• Supporting children and adults with developmental disabilities to live to their fullest potential.

Mind and Body Connection

The third and final blog for Mental Health Awareness month focuses on the Mind and Body connection.

The mind-body connection is by no means a new theory. For thousands of years, medicine has focused on this connection between what we do with our physical body and how this can impact our mental health. Two of the major components of the mind-body connection includes sleep and nutrition. Explain more you say? I thought you’d never ask!

Have you ever heard someone say, “I woke up on the wrong side of the bed”? This commonly used phrase beautifully describes the impact sleep can have on someone’s mood. In fact, sleep and mental health have a bidirectional and complex relationship. Poor sleep can contribute to poor mental while mental health disorders tend to make it harder to sleep. But why is this? Studies have shown that sleep, specifically REM sleep, is vital in providing time for the brain to process emotional information and remember thoughts and memories. Anatomically, the connection between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex is greatly affected by lack of sleep. The amygdala assists in processing emotions while the prefrontal cortex manages impulse control and decision making. Therefore, without sufficient sleep we see changes in mood, emotional reactivity, and increase in mental health disorders such as depression, S.A.D, anxiety, and PTSD.

Beyond making sure we get enough sleep, we also need to make sure we are eating a well-balanced diet. The saying “you are what you eat” truly applies to the mind-body connection. As with sleep and your mental health, nutrition and mental health also have a bidirectional relationship. Often, our current mood drives our food choice while our food choices can drive our mood and future choices. As many of us have experienced, eating a diet high in processed foods and refined sugars greatly effects how we feel and often leads to a mid-day “crash” as your blood sugar drops. This results in more cravings for sugar-filled foods.

But why do we “feel worse” when eating these processed foods? The answer comes down to the commonly known “mood” neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin impacts our mood, happiness, sleep, appetite, and many other functions. A great majority of serotonin is produced in the digestive system; hence, the reasoning why our mood is affected by what we eat.

With all this information, we can begin to understand more about the mind-body connection specifically related to sleep and nutrition. The major takeaway here is that prioritizing sleep and eating a well-balanced diet can both promote and improve your overall mental health.

For more information on finding a well-balanced diet that works for you, helpful sleep information, and more about the mind-body connection, check out the resources below:


Mental Health & COVID-19

Over the past year, more than ever we have learned the importance of physical and mental health, and how these are truly intertwined in our everyday lives.

We have been truly amazed by our staff and individuals who have gone above and beyond to keep each other safe, healthy and engaged. We need to take care of ourselves first as the number one priority to be able to best support and take care of others. Mental health and wellbeing are the foundation of health and wellness in our lives, stated Jenna Neal, Director of Health Services at Hammer Residences.

Julia Christianson, Community Life Coordinator at Hammer, has written a series of three articles for Mental Health Awareness Month showcasing topics for staff to use as a personal resource and share with individuals they support.

The second article in the series talks about Mental Health and COVID-19

There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected each of our lives in more ways than one. Because of the many major life changes in the past year, we have seen a dramatic increase in depression and anxiety symptoms within the public. In fact, the CDC reported the percentage of US Adults reporting symptoms associated with anxiety and depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5% during the pandemic.

If we look at some of those major life changes during the pandemic, we can begin to understand some of the reasoning behind this dramatic increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms. Many adults have reported that within the last year they have had difficulty sleeping or eating, increased alcohol and substance use, and worsening chronic conditions. Some possible contributions to these negative impacts include altered daily routines, financial pressures, social isolation, and uncertainty. Even more, social media, news outlets, and other resources caused some to feel overwhelmed and out of control by the magnitude of information out there and the energy it takes to decipher the truth from misinformation.

We have also noticed that some groups of people have been impacted more greatly than others. Specifically, parents have been noted to have poorer mental health due to the challenges with school closures and lack of child-care. In addition, communities of color have been disproportionally affected. Historically, these communities of color have faced challenges accessing mental health care, and the pandemic made finding health care even more difficult. Because of the lack of access to testing, fear of profiling while wearing face masks, and other issues; the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly amplified the need for equality among persons of color. Furthermore, essential workers, who include many of our employees, have also been affected mentally by the pandemic. Due to the greater risk of exposure and many other factors, there has been a significant increase in symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, starting or increasing substance use, and suicidal thoughts.

So how can you support your loved ones, employees, and yourself during these times?

First, please be aware that you are not alone. The pandemic has affected us all and, as the statistics show, an increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms is not uncommon. We need to be sure to take care of our body and mind through physical activity, getting enough sleep, limit exposure to news media, and setting priorities. In addition, be sure to maintain connections with others. You can build support and strengthen your relationships by making connections virtually, doing something for others, or supporting a family member or friend. Finally, be sure to get help when you need it.

See below for more information about mental health during the pandemic and resources for getting help:


Work-Life Balance

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Now more than ever, the day-to-day stress of life can lead to mental health issues. As the pandemic continues to alter our lives, it is important to find new and innovative ways to stay connected with each other.

During these stressful times, we need to stay connected and be there for each other as best we can, stated John Estrem, CEO of Hammer/NER. Our staff have done a great job keeping the individuals they support safe and healthy. We also want to encourage them to take good care of themselves and each other.

Julia Christianson, Community Life Coordinator, has written a series of three articles addressing mental health, showcasing topics for staff to use as a personal resource and share with individuals they support.

The first article in the series talks about Work-Life Balance

In today’s day and age of working from home, technology, financial instability, and many other factors, work-life balance ever more important. As many of you may agree, finding that “perfect” work-life balance is much easier said than done. Balancing work tasks, deadlines, and projects with your personal life is a challenging feat.

However, it is important to find your “perfect” work-life balance no matter how challenging it may be. Every person has their own preferred work-life balance that works for them. When our personal scale of work-life balance begins to lean more to one side than the other, we need to make a change to maintain the equilibrium or negative implications may arise. Some of these implications include fatigue thus affecting your productivity, poor health or worsening of symptoms, lost time with friends and loved ones, substance misuse, and more.

So how do we find personal work-life balance and how do we improve it?

It is important to begin by understanding that no two person’s work-life balance will be alike. From varying job requirements, hobbies, personality, and life circumstances; we each need to find a balance that works for us. Do keep in mind that this balance may change throughout your life; therefore, it is important to continually re-evaluate and make changes along the ride.

In addition, an important concept in work-life balance is to set limits. This includes managing your time and not overscheduling yourself and learning to say “no”. Another way to set limits is to find ways to detach from work. This may involve turning off your work email after hours or setting specific times throughout the day to answer work emails and calls.

Finally, a major part of work-life balance is caring for yourself and finding ways to cope with stress. Be sure to focus on eating well, getting enough sleep, include physical activity in your schedule, and find various ways to relax. In addition, be sure to develop a support system that includes co-workers, friends and loved ones.

For further information about work-life balance, check out the resources below: