Stumbling on Creativity
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
My stress is often linked to environmental noise. If while I’m driving, my two children argue over the existing road noise, I am quickly on sensory overload. I envy those individuals that seem blissfully unaffected by the surrounding cacophony. But while I might be more affected by the surrounding soundscape than others, noise pollution impacts many.
Noise is a source of stress that gets scant attention given its very real consequences. A large proportion of the world population lives in extremely noisy environments. The World Health Organization has called attention to this growing problem and how noise affects quality of life. Besides varying individual levels of annoyance and feelings of hopelessness, noise pollution is also tied to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, inadequate sleep, poor attention, and difficulty with problem-solving.
I am fortunate to have the ability to choose where I live and work. And over the years, I have gained some understanding about how environmental noise affects my mood. When immersed in sensory overload from noise, I can quickly move into a flight-or-fight stance. This autonomic response has recently been triggered by the traffic, including heavy machinery, that has been redirected down our street the last three months due to road construction. I have had to begin to identify ways to mitigate the related stress.
Like much of my personal wellness, awareness is a necessary tool. If I can identify mounting stress, I have options. Music has always been one way I have been able to navigate unwanted sounds. By focusing on harmony, I can override less desirable sounds. But I also find that a change of venue is simply needed. When possible, I remove myself from over-stimulating settings and situations. A brief reprieve from sensory overload does wonders. And living in an area conducive to getting outside for exercise is instrumental to my well-being and soothing to my senses.
CINDY WANG MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
For as long as I can remember, I have been acutely sensitive to others’ emotions. Whether it is joy or sorrow, peace or rage, my sense of a person’s emotional energy can have the power of a tsunami, sweeping me off my feet. In the early days, I coped with this energetic maelstrom by keeping my distance or closing myself off for protection. Or I would get swept up in the emotion and struggle to maintain my equilibrium. These days, I’m able to experience others’ emotions in a way that feels empowering. Through mindfulness and focus, I have a choice about how I respond to the surrounding energy.
Whenever people discuss environmental wellness, what typically comes to mind is the physical environment—things we can perceive through the five senses. In assessing our wellness, we might ask questions such as—Do I spend time in nature? Are my indoor environments cluttered? Do I live in a neighborhood that has sidewalks that encourage walking? Are there lights to safely illuminate paths?
There is no question that these concrete and tangible aspects of our environment are important and affect our well-being. But they are not the only aspects of environmental wellness. There is much that is beyond our daily physical sensory perception in our environments to consider, such as the emotional energy I describe above. When I consider my environmental wellness, I consider my sense of the energy in the environment first. While the information I receive may come through my five senses, I am equally aware that it may not. I have set my intention to give this different level of knowing, the kind that I find so challenging to describe let alone talk about, the respect and attention I believe it deserves.
CHRISTINE GARVER-APGAR, Ph.D., Research Associate
The temperature outside is in the 90s as I write this, and yet, I can feel the beginnings of fall. Growing up in Texas, fall was always my favorite time of year. After weeks of triple-digit temperatures, fall in Texas brought true relief—a literal breath of fresh air. I still love fall, but after seven years in Colorado, my favorite season arrives laced with some anxiety over the long winter to follow—a feeling not shared by other, hardier Coloradans. Whereas my fellow friends and colleagues can be heard lamenting, “I am so over this heat,” I quite clearly recall putting my winter duvet into storage only nine weeks ago.
Part of my winter/spring trepidation stems from the fact that my family and I are not exactly outdoor winter enthusiasts. (And now, an admission, we live in Colorado, and we don’t ski.) So when cold weather arrives, I know we will be spending far more time inside than any of us would like. This year, I am reluctant to leave late summer days behind for another reason. This past spring and early summer, I spent ten miserable weeks engaged in a battle with….pollen. This sort of allergy-induced misery is entirely new to me, so armed with treatment plans devised by a host of medical specialists and a truly alarming array of pharmaceuticals, I thought pollen didn’t stand a chance. How naïve! My intent to revel in warmer weather was quickly squashed by the fear of what allergenic particles might be lurking around outside, just waiting to wreak havoc on my lungs and sinuses. After a long, snowy spring, I was especially resentful that my winter hibernation was extended even longer and of having to squander such lovely early summer days hiding indoors with my HEPA filter.
We still have another month or two of gorgeous, early fall weather ahead of us in Colorado. No snow! No pollen! I intend to relish these weeks with my family. When house projects beckon, I will remember the fleeting time I have before the first snow, and I will put them aside for another time. If anyone needs me for the next two months, I’ll be outside. Finally!
Made to Move
Ken Schade, B.A., Community Liaison
Outdoor running has long been an essential part of both emotional and overall wellness for me. In struggling for years to overcome depression, I found an early morning run provided mindfulness, balance, and great therapeutic benefit. Conversely, when I have not been able to run, because of my asthma for example, I suffered not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well.
It is not surprising then that I feel threatened and anxious by the prospect of not being able to run outside regularly for a while. Due to smoke from wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, local health officials have recently advised people with lung diseases, such as asthma, to limit strenuous outdoor activity. I’ve ignored their warnings some, but have indeed felt ill effects from the smoke, even when I am not exercising. While I do not want to ignore my physical health, neither do I want to give up an activity so important to my emotional well-being. I could survive fine without running for a day or two, but impaired air quality may persist for months as the fires continue to burn.
When I feel threatened and anxious like this, I find compassion and appreciation provide some relief and helps me reorient myself. Pausing to reflect, I recognize and feel compassion for so many people affected by wildfires, diminished air quality, and physical limitations. I feel compassion for those now threatened not only by smoke in the air, but by the wildfires that produce that smoke. I feel compassion for those throughout the world who daily breathe in air so polluted as to compromise their health. And I feel compassion for those whose physical activity is more severely and persistently inhibited than mine.
