Overdose Prevention & You

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Bob Lutz, Washington State medical advisor for COVID-19 response, states that “Washingtonians with substance use disorders may have found themselves using more frequently [during the COVID-19 pandemic], and unfortunately, the data suggests they are also overdosing more often.Alarmingly, Skagit County has also observed an increase in opioid-related overdoses. Keep reading for preliminary, 2020 State- and County-level overdose data.

But first, a quick terminology refresher!

Overdose happens when a toxic amount of a drug, or combination of drugs, overwhelms the body. People can overdose on lots of things including alcohol, Tylenol, opioids or a mixture of drugs. When an opioid overdose occurs, the overdosing individual may experience slow or no breath, choking or snore-like sounds, pinpoint pupils, blue/ashy skin, nails and lips, unconsciousness and/or death. Fortunately, there are harm reduction practices and prevention interventions that can significantly reduce one’s chances of overdose and death. Visit SkagitRising to learn more.

Fentanyl is a synthetic or “man-made” opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than other opioids like morphine and heroin. There are pharmaceutical forms of fentanyl that are used for anesthesia and pain. However, most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose and death have been linked to illegally made fentanyl. Any illicit drug in any form – powder, pill, etc. – could have fentanyl in it. You can’t necessarily tell if fentanyl is present based on taste, smell, or look of the drug. According to the DOH, we should assume that any drug not from a pharmacy could have fentanyl in it.

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING:

In Washington, fentanyl has been found in counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioids (often with an imprint of “M30” or “A215”), as well as in powders and black tar heroin.

Opioid Overdose Data

Last month, the Washington State Department of Health published a News Release, which includes preliminary overdose data for the first six months of 2020.

Here is a Brief Snapshot:

  • Overdose deaths in Washington State increased by 38% in the first half of 2020, compared to the first half of 2019. Most of this increase came from deaths involving fentanyl.
  • Fentanyl-involved deaths more than doubled from 137 to 309.
  • Most deaths involved multiple substances, sometimes called polysubstance use.

Skagit County also observed an increase in opioid-related deaths when compared to 2019. While Public Health and many other community partners have been working diligently to reduce the impacts of opioid misuse and overdose in our communities (see list of collaborative efforts here: https://skagitrising.org/what-is-being-done/), we need your help!

How YOU Can Help

We all play an important role in reducing opioid overdoses and saving lives in our communities.

  • The COVID19 pandemic has affected us all. Stress and social isolation may increase risk of substance misuse and overdose. Offer support to friends and family – send a text, call, video chat, get together in one-on-one or in a small group outside.
  • Know the signs of an opioid overdose and how to help.
  • Naloxone (also called Narcan®) is a safe medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. If you use opioids or know someone who does, make sure to carry naloxone. You could save a life! Under the statewide standing order, anyone can get naloxone at a pharmacy without a prescription.
  • If you think someone is overdosing don’t hesitate to call 911. The Good Samaritan Law (RCW 69.50.315) protects you and the person overdosing from prosecution of drug consumption and drug possession.
  • Help those struggling with opioid use disorder find the right care and treatment. Buprenorphine and methadone, two medications used to treat opioid use disorder (MOUD), can cut the risk of a fatal opioid overdose in half, and support long-term recovery. Find local MOUD treatment programs by visiting https://skagitrising.org/  
  • If you use drugs, please practice harm reduction techniques. If you must use alone, call 800-484-3731 (Never Use Alone Hotline).

Additional Info

Feeling overwhelmed and/or don’t know where to start? You are not alone. Visit the WA Recovery Helpline (or call 1-866-789-1511) where they provide emotional support and connect callers with local treatment resources and community services. You can also learn about local resources by visiting https://skagitrising.org/resources/

If you have questions, want to learn more about behavioral health services in Skagit County, or would like to pick-up free naloxone or fentanyl test strips, contact McKinzie Gales, Community Health Education Specialist at mgales@co.skagit.wa.us or (360)416-1528.


Heartful Care

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, Contributing Author 

“Beneath the skin, beyond the differing features and into the true heart of being, fundamentally,  
we are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike.” 

-Dr. Maya Angelou 

As communities across the globe face ongoing challenges of the pandemic and need for vaccinations, we know each of us is affected. Dr. Angelou’s quote, reflects, no matter what our differences, underneath, we all have hearts. Hearts that are vital and keep us moving forward during these unprecedented times. 

Both our physical and emotional hearts need care—especially now, as we are almost a year into this time of drastic change and adjustments. It is important to maintain good heart care, as best we can. Making sure to reach out to our family, friends or professionals, if we experience any physical or emotional concerns or challenges; remembering we are not alone.  

