Let’s go OUTSIDE!

I love it when I start looking for blog ideas and I hit something that has millions of articles published. It tells me that I am on to something. When I went looking for “health benefits of time outdoors,” Google blew up with so many articles explaining what I already know from personal experience – being outdoors is fabulous for our health, and most of us aren’t spending nearly enough time out there!

The following is a collection of my personal top 5 reasons to get outside. Now that this long, snowy, and ridiculous winter has finally come to a close (you heard me, winter – COME TO A CLOSE), I hope you’ll join me in getting back out into nature! (yes, you can still go outside in winter. But it’s so much easier to get outside in spring!!)

1. Pure Joy

I feel a special something when I walk outside – smelling the fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, and looking up into the skyline. It’s a feeling of freedom, hope, and happiness. Even just thinking about a warm summer breeze can bring a smile to my face. I’m guessing you have the same feeling, at least sometimes, when you step outside!

We spend so much time indoors. Some studies estimate as much as 90% of our time is spent inside. Whether you’re in your house, in the office, in your car, or even in a shopping center, there is a feeling of being enclosed that you may not realize is there until you step out into the wide-open spaces. Stepping outside on a day with great weather, I am like Maria in the Sound of Music (Julie Andrews), singing in the grassy meadows, arms outstretched, surrounded by beautiful, gently rolling hills covered by soft greens and framed by a clear blue sky.

Even what some would consider mediocre weather has its moments – the wonderful pitter patter and that amazing smell when it rains; the beauty of a fresh snowfall; the crisp chill of a fall day – I appreciate the joy in all of the seasons, and I know I need to be better at finding ways to get outside no matter the perfection of the skies! What’s your favorite season? Think about how you feel when you’re outside on your perfect day. Pretty great, right? You can’t buy that joy, it’s free just for stepping outside!

2. Burn off Stress

No, we’re not just talking about the angry walk around the block, but maybe this helps explain even that. Walking it off is a great way to burn off anger and frustration, but why? Well, the exercise helps burn off some of those pesky “fight or flight” endorphins, but also, I think the time outside helps put things in perspective. I am one person in one home on one street, surrounded by a town, a State, a Country, and all that before we even get to the size of the whole planet. Walking outside, I see my neighbors and their families. I have even walked outside to find that a neighbor is also “rage walking.” Talk about solidarity – none of us is alone in our experience, whether it’s a celebration or a challenge!

We are also connected with each other by nature. We use the same water, absorb the same sun, and smell the same fresh air. Getting outside is important, because it reminds us that there is something greater than ourselves – something that has been here far longer than we have, and will continue to be here after we are gone. It reminds us that we are not permanent, and neither are the things that can cause us stress and frustration. Even when you don’t feel stress building up, it’s still great to get outside and enjoy the peace and calm that comes from being in nature. It helps you re-center and tackle your responsibilities and challenges with new energy!

3. Oh, the health benefits!

Folks who struggle with mobility, mental health, and other barriers which make it more difficult to enjoy time outside – we are working for you! Many HealthStar clients already have help with improving outdoor mobility, whether it be a PCA who accompanies Clients on walks or nature outings, the Mental Health team helping get Clients motivated and setting goals for time or activities outdoors (we’re looking at you, Magan!), or the Physical Therapy team working on skills that make it easier to get outside independently (and with Nissa in charge, you know you’re in good hands), there are plenty of ways that HealthStar builds additional time outside into your plans for better health! We want to make sure that everyone can enjoy the health benefits that can be gained from spending time outdoors.

The potential health benefits from getting outside are numerous enough to fill several individual top 5’s all on their own. Here, in rapid fire, are just some of the health conditions that can be treated by spending time in the great outdoors – maybe it’s not a full cure, but for these diseases or disorders, at least a reduction in symptoms, severity, or a decrease in prevalence has been linked to more outdoor time.

Addiction, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, common cold, dementia, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, insomnia, mental health disorders, mobility, nearsightedness, obesity, osteoporosis, pain, preterm birth, restless legs.

Phew. That’s quite the list, and just scratches the surface of how healthy it is to get outside. Please look into the links provided below, or Google for yourself for more information about all these health benefits. I would love to go into each, but this is only a 5-item blog post, not a dissertation. If I start getting even longer-winded than I already am, no one will read my posts!

