The Health Benefits of Counting Your Blessings

Thank you note on stocky note on blue background gratitude

You’ve heard your grandma say it a thousand times: Count your blessings. The adage is annoyingly prevalent during the holiday season, but—as it turns out—granny was onto something. Burgeoning research shows that gratitude has tangible, positive effects on mental and physical health, including better sleep, reduced depression, and improved relationships.

Let’s back up a little—what is gratitude, anyways?

Robert Emmons (one of the leading scientific experts on this topic) defines gratitude as a “sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.”

If you’re feeling a little more Grinch than Cindy Lou, here are four science-backed reasons to start cultivating gratitude this Thanksgiving—and year-round, too:

1. Sweeter Sleep

After a long, stressful day, your head hits the pillow—and a compilation of your most embarrassing, cringe-worthy memories starts to play. Sound familiar?  

If you’re nodding your head “yes,” you might want to stop counting sheep and start counting blessings instead. According to a 2009 study, cultivating gratitude may help you doze off faster, sleep longer, and wake up feeling more refreshed.

The study linked gratitude to having more positive thoughts (and fewer negative ones) at bedtime. 

It seems obvious, but cultivating positive thoughts helps push pessimism and worry—the enemies of sleep—out of your mind. Rather than obsessing over a friend who forgot to text you back, you’re remembering the coworker who went out of their way to check in with you. Instead of stressing over an awkward social interaction, you’re thinking about that presentation you nailed at work.  

Better than a lullaby, right?

2. improved relationships

Turns out, gratitude is for lovers. 

According to research from the Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology, expressing gratefulness toward your partner can strengthen your bond, improve feelings of harmony, and boost overall satisfaction with your relationship.  

Couples who intentionally expressed gratitude for their significant other not only felt more positively towards them, but were more comfortable addressing concerns about their relationship, too. 

The study’s lead author, Dr. Sara Algoe, says, “Feelings of gratitude and generosity are helpful in solidifying our relationships with people we care about.” 

Want to put gratefulness to practice in your relationship? Here’s an easy tip: Find something you genuinely appreciate about your partner give them an authentic compliment.

3. Boosted physical health

The benefits of thankfulness go beyond the psychological—cultivating gratitude can improve your physical health as well. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, giving thanks on a routine basis can motivate you to meet your diet and exercise goals—and cut down on unhealthy habits such as cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse. 

According to Robert Emmons’ 2003 study, participants who kept a daily gratitude journal exercised more, had more energy and reported fewer aches and pains. 

Emmons also found gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression, which brings us to our next point…

4. Decreased depression levels

While research on gratitude is still in a fledgling state, many psychologists are exploring the relationship between thankfulness, mental health, and depression.  

A recent study in Current Psychology examined the link between gratitude and depression in university students in China. The discovery? Gratitude may “counteract the symptoms of depression by enhancing a state of peace of mind and reducing ruminative thinking.” (Rumination is repetitively going over a negative thought or a situation without moving into problem-solving.)

Anyone who’s struggled with depression knows how awful those persistent, cycling thoughts can be—so the notion that gratitude could help alleviate them is promising, indeed. 

gratitude is not a cure-all

We want to make one thing clear: there’s no evidence that gratitude can cure serious illnesses or depression. It’s not a panacea—and it’s not for everybody, either. 
What cultivating gratitude can do is help us focus on the positive things in our lives, which can help boost our mood more than we ever imagined. 

Ready to start practicing gratitude year-round?

Get started with the tried-and-true “three good things” exercise. Every night, write down three good things that happened during the day.

For some of us, “the most wonderful time of the year” is anything but. If you or someone you know needs mental health support through the holidays, we’re here.

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Too Spooked by Trick-Or-Treating? Try These COVID-Safe Halloween Activities Instead.

Tips for a COVID-Safe Halloween

Like all holidays, Halloween is a bit more complicated during a global pandemic. Close-quarters activities like trick-or-treating are now much more trick than treat. Medical experts agree—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have categorized traditional trick-or-treating as a high-risk activity for COVID-19 and Influenza infection. Unfortunately, the version of this Halloween tradition most of us know and love simply isn’t safe this year.

While Halloween may not feel the same, that doesn’t mean it has to be boring for you and your kids. There are plenty of ways to have a frightful and delightful holiday while keeping your friends, family, and neighbors safe. Keep reading for some fun, COVID-safe Halloween activities:

Find the Halloween spirit (with a scavenger hunt).

Let’s be honest: Part of the fun of trick-or-treating is the “treat” part. But the pandemic doesn’t mean your kids have to give up their sugar high (as tempting as that may sound). There are still fun ways for your little one to satisfy their sweet tooth.

Try approaching trick-or-treating this year much like you’d organize an Easter egg hunt. Hide Halloween candy around the house and yard, along with clues leading to the next ones. Get creative with your prizes and clues, and this activity will also be fun for parents. Better yet, coordinate with other parents in your neighborhood to create a socially distanced hunt that multiple kids can safely participate in.

Scare packages.