A few months before the pandemic, I participated in a spiritual activism class. One of the exercises was a meditation on our hearts. We were asked to sit quietly and place our hands on our hearts. Breathe in and out at our own pace, and focus in on giving thanks to our hearts. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of thanking my heart for keeping me alive, blood pumping and all the emotions it holds. It was a moving experience and a good place to start for heartful care and appreciation.

Here are some heartful care suggestions: 

  • Hold our hearts and say, “Thank you!” 
  • Be gentle with ourselves. 
  • Remember to take a few focused intentional breaths. 
  • Get outside as much as we can. 
  • Connect with the earth. 
  • Move our bodies: dance, yoga, hiking, biking, whatever makes us feel good. 
  • Notice the beauty. 
  • Reach out, if feeling isolated. 
  • Check in on family, friends or neighbors. 
  • Continue with regular health check-ups. 
  • Eat some dark chocolate (professionals say it’s good for the heart!). 
  • Keep wearing our masks, good for everyone’s health! 
  • Look into someone’s eyes. 
  • Smile from our hearts. 
  • Drink plenty of water, stay hydrated. 
  • Keep it simple! 

Let’s take care of our health in all ways, so we can show up wholeheartedly for our loved ones, friends and community.  

“Heartful of Seeds,” ©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert 2021 

Eyes of Hope

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing writer. 

Over the past ten months, we have been wearing our masks, washing our hands more than we ever thought we would, strategically getting our groceries, keeping our distance and so much more. A collective community effort to keep ourselves, families and friends healthy.  

Since June, I’ve been looking into thousands of community members’ eyes through car windows while registering them to get tested for COVID-19. First, at Skagit Valley College and now Skagit County Fairgrounds (south entrance, F Barn). Each person has a story for why they are getting tested. Eyes filled with worry, fear, anxiety and deep concern, not only for themselves but for their families too.  

So many eyes. 

Last Thursday, Skagit County Public Health and its community partners worked tirelessly to get our first 1a-eligible COVID-19 vaccine clinic started. The County is working directly with 1a-eligible employers to identify individuals to be vaccinated. Eligible community members were invited and scheduled for a specific time last Thursday and Friday, to receive their first vaccination for the COVID-19 virus.  

From registration to vaccination; a moment in time that I will remember for all of my days. 

I’ve been asked to greet each person immediately after they receive their vaccine: instructing them to sit for 15 minutes post-vaccine, to be observed and make sure that they do not have any reactions. After I shared with a friend and coworker from Skagit Valley Family YMCA about how powerful it is to be a part of this historical time for our County, she said, “You’ve come full circle, starting off being the first person people see when getting tested for the virus, to being the first person they see once they receive the vaccine.” 

Full circle—filled with deep listening, loving-kindness and compassion. 

What profoundly struck me last week, quite unexpectedly, was everyone’s eyes. Each pair of eyes, filled with a sense of relief and gratitude; some glistening with tears, and most of all, eyes filled with HOPE. 

Just as each person has a reason for why they get tested, the relief and appreciation for receiving the vaccine are also deeply meaningful. Some of the responses I heard were: 

“I can’t wait to see my granddaughter.”  

“I have no words. Just so grateful.”  

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  

“This gives me so much hope.” 

#OurShotSkagit. Photo taken by Julie de Losada of Rosemary Alpert receiving her first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Looking into eyes of our community, filled with hope and movement forward. Slow and steady progress.

For a first-hand account, as a frontline worker, I was invited to receive the vaccine. Last Friday afternoon, I received my first shot. After working months, looking into the eyes of our community, I was filled with emotions and gratitude, feeling the light of hope. 

My first thought was my two adult children, who I haven’t been able to see in over a year. My eyes glistened with tears of relief. The only reaction I felt was a sore arm, and the next day, a little tired. I also woke up at 3:38 a.m. the next morning and could feel the vaccine working. It was a wonderful feeling! I visualized the vaccine as golden-healing liquid responding and strengthening my being, heart and eyes full of hope. 

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, please check out Skagit County Public Health’s website at www.skagitounty.net/COVIDvaccine. You can also read our press release with WA DOH’s latest guidance here: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Home/press/010721.htm.


What Is Binge Drinking, Anyway?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

New year’s resolutions aren’t for everyone. Making big plans and setting high expectations for the months to come can seem too burdensome for some—and that’s totally fine! The beginning of a new year does present a good opportunity to reflect on the prior year, though. An opportunity to think about the things that we’d like to work on or change.

This past year was definitely a doozy, and it wouldn’t be surprising if some of our routines were uprooted or thrown out the window entirely. While, before last March, it might not have been acceptable to take a meeting in sweats, or to shower in the middle of the workday, we’ve adapted and made concessions out of pure necessity.

Perhaps, for some, one of these concessions has been around drinking habits. While it was once acceptable to have an occasional glass of wine over dinner or a few cocktails on the weekend, now a quaran-tini (or two) each night has become the standard.

