Area Mental Health Experts Offer Advice for Managing Stress

By Wendy Greenberg

By the time you read this, we may be in a different phase of the constantly evolving health and social upheaval brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: lost jobs, school and business closures, caring for the sick, and grieving for those we lost.

But no doubt the long-term mental fatigue will remain, and, we have been warned by experts, the insidious virus probably will remain as well. For many, the anxiety and stress are real, but manageable. For others, support is needed.

Area mental health experts — many of whom have shifted to video sessions, such as HIPAA-compliant telehealth, or offer basic landline phone guidance — are ready to help.

In a March interview, Dr. Frank A. Ghinassi, president and CEO of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC), and senior vice president of the Behavioral Health and Addictions Service Line at RWJ Barnabas Health, referred to anxiety emanating from the then-new coronavirus as “anticipatory stress.”

But that was then. Now the stress is long-term and “reactive to the realities of the pandemic,” he says. “The two- to three-week period of initial lockdown was a hallmark,” he says. “Many people have left their normal routines for that long before in their lives, for vacation for instance, but we are now past that timeframe. In week seven, you don’t know if you are on mile seven of a 10-mile race, or of a 26-mile race; there are no mileposts.”

There are few studies on this type of mental fatigue secondary to a pandemic response of this duration, he notes, because this has not happened at this scale since the flu pandemic of 1918. But the further we are from “normal daily life,” the more chance individuals will experience difficulty in coping.

“One of the main current differences now are that there very few people in New Jersey who don’t know someone, personally, who has tested positive for the virus and that has changed the level of experienced stress,” says Ghinassi.

Dr. Frank A. Ghinassi, president and CEO of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care.

Is Anxiety Normal?

Whitney B. Ross, Executive director of Trinity Counseling Services

“This is different from September 11 [2001],” says Whitney Ross, executive director of Princeton’s Trinity Counseling Services (TCS), which provides licensed professional counseling services. “The country and world had a spotlight on a small area, and supported New York City and its victims. It was helpful to the victims’ families, and the recovery was faster. We don’t have that now. This situation is new for everyone.”

“It makes perfect sense that we are anxious,” says Ross. “There is a lot to be anxious about. We will be dealing with the issues a long time. There are horrific situations. I would be concerned if I heard people were NOT anxious. The question is, how can we deal with anxiety in out-of-control situations?”

Uncertainty breeds anxiety, according to mental health experts.

“This is a time of great uncertainty, and anxiety tries to demand certainty, which is not possible,” says Rachel Strohl of Stress and Anxiety Services of New Jersey, based in East Brunswick. “It is helpful to recognize that it’s okay to feel the uncertainty, while acknowledging the difference between facts and feelings. It is important that people learn the skill of realistic thinking, as opposed to positive or negative thinking,” notes Strohl.

When Is Support Needed?

Belinda Seiger, counselor and director of the Anxiety and OCD Treatment Center of Princeton, has herself stated in an online introduction that anxiety is a part of being human, “but when worry, panic, or obsessive thoughts and compulsions take over, you need new strategies to get back to living your life, not battling your brain.”

Anxiety, she explains, “is a natural response to feeling threatened. Anxiety and fear are natural responses to have, but it’s important to distinguish these real concerns from our tendency to ruminate and obsess about things that are out of our control. Focusing on strategies to deal with our concerns, rather than engaging in worrying, can help us manage our anxiety in uncertain times like this.” more

Alzheimer’s New Jersey’s Walk to Fight Alzheimer’s is scheduled to take place at Educational Testing Service’s Princeton campus on Sunday, October 11, 2020. One hundred percent of money raised will support New Jersey individuals and families. Participants can choose to walk virtually or in-person at 660 Rosedale Road. Registration opens at 8:30 a.m. on the day of the event and the walk will begin at 10 a.m. Festivities include refreshments, music, and door prizes. Parking is available on site. Register online in advance at https://alznj.akaraisin.com/ui/walkalznj2020 and choose from one of five walks: Point Pleasant Beach (September 26), Liberty State Park in Jersey City (October 3), Princeton (October 11), Morristown (October 18), and/or Paramus (October 25). more

Pick your distance, your pace, and your race. The NJ Virtual Challenge is an at-home race series that enables runners, walkers, and outdoor enthusiasts to log some serious miles and earn a race medal and T-shirt in the process. You will have 62 days (from May 15 to July 15) to complete the total miles from the event you choose.  more

On May 15, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) educational system will lead a Zoom online learning course entitled Grow Fruit in Your Home Garden.  more

Penn Medicine Princeton Health will be holding the following free yoga classes virtually via Blue Jeans platform where you can participate from the comfort and safety of your home.

