What Is Therapy?

Have you ever found yourself struggling to complete tasks on the farm, coping with grief/loss/illness, managing anxiety around unpredictable weather events, or even maintaining relationships with family members? You may, at times, have tried managing these struggles
by yourself, and that can be extremely exhausting. If you feel like you need a boost in your overall well-being and mental health, then psychotherapy may be a great option for you. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a method of helping people with mental illness and emotional challenges (psychiatry.org, 2022). With some time, psychotherapy can help people eliminate or control troubling thoughts/feelings/behaviors so that they can function better and manage the stressors that life brings.

Research shows that about 75% of people who enter psychotherapy see benefits and an increase in their overall well-being and mental health (apa.org, 2022). Going to therapy can be a huge leap and involves a lot of courage, but the benefits are so worth it.

While most therapy can come in the forms of individual sessions, couple and family therapy is also an option. If you are having relationship difficulties with your partner, experiencing stress when trying to parent your children, or just want an overall healthier family, these options may be the best for you. In couple and family therapy, you may be in the room with your partner and the therapist, or even your family and the therapist. Your therapeutic journey can be unique to
you has the potential to be curated towards your needs.

What to expect from therapy?

Prior to entering the therapy space, you will most likely complete an intake which oftentimes involves demographic information as well as questions around your mental health. Once you complete an intake, you will set up your first appointment. After gaining the courage to enter the therapy space for your first session, the work begins. In the first session, the therapist will get to know you, and you will get to know your therapist. You will have the opportunity to share your life story, as well as the current challenges you are faced with in your life. If things are not working in the therapy space, or if you are not comfortable talking about certain topics, feel free to let your therapist know. They are there to help you and want you to be as comfortable as possible.

Steps to set up your first appointment

  1. Go to https://go.umd.edu/farmtherapy to complete an intake for 6 free therapy
    sessions. This intake is a google form that asks you for demographic questions, as well
    as questions about your mental health. Make sure to list on the end some dates and
    times you are available to talk with someone on our team to set up your first
    appointment. All of your information on the intake will remain confidential and will
    be deleted once you are paired with a therapist. If you have any questions regarding
    your intake, feel free to email mdfrsan@umd.edu.
  2. Once you have completed the intake, one of our team members will contact you on a
    date and time you had listed, and verify the information listed on your intake.
    Depending on your session preference (virtual or in-person), our team will pair you
    with a therapy clinic closest to you.
  3. Once you are paired with a therapy clinic, our team will reach out to them, and with
    your consent, will give them your information so they can contact you.
  4. Once in contact with the therapy clinic, they will assist you in setting up your first
    appointment, and the appointment will most likely happen on a weekly basis. After
    the 6 free sessions are up, you may continue sessions but at a price set by the provider
    and your insurance if you are insured. The provider will assist you in this process so
    therapy will not become a financial burden.

This blog submitted by Nick Warnick, FCS intern.

Mental Fitness for Incoming Freshmen

As high school seniors are making their way across the graduation stage, their minds are turning to thoughts of leaving for college in the fall. Making the transition from living at home to living on campus can be exciting but also overwhelming.

During this shift, it is important for students to check in with themselves and regulate their mental health. Being away from home can lead to additional stress and strain on students because living on campus often means taking on more responsibilities. Freshmen must learn how to coordinate their schedules to attend class, study, show up to social events, and bear the responsibility of caring for themselves.

Since we all struggle with this balance, here are some resources and tips for improving and maintaining good mental health.

One of the most important resources available to students on campus is the counseling center. Students can visit the counseling center for mental health care including individual counseling, group counseling, couples counseling, career counseling, drop in hours, and referral services. The counseling center or the disability support center can also provide accessibility and disability services in order to accommodate students in their classes. It is important for students to keep in mind that professional mental health experts are available on campus because a busy semester could mean that students may not have time to seek these resources outside of campus.

Listed below are some mindful tips for taking care of your mental health during the semester.

