De-Escalating Stress For Improved Mental Health

After two years of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, people are feeling stressed. We have less patience for slights that we used to shrug off. We want people to listen to us and support us, but we sometimes may forget that they probably want the same things from us.

We might also feel we don’t have the bandwidth to extend more support to others. We might be a little less kind than we could be.

But in today’s reality, small annoyances can mushroom into big conflicts. We’ve seen shootings over parking spaces, people yelling at each other for wearing masks or not wearing masks, and a frightening uptick in violence throughout Philadelphia and across the country.

Sensational Headlines Can Raise Our Stress Levels

The smartphones we carry around often add to the tension. Social media, television, and radio programming often thrives on conflict and emotion. We are fed a steady stream of provocative headlines, whether they’re about the war in Ukraine, politics, or racial injustice. Even sports updates and weather forecasts are often presented in dire terms.

It’s important to be mindful of how these stories may upset us and try to avoid getting overwhelmed. Otherwise all this negative news can raise our blood pressure and increase our risk of heart disease or stroke, weaken our immune systems, affect the quality of our sleep, and generally worsen our mental health and sense of well-being.

Take Back Control

There are a few things we can do to de-escalate the level of stress in our lives.

Start by practicing love and kindness to yourself. Affirmations — positive statements we repeat to ourselves to help us overcome negative thoughts — can be a useful tool. Repeat gentle affirmations in your mind, such as wishing happiness and freedom from suffering for you and the people you care about. It sounds simple, but studies show that this kind of practice helps us feel connected and supported and increases our patience.

It’s also important to take breaks. Give your phone a rest and go outside. Take a walk, play with your dog, or say hello to your neighbors. Get together with friends in person.

And consider reading the news rather than listening to it. You’ll be able to better control which stories you read. Take them in at your own pace, and stop before you become overwhelmed.

Finally, remember that most people are having a hard time, so resist the temptation to assume the worst about them. If a friend, stranger, or co-worker makes an insensitive comment, it may be because they’re experiencing a lot of stress themselves. A well-meaning compliment or kind word from you could change their whole attitude and lead to a more positive relationship.

For more information about mental health self-care strategies and where to find help, visit

Kicking the Pandemic Alcohol Habit

The isolation and anxiety of COVID-19 created a gateway for alcohol and substance misuse. Two years later many people are struggling to reverse habits formed during the pandemic. Now we’re moving past what we hope was the pandemic’s peak. This is a good time to assess whether we need to reduce our drinking to achieve a healthier lifestyle — physically and mentally.

Nationally, we saw alcohol consumption rise 14% among adults over age 30. Among women in particular, there was a 41% increase in heavy drinking, according to a September 2020 RAND Corporation study. This is particularly worrisome since alcohol has a disproportionately stronger effect on women compared to men, due to differences in metabolism and body water composition.

Alcohol Impacts Mental Health, Too

Alcohol overuse has serious physical effects, from liver disease to increased risks for stroke, cancers, vitamin deficiencies, and more. It also impacts mental health in profound ways.

In the short term, it can lead to poor judgement, car accidents, and domestic violence. It is a known risk factor for sexual assault and death by suicide. Heavy drinking is also associated with depression, anxiety, and even psychosis.

Underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression can drive alcohol misuse, as people try to self-medicate to feel better.

The first step to eliminating dependence on alcohol is realizing there’s a problem. This is not as easy as it seems, because addiction changes the way the brain works and makes it difficult to recognize excessive drinking. In addition, drinking alcohol is an integral part of American social life and is depicted frequently in popular entertainment, and the temptation to join in is difficult to avoid.

The Warning Signs of Overuse

Experts point to several key signs to determine when alcohol use has become a problem. These include:

  • A craving for alcohol
  • The building up of tolerance — in which more alcohol is needed to achieve the same effects (sometimes accompanied by withdrawal — the experience of shaking and sweats in the absence of drinking)
  • Loss of control, in which a person drinks more than they intend to and is unable to stop.

In addition, family members and friends are often a reliable source and are usually the first to notice when alcohol misuse impacts work and family obligations. Finally, a sign of problem drinking is when important life areas, roles, and duties are negatively affected by drinking and/or its consequences.

