It Takes a Village: Building Up Maryland’s Agricultural Community

The expression “it takes a village…” usually refers to raising children. It highlights how an engaged community is critical to support a growing child. What many of us often do not realize is that the phrase also applies to supporting adults. Adults, too, need a village of caring, competent others to celebrate the good times and support them in the bad times. Fortunately, building a more caring and competent “village” is possible through education and practice. 

University of Maryland Extension has developed a comprehensive set of programs to address stress and mental health in the farming community. Our approach is unique in that we not only teach farmers themselves techniques for stress management, but we also work with agricultural service providers and other members of the community around farmers. Members of the community learn the skills to observe signs of stress, engage skillfully, and share relevant resources with their peers in agriculture. As the community grows more supportive of the health of farmers, farm businesses remain productive and sustainable. 

Although 2021 was a generally good financial year in the agricultural community, many are still feeling the ongoing effects of stressful years past. In addition, new challenges such as the avian influenza outbreak continue to pose significant threats to Maryland’s farmers. 

Each successive challenge takes a toll on our physical and mental health. In a phenomenon called “cumulative stress,” each stressful experience increases both the likelihood and impact of future stressful events. In other words, things pile up. 

We have already reached over 1,000 individuals across Maryland’s agricultural community through a combination of education and outreach efforts. These individuals include training medical and mental health providers in rural areas about the unique culture of farming so that they are better equipped to serve the community that surrounds them. 
If you are interested in joining the village of support, check out our upcoming events site and learn how you can contribute to the health and vitality of our Maryland farms.

This blog written by Breathing Room special guest Alexander Chan, family and consumer sciences agent with UME.

We’ve Missed You!

While Breathing Room has been on something of a short hiatus for the past few weeks, we were diligently working behind the scenes developing a brand new University of Maryland Extension website, complete with an improved user navigation and more ways to help Marylanders find the answers they need.

The UME Family and Consumer Sciences team offers numerous programs and educational opportunities, even above and beyond the scope of this blog. Our experts specialize in health, financial wellness, food safety, health insurance literacy, nutrition, mental wellness, and community outreach.

Visit the new Extension website to learn about them and the wide variety of educational opportunities the Family and Consumer Sciences program offers!

Planning Your Finances for an Uncertain Future

Couple managing the debtCoronavirus has changed many people’s financial circumstances quickly. A loss of income can put your services, or even your home in jeopardy, but companies are working with customers right now to help ensure their well-being. 

Here are a few steps you can take if your income has decreased suddenly.  

Contact your lenders, loan servicers, and other creditors

If you are not able to pay your bills on time, check their websites to see if they have information that can help you. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other financial regulators have encouraged financial institutions to work with their customers to meet their community needs. If you can’t make a payment now, need more time, or want to discuss payment options, contact your lenders and servicers to let them know about your situation. Being behind on your payments can have a lasting impact on your credit. Credit card companies, banks, and lenders may be able to offer you a number of options to help you. This could include waiving certain fees like ATM, overdrafts, and late fees, as well as allowing you to delay, adjust, or skip some payments. 

Male Shows Empty Pockets Moneyless ConceptWork with housing and credit counselors to understand your options

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has approved housing counselors who can discuss options with you if you’re having trouble paying your mortgage loan or reverse mortgage loan.  

Contact your mortgage servicer if you are having trouble paying your mortgage

Reputable credit counseling organizations are generally nonprofit organizations that can advise you on your money and debts, and help you with a budget.  Some of the counselors are also able to negotiate with creditors.  

Trouble paying your student loans?

If your loan is held by the federal government, your loan payments are postponed with no interest until September 30, 2020.  For other kinds of student loans (such as a federal student loan held by a commercial lender or the institution you attend, or a private student loan held by a bank, credit union, school, or other private entity) contact your student loan servicer to find out more about your options. 

Flat lay of earning money conceptTrouble paying your credit cards?

Contact all credit card companies that you owe and let them know of your financial hardship and that you are unable to make a payment. Additionally, work with a reputable nonprofit credit counseling organization that can advise you on your money and debts, and help you with a budget. Some may also help you negotiate with creditors.  

Stay on top of your credit reports

Due to COVID-19 pandemic, the three national credit reporting companies are offering free weekly online credit reports through April 2021.  Use the link to request your copies.  

Equally important, through December 31, 2026, all U.S. consumers can also get six free credit reports every 12 months from Equifax by establishing a “myEquifax” account online or by calling 866-349-5191. That is in addition to the one free Equifax report (plus your Experian and TransUnion reports) you can get from

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.

Exercise for Charity

Being physically active is important, and yet, it can be hard to get into the routine of exercising regularly. People give all sorts of reasons for not exercising: not enough time, not enough energy, no workout buddy, and no motivation.  The good news is that people are constantly coming up with ways to get through these barriers. Charity exercise apps are one new solution trying to help people who can’t find the motivation to exercise. They include apps like Charity Miles, stick, Run4Good, Impact: Fitness & Charity, and others. 

Here’s the idea: 

  • charityapp1you download the app, 
  • select the charity you want to support, and 
  • earn money for that charity based on how much you move. 