  • Staying active. Physical exercise is a key component of good mental health. Taking time to go to the gym or going for a walk can be a good way to improve your mental health.
  • Reaching out. Maintaining regular social engagement whether it be with family or friends can be extremely beneficial to your mental health. Isolating during stressful times can lead to even more stress, so it is important to stay connected to your loved ones throughout the semester.
  • Eating and sleeping. Many college students skip meals and avoid sleep in order to get their work done, but a consistent diet and enough sleep is essential to maintaining good mental health. Eating and sleeping keeps our brains and bodies functioning as well as possible.
  • Meditation. During the rush of classes and assignments, meditation can be a simple practice to keep your thoughts focused and your mind at ease. A few minutes of meditation and quiet time on a daily basis can reduce stress and improve mental performance.
  • Seeking resources. Even when you’re trying your best to keep up with yourself and school, it can still be tough to deal with certain issues. Knowing what resources are available to you and seeking them out during times of crisis can help you solve a problem much easier.

This blog written by Mumtahina Tabassum, FCS senior intern, class of ’22

Especially for Teens – Let’s Talk about Gambling

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, so let’s have a serious talk about gambling. And by gambling, I’m referring to the activity of betting: the practice of risking money or other valuables in a game or bet. Gambling is taking on a risk with the hope of an uncertain gain. Some examples of gambling are betting on sports teams or card games for money, playing the lottery and using online gambling sites. 

Why do people gamble?  Gambling can be a form of fun or entertainment. Some teens only gamble during games among friends, and keep the risk low by using only tokens, treats, or small change. The activity of gambling is not necessarily a problem, as long as it is managed well.     

Why is this important?  Evidence indicates that about 6% of teens under the age of 18 have a serious gambling problem. That doesn’t sound like a lot of people, but what that means is that in a class of 30 people, 1-2 of your classmates are facing this challenge. About 80% of youth have participated in some form of gambling, and 10-15% are at risk of gambling becoming an addiction.  

How can gambling become a problem?  Gambling can become risky in several ways.  One is when it becomes obsessive. The reality of gambling is that you are much more likely to lose money than you are to win. Over time, very few people come out ahead financially with gambling. However, after losing money, the common reaction is to “play again” in an attempt to win back losses. This almost never works. Instead, more money is lost.  

Gambling also becomes a problem when it starts to become addictive. Gambling can actually activate the brain’s reward system, much like addictive substances. Someone with a gambling addiction feels a need to continue gambling. 

What happens when gambling becomes a problem?  People experiencing gambling challenges put their future success at risk. Instead of having money to reach life goals and pay living expenses, it becomes lost to gambling organizations. People addicted to gambling sometimes resort to stealing from friends and family, and often start to suffer from depression and poor health.  

What can you do?  Nobody intends to have a gambling problem, or hurt themselves, their friends, and their family. If you or someone you care about is facing life challenges caused by gambling, talk ASAP to a trusted counselor. Confidential help is available on-line, or by calling 1-800-GAMBLER. 

The Dimensions of Wellness

At the beginning of February, Breathing Room special guest writer Alex Chan, Mental Health Specialist with the University of Maryland Extension, offered some reasons why we have trouble keeping our New Year’s resolutions.

Even after acknowledging the pitfalls in goal-setting, it may still be difficult to set a reasonable goal and an accompanying step-by-step process to get there. By understanding the dimensions of personal wellness, you may be able to identify the areas affecting your ability to maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Creating A Healthier Life, A Step-By-Step Guide to Wellness from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration identifies the eight dimensions of wellness as:

Physical – the area that encompasses physical health and all that it includes. Things like sleep, exercise, and eating well all contribute to the physical dimension of wellness.

Emotional – this dimension of wellness is about maintaining emotional health. Stress management, coping skills, and therapy are activities relevant to this area.

Social – maintaining social wellness includes aspects like having a support system, setting boundaries, and interactions with social media.

Spiritual – this includes spending time alone, prayer, or even spending time in nature to care for yourself.

Intellectual (Personal) – spending time partaking in hobbies, following goals, and validating your identity all factor into your personal wellbeing.

Environmental (Space) – ensuring and maintaining a safe, stable, and healthy environment contributes to your environmental or special wellness.

Financial – taking control of your money so it doesn’t take control of you.