Another way to keep the treats flowing is by putting together “scare packages.” Stock up on some Halloween goodies and put together small gift bags that you can drop off with friends and family. You can still see friends from a safe distance when you drop off the scare packages—and show off your creative costumes. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing any treats you plan on sharing with others.

Give it a gourd.

Pumpkin carving is both a classic and COVID-safe Halloween activity. It’s an excellent activity for kids and can also work as a socially distanced backyard activity with friends and family if the weather is nice enough. Try organizing a pumpkin carving contest with your neighbors or family members. If you’re separated geographically, you can even carve pumpkins over a video call and virtually share your artistic prowess.

Virtual Costume Party

One silver lining of doing so much socializing over the internet is that geography doesn’t have to separate us. Try connecting with friends who you normally couldn’t trick-or-treat with and hold a virtual costume party. You can even coordinate with other families in advance to plan special prizes, treats, activities, and games for the kids.

Horror decor.

We all have that neighbor who really leans into decorating their home during the Halloween season. While you don’t have to go that overboard, decking out your place with cobwebs, fake headstones, or other decorative items is a great way to get in the Halloween spirit. This kid-friendly activity engages their creativity and keeps them focused on something other than candy. Order some supplies online, or safely visit a local crafts store to stock up. Decorating your home is a festive family activity that keeps everyone safe and sufficiently spooked.

Masks on masks.

Keep in mind that your child’s Darth Vader mask won’t help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and Influenza. The CDC recommends wearing a cloth mask under any costume mask. If your kids are participating in outdoor, socially distanced Halloween activities, make sure that they are wearing proper masks underneath their costumes—and that there is at least six feet of space between them and others at all times.

From all of us at ZOOM+Care, have a happy and COVID-safe Halloween!

If you’re frightened by COVID-19 and Influenza this Halloween, ZOOM+Care is here to help. We offer five-minute flu shots and COVID-19 testing. Schedule a visit today for a safe (and scary) Halloween.

Have a Vagina? Here are 5 Reasons to See a Zoom Specialist

ZOOM+Care women's health and vaginal health.

From chugging cranberry juice to soaking tampons in yogurt, people have been treating common vaginal conditions at home since—well, forever. And while it’s tempting to put regular health checks on hold during COVID and DIY a diagnosis, sometimes, cranberry juice won’t cut it. 

Sometimes, you need professional help. (Also, putting food in your vagina probably isn’t the best idea—but we’ll get to that later.)

So, when these five issues crop up, put down the yogurt, walk away from the cranberry juice, and seek professional help ASAP. 

#1. You’re bleeding, but you’re not on your period. 

Spotting between periods is pretty typical for vagina-havers, especially if you’re on the pill. However, spotting for more than a few days or bleeding heavily between periods could mean something is wrong. 

Irregular bleeding can be a sign of a pelvic infection, cysts, fibroids, polyps, hormonal imbalances, endometriosis, a thyroid disorder, STI, or in rare cases, gynecological cancer.

If left untreated, these conditions can escalate and even affect your reproductive health. If you’re experiencing any of the above, it’s a good idea to check in with a healthcare provider pronto. 

#2. Your period is super painful. 

Cramps happen, but they shouldn’t leave you feeling incapacitated. If period pain is interfering with your ability to perform daily tasks, it could be a sign that something is wrong. 

So, how do you know if your cramps are “normal?” Here are a few things to look out for:

“Normal” cramps are relatively easy to treat with over-the-counter pain meds like ibuprofen. They usually start at the beginning of your period and last for two to four days. If you’re having intense cramps that linger and exceed your usual period pain, it’s probably time to talk to a provider. 

Never had cramps before? Period pain that starts suddenly later in life, or intensifies over time, can signify a benign tumor called a uterine fibroid. Sudden cramping or pelvic pain may also indicate infection, which, if left untreated, can damage the pelvic organs and lead to infertility.

Even if there’s nothing unusual about your cramping, don’t feel shy about talking to a provider. Most period pain is treatable, and there’s no reason to put your life on hold during your period.

#3. Something smells…off. 

Regular discharge—clear, odorless stuff you see in your underwear—is normal and healthy. The vagina is self-cleaning (kind of like an oven), and vaginal discharge keeps it healthy by getting rid of dead cells and bacteria.

Slight changes in your vaginal discharge are no cause for alarm. What’s more concerning is a sudden, strong odor or fishy smell, especially when accompanied by a change in discharge color, itchiness, pain, or irritation. These symptoms can signal infection—such as a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis—or STIs like gonorrhea or trichomoniasis.

Oh, and about those yeast infections. People often tout yogurt as a more natural way of treating them, but we don’t recommend it. Bacteria and yeast thrive in warm, moist places, so the old “soaking a tampon in yogurt” trick could cause infection rather than fight it. 

We know DIY options are temping during COVID, but—if you think you might have a yeast infection—we recommend getting it checked out by a doctor. You can even talk to one of our Women’s Health providers from the safety and comfort of your home. 

#4. You’re experiencing pain during sex. 

Pain during sex is surprisingly common. Sometimes, it’s caused by something situational, like lack of lubricant or an awkward position. However, painful sex may also be a sign that something’s going on internally. 

