Posts Tagged self-help

Suicide Prevention Week-What you need to know…

Suicide Prevention Week-What you need to know…

Suicide affects all of us. 1 in 5 teens seriously consider suicide each year. It tears a hole in our lives and communities that we can’t easily repair. That’s why preventing suicide from occurring is so important. This is especially true given that mental health is a major contributing factor in suicides.

 

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Way too often, communities keep quiet about mental health issues. There’s a stigma about openly discussing mental health and suicide. This very stigma can discourage a community or individual from implementing suicide prevention programming or seeking help. Rather than preventing suicide from happening in the first place, communities oftentimes take action after the tragedy has already occurred. However, the best place to start is before a suicide occurs. That’s where organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program come into play.

 

suicide week blog 3The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention runs programs designed to prevent suicide. These include K-12 educator trainings on detecting mental health changes in their students, presenting lectures about suicide and suicide prevention, providing mental health first aid trainings, and community-based walks that raise funds to further promote suicide prevention.

 

Similarly, the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program offers youth and teen trainings, community yellow ribbon logomember trainings, trainings for educators, and suicide prevention cards that encourage youth to seek help from community members when they are experiencing thoughts of suicide.

 

Both organizations aim to prevent suicide. This single goal is so important that it has an entire month (September) dedicated to recognizing the prevalence, need for resources, and opportunities to intervene before an event occurs. If that doesn’t speak to the importance of suicide prevention, then what does?

 

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Each and every one of us is responsible for creating an environment where suicide is not seen as a viable option. It’s important to speak up about suicide. Stifling the conversation only serves to make suicide seem like something it’s not. Suicide is not an escape from the awful parts of life or a way to win. Suicide is a loss of what could have been and an end to what was. There is no coming back. And that’s why we place so much emphasis on prevention rather than intervention. We can’t stop what has happened, but we sure can stop it from happening in the future. So this September, talk about suicide and prevention because as long as the conversation continues, change will happen.

 

suicide week blog 5If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. There are trained professionals that want to talk to you. Even when you think no one is there, there is hope. You’re not alone. We’re here for you.

 

Written by Leah, intern

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The Academy Spreads Cheer & Creates Calm!

The Academy Spreads Cheer & Creates Calm!

Stand Together went in to the Academy last fall to begin training on stigma, mental illness, and substance abuse. This was my first time facilitating a training so I was a bit nervous! As we began the day, I began to see how emotionally mature these students were and how much they truly know already about stigma. We discussed many relevant stereotypes seen in society, and I enjoyed every single student’s input. I could tell that this subject was something they were passionate about, and I knew they would have an awesome year!

 

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One activity we did that they seemed to really enjoy was the “Common Ground” activity where someone stands in the middle and says, “I see common ground with…,” then everyone who the statement applies to must get up 1and move to a different chair. Even though at times it got competitive, the students really saw how much more they have in common with others than different.

 

I returned to the Academy this spring to check out the student’s projects. I came on the day they were implementing their “Cup of Cheer” project. This entailed putting inspirational quotes onto cups and stuffing the cups with coffee, tea, a Stand Together bookmark, and a jelly bracelet that said Stand Together. The students also created a “calm down” room at their school. Inside the room was a mural that the students painted, giving hope and positivity to the students who come into the room needing a break.

 

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I am extremely proud of all the hard work these students did this past year. It was amazing to see them work together on accomplishing such an important goal, ending stigma! Thank you, the Academy! 😊

 

 

Written by Lacey, Project Trainer

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A Happy, Healthy New Year: New Year, Better You

A Happy, Healthy New Year: New Year, Better You

The common phrase we hear around the New Year is: New Year, New Year. I want to tell you that you are already enough! But there’s always things we can work on to better ourselves and achieve our goals. We don’t want a ‘new you;’ our goal is to give you some tips and tricks to incorporate into 2018. No matter if you set resolutions or just see it as another day, it’s important to remember that the small things matter, you’re not alone, and we’re in this together.

The most important of them all:

 

You DESERVE to be HAPPY!!!

