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.

Take Action on World Mental Health Day

October 10 is World Mental Health Day and I encourage you to take action. Taking action may have a different meaning for each of us and that is good, because mental health needs are different for everyone. I personally am not a trained counselor or therapist, but I do like to help others. My father suffered from mental health issues and I can personally share the impact it can have on him, his family, and friends. 

While you cannot act as a therapist for your own friends and family, simply sharing and listening can be enough. Providing a non-judgmental ear, and sharing your own experiences can encourage someone who is struggling to reach out to professionals.

The campaign is being launched by the World Health Organization. I am more of a resource sort of individual, so with that said, I want to share the campaign materials that focus on depression and suicide. According to the CDC, 40% of Americans are struggling with depression. This is compared to 11% pre-COVID. The campaign materials include eight resource materials targeting various audiences. Instead of sharing them in this blog, go check out the site

Recently I was certified to teach Mental Health First Aid. MHFA teaches people how to help someone developing a mental health problem or someone experiencing a mental health crisis. It helps you to identify, understand, and respond. You learn about depression and mood disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma, psychosis, and substance abuse disorders. The eight hour course is available online or blended, and you can participate in it here.

I would also like to promote some of the work of my fellow colleagues in University of Maryland Extension. The project is titled, Maryland Rural Opioid Technical Assistance program. The focus is to increase rural capacity to identify, respond to, and address opioid-related needs for prevention through research and outreach. They offer a variety of workshops including Mental Health First Aid, most of which are no charge.

While helping others is always commendable, maintaining your own mental health is also important. I ask you to take action on World Mental Health Day — reach out to friends and family, and remember to take time for self-care.

Practice Self-Care During the Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all been stuck in the house, consuming new information, working from home, while also taking care of our loved ones. We have been practicing “social distancing” and staying indoors. This can take a toll on our mental health and it is important that we stop and take some time each day to practice self-care. 

image-from-rawpixel-id-2302332-originalWhat is Self Care? 

Self-care is an activity or practice that we do purposely to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. It is time we take for ourselves to recharge and feel good. By practicing self-care you choose a simple activity that makes you feel good and incorporate it into your daily or weekly routine. One way to practice self-care is to write it in a calendar and also tell others to help increase your commitment. An increase in self-care activities has been seen to improve one’s mood as well as reduce stress and anxiety. It also has positive effects on our self-esteem and self-awareness. 

How To Practice Self-Care? 

  • Take a Break from the News 

Different platforms such as social media, online news sources and websites, and the tv, have constantly been putting out information about COVID-19, and we are being bombarded by messaging, which can be stressful. One thing you can do each day to practice self-care is to take a break from those platforms, helping to decrease stress and anxiety. 

  • Eat Healthy 

image-from-rawpixel-id-435608-jpegNourishing your body during this time is very important because it is the foundation of health. You don’t have to “diet” but eating healthy fruits and vegetables daily can help you feel good throughout the day. Cooking a healthy delicious meal for yourself or your family can be a good practice of self-care because you’re taking your time to provide a well balanced and nourishing meal. 

  • Exercise

image-from-rawpixel-id-2317499-originalNot being able to go to the gym has taken a toll on many of us, but it shouldn’t stop you from exercising at home. Exercising is a good practice of self-care because it can improve your mood and also releases endorphins to make you feel good. It increases your energy and can help you maintain a healthy weight while at home. There are many different apps and videos online to help you work out right in the comfort of your living room. 

  • Do Stress-Reducing Meditation 

Mediation is one form of great self-care. It is a calming activity used to help you release stress and anxiety. Mediation can be done daily for about 10 minutes and it can help improve your health as well as sleep. Self-care must include taking time to get in touch with your thoughts and emotions. 

During these times we can easily feel worn-out and have a lack of energy but a little self-care each day can go a long way to helping you feel motivated and optimistic. 

This post written by River Philbert, Class of 2020, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland.