Registered participants will receive a link to view the class and you can access the live stream via your computer or mobile device. more

By Taylor Smith

Food allergies, intolerances, and even sensitivities in children seem to be ubiquitous in 2020.

Whether it’s a life-threatening allergy to peanuts or a less-critical sensitivity towards eggs that inevitably ends in a stomachache, modern-day parents need to be more informed than ever when it comes to recipes, nutrition, ingredient lists, environmental influences, and medical options.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (aafa.org), the symptoms of an allergic reaction include stuffy nose, sneezing, itchy, runny nose, itching in ears/roof of mouth, watery eyes, hives, rash, asthma symptoms, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. A life-threatening allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, which can result in difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, fainting, vomiting, diarrhea, and even death. Anaphylaxis can occur within seconds of exposure or 1-2 hours later. Young children with severe food allergies may not be able to accurately describe what they’re experiencing and may instead show signs of turning blue; swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat; and dizziness. Parents should immediately call 911 for emergency medical help. Both the child and caregivers need to have an epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector with them at all times for such emergencies.

Food allergies occur when a child’s immune system reacts to certain proteins found in food (mayoclinic.org). In most cases, reactions can be caused by even a small amount of a particular food, residue from that food (i.e. exposure), or a form of cross-contact (such as when a gluten-free product is prepared in the same pots and pans as food that does contain gluten). These factors can make it particularly difficult for families who want to keep their child safe, but also want to vacation, dine out, and send their child to summer camp. The experience of suffering a life-threatening food reaction can be traumatizing, especially for young children and teens. That is why it is recommended that parents, teachers, friends, and families are informed as to the best treatment options.

By contrast, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (aaaai.org), a food intolerance is not an immune response and is generally much less severe than a food allergy. Symptoms of food intolerance often include nausea, stomach pain, gas, cramps, bloating, diarrhea, skin redness/appearing flushed, runny nose, and/or indigestion. Clearly, if your child or teen experiences negative physical symptoms as a result of consuming dairy, elimination, at least for a period of time, is often a good course of action. more

Together we run. Together we can make a difference.

HiTOPS Princeton Half Marathon is moving forward with its October 25, 2020 scheduled race event. Organizers note that they will continue to follow safety recommendations associated with the COVID-19 virus, and all race participants will have the opportunity to defer to 2021 if they so choose. more

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, has released a guideto answer frequently asked questions regarding the intersection between coronavirus (COVID-19), and people affected by mental illness, their caregivers, and loved ones. more

Image Source: Yoga Vida

Simple yoga practice is a great way to begin or take a break during the day. These online services are particularly useful now, as social distancing requires normally active people to forgo their favorite fitness studios and gyms. more

By Taylor Smith

Russell Juleg, a land steward and educator for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, will explore the surprising diversity of plant communities in the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey, including historical and current attempts to categorize the various communities, at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve on Sunday, February 23 at 2 p.m. more

By Taylor Smith

Community Options, Inc. invites runners, walkers, and rollers (baby strollers and wheelchairs) to help raise funds to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities at the annual Cupid’s Chase.

The Cupid’s Chase 5K on Saturday, February 8 at the Princeton Shopping Center will raise funds to support people with disabilities in Mercer County. To register, visit cupidschase.orgmore

“Scent is mood. Scent is memory. Scent is magic.”

By Taylor Smith

Finding a unique and meaningful holiday gift for loved ones can be challenging.