1.3.18 new year blog (1)Should I say it again? YOU! Yes, you! Many of us struggle with self-confidence, high standards/expectations, and so much pressure. Sometimes it’s hard to think that there’s more to life than the hustle and bustle of everyday or the chasing the ideas of perfection. You are unique. There is no one else exactly like you in the world. You are human and you deserve love and happiness. And that starts with you. You’ve got this!

You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
– A. A. Milne

2. Treat yo-self!

I know we preach and preach about self-care, but is it so 1.3.18 new year blog (2)incredibly important. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so the saying goes. As members of Stand Together, we ask you to be there and practice SHE: support, hold hope, and encourage each other. You can’t do that if you’re not well. Eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, exercise, and do things you enjoy. Be kind to yourself. Take care of your mind, body, and spirit (aka holistic wellness). Take care of yourself and you’ll be able to share yourself with others.

3. Surround yourself with positive people.

We all need SHE in our lives. Friends and close family members are some of the most important tools for resiliency (the ability to bounce back after difficult experiences). You’re never alone and we’re in this together. Don’t be afraid to share your joy, your fears, your struggles with someone else. We have more in common than we do different.

1.3.18 new year blog (5)4. Don’t sweat the small stuff-but the little things matter.

This comic is me to a ‘T.’ So often I focus on the few negative things than all the great things. It’s so hard to do! We have to rewire our brains to make this happen-but it’s well worth it. At the same time, we need to appreciate the little things in life: a text from a friend, a sunrise/sunset, (for me) a nice cup of tea…the list goes on. Gratitude helps us stay centered and have a more positive outlook. Have you given thanks today?

Last, but not least…
5. This is YOUR year.

You have the power to change things you do not like. You have the ability to set boundaries to protect your mental health. You have the chance to advocate for yourself and others. You can and will make a difference. We believe in you. Live in expectation; the best is yet to come. Happy, Healthy New Year!

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Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator

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Holiday PSA: Stress, Self-Care, and Mental Health

Holiday PSA: Stress, Self-Care, and Mental Health
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Danyelle sharing a part of her recovery story at When the Holidays Hurt…

For most, the holidays are a time of great joy, excitement, and family fun, but for many of us, the holidays hurt. They’re hard. They’re not ‘pretty presents wrapped up in a bow’ or feel-good festivities, but sources of pain, struggle, and/or sadness. Memories of a lost loved one, negative feelings/experiences, and expectations can make it difficult to enjoy this time of the year. I shared my experiences last night at a Human Library presentation; we’re not alone in our struggle. Some of us, myself included, also experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which means that when the sun is in low supply and it’s cold and dreary, our mental health takes a nose dive. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to consume us. Whether you have a mental health condition or not, there are things you can do to de-stress and engage in acts of self-care to promote positive mental health over this season.

1.  It’s OKAY to take a break from family, especially if they challenge your mental health. You can do this respectfully by setting boundaries and limits. It’s okay to politely excuse yourself for a few moments (or longer) to collect yourself, reconnect, and reboot.

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2. Back to Basics: self-care also includes eating healthy foods, exercising, and making sure you get enough sleep. Putting yourself first is not selfish; it’s necessary. It’s okay to indulge in some holiday treats-Hello! Christmas Cookies!-but we like to stick to an 80-20 rule (80% clean/healthy, 20% not so much).

REI-_OptOutside_Anthem_Film_153. Get Outside! Remember REI’s catch-phrase #optoutside? Even though sunshine is hard to come by this time of the year, getting some fresh air is good for the body, mind, and spirit. Be mindful of your surroundings: What do you smell? Hear? See? Feel? Embrace the now! Pet that dog (probably ask first). Catch a snowflake on your tongue. Take a good wiff of that bakery-it’s okay to stop in for a treat too :)

4. Do what YOU do! Make sure to engage in activities you enjoy. Read a book, watch a movie, knit, bake…whatever you like to do, make time for you! Little moments of stability can do wonders for your mood.

