Spring Forward With Self-Care

Have you ever heard of seasonal depression? Perhaps you thought it was just a made up term, but it is a real thing. In clinical terminology, it is better known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and is a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year. Winter gets a bad rap because of how dark and dreary it is most days. Not too mention everyone spends the majority of their time inside due to the cold weather.

Spring, on the other hand, gives us hope that warmer, happier days are ahead. It is a time of growth and change, flowers and fresh air. It can often feel as though your mood is automatically lifted when you see blue skies and green leaves all around you.

If you are having a tough time shaking off the winter funk you’re in, you are not alone. I have compiled a few ideas of how to embrace the new season that is right around the corner. These 5 self-care ideas are sure to get you back on track with those long forgotten new year’s resolutions and just feeling happier overall!

Get outside According to the NIH, low levels of vitamin D, caused by low dietary intake of the vitamin or not enough exposure to sunshine, have been found in people with SAD. Therefore, it is no wonder why sunshine and fresh air seem to play such a big part in how we feel. Once the weather gets a tad bit warmer, there are plenty of options for outdoor self-care activities. You could plan a picnic in the park, simply eat lunch outside one day, hit up the beach, go for a walk, pick berries, find a field of flowers and take pictures, or my personal favorite– read a book in a hammock. There is really no excuse (except maybe seasonal allergies of course) to not take advantage of the beautiful spring weather.

Move your body- Physical activity has been shown to improve our mental health by reducing feelings of both anxiety and depression as well as increase self-esteem and cognitive functioning. When we move our bodies, we release built up stagnant energies and emotions. Even though we may not realize it, our bodies store stress and trauma in different areas such as our hips, back and shoulders. I would certainly recommend killing two birds with one stone by going for a walk outside or a bike ride. But you could also take a quick yoga or strength training class at home (I recommend Yoga with Adriene or the Peloton app). Whether you can squeeze in some gentle stretches or a full on HIIT workout, you will not regret moving your body especially if you are struggling with anxiety or depression.

Organize your space- We have all heard of spring cleaning so this one might sound a little cliché, but hear me out! Cleaning and organizing our space helps us feel as though we really are getting a fresh start. Not to mention if you have been working from home for a whole year now (thanks COVID), you have been staring at the same space A LOT. If organizing your entire home sounds overwhelming and like a huge chore than choose just one area that needs some TLC the most. Maybe the kitchen pantry drives you nuts every time you open it. Or perhaps you have some clothes in your closet that need to be donated. You can also start by choosing whichever room you are in the most or that would improve your mood the most by cleaning it such as your home office or wherever you practice yoga/meditate. Making sure you have your own little sanctuary that motivates you and makes you feel good is key to happy living.

Try something new- What better way to start a new season than by trying something you have never done before! I am not saying you have to go skydiving by any means. It could be as simple as trying a new recipe from that cookbook sitting on your kitchen counter or ordering takeout from a new restaurant. You could take up a new hobby like golfing with your partner or a new workout class such as spin or barre. A new hairstyle, nail polish color, or even new fashion trend (wide leg jeans and a middle part anyone?!) might be just the thing to boost your mood and get you excited about spring!

Be creative- Remember when adult coloring books were super popular a few years back? It is because there is something so relaxing and comforting about art that makes us feel like a kid again. When we get our creative juices flowing, we are stimulating the part of our brain that as adults probably does not get used as often as it should. If you are not very artistic– that is okay! Being creative does not always mean painting or drawing a masterpiece. You can also get creative by decorating a room in your house or decorating for Easter if that is your thing. Starting a garden or planting new plants are some other fun ways to express your creative side!

This is a short list because it is not meant to overwhelm, but rather inspire you. Do not feel as though you need to do ALL the things. Just picking one or two ideas that resonate with you is perfect!

Lastly, it is important to mention that self-care often requires setting boundaries with yourself and others. In order to set aside time to engage in self-care activities, you may have to say “no” to others when they ask you to do things. It is not easy to set and maintain boundaries especially when it comes to our loved ones (cue the mom guilt). But as the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup.

— Amanda Vargo is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida. She specializes in working with teens and young women with anxiety, stress, depression, life transitions and low self-esteem.

Building A Socially Distanced Support System In College

Distance learning. Zoom meetings. Face time chats. The reality is that we are living in a socially distanced world where physical presence is not as common as it used to be. I cannot help but wonder about all of the college freshman embarking on this next chapter in their life without physically being in classrooms and on campuses across the country. For many, college is an exciting time defined by an active social life. However, for some, the idea of making new friends in a new environment can be daunting.

While some college students did move on campus, many across the country stayed home with family to complete their semesters all online. So yes, they are not completely alone, but they still did not get that true college experience many of us adults look back on ever so fondly. And as adolescents, they need more social interaction than any other age group. How will this new crop of students find a way to not only survive, but thrive in college during COVID-19? Here are 5 ways college students can find their own virtual community this school year:

1. Find student organizations– Many student organizations on campus including major specific clubs and honor society’s have also taken their meetings and events online. I recently did a virtual workshop on Mindul Self-Compassion for an on campus organization at the local Orlando university called “Girl Up” that raises awareness for underprivileged womxn and advocates for gender equality. Greek organizations held recruitment events virtually this fall semester so that new members including incoming freshman had a chance to still join despite the pandemic. With a simple search on your school’s website, you should be able to find a list of all active student organizations to join. For example, the University of Central Florida’s list of student run organizations can be found here.

