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  • Up-beats: A playlist for down days

    Illustration of person with headphones on, musical notes in air and gray weather outside window.

    How many times have you gotten into your car after a particularly challenging day, turned on the radio, and suddenly felt your mood improving? Believe it or not, there’s actual science behind this phenomenon. Music’s rhythm and repetition engage the neocortex of your brain, and research supports the use of music therapy for various mental health conditions, including depression, trauma, and anxiety. Creating a “rainy-day” playlist can be a lot of fun and might just save the day tomorrow! Here are a few of our favorites...

    Five foot-tapping fan favorites

    1. I Can See Clearly Now by Jimmy Cliff — This transcendent, joy-inspiring song perfectly encapsulates the jubilance that comes from a bad day that’s suddenly turned itself around. Look straight ahead; there’s nothing but blue skies!
    2. I Got You (I Feel Good) by James Brown — From the iconic “Whoa!” that sets the tone for James’ buoyant lyrics, this ultimate “feel good” song will have you singing along in no time (and you knew that it would now).
    3. Happy by Pharrell Williams — Seems as if Pharrell knows a thing or two about turning lemons into lemonade when he sings, “Well give me all you’ve got, don't hold back. Well, I should probably warn you — I'll be just fine.” Clap along if you know what happiness is to you!
    4. Young Folks by Peter Bjorn and John — Sometimes we just need to feel accepted, imperfections and all. Young Folks tells the tale of two friends who turn a blind eye to one another’s pasts and choose to live in the moment. If the whistling doesn’t turn your frown upside down, the message certainly will!
    5. What a Feeling by Irene Cara — If you grew up in the 80’s, three things are true: You used waaaaay too much hairspray (yes... you did), you got up early every Saturday to watch cartoons, and you kicked and stomped your way through this song like a champ. Your hairstyle may have (drastically) changed and cartoons are now available on-demand, but this song will ALWAYS inspire you to dance right through your life.

    We hope we’ve inspired you to create your own rainy-day playlist! If you enjoyed our list of up-beats for down days, check out Five easy-to-implement habits for improving your mental health at work.

     

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  • Five easy-to-implement habits for improving your mental health at work

    Person in a zen pose with stacks of paper around

    You may be feeling the added pressure at work these days, and most days it probably feels like everyone wants some of your time. Here are a few easy tips for maintaining your positive attitude and protecting your headspace in your professional life. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup!

    1. Set manageable boundaries. Blocking your calendar for lunch or focus time and not responding to emails after hours are great ways to protect your “downtime”. Last-minute meetings, impossible deadlines, and covering staffing shortages are all common occurrences in today’s world but reducing as many of them as you can and setting clear boundaries for your valuable time can help give you some sense of control over your day.
    2. Take regular “brain breaks”. While our smartphones are often dubbed “tools of mass distraction”, they can be an invaluable means of temporary escape. Taking short, regular breaks can help reset your brain, increasing your overall productivity. Download a few quick games that interest you or keep a light read loaded on an e-reader app and allow yourself a few minutes to decompress when the opportunity strikes.
    3. Tackle one thing at a time. If your to-do list should be relabeled as a “must-do-NOW" list, remember that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Prioritizing your tasks, writing them down, and crossing them off in order of importance can give you some sense of control over your day and keep you focused.
    4. Help your neighbor. While this advice may seem counterintuitive to #1, taking some time to voluntarily help a coworker — instead of being “voluntold” to do so — feels good! If you see someone struggling under the weight of their obligations, ask if there’s anything you can do to help them. Even if you simply shine a little light on a task that seems overwhelming to them, the resulting sense of community will brighten the day for both of you!
    5. Keep your visual spaces clear. Much like the chair full of clean laundry mocking us from the corner of our bedroom, we’ve all got “that pile” of paperwork on our desk that’s begging to be dealt with. Just looking at it probably makes you stressed! Schedule 15 to 30 minutes every day to tackle that pesky pile, and (if possible) keep it out of sight.