Occupational (Work) – taking breaks and managing time at work are tasks that help maintain occupational wellness

Each of the dimensions interact and affect one another, creating multifaceted obstacles to creating a path to your wellness goals. Do the following activity for each of your wellness goals to begin outlining your personal step-by-step guide to self care. Once you have your plan, set a reminder to review your plan after 2-3 weeks and see if any unforeseen obstacles have emerged.

1. Define one wellness goal that you’d like to achieve.

2. Which dimensions of wellness are involved?

3. What small step can you take towards reaching that goal?

4. When you will take the action described in #3?

5. Are there any barriers to taking your first step? How will you deal with them?

For more information, or to request a training in self care and stress management, contact Alex Chan at alexchan@umd.edu.

Why Couldn’t I Keep My New Years’ Resolution?

Now that we are over a month past the New Year, it is a good time to assess the status of our New Years’ resolutions, if you made any. Although this might be a disappointing moment for those of us who have not been able to sustain the commitments we made, it is still important to look back on them and identify what worked and what did not. This reflection enables us to learn from any mistakes that we made during the process. 

First, let us acknowledge that change is hard. There is quite a bit to the process of change that is involved before we even make a commitment to change . We have to recognize that something is a problem, weigh the options of changing or maintaining the status quo, and create a plan that is sufficiently detailed and achievable (more on this later), all before we make our first attempt at a new behavior. Furthermore, once we do take our first steps, we have to monitor for pitfalls and ensure that we can sustain the new behavior long-term.

For the sake of this article, we will take the commitment to a New Years’ Resolution as evidence that you had some kind of plan (or intent) to change, which would indicate that you had already recognized a problem and decided that change was more appealing than the status quo. Some of the most common pitfalls in creating lasting change are that the goal itself is either too vague or too lofty.

Too vague: I want to get fit.

This goal is not specific or meaningful enough to spur organized action. What does being fit mean to you? Being able to run a mile without stopping? Being flexible enough to play with your grandchildren on the floor? Having a specific goal focuses your effort and reduces the chance of feeling overwhelmed by possibilities.

Too lofty: I (never was a runner, and) am going to run a marathon next month. 

Lofty goals impose harsh expectations that may ultimately demoralize you, even if they are specific and meaningful. The pride of achieving smaller milestones will provide the motivation to keep moving toward the loftier goal.

As your goals become more specific and achievable, it is important to celebrate milestones as a chance to both feel good about your accomplishments and set the next achievable goal for yourself in that realm. 

What if you set small achievable goals that are meaningful to you, yet still find yourself unable to follow through consistently? 

Unexamined Root Issue 

A lack of sustained change indicates that the status quo might serve a more important function in your life than you have imagined. Say you are a parent of two young children who wants to start a workout regimen in the mornings. If working out every morning means you aren’t able to cook the healthiest, warmest breakfast for your children, guilt may be keeping you from changing. In essence, you value providing for your children in a specific way more than you value the personal fitness changes. For another example, what if you resolved to stick to a reasonable budget each month by reducing frivolous spending? Inflation and price hikes aside, perhaps you have not identified that shopping gives you a sense of freedom – a compelling reason NOT to stick to a budget where that sense of freedom is limited.

Whether it is guilt, feeling restricted, or some other emotional issue, it is often difficult for people to identify and tackle these issues alone. Friends and family are a good place to start the conversation about some of these root issues, because sometimes close associates can see our blind spots – personal qualities or circumstances we are unaware of but that are visible to others. Talking about our goals with others also helps us rehearse our belief in their importance. Licensed mental health professionals can help us look deeper into the emotional issues that may be holding us back, and can also help us develop more specific, achievable goals that keep us motivated in the long-run. They can also help brainstorm new ways of meeting formerly unacknowledged needs in ways that do not interfere with the changes or resolutions that you are trying to make.

The blog written by Breathing Room special guest contributor Alex Chan, Mental and Behavioral Health Specialist with University of Maryland Extension.