As with most health concerns, a good first step is to talk with your family doctor or primary care provider. They are trained to manage problems of addiction and can steer you to the right kind of care. This may include therapy that can help you create a practical plan to change drinking behavior, think through potential barriers in advance, and develop drink refusal skills.

Treatment may also include several services including (but not limited to) talk therapies, medication-assisted treatment, rehabilitation services, and peer support.

Take a Free Screening

Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services has a broad list of resources for information and support. If you’re unsure whether your use of alcohol needs to be addressed, you can complete a free online screening at HealthyMindsPhilly.

COVID-19 has brought unprecedented stress to all of our lives. Two years into the pandemic, it’s a good time to check in with ourselves and plan a healthy path forward. Fortunately, just as we didn’t have to weather COVID-19 alone, we don’t have to navigate sobriety alone either.

Useful Links

If You Need Help

If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

For more information about depression, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit

Stand Together for Mental Health

The mind is the seat of consciousness, unconsciousness, and mental processes including thought, imagination, memory, will, and sensation. It is responsible for perception, pain experience, belief, desire, intention, and emotion.

Imagine this seat of consciousness and unconsciousness has been infiltrated and those processes are compromised.  How would you know? What would you do if you knew?  

Most experts agree trauma is an underlying (and often unresolved) common denominator for individuals experiencing behavioral health challenges. Trauma has an indelible impact on all of us whether from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) or traumas experienced across the lifespan.

The pandemic introduced another layer of complexity. COVID-19 forced many to operate, isolate, and perform in ways that created stress, uncertainty, and confusion.  Studies show individuals are more likely to perform better when their mental health and wellbeing (MWB) is high.

MWB is a critical part of developing healthy coping skills to manage the challenges we face every day. Mental health is defined by the World Health Organization as not merely the absence of mental health problems but as a “state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community”. MWB is central to effective human functioning. 

Let’s go back to our opening questions and expand.

For many people, the first sign of trauma is a change in behavior, especially in response to something sudden. For others, trauma may be something that has impacted us over a period of time and may become part of our everyday embodiment. Regardless of whether we are experiencing acute trauma or chronic trauma, the “what would you do?” opportunities are the same: identify resources and supports to help address trauma in a healthy way.

Fortunately, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) have partnered on the Together for Mental Health campaign. DBHIDS and NAMI remind us that anyone can experience mental illness regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender identity.

It is important to recognize there are common barriers to accessing treatment, such as cost, prejudice, and discrimination. We’re not all in the same boat when it comes to moving toward mental wellbeing. We ARE in the same storm of COVID-19 and the traumas experienced as a result, but we are in different boats. 

Recognizing these challenges, DBHIDS embraced the mantra: “it’s OK to NOT be OK” and launched the “Boost Your Mood” campaign. DBHIDS provides a variety of resources to support Philadelphians experiencing trauma, mental illness, substance use/dependence, and other behavioral health challenges.

Using Trauma, Equity, and Community (TEC) as a lens to understanding and addressing behavioral health challenges across Philadelphia’s diverse communities, DBHIDS believes that regardless of the level of stress and/or trauma we experience, we can all embrace mental wellbeing and thrive. We are #Together4MH.

H. Jean Wright II is deputy commissioner of the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) where he oversees the Behavioral Health and Justice Division. He has a doctorate in psychology with focus in clinical and forensic psychology.

Boost Your Mental Health with Exercise

Mental Health Awareness Month offers the perfect opportunity to reflect on and reprioritize our mental health and wellness. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking time for reflection is important; knowing what drains our energy and what gives us energy strengthens our ability to honor and take care of ourselves. I want to highlight one tool within our mental health and wellness toolbox:  Exercise.  

Exercise is an excellent tool for relieving stress, increasing energy, and promoting positive wellbeing. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 30 minutes a day of physical activity. However, you do not need to push through a session at the gym to receive the perks associated with regular physical activity. Walks around your neighborhood, opting to take stairs, and even doing squats while your brush your teeth can all provide benefits. Studies show that regardless of age or fitness level, exercise can provide some mental health benefits, such as:

Promoting happiness 

Exercise releases endorphins, creating feelings of happiness and euphoria. Research has shown that, in some cases, exercise works as well as medication in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression – and the effects can be long-lasting. One vigorous exercise session can alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time. 

