A Healthy Outlook

Newsletter from your MCPS Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Spring 2024

In This Issue

A field of yellow flowers blooming with a cloudy blue sky in the background.

Welcome Spring

The days are getting longer and the flowers are starting to bloom. Each season marks a time of change. As we welcome spring with the equinox on March 19, 2024, notice your thoughts and feelings about this transition. Are you eager for warmer temperatures? Do you wish winter weather would last a bit longer? Or perhaps other thoughts and feelings arise. The nature of seasons is that they always come and go. Consider choosing one way to intentionally nurture yourself during this transition to spring. 

National Stress Awareness Month and Mental Health Awareness Month 

April is National Stress Awareness Month and May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Although stress is a part of life, too much stress without periods of relief, relaxation, or support can take a toll on the mind and body. It's important to learn more about stress and build up your toolbox with supportive strategies that help you cope with stress effectively and care for your mental health. 

Myth or Fact?

All Stress is Bad For You text on a pink and yellow gradient background.

Myth! When the stressor, or stressful event, is short-term the body's stress response is also short-term. Additionally, in times of true danger, the body's stress response is designed to help keep you safe. Incorporating periods of relief, relaxation, and support during times of stress can help protect you from the effects of chronic stress. 

Everyone Reacts the Same When Stressed text on a pink and yellow gradient background.

Myth! Although the body's stress response, "fight, flight, or freeze" is evolutionary, each person has a unique reaction to stress. What do you notice when you experience stress? Do your muscles tense? Does your eye twitch? Do you sweat? Do you get an upset stomach? Do you feel irritable? Or do you notice other symptoms entirely? Practice identifying how your body is impacted by stress.  

Stress Can Impact My Mental Health text on a pink and yellow gradient background.

Fact! Prolonged periods of chronic stress can increase the risk of developing several physical health and mental health conditions. There can also be an overlap of symptoms of stress and symptoms of other mental health conditions. Learn more about signs of stress and signs of anxiety from the National Institute of Health.

Self-Care Strategies Can Reduce Stress text on a pink and yellow gradient background.

Fact! An effective stress management plan includes breaks from the stressor, time for relaxation, and support from loved ones. There are many self-care strategies out there and it's important to identify what types of self-care are most supportive to you. Need help? Keep reading!

Nourishing Self-Care

Consider reflecting on one or more of the following prompts to see what ideas spark for you:

Interested in learning more about stress and developing a personal stress-buster plan? Join the EAP for a workshop on Recognizing and Responding to Stress on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 from 5:00 - 6:00 p.m. This workshop will take place over Zoom and is open to all MCPS employees. Register on PDO Course #92450. 

Healthy Social Media Habits

How You Use It Matters

Technology has changed the way we interact with each other. Social media puts other people just keystrokes away. This helps some feel like they have more social support. But for others, it can increase isolation and depression.

Researchers are investigating how social media affects mental health. They’re learning that who you meet and what you find online can mean the difference between helpful and harmful effects.

Use Your Time Wisely

Logging into social media can lead you in many directions. Actively engaging and connecting with others online can help build your social supports—both online and offline. But spending many hours passively scrolling through upsetting content can send you spiraling into negative thoughts and feelings. Increased social media use has been linked to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. But it’s not always clear which comes first: Is more time online causing the symptoms or a result of the symptoms?

Depression or anxiety can cause you to isolate yourself. Spending more time online may be a sign that you’re withdrawing from others. Studies have also found that some online activities can worsen your mental health. Passively watching what others are doing online can make you feel more isolated. You might feel you’re missing out or being left out. Or it can make you think that other people have better lives than you. What you click on then affects what you see next. If you click on things that bother you, you’re likely to be shown more of those things. Repeated scrolling through disturbing content can increase your stress and anxiety.

Teens are especially at risk from the effects of social media. Studies have found links between patterns in teens’ social media use and mental health problems. “There has been a growth in social media use, smartphone use, and teens’ lives being online over the last 10 years,” says Dr. Katherine Keyes at Columbia University. Rates of teen depression and suicide also rose over the past 10 years. Researchers have been looking at social media’s role in that increase. Keyes’s studies have shown that digital media use alone doesn’t account for these recent rises in depression and suicide. Other factors must also play a role. More research is needed to figure out what those are. What seems most important is how teens are using social media and how their time online is affecting their offline social networks and activities, Keyes says.

In other words, time online takes away from time you could be spending with others, being physically active, or doing a hobby. These are things that help protect your mental health.