Pay attention to the kind of pain you’re experiencing. A sudden, sharp pain could indicate a ruptured ovarian cyst, while deep pain can signal endometriosis. Burning, stinging, itching, or rawness around the vagina can be a symptom of a condition called vulvodynia, or chronic pain of the vulva.

STIs or other infections can cause inflammation of the cervix, which also makes sex painful. 

Regardless of its origin, don’t hesitate to talk to a provider if you’re experiencing pain during sex. Sex is supposed to be pleasurable, and you deserve to enjoy it. 

#5. You want to switch up your birth control. 

Finding the right birth control can take some trial and error.  If your current method is causing unwanted side effects or isn’t the right fit for your lifestyle, our Women’s Health providers can talk you through your options. There’s no reason to settle for a method that’s making you miserable with so many different kinds of contraception out there. For example, if you constantly forget to take your pill, you might want to chat with your doc about a more permanent method, such as IUD or implant. 


Supercharge Your Summer with These Simple Nutrition Tips.

summer nutrition tips. picture of watermelons on a blue background.

While we wholeheartedly reject the notion of a “summer body” and believe fad diets are less-than-effective, we do think summer days are the salad days of nutritious eating. Why’s that, you ask? All the fresh fruits and veggies in season, of course! (Plus, the heat makes us crave crisp veggies and fruit-filled smoothies like nobody’s business.)

To give you tips for trying new foods and creating healthy habits this summer, we sat down with our go-to nutrition expert, Dr. Benjamin Burton, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine here at ZOOM+Care. 

Hi, Dr. Burton! We want to be clear: We don’t co-sign the whole “trendy summer diet thing.”  That said, summer is as good a time as any to start incorporating nutrition-packed foods into our diets. Can you give us some bite-sized tips for doing so?

Dr. Burton: The health and diet industry has indeed created many interesting ideas around how, what, when, and where we should eat. Plus, there are diverging notions about what health is and what it isn’t—and a lot of disagreement on the subject. One thing is evident through all this: Eating “healthy” is an extremely personalized thing, and it looks different for everyone. I want to preface this advice by stating that health tips should not be approached from a “one size fits all” frame of mind.  

With all this said, I do think summer is a great time to mix it up and try some new patterns to see if there are aspects of your life you can change to improve your health. Here are some recommendations:

ZOOM+Care doctor Dr. Ben Burton.
Dr. Benjamin Burton is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at ZOOM+Care. 

Try something new.

Hate eating your veggies? Summer is the perfect time to experiment with them, since there are a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables that come into season this time of year. Broccoli is a great example. Summer is the time of year where broccoli is the freshest and most savory. It’s an excellent time to develop a taste for fresh, nutrition-packed foods!

Try an open-air or farmer’s market.

This is an excellent way to discover what foods naturally grow near you. When you make a purchase, ask the growers how they prepare the food. Local farmers and gardeners are passionate about natural foods, and they can provide fun ideas you may have never thought of. For example, having toast with sweet green peppers and almond butter, or eating tomatoes like an apple with a little salt after every bite.  

Move cooking outside.

Summer is a great time to experiment with some nutritious new recipes, too. Grilling, smoking, barbecuing, and even dutch oven cooking encourage experimentation, and are excellent during the summer, because cooking outside removes the heat of food preparation from your house.

In addition to nutrition…

another important part of creating a healthy lifestyle is finding hobbies and activities you enjoy. If you are trying to make a change in your routine, don’t focus on restricting. Instead, focus on adding—adding in nutritious foods, yes, but adding in activities as well. Summer is a great time to do this. Try these things out:  

Plan an adventure.

This goes without saying, but summer is the perfect time to get your heart rate up with activities like hiking, biking, and swimming. Grab a quick snack before you go, and embark on your adventure! As an added bonus: When you get home, you will be hungry—and your next meal will taste that much better.  

Experiment with new hobbies.

Maybe you don’t like, or are unable to participate in activities running or hiking, or—that’s fine! Grab your camera or your phone and get out and take some pictures. Try bird watching, flower pressing, go on an art walk, or explore the local architecture. All these activities will get you out of the house and into the outdoors. Summer is a great time to find an outside passion or interest, which in turn gets you moving. As silly as it sounds, having hobbies really promotes an active lifestyle!

Take advantage of summer to boost your mood.

People who spent 120 minutes a week in “green spaces” report a significant increase in both their mental and physical well-being, compared to those who don’t  go outdoors. Since the Pacific Northwest is often rainy in the fall, winter, and—let’s face it, spring—take advantage of the weather to soak up the mood-boosting benefits. 

In closing, if you’re trying to boost your energy and make healthy lifestyle choices, find that unique pattern that works for you. If you don’t see results, then mix it up and try something new! Summer is a great time to get to mixing. 


Parents, Here’s Some Advice for Staying Sane during the Coronavirus

Daughter and mom wearing diy face masks for protetion against coronavirus, walking in the street.

Parents, let’s level with each other: As much as we love our kids, we also love dropping them off at school. As many a grandma loves to say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”—and that old adage rings truer than ever during the coronavirus. Being a parent is never easy, but it’s especially trying when there are no teachers and caregivers to tag in and give you a breather.