2. Connect with classmates– Typically online classes include discussion boards and ways for you to also see a list of everyone in your classes. It certainly takes some assertiveness and a bit of confidence to work up the courage to reach out, but you might be pleasantly surprised that other student’s are seeking new connections too! Try sending a fellow classmate a message with a question regarding the class to break the ice or an invite to study virtually or even in person if you feel comfortable meeting up.

3. Identify a mentor– Perhaps you know a family friend who is a bit older at your college or maybe you have met someone through a club or organization already that has qualities you admire and/or a good grasp on the college environment and culture. In Greek organizations, new members are typically given a “big” brother or sister who is an older member of the organization that takes a new member under their wing so to speak. A mentor is a great way to learn more about yourself, your major or career field interests and know that you always have someone to confide in.

4. Join a local cause- During these difficult times, it is more important than ever to find ways to help your community. Food banks and local animal shelters are always in need of help and volunteers. Philanthropies and non-profit organizations are not only a great place to meet peers with similar values and goals, but giving back can also help manage your mood and feel good. Volunteering and donating our precious time can bring meaning and fulfillment to our lives. If you are unsure where to start your search of finding the right local cause or volunteer opportunity for you, visit: https://www.volunteermatch.org/.

5. Reach out for support– If you find yourself really struggling this semester with distance learning or your mental health, do not hesitate to reach out to your professors or mental health professionals for support. Teachers and your college counselor center are there to help and can guide you towards the resources you need to truly thrive during your time in college. Remember that you are not only paying for your education, but all of the invaluable resources on your campus. Of course, if you find that your college counseling center is inundated with students, you can also try finding a local therapist through a variety of online directories including Mental Health Match and Open Path Collective. Many therapists can offer student rates and sliding scale options.

One of the biggest factors impacting our mental wellness is having a support system. As humans, we naturally desire connection and belonging. One of my favorite Brené Brown quotes says, “We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.” So the truth of the matter is that we are not built to self-isolate in our homes and tiny apartments for days, weeks or months at a time. While we can continue to hold onto hope that things will “go back to normal” in 2021, it is important for us to continue to cultivate new connections and nurture current relationships right now in this “new normal” of 2020.

  • Amanda Vargo is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida. She specializes in working with teens and young adults with anxiety, stress, depression, life transitions and low self-esteem.

3 Ways College Impacts Students’ Mental Health

Picture this: you have been up all night studying for a Biology exam that is tomorrow at 9 a.m. After class you have to jet off to your internship all day before heading to your sorority philanthropy event later that evening. When did you have time to sleep? Have you been able to sit down and eat healthy meals throughout the day or were you grabbing a snack here and there? On a scale from 0-10, how high is your stress level right now?

Even as adults, it is hard to juggle work, family, friends and self-care. Which is why being a young adult in college is even more challenging. College students are new to the whole #adulting thing and for good reason– they literally just graduated high school, left their friends and family and are out on their own for the very first time. It is no wonder that their mental health can suffer during this pivotal time in their life. To dive deeper into some of the most common ways college can impact students’ mental health, I chatted with colleague, Kelsey Ryan who currently works at the University of Memphis. Here is what we came up with:

1. Lack of time management skills. Today, college students’ stress is at an all time high. They overload their schedules with classes, internships, part-time jobs to help pay for school, and join on-campus student organizations to beef up their resumes and meet new friends. This means their physical and mental wellness both take a huge hit. They fall into a vicious cycle of being so stressed that they do not get enough sleep, which then causes their grades to slip, which in return brings on even more stress and anxiety. They put so much pressure on themselves to succeed and juggle so many responsibilities, but lack the time and stress management skills to find a healthy balance in their lives.

2. Barriers to support and resources. What happens when things do get to a breaking point and they realize the stress, anxiety or depression is no longer manageable? Unfortunately, many college students are unsure of where to even begin to find the community resources available to them. Yes, colleges and universities offer individual and group counseling sessions at their counseling centers on campus. However, oftentimes they are booked out for several weeks and only offer a few sessions for free. Not to mention there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding mental health and seeking support from a professional. The shame students feel about their mental health struggles often prevents them from reaching out for support when it first becomes a concern.

3. Searching for their identity in a new environment. College is a time for figuring out who you are and want to be as a person. College students get dropped off at their dorm and within minutes realize they have more independence than they know what to do with. This leads to experimenting with their values, morals, and beliefs. They may choose to engage in substance use or further explore their sexuality. For this reason, college students should look at their wellness from a holistic perspective. To remember that not only is their mental and physical health important, but all areas of their life including social, spirtual and even financial.

If you or a loved one is a college student struggling with mental health concerns such as overwhelming stress, anxiety or depression, here are a few ways to help navigate this challenging time:

  1. Learn and practice time management skills
  2. Implement stress management and healthy coping skills that do not involve drugs or alcohol
  3. Prioritize self-care and physical wellness such as sleep hygiene, exercise and healthy eating habits
  4. Maintain a healthy support system made up of friends and family
  5. Reach out to a mental health professional when extra support is needed

Amanda Vargo is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida. She specializes in working with teens and young adults with anxiety, stress, depression, life transitions and low self-esteem.