The point here for me is not to trivialize or ignore my feelings of loss and fear by acknowledging that “many others have it far worse than me.” Rather, this practice of consciously cultivating compassion both for others and for myself recognizes that challenge and difficulty are inextricable parts of the human experience. It also helps me to appreciate the benefit I’ve received from running in the past and will hopefully continue to receive in the future. Compassion and appreciation do not alone resolve the challenges I encounter, but they help calm my emotions and soothe my spirit, leaving me better equipped to handle and overcome difficulties.
SARA MUMBY, B.A., Program Administrator
At first, when I started considering how I was going to blend environmental wellness with food and nourishing activities, I was at a complete loss. How many times can I talk about crafting comfortable spaces to enjoy food with friends? How often can I talk about local ingredients and seasonal choices? Well, actually, I do have more I can say about those topics, but this time around, I wanted something new.
And then it hit me. I recently went on a week-long vacation to Key West, Florida. The stark contrast between our dry heat, dry days and their humid heat, wet afternoons was so striking. The transition affected all aspects of my life. I had to adjust to the time change, the stress of travel, and the actual physical effects of the humidity as well as the way in which my new environment changed my cravings, eating habits, and overall dietary routine. Drinking hot coffee in 90 degree heat with 80% humidity is not the relaxing experience I thought it would be. Roasting fish in the broiler when the air-conditioned-indoors is the only escape from the afternoon swelter is one of the worst ideas I’ve had.
So I adjust. It’s cold coffee on the patio. It’s fish on the grill. Instead of hot spices and sauces, it’s cool marinades of lime and mint. Instead of craving heavy lunches, I craved cold salads and cured meat. The change in routine and what I chose to eat was really valuable to me. When I stay too long in my own, comfortable environments – my daily routine – I feel stagnant and sometimes uninterested in trying new things. Whisking myself away to a place with different local ingredients and different environmental triggers is what vacation is all about for me – a truly transformative pursuit in which the immersion in another environment can nourish the part of me that hates routine, the expected, and the comfortable.
SUSAN YOUNG, Ph.D., Research Director
I’m on a quest for enlightenment. I’d like to say this is a spiritual path, but the truth is that my quest is rather earthly. Let me explain. Because I have always been very sensitive to my surroundings, I have aimed to make my home an environment that is both nurturing and inspiring. The challenge for me has been to recognize and respond to my ever-evolving definition of these characteristics. My husband and I designed and built our home in 2006. At that time our daughters were not quite 2-years-old, and we were up to our necks in diapers, toys, and chaos. We chose color schemes and furnishings that felt compatible with our collective emotional state. Whether consciously or not, we created our spaces to be calming and simple, juxtaposing the daily rollercoaster ride. Looking back, I wonder whether our deeper color scheme grew out of a need to soothe our over-stimulating home life!
Now, 9 years later, the chaos looks different (and so do the toys). It feels like the right time to reimagine and recreate our nurturing spaces for 2015. Recently I find myself craving more color and light. I can’t seem to bring enough sun in the windows. I want to trade in my Oriental rugs for cream Flokati, and reupholster my cognac leather with grass green velvet. I have my eye on a pair of huge beveled mirrors. And though my husband looks a bit nervous when I discuss my vision for a more energizing palate, he knows that when my surroundings smile, so do I.
The mission of the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program is to improve quality of life by facilitating evidence-based health behavior change for communities, organizations, and individuals.
The Behavioral Health and Wellness Program (BHWP) offers training, consultation, and program evaluation to organizations, administrators, healthcare providers, and peer specialists. We have worked in over 25 states and provided services internationally. Our offerings include:
Training Programs and Workshops
We provide comprehensive training and education for administrators, healthcare providers, and peer specialists to build awareness and knowledge, enhance motivation, facilitate wellness groups, and create positive social networks. Training participants learn to facilitate their own wellness while increasing their ability to build, administer, and sustain effective wellness interventions. We developed multiple evidence-based training curricula to increase health and wellness for the general population as well as many at-risk priority populations. Programs include:
DIMENSIONS: Peer Specialist Program – Core and specialized skills for peer specialists
DIMENSIONS: Tobacco Free Program – Tobacco cessation and tobacco-free policy
DIMENSIONS: Well Body Program – Physical health and well-being
DIMENSIONS: Work & Well-Being for Physicians – Interventions and strategies for promoting physician wellness
Motivational Interventions for Behavior Change – Increasing motivation to change
Rocky Mountain Tobacco Treatment Specialist Certification Program – ATTUD-accredited TTS certification program
We assist organizations and their employees to create, implement, and maintain wellness programming. We offer education regarding the importance of maintaining overall wellness and evidence-based strategies for improving individual and workplace well-being. We provide comprehensive feedback and recommendations to support implementation of pragmatic and case-specific wellness solutions.
Program Evaluation and Technical Assistance
We provide consultation and technical assistance to organizations across the nation. We work with organizations to help them evaluate their current programming, define new goals, and implement effective wellness solutions. Our goal is to build the capacity for positive change through our ongoing, creative partnerships.
We work with communities, healthcare organizations, and government agencies to develop wellness policy initiatives that meet local needs. We have proven expertise in aligning policies and procedures with federal and state legislation on topics such as tobacco-free policy and workplace wellness initiatives.
We develop evidence-based materials to assist those working in health-related fields. Our resources focus on information about health behavior change, health risks of certain behaviors, enhancing motivation to change, and strategies and solutions to support movement through the change process. We develop resources for the general population as well as for priority populations who face health disparities or have specialized healthcare needs, including behavioral health conditions, criminal justice involvement, low-income populations, youth, and pregnant/postpartum women, among others.