    If you find these tips to be helpful, check out our previous Five tips for improving your mental health post!  

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  • How Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ law could harm children’s mental health

    Photograph of silhouette of family having a picnic
    [Editor's note: This article was published on April 4, 2022]

    Stella, 10, attends a private school in Atlanta, Georgia, and explains to friends that she has four moms. Two of them are the lesbian couple that adopted her. The other two are her birth parents, one of whom recently came out as a transgender woman.

    “I’m so grateful that [Stella] is somewhere that sees” the family “as what it is: her moms just love her”, said Kelsey Hanley, Stella’s birth mother, who lives in Kissimmee, Florida.

    But Hanley, 30, worries that children who have multiple moms or dads or are LGBTQ+ themselves won’t get the same acceptance in Florida.

    That’s because the state recently approved legislation that bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade and prohibits such lessons for older students unless they are “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate”.

    Hanley and some pediatric psychologists say the law stigmatizes being gay or transgender and could harm the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth, who are already more likely to face bullying and attempt suicide than children who are cisgender and straight.

    “We all have processes around clarifying who we know in our heads and hearts we are and who we are drawn to or attracted to,” said Laura Anderson, a child and family psychologist in Hawaii whose focus is LGBTQ+ youth and their families. “To make an increasingly large percentage of the population’s experience invisible and taboo is just so harmful and unsafe for all kids.”

    The Parental Rights in Education legislation, which opponents labeled the “don’t say gay” bill, is part of a flurry of measures introduced by Republican lawmakers around the country. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, reports that lawmakers have introduced 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills this year.
    The wave not only includes laws similar to Florida restricting instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation but also ones that criminalize gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.

    Child psychologists say that such laws create an unsafe environment for LGBTQ+ children.

    Two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youth said debates concerning the state laws have had a negative impact on their mental health, according to a poll from the Trevor Project, an intervention and suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ+ youth.

    And transgender people, in particular, already often face greater psychological distress than the US general population. The National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 US Transgender Survey found that 40% of transgender respondents had attempted suicide, which is nine times the rate of the general population.

    “We have governors – that have no education or basis or expertise in child mental health – that impose such laws that are going to have horrendous impacts on kids,” said Natasha Poulopoulos, a pediatric psychologist in Miami.

    Supporters of the Florida law claim it’s necessary because children are being exposed to “radical concepts regarding sexual orientation and gender identity”.

    “What’s even more concerning about this is that parents are not just not being included but are being treated as the enemy here,” said Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, which supported the legislation in Florida and similar bills in other states. “This legislation is not only good, it’s necessary to protect children and their innocence.”

    But groups such as the Florida Education Association, the state’s teachers union, say that elementary school teachers do not teach curriculum regarding sexuality and that Republicans are just using it as a cynical political wedge issue.

    Rather than protect children, the Florida law stigmatizes gender exploration, which is a normal part of child development, Poulopoulos said.

    “It’s healthy and normal for kids to go out of specific gender roles that have been extremely outdated. Even if a child was assigned female at birth and identifies as female, it’s OK for a child to explore things that may be considered more gender-stereotypical for boys,” said Poulopoulos.

    The legislation puts negative rhetoric “around aspects of gender identity and sexual orientation that are not heteronormative, so for example, if you are not cisgender and heterosexual, you are to be shamed”, said Poulopoulos.

    To prevent that shame, child psychologists say that it’s important for children to see themselves and their families represented in stories.

    For elementary school students, this could mean “using very simple language like: families can look diverse. Some families only have one parent. Some families have a grandparent and a mom. Some have two moms. Some have a mom and a dad,” said Poulopoulos. “That simple language is by no means sexualizing children. It is simply explaining the concepts of family structure, of sexual orientation and gender identity in a very developmentally appropriate way.”