While it’s perfectly fine to have a drink here and there, it is important to monitor one’s drinking habits. When does drinking become “too much,” and when do rates of consumption go from healthy to possibly dangerous?

Isolation, the disruption of routine, and an inability to use pre-COVID coping mechanisms can cause one to feel especially vulnerable during times of crisis. Partnered with other stressors like economic uncertainty or unemployment, an individual may be at increased risk of developing a reliance on alcohol or other substances in order to cope.

What is binge drinking?

Not everyone who drinks—even regularly—engages in binge drinking. Even still, the definition of “binge drinking” may surprise you.

Moderate drinking, for men, is drinking no more than 15 drinks per week and no binge drinking. For women, the limit is seven drinks per week, with no binge drinking.

Binge drinking, however, is defined as drinking five or more drinks in a two-hour period for men, and four or more drinks in that same two-hour period for women.

Note: Women metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men, meaning they have higher concentrations of it in their blood when they drink the same amount.

The CDC states that one in six US adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge, with the highest percentage of binge drinking happening amongst 25-34 year olds. A person who binge drinks may or may not have an alcohol use disorder.

Recent Findings

A recent study published in the American Journal of Alcohol & Drugs Abuse reported that “thirty-four percent [of those studied] reported binge drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.” It was also found that more binge drinkers increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic (60%) than non-binge drinkers (28%). And for every one-week increase in time spent at home during the pandemic, there were greater odds of binge drinking.

Also of note was that binge drinkers with a previous diagnosis of depression and current depression symptoms had greater odds of increased alcohol consumption compared to those reporting no depression.

Why can it be dangerous?

Binge drinking is associated with many short- and long-term health problems. Short-term side effects include:

  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Hangover
  • Shakiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Poor decision-making
  • Memory loss

From the American Addiction Centers, some long-term effects of repeated binge drinking include: alcoholism, brain damage, liver damage, cardiovascular disease, and even sexual dysfunction.

Tips for a healthier relationship with alcohol

Keep track. Whether you can keep track in your mind, or you need something in writing to help you monitor throughout the week, it may be a good idea to have a system in place. Did you have a few drinks over the weekend? Maybe take a break for a few days this week. Even taking a couple days off from alcohol can help your physical (and even mental) wellbeing!

Count and measure. Being your own bartender at home can surely be cost efficient, but it can also pose a challenge for proper measuring! According to NIAAA, a standard alcoholic drink is 12 ounces of regular beer (usually about 5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (typically about 12% alcohol), and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol). Keep these measurements in mind when pouring (and counting) drinks.

Set goals. Along these same lines, try setting some goals for yourself over the coming weeks. Maybe it isn’t realistic right now to cut out alcohol together. How about cutting out a drink here and there to start, and work your way into a healthier routine? Don’t get discouraged if you lapse or if you have to start over. Changing behaviors can be extremely difficult—but also entirely doable! Maybe set a goal with a friend or loved one so that you can work toward a common goal together, while also keeping one another accountable.

Find alternatives. If having a drink at 5 o’clock has become the norm recently, try replacing this habit with something else. Try taking a walk during this time, or taking a hot bath. If having a drink makes you feel calm, find something that provides a similar sensation. If you feel like a drink is a nice way to treat yourself after a long day, find something else that feels like a little reward. Just be sure not to replace one unhealthy habit with another!

Avoid “triggers.” A trigger can be anything that causes you to want to drink. This could be something stressful like watching the nightly news or scrolling social media. However, it can be something pleasurable like cooking a meal or video-chatting with a friend. It is important to recognize what your triggers are in order to plan for and work through it.

Remember non-alcoholic drinks. For some people, just having alcohol in the house can pose a difficulty in regulating consumption. If this is the case, move the alcohol out of the refrigerator, or avoid having it in the home altogether. Try having something in the fridge that you can go to instead when you’re craving a drink. Carbonated water (which comes in a variety of flavors) can be a nice go-to, or even diet soda.

Need more help?

Need a little extra help? That’s okay! The Washington Recovery Helpline is a great resource available to all Washingtonians who may be struggling with substance use. Call 1-866-789-1511 to speak with a specialist (available 24/7/365). You can also text this same number during Monday-Friday between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for treatment options, resources, and referrals.

You can also access www.skagithelps.org for a list of helpful resources.


Keep It Simple: Self-Care in the New Year

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Article and image contributed by Rosemary Alpert.

The calendar has turned,
a new year’s begun,
here we go 2021!

Stepping into this new year with hope and resilience, slow and steady movement forward, one day at a time. No resolutions, rather, deciding to keep it simple, focusing on daily self-care and compassion.