4. Build outdoor skills with your kids

This one is my personal favorite. I love the look on the kids’ faces when we get outside for a nature walk. Maybe there is a nature preserve near you? We live near Tamarack Nature Center, which is a fabulous (and free) preserve in White Bear Lake. There are walking and hiking trails, there is a nature center for kids to explore, and there is even a sand and water area for the warm weather months. It is awesome to see the kids’ joyful faces when they get to run in the field and play in the mud. Playing outside is also a great time to learn survival skills, like which berries are toxic and what poison ivy or poison oak look like. Fishing, hunting, camping and hiking are all inexpensive ways to spend more outdoor time with your kiddos, and each presents a unique learning experience!

5. Screen-free time!

There are different viewpoints about screen time. Some people say “it’s no big deal,” and others believe that any TV is bad TV. As with most things, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. For me, personally, it is important to disconnect from the screen at times. As a mom, I also think that it is important for my kids to have plenty of “hands-on” interests. Getting out in “the wilderness” is an awesome way for our family to forget all about phones, tablets, TV, and computers. As long as I remember to put my phone on silent. 😊

My kids love being outside. I have never had them ask “can I go inside and watch TV?” We often go for a “family walk” after dinner, with the little one in the wagon and the 5-year-old on her bike. There are so many good things about this time. It is a true family connection for us – time that we spend actively together, not just staring at a device while we’re in the same room. It’s time that we exercise together without thinking of it as exercise. And it’s time when we can look at the world around us – learn about trees, grass, birds, and all kinds of other wildlife, just by being exposed to it together.

Can’t you Google that?

Yes, you can learn about these things by looking them up on Google (and sometimes we do, when we get home). But the hands-on experience of touching a leaf and feeling its bumpy veins, running your hands over the rough bark of a tree, or watching a bunny speed through a field, its little white tail just peeking over the tall grass, until it hears you and poof becomes still, blending into the scenery except for its shiny eyes and its soft and twitchy little nose – Google, even in 4k, just can’t compete.

A little wisdom from Grandma Alma

I’ll close with a tribute to my grandma. Grandma Alma is a wise woman – she says “the more often kids eat dirt, the healthier they’ll be.” She still lives on the farm where my dad was born and raised, on the same dirt that I’m sure he ate as a child. She spends plenty of time getting outside, whether it’s mowing the grass, checking the garden, or just enjoying the warm sun. She’s in her nineties now, and still going strong, so I know she’s onto something… not that I’m going to eat a fistful of dirt now, but I hope you’ll agree, there is plenty of immune-boosting power in the outdoors. Maybe we just don’t all have to do the dirt eating part, OK, grandma?

Spotlight: Magan Olson, Clinical Supervisor

Here I am, hoping to write a great blog post about Magan, one of HealthStar’s Mental Health department superstar Clinical Supervisors. She has this great HealthStar history that goes back to the beginning of the Mental Health program (spoiler alert – she was one of our first interns!). But I keep catching myself looking out the window and thinking about, well, lots of other stuff. It’s not that I don’t like what I’m doing, I just sometimes can’t get myself to buckle down and do one task at a time. My brain wants me to think about grocery shipping, what my kids are doing while I work, and a whole list of “other duties as assigned” when I’m trying to complete a task. Please tell me I’m not alone in this?

While writing the post that was published earlier this month, I talked with Magan about health and wellness ideas (she is a great resource for mental health wellness!). My conversation with Magan reintroduced me to mindfulness, which is basically paying more attention to where you are in the moment, instead of splitting your attention with all those other distractions. For me, this is a true exercise – it is very difficult at times. Some days, I swear my brain tries to purposely stop me from checking off my list. I’m still able to accomplish a lot, but just think of what I could do if this wasn’t happening!

Wait, what was that again?

Truth is, this distraction is normal to some degree. While it’s hard to overcome, we can learn to make peace with our distracted nature. Magan says that a focus on mindfulness has made a big difference for her – just taking those few minutes to breathe and be present has helped her to stay grounded. Magan also says that exercise has helped her with her personal health and wellness journey. A little extra energy and a boost in serotonin can go a long way to improving your mood and state of mind, especially in this long and snowy MN winter!

Here’s the thing – if I can learn these things from Magan by asking a few general questions, just imagine how amazing it could be if we knew all her secrets! Oh, OK, maybe not all of them, but at least a few? Well, I am lucky enough to tell you three amazing things about Magan right now! Magan, the HealthStar spotlight’s on you!