5. Be mindful. Savor the good times. Stay positive; surround yourself with positive people, if you can. Make time for those friends you haven’t seen in a while or spend some time with that favorite relative. Our perspective determines our reality; if we’re looking for good things, we’ll be able to find them. Practice gratitude and celebrate the small things. Imperfections are a part of the ride and they don’t define the event/who you are.

expecations6. Set realistic expectations. Society bombards us of the idea of this ‘perfect family holiday’ where everyone holds hands and sings Christmas carols around the tree, everyone laughs around a huge table of food, and everything is red and green and lit-up and glorious. Let’s face it-this isn’t real. Everyone is unique and every family is different. When we expect too much, we miss out on little things that could be great experiences. It’s easier said than done (trust me, this is a hard one!), but it’s important to remember that it will pass and to make the most of the situation as it is, not what we expect/would want it to be.

 

Family is messy. The holidays can be stressful, to say the least. But YOU CAN DO IT! Take care of yourself first and foremost. You are important! You deserve a HAPPY HOLIDAY.

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Written by Danyelle. Project Coordinator

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NEW Trainer: Meet Lacey Agresta!

NEW Trainer: Meet Lacey Agresta!

Hey ya’ll! My name is Lacey Agresta and I am a project trainer with Stand Together. The end goal of my job is to break down stigma and educate our youth about mental health and substance use. I achieve this by going into classrooms all around Allegheny County and facilitate workshops.

In 2014, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from Florida State University. I started my career as a case manager for children and families who were involved in the court system. After that I was employed by an elementary school, focusing on absenteeism within the student body. I realized then that my passion was working with youth. When I found my current position as a Recovery Specialist, I knew my move to Pittsburgh was for a reason; to spread the word about mental illness and hopefully help one person who is facing challenges in their own life.

What makes me such an expert on this subject? Well, I have suffered with mental health disorders my entire life. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, anxiety, and ADHD in my early teens. When I’m not focusing on my recovery, I am extremely anti-social, tired, agitated, nervous, unable to focus on one task, not sleeping, and many more symptoms that caused impairment in my everyday life. These symptoms led me to abuse drugs to numb my pain, thus causing me to eventually become addicted. My recovery came slowly, but I didn’t give up on it like I had done so many times before throughout my youth. I surrounded myself with people that loved me and supported me throughout my journey. My parents helped as best as they could, but they weren’t experts on recovery and they didn’t understand the kind of support I needed; they also had mental health issues of their own. Luckily, I had other adults that were professionals in this field that stood by my side and never gave up on me, even when I would mess up. I listened to them and did what they told me to do, even if I didn’t want to. I knew that I could not do this on my own and I had to put my ego aside. Today I live a beautiful life and I never take one day for granted. If I could get through it and come out of the other side, anyone can.

I’m originally from Bradenton, Florida and just recently moved to Pittsburgh in April 2017. I currently live in Dormont with my boyfriend and our fur-babies, Armani and Biggie. Most of my time is spent outside exercising, exploring the town, or cuddling up on the couch with my pup!

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“You were never created to live depressed, guilty, condemned, ashamed, or unworthy. You were created to be victorious.”

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Recognition Event 2017

Recognition Event 2017

Words cannot express what an amazing experience we had on Wednesday, May 10 celebrating our Stand Together schools’ accomplishments this past year. Over 150 students and 100 supporters attended this years’ event at the Heinz History Center. All eight of our project completing schools were able to attend in some fashion and some even brought guests, give-a-ways, and goodies to share.

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The chairs were full and the plaques were ready to be given out! After a brief introduction, the program began!

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Our featured speaker, Dese’Rae Stage, shared her moving recovery story and the students found hope and inspiration in her words. Many students could relate to her on a personal level and all the participants enjoyed viewing her work, Live Through This, and learning about other suicide survivors stories.

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All of our schools did a fantastic job presenting their projects and demonstrating their mental health expertise and changes in school culture.

Here’s what each school came up with:

Propel: Braddock Hills High School’s projects were a HUGE hit. Their creativity and innovation always inspire other groups to take risks with their projects and think outside the box. This year, the students manufactured a ‘Thought Bubble’ that they used to invite their peers to stop stigma and increase social inclusion by sharing things that they struggled with, things that helped them cope with life’s stress, and things that inspired them. Students also created a life-size board game similar to Chutes & Ladders, in which participants scaled ladders when they supported a friend or talked about mental health, but moved down the slides when they used stigmatizing language or ignore’s signs/symptoms in a peer. The students wrapped-up their project with their annual Blackout Stigma day, in which students are allowed to dress-down in black clothes, participated in a moving wristband sharing activity, and took pictures at a photo-booth with an anti-stigma backdrop created by all the students at the school.

