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By Kelly Phillips-Henry, Guest Columnist | Sentinel Colorado

May has arrived and with it, Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a key time to consider our mental wellness, and the mental health of those near and dear to our hearts.

This is especially important as we navigate our new normal and cope with the daily realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering all we’ve been through in the past months, I invite you to pause and reflect on your resiliency and that of others around you. It’s a quality that is powerfully visible in so many homes and workplaces throughout our community.

Each one of us is coping with challenges we could scarcely have imagined a month ago. We’ve made significant changes to aspects of our daily lives, work, school, grocery shopping, and how we interact with those closest to us. Yet, throughout it all, many of us have discovered ways to be resilient and draw upon strengths we might not have been fully aware we have.

Believing in resiliency is one of our five core values at Aurora Mental Health Center (AuMHC). Resiliency is a person’s ability to recover from difficulties and is frequently a key factor in a return to good health and mental wellbeing.

Behavioral health research is now showing what we believed all along; personal resiliency may depend on our social environment, which encompasses physical surroundings, social and cultural relationships and a circle of support, as much as our strengths.

One aspect of support are the mental health professionals that work within our communities. At AuMHC, we cared for 21,000 people across 70 locations and schools in Aurora in 2019. Whether the need is individual sessions to groups to youths and families, vulnerable populations, substance abuse and detox, first-episode psychosis, homeless and people with disabilities, refugees and more, we strive to deliver thoughtful care to help build resilience and emotional health. In doing so, we become part of the circle of support.

As we transition to Safer at Home and continue to practice physical distancing, we must remember not to live in social isolation. People across the planet are connecting using every means imaginable. Staying connected is critical for those experiencing stress and anxiety, depression, loneliness, hopelessness, or possible escalating substance use. When we reach out and talk to others, in whatever form we choose, we reinforce our resilience and mental wellness.

Fred Rogers—the Mister Rogers of our childhoods or the childhoods of our kids, once said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that’s mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we’re not alone.”

As we consider his words and the importance of making connections during this time, the need for compassion and support for one another has never been greater. As we continue through May, let’s be good neighbors, reaching out to others and making connections while staying safe. It’s okay to need help and to reach out to others, whether that be friends and family, or a mental health professional.

Finally, I want to share five simple reminders for coping in a healthy manner in your household.

• Listen to your kids, encourage their questions, and provide every assurance that they are safe and that you are caring for them. Remind them of the things you are doing together to stay healthy (like frequently washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water and limiting social activities).

• Practice regular deep breathing. Focus on deep breathing for two-minutes every hour to calm your body, oxygenate your brain, and reduce stress. Step outside if you can for maximum effect. Kids need this too!

• Get outside in the sunshine and play. Fresh air, sunshine, and physical movement are proven health enhancers, positively affecting body, mind, and emotions. It’s a great way of experiencing freedom when we are feeling confined or isolated.

• Rest. Physically, mentally, emotionally. Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Nothing prepares us better to face whatever challenges a given day may bring, yet it’s often the first thing we sacrifice in times of distress.

• Limit exposure to news and social media. Anxiety can be as contagious as any virus. Consider checking for updates no more than twice daily. Bear in mind that kids are especially susceptible to oversaturation, and they can pick it up from adults.

— Kelly Phillips-Henry, Psy.D, MBA, is chief executive officer of the Aurora Mental Health Center

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