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.

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.

Holiday Mindfulness: Relieve stress through mindfulness techniques

image-from-rawpixel-id-1289-jpeg.jpgThe holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but according to the American Psychological Association, almost 40% of Americans also feel it’s one of the most stressful. Gift shopping, crowds, cooking and cleaning; the pressure to enjoy a perfect holiday can take its toll on even the most festive.

Described as an awareness and active attention to the present moment, mindfulness can be an effective way to reduce some of the stress in your holidays, and in your life everyday. In a University of Maryland Extension publication, FCS educator Dhruti Patel, provides simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into our everyday lives to reduce stress.

  • Meditation: Practicing mindfulness is at the heart of meditation, encouraging you to focus on the present moment rather than ruminate on the past or worry about the future.
  • Breathing: Pay attention to your breathing patterns, especially when in an overwhelming or stressful situation, not only when meditating or exercising.
  • Physical activity: Incorporate stretching, walking or yoga into your daily routine.
  • Play: Interacting with a child or pet can help bring you into the moment, without focus on past or present.
  • Be creative: Mindfulness is associated with creative endeavors like art, coloring, Zentangle, and journaling.

Cultivating mindfulness can take some practice, but can be incorporated into any task, from brushing your teeth to reading a book. Mindfulness can not only provide you with a peace of mind (not just during the holidays!) but can even improve your physical health by boosting the immune system, managing pain and chronic diseases, implementing healthier habits and improving brain function.

Learn more about stress and your health at https://extension.umd.edu/learn/publications/stress-and-health.


Make Good Nutrition A Lifestyle

March, being National Nutrition Month, is the perfect time to assess your diet as part of your daily lifestyle. Ask yourself if you’re ready to make changes and willing to try new things. Having the right mindset is critical to successfully changing behaviors for your health.

Here are some questions to get you on track for improving your diet.

How many fruits and vegetables do I eat a day?
You should aim for 5-9 servings a day. Try filling half your plate with a good balance of fruits and vegetables, and include all colors of the rainbow: broccoli, red peppers, purple cabbage, oranges, yellow squash, blueberries, onions, and others to have a variety of colors and tastes. Avoid eating the same ones every day.

Be wary of fruit and vegetable juices, which are often high in calories and low in fiber. Pre-made smoothies are another so-called “healthy” food to avoid. They are typically made with canned fruits that have added sugars.

Juices_Pixabay 1995433_1920
An easy way to get a variety of fruits and vegetables is to blend up a smoothie or juice. Make a protein-packed smoothie with frozen or fresh fruit (no sugar added), low-fat milk, and plain Greek yogurt. You can add natural peanut butter, nuts, or seeds for extra protein. If you don’t like the thickness of smoothies, just blend up your fruits and vegetables with water to make a healthy, filling juice. Image courtesy of Favorece.

Do I eat enough protein every day?
The average adult should consume 46-56 grams of protein a day. Lean meats, poultry, and fish are rich sources of protein (roughly 7 grams of protein per ounce), as are eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds. Protein is also found in dairy foods (milk, yogurt, and cheese), grains, and vegetables. Eating a variety of foods will provide adequate protein in your daily diet.

Do I include whole grains in my daily diet?
Whole grains have more nutrients and fiber than refined grains. Aim for three servings per day, which can include whole wheat/grain bread, brown rice, and whole grain cereals, like oatmeal. Cereals and snack crackers that state “Made with whole grain” may contain minimal amounts. Instead, check the ingredient list—the first flour listed should be whole grain or whole wheat flour, not bleached or unbleached wheat flour.

How often do I eat?
Experts suggest eating every 4-5 hours during the day. This helps maintain blood sugar and energy, and prevents cravings and overeating. Eating often means eating smaller “mini-meals” throughout the day or including snacks between meals to keep the cravings away.

Where do I eat most of my meals?
Eating at desks, in cars, or in front of a screen leads to distracted eating. Take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to mindfully eat your meals instead of multitasking through them. Being a mindful eater can help you reduce your calorie intake and lead to an overall healthier lifestyle.

