’re anything like me, you can’t say no to those holiday sweets. 

Well, I am going to offer you three steps that are a big part of making sure you stay happy and healthy through the stressful holiday season. 

Step 1: Drink More Water!

Drinking water has numerous health benefits. The all-natural, calorie-free drink is better for you than high-sugar drinks like sodas and juices. It supplies nutrients and hydration to your body.

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Some ways water can benefit your health include:

  • Cleansing toxins from the body
  • Controlling calories
  • Energizing muscles
  • Balancing body fluids

Remember to drink 8 glasses—64 ounces—of water a day to get the benefits of drinking water. 

Personally, I set a goal of 5 32-ounce water bottles a day. I end up drinking 160 ounces of water per day.

A good way to measure how much water you should be drinking is by dividing your weight in half. You should drink half of your body weight in water every single day!

Step 2: Stabilizing your mood

Mood is an important part of your mental health and well-being. If you’re in a bad mood then you could see negative effects in interactions with others and your daily experiences. Assess how you feel daily so you can adjust your lifestyle and choices.

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To help stabilize your mood:

  • Sleep 7-8 hours each day
  • Engage in social, fun activities
  • Exercise
  • Seek professional counseling if needed
  • Spend time with loved ones

I exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. Exercise and sleep regulation is a very great way to begin stabilizing your mood, becoming one step closer to a happy lifestyle. 

Step 3: Set personal goals

This by far is my favorite step in my three-step process. As a senior at the University of Maryland, goal setting has been a big part of my life since I began my time here at the university. 

By setting sharp, clearly defined goals, you can measure and take pride in the achievement of those goals, and you’ll see forward progress in what might previously have seemed a long pointless grind. You will also raise your self-confidence, as you recognize your own ability and competence in achieving the goals that you’ve set.

Here are some steps to get you setting goals:

  • State each goal as a positive statement
    • Express your goals positively – “Execute this technique well” is a much better goal than “Don’t make this stupid mistake.”
  • Be precise 
    • Set precise goals, putting in dates, times and amounts so that you can measure achievement. If you do this, you’ll know exactly when you have achieved the goal and can take complete satisfaction from having achieved it.
  • Set priorities – When you have several goals, give each a priority. 
    • This helps you to avoid feeling overwhelmed by having too many goals and helps to direct your attention to the most important ones.
  • Write goals down 
    • This crystallizes them and gives them more force.
  • Keep operational goals small – Keep the low-level goals that you’re working towards small and achievable. 
    • If a goal is too large, then it can seem that you are not making progress towards it. Keeping goals small and incremental gives more opportunities for reward.
  • Set performance goals, not outcome goals – You should take care to set goals over which you have as much control as possible. 
    • It can be quite dispiriting to fail to achieve a personal goal for reasons beyond your control!
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With the holidays coming up, these three steps have helped me create a better lifestyle for myself. I hope they will be put to good use for your future endeavors!

Health Insurance Open Enrollment is Around the Corner – Are you Ready?

Written by Maria Pippidis, Extension Educator in Family Financial Management, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

You know Health insurance is important. You also know it can be expensive. Purchasing health insurance based on premium alone can be a mistake; especially if you have health concerns. You want to be able to access the care you need to keep yourself healthy.

Health insurance is designed to help you access health care and also protect you against a major health care expense. Like other insurances, it helps protect you against financial ruin if you become ill or have a chronic condition like heart disease, diabetes or ongoing pain.

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To choose the right insurance plan, you need to consider how you use health care services and which health care services you need. Health insurance plans are designed to cover several kinds of health care services:

1. Preventive and wellness services 

2. Lab tests

3. Hospitalization

4. Prescription drugs

5. Outpatient care

6. Maternity and newborn care

7. Mental and behavioral health treatment

8. Pediatric care

9. Services and devices for injuries, disabilities or chronic conditions

10. Emergency room services

Depending on the plan you have, preventative services are covered by the cost of the premium. That means there would be no additional cost or copayment for the visit or for lab work. This varies depending on if you are under 65 and have a plan from the Health Insurance Marketplace or an employer-based plan or if you are over 65 and have Medicare and a Medicare Supplement Plan.

Total out-of-pocket costs include premiums but also the annual deductible, copayments and coinsurance costs associated with using your health insurance plan.  So, how you use health services will influence your total out-of-pocket costs. The more doctor, hospital or lab visits you have the more your total copayment and coinsurance costs will be for the year. Usually, the lower the premium the higher these costs are, but it depends on the plan.

There is a My Smart Choice Health Insurance workbook. This book provides information that can help you inventory how you use health care services and choose a health insurance plan.

Health Laptop Healthcare Wellness Senior Concept

We’ve provided a worksheet where you can inventory how often you and your family members use different health care services.  Knowing how often helps you estimate your out-of-pocket costs.

Every person or family is different, so your number of visits will be different from others. Many people have annual visits and possibly follow up visits for a number of doctors. You will want to include these in your inventory. Be sure to include visits to the urgent care or emergency department as well.

You can use a calendar to remember how often you’ve used different doctors and health care services, or you can contact the doctor’s office to get the information.

