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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#TogetherWeZoom: Get to Know Mental Health Provider Ebony Blackmon Humphrey

ZOOM+Care Mental Health doctor Dr. Ebony Blackmon Humphrey
As a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner for ZOOM+Care, Dr. Ebony Blackmon Humphrey helps patients seeking mental health services at our Bellevue & 4th Street clinic.

A lot has been said about our business model, our proprietary technology, and our innovative approach to care. But make no mistake: Our people are the most important component of our success. Always willing to go the extra mile for our patients, this big-hearted group of professionals is what makes us…well, zoom! Our monthly employee spotlight is dedicated to celebrating the incredible work our employees do inside of ZOOM+Care—and the lives they lead outside it.

Last December, a long-held goal of ours was finally realized: We launched ZOOM+Care Mental Health in Seattle.

Similarly to Oregon, patients seeking mental-health treatment in Washington can face long wait times and limited options. Our Bellevue & 4th Street Clinic helps fill a critical need by providing quality, accessible mental healthcare to East Seattle residents.

Leading the charge at Bellevue & 4th is Dr. Ebony Blackmon Humphrey: An experienced Doctor of Nursing Practice and Psychiatric Mental Health NP. (Officially, her title is DNP ARNP PMHNP-BC. Say that tens times fast!)

Keep reading to learn more about Ebony’s passion for helping others, her advice for prospective ZOOM+Care candidates, and her proudest moment on the job so far.

What inspires you most about your work?

My spirituality is the deepest part of me. It is my internal motivation. It helps me give all of myself clinically to each person trusting me to make sense of their story. I value, metaphorically the books called “people” I have read and will continue to read on my journey. Their stories mean everything to me.

What advice do you have for prospective candidates?

Love what you do, as people from all walks of life are trusting you to make sense of their life’s artwork. Stare at their life’s painting and help them understand that all of the markings are not permanent. Some markings will fade away in conversation, others with medication, but most of them will become less meaningful with time.

What are three words you would use to describe ZOOM+Care?

Cutting-edge, daring, and impactful.

What is your favorite Thing about our approach to care?

Zoom’s presence inside local communities makes care local and accessible.

What is your proudest moment at ZOOM+Care?

Anytime a patient returns to tell me about what has changed in their life for the better.

Do you enjoy helping others on their journey to better health? We’re hiring!

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.

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.

May Is Mental Health Month. Here’s What We’re Doing to Support Mental Healthcare during COVID-19.

May marks Mental Health Awareness Month. With the current climate exacerbating feelings of isolation and loneliness, it’s more important than ever to raise awareness about mental illnesses—and break down the stigma surrounding them. Here’s what we’re doing to make mental healthcare more accessible, convenient, and judgment-free, both in the age of COVID-19 and beyond.

Remember back in February, when coronavirus was little more than a distant anxiety, quickly brushed aside? The days when COVID-19 was an excuse to make memes about toilet paper shortages and “working from home?”

Then, remember when things started to get real? When slowly but surely, the seriousness of the situation set in—and the anxiety got harder to laugh off and push aside?

Now, as the weeks (nay, months) of stay-at-home orders drag on, the drumbeat of stress and uncertainty grows ever-louder. Faced with so many unanswerable questions, many find themselves ruminating, feeling hopeless, and, ultimately, depressed. 

What you’re feeling is normal.

You’ve heard it a hundred times, but it bears repeating: it’s okay to not be okay right now. If you’re feeling down, know that you’re not alone. Whether it’s due to job loss, economic uncertainty, or general worries about health and safety, people across the country are experiencing historic levels of depression and anxiety.

According to recent polls from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Benenson Strategy Group, nearly half of Americans say the coronavirus has harmed their mental health. What’s more, calls and texts to crisis helplines are surging, reporting anywhere from a 40 to 1000 percent increase in volume. 

One thing is clear: The current crisis has brought to light the need for improved access to mental healthcare. 