Responsibility, much?

Magan is one of those people who you just know will get back to you. Maybe it’ll take a day or two, but you never question that the response will be coming your way. She knows how to prioritize, and she absolutely understands responsibility and attentiveness. I assume that this comes at some cost to her, personally, because there are times when all of us are overwhelmed… but I don’t see her letting things go. To Magan, it is clearly important to meet the needs of others and to follow through on her commitments.

Her focus on responsibility makes Magan an amazing resource for her team. She has been a go-to on many projects, going back to her days as an intern! I won’t bore you with the details, but there are plenty of good reasons why Magan was hired as our first Mental Health Practitioner. We just couldn’t let her escape after her internship here! Tim Plant, former Executive Director at HealthStar, may not be here today, but his good hiring judgment still hangs around wherever Magan gets assigned. I’m sure Sherry Fridlund, current Director of Mental Health Services, would agree that this was one of Tim’s greatest decisions.

The eyes!

It happens so quickly – you might think you’re just shooting the breeze, and then, all the sudden, you get the look. If you’ve talked to Magan, you know what I’m talking about. It’s all in the eyes. It’s the look that says “I’m here for you, I’m listening to you, there is nothing else that matters right now, and I will help you fix all of your problems.” If you’ve never experienced this before, let me tell you, it’s quite the feeling. She listens like no one else I have ever known. No judgment, no unwanted advice, no interruptions. Just listening. It’s a kind of being heard that you might not realize you need until it happens. The kind that just validates you as a person and says “it will all work out OK.”

Honestly, this is the look that I want to see when I just have that “I want my mommy” feeling. Yes, I still get that even though I’m a mom, myself. I just want someone to calmly validate that my feelings are my own, and to tell me, in a soothing voice, that things will work out. I’ve never been Magan’s clinical patient, but I think this is exactly how it would feel.

Magan says that she feels honored to have someone tell her their story and to support them through whatever it is they’re going through. She considers it a privilege to connect with people and help them to find their strengths, whether they’re HealthStar team members or Clients in the field. I feel Magan’s honest commitment to as her co-worker, and I know the staff at the St. Paul office all feel it, too! If Magan is also serving warm milk to the Mental Health staff and Clients, I wouldn’t be surprised.

An object in motion

The rules of motion tell us that an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. In Magan’s case, she can be both the moving object and the outside force, depending on the situation. If you need help getting motivated, Magan can apply a little force. But when Magan herself gets moving, she’s a force all her own. Magan says that she loves running, walking, hiking, and just generally being outdoors. It’s not hard to guess that she’s an active person – she looks great, and always has pep in her step!

Keeping physically active is just one of the ways that Magan stays healthy. I also mentioned earlier that she has a personal focus on mindfulness. Magan says that for her, this means concentrating on just being present in the moment throughout the day. She expressed the need for mindfulness really well:

“It’s easy to feel like you’re missing your own life… Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself to be present.”

Magan Olson

I know that feeling! Going home after a busy day, I just don’t want to engage. The problem is, the evening is the only time I have with my family. If I disengage, I’m missing out on that little bit of time which is the most important part of my day. Learning a little more about mindfulness from Magan has helped me to find that if I spend a “mindful moment” on the car ride home, I can re-center and be more present by the time I get back to my loved ones.

Each of us has different obstacles to wellness, but the goal is the same – continue moving towards our personal goals. This is why Magan is just the ticket – she can help you identify your unique obstacles and show you just the right force to apply to get those obstacles moving out of your way!

Magan, all wrapped up

There you have it – Magan Olson, in three parts. Responsible, attentive, engaged – she’s a triple threat! She’s a go-to when you’re in need, on so many levels! If you know someone who could use a little wellness help, check in with us and find out for yourself what Magan and the St. Paul staff have to offer!

Mental Health and Depression

With the holiday season fast approaching, the first thing that comes to mind are the joys the holidays bring. Time with friends, family traditions and the wonders of the season all bring great joy to many. But for an estimated 16 million American adults that had at least one major depressive episode last year, the holidays are not so joyous. The added stress and expectations at this time of year can throw anyone into a funk, but when you also consider a variety of factors including the fact that there is less daylight causing a decrease in the body’s ability to produce vitamin D, it really opens up the doors for a flood of emotions.

According the the Mayo Clinic website, depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. Depression is more than just the blues or a rough patch in life. It is a serious mental health condition requiring treatment, a recovery plan and most of all, understanding and support from those around you.