An estimated 1.38 billion kids are out of school globally, participating in e-learning programs or being homeschooled. To make matters worse, activities like team sports, play dates, and sleepovers are next to impossible to do safely. Add working from home and the virus itself to the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for fatigue, anxiety, and a host of other challenging emotions. 

Even a superhero would struggle with feeding the kids, keeping them entertained, having a video call with grandma and grandpa, and doing the laundry on a weeknight (let alone finding time for self care). But there are little things parents can do that might help them feel less overwhelmed—and more in touch with their emotions during these challenging times.

Parenting during the coronavirus is complicated

If it seems like parenting is challenging right now, it’s because it is. A recent study found that many different factors influence parent stress, anxiety, and depression during the pandemic. Researchers found that good marital relationships, strong social bonds, families interacting harmoniously, and the absence of a family history of mental illness may have had a positive impact on parent mental health. Even the ages of kids in the house can have an effect. Parents with kids in middle and high school experienced higher rates of stress, anxiety, and depression than those of kids in elementary school.

Be patient with yourself—and have confidence in your parenting

Sometimes the easiest person to blame when things are difficult is ourselves, but try to keep self-blame in perspective. Remember that you’re doing your best, and that the coronavirus is unprecedented for most people. Be understanding and compassionate with yourself. Even if you feel overwhelmed, remember that you’re doing your best to raise kids during a tumultuous global pandemic. No one is expected to navigate this perfectly, so be gracious with yourself when you make mistakes.

Find creative ways to recharge

Even if you’re tethered to your home, try to find ways to unplug from “caretaker mode” through soothing projects or activities. A silver lining of the pandemic is having more time to focus on things you may not normally have time for. Gardening, drawing, reading, playing music—anything that feels soothing and fulfilling. If breaking off isn’t possible, think about ways that you can engage your kids in the same fulfilling activities. You might just find lovely family moments in the process.

If you’re co-parenting, consider scheduling time for each of you to break off and tend to your own needs. Walk around the neighborhood, go for a long bike ride, or read a book in the park. Spending time by yourself has proven psychological benefits, such as enhanced self-esteem and motivation.

Pay attention to your news and media consumption

With a global pandemic, national unrest, and elections around the corner, there’s a lot of stress in the media. Consider how the news you’re consuming is affecting your mental health. Staying informed is important, but the World Health Organization recommends limiting the amount of news coverage that makes you feel anxious or distressed.

Video calls with family and friends can be a great alternative to stressful media. They’re a great way to stay connected and engaged with the closest people in your life.

How ZOOM+Care can help.  

If parenting during the coronavirus has you feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed, ZOOM+Care can help. Set up a visit with one of our on-demand mental health specialists today. We also offer virtual visits through VideoCare™ if an in-person visit isn’t the best fit for you.

ZOOM+Care’s on-demand mental health specialists give great guidance and help you take care of yourself, giving you tools to feel better on your own. They can also help with medication management, and give counseling referrals if needed.

As States Get Back to Business, Here Are Some Activities to Avoid

Pile of paper medical masks on blue background. COVID-19

It’s been six months since COVID-19 first hit our shores, and the pandemic is far from over. There is no vaccine and no cure. And yet, despite a recent uptick in cases, all 50 states have reopened in some way or another. 

For millions of socially-starved Americans, this news might come as a welcome relief. However, until there is a vaccine, we’re all living with some degree of COVID-19 risk. Just because you can chill at a bar, hit the gym, or grab a bite to eat at your favorite restaurant doesn’t mean you should. With COVID still looming large, some situations are riskier than others.

As more and more cities get back to business, it’s important to educate ourselves about potential hotspots for exposure. To help you figure out which plans to keep and which to cancel, we’re giving you the rundown on the most dangerous places to hang around during the pandemic.

#1. Bars and Nightclubs 

Heading to the local watering hole and throwing back a few with friends is a bonding ritual as old as time. But unfortunately, bars are among the worst places to hang out during a pandemic.  

Overall, crowded, indoor areas with poor ventilation pose the highest risk. Not only do bars encourage close quarters, but they make it difficult for people to wear masks. Even if someone walks into a bar wearing one, they inevitably have to remove their mask to eat or drink. What’s more, bars are jam-packed with people speaking loudly, shouting, and cheering—all of which have a higher potential for droplet spread. 

Finally, let’s be real—when’s the last time you made a really good decision in a bar? Getting intoxicated impairs judgment, which means you’re less likely to act in a safe manner. 

In the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci, “Bars: really not good.” 

#2. The Gym

Who knew that taking a bunch of people, packing them into a small space, encouraging them to exercise (and expel droplets), then adding a bunch of difficult-to-clean equipment to the mix would create a petri dish for COVID?

Even before COVID, gyms were are a hotbed of germs. (We’re not kidding: One study showed that 63 percent of the surfaces in gyms are covered in rhinoviruses.)

Right now, outdoor activity is always safer than indoor exercise. If you do decide to go to the gym, be incredibly diligent about social distancing and stay six feet away from others at all times. Thoroughly wipe down all equipment you touch, including weights, bars, benches, buttons, machine rails, handles, and knobs. It’s also best to bring a personal water bottle and avoid communal drinking fountains entirely. 