    A 2019 report from GLSEN, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, found that two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youth respondents had not been exposed to representations of LGBTQ+ people, history or events in lessons at school. At schools that did have an LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum, 59% of respondents said they often or frequently heard the word “gay” used in a negative way, compared with almost 80% of students at schools that did not have inclusive curriculum.

    “If you are a family or a child that is figuring this stuff out about your identity and don’t see yourself anywhere, in curriculum, in stories,” that absence means they must “undo the harm of their child having felt othered forever”, said Anderson, the psychologist in Hawaii.  

    If that’s something that can’t be discussed in school, they are going to feel like they can’t talk about it at home Kelsey Hanley

    Two LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations shared the child psychologists’ concern and filed a lawsuit last week challenging the Florida law, describing it as an “unlawful attempt to stigmatize, silence and erase LGBTQ people in Florida’s public schools”.

    A spokeswoman for DeSantis said of the lawsuit: “This calculated, politically motivated, virtue-signaling lawsuit is meritless, and we will defend the legality of parents to protect their young children from sexual content in Florida public schools.”

    But Hanley, the Florida mom, said the law tries to shield students from something they are going to encounter anyways. Hanley, who works in customer service, said she was attracted to women before she was attracted to men and realized she was bisexual in middle school.

    “They are going to go grocery shopping, and they are going to see two women holding hands. They are going to see two men holding hands, and if that’s something that can’t be discussed in school, they are going to feel like they can’t talk about it at home,” said Hanley. "And if their parents think it’s not appropriate to talk about, then their response is going to be: ‘If I have to hide this part of myself, do I have to hide that I’m on substances? Do I have to hide that I have a crush on somebody?’ They are not going to have any kind of openness.”

    Hanley also worries about what rhetoric from advocates for the Florida law – about the need to “protect our children” – will mean for children like Stella.

    “Stella would think that people want to protect children from her,” said Hanley. “And she would think: what do you need to protect yourself from?”  

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  • Five daily habits that reduce anxiety and improve mental health

    Person in a zen pose with musical notes around

    After decades of battling the stigma associated with mental health and anxiety, we are finally seeing a change in the tide. Every day, more people than ever are seeking help and support for these concerns, and those who once suffered in silence are finding their voice and advocating for themselves and their loved ones. Many others are experiencing “situational anxiety” due to increased stressors at home and work. It can be difficult to eliminate these stressors completely, but there are some ways to reduce their effects, beginning with our daily habits. Here are five tried-and-true daily habits that can help.

    1. Dream on. An agile, resilient mind needs its rest. Creating a bedtime ritual (e.g., turn off devices, have a cup of herbal tea, journal, and read a book) can help you “power down” and relax before your head ever hits the pillow. Not everyone requires the same amount of sleep — you might need slightly more or less than eight hours — but ensuring you’re getting enough sleep helps your brain “reset” and prepare for a new day.
    2. Gonna get physical! Well, now that you’ll be singing that song all day, let it inspire you! An exercise routine you can stick to will not only help maintain your physical health, it will also prompt your body to increase endorphins, your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters.
    3. I feel the Earth move... under my feet. If you work at a desk, get up and move as often as you can. If you’re already on your feet, a quick walk is a great way to take a brain break, even if it’s to the parking lot and back. Sometimes a change of scenery is all you need to gain a fresh perspective!
    4. All I can do is write about it. Journaling is a great way to process the events of your day. Find one with some inspirational quotes and prompts to help you get started and keep it on your nightstand and at the ready! Getting your thoughts and feelings out on paper helps to purge the negative and reinforce the positive.
    5. On the radio... According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), music’s rhythmic and repetitive aspects engage the neocortex of your brain, calming you and reducing impulsivity. Lyrics can also affect your mood, so choosing familiar songs with a positive angle can help propel you to a more positive frame of mind. Create a positive mindset playlist and press “Play” whenever you need to change your perspective. Singing along is optional, but definitely adds to the fun!

    We hope this musically inspired list helps you find and maintain your positive headspace. If you find yourself in need of mental health support, please contact a provider in your area. We wish you all the best!

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