The Breckenridge Public Library teamed up with Prairie St. John’s, a mental health clinic in Fargo, North Dakota, to present a three-part series on building better mental health. The first installment, Mental Health and the Holidays, was held Dec. 7, 2021, and discussed neuroplasticity and the power of positive thoughts.
The second installment, “Battling the Winter Blues,” took place Tuesday, Jan. 4 and focused on healthy coping mechanisms and mindfulness to weather the winter months. The third in the series, Under Pressure: Youth & Mental Health, scheduled for Feb. 8, will be geared toward teaching those who frequently work with youth ways to approach them about their mental health.
The recent presentation was led by Prairie St. John’s Regional Account Manager Kara Kluvers. Around a dozen people attended the free event, braving the snow that had begun to fall outside.
“There’s many different things that can put you down,” Kluvers said.
Whether it’s a seasonal depressive spell, a loss, work stress or feelings of isolation due to COVID-19, Kluvers said it’s important to learn to cope with difficult emotions before they escalate. She stressed the importance of not pushing away feelings. “Ride the wave,” Kluvers said, which translates to experiencing an emotion instead of bottling it up or pretending it isn’t there.
Mindfulness and relaxation techniques are a healthy way to begin coping with loud emotions. Practicing mindfulness helps an individual become grounded in the present moment, and relaxation techniques can de-escalate overwhelming feelings. Kluvers walked the audience through a “five senses” grounding technique. First, find five things in the room you can see, then four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
Relaxation can be achieved through guided meditations and breathing exercises, Kluvers said. Four-square breathing is an effective calming technique that can be done discreetly. The exercise is even utilized by the Navy Seals, she said. Breathe in for four beats, hold for four beats, exhale for four beats and hold again for four beats and repeat as necessary.
“Breathing is a great way to bring yourself back to calm,” Kluvers said.
Kluvers also laid out other coping strategies, like spending time around other positive people and setting healthy boundaries in relationships with negative people. Exercise and healthy eating help improve mental health, and starting a new hobby or activity can keep the mind stimulated. Other coping skills include writing down five things you’re grateful for every day, journaling thoughts and feelings, cleaning and organizing your living space, making short, medium and long-term goals, practicing self care like taking a bath, playing a game and making a vision board.
While there are plenty of ways to cope with overwhelming emotions, executing those strategies can be a task in itself, Kluvers said.
“When you’re down and you’re battling some tough times in the winter, it’s hard to take that step,” she said.
Kluvers suggested writing down schedules for coping strategies like exercise and spending time with friends and family. Making and vocalizing a plan increases accountability and the likelihood of you following through on healthy habits.
Kluvers turned the conversation to suicide, the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It helps to destigmatize the word by including it in conversations, Kluvers said. Others may feel comfortable to admit they have been experiencing thoughts of suicide as it becomes more normalized.
It’s important to recognize the warning signs, particularly this time of year. They include excessive worrying, fear and sadness; confused thinking; difficulty concentrating; extreme mood changes; prolonged irritability and anger; changes in sleeping and/or eating habits; difficulty perceiving reality; substance abuse; multiple physical issues without obvious causes; suicidal thoughts; inability to carry out daily activities; and avoiding family or friends.
Middle-aged white men currently have the highest suicide rate in the country, and the leading method is by lethal arms. Kluvers urged the audience to check up on their friends and loved ones, and if they recognize any of the warning signs, to encourage their loved ones to seek help.
Treatment for mental health conditions can range from seeking a medical checkup, to medication, to day treatment or hospitalization depending on the severity of the situation.
If you or a loved one needs immediate assistance, call 911. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the national suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-8255. A special suicide prevention hotline — 988 — will be available July 2022.