How ZOOM+Care can help, now and in the future

We want to make mental healthcare accessible, easy-to-use, and stigma-free.

Under normal circumstances, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experience mental illness in a given year, according to research from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Of those 46.6 million, only 41% will seek help due to social stigma concerns and long wait times. Even fewer will get the treatment they need.

With COVID-19 pushing more people to seek care, our mission is more critical now than ever.

ZOOM+Care = a stigma-free zone 

One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic? The crisis has sparked concern for the wellbeing of our entire nation, helping to normalize conversations around mental health. As more people speak openly about their struggles with anxiety and depression, stigma starts to erode.

That said, there’s still a long way to go. Stigma is deeply rooted in our society, and many mistakenly believe that mental health conditions are a sign of personal weakness, or that people should be able to control them without help.

ZOOM+Care’s philosophy is that mental illness is no different than any other medical illness. There’s no shame in seeking counsel, guidance, and support. As Dr. Erik Vanderlip—Zoom’s Chief Medical Officer, as well as a board-certified psychiatrist—says, “Just like you’d go to the doctor for a sprained ankle, you can see a Mental Health Care professional for an assessment.”

Improving access to care

Beyond eliminating stigma, ZOOM+Care strives to make mental healthcare ultra-accessible.

We reduce long wait times and irritating loopholes by offering on-demand visits without a referral. We also give you choices for how you want to see a doctor: you can start your mental health journey in person, or virtually through VideoCare™. You can even use ChatCare™ to refill or manage your medications in between visits. 

What’s more, ZOOM+Care supports a whole-person approach to care.

“Getting mental healthcare shouldn’t be difficult, especially right now,” says Dr. Vanderlip. “We’ve built extensive bridges between our everyday healthcare services and our mental healthcare services. We have a ‘no wrong door approach’—you can schedule directly with our mental health team, or you can start your journey through our daily care offering. It’s all private, and it’s all in your control.” 

Empowering patients towards total health

Lastly, we believe in empowering patients with knowledge and giving them the tools they need to take control of their mental health. 

“The goal of our Mental Health Services is to provide great guidance and advice so that patients can plug back into their lives. We want to give them the tools to feel better on their own,” says Dr. Vanderlip.

“But whenever they feel stuck, they can reach out. We’re all about empowering people to make decisions about their mental health. In many ways, we’re just copilots—the patient is the one in control.” 

To borrow the words of Dr. Vanderlip, we could all use a copilot right now. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety and depression, we’re here to help. Schedule a visit today. Curious about what conditions we treat (and how we treat them)? Learn more about what to expect from a ZOOM+Care Mental Health visit.

Hey Zoom: I Feel so Helpless during the COVID-19 Pandemic. What Can I Do to Help?

ZOOM+Care Covid 19 anxiety

Great question.

COVID-19 has ushered in an era of uncertainty—uncertainty about the future, yes, but also about how to help each other during these unprecedented times.

Hands down, the best way to help is by practicing social distancing.

But as we all shelter in place, many of us are wondering, “What else can I do? How can I support frontline workers? Should I sign petitions? Organize a fundraiser to purchase personal protective gear for local hospitals?”

Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Erik Vanderlip, weighs in with some answers:

Be emotionally available.

“There are several things you can do to help others right now, beyond social distancing,” says Dr. Vanderlip.

“First and foremost, take care of yourself and those close to you. We need to be extra sensitive to the emotional needs of our loved ones during this time—especially older relatives, and vulnerable people in your community. Talk to your parents, call extended family members, and frequently check in on friends who are self-isolating at home. “

LIMIT UNNECESSARY TRIPS.

Vanderlip also suggests doing everything you can to avoid unnecessary trips.

“We’re still seeing a lot of people on the streets, packing into grocery stores, and even flocking to the coast for weekend getaways. We should only be leaving our homes for essential activities.”

