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With the many difficult changes and current events that have transpired in the last couple of years, many Americans have found it difficult to cope with stress and sustain healthy mental health habits.

By Terry Lee (M.D.), Director of Behavioral Health with Community Health Plan of Washington, a not-for-profit providing Apple Health, Medicare, Cascade Select

Washington State ranks sixth highest among all the states in the U.S. with the highest percentage (22.2 percent) of adults with a diagnosable mental health illness, according to a Mental Health America report. As Washingtonians enter the third year of a global pandemic, go back to working in-person, and witness a tragic global crisis, it’s important to take time to consider your own mental health as well as the mental health of others. To manage stress and other impacts, here are three tips to improve your mental health during these changing times. 

Stay Connected and Ask for Help 

Connecting with others increases happiness, reduces stress, lowers anxiety and depression, and improves physical health. As COVID-19 cases decrease and more businesses return to a normal cadence, there are more opportunities for reconnecting with friends and family and getting to know others in the community better.

It's also important to reach out to your existing support network—friends, family, co-workers—and let them know how you're feeling. Sharing your thoughts and receiving the support of another is therapeutic. If you want to go outside your usual supports, COVID-19 has also led to the increase of online and video peer support and recovery groups, such asQuality Peer Support (led by trained facilitators) or Recovery Oriented Meetings. You may also seek more formal help, such as therapy or counseling. Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW) can help connect you with local mental health services via its resource center

Stay Active and Take Care of Your Physical Health Needs 

The mind and body are fundamentally connected. A brisk walk can clear your mind, reduce stress, and improve your mood. Get started by trying different activities like walking, running, biking, or dancing. Gyms and recreation centers are also now resuming full capacity and a great place to try a new physical activity. When you find something, you like, put it into your routine. If you already exercise, keep it up. If there are others at home, like kids, get them involved and stay fit.  

Keep a Routine but Infuse Some Fun 

Maintaining daily rhythms improves wellness by providing structure and regularity. Familiarity and predictability reduce stress by helping daily body cycles—like sleep, hormone levels, body temperature, digestion, and alertness—fall into recurrent patterns. If you are physically returning to work, keep some of these habits.

However, while routine is good, too much sameness can wear on anyone. Be sure to inject a dose of novelty to enhance your brain health. This is a good time to try new activities, such as singing, baking, yoga, or juggling. If you're home with others, get everyone to play a new game or participate in a new family activity. Or go back to old hobbies. You'll stimulate new areas of the brain and reawaken others.   

While you may feel more overwhelmed, remember you are not alone, and many are experiencing similar feelings. For more tips and information, visit CHPW's free public Mental Health Resource Center: https://www.chpw.org/member-center/behavioral-health/.     

Community Health Plan of Washington is a not-for-profit that serves over 280,000 people across the state through Apple Health (Medicaid), Medicare and Cascade Select health plans. To learn more, visit chpw.org or connect on Facebook,TwitterInstagram, or LinkedIn.

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