Because well-ventilated buildings lower your risk of breathing in viral droplets, take a good, hard look at the ventilation system in your gym. If your go-to spot has always been—for lack of a better word—a little smelly, that’s a sign of poor ventilation. 

Finally, there’s the issue of masks. We know exercising while masked is unpleasant, but it’s essential while indoors. If you haven’t already, invest in a cloth mask before hitting the gym—they’re much more comfortable and breathable than paper surgical masks, which can become damp and lose their effectiveness.

Looking for a safer alternative to communal exercise? Try a group class outside.

#3. Hair and Nail Salons 

Beauty may be pain, but it really isn’t worth dying for. 

It’s physically impossible to stay six feet apart when getting your hair or nails done. That’s concerning, considering that COVID-19 spreads through close, person-to-person contact with infected people.  

While the safest grooming option is DIY, many folks don’t feel comfortable cutting their hair at home.

If you do decide to see a professional, keep in mind that exposure time plays a role in spreading the virus. The CDC definition of “prolonged exposure” is 15 minutes. So, if you’re getting a super-quick, 15-minute haircut, wearing a mask, and staying six feet away from other clients, going to the salon is relatively safe. 

Dyeing, bleaching, and other chemical salon treatments are riskier, however. That’s because you’re spending an extended period of time indoors in close contact with your stylist. If you choose to continue chemically treating your hair during COVID, try breaking your usual cut and color into two shorter appointments to avoid a prolonged encounter. 

Regardless of the salon service, make sure your stylist sterilizes their tools between each client. Finally, wear a mask while in the salon and clean your hands frequently, either through washing or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

#4. Public Transportation 

Riding public transportation means having prolonged exposure to other passengers in small, confined spaces. That’s risky. It’s virtually impossible to disinfect contaminated surfaces between each rider, too, upping your chances of contracting the virus. 

If you don’t have a car, walking and cycling are the safest choices. 

Your next safest option is a rideshare service like Lyft or Uber, or a private taxi. When riding, sit in the back seat to maintain social distance—even if you’re healthy. You should also wear a mask, wipe down any surfaces that you touch, and keep the windows open to increase air circulation.

We know that rideshares and taxis can get expensive, so you may occasionally have to board a bus or train. When you do take public transit, try to travel at off-peak times and avoid morning and evening rush hour. Stay away from super-packed train cars and buses, and don’t board if you count more than 10-15 passengers at a time. 

While using public transportation, wear a mask, and follow social distancing guidelines by staying at least six feet away from your fellow passengers. Even though transit systems have stepped up their cleaning and disinfecting efforts, don’t touch anything you don’t absolutely have to, including poles and handrails. And whatever you do, don’t touch your face while riding. 

As soon as you reach your destination, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

#5. Theaters, Sporting Events, Concert Venues

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again—large groups of people crowding into enclosed spaces? Not great during a pandemic. Unfortunately, that means places like movie theaters, sporting events, and concert venues pose a high risk to attendees. 

Much like bars, concerts and sporting events are made extra dangerous by crowded seating arrangements, ultra-close contact, droplet-inducing shouting, cheering, and drinking. And smaller venues like movie theaters? Close quarters and air conditioning systems can quickly spread the virus. Plus, since movie theaters and popcorn are almost inseparable, people will almost certainly remove their masks to eat and drink. 

If you’re starved for summer fun right now, you’re not alone. Luckily, there are less risky options than catching a movie or heading to a game. 

Two of the safest summer activities are camping and hiking. Just be sure to stay at least six feet away from others, even outdoors, and bring disinfecting supplies along with you.

Camping with family or friends? It’s best to drive out with people in your household who are either uninfected or have been safely practicing social distancing for at least two weeks.

One thing to keep in mind while enjoying the great outdoors: Using public bathrooms, especially ones that don’t get cleaned frequently, ups the risk for contracting the virus. Finally, be sure to wear a mask while inside the restoom and wash your hands afterwards.

Interested in COVID-19 testing? ZOOM+Care offers both viral and antibody testing options. Learn more about the benefits and limitations, and get tested today.

Coping with Job Uncertainty during COVID-19

Workers in every industry are feeling the COVID-19 crunch. More than 30 million people have filed unemployment claims since March—almost a quarter of the American workforce. Regardless of whether you still have your job, employment changes can bring up difficult emotions. It’s important to be patient with yourself and preserve your mental health. Here are some helpful tips for coping during this difficult time.

How to cope with ‘layoff survivor’s guilt’ and get back to normal

Survivor’s guilt” occurs when people survive something many others don’t. Survivors of life-threatening events often experience this, but researchers have also seen it in people kept after a round of layoffs. If you weren’t let go, you may experience thoughts like, “Why did they choose me?” You may even feel personally responsible for your co-workers losing their jobs. These thoughts can be confusing, but try to stay grounded and realistic.

Remember: it’s not about you. 

It’s important to remember that your co-worker’s layoff wasn’t related to their performance. It also isn’t a sign of your value in relation to theirs. Layoffs are strictly business decisions that are out of your control, especially during COVID-19. You can feel empathy, but remember that feelings of personal responsibility or self-blame aren’t useful. Layoffs are about much more than one person.