If you or your senior loved one is feeling symptoms such as feelings of sadness or emptiness, loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities, or feelings of failure, worthlessness or guilt most of the day, nearly everyday, then it may be time to seek help.

Since many people think that it is a normal part of the aging process and a natural reaction to illness or social transition, depression often goes untreated in seniors. Symptoms to watch for might be vague complaints of pain, memory problems and can also be a side effect of commonly prescribed medications.

Depression may show itself in different ways with different age groups. Children and teenagers are experiencing life’s emotional ups and downs as a part of growing up, but for those with depression the downs are more severe. Children and teens with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are at a higher risk for depression, as well as someone who has experienced considerable stress or trauma.

Depression is a devastating and debilitating mental health disorder for the millions of Americans who suffer from it. With an early detection, diagnosis and treatment plan, many people can get better and have good control of their depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) lists several options for treatment plans on their website, here is a sampling:

  • Medications including antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic medications
  • Psychotherapy which includes cognitive behavioral therapy, family-focused therapy and interpersonal therapy
  • Light therapy, using a light box to expose a person to full spectrum light and regulate their melatonin levels
  • Mind, body and spiritual approaches such as prayer, faith, and meditation

HealthStar Home Health offers support to families dealing with mental health disorders, whether it is an adult in the family, a senior loved one you are caring for, or children and teenagers, we have a program to help you. Our Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS) offers assistance and support to adults 18 years of age and older who have a qualifying mental illness and are eligible for medical assistance who want to improve their life. Our ARMHS program is not case management or traditional therapy, but instead is mental health services aimed at teaching you skills for managing your mental health symptoms and can get you through the busy, unpredictable holiday season.

We also offer mental health services to children through our Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports (CTSS) which features cultural sensitivity and empathy to the underserved people in our communities and regions.

Don’t let the Minnesota winter or upcoming holiday season get you down. If you need support, get it! Don’t be ashamed or afraid to ask for help. If we all do our part to help remove the stigma associated with depression and mental health illnesses, it will go a long way for those who suffer daily. Spending quality time with family, friends and being active in your community is helpful in staying healthy, but sometimes you need a little more support. Contact HealthStar Home Health directly by calling 612-871-3700 and ask for a professional in the Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS) department or the Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports (CTSS) department.

Facts about ADHD

A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found approximately 11% of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) in the United States have been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as of 2011. In this same survey, parents were asked whether their child received an ADHD diagnosis from a health care provider and the results show that:

  • Boys (13.2%) were more likely than girls (5.6%) to have ever been diagnosed with ADHD.
  • The average age of ADHD diagnosis was 7 years old, but children reported by their parents as having more severe ADHD were diagnosed at an earlier age.
  • The rates are on the rise with ADHD diagnosis increasing an average of 3% per year from 1997-2006 and an average increase of 5% per year from 2003-2011.
  • The percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis has increased from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 to 11.0% in 2011.

Several reliable sources, including healthline.com, state that Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most common childhood disorders and as you can see from the information from the CDC, it continues to be on the rise. Our HealthStar Home Health caregivers recognize this rise in diagnosis and offer services to help the families and children with ADHD through our Mental Health and Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports programs (CTSS). The condition has been known as attention-deficit disorder (ADD) in the past, though ADHD is now the preferred term as it describes both of the primary features of this condition: inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior.

So what exactly is ADHD and how do you know if your child may have this condition?

The Mayo Clinic defines Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder as a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often persists into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three different types or categories of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder the individual may fall under:

Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: It is difficult for the individual to organize or complete a task, pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or a conversation. This person is also easily distracted and forgets details of daily routines.

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: This person will fidget and talk a lot. It is very hard to sit still for long periods of time, even for a meal or to complete homework. Younger children may constantly run, jump or climb and often feels restless and struggles with impulsivity. Someone who is impulsive will interrupt others often, grab things from people, or speak out of turn and at inappropriate times. More accidents or injuries may occur with an impulsive person also.

Combined Presentation: Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.

It is normal for children to have trouble focusing and behaving during the early childhood years. However, children with ADHD typically do not grow out of these behaviors. The symptoms continue and can cause difficulty at school, at home, work, or with friends.