“Like cooking, skincare is an art and ingredients matter. So, we use the simplest, most nourishing ingredients in all of our products. People see the difference in their skin. We’re promoting wellness and encouraging people to take advantage of that renewing experience that we get in the bath,” says Deborah Lukasik O’Shaughnessy, an art teacher, educator, and East End resident. more

High Mountain Park

By Taylor Smith

The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey is encouraging Garden State residents to stay active this winter season with the introduction of the High Mountain Challenge, inspired by New Jersey native Jessica Bagley’s running achievements. The Nature Conservancy is also hoping to raise awareness of High Mountain Park Preserve, a protected 1,260-acre tract of forested land in New Jersey’s Piedmont region (near North Haledon and Wayne). more

Dana and Christopher Reeve (Image Source: https://www.christopherreeve.org/about-us/christopher-and-dana)

By Taylor Smith

This year’s gala benefit for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation took place on Thursday, November 14 at Cipriani South Street in New York City.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation grew out of the community-driven Stifel Paralysis Research Foundation, which was founded in 1982 when Henry Stifel, a New Jersey high school student, was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed at age 17. The organization evolved into the American Paralysis Association (APA). When actor Christopher Reeve was injured in a horseback riding accident in 1995, the APA was one of the first places that Reeve and his wife, Dana, sought support. By 1999, the APA and Christopher’s foundation united as the Christopher Reeve Foundation (Dana’s name was added to the moniker after her death in 2006). more

By Taylor Smith

November is still a fantastic time to find fresh fruits and vegetables at area farmers markets. Here are just a few to look for: more

Dr. Richard Besser, head of Princeton’s Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is making a difference

By Wendy Greenberg | Photo courtesy of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Dr. Richard Besser, a pediatrician and head of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), has volunteered in a clinic in every place he has lived.

Seeing children once a week at the Henry J. Austin Center in Trenton brings health inequity into focus. There, in Trenton, the life expectancy for children is 73 years. In Princeton, the life expectancy for the same-age child is 87 years.

The clinic grants a window, he said, “into the lives of children, many of whom have profound barriers to health, children growing up in very different circumstances than the children in my hometown of Princeton.”

At a New York City health center, Besser met a grandmother who knows her grandchildren needs daily physical exercise, but was concerned about the safety of playing outdoors. He met a youngster whose asthma attacks were triggered by environmental contaminants in the family’s apartment. At the Trenton clinic, he met a mother of a son with significant developmental disabilities who has been waiting two years for services that would help him.  more

By Taylor Smith

Dogs and cats are typically considered “senior” when they reach 7 years of age. Depending on individual health, older pets may require more frequent exams to monitor any changes in health status. more

Mike Bloomberg

By Taylor Smith 

“Philanthropy gives us a competitive advantage, we think, in recruiting and retaining talent. And I can tell you from personal experience, it is also good for the bottom line, as good a thing a company can do.” —Michael R. Bloomberg

Headquartered on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Bloomberg Philanthropies was founded in 2006 with the purpose of directing funding and research to five major areas: the environment, public health, the arts, government innovation, and education. By “using data in new ways,” Bloomberg Philanthropies routinely shifts policies and advances progress, legislation, and public opinion. As an example, the organization has potentially saved countless lives by creating solutions proven to curb global tobacco use. According to bloomberg.org, “If left unchecked, tobacco use will kill one billion people this century.” more

By Taylor Smith

Housed in a former factory space at 240 North Union Street in Lambertville, DIG Yoga was founded in 2010 by Sue Elkind and Anime Jezzeny. DIG maintains a following among area residents who find that the architectural characteristics of the studio deepens their practice. Specifically, the light from the large windows that reverberates around the room and reflects beautifully off of the bamboo floors. more

Image Source: VisitPhilly.com

Coming November 23 & 24

By Taylor Smith

Ranking the nation’s top 10 in terms of large marathons, the Philadelphia Marathon typically attracts more than 30,000 runners, 60,000 spectators, and 3,000 volunteers. The fast and scenic course takes runners past historic landmarks, through urban neighborhoods, and along Philadelphia’s picturesque waterfront. Participants should keep in mind that the November race is a chilly one, with average starting line temperatures around 37 degrees F. The half marathon and 8K races will take place on Saturday, November 23.  The full marathon will begin at 7 a.m. on Sunday, November 24. more