When it comes to grocery stores, Vanderlip says, “While you shouldn’t stockpile groceries, having some necessities on hand in your home—if you’re in a financial position to buy them—is something that can help you and others. That way, you won’t have to take frequent trips to the grocery store.”

THINK LOCAL.

“When thinking of ways to help, many people overlook their immediate circle of influence—their friends, family, and neighbors,” Vanderlip reflects.

“Everyone is super focused on raising money for masks and personal protective equipment—but there are probably people in your building or on your street that could use help. Do you have an elderly neighbor, for example? See if you can pick up cleaning supplies, groceries, and other other necessities for them. Help keep them safe by wearing gloves and leaving their packages outside the door.”

CITE YOUR SOURCES.

“Finally, don’t contribute to the spread of rumors or misinformation,” says Dr. Vanderlip.

“Conspiracy theories catch faster than COVID-19, but truth takes longer to spread. Before you share the salacious rumor you heard, check your sources and pause. Fear and misinformation lead to panic, chaos, and poor decision-making. During this time, it’s essential to focus on what we each can control and what we can’t.”

Right now, social distancing is the most effective measure for containing the spread of the coronavirus. Check out our answers to your most burning social distancing questions. 

Coping with Anxiety in the Age of COVID-19

Photo courtesy of Shannon O’Brien and @blksmth.

To say these are strange times is an understatement. Cities are eerily still and silent, their streets as empty as Christmas day. Restaurants and bars are shutting down, no longer emitting their friendly nighttime buzz. Store shelves are empty, or nearly so, stripped of everyday essentials like hand soap and toilet paper.

The sights, sounds, and sensations of the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented, except in fiction—and with so much uncertainty comes certain anxiety. 

Psychologists define anxiety as “a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Unlike fear, which is an emotional response to a definite threat, anxiety is our brain’s response to an unknown danger. Anxiety crops up when we don’t have enough information to predict the future accurately. 

With a global pandemic permeating the consciousness, it can be challenging to stay calm. It’s even more difficult because the situation is so new and unfamiliar. In essence, there is no framework to help us navigate these uncertain times.

If you’re feeling worried and overcome with “what if” thinking right now, know that you’re not alone. However, if your anxiety has turned into feelings of helplessness or panic, it’s important to find ways to relieve stress, soothe yourself, and relax.

Next time your brain starts spinning out of control, quell your anxiety with these bite-sized tips:

Remind yourself it’s okay to feel anxious 

In the words of Carl Jung, “What you resist persists.”

It’s a bit of a paradox, but the more we deny our anxious feelings, the more worried we become. Instead of shoving your worry aside or berating yourself for feeling panicked, take a step back, and recognize that your anxiety serves a purpose.

Fear and anxiety are evolutionary adaptations of the human brain. They motivate us to prepare for potential threats. (Think of it this way: If you didn’t have any anxiety before a test, you wouldn’t study—right?)

In the context of COVID-19, anxiety urges you to take necessary safety precautions to protect yourself and your family. 

Being aware of your anxiety (and the purpose it serves) may help you manage your symptoms better. 

Next time you feel worried, don’t push your anxious feelings aside. Instead, allow your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations to wash over you. Practice tolerating uncertainty, allowing your anxiety to be present while reminding yourself that it’s an integral part of the human experience.

Flip the off switch

In times of crisis, we all want to stay up to date—but there’s a fine line between being informed and becoming obsessed. If your COVID media consumption borders on compulsive, you’re likely fueling the fire of anxiety. 

When the news leaves you overwhelmed, try implementing a digital detox. Allocate strict limits for engaging with COVID content. Tell yourself, “I’m going to check the news once in the morning and once in the evening. I’m going to find out what’s happening today, and what the guidelines are. Then I’m going to shut myself off from any COVID-19 media.”

If you’re anxious about missing important updates, you can always ask friends and family to contact you in the event of an emergency. 

Stay off social

Social media can keep us connected during times of isolation. However, sites like Facebook and Twitter may also exacerbate our anxiety by exposing us to extreme opinions, conspiracy theories, and misinformation. 