A child with ADHD will show some or all of the following symptoms, even as early as 2-3 years of age:

  • Frequently daydreaming
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Often has trouble following through with instructions or listening
  • Unable to organize tasks or activities
  • Forgetful and often loses items such as books, pencils or toys
  • Easily distracted
  • Struggles to complete homework, chores or other tasks
  • Often fidgets or squirms
  • Excessively talkative and frequently interrupts or intrudes on others’ conversations or activities
  • Difficulty waiting his/her turn and is often impatient

If you are concerned and your child is showing these symptoms, discuss it with your family doctor. It is important to start with a medical evaluation first to rule out other possible causes of your child’s troubles. There may also be help available thru local Twin Cities public services and the Minnesota public school system in your area.

Since many healthy young children are inattentive, hyperactive or impulsive and it is normal for preschoolers to have a short attention span, it may be difficult to pick up on these symptoms early in their development. It also may be difficult to know the difference between a naturally energetic child and hyperactivity for example, and you don’t want to classify a child as having ADHD just because they are different from their siblings or other friends. It is important to get a doctor involved if you are concerned. In most cases ADHD is best treated with a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. For preschoolers (4-5 years of age), behavioral therapy is the recommended first-line of treatment.

HealthStar Home Health invites you to contact us for more information on the mental health services we offer to children and adults in Minnesota. Call us at 651-633-7300 to learn more.

Mental Health – How Can We Remove The Stigma?

The numbers are staggering. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in every 5 adults in America live with a mental health condition. Approximately 13.6 million adults in America live with a serious mental illness, and one-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; three-quarters by the age of 24. Recently, Yahoo News reported a study from 2014 by the American College Health Association finding there is an epidemic of depression and anxiety among college students. Almost 30% of college students reported feeling depressed at some point over the past year and 54% of students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety.

For those who live with mental illnesses, their conditions have been kept secret and often go untreated for fear of embarrassment. There is a stigma associated with mental illness that is furthered when one takes medication to treat the illness. Whether it is depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another form of mental illness, it can be debilitating and should not go untreated. Help those suffering by learning what a mental illness is, the causes, and what you can do to ease the stigma surrounding this.

HealthStar posed this question on Facebook: “What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about mental illness?” Here are some of the top answers from our followers:

  • that it affects everyone differently and it comes in all forms and begins at any age
  • people don’t realize it can be treated
  • mentally ill people are potentially violent
  • society’s lack of information and education on mental illnesses cause the stigma to grow
  • talking about mental illness and being available to listen goes a long way – remove the awkward silence

“Make it OK” is a local campaign created to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Their mission is to get people to stop the silence, share stories, and dispel the myths surrounding mental illness. The people behind makeitok.org are changing the hearts and minds about the misconceptions of mental illness by encouraging open conversations and education on the topic, along with encouraging people to seek support when needed. Treatments for mental illnesses are available. The more everyone knows about mental illness, the more understanding and supportive we, as a society, can be.

The Make it OK website offers good, basic, information like what a mental illness is and is not, and what a mental illness can be caused by. They also offer great tips for talking to someone who struggles with mental illness. If a loved-one has told you they are suffering, ask questions, show concern, and most importantly, listen. Mental illnesses are treatable health conditions but people are still afraid to talk about it due to shame, misunderstanding and negativity, amongst other reasons. Help remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and its treatment by learning, listening and keeping the conversation moving.

At HealthStar Home Health, we recognize the alarming numbers of adolescent and young adult depression and offer Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports (CTSS) that focuses on cultural sensitivity and we provide these services with empathy to the underserved people in the communities and regions we serve. Some of the services we offer through this program are:

  • Individual, family and group psychotherapy
  • Specialized skills training
  • Crisis assistance
  • Behavioral aide services

For the adult years, we offer services through our Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS) program. The clients we support are dealing with these and other issues and disorders:

  • Major depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Agoraphobia

HealthStar looks at how the individual’s mental illness affects their functioning in various aspects of their lives. They may have depressive symptoms that interfere with independent living, self-care, school, housing and even transportation. The services we provide are community based. This allows our caregivers to go out into the community and meet the individual where they are so they can be as independent and functional as possible within their communities. HealthStar strives to remove the stigma by teaching those living with mental illnesses and their family members a variety of skills that can help with independent living and social situations.

Getting educated and helping to raise awareness of mental health conditions can break down obstacles and improve the recovery for the millions of Americans who suffer from a mental illness. If we join together as a society, people living with mental illnesses will be treated with respect and acceptance.