Whole foods should always be your first choice when making selections for a healthier diet. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. For individual nutrition counseling, find a registered dietitian nutritionist in your area by checking the Academy’s website. Their website also includes helpful articles, recipes, videos, and educational resources on healthy eating.

Keep A Gratitude Attitude After Thanksgiving

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I couldn’t miss writing a post about gratitude. Gratitude has several meanings. Depending on the context, gratitude can be as simple as feeling thankful for receiving a gift or as large as a virtue to strive for every day. Several studies have indicated that people who practice gratitude every day through journaling, expressing thanks, and using affirmations have a higher sense of wellbeing, improved heart health and immune function, and satisfaction in life.

Gratitude Journal_Unsplash-701889 Gabrielle Cole
Journaling can be a very helpful way to start a practice of gratitude. You can use an actual journal or download an app. Either way, you don’t need to go overboard. Start by writing 1-2 times a weeks. (Photo by Gabrielle Cole)

Here are three ways you can practice gratitude and boost your own wellbeing:

Appreciate Yourself
When you express gratitude, you are probably extending it towards others. How often do you appreciate yourself and the gifts you offer to this world? People who practice gratitude tend to center this attribute on themselves by giving thanks for such things as accomplishing daily chores, having functioning bodies, or even living one more day. Personal gratitude practice creates a sense of optimism, empathy, and a positive outlook and behaviors. It also tends to reduce hopelessness, anxiety, and other self-esteem issues.

Thank Someone Important To You
In the field of psychology, gratitude is considered to be one of the foundational pieces that helps to strengthen, create, and stabilize relationships. When you practice consistent gratitude in your relationships—personal or professional—you create more authentic and positive relationships. The gratitude attitude can help you observe and admire others’ attributes, actions, and intent, which may lead to more patience, acceptance, and empathy on your part. Once you have discovered something that you appreciate in someone else, make sure to communicate your gratitude through words, actions, gifts, or even your presence.

Find The Beauty Around You
A sense of appreciation can connect you to the world around you. By practicing gratitude in your daily life, you will start noticing flowers blooming at the end of the street, the colors of the sky changing, or the genuine smile of a store cashier greeting you. Bringing such awareness may even inspire you to help solve societal and environmental issues.

Ready to practice gratitude?

  • Start by bringing your awareness to yourself, others, and your surroundings.
  • Notice all the positivity they bring to your life and truly sit with that experience and emotion.
  • Make an attempt to show gratitude. Gratitude needs expressing. Think about ways you want to show your appreciation: give yourself a small reward, write a thank you note to your loved ones, plant some trees, or give your time and resources to a cause.
  • Take small steps. It can be daunting to be constantly appreciative in the beginning, but take your time with it. A gratitude attitude is a way of living—the more you do it, the easier it gets.
  • Find ways to practice gratitude as a family.

My hope is that during this time of festivities, you take time to truly feel and express gratitude for yourself, and for all the things and people who have helped in nurturing, sustaining, and flourishing your life.

Are You Sick of Confusing Health Insurance Terms?

Health insurance can be confusing. HMO… PPO… EPO… PCP… Q… R… S… T…

If you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of alphabet soup, you aren’t alone! All the acronyms, confusing terms, and long documents can make it feel as if you’ll never understand health insurance. But, if you can better understand some of the terms, it might help you to feel more confident in navigating the world of insurance.

With so many confusing terms and complex plans, health insurance makes us all wish that someone would just point out the right health insurance coverage for our families. (Photo by Arek Socha)

Let’s start with a few basic insurance terms:

  • A network is a list of healthcare providers who have established relationships with your insurance plan, and usually it is cheaper to use these providers for care.
  • The Primary Care Physician (PCP) is your main doctor—the one you see for check-ups. This doctor will also decide if you need to see another doctor or specialist. Your plan will to provide information about which doctors can be your PCP.
  • A referral is when your PCP decides you need to see another doctor. Usually, this occurs when you need to see a specialist for some reason.