At least three times a week, I call a dear friend who turned 99 years old last October. She lives in an assisted living facility in Connecticut. Our conversations are brief and meaningful, for both of us. Almost guaranteed, with each call, especially during challenging days of separation and isolation, my friend, Sylvia, shares two pieces of advice: “Put your oxygen mask on first,” and, “You’re dealt a hand, play it out the best you can.” Daily wisdom from an almost centenarian.

The simplicity of this advice resonates within. “Put your oxygen mask on first,” does not mean being selfish, quite the opposite. Rather, it is true self-care. Being full of care for ourselves is vitally important, especially these days. What works for you?

Keep it Simple. Besides making sure to get enough rest, drink plenty of water, wash our hands, and wear our masks, here are a few keep-it-simple self-care thoughts: Let’s notice our breath; be gentle with ourselves; learn our limits; be our best advocate; ask and reach out; express daily gratitude; get outside; however it may be, take super-duper care! Then, we can show up for one another, with more presence and awareness.

Each day, we are gifted 86,400 seconds, a fresh start. Over these many months, when my mind started to turn into a hamster wheel, spinning out of control, I would stop whatever I was doing. Pause, focus, take a few breaths, remember what my friend Sylvia would say, “You’re dealt a hand, play it out the best you can.” One of my daily practices has become starting fresh with each new day. As with any practice, it is an ongoing learning experience. Some days, it’s not so easy. What this advice has offered is a way to appreciate, notice, and celebrate the littlest of moments within the progress of each day. Our accumulation of seconds count!

While working at the COVID-19 testing site, I asked a few coworkers how they keep it simple with self-care. Here are some of their responses…

  • Relax in bed, all propped up with a bunch of pillows, surround myself with snacks and watch Hallmark movies
  • Take a long hot bath
  • Search for painted rocks on hikes with my son
  • Call a friend
  • Long walks by the river
  • Learned how to quilt
  • Walk my dog
  • Quiet meditation
  • Spend time reading and journaling
  • Go for hikes
  • Spend time gardening, getting my hands in the dirt, connecting to the earth
  • Listen to calming music
  • Make dinner with my partner, then watch a funny movie.

Simple pleasures nourish the soul, keep us in the present, and keep us moving forward. Remember my dear friend Sylvia’s advice: Don’t forget to “put your oxygen mask on first,” and each day, do the best you can with your 86,400 seconds.

Happy New Year!!!


Safe & Fun Holiday Ideas

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The holidays are all about tradition. Whether they are things that you’ve done since childhood, or new activities that have been developed over the years, these traditions are what we look forward to each holiday season.

No matter what the tradition is though, it is typically centered around what we do with our family, friends, and loved ones during the holidays. It is no surprise then that this year is especially difficult for most of us.

This year, the guidance is very clear. Continue to practice the same safety measures that we’ve been doing all year long: physically distance, stay home, limit gatherings, wear a mask, and wash our hands. We do these things to decrease the spread of COVID-19, and by doing them, we protect not only ourselves, but our community.

So how do we look forward to holiday traditions when there has been nothing traditional about this year? Well, it is all in the way that we frame things!

This year could be the worst ever for holidays—or—it could be the perfect opportunity to create some new customs for yourself and your family! Think of these 2020 traditions as something that you can incorporate into your yearly festivities, instead of just being a one off.

So where do you even start with building new traditions? We asked the staff here at Skagit County Public Health for some safe and fun holiday ideas that their own families are participating in this year.

These are a few of their responses.

  • “Instead of sharing meals with extended family from different households, we will take turns dropping off meals that we have prepared at each other’s houses. We share the love and the food but not the risk, as we won’t be gathering and eating together inside except with people that we live with.”
  • “We have a family tradition of getting coffee/cocoa and driving around as a family looking at Christmas lights around the county.”
  • “I made individually wrapped holiday treats for all of my neighbors and delivered them to their doorsteps.”
  • “We are making cookies every day between December 12th and the 24th. Twelve different cookies! We plan to plate and wrap them for porch delivery to our nearby friends and family on Christmas Eve.”
  • “Ordinarily we would spend Christmas morning at my sister- and brother-in-law’s place then head to Bellevue to have a massive feast with aunt, uncle, cousins, lots of extended family.  After dinner we walk around the neighborhood to see the lights before driving north to home.  However, this year like Thanksgiving, we are spending Christmas and New Years by ourselves. We make ourselves a special dinner with all the side dishes we like rather than those that we are obligated to make.  My sister and mom live in other states so the three of us have a Zoom chat in the morning.” 
  • “This year, we made salt dough ornaments with our kids. We even made a few hand-print ornaments that we painted and mailed to my parents in Canada. Even though we can’t be with them this year, they will have a little piece of us on their tree.”

Still looking for ideas? Washington DOH has a list on its website that includes:

Giving thanks: In a year filled with challenges, it can feel good to pause and consider the things for which we are grateful, whether that be a person, pet, place or thing. Highlight these bright spots by writing them down or sending notes, texts or emails to people in your life to express why you are grateful for them.