Mindful Relationships: How mindfulness practice and techniques can help you connect more deeply with your partner

Relationships are never static; they are ever-changing and have ups and downs. With the evolving dynamics in our relationships, how can we achieve a fulfilling and happy relationship? It is a question that often crosses our minds when faced with challenges and conflicts in any relationship, especially with our partners. Though it is challenging to come up with a definitive answer, some successful practices and habits can lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying relationship.

Couples therapy and individual counseling can be powerful tools to strengthen and improve relationships. One of the other practical and effective tools you can use to improve your relationship is mindfulness practices. Mindfulness helps us cultivate present moment awareness with our thoughts, emotions, and sensations. In relationships, mindfulness can help us enhance our awareness of how the relationship has been evolving and tap into what is working and what is not.

Mindfulness enhances awareness of self and others. It helps us recognize how we interact with our partners and allows us to become aware of specific patterns of behavior that might be causing damage to our relationship. Such awareness also helps open up our limiting beliefs to a different perspective that our partner holds. For example, we tend to assume how the counterpart would say or behave based on our observed behavior from the partner. This creates prejudice and a specific construct that could limit us from accepting an evolving side of our partner.

Dr. John Gottman, a well-known specialist in relationships, says that the ability to turn toward one another and continually deepen the bond by making an effort every day to reach out to your partner is a vital indicator of a good and sound relationship. In addition, practicing mindfulness helps us understand our own needs and the needs of our partners.

The experts say that the vast majority of disagreements in romantic relationships occur due to turning away from each other, especially during times of conflict. Here are some of the challenges and struggles that we encounter in different scenarios of relationships with our partners.

Long-distance relationships

Long-distance relationships can be challenging due to miscommunication, time conflicts, lack of intimacy, and accountability issues.

Closed off relationships

A partner experiences disconnection, isolation, and aloofness in a closed-off relationship. It can lead to feelings of rejection. A partner may not comprehend why you refuse to talk, which becomes a cycle of silence and resentment.

Pandemic relationship struggles

Pandemic has caused anxiety, uncertainty, anger, and social isolation. These aspects have made relationships with partners more challenging than ever. Not having space, spilling of work and personal life, and pandemic worries have created a hostile environment for couples. Reports by Stanford Medicine mentioned that there had been an increase in people’s hostility of anger, and frustration during the pandemic. Such hostility could be taken out to your partners and loved ones. In order to restrain from outbursts, mindfulness can be helpful in the regulation of stress and emotions effectively.

Using mindfulness approach to improve relationships:

Expressing gratitude

Mindfulness helps us to cultivate appreciation and gratitude in all things and connections. Practicing gratitude can help you guide your mind to focus on the positive rather than the negative – to look for opportunities rather than signs of failure. In addition, research shows that expressing gratitude in an intimate relationship enhances the level of connection and happiness in both the giver and the receiver the following day. So, expressing your gratitude and appreciation to your partner is mutually rewarding.

Here are some of the techniques suggested to express your gratitude:

  • A letter of appreciation expressing all that you admire in your partner in writing.
  • Daily Gratitude, like thanking your partner for making efforts and being thoughtful on a daily basis, like making a delicious meal or doing dishes.

Cultivating curiosity

Mindfulness practice can help cultivate a beginner’s mind attitude and curiosity towards your partner. It helps you to notice the minor attributes of your partner. Ask questions to your partner and be open to the aspects of this person you still do not know about yet. Even if you interact with each other every few hours or stay together in the same house, keep in mind that all humans are ever-changing in their way. If you ask more questions, it shows that you are interested and are curious about what is happening in your partner’s life. Next time try asking a few pertinent questions regarding their experiences.

Mindful listening

Have you ever engaged in a conversation and noticed that your partner was not listening to you? Or are you listening to understand what your partner is saying, or are you already preparing your response?

Listening indeed takes time, and we often jump to judgments before hearing out the whole story, especially with those whom we have known for a longer period of time. Therefore, to be good listeners, we need to hone our listening skills, as it is one of the essential skills in maintaining healthy and strong relationships.

Experiment with mindful listening practice to cultivate non-judgmental listening skills that can provide your partner an opportunity to share their feelings with complete acceptance and patience. Mindful listening is about recognizing that you have wandered away during the conversation and getting back to listening to your partner with your undivided attention.