After You Breathe – Three Ways to Cope with the Ambiguous Losses of the Pandemic

Special guest post written by Alexander E. Chan., Ph.D., LMFT ; State Specialist – Mental & Behavioral Health; University of Maryland Extension – Family and Consumer Sciences

African american woman is sitting thoughtfully

Since the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting quarantines began, social scientists have jump started the coping process by labeling an experience we are all facing: grief

Grief may result from human losses, such as the death of a loved one, or it can result from ambiguous losses like cancelled graduations, no goodbyes to your kindergarten teacher, missing the enjoyment of prior daily routines. Both types of loss are happening right now. Anger, sadness, anxiety – these are all part of our unique responses to loss. They are like emotional weeds growing from the roots of grief. 

There are coping strategies for all of the symptoms of loss. Please practice (or learn, if you haven’t yet) those deep breathing techniques. However, the ongoing challenge is to make sense of our new realities – a process mental health experts call meaning-making. This process helps us cope with the mismatch we are experiencing now between our old views of the world (more familiar to us) and what we see now. 

Here is how you begin the work: 

image-from-rawpixel-id-2317500-originalThink about how you want to emerge from this crisis. What will it say about you that you lived through this crisis? Will you have developed any new habits or ways of appreciating your daily life? Will you have learned to cook a different food? You may need to think out loud with a trusted friend, partner, or therapist on this task. 

Meaning-making is both personal and inter-personal with others. This is not going to happen in one sitting. This is like reading a book – you pick it up for a while, then put it back on the shelf while you do other things. You can always come back to it when you are ready.

Support others by acknowledging their efforts, but don’t let others make meaning for you. A friend may find meaning by becoming a runner, crafting or cooking. You might not. That’s okay. They need you to recognize their process just as much as you need them to give credit to yours. Without this validation, the process stalls for everyone. If some of the conversations feel repetitive, that’s ok. Repeatedly talking about difficult topics helps us master them rather than avoid them. 

image-from-rawpixel-id-2320261-originalWelcome all emotions daily. On any given day, allow yourself to laugh, cry, and everything in between. Mindfulness training can help you non-judgmentally accept whatever emotions you are currently experiencing. 


These coping strategies can help address the roots of grief. However, the strategies require ongoing attention and use. You may repeatedly experience difficult emotions like anger, sadness and anxiety throughout the process. It is to be expected. Each time you use one of these coping strategies, you are building up a mindset that will help you manage your life in our new reality.

Make Time for Meditation 

Photo by Prasanth Inturi from Pexels

During the recent pandemic many of us have been anxious, worried, and stressed. News on television and social media is inundated with this dangerous virus, and to make matters worse, we are all on lockdown, away from our family and friends. With stress and isolation affecting many of us, our mental health can be impacted. One thing I have tried while being stuck at home is meditation.  

Meditation is a mental exercise used to practice mindfulness that helps to achieve a clear mind and emotional stability. It helps with stress reduction, controls anxiety, promotes emotional health and more. When one is mindful they can be engaged with the present moment. People who meditate usually have a clearer mind and it helps to increase constructive and positive thoughts. It has also been proven that meditation can make you happier. 

The best way to practice meditation is by setting aside time every day at the same time to get into a routine. Meditating when you first wake up is one of the best methods. It’s good to start your day off with a clear mind, and meditating can help set the tone and rhythm for your day. If you have trouble falling asleep, it might be better to mediate around your bedtime. There are several different apps to help guide you in mediation such as Headspace, which walks you through meditation sessions. 

Photo by madison lavern on UnsplashSome Physical Benefits of Mediation 

  • Stress Reduction 
    • When we are stressed, our body goes into a flight or fight response. When you meditate it automatically puts your body in a calm state and helps your body repair from stress. 
  • Improved Sleep 
    • During this time, a lot of our sleep schedules are out of whack or we are stressed and have trouble falling asleep. Meditation helps us sleep better because it can help increase melatonin and help you relax. 
  • Strengthens Immune System 
    • With a global pandemic, we are all trying to find ways to boost our immune systems and stay healthy. When we are stressed there can be an increase in bodily inflammation, which can impact our immune system negatively. Meditating can provide a positive mental environment that can boost our immune systems. 