Preventing cognitive decline

The brain typically shrinks in late adulthood, and this shrinkage plays a role in age-related memory decline. Working out, especially between ages 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevents degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning. 

Physical exercise is also important in remaining mentally sharp in advanced age. A 2012 study of people in their early 70s found that those who engaged in regular physical exercise, such as walking, retained bigger brains than those who were inactive.

Increasing relaxation 

For some, a moderate workout can be the equivalent of a sleeping pill, even for people with insomnia. Moving around 5 to 6 hours before bedtime raises the body’s core temperature. When the body temp drops back down to normal a few hours later, it signals the body it’s time to sleep.

Boosting brainpower 

Multiple studies conducted on mice and men show cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance. Studies suggest a tough workout increases levels of brain-derived protein in the body, which is believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning. 

Supporting recovery 

Routine physical activity during treatment and recovery will help reintroduce natural levels of endorphins into the system. This helps with feeling better, but it also reteaches the body that it is capable of regulating its own brain chemistry and mood in healthy, natural ways.

We all deserve time to rest and recharge so we can be our best. I urge everyone to prioritize their own mental health and wellbeing. We won’t be effective in helping others unless we first take care of ourselves. 

Andrea Brooks is Chief Program Officer for the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), where she oversees the Division of Behavioral Health.

Improving Transgender Mental Health Through Education, Awareness, and Support

The Golden Globe-winning television series Pose depicts the diversity, strength, and exuberance of the transgender (trans) community. Its popularity has helped viewers understand the real-life challenges of its characters and cast.

While Pose and other media are raising the profile of trans actors, too many trans people continue to face struggles that can impact both their mental and physical health. As we recognize the International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, we must work to dismantle the barriers to health that many trans people still face.

According to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, 27.9 percent of Americans surveyed between December 29, 2021 and January 10, 2022 reported symptoms of anxiety disorder. However, among people identifying as transgender, the figure was nearly double — 50.4 percent. And according to the 2015 United States Transgender Survey (USTS), Black transgender individuals are eight times more likely to report psychological distress than the general population. Additionally, more than 30 percent of Black transgender individuals report negative experiences when seeking health care.

A History of Discrimination

Transgender individuals can be challenged to find meaningful employment because of discrimination on several levels, says Lisa Phillips, LCSW, (pronouns they/them). Philips is the lead therapist at Morris Home, a residential drug and alcohol facility in Southwest Philadelphia for transgender people facing chronic homelessness. For example, they may lack appropriate documentation (a legal name change can be expensive), which can create barriers to finding both employment and safe housing, Phillips says.

These difficulties, combined with stigmatization and higher-than-average rates of violence toward transgender individuals, cause financial and social hardship and lead to higher rates of homelessness and substance abuse.

A Health Care Challenge

It was only in 2019 that the World Health Organization removed “transsexualism” as a designated mental disorder and coined the term “gender incongruence” as a classification in the category of sexual health problems. Another challenge that trans people face is access to gender-affirming mental health providers, Phillips says.

Clinicians unfamiliar with working with transgender people can perpetuate harm by misgendering them or making assumptions about a person’s lived experience. Some transgender individuals have been rejected by their families and feel isolated; some cisgender clinicians may not be checking for such issues or assessing appropriately.

Clinicians who are unfamiliar with the transgender experience may overemphasize gender identity when the real medical issue is something else, like depression or an eating disorder. Phillips notes, “A lot of times, when a transgender person is going to see a medical provider, the burden falls on the client to educate the clinician about their experience. That can create mental stress and detract from the quality of care.”

And making a gender-affirming transition can be a lengthy and expensive process. “For trans people that medically transition, there is a great deal of gatekeeping and limited resources, especially for trans communities in more rural or conservative areas,” they say.

A Diverse and Vibrant Community

On the International Transgender Day of Visibility, Phillips encourages people to educate themselves by reading about and listening to the trans community on social media and other sources.

