An Open Letter to Depression

Just a note, this letter may be tough to read – especially if you feel like you could write your own letter to depression or know someone who could. If this resonates with you, don’t hesitate to reach out and seek help. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. And there are lots of resources on campus to help – including the Mental Health Service at the University Health Center and free therapy sessions at the Counseling Center. You can also call the HELP Center at 301-314-HELP – a hotline where you can talk to a trained peer counselor about whatever may be troubling you.

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Dear Depression,

I wish you would crawl in a hole and die. Because that’s what you make me feel like doing.

I wish you would show up on my skin like acne does so that people would know you are real and not an excuse I am making up so I don’t have to get out of bed in the morning.

You too, Anxiety, stop being so invisible and intangible so that people can understand why I have these conversations in my head and why I can’t fall asleep because you are making my heart beat mile a minute and making me fear and hold on to silly things that won’t really matter in a month.

And quit it with the negativity.

Stop making me feel inadequate; like I am failing now and will fail at everything I pursue in the future. Stop telling me I will flunk out of graduate school and that I don’t even deserve my acceptance.

Stop holding me back.

Maybe if you moved out of my brain as I have been asking you to for years there would be room for better study habits, for focus and an attention span that doesn’t get interrupted by the constant message of: “YOU CANNOT DO THIS.”

Just STOP. Stop telling me that everything is going wrong.

Stop telling me that I won’t make it to 30 because I have no purpose and I won’t be able to handle life when I leave the shelter of my university.

Why do you make looking into the future turn into a full blown anxiety attack? Stop making me downplay everything I accomplish with explanations that it was handed to me or that anyone can do it. Stop acting like a shield and deflecting any compliment I get as a lie or a nicety.

And for the love of god, leave my body alone. It is what is, stop trying to convince me that everyone is judging it, they really don’t care.

Get out of my eyes, making me cringe at my reflection and spend the day in self-loathing reflecting on my lack of will power, wishing I could be anorexic again.

I refuse to believe you that people only like me when I’m uncomfortably thin and wasting away.

And you know what, you can turn off the shower. Don’t expect me to get into it, sit on the floor and cry like before, wondering what the hell is wrong with me and why I feel so hopeless and  purposeless and so unwanted – even when on paper my life is pretty blessed.

We’re over. I’m turning you in. I’m going to stop blaming headaches, cramps, or being too busy on why I can’t leave the house or why I am just plain incapable of smiling today.

Why should I hide you? Why should anyone hide you?

You are a bully and life-wrecker. Why is it so stigmatized to rat you out. There are drugs and therapy to treat you.

You are REAL.

It’s out now. You’re depression. You’re anxiety. You’re a wrecked body image. You’re out in the open and …

I hope everyone sees you for what you are: a treatable mental health condition.

Good riddance,
Jen

Posted in Emotional Wellness | 1 Comment

4 Tips to Conquer the Nighttime Eating Frenzy

By: Dana Schulz, ’16, University Health Center Nutrition Peer Educator

popcorn
You wake up in a panic- realizing your alarm never went off, throw on the first pair of clean clothes in sight, and sprint out the door to make your first class. Five hours go by, and all you’ve eaten is a bag of chips- that is, if you were lucky enough to have stopped by the convenience shop in the 10 minutes between English and Math class.

It’s no wonder that when you get back to your room, you keep eating until the second you fall asleep.

We’ve all been there, the dreaded nighttime eating frenzy, all too easy to fall into with our busy college lifestyles. What’s worse is that we beat ourselves up about it, cursing our weak willpower and vowing not to open up our fridge after 10 PM.

However, it’s not about willpower at all, our body is doing what it is supposed to do. After being deprived of fuel all day, we crave sugar and fat because they are the fastest and most efficient form of energy. This is why the foods we gravitate to after a long day of “starving” include cookies, ice cream, and deep-fried-anything instead of salads.

But don’t fret! Here are 4 tips to work with your body instead of against it:

  1. Timing is Key! Expecting ourselves to be able to properly control portions and make healthy food choices when we are in a starved state is near impossible. In order to set ourselves up for success, we must eat regularly throughout the day.
    • Tip: Try to think of your day in terms of 3 meals and 1-3 snacks. This will keep hunger managed, boost your energy, and reduce the sugar/fat trigger starvation can cause.
  2. Plan, Plan, Plan! Most of us plan every other aspect of our lives, so why not plan when and what we are going to eat?
    • Tip: For those rushed mornings, make sure you stock up on grab-and-go snacks, and always have an eating plan B. Live in a dorm? No problem! Check out these ten tips for a mini fridge makeover.
  3. Monitor Your Eating Environment. After a long day of class, it can be tempting to sit in front of the T.V and watch that new episode of your favorite show with a bag of chips. The distraction of the television makes it near impossible to practice mindful eating.
    • Tip: Surround yourself with a peaceful environment when eating to ensure you can pay attention to each handful or bite. You might find you feel satisfied with less than you think!
  4. Listen to Your Hunger/Full Signals. Each of us is born with an internal regulator that tells us when to start and stop eating, our hunger/full signals. However, as we grow up, our body begins to listen to external signals, such as the time of day.
    • Tip: Before and after each meal, rate your hunger and fullness on a scale of 1 to 10 to get back in touch with your signals.

To learn more about conquering the nighttime eating frenzy, reserve your session with a Nutrition Coach today by calling 301-314-5664.

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How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

By: Emily Hamric, University Recreation & Wellness group fitness instructor

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Eating healthy on a budget may not seem easy. Fruit is expensive, yet french fries are cheap. Chips cost very little, yet nuts seem to break the bank. And what’s worse — we’re students, so we’re already running on low funds.

I’ve always considered myself to be a healthy eater. Over the last few years I’ve tried to step it up and pay more attention to how I fuel my body. And little by little, the payoff has been better sleep, more energy, a fitter body, and a clearer mind.

Below are some tips that I use to help me eat healthy without spending my entire paycheck:

  • Buy in bulk. If you have a Costco/BJ’s/Sam’s Club membership- use it! If you don’t have one, find a friend or family member who does. I buy big boxes of granola bars, bags of almonds, oatmeal, tubs of Greek yogurt (they last a while), larger containers of berries, and boxes filled with several pouches of quinoa/brown rice mixes for far less than I would pay at a typical grocery store. Whole Foods has a great bulk section. You can bring your own reusable container and get as much or as little of each food that you want (they also have compostable bags available). You avoid paying for expensive packaging or buying more than you need of something, AND it’s good for the environment! They have beans, lots of grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, spices, trail mixes, and sweets.
  • Buy in season fruits and veggies. They’ll taste better and are more likely to be on sale. Here’s a handy guide illustrating when certain produce is in season in Maryland. You can also buy frozen fruits and veggies which are typically just as nutritious, are sold in larger quantities, and won’t go to waste since they’re already frozen.
  • Use coupons and watch for sales. Make sure you’re signed up to receive coupons with the grocery store that you visit most often. You probably have some version of a loyalty card, so register online with your email and they will email and mail coupons that will add up and tend to cater to what you buy most often. There are also great coupon apps for smartphones and other services that offer ways to save money by scanning items you’ve purchased, sending photos of your receipts to research agencies, etc.
  • Choose generic. Most grocery stores offer a generic version of popular items that are cheaper than the name brand option. Just check the ingredient list to compare and make sure you’re not getting any unwanted synthetic ingredients. Ethnic markets also tend to offer a wide variety of goods at cost effective prices.
  • Cook in larger portions and freeze your leftovers. You’ll appreciate that you’re not only saving money, but that you’ll also have a ready-made meal in the freezer for those days that you just don’t have time to cook.
  • Limit eating out. I think I can confidently say that one of the top expenses for young people our age comes from restaurants, fast food, and bars. It’s okay to get out every once in a while, but you are paying far more than you would to cook at home. Limit yourself — you’re also most likely consuming more calories than you would if you cooked at home!

The University Health Center offers free nutrition coaching where you can learn even more strategies for eating healthy on a budget.

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Reminder: YOU are a Priority

By: Diana Curtis ’17, University Recreation & Wellness personal trainer and group fitness instructor

218f9e6c-ae99-4ee1-853b-bf578688c314With the end of the semester quickly approaching, the stress inevitably begins to build. Projects, exams, and homework all accumulate in the final weeks and tend to drain all of the extra time out of your day.

Suddenly all of the social events that seemed so important no longer matter and “all-nighter” becomes the most commonly used word on campus. You hear everyone talking about the hours they spent at the library and the neglect they have taken towards themselves and their well-being.

In college, it may seem as though grades will make or break your life; as if your entire future depends on getting the perfect grade on every test and project you attempt. However, this is just simply not realistic.

When I came to college, I instantly realized that it was not an extension of high school. It was a completely different experience. The classes are more demanding, you are wholly in charge of your own time and the way you spend it, and there is a clear adjustment period that can have a huge impact on your confidence and health.

As we reach the most stressful time of the semester, it is important to remember that your health is a priority.