Basic Meditation Steps For Beginners 

    1. Find a quiet comfortable space. Being in a quiet environment can help with practicing mindfulness and help with clearing your mind. Sit on the floor, in a chair, on your bed, or anywhere you feel comfortable with your legs crossed. 
    2. Set a time limit. For beginners, choosing a short time of 5-10 minutes may be easier. After about a week you should increase the time to what feels best and works for you. 
    3. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Find a tempo with your breathing and inhaling with your nose and exhaling from your mouth.
    4. Be aware. When you’re taking deep breaths your body will naturally calm itself. Focus on each breath when you’re inhaling and exhaling. Throughout the meditation try not to let your mind wander and if it does return your attention to your breathing. 
    5. End the Session. When your timer goes off, open your eyes and get up slowly. Stretch yourself and you did it!

Meditation does not always come naturally to everyone, so be patient. Meditating to relieve stress is a learned skill and developing new habits, much like exercising or eating right, takes practice.

This blog was written by FCS Extension intern River Philbert, Class of 2020, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) — Protect Your Health and Find Help for Financial Stress

Questions about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) continue to swirl through daily updates and new information. How do I stay healthy? How can I afford to be sick? What happens if I lose my income? How do I protect myself and my family?

coping-with-stressStress is often the result of uncertainty. Because stress alone can make us sick or more susceptible to disease, it is important to take steps to reduce uncertainty by staying informed and planning ahead when possible.

How can I stay healthy? Most importantly, get answers and information from a reputable source. Helpful suggestions can be found from the CDC, The World Health Organization, and your state or local health department. All provide instructions for simple preventative precautions that you can take to reduce the likelihood of getting sick:

  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.
  • Keep a distance of three feet from others whenever possible.
  • Stay home from work or other activities if you are sick.

Coping with financial stress

Can I afford to get sick? The new virus strain might be scary, causing worry about paying for the virus testing and hospital bills. Staying home from work might mean a missed paycheck, or even a lost job.

There is help. Many insurance providers are covering the cost of the test as well as waiving co-payments. Check with your own insurance company for details. If you’re on Medicare, Medicare Part B covers coronavirus (COVID-19) testing. This test is covered when your doctor or other health care provider orders it.

Important: Call your health care provider first before seeking the test.  A referral is required, and testing is not appropriate in all cases. Do you live in Maryland and do not have health insurance? There’s a checkbox on the MD income tax form to notify the Maryland Health Connection if you don’t have health insurance. Anyone deemed eligible will be mailed a letter allowing them to sign up for health insurance within 35 days under special enrollment.

What about loss of income? Employer response varies widely — some are offering paid or partial paid leave, some are not or simply can’t. Discuss concerns with your employer. Are you self-employed?  Proposed federal legislation offers relief.

How can I meet my obligations and expenses? Policies are quickly being implemented to specifically meet coronavirus related needs.

helping-children-cope-with-stress-printIn Maryland:

  • Eviction is temporarily prohibited for any coronavirus-related delay in rent payment.
  • Shutoffs and late fees are currently suspended.
  • Meals for children. There are over 100 locations across the state to provide three meals and a snack to children impacted by school closings.
  • Mortgage, student loan, and other debts. Talk directly with your lender for updates on terms. There is proposed legislation to provide debt relief for student loan and other borrowers.
  • Help with basic needs. Start with your local Community Action Agency.

How do I plan ahead for events like this? The biggest concern now is to stay healthy. However, when the crisis is over, there are steps you can take to reduce financial stress in the future.

  1. Have an emergency fund just for loss income. Start saving with small steps. If you can save one hour of pay each week for a year, you will have more than a full week’s pay saved.
  2. Evaluate your health insurance plan each year during open enrollment to make sure the plan you have is your best choice. Resources for this can be found here, especially on pages 13-18.
  3. Know your health insurance deductible and estimate your annual health care costs so they can be included in your spending plan.

It is very important to receive information about the coronavirus and financial help from reliable sources.  A few are listed below:

Protecting Your Health

Coronavirus information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Coronavirus information Maryland Department of Health (MDH) 

Tests for the coronavirus-Frequently asked questions from the Maryland Department of Health

Updated information from the Maryland Governor’s Office

Stopping the spread of Coronavirus (available in English, Spanish, and Chinese)

Symptoms of Coronavirus(available in English, Spanish, and Chinese)

Coping with Stress

World Health Organization (WHO), coping with stress during the coronavirus outbreak

World Health Organization (WHO), helping children cope with stress during the coronavirus outbreak

Coping with Financial Stress

National Extension’s Financial Security for All




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.