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Propel was followed by Steel Valley Middle School. These students worked together with their HS counter-parts to unite their schools for a common-cause in their Breaking Barriers Dash. Students also facilitated a Glow-in-the-Dark dodgeball tournament for almost 200 students. Each team had to learn about, spread awareness, and represent their assigned mental health condition. The winners received gift cards. Students also conducted a Kindness Kafe at which they gave away free hot chocolate and ‘Breaking Down Barriers’ bracelets to discuss mental health and increase social inclusion. Students also had a #standtogether selfie station to remind their peers of the activities.

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Next, students in Arsenal Middle School shared their ‘Cool-Aid Stand’ project, explaining the importance of reaching out to their peers, meeting them where they are, and giving away something for free. As a Community School, Arsenal strives to involve parents and other community members as well. Check out their project!

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Carlynton spoke of their ‘dirt’ and ‘sand’ bake sale in which they reminded peers that “Stigma is dirty!” and that they should “S(t)and Together.” The snacks had flags that discussed the myths and facts surrounding mental health conditions and sold out quickly! Carlynton is also going to be facilitating a 1:4 week soon.

Carlynton award Carlynton presentation

The Environmental Charter School returned to Stand Together after a one-year hiatus and it was great to see them engaging their peers again! ECS handed out hot chocolate and lemonade as well as wristbands to the students to educate them about mental health and substance use disorders. For every 3 green wristbands, there was 1 purple wristband that read “1 in 4 students have a mental illness” to visually represent the prevalence of behavioral health conditions. The students also had information readily available for students that wanted to learn more about common disorders or compare the myths and facts.

ECS table ECS award

Following ECS, West Mifflin MS shared their tier-3 projects, including a movie night featuring Inside Out and a Color Run, which was open for the whole community. Students also performed skits to talk about mental health and stigma before and during these events. One of the highlights of the day was the students interacting with guests, offering hugs-and giving them, along with passing out a pin with a motivational phrase written on it. There was definitely a lot of love going around the room!

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Steel Valley HS capitalized on Valentine’s Day with their “Love is louder than any mental illness” campaign. Students decorated lockers with mental health facts and positive messages. They also held a door-decorating contest between homerooms that focused on educating each other about mental health disorders. The students largest event was a mental health fair. Students visited tables and activities set-up around the gym during their lunch periods to learn more about mental health conditions and stigma, participate in social inclusion activities, and de-stress through dancing, Twister, and coloring books. Steel Valley’s innovative theme made a huge impact in their school environment and many faculty members, as well.

SVHS table SVHS presentation

West Mifflin HS wrapped up the program describing their full year of events aimed at ending the stigma attached with mental health disorders. Early in the year, students held a balloon release for students to ‘let go’ of struggles and ‘soar;’ regardless of what was going on, students came together in a moving ceremony to ‘stand together’ in hope. Other projects included educating the preschool students, hosting a bake sale, holding a throwback dance, and presenting a school assembly. Another big event included their mental health fair. Much like SVHS, students learned about mental health, participated in social inclusion and coping skill activities, and played games that not only engaged students and rewarded them with prizes, but provided them with reminders of the things they learned that day. (Did you see some of the prizes above that they also handed out at the event?!)

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It was an absolutely fantastic event and everyone had a great time. Students and other attendees left inspired to address stigma in their schools and communities and continue in their plight to increase awareness, increase social inclusion, and encourage reaching out to an adult. Thank you all for everything you do for Stand Together! See you next year!

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If you’re interested about learning more about Stand Together or bringing to to YOUR SCHOOL, please contact Danyelle Hooks at (412)350-3455 or danyelle.hooks@alleghenycounty.us.

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Breaking the Silence: Talking about Mental Illness at West Mifflin HS

Breaking the Silence: Talking about Mental Illness at West Mifflin HS

Students at West Mifflin High School have been planning and implementing Stand Together projects since the beginning of the school-year. As one of only two schools that has participated all four years, WMHS has a large, elaborate program that continually works hard to educate, increase social inclusion, and encourage students to get help.