Just because you have a million demands on your schedule does not mean that your body adapts to unhealthy food, lack of sleep, and an absence of physical activity. It is still impacted in a negative way. You can become sick, even more stressed, and come out of it regretting how you treated yourself. To combat these negative side effects, here are some strategies that have helped me survive the madness:

  • Sleep. Getting a restful night of sleep is more important than staying up the extra hours and functioning on sugar and caffeine. The amount of sugar and caffeine that students consume in order to keep themselves awake is usually way beyond the healthy daily recommendation.
  • Move. Try and get in some physical activity even if you don’t feel like it. I know this one is extremely difficult for students, but it is one of the best ways to reduce stress and get your brain back on track for studying. If necessary, you can even take your notes with you and review while on a stationary bike.
  • Eat healthy. You may just want something greasy to eat late at night, but these types of food will actually make you feel more sluggish and will not give you the energy needed to complete your work.
  • Plan ahead. All of these recommendations take planning. Plan when you will exercise and when you will sleep. When choosing something to eat, start with the mindset that you will choose something fresh, not fried. Work out a schedule that gives you time to finish all of your work, but make sure it also gives you time to be human.

Don’t put your body through more stress and neglect than necessary. It is up to you to make choices that help keep yourself healthy and happy. If you realize you’re sacrificing everything in your life for one grade, take a step back and get back in tune with your body. You are more important than any grade you will ever receive.

And while your grades may be with you until you graduate, your body is with you for the rest of your life.

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Puppy Love

By: Priya Narang ’16, University of Maryland Health Center, Wellness Intern

Pup Collage
It’s that time of the semester again when students are flooded with assignments, projects, exams, and are really feeling the stress pile up. It’s moments like this I go looking for some stress relief, whether it be listening to music, hanging out with friends, or spending time in nature. It wasn’t until the Wags for Wellness program at the University Health Center (UHC) that I realized pet therapy visits could be just as stress relieving, if not more. The first time I met the golden beauties at the UHC, I knew it was going to be a good day. I felt more calm, relaxed, and happy- and I wasn’t the only one! Other students at the event came up to me to say how much better they felt, and how excited they were for the upcoming visits.

So what about pet therapy makes it so effective? Oxytocin, commonly known as the love hormone, is what’s behind all the happiness you feel when you’re with those adorable fluff-balls. If you’re like me, you can’t help but smile when you’re with a dog. I automatically feel happier and more relaxed. The increased levels of oxytocin provide anti-stress effects and tons of other benefits (including pain-relief!).

Here are just a few of the benefits of pet therapy visits:

  1. Promotes relaxation. Just by petting a dog, your body has an automatic relaxation response. There are a bunch of hormones (serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin) that may help elevate your mood and make you feel more at ease!
  2. May reduce feelings of anxiety. Levels of epinephrine, a hormone made when you’re feeling stressed, are lower during pet therapy visits. The decrease in anxiety can also be because you can shift your attention to a positive and tangible focus, which increases comfort.
  3. May lessens feelings of depression. Pet visits can help to form an environment that is safe, reassuring, and comfortable. This type of environment may be able to help lower feelings of depression such as loneliness, hopelessness, and withdrawal.
  4. Enhances social wellness. Animals help to provide a sense of companionship, which is a great way to further your social wellness. You can also gain a sense of community by connecting with fellow Terps who are sharing in a similar experience.

Looking for pet therapy visits on campus? Check out the University Health Center’s program Wags for Wellness! Come to the ground floor of the Health Center to make some furry friends from 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm on the last Monday of every month!

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Give up Your Cheat Day, Not Your Favorite Foods

By: Hannah Dentry ’17, University Health Center Nutrition Peer Educator

Cheat Day
With over 1.2 millions posts to this Instagram hashtag, you have probably heard about the concept of cheat days. This is the day (once a week or once a month) that you allow yourself to “cheat” on your diet and feast on whatever indulgences you choose. I love that this idea celebrates our favorite foods. What I don’t love is the mindset that can result from it. Let’s take a bite out of this hashtag and learn how to incorporate your favorite treats in a healthy diet.

The Good:

I see the point! Let’s not forget that fueling our bodies is not food’s only purpose; food also brings us enjoyment. When we try to deny ourselves of that enjoyment, we are destined for failure. That is why diets often fail. They are too restrictive and not sustainable for a lifetime.

The Bad:

Cheat Days have the potential to get a little out of hand. When we stick to a restrictive diet 6 days out of the week, we make it very easy to overeat fun foods on the seventh day. You may find that you are eating foods that you may not love, just because it is your cheat day and anything goes!