On-screen get togethers: Sure, it won’t be quite the same, but scheduling a few virtual holiday gatherings can take the sting out of being separated. Getting together online to cook, open gifts, decorate desserts, do a craft project, listen to a playlist, or read stories can create a bit of the togetherness we crave. Consider time zones when scheduling, and make sure that any people who are not tech-savvy get help beforehand so they can be included.

Secret gift exchange: Assign each family or friend a name, and ask them mail or do a no-contact delivery of a small gift they make or buy to their assigned person. Open gifts on a group video chat and try to guess who gave what to whom.

Play dress-up: If you have a willing crowd, create a theme for your virtual party. Themed masks, silly hats or ugly sweaters can give everyone something to laugh and talk about.

Remote potluck: Rather than getting together, you can assign dishes to friends and family and deliver them to one another’s homes. Or deliver just the ingredients for a dish or meal. Then, log in to your favorite video chat app to cook or dig in.

Learn a recipe together: Pick a favorite family recipe, share an ingredient list ahead of time with friends or family, and then get together virtually to try cooking or baking. Good times are guaranteed, whether you end up with delicious dumplings or poorly decorated cookies.

Game night: If you thrive on competition, make your virtual gatherings about more than just conversation. Trivia, charades, and even board games, can all work great online. Or try out a virtual bake-off, talent show or a scavenger hunt where teams race to find common and not-so-common items around their house. This is also a fun one to set up for kids so they can connect virtually with friends.

Make a list of some healthy things that you can do this season that will bring a smile to your face. Are your yearly traditions centered around family and friends? How can you adjust these traditions so that you still feel the connection you crave while also being safe and practicing physical distancing.

Yes, this holiday season will be different from previous years. It is normal to feel sad or frustrated about these changes, especially when we have made so many sacrifices since March. It is important to confront these feelings that you may have and work through them instead of burying them away. And remember: this pandemic won’t last forever. Making sacrifices now will mean bigger and better holidays to come.  

If you are experiencing stress due to COVID-19, call the Washington Listens line at 833-681-0211 for support and resources.

In a crisis?

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Connections: 866-4-CRISIS (866-427-4747)

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

Crisis Connections helps people in physical, emotional, and financial crisis get services they need through their 24-Hour Crisis Line, Teen Link, WA Recovery Help Line, and WA Warm Line.


Finding a Hobby as an Adult

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A few weekends ago, I decided that I was going to try my hand at sewing dresses for my two girls. After watching a few YouTube videos and drinking too much coffee, I thought to myself: “Yeah, I can totally do this. I borrowed my step-mom’s sewing machine and set off for our local fabric store.

Once there, I immediately felt overwhelmed. But I kept going! I ended up buying way too much fabric and some overpriced fabric scissors, decided I didn’t need a pattern (yes, really), and went merrily on my way.

I am happy to report that after a bit of trial and error, I actually created some really cute pieces! Though I wouldn’t advise anyone to look too closely at the stitching, I’d consider this new adventure in sewing a grand success.

What I realized is: (1) It feels good to try something new; (2) It also feels good to be challenged; and (3) I needed a new hobby more than I’d realized.

Like many out there, I have come to rely too heavily on a COVID-19 routine of binge watching and social media scrolling during my down time. Even though I don’t have a lot of down time to speak of with two young children, I will waste it all on unproductive—and sometimes mentally draining—habits.

So, let’s talk about the importance of finding hobbies during this time.

Why are hobbies particularly important right now?

De-stress: Research has shown that having a hobby can help you cope with stress and anxiety. Doing something you love can actually improve your mental and physical health, making you more resilient during difficult times.

Take focus off of the negative: When you are busy doing a hobby, you have less time to focus on the negative. For example: having too much down time without focus can lead to doom-scrolling on social media, which can negatively affect your mood.

Give motivation or meaning: Finding something you love and that brings you joy can give you a sense of purpose in life. During times like these, when routines have been uprooted, it is important to redefine what meaning can look like.

Sense of accomplishment/sense of control: COVID-19 has challenged many people’s feelings about what they have control over in life. And this can feel really unsettling. When you may feel like there is nothing you can do right, or nothing you can control, a hobby can be a really helpful thing to put your energy into.

Create connection: Many times, we can find connection to others through our hobbies. While it may not be physical connection right now, having a shared hobby with someone can be a really powerful thing, and can strengthen your relationships.

How do I find a new hobby?

