Walktober Comes to Maryland

Despite the recent weather, October is the perfect time to get outside and celebrate Maryland’s official state exercise — walking! Officially, yesterday was Walk Maryland Day with events planned across the state, but all month offers opportunities to get outside and enjoy the fall.

Walking offers many health benefits, and among them getting out in nature can improve your mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, spending time outdoors can lead to improved attention, lowered stress, better moods, and even increased empathy and cooperation.

Maryland offers ample places to get out and spend time in nature, from state parks to local trails, and we’ve collected a list of localities where everyone can work on improving their physical, mental and emotional health, just by taking a walk amongst the trees.

To find the list of walking trails by county, go to https://extension.umd.edu/resource/walktober and click on “County Walking Opportunities.” Also find more information about Walktober, how you can become a walk leader, or join in next year’s celebration.

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

Small Business Owners and Mental Health

As an agricultural small business owner, I struggle with being on top of my business and employee needs. My family and I own the 7-acre Turkey Point Vineyard and the Tasting Room/Gift Shop retail space in the local town of North East, Maryland. So on top of being a county agent, a working mother and wife, I also own a small farm and I operate a retail business off the farm. My immediate family is a farming family, where all of us have employment off the farm, and my two employees are older retired females that have their own individual needs.

Turkey Point Vineyards

Running a farm, you experience many variables over time due to changes in regulations, weather, technology, and product demand. With the present economic pressures of labor shortages, supply shortages, wage increases, and price hikes, life on the farm has gotten even harder. Everyone experiences stress, but when stress overwhelms you, it can make you physically ill. 

Farm and farm family stress is more accurately a form of distress, which is brought on by pressures experienced by members of the farming population, farming systems, and farming as a business.  Extraordinary stresses experienced by farming families can threaten the future of their farm. In addition, as a small business owner, research has proven that small business owners have reported experiencing common symptoms of poor mental health at least a few times a year on average, and the COVID-19 crisis appears to have exacerbated the problem.

How does one navigate these stressors?

How individuals, families and businesses handle stress demands and changes, will determine the outcome and the impact in the near future.  In some cases, many will change their business, its product or processes, or even their family functioning. No matter what change occurs on the farm or in the business, the concept of resilience is the ability to recover from, or adjust to, change with its accompanying stress.

I once heard the saying that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you do about it! When stress gets to be too much for me, I remember this saying and I try to live by this motto. The motto helps to keep me sane.

For more information on farm stress and how the University of Maryland Extension is working to assist farm families in managing mental health, check out our Farm Stress Management page.

This blog contributed by special guest blogger Doris Behnke, principle agent associate in Cecil County.

Celebrate Senior Health and Fitness Day Today!

If you read Breathing Room regularly, you know that I often write posts about physical activity. I’ve written about my dad and I exercising together, the mental health benefits of exercise, and tips for exercising outside. Since May 25th is Senior Health and Fitness day, I thought this would be a good time to talk about physical activity for seniors in particular. Regardless of age, exercise is important for good health, but for seniors, there are some specific things that can make it even more important (although occasionally more challenging too, but we’ll get to that).

So, why is it so important that we continue to be physically active as we age? Many of them are the same benefits we have mentioned before, but they become so much more important as we get older. To read about many of the benefits, check out this article from the National Council on Aging: https://www.ncoa.org/article/the-life-changing-benefits-of-exercise-after-60

But, let’s also mention a few important benefits now. First, exercise helps keep bones strong. Since bone density decreases more as we age, keeping bones strong can help prevent serious injuries from trips or falls. Second, exercise can help prevent illnesses that are common for older people like cancer, diabetes, and hypertension. And if people already have these conditions, exercising can help manage symptoms. Finally, exercise might help improve immunity, which helps keep seniors healthy.

It is also important to keep in mind that seniors might have more health factors they need to consider when beginning to exercise. The best thing to do is talk to your doctor before getting started. Your doctor, or some other healthcare professional familiar with your health situation, can help you determine if you need to avoid (or focus on) and particular type of exercise. For example, many seniors experience joint pain from arthritis or some other condition that can require them to avoid certain movements.

Changes in balance and muscle density can also make seniors feel unsure about exercise. Having a place to sit nearby, good shoes, or some other support can help improve confidence. So, make sure you have what you need to feel comfortable being active! Remember, any increase in physical activity can help improve health so whether it is swimming, walking, biking, gardening, or some other movement, every little bit helps.

If you are a senior who is looking to get moving, check out some resources for seniors in your area. Your local center for aging, senior center, or even AARP might have information about exercise programs that are specifically designed for seniors. You can also check out this link for some online resources: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-older-adults-can-get-started-exercise

 If you are someone who knows a senior, reach out to them and see if there is a way you can help them be more active. Having support from a friend or family member can help make it easier to get moving. Physical activity is important and although there can be more to consider when becoming active as a senior, the benefits make it worth the effort!

Breaking the Stigma Around Mental Health

Stress impacts many of us to varying degrees. Sometimes we are equipped to handle the stress, but sometimes the stress is persistent and it begins to impact our lives including our physical health. Our culture leads us to believe that we should be able to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and resolve our issues entirely on our own. However, this overreliance on ourselves can lead to not receiving the help we need to feel better.

