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Finding peace in difficult times

Co-authors: Dr. Katherine Clements and Bonnie Silvestri

On September 29, 2021 in recognition of the 31st anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and as part of “Take A Child Outside Week”, we participated in an event called “Finding Peace in Difficult Times”.  This public webinar focused on mental health impacts of Covid-19 and strategies for wellness. Included was a discussion on the benefits of spending time in nature for youth and adults, and a virtual shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” activity.

Read more below, or Watch the Presentation Here

Mental Health Challenges in the Covid-19 Era

Covid-19 has impacted both our physical and mental health, offering an opportunity to refocus on these priorities.

As we enter the nineteenth month of our global COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to take the opportunity to consider the impact such a long-term traumatic experience has had on our mental health. We are all experiencing some form of collective grief both for the nearly 700,000 lives lost and for the way we lived our lives before cancellations, masks, social distancing, and Zoom, interrupted our well-worn routines. But could this also be a time to re-evaluate our priorities and place our mental health and well-being at the top of the list?

Because nearly everyone has confronted some mental health concerns throughout this unusual period in our history, from feeling out of control and unsure of our safety, to worrying about loved ones, or financial woes. In some sense this has made it much easier to address these issues head on. If everyone is facing the same thing, it is easier to talk about stress, fear, and anxiety more openly and assume at least a base level of understanding among friends, family, and co-workers. We have also seen public figures begin to speak much more openly about their own mental health struggles, particularly during the pandemic, including Michelle Obama, Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, and Michael Phelps.

Bringing daylight to mental health concerns is a huge step forward that may have long-term effects on our collective future well-being. In the meantime, on a personal level, we each must remember to take care of ourselves just as much as we care for others.

The Importance of Self-Care

Finding balance is not always easy, but so important for our well-being!

Self-care is critical to reduce our stress, increase our resiliency, and replenish ourselves so that we can continue to work, play, and take care of others. Finding a balance between all the factors in our lives is the key!

Here are self-care tips from the CDC:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.
  • Take care of your body.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Talk to others. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor.
  • Connect with othersTalk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. These may seem to help, but they can create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.
  • Recognize when you need more help.

 

Shinrin-yoku

Shinrin-yoku at Red Bug Slough Preserve in Sarasota County. Photo credit: K. Clements

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese practice that began in 1982, but has gained notoriety recently due to being featured when the Olympics were held in Tokyo. Shinrin-yoku translates loosely as “forest bathing”. The idea is to get outside and fully immerse one’s self in nature. Shinrin-yoku is a practice of using all your senses, slowing down, and experiencing mindfulness. Spending time in nature, meditation, and specifically shinrin-yoku (a blend of both), have shown many benefits to both your physical and mental health.

Participate in a virtual shinrin yoku activity below, or visit EventBrite.com to sign up for an in-person shinrin-yoku walk in Sarasota County:

Panelists

Dr. Kathy Moore, Executive Director of the Florida Mental Health Institute (FMHI) of the University of South Florida (USF) and Dr. Amanda Sharp, USF faculty affiliated with FMHI, are health psychologists and researchers who focus on person-centered care. They discussed what the research is indicating in terms of the dramatic impacts COVID-19 has had on our mental health. Strategies were shared to enhance our well-being in trying times.

Dr. Katherine Clements, Ecology and Natural Resources Educator at UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County, spoke about the benefits of spending time in nature and mindfulness, and offered a shirin-yoku (forest-bathing) mindfulness experience.

Bonnie Silvestri, Sarasota County’s Ethics and Compliance Specialist and ADA Coordinator moderated the program, which was sponsored by Sarasota County Libraries’ Northport Library Manager Alicia Diaz.

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