Look inward.

It may also be a good time to take stock of where you’re at in your career trajectory. Is this the right job for you at this moment? If so, what kind of growth opportunities will these layoffs create for you, such as new projects, or managerial opportunities you didn’t have before the crisis? Try to find the silver lining in this situation and make the most of it.

Reach out for help. 

You also don’t have to navigate these feelings by yourself. Talk therapy is a helpful resource in making sense of layoff survivor’s guilt. Many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs, which offer counseling benefits. It may be worth reviewing your current benefits package to see if these resources are available. If not, don’t hesitate to reach out to close friends and family to help process your emotions.

Be healthy. 

Try to keep a healthy routine and lifestyle during this stressful time. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, exercise, water, and nutritious food. Also, get outdoors when you can. Remember that this crisis will pass, and your friends who lost their jobs will recover.

Preserving mental health during unemployment

If you’ve recently lost your job, it’s natural to feel your mind racing and switching into survival mode. Try to slow your thinking and focus on preserving your mental health. There are several strategies that can keep you centered during this challenging time.

Keep your cool.

It’s important to stay calm after a layoff. Avoid jumping into a frenzied job search. Focus on mindfulness and being in the moment. Go for a long walk or run in your neighborhood. Bake something delicious. Spend a weekend in the wilderness. Whatever you need to do to unplug and reset will help set you up for success.

Tend to your emotions. 

Researchers have found that tending to your emotions after a layoff is more effective than jumping into job searching right away. You’ll have plenty of time to refresh your resume and reach out to LinkedIn contacts when you’re ready. Putting your emotions on the back burner and searching for a new job out of panic may not get you the results you’re looking for. Take time to process.

Again, it’s not about you. 

Just like for those experiencing layoff survivor’s guilt, remember that this decision wasn’t about you. Your manager took many different factors into consideration. They don’t think any less of you or your contributions. Your job loss also doesn’t mean you have less value than your co-workers who kept their jobs. Their jobs may fill more urgent needs for the business’s survival right now, but that has no bearing on your value as a person. Take solace in knowing that this pandemic was out of your control and that you can rely on your experience to land another great position.

Trust the process. 

After you’ve recharged and connected with your emotions, jump into the job hunt—with a healthy dose of patience and trust. COVID-19 is still affecting many businesses, and there are record numbers of unemployed workers. Remember that millions of people are in your exact position, and the best thing you can do is stay confident and persistent. You may experience rejection along the way, and that’s okay. Don’t lose sight of your value and worth as an employee, and trust that you’ll emerge from this layoff just fine.

How ZOOM+Care can help.  

If you’ve recently lost your job, or you’re feeling layoff survivor’s guilt, ZOOM+Care can help. Set up a visit with one of our on-demand mental health specialists today. We also offer virtual visits through VideoCare™ if an in-person visit isn’t the best fit for you.

ZOOM+Care’s on-demand mental health specialists give great guidance and help you plug back into your life, giving you tools to feel better on your own. They can also help with medication management, and give counseling referrals if needed.

Be Your Own Valentine. Practice Self-Compassion this Feb 14th.

Red valentine's sucker on blue background. Self-compassion and loneliness. Mental Health.

Is there any holiday more divisive than Valentine’s Day? For many, it’s a day to rekindle romance and spend an evening with someone special. For others, it’s an excuse to celebrate all the love they feel, whether it’s love for friends, family members, or even four-legged companions. And for some, Valentine’s Day is just plain difficult—a glaring pink-and-red reminder of all their romantic disappointments. 

Whether you recently suffered a breakup, have a one-sided crush, or are experiencing hardcore Tinder fatigue, February 14th is likely to trigger some painful emotions. So, what should we do when everything is not coming up roses on V-Day? 

Science has a suggestion: Instead of focusing on romantic relationships, try showing love to yourself this Valentine’s Day. 

Psychologists refer to the act of being kind to yourself as “self-compassion” or self-love, and—according to burgeoning research—it’s associated with improved mental health and well-being. Numerous studies have linked self-compassion to reduced depression, stress, and disordered eating. Self-compassion may also boost happiness, self-esteem, and even immune function.

But, despite evidence that self-compassion is beneficial, many resist practicing it. Some of us have a deeply rooted belief that negative self-talk is motivating—that it pushes us to work harder, perform better, and achieve our goals. Others worry that self-compassion is a form of weakness and self-indulgence. Many believe it’s a selfish act that undermines motivation.

The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth, however.

Research shows that being kind to ourselves helps us become stronger, more resilient, and less focused on personal issues. According to a 2011 paper published in Psychological Science, it can even help us overcome adversity. The study indicated that higher levels of self-compassion were related to improved emotional recovery following marital separation and divorce. In another study, veterans who measured higher on the self-compassion scale were less likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

So, how do we learn to practice the invaluable art of self-love and compassion? Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research and Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, describes self-compassion as a three-step process: 


Chances are, you have a voice inside your head telling you how worthless, dumb, or inadequate you are. Self-kindness is all about replacing harsh self-criticism with kinder, gentler words. Instead of telling yourself, “I’m so unlovable. I’m going to be alone forever,” say “I’m lonelier than I’d like to be. Maybe now is the time to find ways to connect with others.” 