The Stigma Around Mental Health

Have you ever thought these things? Seeking therapy will mean that you are crazy, weak, dependent, or inadequate because you cannot resolve your own problems.

Going along with this narrative can be dangerous — it can prevent someone from seeking help and improving their wellbeing. In other words, stigma can lead to avoidable delays in receiving treatment. Worrying about not being able to resolve the problems can lead to more stress. People can judge themselves and feel ashamed for no reason.

Continuous stress can lead to physical problems such as high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, a weakened immune system, and many other issues. When stress mounts and is left unattended, it can lead to problem behavior such as drinking, family tension, and even suicide. The stigma surrounding mental health and its treatment is a hazard and needs to be challenged. Check out this fact sheet for strategies to overcome internalized stigma.

Seeking Professional Help

There are various forms of professional help that you can seek such as individual talk therapy. You can choose the one that works best for you. Therapy can help you and your family manage conflict, stress, communication challenges and other difficulties. When you meet with a professional, you can expect to share your story, set goals that are meaningful to you, become aware of your strengths, understand underlying challenges, and learn skills to overcome challenges and break unhelpful habits.

Individual therapy includes meetings between an adult and a therapist. Family therapy includes meetings with a spouse, parents, children or other family members involved in the adult’s life. Group therapy includes meetings involving a group of adults with similar diagnoses and one or two therapists. Rehabilitation programs help people regain skills and confidence to live and work more successfully in their communities.

Free Therapy Opportunity

If you work in the agricultural industry or one of your immediate family members works in agriculture, you can reach out to us for six free therapy sessions! The sessions can be in person or virtual. We will help you set up your appointment, connect with the provider and access your session. Complete the intake form at go.umd.edu/farmtherapy and we will reach out to you.

This blog written by special guest blogger Alla Tafaghodi, graduate Family & Consumer Sciences intern.

Spring Drinking Water Tune-Up

Home appliances require periodic maintenance to ensure they last and operate effectively. This is especially true if they have filters such as a vacuum or heating/air conditioner. Your water supply and filtration system also needs regular attention. Water quality is very important to your health, so understanding your water supply, its quality, and treatment is essential.

Depending on your supply (public or private well), tune up procedures will vary. For public water supplies, which go through extensive testing and treatment, there may be little to do unless you have older plumbing pipe and fixtures. In this case, testing for lead and copper is recommended. 

If you are on a drinking water well, have your water tested annually for coliform bacteria, E.coli and nitrate (animal waste and sewage contaminants), and every three years test for chloride, copper, lead, iron, pH, manganese, sulfates, and total dissolved solids. In some areas, there may be other contaminants such as arsenic or radium (local health departments can provide information), which you can test for. Be sure to use a certified lab – your local county health department should have a list. If your water results indicate treatment is needed, go to this resource to find out more about filters: http://dwit.psiee.psu.edu/dwit.asp.

Whatever type of water filter you use — faucet, pitcher, refrigerator or under the sink filter – they all require maintenance. Simply be sure to change the filters as recommended by the manufacturer. Not changing them can lead to reduction in water flow and filtration performance, and can also result in contaminants no longer being trapped, which can then be released into the water. Water filters can also build up bacteria if not changed as recommended. If you have a whole house or faucet filtration system, be sure to follow the manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedule. 

Investing a little time to check on your water and filtration system can help ensure safe drinking water for you and your family.

Inflation – What is it?

One thing that we all know for sure is that the price of goods is going up. A gallon of milk in 2020 cost $3.32. Over the past year it increased by 6.9% to $3.55 per gallon. The increase in the cost is referred to as inflation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines inflation as the overall upward price movement of goods and services in an economy. 

Often referred to when we discuss inflation is the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This is the change overtime in the prices paid for a basket of consumer goods and services. Those items fall into eight major groups; food and beverages, housing, apparel, transportation, medical care, recreation, education and communication, and other goods and services.

There are a lot of factors that impact the costs of goods. Simple things like the increase in cost of labor and materials make the price go up. If the workers are paid more than the price will increase to offset the increased expense or the price of gas to transport, will increase price. Then there are more complicated issues like interest rates, government policy, and supply vs. demand. In general, an inflation rate of 2% would be considered average. Right now, the inflation rate in the United States is around 7% to 8%. For most of us, our salaries have not increased at the same rate, meaning we have less money. This is why it is important to start tracking your money.

Now I could go down the road that you need to create a budget, but I am not going to do that. Instead, I will respond with a question. When the cost of goods you typically buy (like gas and groceries) go up, where will you get the money to pay for those goods? 

The answer is you will need to increase income (money you make) or decrease expenses (buy less). Unfortunately, you’re not likely to get a raise at work that will cover the increased costs. Your other income options include getting a new job that pays more, getting a side job, or selling goods you no longer need or use. Options to decrease expenses often involve a change in habits. Some good habits include being a frugal shopper by looking for deals, eating out less, consolidating trips, and evaluating your wants vs. needs. Some not-so-good habits include not tracking your expenses, using credit cards, paying your bills from your savings, and reducing your savings. 

At this point, you may consider making some changes to your personal finances. There are lots of good materials out there. One source that I like to share is the Your Money Your Goals toolkit, by the CFPB. The toolkit includes tools and handouts to set goals, track income, pay expenses, and plan your spending.