The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increases in depression, anxiety, stress and other mental illnesses. In a recent survey conducted by USA TODAY and Suffolk University, the vast majority of respondents said the country was going through a mental health crisis.

As people grapple with how to navigate this challenging environment, experts from the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services at UO’s College of Education have shared some research-based tips for promoting mental health and well-being in 2022.

Set specific goals and track behavior

Jessica Cronce
Associate Professor
Institute for Prevention Science

“Setting and sticking to specific goals is an essential part of successful behavior change,” says Jessica Cronce, who specializes in preventing harm from unhealthy behaviors such as drug and alcohol use. She points to the example of “have fewer hangovers this year” as a goal that could benefit from some specificity. Using the same example, she would suggest setting a more focused goal instead, like this: “Increase the frequency with which I limit the number of drinks I can drink before going out to keep my blood alcohol concentration below 0.00. 06.” She explains that the specific numbers used in this goal would help avoid the point where many undesirable consequences associated with alcohol use become more likely.

“Of course, achieving behavior change also requires tracking your behavior, such as noting how often you’ve set a safer drinking limit, how much you’ve had to drink on limit nights, in comparison to those on which you have not set a limit and what consequences this has experienced. Tracking increases behavior awareness and accountability.”

Engage with nature

Zach Farley
PhD student, Prevention Science

Zach FarleyResearch suggests that just 10 minutes of engaging in nature offers myriad benefits, including reduced stress, restored cognitive ability and alertness, improved mood and well-being, and improved empathy and collaboration with others.

People who are unable or uncomfortable going outside can still get a portion of nature. Intentionally observing nature from your window, like spotting and hearing birds or running water, or marveling at how the wind sways the trees, offers benefits similar to going outside, Farley said.

“The next time you need to go for a walk or relax to recover, do it in an open area of ​​grass, near trees or along a creek, or next to a window with a view of nature,” Farley said. After all, nature is the most natural medicine.

Ask for what you need in face-to-face one-on-one meetings

Wendy Hadley
Associate Professor
Julie and Keith Thomson Director and Faculty Chairs, HEDCO Clinic

Wendy HadleySelf-care is recommended for overall well-being, but an often overlooked component of self-care is standing up for what you need, says Wendy Hadley, associate professor of counseling psychology and human services. The best way to do this is through one-on-one meetings, she explains.

“In this day and age, communication is often disrupted by over-reliance on email, or by using Zoom or Microsoft Teams for meetings, which can be a challenging medium for discussing emotional issues, especially in group settings. It can be more effective and efficient to communicate important ideas to professors, colleagues or family members in one-on-one meetings or at least over the phone.”

One-to-one meetings allow for more non-verbal communication, such as eye contact, facial expressions, and body posture, which communication research says are critical tools to help people listen to others and better communicate their own needs. Hadley also points to the power of using first-person statements to use feelings and open-ended questions to reflect and bring clarity to the conversation.

Focus on behaviors you want to change

Nicholas Kelly
Evergreen Professor
Member, Cluster Initiative Health Promotion

Nicholas KellyJanuary is prime time for diet and wellness companies to fill up your feed with ads hoping you buy what they’re selling. Kelly’s advice?

“Don’t fall for that!” she said.

As you set health goals for the new year, focus on the behaviors you want to change and why, not set weight loss or diet goals.

Over 80 percent of people who lose weight gain it back. Those who do manage to maintain weight loss describe their ongoing efforts as exhausting and stressful. Rigid dieting is a risk factor for all sorts of problems, including eating disorders, she said. And, perhaps most importantly, your height doesn’t determine your worth or health.

“If you’re going to make a New Year’s resolution, think about what’s important to you,” she said.

These could include long-term health, improved mood, and feeling more confident in your skin, she said. And set evidence-based goals, such as: Examples include eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising your body in pleasant ways, and unfollowing social media accounts that make you feel bad about your body.

Give more hugs

Jordan sharp
PhD student, Counseling Psychology

Jordan sharp“One of the greatest losses we’ve experienced over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the human contact we receive and its mental health benefits,” says Matulis. She explains that while many people have found ways to connect socially and emotionally, there has been less emphasis on the importance of physical touch.

“While US culture has often underestimated the power of physical touch, in the right settings, it can have a profound impact on our mental health and well-being. My area of ​​research has shown that the importance of touch between caregivers and infants is essential for growth and development and can be used to alleviate infant pain and discomfort. Studies have also shown benefits for mothers through a decrease in depressive symptoms.”

Matulius points to several studies that have documented the positive physiological effects of physical touch, including decreased cortisol, the stress hormone, and increased oxytocin, known as the love hormone. “So make sure you make a conscious effort to hug friends, family and loved ones in your bubbles, hold hands, massage and give encouraging touches while maintaining appropriate boundaries to protect yourself and with consent.” the other person. ”

Use the capital of creativity

Ellen Hawley McWhirter
Ann Swindells Professor of Counseling Psychology

Ellen McWhirter“To meet the challenges of this pandemic, I recommend embracing the capital of creativity,” McWhirter said.

A growing body of evidence links the pursuit of creativity to pandemic well-being, she said. Best of all, the ways to express creativity are limitless and many are very inexpensive. Drawing, painting, singing, trying a new recipe or learning a new dance can all be done alone or with others at home.

“For me personally, that means writing songs and poetry to channel frustration and grief,” she said. “Even when focusing on distressing issues, the act of creation brings a sense of relief and empowerment, even joy.”

“Sometimes we become very task-oriented and focus all our energy on doing what needs to be done. Finding ways to bring creative expression into daily life can increase our energy and well-being as we navigate the hardships of this pandemic.”

Call more, tweet less

Frank Mojekwu
PhD student, Counseling Psychology

Frank MojekwuThe COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures have reminded many people of the importance of social connectedness, but some sources of connection are healthier than others, says Frank Mojekwu, a doctoral student in counseling psychology. Mojekwu encourages people to be cautious when using social media can lead to mental health risks.

“When our everyday social networks were dissolved overnight to slow the spread of the virus, we turned to social media to maintain a sense of connection with one another. Although social networking sites have been instrumental in maintaining connections, these platforms have come under scrutiny for their engagement-centric approach to user retention. This battle for our attention is dangerous because we know that people with depressive symptoms are more likely to pay attention to negative internal and external messages. Additionally, depressive symptoms are associated with harmful social media habits that could perpetuate the symptom. In times of fluctuating mental health, the best connections may lie beyond Facebook and Twitter. A call or text to a loved one may be a better option.”

Recognizing your needs isn’t a weakness—it’s a pillar of strength

Bertanna Muruthi
Assistant Professor, Couple and Family Therapy Program

Bertanna MuruthiResearch has shown that the pandemic has exacerbated a pre-existing racial trauma that continues to damage physical and mental health from chronic and repetitive exposure to stress, Muruthi said.

“I encourage students to turn to peers and other trusted sources for support, to seek mental health services when needed, and to create a self-care plan that includes healthy formal and informal boundaries,” she said.

Although people of color demonstrate high levels of resilience through enacting cultural norms, engaging with their community, and through spirituality, these factors can propagate narratives of strength that negate or minimize the mental health needs in our communities.

“I want students of color to know that recognizing your needs isn’t a weakness — it’s a pillar of your strength,” she said.

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