These apps are based on the idea that people might be more motivated to exercise if that exercise brings in money for causes they find important. Imagine you are at home on the couch considering whether you want to go for a walk that evening. You might be more motivated to exercise if you know your walk is going to make sure that money goes to a cause near and dear to your heart. If you have been struggling with motivation, this might be a great way to get yourself going! However, it is good to have all the information before signing up. 

Here are a few things to know if you are considering a charity exercise app:

Whose money is the app going to use?

Some of the apps rely on donations from companies or other sponsors. Generally for these apps, your exercise helps determine which charities are supported by the donated money.  Others ask you to put your own money on the line. For these, the amount raised is based on how much money the people using the app donate. 

charityapp2What kind of data is the app collecting? 

In some cases, the app might be collecting information about you like your email, age, gender, where you exercise, and the types of activities you record when you exercise. The privacy policy and terms of use will let you know what kind of information the company is collecting. They may use the information they collect to improve the app, advertise products to you, or even sell to third parties. For some people, they are willing to share this data so they can use the app. For others, it is more important to protect their data and privacy. Either way, you want to have all the information so you can decide for yourself. 

What kinds of exercises will earn money? 

Some apps only allow users to track their miles. This means they are a better fit for walkers, runners, and bikers. Other apps allow users to record minutes spent doing different types of activity and then they convert those minutes into points, miles, or some other unit that decides how much money will be donated. 

So, if you are struggling to find the motivation to lace up those sneakers and get moving, maybe a charity exercise app could help you get going! Just make sure you have all the information before signing up. 

Staying Healthy Through Winter

Is it harder for you to get out of bed on winter mornings when the temperature is low and it’s darker outside? You’re not alone. 

A sleepy Caucasian man turning an alarm offCold weather and fewer daylight hours create challenges in getting motivated to eat healthy and be physically active. When healthy habits are ebbing, your immune system weakens, increasing your risk of getting sick with a cold or the flu. About 20% of Americans get the cold or flu each year.

Despite the changes in weather, winter doesn’t have to be an unhealthy time for hibernation — you can use this time to take charge and refocus on your health. 

To get started, I’ll share some wellness tips I’m following to maintain good health and fitness this winter.

Curb the Carbs

Cold weather can increase carb and comfort food cravings (for me, it’s pre- and post-holiday cookies). After carb-filled foods are consumed, the brain hormone serotonin increases, causing cravings to continue throughout the day. Translation: The more carb-filled foods you consume, the more you crave. To break this cycle, eat protein-rich foods at breakfast (eggs, yogurt, hummus, low-fat cheese, etc.) for high energy throughout the day. To avoid afternoon carb cravings, I keep healthy snacks available like whole-grain crackers, peanut butter, and trail mix with nuts.

Up Your Fiber   

Foods with soluble fiber decrease inflammation and boost your immune system. Fiber stimulates infection-fighting T-cells which help you recover from infections faster. Apples, oats, nuts, avocados, citrus fruits, berries, and flaxseed are good sources of soluble fiber. Try adding two tablespoons of flaxseed to oatmeal or soups, or tossing sliced oranges or strawberries into salads or plain Greek yogurt.

Spice It Up

spicesFood-flavoring garlic, onion, ginger and cilantro have immune-boosting properties. Turmeric, used in Indian foods, contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. You can sprinkle turmeric on food, however when I’m feeling sluggish, I make a ‘turmeric tea’ (recipe below). Turmeric tea bags are also available at most stores.                                                           

Get Active: Outdoors or Indoors

Plenty of outdoor activities like ice skating, playing hockey, winter walks or runs in local parks are fun and can help you stay fit during the colder months. If you don’t want to be outdoors, check out your local library for online workout videos ranging from yoga, strength training, and aerobics you can do at home. Don’t like to work out alone?  Take a group fitness class at your local gym or community center where you can socialize and meet new people.  Bowling, swimming, and dancing are also great indoor activities.

Catch some sleep

Did you know, lack of sleep can make you sick? People who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after exposure to common cold viruses. Lack of sleep prevents your body from fighting infections and impacts how fast you recover. To boost your immune system get 7-8 hours of sleep for adults, 9-10 for teens and over 10 for school-aged children. Sleep routines are important too. Go to bed the same time each night, avoid caffeine 6 hours and smoking 2 hours before bedtime.

Turmeric TeaCloseup of tumeric powder spice on a spoon

  1. Boil 3 to 4 cups of water on the stove.
  2. Add 2 teaspoons of turmeric and stir.
  3. Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Strain the tea into another container.
  5. Add in honey, fresh squeezed lemon or orange juice, and milk to taste.

Season’s Greetings!


This time of year is perfect for reflecting on the last 12 months and envisioning what we’d like to manifest for the future.

What changes do you want to make in your life for 2020?

Our resolution is to continue to provide you with evidence-based advice from our esteemed educators for healthier families, healthier environments, and personal wellness. We’ll be updating our content for the new year, and we want to hear from you!

Share your New Year’s resolutions with us, and tell us us what health and wellness topics you’d like to learn about in 2020! Tell us your own personal wellness story or how you’ve put Breathing Room advice to work in your own life and you could be featured on our blog!

Watch for more details to come in 2020 and have a sparkling New Year!

Have a Sparkling New Year Celebration Greeting Card