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Projects began in October, when the group held a cupcake bake sale to kick off the year. In November, the students held a balloon release in which students wrote something they wanted to ‘let go’ of (struggling with), a fact about mental illness, or a hopeful message and attached it to a balloon. The balloons were then released in a moving ceremony. One of the balloons was found 90 miles away and the person that found it contacted us!

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Throughout the year, students maintained a Stand Together bulletin board, held informative sessions during Freshman Health classes, and even participated in a Mental Health First Aid training, including over 40 teachers and staff and 20 students! Students and faculty that completed this training are considered a “Safe Haven,” that is, someone that students and anyone else at the school can talk to if they’re struggling with a mental health concern. Students also connected with teachers during a lunch activity to break down the barriers and fear that sometimes separate adolescents and adults.

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Last Friday, students facilitated Break the Silence Day, a fair-style event at which the student body could test their mental health knowledge by playing games, participate in self-care activities, and help create a mural that was displayed in the school cafeteria.

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This mural was a green ribbon for mental health awareness, made out of the Stand Together students hands, that was surrounded by multicolored feathers with mental health prompts that were answered by the student body, including:

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In addition, the students organized the Mindful Art Gallery which displays works of art relating to mental health in students lives. Works were displayed anonymously so students could express themselves freely without judgement.

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Last week, some of the students facilitated a lesson about emotions and coping skills with the preschool class. The children listened to a book about a monkey that learned to deal with being upset and participated in various activities, including yoga, blowing bubbles, and making masks of faces with different emotions. The lesson concluded with the students identifying an emotion or coping and skill and receiving a green bear to remind them of what they learned.

       

The year will conclude with an end-of-the-year assembly for the entire school. Check them out at http://wmstandtogether.weebly.com/. Special thanks to their advisor, Ms. Rowe, president, Eliza, and preschool teacher, Ms. Bonacci, for all their hard work!

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Kissing Stigma Goodbye: Steel Valley HS Stands Together

Kissing Stigma Goodbye: Steel Valley HS Stands Together

Steel Valley HS capitalized on Valentine’s Day with their Love is LOUDER than Mental Illness series of events this February. In addition to DSCN0280participating in the Breaking the Barriers dash with the middle school, the high school students held several activities during this past month for their peers. From Hershey kisses telling students to ‘Kiss stigma goodbye’ to Huggies when students shared a hug with a peer, SVHS spread the love in their school to increase awareness of mental illness, increase social inclusion, and talk about getting help when having a mental health need.

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Stand Together took to the hallways of Steel Valley High School to spread the love and break the stigma surrounding mental illness! Students posted inspirational quotes to motivate and encourage students in their daily struggles, as well as anyone that might be silently suffering from a mental health concern. In addition, students posted information on the prevalence of mental illness, what stigma is, and flyers urging students to sign the anti-stigma pledge on our site. Over 240 students committed to stop stigma, challenge their preconceived notions, and advocate for mental health in their school and communities.

Students also held a door-decorating contest. Participating students and teachers covered their doors with facts regarding various mental health conditions and other decorations to get students attention and learn about a specific disorder. The winning classroom received gift cards for their efforts.

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Their projects concluded with a Mental Illness fair during all lunches on Friday, February 25. This tremendous event took over the entire school gym.DSCN0282  Upon entering, students were given a green ribbon sticker for the day and a Stand Together wristband to remind them of the event and message. Tables were set-up around the room with various activities. 10 tables were set-up highlighting facts and sharing information on various mental illnesses, including autism, anxiety, suicide, self-harm, depression, and OCD. Music and games were played and the students and staff really united together against stigDSCN0317ma.

One impressive highlight was a mural the students had created to emphasize the concept that no one is alone. Students answered questions anonymously with sticky notes to create a visual representation of the impact we have on each other. Additionally, some students stepped up and spoke with their peers about their first-hand experiences with mental illness. It was a great success!

Check out these videos from the event to hear what students and staff had to say about the fair!

         

Thanks to Mrs. Kamnikar and the Stand Together team for all their hard work!