Now, back to the alphabet soup of health insurance plan types:

  • HMO stands for Health Maintenance Organization. Generally, the first thing you want to do with an HMO is select your PCP. If you need to see another doctor, you will usually need a referral from your PCP. Your PCP will make sure to refer you to doctors who are in your HMO network (which is usually in your local area). In an emergency, there may be care that you can receive out of network.
  • A PPO, or Preferred Provider Organization, plan offers less expensive care if you go to doctors who are in your network. You can go out of the network, but it will be more expensive. You will not need a referral to go to someone out of network.
  • EPO stands for Exclusive Provider Organization. The exclusive part means that your insurance is only going to cover, or pay for, doctors in the network. But, you may not always need a referral to see a specialist. Sometimes, you can go outside your plan if you are having an emergency.
  • POS, or Point of Service, plans typically direct you to providers who are in network. You may need a referral from your PCP to see a specialist. You will pay less if you stay in network, but you can still get some coverage to go out of network. These plans can be very different, so it is important to ask questions and make sure you understand the coverage.

These plans mainly differ on a few basic points:

  • how costly or complicated it is to go out of network;
  • the cost that you pay each month for the plan; or,
  • the amount you have to pay when you go to see the doctor.

Try thinking about what you want in a health insurance plan and then looking for a plan that fits those needs. For example, there is usually a balance between the amount you pay each month and the amount you pay when you go to the doctor. If you pay more each month, you typically pay less when you see the doctor. If you pay a low amount each month, you may have a higher amount to pay when you go to the doctor. You can think about how you want to be able to use your insurance and what you can afford, and then select a plan that allows you to use your plan the way you want.

Keep in mind that health insurance is a complex topic! You should never feel bad for asking questions or seeking information. You can learn more at our website or register for an upcoming webinar:

  • Smart Use Health Insurance: Understanding and Estimating Health Care Costs (Sept. 21, 12:00-1:00pm EST)
  • Smart Choice Health Insurance: Basics (Oct. 16, 12:00-1:00pm EST)


This post was co-written by Carrie. You can learn more basic information on some of the most important aspects of personal financial management by following the “Money Management Guide” series from our Financial Wellness Team. 


MD State Parks Give Adults A Place To Play

Last week, we talked about the benefits of exercising outside, but if you have no idea where to start, than look no further than your closest state park. Our parks offer tons of ways to get active, from salsa dancing to stand-up paddleboarding. And if you’re lucky enough to live near Martinak, Tuckahoe, Rocky Gap, New Germany, Dan’s Mountain, or Patapsco Valley State Parks, then you get even more options through the Healthy Parks, Healthy People (HPHP) classes.

Maryland’s HPHP program started in the western parks about 3 years ago. Resident Ronni Matthews saw an advertisement of the scheduled events, which included hikes and “Wild Women Wednesdays”, a weekly program that connects women to nature while encouraging them to try new exercises. Since Ronni was already walking for exercise—and her initial response was, “I’m not a wild woman!”—she decided to try the hike. She reports, “It was very strenuous and I was the last one in the line.” But despite the sweaty and exhausting start, Ronni gradually attended more classes, like beach-front yoga and paddleboarding. Now, she tries to attend as many as she can, including Wild Women Wednesdays.

Despite her initial protests, Ronni (third from the left) is now one of the most dedicated “Wild Women”. (Photo by Jenna Linhart)

She says, “It’s the 3 F’s. The teachers are friendly—all fitness levels are welcome. The classes are fun. And the big kicker is, it’s free!”

In fact, you can even save money. A typical park-sponsored kayaking program would include a rental fee for the kayak. But HPHP kayaking classes provide the kayaks for free!

HPHP Paddleboard_Jenna Linhart
Paddleboards would also be free during an HPHP-sponsored paddleboarding class. This definitely looks like a fun and friendly activity! (Photo by Jenna Linhart)

HPHP Programs are spreading across the state. According to Jenna Linhart, the HPHP Coordinator for Rocky Gap State Park, “If the classes aren’t already offered at a park, it’s on the staff’s radar.” She says, “Our goal is to build a stronger connection with the environment. People might come to the park for a specific workout, but the benefits they receive will be greater than what they get from the workout itself. Fresh air, birds singing, and a beautiful view can have profound effects on people, and hopefully lead to a stronger connection and appreciation for nature.”