  1. Something you’ve always wanted to do: Start by asking yourself this: “If I won the lottery tomorrow and never needed to work again, what would I do?” There will probably be some clues based on your answer. And even if the answer is “nothing,” try to dig a little deeper.
  2. Look to your childhood: Remember back to when you were a child. What were some things that you loved to do? Did you like dancing, playing the recorder, or building Legos? What about swimming or writing short stories? All of these things can be turned into an adult hobby.
  3. Shop around: If you can’t think of anything right off the bat, try a handful of activities. Keep trying hobbies on for size until one fits! Walk around a craft or outdoor sports store until something piques your interest. Just keep in mind that shopping around can be a costly exercise, so try something out before investing too much money. There is nothing worse than buying a drum set, just to find out that you lack rhythm (true story).
  4. Take a class: Right now is the best time to try something because there are so many virtual options! Cooking lessons, yoga classes, and painting courses can all be found online—and many times, for free! Find some links to classes here
  5. Find something useful: It is always a major bonus when you can find a hobby that serves multiple purposes. In my case, I can save a bit of money by making clothing at home, while also challenging myself and having some fun. If I get good enough, I could even begin gifting my creations to family and friends!
  6. FUN!: This is the most important part; a hobby needs to make you happy. Don’t take it—or yourself—too seriously. Just give something new a try, and try not to overthink it.

How to incorporate a hobby into your schedule

  • Evaluate your use of free time: If you are thinking, “I have no time for a hobby,” then I urge you to reevaluate your down-time. I was guilty of thinking this, too, but then realized that I think nothing of wasting an hour or two per night scrolling through my phone or sitting on the couch. Finding a hobby that you want to do will help to break these habits.
  • Schedule time: You don’t need to make time for your hobby every day, or even every week. But when you are feeling extra stressed or down, make sure to use your hobby as a go-to coping strategy, and find some time for it. Consider it an essential part of your self-care routine.

Helpful Tools

There are some interesting tools online that you can use to find a new hobby. DiscoveraHobby.com is especially helpful, and has activities broken up into categories.

Feeling daring? Take an online quiz to help guide you to the hobby that you should try next. I got Computer Programming though, so maybe take this quiz with a grain of salt!



Wellness During the Postpartum Period

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Considering how difficult the postpartum period was with my first child–how much I struggled with my mental health for months on end—it was a wonder that my husband and I decided to take the plunge again. So when we finally decided to have a second, we were both on high alert for any signs of depression or anxiety.

I knew that I needed to be cautious this time; after all, women who have experienced postpartum depression with previous births are 10% to 50% more likely to experience it again. Even still, there were parts of me that were certain that this time would be different, and that the worst was behind us.

What I came to find is that with each new child brings new challenges, both as a mom and as an individual. In the case of my second child, I realized that the timing of her birth (and my subsequent maternity leave) was a challenge that I had not anticipated.

You see, my first child was born in April—a time of budding flowers and warming temperatures. My second? She was born mid-November. I think it rained consistently for the first three months of her life!

Now that she’s coming up on her first birthday, I am reflecting on my recent postpartum period. What were some things that I did to keep my mental health in check? How did I—despite the potential odds—manage to cope with a newborn, even during the gloomy months?

Here are some things that I did that may be helpful to any new, or expecting, mom (and dad!) out there:

Make a Plan

There is so much preparation before having a baby: buying all the essential baby items, reading the books, taking the classes. But how about making a wellness plan? Perinatal Support Washington has an awesome template that breaks down wellness into a few different categories.

After all, wellness isn’t just one thing. There are so many ways to build up one’s resilience. Thinking about yourself holistically is important; what are you made up of? Consider the brain, the body, and the spirit. All are important for your overall wellbeing.

Lean On Your Person

One of the categories in the wellness template is your Support Team. How important these people are! During these complicated times, my heart goes out to all the new moms and caregivers out there who may not have the physical support of a family member or loved one.

I encourage new parents to think creatively. Your Support Team might not look the way you’d expected or wanted. The support may not come in the form that you’d envisioned. But who is in your circle of trusted people that can be your ally? It can be a husband, partner, parent, neighbor, or friend. Heck—it can be your healthcare provider!

The most important thing is that you have someone who checks in and who watches for potential trouble. Go over your mental health red flags with these individuals before the big day: What do you look like, sound like, or act like when things are getting too hard? And if they begin to notice anything, they need to feel empowered to make the call.

Practice Self-Care (no, really!)