If you find yourself growing anxious as you read updates, put down your phone, or walk away from your computer. (Some social media platforms even have built-in tools to help users manage their time.)

Get some exercise 

(Even if it’s just a dance party in your bedroom.)

Study after study shows that physical activity reduces anxiety. Aerobic exercise reduces the body’s stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and helps you channel your anxiety elsewhere. Physical activity also stimulates the production of endorphins, your body’s natural mood elevator. 

Practicing social distancing? Skip the gym and opt for a solo activity instead: a hike, a run through the park, or bike ride. (Bonus: Studies show that getting outdoors may also boost your mood and improve mental health.) If you’re cautious about going outside, there’s no shortage of exercises you can do indoors: yoga, squats, jumping rope, running stairs, and even following a video.

Limit alcohol consumption 

When confined to your home for long periods, it’s easy to indulge in self-destructive behaviors such as heavy alcohol consumption. 

While a glass of wine (or two) may be calming in the moment, alcohol is a depressant. It changes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety. What’s more, as your body processes alcohol, you may feel edgy, irritable, and stressed for several hours—even an entire day. 

Ditch Dr. Google 

If you suffer from health anxiety, Dr. Google is not your friend—especially right now. 

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, coughing, and shortness of breath, which—as you likely know—apply to many diseases, including the common cold. Long story short? It’s impossible to diagnose yourself with COVID-19 via Google. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus and would like guidance from a real doctor, we’re here to help. Currently, we’re offering cost-free COVID-19 risk assessment and advice virtually, via ChatCare. 

Use some tried-and-tested relaxation techniques

Whether it’s simple meditation exercises, controlled breathing, or self-compassion practices, mindfulness offers a quick and effective anxiety relief.  

One method we love? Equal breathing, also known as box or square breathing. You can practice this technique from a sitting or lying-down position. Here’s how: 

  • Close your eyes. Breathe normally for several breaths, being mindful of the feelings of fullness and emptiness in your lungs
  • Next, slowly count 1-2-3-4 as you inhale through your nose
  • Then, exhale, keeping the same four-second count.
  • As you inhale and exhale, pay close attention to the feeling of your breath entering and exiting your lungs.

After a few minutes, you should feel calmer and more centered.

Want to try other relaxation techniques? Several apps can help you practice paced breathing for stress relief, such as Calm and Headspace

Keep family and friends close—even from afar

According to research, close relationships with family and friends are good for our overall health and happiness. If social distancing is triggering your anxiety, connecting with loved ones via phone or video Facetime may help ease loneliness. 

During these conversations, try not to amplify each other’s worries and fears. Instead, we recommend chatting about non-Covid-related topics, finding opportunities to laugh and to restore a much-needed sense of normalcy. 

However, if a friend or family member is contributing or exacerbating your anxiety, you may want to take a small break from them. It’s okay (and not at all selfish) to protect yourself from anyone who’s catastrophizing and increasing your stress. 

Another way to feel more connected during social distancing? Look out for opportunities to help your neighbors, family, friends, and coworkers. Whether it’s dropping groceries outside someone’s door or coordinating childcare, helping others gives us a sense of purpose—and takes our minds off of our worries for a while. 

Seek professional help if you need it

If you’re already vulnerable to anxiety and depression, you may find the coronavirus pandemic completely overwhelming. If you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms that interfere with your work, maintaining close relationships, or taking care of yourself, we’re here for you. 

Consider consulting with our doctors via ChatCare or booking a visit with one of our Mental Health providers. Either way, we can guide you towards the best solution for your mental health.

Because virtual options are by far the safest, most efficient way to address your healthcare needs, we’re asking our patients to start their care by connecting with a provider through a Phone Visit, or via ChatCare™. Schedule a visit today.

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: 

Self-kindness.

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.” 

Mindfulness.

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. 