Ronni agrees, “I feel so much better exercising outdoors. And exercising outside helped me develop a stronger environmental ethic. If I’m kayaking and I see a plastic bottle on the water, I want to pick it up.”

Ronni Matthews-HPHP 2_Jenna Linhart
Ronni, on the right, and other class participants kayak and clean up the lake. (Photo by Jenna Linhart)

The HPHP community has also broadened Ronni’s class options. For instance, the High-Intensity Interval Training teacher has invited Ronni to her non-HPHP classes, giving Ronni an indoor option during the winter.

HPHP Yoga Woods_Jenna Linhart
HPHP classes entice people to try something new, like meditation…

… and Hula Hoop Interval Training.

HPHP Yoga Beach_Jenna Linhart
And sometimes, it just gives people a more beautiful place to do their usual workout. (Photos by Jenna Linhart)

Each park organizes their own schedule, so if you want to attend an HPHP class, check out the Maryland.gov events calendar, search by keyword “Healthy Parks” and category “Parks”. Most classes do not require pre-registration, unless they have limited equipment, like kayaks or paddleboards. The parks rely heavily on local volunteers to lead classes. So if you want to volunteer your expertise and maybe get a free weekend of camping, contact your nearest park.

Address Your Stress & Breathe a Little Easier

As we discussed in our last post, long-term stress is making America sick. If you can’t unload some of your stress, here are ways to manage it.

Re-calibrate your stress barometer

Pay attention to your state of mind, body, emotions, and other external factors. Usually, we don’t recognize our stress until we are burned out. We get caught up in life’s nuisances and neglect to check in with how we feel in the moment. What are you feeling emotionally: irritable, anxious, angry, overwhelmed, exhausted, helpless? What are you feeling physically? Your body may be alerting you to stress that you may not notice, such as frequent headaches, backaches, weight gain, and cravings towards alcohol, high-calorie foods, and other substances. Once you are aware of your present state of mind, it will be easier to address the stress before it overpowers your life, and prevent long-term stresses leading to burnout.

Schedule time for yourself

Self-care is the biggest factor in managing daily stress. Never hesitate to take time for yourself. It may feel selfish to carve out this time, but managing your stress not only helps you become happier, it also helps create better relationships and increase work-life satisfaction. The most important steps to daily self-care is to eat healthy foods, stay hydrated, exercise, and maintain a good sleep schedule.

If you’re feeling particularly stressed, find additional outlets to relieve that pressure. Can you take a vacation or even a mental health day? Do you have a Zen activity? Maybe this is a good time to go for a walk, pull out those knitting needles, or play with your crayons and paints. If you don’t have a Zen activity, is there anything that you’ve wanted to learn? Arts and crafts, music, and outdoor activities are some of the many ways to help manage stress. Engaging in such activities will reduce your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Seek the activity that resonates with you and helps you acquire a Zen moment.

News of the Thai soccer team stuck in the cave have resulted in a global discussion on the benefits of meditation for stress management. Several studies have shown that practicing consistent meditation can reduce stress and help people stay calm in times of distress. But if you don’t have a skilled practitioner at your side to guide you through your practice, or if meditation is not your forte, try yoga, stretching, or tai chi to alleviate stress.

Never be afraid to ask for help

Social support and meaningful relationships help make us more resilient to stress by releasing oxytocin, the hormone that improves mood and empathy. So instead of stress-eating, call a friend, play with your child, hug a loved one, or cuddle with a pet. And never hesitate to ask for help from loved ones, friends, or an expert when you’ve tried all you can and are still struggling to manage your stress.

Mom and Child_Unsplash 255699-Bruno Nascimento
While kids often make their parents feel more stressed, their laughter, hugs, and support are a powerful source of stress reduction. Don’t forget the hugs! (Photo by Bruno Nascimento)

Managing stress is a personal journey – how you manage stress will be unique to you. But it starts by finding the time, resources, and resolution to give yourself the love, tenderness, and care you deserve.

This post was co-written by Daphne.