The Better:

Enjoy the foods that you love throughout your week in moderation. In the nutrition world, we call this the 80-20 Rule: If 80% of the foods that you eat fulfill your nutrition needs, 20% of what you eat can be the fun foods that you love.

Instead of overindulging on your cheat day, we challenge you to try these techniques, from the authors of Intuitive Eating:

  1. Think about what you really want to eat. Do you actually want the doughnut because you like the taste, or because it is one of your forbidden foods?
  2. If the answer to question number 1 is “YES! I love the taste of doughnuts!” then enjoy but try a smaller portion, eating it slowly and thinking about how it tastes. If you hear that voice in your head asking for the other half, remind yourself of the 80-20 rule; that means fun foods have a happy home in your diet and you can enjoy that doughnut whenever you want. This may make it easier to practice restraint.
  3. Remember to honor your health and your hunger signals. Put the foods that meet your nutritional needs first! If having your fun food after you are already full will make you feel uncomfortably full, then it probably isn’t necessary to indulge in that today.

Remember “The Good?” Celebrating food enjoyment! There are plenty of additional hints to eating the foods you enjoy in a healthful way. Can you think of any hashtags that embrace an overall healthy diet? We would love to see your ideas in the comments below!

To learn more about maintaining a healthy weight while enjoying your favorite foods, reserve your session with a Nutrition Coach today by calling 301-314-5664 or emailing UHC-Nutrition@umd.edu.

Posted in Nutrition, Physical Wellness, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How I Broke Up With My Eating Disorder

By: Diana Curtis ’17, University Recreation & Wellness personal trainer and group fitness instructor
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Not letting a single event in your life define you is one of the hardest things you can accomplish. When you experience a great achievement or suffer a loss or failure, it seems as though that event is what makes you who you are.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that every event and experience, big or small, contributes to the person you are and the life you will live. However, as easy as it sounds to acknowledge this fact, the application of it is much more difficult. The story in this post will explain the journey I took to overcome this mindset and to allow myself to not just live in one moment or memory, but to seek out other aspects of life and find joy when it seems so far out of reach.

My relationship with ED started out like any other relationship begins. At first, we just saw each other in passing. Then, we became acquaintances, and then friends, and eventually, we were spending every day together.

Unlike many relationships though, my one with ED began to take over my life; he distanced me from friends and family and constantly made me feel like I wasn’t enough. He drained my energy and took away my confidence. It wasn’t until he almost stole my passion from me that I realized how toxic the relationship was.

ED is a nickname for eating disorder. He is the voice within a person’s head that distorts their view of reality and tells them that their worth is derived from the body he sees in the mirror and the number he sees on the scale.

My serious relationship with ED lasted about four months, which doesn’t seem long, but that was all it took for him to make a lasting impression. It was long enough to make me feel as though if I ever let go of ED, I was losing something that defined me. Within those four months, I lost about 30 pounds and no longer recognized myself; I was moody, tired, and the only thing I looked forward to was the next time ED would allow me to eat.

He was able to convince me everyday that I was fine; not eating breakfast was no big deal and running two times a day on 1,000 calories was acceptable and healthy. He had complete control and I did nothing to resist because if he could convince me I was OK and no one else was telling me something was wrong, why should I? Fortunately, the relationship did come to an end.

However, it was far from a clean break up. I had been close to ED since April and it was closing in on September, so when my mom finally approached me, there was a lot of denial that ED seemed to be commentating. Then, cross-country season arrived and my coach gave me an ultimatum: if you don’t eat more, you can’t run on the team. This awoke something inside me that hated ED more than I ever had in the four months previous. He threatened to steal from me what has given me confidence and made me stronger since the day I started; he was taking away my happiness.

From that day on, it has not been an easy journey. I have overcome many fears that developed without my knowledge and have had to learn to reclaim my voice and thoughts.

And although it has been a couple years now, I catch a glimpse of ED walking through the crowd every once in a while and I have to remind myself of how I want my life to be defined. Do I want to live with ED the rest of my life, in fear of losing a piece of myself if he is no longer present, no matter how damaged that part may be? Or, do I want to live by my own standards and let my accomplishments and experiences define me?

My memory of this time still makes me emotional and I know I will never be completely free of ED, but if you ever find yourself face-to-face with him, know that seeking help doesn’t make you weak; it makes you braver than I ever was.

If you’re currently struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, don’t hesitate to seek out help and support. The Counseling Center or Mental Health Services at the University Health Center are great places to start.

Originally published as Battles We Know Nothing About on Diana’s blog, Overjoyed Runner

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