Holiday Blues Are Real—Here Are 5 Tips to Beat Them

Broken candy cane and space for text on color background, top view

‘Tis the season of merry and bright, but what do you do when your mood doesn’t match the twinkling lights on your tree? 

First things first, don’t be too hard on yourself. Turns out, feeling like a lump of coal during the holidays is a pretty common phenomenon. 

Indeed, the “holiday blues”—feelings of loneliness, loss, or isolation that intensify during the holidays—are prevalent this time of year, and not just among those diagnosed with clinical depression. One survey by the American Psychological Association found that 38% percent of people experience increased stress during the holiday season.

And for those who do struggle with mental illness year-round, feelings of loneliness and depression can intensify during the holidays. According to a survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness find their condition gets “a lot” worse this time of year, and 40% “somewhat” worse.” 

Why do we feel sad in the season of cheer?

Let’s face it: There are hundreds of reasons to feel stressed, down, or just plain overwhelmed during the holidays. While pinpointing the exact cause of your blues can be difficult, possible factors include:

Stress.

Constant crowds, Christmas carols on loop, and a jam-packed social calendar: Just a few of the things that make the holidays feel extra hectic. All that stress can interfere with feeling the holiday spirit. 

Financial strain.

An overextended bank account—coupled with the pressure of buying gifts for family and friends—can create an undue burden. 

Family fractures.

Your family is supposed to be your safe space—a source of encouragement and support. Sadly, that’s not always the case. Spending prolonged periods with relatives—particularly family members you don’t get along with—can be emotionally draining. 

Unrealistic expectations.

Our society puts Christmas on a pedestal. It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, and it comes with a lot of unrealistic expectations for how we should feel. When the holidays don’t live up to these expectations, we can feel seriously down in the dumps.  

Feelings of loneliness.

The holidays can be an isolating time of year, especially if you’re away from your loved ones and friends. 

Seasonal affective disorder, or S.A.D.

Some people’s winter depression is not holiday-related at all, but rather, has to do with the season itself. S.A.D. is a condition that causes fatigue and feelings of depression during the winter months. If you’re experiencing symptoms of the disorder, talk to a doctor to find a treatment that works for you.  

What can you do to minimize the holiday blues?

#1. Set realistic expectations

Who wouldn’t want a perfect, Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas, like the ones you seen on the Hallmark Channel? However, fantasy-fueled expectations can set you up for some serious holiday disappointment. 

Instead of expecting a cookie-cutter Christmas where everything goes smoothly, remind yourself that even the best-laid plans go awry.

Go into the holidays with an open-minded, flexible attitude. Tell yourself that yes, cats do knock over Christmas trees from time to time. Relatives can drink a little too much merlot and start arguing about politics—again. Sometimes, people hate their gifts and do a really poor job of hiding it. Take the good with the bad, and remind yourself that the “bad” moments don’t have to detract from the special ones.  

For some, a good Christmas means getting through the day with as little conflict as possible—and that’s totally okay! 

#2: Start saying “no.” 

During the holidays, there’s a lot of pressure to do everything―say yes to every holiday party, buy gifts for everyone, and go out of your way to make others happy. 

At the end of the day, do what’s best for you. Set clear limits on what you’re able and willing to give—whether it’s your time, money, or emotional energy. Sometimes that means saying “no,” declining social events, and setting strict limits on your spending. 

When it’s not possible to say no, make sure you’re taking time for yourself. Whether it’s listening to music, taking a bath, or doing yoga, carving out a little “you time” can work wonders for your stress.

#3: Find a support system.

Even if you’re away from family, there are small things you can do to ward off loneliness this holiday season. Try picking up the phone and calling an old friend, reaching out to a new acquaintance, volunteering your time at a local charity, or attending a community meetup or event. 

#4: Make new memories.

Did you love Christmas as a kid? Nostalgia for holidays past can leave you feeling blue.