Connect Carefully

You can find countless different people and communities online. “Many meaningful and beneficial connections can be made online,” says Keyes. “This is especially true for teens who have more marginalized identities. Sometimes they can find community and connectivity online that they can’t get in their day-to-day lives.”

But the digital world can also expose you to harmful health behaviors. Excessive drinking, substance use, and eating disorders are sometimes misleadingly shown as what everyone’s doing or wants to do. People also see ads about tobacco use, cannabis use, and drinking online. Dr. Patricia Cavazos-Rehg at Washington University in St. Louis studies the effects of ads on teen substance use. Her research has shown that even passively viewing tobacco content online increased the likelihood of using tobacco products. 

Keyes found similar trends for alcohol and cannabis. “My concern is that social media can make substance use behaviors seem normal,” Cavazos-Rehg explains. That can affect both teens and adults. “We’ve seen a lot of messages online about ‘wine-mom’ culture that link alcohol use with ‘mommy needs a break at the end of the day,’” Keyes says. “These messages link alcohol with positive self-care.” But using alcohol to manage stress is not a healthy coping strategy. In recent years, women have had a higher increase in alcohol use than men. Cavazos-Rehg is researching ways to deliver information about the risks of substance use on social media. She’s also looking at how to get quality treatment information to people talking about mental health issues and substance use online.

Seek Out Help

Social media can be a tool to improve your mental health. You can search for health information, hear about others’ experiences, or find treatment options.

“We have found that social media can be very helpful for people who are feeling stigmatized about in-person recovery,” Cavazos-Rehg says. “Plus, social media can help those who are curious or ready to engage in treatment but want advice from their online peers first.” Her team looked at what prevents people with symptoms of depression from seeking treatment. They found that many people worry about being stigmatized. Others have trouble accessing or paying for treatment. Her team is looking for ways to reduce those barriers through social media. They’ve created tools to identify social media posts that may indicate someone needs treatment for an eating disorder. They also created a treatment app for teens with eating disorders. The team is working to reach teens in need of treatment through online ads as well.

“There is a lot of support for recovery and for mental health that individuals can get off of social media,” says Cavazos-Rehg. “But there’s often misinformation that can spread as well.” Find tips for evaluating online health information at go.usa.gov/xSv9n(link is external) and go.usa.gov/xSv9P(link is external).

Remember, you don’t need to struggle with mental health problems alone. “There’s a common misconception that we can handle our mental health problems on our own, and that they’re not severe enough to warrant medical care,” Cavazos-Rehg says. “But that’s a misconception.” Don’t hesitate to reach out to a health care provider or mental health professional.

Wise Choices: Protect Your Mental Health 

Article reprinted from NIH News in Health

EAP News

Spring Digital Bulletin Board Now Available

The Spring digital bulletin boards are now available to view online. You can also view the bulletin boards in person near the elevators at 45 W. Gude Drive, Rockville, Maryland 20850. 

SPRING 2024.pptx

Upcoming Events 

The EAP is excited to share upcoming events available to MCPS employees.

 You may also visit the EAP website and scroll down to Upcoming Events to view the calendar.

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Ask the EAP

Q: Does the EAP provide mediation?

A: The EAP partners with the Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County (CRCMC) to offer no-cost, confidential, and voluntary mediation services through the Dispute Resolution Program. Mediation is a process in which a neutral third person (the mediator) assists individuals on all sides with communicating their concerns, interests, and needs and helps them find solutions to the problem. The mediator does not judge right or wrong and does not make decisions for the parties involved. 

Whether you're experiencing conflict with a coworker or conflict outside of work, CRCMC is here to help. For workplace-related conflicts, call the EAP Dispute Resolution Program at 240-740-6499 to complete a brief intake. Your information will be referred to CRCMC, who will then contact you to schedule mediation services. Please note that mediation requires the consent of both parties. CRCMC can provide individual conflict coaching services to the person seeking mediation in the event the other party declines to participate in mediation. CRCMC also provides no-cost mediation for community-based conflicts, such as landlord-tenant disputes, neighborly disputes, business disputes, parenting plans, eldercare-related disputes, and more. For non-workplace mediation requests, you can contact CRCMC directly at (301) 652-0717. Check out these resources to learn more: 

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Important note: Information in A Healthy Outlook is for general information purposes only, for adults, and is not intended to replace the counsel or advice of a qualified health professional.

For further questions or help with specific problems or personal concerns, please contact the EAP. Call 240-740-6500 (Monday–Friday, 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m.).