Category Page: Aspen Strong

January 2020 Mental Health Awareness Calendar


Mental Wellness Month

National Mentoring Month 

National Blood Donor Month

Birth Defects Prevention Month


No Name Calling Week (Jan. 20-24)


Human Trafficking Awareness Day (Jan. 11)

Global Family Day (Jan. 1)

National Clean Off Your Desk Day (Jan. 13)

National Fun At Work Day (Jan. 28)

Building Resiliency with Self-Care

A key way to maintain good behavioral health hygiene is to build resiliency into your daily life. Resilience is your ability to handle adversity – when life gives you lemons, are you face down on the floor or already looking up recipes for lemon-meringue pie? In the former case, a lack of resiliency represents no protection from negative stress or threats, whereas in the latter case it is precisely those resilient qualities in an individual which empower her to acknowledge the setback, moderate its negative effects, and begin adapting it into something more positive.


So how do you build resiliency into your life in the first place? The short answer is: self-care. Taking care of yourself consistently in a variety of ways and not neglecting your own well-being creates space in your life to absorb, process, and transform negative experiences – if not into positive ones, this sort of resilience at least mitigates the negative effects of stress and trauma. Here are some ways to build self-care into your daily routine.


  1. Sleep – don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s rest. Getting the right amount of sleep (7-8 hours a night for most adults) on a regular basis builds emotional and mental resilience and benefits physical health, too!
  2. Nature – spending time engaging with nature helps reduce stress and improve well-being. Whether you’re taking care of a plant in your home or staring at the tree canopy on a hike, “eco-therapy” makes a difference. (Check out this blog post for a deeper dive.)
  3. Exercise – do what you’re comfortable with, but get up and move around – take a walk, practice yoga, go to the gym, swim, play a sport. However you get exercise, it’s good for both your physical and mental well-being.
  4. Nutrition – practice eating right to help boost both your mood and your physical health. Start with an obtainable goal like replacing one meal each week with a healthy alternative and build from there. Check out more tips on healthy eating for your behavioral health here.
  5. Say “No” – learn to say no sometimes to friends and relatives when you’ve already got too much on your plate. It’s okay to prioritize yourself every now and again.
  6. Schedule your self-care – it’s important to be clear about your self-care time. Try to build in time for any of the above or other relaxing activities and stick with what you plan.
  7. Physical health – if it’s not obvious already, your physical and behavioral health are inextricably linked. In order to maximize either, you need to take care of both. Don’t neglect regular preventative healthcare like annual physicals and flu shots. You can also take an online screening to check-up on your behavioral health.


Be active and mindful of your self-care. Tell yourself that you’re doing these activities explicitly for you – because that’s just what you’re doing: taking good care of yourself now to make it easier to cope later when life gives you lemons.

How Stress Can Improve Your Well-Being

How Stress Can Improve Your Well-Being

Everyone experiences stress. It’s a ubiquitous part of modern life. We stress over our jobs, our families, our social lives, our education, our health, our finances – the list could go on and on. It seems that everyone is on a never-ending quest to eliminate stress from their lives. Would a completely stress-free life be a good thing? Surprisingly, the answer is no – some stress is good stress.

Good stress or eustress is temporary worry and tension that accompanies challenging situations or activities which remain within our abilities to handle. Think of a series of concentric circles, like a target. The first is your “comfort zone” – here there’s no stress because you are fully confident that you can succeed at anything that crops up. Now imagine another circle beyond the first, which represents your “capability zone” – you’re out of your comfort zone, so you’ll experience stress, but expectations of what you can manage are realistic. Beyond your capability zone is where you experience negative stress or distress – so far out of your comfort zone that your abilities no longer match what’s needed to face a particular challenge. The limits for each of these zones are different for everyone. Where public speaking or riding a roller coaster might be fun activities that create a buzz of excitement for one person, they may be terrors for someone else, who would be overwhelmed with distress if they attempted them.

The key is finding that sweet spot where you can step out of your comfort zone in order to feel the satisfaction of successfully learning a new skill or overcoming a challenge without slipping into negative stress.

Eustress has a number of benefits, particularly for well-being in general:

  • It’s motivating and energizing.
  • It feels exciting and creates a sense of satisfaction.
  • It drives improvements in abilities by pushing us to learn.
  • It helps to create confidence and self-esteem.
  • It builds resilience.

On the other hand, the effects of distress are harmful, especially when experienced chronically. Negative stress:

  • Decreases our ability to focus and get things done.
  • Make us more susceptible to both mental and physical illnesses.
  • Can cause physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, muscle pains, and both sleep and digestive problems.
  • Can make us more likely to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.