Instead of mourning old traditions, start some new ones—either solo, or with loved ones. Try out a new cookie recipe, start a White Elephant exchange with friends, make hand-made ornaments with your niece, or dress your dog up like Santa Claus and have a photoshoot. Creating special rituals to look forward to will stop the ghosts of Christmas past from haunting your holidays.

#5: Practice moderation.

During the holidays, it’s important to practice self-care—which isn’t just bubble baths and cupcakes. Self-care also includes the tough stuff, like making sure you’re eating and drinking in moderation.

Because alcohol is a depressant, it can intensify negative feelings you may have around the holidays. Be aware of why you’re drinking. Don’t use alcohol to avoid feeling painful memories and emotions, and try your best to limit your consumption to one or two drinks per social function.

In addition to drinking, eating poorly can also exacerbate issues like stress, anxiety, and depression. Take care of yourself, and don’t slack on your regular exercise. Sticking to your routine can give you a sense of regularity and remind you that, hey—Christmas isn’t so different than any other time of year, and you’re going to get through it. 

While the holiday blues are usually temporary, it’s important to stay in tune with yourself and identify when your depression is no longer seasonal. If you or someone you know needs guidance this holiday season (and beyond), we’re here.

Burnout, Anxiety, and Depression Run Rampant in the Tech World

Let’s be real: Adulting is hard, and stressful workdays are inevitable. But for some employees, it’s not just an occasional case of the Mondays. Instead, crippling stress, long hours, and workplace pressure are daily realities.

While stress and burnout are issues in most American workplaces, they’re especially prevalent in the tech world, where regular overtime and high expectations for productivity are the norm. 

According to a survey from Blind, an anonymous workplace review service, a high percentage of tech workers suffer from job-related anxiety and burnout. (Burnout is defined as emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive, long-term stress.) The one-question survey had a simple “yes or no” query: “Are you currently suffering from job burnout?” Of the 11,487 users who responded, over half of respondents (57.16%, to be precise) replied “yes.” Frankly, it’s a mindblowing statistic. 

Even more concerning? Burnout, stress, overworking, and irregular work hours can increase a person’s chance of developing depression. “Generally, burnout is consolidated to work.  However, long-term work stress can lead to depression—burnout that’s extended to other domains in a person’s life,” says Zoom CMO Dr. Erik Vanderlip. 

In another Blind survey, users were asked to answer “true” or “false” to this statement: I believe I am depressed. Nearly 40% of the 10,081 tech workers who participated responded with “true.”

What causes employee stress and burnout?

Burnout, anxiety, and depression are hardly exclusive to tech companies. However, the prototypical startup culture may make employees more vulnerable to mental health issues.

Some of the top-cited factors leading to workplace-related mental health issues include unreasonable workload and too much overtime—virtual cornerstones of life at a tech company. 

Why employees’ mental health matters

It’s simple: When employees are happy, they’re more likely to thrive at work. When they’re suffering, their work suffers. According to the CDC, 200 million workdays are lost each year due to depression—which amounts to roughly $17 to $44 billion in lost productivity.  

Happier employees are more productive, but—beyond the financial consequences for companies—there’s a moral, humanitarian component to consider. People are important. Their health, including their mental health, is vitally important. 

Companies should care about their employees’ mental health because the ripple effect is far-reaching. Job-related anxiety and depression (and the ailments they cause) result in over 120,000 deaths each year, making them more deadly than diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, or influenza.

How ZOOM+Care can help 

Long wait times and limited availability are barriers to mental health treatment—and they’re especially difficult to overcome when you’re a busy, overworked tech professional. 

At Zoom, we offer ultra-accessible mental healthcare that fits into your busy schedule. Even if you only have 30 minutes during your lunch break, we can help. You can schedule a same-day ZOOM+Care visit directly from your phone, easily refill or manage medications, or simply to reach out for guidance. 

If you or someone you know has a pressing mental health concern, we’re here.

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Exciting news: ZOOM+Care Mental Health is now available in Bellevue! Never used ZOOM+Care before? Learn more about our unique approach to Mental Health.