Once you know how often and what kind of health care services you use, you are better able to choose a plan that best meets your health care needs. As you review information about the plans, be sure to pick a plan that includes the services you use.  Remember, not all plans are the same in terms of what services and how much of the costs they cover. If you have a special health problem, contact the health insurance company for more details about what the plan covers.  The summary of benefits and coverage documents as well as the plan’s detailed documentation will provide more details.

Insurance is designed to share the costs with you. Usually the lower the premium, the higher the deductible, copayment or coinsurance amounts. If you and your family use health care services a lot, it may be better to choose a plan that has lower deductibles, copayments or coinsurance. Because almost every time you visit the doctor, there will be a copayment, you’ll want to pick a plan that has lower copayment amounts. Because the deductible will need to be paid before insurance starts to pay, you’ll want a lower deductible.

No matter which plan you choose, it is important to set money aside to cover these expenses. You want to be able to go to the doctor when you need to so that you can stay healthy. Having the money set aside makes this an easy choice. 

Developing a spending plan or budget, that includes savings for health care costs, helps you to be prepared financially and to reduce your stress about how you will pay for health care services. 

For more information about choosing and using your health insurance plan go to our Insure website

Safe COVID-19 Halloween Tips

Spooky season has arrived and if you’re anything like me, you can’t WAIT for Halloween! But, COVID has made life a little different this year, especially with the upcoming holiday.

Many places around Maryland have limited Halloween activity, including trick-or-treating. But for those places that haven’t, here are some safe and happy tips to still have your scary fun!

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  • Virtual costume parties & parades
    • Zoom is a great option to show off costumes and play games. 
    • Outdoor costume parades are another option if it is possible for everyone to stay at least 6 feet apart and wear cloth face coverings.
  • Spooky movie night
    • You can’t go wrong with a Halloween movie marathon! Some of my old-time favorites include Hocus Pocus, Halloweentown, Monster House and Casper.
  • Decorating pumpkins
    • Decorating pumpkins is always a safe and healthy option! Be sure to roast the pumpkin seeds when you’re done for a healthy snack option as well!
  • If there is no trick-or-treating in​ your community…
    • Trick-or-treating may be discouraged or canceled in some areas this year, as I know it is in mine.
    • A family scavenger hunt for treats in your home or yard can be a fun alternative. 
  • If trick-or-treating is still on in your neighborhood, avoid large groups or clustering at doorsteps or anywhere else. 
    • Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance 
      • such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard
      • If you are preparing goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing the bags.
    • Make sure protective masks are used at all times!
      • The CDC states that “a costume mask (such as for Halloween) is not a substitute for a cloth mask. A costume mask should not be used unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around the face.”
      • Do not wear a costume mask over a protective cloth mask because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe.
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The CDC offers great options, instructions and alternatives for some Halloween fun!

Just because we are in the midst of a global pandemic, doesn’t mean you can’t still get spooky and creative with your children! Have fun, be safe and don’t forget to STAY SPOOKY!

From September to Walktober

As September comes to a close, many of us start thinking about fall flavors, fall leaves, fall temperatures, and fall physical activity!

Okay, the fall physical activity one might seem a little strange. But, as the calendar gets closer to October, I get excited about walking! Every October, Maryland celebrates Walk Maryland Day! Walking is actually the official state exercise of Maryland (you can read more about that and why I love walking here). This year, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), is expanding the celebration from one day to the entire month of October!

Walktober will focus on pedestrian safety, health, community programs, and ways to commute by walking. You can check out their website,, for more information. There are two exciting ways anyone can get involved with Walktober and Walk Maryland Day. 

First, MDOT will be hosting free ‘Walkinars’ every Thursday in October from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Each Walkinar will include a panel of excellent speakers and focus on walking-related topics, including advancing walkability, pedestrian safety, walking technology, and community initiatives.

Second, you can register to be a Group Walk Leader! MDOT is asking anyone interested in promoting walking in their community to sign up as a Walk Leader. If you sign up as a Walk Leader, you then plan a walk, (either for a private group or open to the community) and encourage others to join you for that walk. Here are some examples of ways you could be a Walk Leader:

  • Talk with your employer about planning a walk near your workplace. Then, encourage coworkers to join you for a walk. Consider planning it before work, during break time, or after work, depending on your schedule
  • Plan a walk with your family members. If there is a location where it is convenient to meet, plan to meet there and walk together. 
  • Plan a walk for your community. You could find a place to walk in your community and encourage neighbors and friends to join you for a walk. 

Walking is great exercise and can be accessible for even someone who is new to physical activity. Among the many benefits of walking is that it’s a great activity for our current era of social distancing. So, make sure that while you are walking, you are following all local regulations including keeping proper social distancing and wearing a mask. Especially now, the physical and mental health benefits of walking have the potential to improve the lives of so many Marylanders! 

We here at the University of Maryland Extension are excited to be partnering with MDOT during Walktober and are looking forward to getting outside and celebrating Walktober! Sign up for the walkinars or to be a Walk Leader at