Stress is not inherently bad, but in order to take advantage of maximizing eustress in your life, there are three key behaviors to strive for.

  1. Perspective – whether a particular stressor falls in your capability zone or beyond can be influenced by your perspective of the situation. Many things that cause us stress we perceive as threats. But, instead, if we’re able to think of some of these “threats” as challenges to overcome and learn from, we can convert distress into eustress.
  2. Limitations – be aware of your limits and stand up for them. Knowing the bounds of your comfort and capability zones enables you to say no to tasks and activities that will cause you negative stress.
  3. Balance – maintaining balance among the stressors in your life is key. It’s nearly impossible to live without any stress in our lives. And even though eustress is “good stress,” you can indeed have too much of a good thing. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to relax and recharge free of stress – sometimes it’s more than okay to stay in your “comfort zone.”

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Scientists Say Child’s Play Helps Build A Better Brain

Written by: Jon Hamilton
Orginally published by: NPR Morning Edition

Why people play and how play relates to learning.

When it comes to brain development, time in the classroom may be less important than time on the playground.

“The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” says Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed,” he says.

It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.

But to produce this sort of brain development, children need to engage in plenty of so-called free play, Pellis says. No coaches, no umpires, no rule books.

“Whether it’s rough-and-tumble play or two kids deciding to build a sand castle together, the kids themselves have to negotiate, well, what are we going to do in this game? What are the rules we are going to follow?” Pellis says. The brain builds new circuits in the prefrontal cortex to help it navigate these complex social interactions, he says.

Learning From Animals

Much of what scientists know about this process comes from research on animal species that engage in social play. This includes cats, dogs and most other mammals. But Pellis says he has also seen play in some birds, including young magpies that “grab one another and start wrestling on the ground like they were puppies or dogs.”

For a long time, researchers thought this sort of rough-and-tumble play might be a way for young animals to develop skills like hunting or fighting. But studies in the past decade or so suggest that’s not the case. Adult cats, for example, have no trouble killing a mouse even if they are deprived of play as kittens.

So researchers like Jaak Panksepp at Washington State University have come to believe play has a very different purpose: “The function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways,” Panksepp says.

Panksepp has studied this process in rats, which love to play and even produce a distinctive sound he has labeled “rat laughter.” When the rats are young, play appears to initiate lasting changes in areas of the brain used for thinking and processing social interactions, Panskepp says.

The changes involve switching certain genes on and off. “We found that play activates the whole neocortex,” he says. “And we found that of the 1,200 genes that we measured, about one-third of them were significantly changed simply by having a half-hour of play.”

Of course, this doesn’t prove that play affects human brains the same way. But there are good reasons to believe it does, Pellis says.

For one thing, he says, play behavior is remarkably similar across species. Rats, monkeys and children all abide by similar rules that require participants to take turns, play fair and not inflict pain. Play also helps both people and animals become more adept socially, Pellis says.

And in people, he says, an added bonus is that the skills associated with play ultimately lead to better grades. In one study, researchers found that the best predictor of academic performance in eighth grade was a child’s social skills in third grade.

Another hint that play matters, Pellis says, is that “countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less.”

NBA Finalizes Expanded Mental Health Program, Adds Licensed Psychiatrists

Orginally Published by: Sports Illustrated

The NBA announced an expanded set of mental health policies for 2019-20 on Wednesday, according to The Athletic’s Sam Amick.

The league office reportedly issued a memo to all 30 teams, announcing the following measures required by each team for the upcoming season.

  • All teams must have at least one mental health professional on retainer. Each professional must have “experience in assessing and treating clinical mental health issues.”
  • Each organization must “identify a licensed psychiatrist” available to help manage any mental health concerns.
  • All teams must, “enact a written action plan for mental health emergencies.”
  • All 30 teams need to attend a “health and wellness meeting” in Chicago in September.

The NBA’s changes come after a slate of players revealed their battles with mental health both before and during their time in the league. Kevin Love and Keyon Dooling wrote personal essays on the matter for The Player’s Tribune. DeMar DeRozan discussed his own battle with depression with the Toronto Star’s Doug Smith.

Commissioner Adam Silver discussed the league’s emphasis on mental health in February.

“When I meet with (NBA players who have expressed concern on this front), what strikes me is that they’re truly unhappy,’’ Silver said at the Sloan Conference in Boston. “A lot of these young men are generally unhappy.”