Resiliency key to improved mental health
For Sam Ore, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), mental health and physical health “are part of the same continuum. When our mental health goes, a lot of the time it’s a sign that something’s up physically, that we’re not tending to our whole system.”
Ore, a fifth generation Montanan, and his wife Leah, who is also a LCSW, own Waxwing Psychotherapy, a group practice centered at Mountain Ash Professional Services on Sixth Avenue E. in Polson.
As a therapist who specializes in helping clients overcome trauma, Ore believes that building resiliency is key to cultivating a healthier approach to life and its myriad ups and downs. What skills do we need to build a more resilient brain? “Awareness and connection are the two big ones,” he says.
Awareness means self-awareness or, as Ore says, “having a practice of coming into your body, checking in with yourself.”
Mindfulness meditation, he adds, “is the gold standard.” Setting aside time to slow down and pay attention to your breath is a proven approach to calming both mind and body. The basic instruction is simple: take a comfortable seat, pay attention to the breath, and when your attention wanders, return to your breath.
For beginners, Ore suggests downloading a meditation app and setting aside time for a daily process, whether it’s just two or five minutes a day, or 20 minutes twice a day. Thousands of free apps are available; the top-rated ones include Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, MyLife Meditation, Headspace, and UCLA Mindful.
But if sitting quietly and calming the mind seem too challenging – “meditation isn’t something everyone comes to easily,” notes Ore – creating time for other forms of self-awareness such as journaling, or having a conversation with someone you’re close to can also be helpful.
Connection, the other building block of resilience, took a hit during the pandemic, which made people feel more isolated and fearful of social interaction.
“It’s a real bind,” says Ore. “We’re social animals and we tend to not do well in isolation. Our cortisol levels spike and this whole neurological thing happens when we’re isolating too much.”
Even “micro-connections,” like interacting with a waiter or grocery clerk or waving at someone across the street, “are pretty important to our mental health.”
Also essential is building deeper bonds with loved ones. “Prioritizing those interactions is really important and easy to put on the back burner,” he says.
He suggests setting aside face-to-face time with spouses, kids and friends. “It’s as simple as whatever you water grows. You’re watering those relationships so that they, in turn, can nourish you.”
According to Ore, improvements in technology, such as Zoom, “are the silver lining” of the pandemic, providing opportunities to take classes, reach out to family “or have a beer with your buddies” from afar.
Exercise is also a helpful tool for lifting spirits. “If you can start regular cardiovascular exercise, science says it’s one of the best things for your mood,” Ore says. He points out that in England doctors are required to prescribe therapy, mindfulness, and exercise for depression before resorting to medication.
“People get intimidated by exercise, but it doesn’t take that much – walking for 5 minutes makes a pretty big difference,” he says. “A little extra movement goes a long way.”
Helping kids navigate the COVID era is another challenge many parents face. The father of two small children, Ore also worked in a middle school early in his career.
“Kids are mirrors of their parents, mirrors of what’s going on in their environment – just like the rest of us, but maybe more expressive,” he says.
In addition to the pandemic isolation and its impact on education, children have also been hit hard by the housing crisis. “If the rent is going up $300 and you can’t find a place for the family to live or a bunch of relatives is crashing in your house because they don’t have a place to live – that’s where kids really start to pay the price,” Ore says.
And that’s where building resilience can help parents cope with forces that seem beyond their control. “If you take care of yourself, you’re going to be able to be there for your kids as a parent,” he advises. “What they need is a healthy and stable attachment figure.”
Nationwide, Ore says there’s a “mental health epidemic in our country right now.” Colleagues across Montana report full caseloads, with the demand for mental health services outpacing supply.
Advances in Telemedicine help, enabling therapists to see more patients virtually and reach out to underserved communities. “Especially for people out here, living rurally, if you’ve got a decent internet connection and get comfortable with Zoom, you kind of forget you’re online and it’s just like normal therapy,” says Ore.
Even with the high demand, Ore says it’s still “pretty easy” to find a therapist. He suggests Googling ‘psychologist near me’ or checking out the provider directory at Psychology Today (www.psychologytoday.com). He also encourages people to be proactive – especially in a state with some of the highest suicide rates in the United States.
Ore adds that often a few sessions can make a big difference without breaking the bank. “Coming in, talking some things out, building strategies, gaining a little bit of insight … can go a long way in figuring out how to get from A to B.”
Andrew Laue, a licensed clinical social worker with deep ties to the Mission Valley, has pioneered efforts to build resiliency, especially for human service workers at risk of experiencing secondary trauma.
According to his website, those who benefit from his training include first responders, health workers, therapists, attorneys, legal personnel, social workers, in short, “any human who works with other humans.”
As part of the program, he offers a free 50-minute training to all Montana residents. To register, participants need to complete a 20-question demographic form and return it with their email address. Advance training is also available.
Learn more at www.activateresiliency.com.