“We have a lot to learn from trans people,” they add. “Trans communities have found creative and brilliant ways to survive, thrive, and create spaces of safety and joy in a culture that has actively sought to exclude trans experiences.”

If You Need Help

The Trans Lifeline provides peer support at 1-877-565-8860. For more information about depression, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit

If you, or someone you know, is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

Managing the Mental Health Effects of Social Injustice

For many in our region, an average day can consist of witnessing and experiencing food insecurity, discrimination, or violence. These social injustices are ever-present, yet can remain undiscussed and absent from conscious awareness, leaving those experiencing them feeling invisible. Then there are tragedies so horrific and incomprehensible that they move beyond local and community awareness to national conversation.

This was the case with Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old African-American woman who was fatally shot in March 2020 when officers forced entry into her apartment during a drug dealing investigation. The anniversary of her death reminds us of the painful year of 2020. We are also reminded that we have become more attuned to seeing tragedy and injustice. For example, a devastating home fire may trigger thoughts of inequity. We may notice who receives treatment and testing for COVID-19 and who does not, making us consider differences in access to care. Overall, our awareness has increased.

Social Injustice and Mental Health

It is important to consider the impact of all that we see. Witnessing or hearing about traumatic events can lead to complicated emotions, feelings of helplessness, anger, sadness, shame, and guilt. After experiencing an unsettling, painful event, either personally or through media, many children and adults dream about it. They re-experience the images, sounds, and feelings. People often find themselves replaying in their minds events that disturbed them.

Figuring out the best way to deal with exposure to painful events is complicated. However, Breonna Taylor’s death not only placed a spotlight on social injustice, it also showed us how we can respond to tragic events and how communities can support each other. In response to the loss of her life, people came together; they discovered their personal sense of agency, and they sought support. We can use these same tools to cope with the ongoing stream of painful events we observe in person and in the media.

Avoid Suffering in Silence: Talk About the Experience

When there is pain, many of us tend to withdraw and bury our feelings, but difficult emotions need to be expressed, and supportive relationships and community can help foster that expression. Following the death of Breonna Taylor, communities of varying backgrounds came together to give words to their pain and trauma. The grief and anguish were profound, but these feelings were transformed into words and narratives. People shared their experiences, which others validated.

As we are constantly bombarded with images of injustice and pain, it is crucial to engage our children in dialogue about their feelings, and talk about our feelings with close friends, in journaling, or with a therapist.

Move to Action

Pain can be immobilizing, and when tragedy seems constant, it can result in feelings of helplessness or a loss of agency. “Say Her Name” was one phrase that reverberated on social media. This demand for acknowledgement and justice for Breonna Taylor was a movement from a passive stance to an active stance.

Social injustices are all around us. We must find ways to explore our own biases, educate our children about injustice, advocate for others, and form more connected communities.

Seek Support

More Americans sought mental health support during 2020 and 2021, not only in response to COVID-19 but also because of the tragedies that we collectively witnessed. Mental health became a leading topic, and people began to recognize the urgency of attending to their mental health.

It is essential that we do not become so numb to tragedy that we ignore or attempt to minimize its effects. We all must continue to seek support through trusted relationships or through mental health services. As exposure to pain and injustice persists, caring for our mental health remains vital.

If You Need Help

For more information about depression, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit

If you, or someone you know, is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis: The Importance of Mental Health Care

Cancer is a whole-body disease. It affects people physically, mentally, and emotionally. Undergoing testing, diagnosis, and treatment can cause intense feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, frustration, stress, and fear. Studies show that at least 30 to 35 percent of cancer patients experience some type of mental health condition. At the same time, caregivers and loved ones may also experience many of these same feelings.

Navigating Cancer During a Global Pandemic

We’re also entering a third year of the COVID-19 pandemic — a time marked by loss, uncertainty, anxiety, and fatigue. Navigating cancer during a pandemic presents even more health concerns. People with cancer are immunocompromised, which means they must be even more diligent with COVID-19 safety precautions.

This also affects family members or caregivers who are doing their best to keep COVID-19 out of their home. Every outing or interaction can cause fear and worry. Treatment may further limit what a person can do outside of the hospital in the midst of a pandemic. Daily worries all are amplified by the reality of cancer.