Common humanity.

Acknowledge that suffering is a universal experience and not a personal failure. Tell yourself, “Everyone gets lonely sometimes. I’m not the only person who feels down today.” 


Observe your negative emotions without focusing on them or suppressing them. Simply tell yourself, “I’m feeling sad and lonely  today, and I’m having a hard time.”

We understand that self-compassion seems strange and unnatural at first, so we’ve compiled a few simple exercises to get you started. Go on, send some of that loving-kindness your way this V-Day: 

4 Strategies for Self-Compassion

1. Ask yourself, “Would I talk to a friend this way?”

Think about a time a friend came to you for help after failing or getting rejected. How did you respond to them? What words did you choose? What tone of voice did you use when speaking with them? 

Now, think of a similar situation in which you were struggling, and compare your two answers. Were you as kind to yourself as you were to your friend?

Chances are, you’d never talk to a friend the way your inner voice speaks to you. 

2. Give yourself a loving touch. 

It feels good to receive a warm hug or comforting touch when you’re upset, right? While this exercise might seem silly, trying giving yourself a soothing touch next time you feel down. Place one hand over your heart, hug or gently rock your body, or simply hold your hands together in your lap.

According to Dr. Neff, “research indicates that physical touch releases oxytocin provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions and calms cardiovascular stress.”

 3. Memorize a set of compassionate phrases. 

When you find yourself caught in a barrage of self-criticism, close your eyes, and acknowledge your suffering. Say to yourself, “I feel sad. This is a difficult situation, and I’m having a hard time.” Then, remind yourself that everyone struggles. Say, “Sadness is part of life. Everyone feels this way sometimes. I’m not alone.” 

Now, replace your negative self-talk with words of kindness. “May I be kind to myself. May I forgive myself. May I be strong. May I accept myself as I am.”

4. Write yourself a self-compassion letter 

If you’re struggling with self-compassion, take some time to write yourself a short, encouraging letter. Here’s how: 

  • Think of something that you feel ashamed, insecure, or not good enough. It could be related to your personality, the way you behave, or your relationships. 
  • Once you identify something, describe how it makes you feel. Ashamed? Sorrowful? Angry? Try and be as honest with yourself as possible. 
  • Next, write yourself a letter expressing compassion for parts of yourself that you dislike. Take the perspective of a caring friend, and imagine the encouraging things they might say to you in this situation. 

Save the letter, and come back to it when you need a reminder to be self-compassionate. 

While self-compassion is a useful tool for boosting happiness, it’s important to stay in tune with yourself and identify when you need expert advice. If you or someone you know needs guidance this Valentine’s Day (and beyond), we’re here. 

4 Science-Backed Reasons to Love Love this Valentine’s Day 

Health benefits of love this Valentine's Day

Toddler-sized teddy bears, chalky-tasting conversation hearts, a stress-inducing color palette: There are a lot of things we love to hate about Valentine’s Day. But, at its core, V-Day is not a holiday about roses, or even romance. It’s about love. And there’s a lot to love about love—especially when it comes to your mental and physical health.

According to a growing body of scientific research, love boasts some exciting health benefits. So, in honor of Valentine’s day, we’re examining the ways in which loving relationships (and not just romantic ones, either) can help your mind and body. Read on for four reasons to share the love this February—and beyond:

1. Love pushes you to take better care of yourself.

It may seem obvious, but having a loving partner pushes you to take better care of your health. 

Because there’s a lot of denial surrounding medical illness, single individuals may be more likely to shrug off their symptoms. Loving partners encourage each other to go to the doctor—even when they don’t want to. Moreover, couples can often tell if their significant other is suffering from a health problem before their S.O. does. 

The data backs this up, too. Studies show that people who are paired off may be able to detect melanoma earlier than singles since their partners tend to notice suspicious moles right away. 

Beyond helping you spot serious health conditions, your romantic partner may help you change your unhealthy habits. According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, both men and women were around 40% more likely to increase the amount of exercise they got when their partner did. The same findings applied to smokers: People were also about 40% more likely to ditch cigarettes when their partner quit as well. Now that’s what we call teamwork.

    2.   Love can lower your blood pressure. 

It should come as no surprise that being close to your loved one can make you feel calmer, safer, and more secure. But did you know that loving feelings can have physical effects, too, such as improving cardiovascular health? 

According to a recent report published by the University of Arizona, the effects of love are so powerful that simply visualizing your loved one may help lower your blood pressure. 

The study discovered that—when it comes to your body’s cardiovascular response to stressful situations—thinking about your significant other can keep your blood pressure under control just as effectively as having them in the room with you. Guess it really is the thought that counts! 

       3. Love can boost self-esteem and mental well-being.  

According to research from Tallinn University, women in happy, healthy relationships tend to have a more positive body image.

For the study, researchers interviewed 256 women between the ages of 20 and 45. They inquired about a series of topics, including their relationship status, happiness within the relationship, weight, diet, self-consciousness, body image, and self-esteem.