Simply listen to your partner and observe their expressions and posture to try this practice. Try to refrain from providing suggestions or solving their issue. Once your partner stops sharing, confirm what he/she/they were trying to express to get a better grasp on the issue.

Prevent stress from affecting your relationship

Mindfulness has been shown to help us manage stress. Under constant stress, we tend to be more reactive and sensitive to even the smallest amount of tension in a relationship. When you are able to successfully manage stress, it is easier for you and your partner to have the most productive, meaningful, and intimate interaction.

Research has shown that simple mindfulness techniques such as the belly breathing method can improve stress coping skills, provide relaxation, boost mood, and improve focus. See below to learn how to apply this method:

  1. Slowly inhale and exhale through your nose for one to two minutes
  2. Place one hand on the belly or your chest.
  3. Notice how your belly or chest expands and relaxes with in-breath and exhale.
  4. Repeat this 3 to 5 times.

Here are some effective and practical tips on improving relationships:

  • Scheduling time together with your partner (For example: Time to talk, movie nights, evening walks)
  • Communicating clearly during the time of conflict on what you need (For example: If you find the situation overwhelming and need time to think, clearly indicate to your partner and suggest how you will follow up regarding the conflict).
  • Communicate and plan based on realistic expectations
  • Adopt a no-tech time while interacting with your partner
  • Prioritize yourself and engage in things that fulfill you, create a productive space to energize yourself, and encourage your partner to do the same.
  • During the time of conflict, start by explaining how you feel due to certain actions by your partner rather than being accusatory. (For instance: Rather than saying, “You never do dishes,” tell your partner, “When you do not do dishes, I feel less appreciative and cared for”).

This blog written by Thoinu Karam, Family and Consumer Sciences intern.

Enhancing One Health Among Youth

We have learned over time that it is humans who are the main factor of environmental problems. Various natural disasters and diseases caused by climate changes showed that humans, animals, and nature are intertwined together. The concept of One Health reflects this perspective. One Health indicates that people’s health is closely related to animal and environmental health as well.

Since people-animal-environments affect each other, protecting animals and the environment for our well-being has become an essential notion. In this era, it is the current children who can change the future world with this perspective. Therefore, leaving a pragmatic process to naturally learn and act on the One Health concept is the role of adults and what we can do is to keep children interested in nature and animals. In this digital era, children interact with nature and animals on their devices, and are unable to feel all the senses that nature gives. They cannot naturally learn the role and importance of nature without touching actual animals and plants.

Therefore, adults should provide children with as many opportunities to experience nature as possible. It is not a nature exploration activity aimed at “education” (which is actually being conducted a lot), but a program that children can truly ‘enjoy’ without the burden of learning and memorizing something. For example, if a program provides children with the responsibility of raising plants or young animals (for example in 4-H) over several months, they would be actively engaged.

In addition, I think it is necessary to plan camps and various activities outside where children can use the natural environment as a playground and use plants as “toys.”

Many countries are already conducting similar outdoor programs, but more active promotion is needed for children who are still heavily connected to their devices, to see and experience their relationship with the natural world around them to improve the ecosystem and the human-animal-environment interconnections. 

This blog written by Da Hye Kim, FCS intern

Ways of Successfully Transitioning to a “New Normal” for Families 

The emotional toll that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken on us is enormous. Our lives have been dragged back and forth as a result of lockdowns, social distancing, and many other social gathering limitations that have impacted every aspect of our lives, including our relationships.

Keeping physical space between people who don’t live together was critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. As governments have decided to lower the social distancing limits, returning to our daily life with a mask and unknown parameters can be stressful and anxiety-causing. 

For children and young adults especially, it’s difficult to anticipate how we’ll handle our return to in-person school following online schooling. Many of us, without a doubt, are not prepared to return, and yet here we are. Despite the fact that school systems differ from one country to another, the difficulties that children face are more or less the same around the world. Students who are returning to school this fall may be feeling the pressure, worry, stress, and anxiety that comes with the change after a lack of social contact owing to lockdowns and other restrictions. 