This is way more easily said than done. Here are just a few things that I recommend and that worked for me:

  • Create structure out of chaos: Babies love routine; providing a bit of structure can even enhance your baby’s development! While it may not be feasible to break your day (and night) down to the minute, it can be useful to write down a flexible schedule. This is especially helpful for the days that seem to drag on—when all you seem to be doing is feeding a baby, changing diapers, and running the laundry.
    Apps like Vroom or Bright By Text can help you to fill your routine by providing simple ideas for activities that you can do with your little one.
  • Go outside: I cannot overstate this enough! Even when the days are drizzly and cold, bundle up and get some fresh air. After all, infants are the perfect walking companion. An infant carrier or wrap will mimic the feeling of being safe and cozy in the womb, and it will also allow you to be hands-free for a moment.
    My gloomy-day recommendation is to look up while you walk, instead of staring at the pavement. When you are exhausted and overwhelmed, it can be easy to feel weighted down. Even when the clouds are thick and there is no sun in sight, keep your gaze up and look at the trees, houses, and scenery around you.
  • Breathe: This was the best advice my midwife gave me when I was first struggling with postpartum anxiety. It is also something that I’ve carried with me since then, for whenever I am feeling overwhelmed.
    When we’re stressed or anxious, we forget to breathe deeply. But this is the easiest—and perhaps most effective—way to put yourself at ease. Try a deep breathing exercise to calm your nerves. Try breathing in through your nose for 5 counts, hold for 5 counts, and exhale through your mouth for 6 counts. It really does help!
  • Take care of the essentials: This isn’t a novel idea, but it is also one of the first things that goes out the door when you bring a new baby home!
    YOU are the most important part of the equation. YOUR health and YOUR wellbeing directly impact your ability to care for your new baby. Eat well, drink lots of water, and try to get a little sleep. While it may not be eight (or even five) hour stretches, a 3-4 hour stretch can make a world of difference.
    A tip from me to you? Talk to your doctor about nutrition: What vitamins can help to elevate mood, and what foods are especially important during the postpartum period? Your body and hormones fluctuate on hyper-drive after giving birth, and eating well is so important.
  • Laugh and dance: I did not take this advice the first time around. I don’t think I laughed for six weeks after my first daughter was born. But with my second? I let my freak flag fly!
    Try doing something silly…after all, your baby won’t judge! Put some slippery socks on and see how far you can slide across your kitchen floor—just make sure to put the baby down first! Sing at the top of your lungs to songs that you haven’t heard since childhood, or listen to a funny podcast. You will find yourself laughing at yourself and the weird things that you do with little sleep and baby-brain. Embrace the weird.
    If all else fails, just smile. Smile at yourself in the mirror, smile at your baby, smile at your partner. Even if it feels phony at first, keep doing it!

Find Help

You are not alone in these feelings; it is normal to feel overwhelmed during the postpartum period. If nothing above seems to improve your mood, talk to your doctor. I urge you to not let mom guilt get in the way of your wellbeing—and I promise, there is little else stronger in this world than mom guilt.

Not ready to talk to a doctor just yet? That’s okay! There are resources available to you. Perinatal Support Washington’s website is a great place to start. Call or text their Warmline at 1-888-404-7763 to talk with a professional today.

Skagit County also has a great resource for new parents! Visit Welcome Baby to get connected up to local support groups, parenting classes, and assistance with basic needs.

You can and will get through this time. Yes, there are extra challenges right now and yes, the days seem long (and yet, so short). Even still, you are strong, capable, and so perfect for your little one. Give these tips a try, and give yourself some much needed grace.


7 Steps for Combating Seasonal Depression

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I have always looked forward to the colder months. For me, shorter days and chilly temperatures mean cozy sweaters, snuggling under blankets, and fuzzy socks. It had never truly occurred to me that seasonal depression was a real thing until I met my husband. He—unlike myself—is genuinely impacted by the winter months, and struggles each year when the weather starts to turn.

And he is not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, affects about five percent of adults in the United States. It is more common among women than men, and has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. Though rare, SAD can also affect children, sometimes causing fussiness, clinginess, and emotional reactivity, or disinterest, sleepiness, and poor memory.

Common symptoms of SAD include fatigue, even with too much sleep, and weight gain associated with overeating and carbohydrate cravings. SAD symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include many symptoms similar to major depression, such as:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite; usually eating more, craving carbohydrates
  • Change in sleep; usually sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Some experts have warned that individuals will be particularly hard-hit this year due to the culminating effects of seasonal depression and COVID-related mental, emotional, physical, and economic challenges.

While it is important to acknowledge that this winter may be tougher than usual, it doesn’t mean that things are hopeless. There are many preventative steps that we can take to combat seasonal depression—and you can start right now!

1. Make a Plan

If you know that you are affected by seasonal depression, now is the time to start planning. And for those who might not typically be impacted but may be struggling this year, some planning might also be in your best interest.

Make a list of warning signs and symptoms—indicators of when your mental health may be declining. Then, make a note of all of your coping strategies—the things that have helped you feel better in the past. This exercise will help you create a game plan for if/when things begin to feel too hard.

2. Think Positively

There are many known health benefits to thinking positively, though it is unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits. One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body.

Thinking positively begins with positive self-talk: the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head. These thoughts can be either positive or negative. Each day, you can make the conscious decision to speak to yourself with kindness, or not. Practice showing yourself a little grace each day.

3. Make Health a Priority

Set and maintain a daily routine, eat healthy foods, and get regular exercise.