When to Seek Help

Being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease will affect your mental health. It is totally normal and appropriate for people with cancer to experience feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, and fear. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept long bouts of mental health struggles. While patients may experience ups and downs in their mood, if these feelings last for longer than a few days, it’s time to seek help.

The Importance of Mental Health Treatment

At times, the challenges of navigating a cancer diagnosis (especially during a global pandemic) may seem insurmountable. But it is critical to keep mental health in focus when coping with cancer. In fact, a healthy mental state may positively impact treatment outcomes. For example, studies show that people with cancer who got treatment for mental health conditions had longer survival times. In addition, those who get mental health treatment are more likely to follow through with medical care and often have a better quality of life.

From Silence to Recovery: NAMI Members of the Black Community Speak Out

Ten advocates and experts share their stories and speak their truths about mental health issues in the Black community and take it right on up to the pulpit. From the trauma of racism to the alarming increase in suicide among Black youth and the stigma that stands in the way of life-saving mental health awareness and support, these messengers of hope are raising their voices to help individuals, families and their loved ones find help and community.

Remember NAMI resources are available: Call our HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) – open Mon-Fri from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET. Text “NAMI” to 741-741 – Available 24/7. Visit us online at Find your local NAMI at NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

Volunteer for Better Mental Health, Virtually

If you think the pandemic means that you can’t safely volunteer, think again! There are many ways to donate your time and talents virtually to organizations you care about. You can even boost your own mental health and that of others at the same time.

Just ask Courtney McDade, director of Public Affairs Programs at Independence Blue Cross (Independence). Since the pandemic began, Independence’s Blue Crew volunteer corps has not let up — it simply pivoted. Blue Crew volunteers have remained steadfast in supporting the community through remote and virtual volunteerism.

In 2021, nearly 900 Blue Crew volunteers donated over 2,500 hours through more than 100 virtual volunteer projects. During the past year, Independence associates completed these and many more projects:

  • Packed hygiene kits for students returning to school
  • Created education access kits for children
  • Sewed stuffed animals for dog rescues
  • Wrote cards to veterans and seniors

These efforts reflect Independence’s commitment to continue its volunteer efforts with community-driven and diverse organizations whose mission is to address health, community, and food inequities.

“At a time when people are busier than ever, there continues to be incredible engagement from our associate volunteers,” McDade says. “Many leaders of our business divisions are working with us to organize virtual volunteer projects for their teams and others are participating in our virtual volunteer events throughout the year.”

She adds, “We have even had dozens of associates volunteer for the first time thanks to the accessibility of virtual volunteering. I think virtual volunteering will become a permanent part of our program in 2022.”

The Benefits of Volunteering

Whether through work, with family, or individually, studies have shown that volunteering has a direct benefit on mental health.

Celebrating 20 years of the Blue Crew’s service to the community this year, Independence conducted a survey of local volunteers in March 2021. The 551 respondents reported a positive emotional connection to volunteer work, explaining that it drives feelings of connectedness, happiness, pride, inspiration, energy, optimism, and feeling informed.

Results showed that of the volunteers:

  • 74% feel like they have a sense of purpose
  • 67% feel closer to their community
  • 49% believe they can understand their community better
  • 47% believe it increases their empathy
  • 46% says it improves their mood

Among the Independence volunteers is Executive Assistant Helen Shoffner, who began volunteering after the death of her father as a way to find meaning amidst her grief. She started by helping kindergarteners learn to read, and has since donated more than 700 hours in a variety of ways, such as serving meals, donating clothing, and stuffing backpacks.

Helen remains a dedicated Blue Crew volunteer today, continuing to give back to a variety of organizations.

A Sense of Purpose

The sense of purpose and meaning we get when we volunteer makes us feel appreciated and can reduce stress. It may even affect us physically: according to the Mayo Clinic, volunteering reduces stress and increases positive, relaxed feelings by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Volunteering can be especially helpful to seniors because it provides access to social and psychological resources known to counter negative moods such as depression and anxiety.

Helping others increases social connections and helps build a support system based on common interests. Older volunteers in particular report improvement in life satisfaction and self-esteem.