COVID-19 pandemic school closure and online learning have worsened some of the systemic vulnerabilities that students and families were already facing, such as poverty, displacement, and racism. Researchers report significant increases in people’s anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. A recent study by Duckworth et al. (2021), found that high school students who learned remotely (regardless of gender, race, and ethnicity, or socioeconomic status) had lower levels of social, emotional, and academic well-being than students who learned in school. Moreover, returning to school also involves periodic quarantine of students if there is a confirmed case and their friends leading to isolation at home or hospitals. 

Younger children are adaptable and flexible, but attempts to safeguard their health may make new child care and school settings more difficult. If you are a parent you may be hesitant to enroll your kid(s) in an early childhood education program since you may be unable to readily visit and interact frequently with the childcare provider or teacher. 

If you are a parent of older youth, you may be more apprehensive about how your child will maintain their safety without your guidance with the current safety protocols in the school. You may also be concerned regarding how your child will adapt to a newer school environment with distancing in the classroom and limited social opportunities with peers. 

So, how do we cope as a parent and a child during this return to school phase of their lives? Good stress management techniques and practices can be highly beneficial in this scenario to prepare for these stressful and uncertain times. 

Establish better communication

We have a tendency to mentally navigate our anxieties in isolation. One of the most beneficial strategies is to communicate how we cope with uncomfortable emotions with others. This can be done as a daily ritual during dinner time or having a good discussion or as you are getting ready to put your child to bed. Encourage your children with positive remarks (such as “I am so glad that you shared that with me”) when they share their feelings or emotional experiences with you. This will create a positive association with communication. 

Tiny techniques of tackling stress 

There are many small ways that you and your loved ones can manage daily stress. The easiest of all is taking a deep breath, counting down from 10 to 1, or going for a quick sip of water, doodling, playing with your pet, watching a light-hearted television, listening to a piece of soothing music, engaging in hobbies, learning something new.

Get moving

 Educate children on ways they can still enjoy playtime and peer engagement during this transitional phase. Play and exercise are crucial parts of a child’s development. Make sure that your children are receiving opportunities and dedicated times to engage in these forms of activities. You can also engage them in exploration to various outdoor venues such as state parks and hiking trails. 

Power of Now

Most of our lives we spend either ruminating past experiences or worrying about the future when our true existence is in fact the “now”. When we are experiencing the present moment we are most engaged with our thoughts, emotions, surroundings, and people. Research has proven that mindfulness practice can be highly effective in bringing present moment awareness and even managing our stress. When we are faced with uncertainty, I believe that mindfulness practices can assist us in feeling more grounded, calm, and in the present moment. To learn more about various mindfulness practices, you can visit this website “link”.

A pool of research has shown its benefits in various areas and psychologists have found how mindfulness practice improves both mental and physical health. For adults, mindfulness practice has emerged as an effective method to manage stress, anxiety, depression, and work productivity. For children, it helps with stress, anxiety, improving focus and emotional regulation.  Mindfulness practices entail paying attention with your mind and body to the current moment and accepting your experiences and emotions without judgment. 

Ways to teach mindfulness to children

  1. Breathing exercise with a toy (breathing bear)
  2. Engage children in an art activity 
  3. Slow stretches 
  4. Visual imagery practice 
  5. Spidey senses 
  6. Glitter jar activity
  7. Gratitude practice like naming three daily good things before bed

 Isn’t it amazing how merely tuning into your thoughts and feelings can have such a great impact on your entire body? According to the researchers, it is believed that the benefits of mindfulness are tied to its ability to reduce the body’s response to stress, therefore with worries about sickness, finances, and isolation, coping with grief from loss.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused worldwide trauma for the whole of humanity. The slow and steady transition is much harder than anticipated. We are still struggling to find a balance between the safety of our family and the need for social connections. This transition is uncertain but filled with the hope of going back towards “normal”. The only assurance we have is to take care of ourselves and our families during these unknown times. The techniques suggested here are a few of the many you can try to aspire to and create healthier, happier, and resilient lives for your families and communities.   

This blog written by Thoinu Karam, Family and Consumer Sciences intern.