The conclusion? Being in a loving relationship really does impact your self-esteem. No matter how close a woman was to her target weight, being a part of a self-reported satisfying relationship was linked to having a higher self-image. 

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that this study was correlational—it didn’t prove cause and effect. But it makes sense that having a loving partner might make you feel good about yourself, right? 

      4. Loving relationships may help you live longer.

There’s a whole slew of research showing that married people are likely to live longer, giving new meaning to the phrase “’til death do us part.”  

According to a 2011 study conducted by Cardiff University, wedded folks had a 10-15% lower risk of premature death compared to individuals. What’s more, married couples tend to have lower rates of substance abuse and less depression than their single peers.

Research suggests that these longevity benefits are not from marriage itself, but rather from having consistent, loving social and emotional support. In 2010, a review of 148 studies showed that longer lifespans were linked to ALL close social relationships—not just romantic ones. That means the love you experience from your friends and families is good for your health, too.

Love not all you need? We’re here. Schedule a same-day visit at your neighborhood ZOOM+Care today!

New Year’s Resolution: Think Beyond the Fad Diet

Fad diet weight loss

Trigger warning: While mild in nature, this article does contain mention of weight loss and topics related to dieting and diet culture.

Atkins. Alkaline. South Beach. Cabbage Soup. Carnivore. (?!) There are so many diets masquerading as a panacea for weight loss—a magic potion that will help you shed those pesky pounds. 

There’s just one problem: According to science, super-restrictive fad diets are not a long term solution for weight loss. Studies, both past and present, have shown time and time again that the weight loss from these plans is temporary at best. 

For example, in 2007, researchers from UCLA conducted a comprehensive analysis of 31 long-term diet studies. According to Traci Mann—Associate Professor of psychology at UCLA and lead author of the study—the results painted a “bleak picture” of the effectiveness of fad diets. 

“You can lose five to ten percent of your weight on any number of diets,” Mann writes in the study. “But then the weight comes back. We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants.” 

A team of Harvard-affiliated researchers came to a similar conclusion in 2015. Their study looked at whether low-fat diets (in which 30 percent or fewer calories came from fat) worked better than those that are higher in fat (including low-carb options, such as Atkins). The conclusion was that all these diets seemed to be equally ineffective. 

According to their research, the average weight loss from fad diets was around seven pounds—an amount deemed insignificant by researchers. What’s more, they noted that most people regained the lost weight after only a year.  

The side effects of fad diets. 

Effectiveness aside, super-restrictive dieting can bring a host of harmful side effects. Perhaps unsurprisingly, crash diets have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. 

Fad diets can also have an alarming psychological impact. Research indicates dieters are prone to elevated cortisol (i.e., the stress hormone); another study found that dieting increased stress, which in turn triggered binge eating

It makes sense, too: When you’re on a super-restrictive diet, you’re essentially demonizing food. Suddenly, the fuel that feeds your life becomes a source of undue stress. 

If not fad diets, then what?

Add, don’t restrict.  

Oftentimes, dieters set themselves up for failure by picking a plan that’s overly restrictive—and, therefore, impossible to maintain.

“Most of the data indicates that the specific diet you use to achieve weight loss isn’t that important,” says Dr. Benjamin Burton, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine here at ZOOM+Care. “Most diets have very similar success rates. The most important variable is your ability to stick with the diet plan you have chosen. So make it something you enjoy.” 

Rather than buying into the fad diet hype, look beyond restricting macronutrients, such as fat, protein, or carbohydrates. Instead, try incorporating nutritious foods into your diet in a way you like (and can actually maintain). 

Instead of focusing on what you need to cut out of your diet, ask yourself, “what nutrient-packed foods can I add to my meals today?” Choose whole, unprocessed foods that you actually enjoy eating. Challenge yourself to add lots of veggies to your morning scrambled eggs, or eat a handful of antioxidant-packed berries with your oatmeal.  

You can also try substituting one pleasurable thing for another. Love eating something crunchy with your afternoon sandwich? Sub potato chips for carrots. Are you a fan of sodas and flavored lattes? Substitute syrupy beverages with something more nutrious, such as tea sweetened with Stevia. 

Tell yourself it’s okay to maintain.

“Another new idea in weight loss is a weight maintaining diet,” says Dr. Burton. “Many people achieve some success with a weight loss diet, but eventually find it harder and harder to stick with it. If your eating plan is causing diet fatigue, consider transitioning to a weight maintaining diet for a short time—something that still helps control food intake, but perhaps isn’t as restrictive. Continue with the weight maintaining diet until you are ready to dive in again full force to the weight loss plan.”  

Focus on wellness, not weight. 

Research shows that exercise and nutrition improve health—regardless of whether they lead to a dramatic change in weight. That means eating nutritionally-balanced food has inherent value. So does exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing your stress. This year, why not embrace new habits that are good for whole-body health, and let trendy diets take a back seat? Your body will thank you. 

Want help making your New Year’s health resolutions a reality? We’re here. ZOOM+Care’s Internal Medicine team can offer expert guidance on your wellness journey. Schedule now.