A Myriad of Opportunities

While you may picture volunteering as working at a soup kitchen or repairing houses, you might be surprised at the number and variety of online volunteer opportunities.

For instance, you can share your career experience to help veterans and military spouses with career counseling and mock interviews. You can be the voice at the other end of a crisis hotline, transcribe documents for digital archives, help the blind via an app, or be a translator for a nonprofit.

Almost any organization you can imagine has virtual volunteer opportunities, so contact one that that inspires you and learn what you can do to help. Whether using your professional skills, exercising your creativity, or just being there for someone, volunteering is a great way to boost your mental health while making life better for others.

Where to Begin

To discover local volunteer opportunities, visit:

If You Need Help

While volunteering can be a powerful tool for improving your mood, it’s not a substitute for mental health treatment. If you’re consistently feeling sad or anxious, talk to your health care provider. For more information about depression, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit

If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

Six Wellness Tips for Cold Weather: How to Stay Healthy in Winter

The end of the year is a busy time. On top of that, the seasons are changing (winter officially begins on December 21), which can affect your physical and mental health. Now more than ever, it’s important to take care of yourself!

With shorter days and colder weather on the horizon, it’s important to maintain healthy habits. And that means doing more than just bundling up. Here are six ways to stay healthy during cold weather:

  1. Get a flu shot. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to help prevent the spread of flu. No one wants to come down with the flu — it can cause symptoms such as coughing, congestion, fever, and fatigue that can last up to two weeks. Protect yourself and your family from getting sick by getting the flu vaccine. Recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu between 40 to 60 percent.
  2. Wash your hands often. Winter is peak season for contagious illnesses; in addition to COVID-19, we still need to take precautions to protect against cold and flu. The most effective way to remove and prevent the spread of illness-causing germs is to wash your hands frequently. When washing your hands, remember to get a good lather of soap on your hands, and scrub for at least 20 seconds with warm water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to help slow the spread of viruses.
  3. Eat for immunity. As part of your efforts to stay well and avoid the cold and flu this winter, it’s important to eat healthy foods that support your immune system, including mushrooms, garlic, citrus fruits, herbs and spices, probiotics, prebiotics, and chicken soup. For example, yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics. Apples, bananas, garlic, and onions are good sources of prebiotics.
  4. Keep moving! The winter months can be a challenging time to stick to your exercise routine. Not only can preparing for the holidays leave you feeling drained, the cold weather can also be a deterrent to getting outside for some exercise. While it’s important to stay active during the winter, it’s also necessary to follow local guidelines on social distancing to stay safe. Consider working out at home with virtual exercise classes or exercise equipment, such as a treadmill or stair climber, and try to add extra movement into your routine throughout the day. When the weather is nice, take the opportunity to get some fresh air with a hike in one of the area’s many trails.
  5. Get some sun. While the availability of sunlight is limited during the winter months, it’s important to spend some time outdoors even when it’s cold. Sunlight has been shown to help improve your mood by boosting the release of a hormone called serotonin. Exposure to sunlight is especially important to help treat those suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression. Exposure to sunlight also helps regulate your circadian rhythm, which controls your body clock and affects sleep habits.
  6. Maintain good skin health. Cold weather can wreak havoc on your skin, leaving you with dryness, flaking, cracking, and in some cases, eczema. To keep your skin moist and healthy through the winter, be sure to drink plenty of water, hydrate your skin with an ointment moisturizer, and use sunscreen whenever you’re out during the day. Exposure to the sun’s rays, even in the winter, can still have damaging effects on your skin, so be sure to choose a sunscreen that has an SPF factor of 30 or above to ensure adequate protection.

Protect Yourself with a Flu Shot

Most Independence members can get their flu vaccine for $0 when they present their member ID card at in-network providers.* For Independence members who pay out of pocket at a non-participating location, you can get reimbursed for the cost up to $50. Visit our Immunizations page to see what your health plan covers.

*Call the number on your member ID card or ask your benefits administrator for more information about your health coverage.
Independence Blue Cross offers products through its subsidiaries Independence Hospital Indemnity Plan, Keystone Health Plan East and QCC Insurance Company, and with Highmark Blue Shield — independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.