Recent studies have shown that people who eat whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean red meats, and other healthy foods, showed a significant improvement in depressive symptoms.

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Getting more sunlight may help too, so try to get outside to exercise when the sun is shining. Being active during the daytime, especially early in the day, may help you have more energy and feel less depressed.

4. Keep Things Light

Light therapy has been a mainstay for the treatment of SAD for decades. It aims to expose people with SAD to a bright light every day to make up for the diminished natural sunshine in the darker months.

If this isn’t an option, just getting outdoors can be the first step toward a healthier mindset, even in the PNW. When walking outside, try keeping an upward gaze instead of looking at the ground, and practice deep breathing. If you’re able, try to get your heart rate up several times a week.

5. Stay Social

Despite the logistical challenges this year, it’s important to maintain connections with family and friends. While you may have to get a bit creative, there are many ways to connect with people this winter, even if it isn’t necessarily face-to-face.

It can be tempting to close yourself off, especially when struggling with depression. In planning for the winter, ask a friend or family member to be your winter-blues buddy, and keep each other accountable.

6. Keep Growing in Yourself

I know, I know … many of us have tried new things since the beginning of COVID-19. But now isn’t the time to get complacent! Try a new hobby, get involved, and throw yourself into something new. Find the thing that will carry you through the darker days, and do it wholeheartedly. And if possible, find something that you can do with a family member or friend.

7. Find Help

If you’ve tried multiple ways to make yourself feel better and aren’t noticing any improvements in your mood—or are noticing that it’s getting worse—it might be time to seek professional help. Getting help is not a sign of weakness; it is proof that you take your mental health seriously.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

The Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.


Let’s Talk About It…Domestic Violence During COVID-19

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest blog post by staff at Skagit DVSAS

This past month of October, we at Skagit Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (Skagit DVSAS) participated in Domestic Violence Awareness Month. On Purple Thursday, October 15th, we asked the community to join us in wearing purple in support of survivors. Using social media, we were able to come together to raise awareness for domestic violence in our community. Skagit community members joined us in showing support by sharing pictures of themselves wearing purple to our Facebook page, helping to raise awareness and show survivors that Skagit cares.

October may be over, but we know that domestic violence is not. We also know that the community still cares, now, and every month of the year! At Skagit DVSAS, we believe that we all have the power to end abuse through our individual and collective efforts. Abuse can be a difficult and scary topic for a lot of us, and it is okay not to know where to start.

Let’s Talk

The first thing we can all do to prevent and put an end to abuse in our community is to start talking about it! Talking about domestic violence raises awareness, and increases understanding for those going through it. There are many myths and stigmas that surround interpersonal violence and make survivors feel that they are not believed or valid. We can challenge those stigmas by letting people know that abuse is a very real thing in many people’s lives, and that it is never the survivors’ fault. Talking about domestic violence can also look like sharing community resources with others, such as our Skagit DVSAS 24-hour crisis hotline for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Red Flags

Another way to take action against domestic violence in our daily lives is to learn about red flags that may indicate someone is experiencing violence in their life. When we know what signs to look for, we are better able to support our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Red flags can be both physical and behavioral. Someone who is experiencing abuse may have unexplained bruises or other injuries, sudden onset of pain and illness, or chronic pain. They may isolate themselves, or never want to be alone, may experience anxiety, depression, panic, dissociation, anger, hostility, and low self-esteem. They might also be nervous to be around their partner and can be hypervigilant or the opposite.

This is just a short list of some of the signs that someone is experiencing abuse, but the most important red flag to pay attention to is any sudden or unexplained change in behavior. When you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, trust it! Checking in about what is going on lets the person experiencing abuse know that there is someone who cares about them and is concerned for their safety.

If you know someone who has previously experienced abuse or is currently experiencing abuse, the most powerful way you can support them is to believe their story, validate their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions. Domestic violence is the abuse of power in a relationship that takes control away from the survivor. When we allow them to make their own choices, we can help to give that power back.

Show Support

Finally, you do not have to be an expert in domestic violence to support survivors! You only need to be a caring friend, neighbor, or community member. If the person you are supporting would like to talk to someone who is an expert, we at Skagit DVSAS are always available. DVSAS can provide emotional support, crisis intervention, safety planning, support groups, legal and medical advocacy, and emergency shelter. We have Spanish speaking advocates and interpretive services, as well as community prevention education services available for schools and community groups. DVSAS serves everyone regardless of age, sex, identity, and immigration status, and all of our services are free and confidential. Please do not hesitate to reach out and to share us as a resource. We are still open and serving the community during the COVID-19 pandemic and are providing all of our services over the phone. Our professionals at DVSAS can be reached at (360) 336-9591 for questions, support, and for arranging community education events online.

We believe in the power of knowledge, resources, and community action to put an end to domestic violence in our community.