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Get Your Sleep!: Facts & Tips

Get Your Sleep!: Facts & Tips

I recently participated in a webinar on Risk & Resiliency to Mood Disorders in Teens that focused on the importance of sleep and, coincidentally, My Fitness Pal also released an article on the effects of sleep deprivation. Adequate and quality sleep is important for every one at any age, but especially for adolescents. Sleep, however, is a bio-marker of good overall health. The brain plasticity and structural reorganizations (big words for ‘brain changes’) during the teenage years can explain the onset of mental illness in young adults, which can be further influenced by sleep deprivation. Okay, now that all of that confusing information is over, here’s what you need to know:

Facts
-Increased sleep debt (sleeping less than 8 hrs/night over an extended period of time) caused a ‘inadequate sleep epidemic’
70% teenag12-21-16 blog addition 2ers experience an insufficient amount of sleep on an average school night
-Poor sleep leads to poor school & work performance, substance use disorders, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and suicidal ideation
-Individuals with a greater stability of daily rhythms (aka regular sleep patterns) have lower self-reported stress
-The University of Chicago found that men who slept only 4 hours/night for 2 nights increased their caloric intake (appetite) by 24%
-The number of car accidents involving teens in the morning increases the earlier school starts in the morning
-According to the CDC, more than 1/3 of Americans aren’t regularly getting enough sleep
-Check out this infographic!

12-20-16 Sleep Blog-Deprivaton Infographic

As you can see, sleep deprivation is a HUGE problem for everyone, especially teenagers, whose biological clocks, hormones, and neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) are already all over the place! So what can YOU do to avoid this?

Tips
-Keep regular daily routines12-21-16 blog addition 3
-Decrease interpersonal problems aka drama, if possible
-Practice mindfulness (being in the moment)
-Consider exploring yoga, tai chi or other relaxation techniques
-Exercise regularly, even if it’s just a brisk walk
-Keep a regular sleep schedule and avoid variability (changes) and over-scheduling (being too busy)
-Limit caffeine intake and ‘screen time,’ especially at night
-Go outside! Your body needs sunlight to function well (yes, even in winter!)

Sleep is an important part of self-care and wellness. Get your sleep on!

(Special thank to Under Armour/My Fitness Pal and the International Bipolar Foundation for ideas and info!)

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Stress-LESS this Holiday Season

Stress-LESS this Holiday Season

Oh, Christmas. Twinkling lights, joyful reunions, sweet treats, merry carols…but if you’re like me, the holidays bring on waves of stress and heighten the symptoms of my mental illness. Even if you do not have a mental illness, it can be difficult remembering the loss of a loved one or handling increased pressur12-5-16 blog 3es from friends and family. 64% of people say they are affected by feelings of anxiety and depression during the holidays (NAMI). These feelings might include: fatigue, tension, frustration, loneliness/isolation, sadness, or a sense of loss. Although for some these ‘holiday blues‘ are temporary, these problems must still be taken seriously because they can lead to long-term mental health complications.

Here’s some things to keep in mind:
1. Talk about it! Just like self-advocacy is important for those with mental illness to speak up for what we need/want, it is important to engage friends and family in discussions about your struggles. It can feel awkward, but it is important to be pro-active rather than reactive, meaning it’s better to be prepared than to end up in a worse place later on. Having these conversations also lets others know that it is no one’s fault; you just have to take care of you! It’s okay to not be okay!

2. Take breaks! There’s nothing wrong with taking some quiet time for yourself. With so many different places and people everywher12-5-16 blog 1e, it can be very overwhelming. Doing this various times throughout the day can help prevent uncomfortable feelings from sneaking up on you or building up and releasing in an negative way. Go for a brisk walk, read a couple chapters of a book, listen to a few tunes, or do some deep-breathing outside. Whatever small things you need to keep yourself balanced and relaxed. Give yourself permission to breathe.

3. Set reasonable expectations! Don’t strive for perfection; there is no such thing and it’s not worth it. It’s important not to overextend yourself-physically, emotionally, or financially. It’s okay to ‘say no’ to activities and events and keep it simple. Only you know what your limits are and these keep you safe and well. Stick to your normal routines as much as possible, get enough sleep, exercise, and don’t eat too many treats. Even if it is the holidays, your body, mind, and spirit will appreciate the consideration. Mindfulness matters!

If you need someone to talk to, call the WARMline at 1-866-661-WARM. You don’t have to go through this alone.

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