& Wellness 2021-22
Get your fitness back after the pandemic COVID-19 brings changes to healthcare How climate change could affect your health Maintaining mental health in trying times Where to find the best info on COVID-19 Health & Wellness 2021-22
Got the COVID-19 (pounds that is)? Here are some tips to get your fitness back. Communication is key — how COVID has changed healthcare
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Climate change threatens our health too Don’t forget your mental health — prioritize wellness. In the know — Get the best info on COVID-19
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Health & Wellness on multiple fronts In this year’s Methow Valley Health & Wellness magazine we have chosen a number of topics to focus on, but everywhere you look this summer, it keeps coming back to those two topics — COVID-19 and wildfires, and with wildfires, the drought, heat and poor air quality that accompany them. First, we explore how to regain your physical fitness if you’ve let it lapse over the past couple of years. You’ve got to be patient, exercise pros told us, and don’t push yourself beyond your limits. Having a coach and working out with a buddy helps. We’ve also included tips and resources to find the best and most reliable information on the COVID-19 pandemic, and on what you can do to keep yourself safe. Bad information is everywhere — it helps to know where to look for the real deal. Healthcare organizations have had to adapt to deal with the new threat from the coronavirus, and while they were still scrambling last year, this year they’re able
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CONTRIBUTORS Natalie Johnson Ashley Lodato Marcy Stamper Sandra Strieby
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to reflect on the changes they’ve encountered, both the good and the not so good. Telehealth has made seeing a doctor more accessible, but nothing really beats a face-to-face visit, medical professionals said. Taking care of your mental health is also important, providers said, and encourage healthy coping mechanisms and talking to your doctor if you’re struggling. And finally, a virus isn’t the only thing threatening our health. Climate change, and with it drought, heat, wildfires and smoke will continue to threaten our region and our world. We’ve also looked into the health impacts of climate change, and what you can do to protect yourself. If another year of the coronavirus pandemic, and another summer of choking on wildfire smoke have taught us anything, it’s that we have to keep looking out for each other, and take care of our health. Thanks for reading.
On the cover Laura McCabe, former Olympian and current Methow Nordic Team coach rollerskis on East Chewuch Road. Photo by Steve Mitchell
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Regaining fitness post pandemic
Photo courtesy Hannah Dewey Photography
Trail running is a good way to regain fitness after the pandemic.
Start small, practice patience BY ASHLEY LODATO
o you gained your “COVID 19#” when the pandemic closed your gym (or your yoga/pilates studio, or your pool), and you found it hard to regain your footing with a regular workout schedule once your exercise space reopened. You resolved to dedicate yourself to a fitness routine over the summer,
Health & Wellness 2021-22
but heat waves and wildfire smoke foiled your plans for outdoor exercise. You bounced around self-consciously to some online exercise videos in your living room, but you never felt like you got the workout you were looking for. And now your motivation is ebbing. Resuming an active lifestyle seems an insurmountable obstacle. But you’re committed to getting back in shape. What’s an aspiring active person to do?
Start small The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously reminded us that “the
journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and some of the Methow Valley’s most well-known fitness coaches concur: start small. “Starting is the hardest part,” said Alison Hanks Naney, licensed massage therapist, and co-owner/coach of Cascade Endurance. Jenna Kokes, physical therapist and co-owner of Winthrop Fitness & Physical Therapy, agreed. “The hardest part is just walking through the door or getting to the trailhead. Once you start moving you realize how good it feels, and [you] get to see those small improvements in yourself that make it all worth it.”
Naney echoed the emphasis on baby steps. “It can be overwhelming and intimidating to do longer workouts when you haven’t been doing them,” she said. “Do something that will leave you feeling accomplished and ready for more, rather than exhausted and discouraged. Try walking or jogging for 10 minutes each day, or 10 squats every time you pass a certain spot in your house, or each time you brush your teeth. It’s much easier to start with something totally doable, and then carve out a little more time than trying to do too much and either be too sore to do anything the following day, or miss it and be hard on yourself.” Sam Naney, program director for the Methow Valley Nordic Team
Photo courtesy Cascade Endurance.
Coaching can help people regain physical fitness in a healthy way.
youth ski program and co-owner/ coach of Cascade Endurance, subscribes to this idea as well, focusing on tangible progress. “Improving feels good, so you keep building fitness. It’s a positive loop.”
Make it fun Next, these fitness experts agree, make your exercise program enjoyable. Sam Naney recommends using fun as a gateway to getting back into a fitness routine. “Throw your psyche for a loop,” he said. With COVID closures and then a smoky summer, Naney said,
active people needed “a complete revamp of how with think about and motivate for training.” Exercise is critical for mental well-being, as well as physical, he said. “You need balance in your physiology—make it fun to start working out again.” Naney turns to music as a first step in psyching himself up for a workout. Citing Iron Maiden’s “2 Minutes to Midnight,” Madonna’s “Get into the Groove, and Freya’s “The Sword” as his personal calls to action, Naney said that completing “a series of fun, diverse, intense two-to-five minute workouts at higher intensity” with some of his
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favorite tunes blasting keeps him engaged and gives him a “quick and dirty shot in the arm” of strenuous training without feeling like it’s “drudgery.” For Naney, running on the treadmill is the epitome of drudgery. (“It was invented in a prison,” he said. “It was a sadistic method of reform, and sometimes I feel the same way about it when I’m suffering through a run on it.”) Still, he recognizes it as a valuable tool for maintaining fitness when outdoor exercise is not possible, due to air quality. “I maximize my enjoyment on it by cranking up the incline to 10-15%, doing endlessly different workouts, and keeping it short and intense,” he said. “That’s enough to make it meaningful and fun.” Also, there’s that playlist. The treadmill and other stationary exercise machines might be boring, but they’re far better for you physically than running outdoors in the smoke, Alison Naney cautioned. “[It is so] important for us to take care of our lungs and longterm health,” she said. “We have long-term relationships with fire season, so it’s important to think about how to modify our workouts and become familiar with AQI [Air
Quality Indicator] values and learn about fire so we have a better idea of how to mitigate the smoke.”
Practice patience When resuming exercise habits, make sure to cut yourself some slack; you’re not alone. “Remember that everyone in this valley has had an off year—or two,” said Kokes. “They are probably feeling the same way you are.” Even both Naneys, who are arguably some of the most buff residents in a valley filled with fit people, say that they struggled to find incentive to exercise during the weeks of smoke. “I had trouble motivating to find the venue,” Sam Naney admitted. “So much of why we’re fit and active and motivated to get out is to be in this physical environment. I had a hard time thinking about what I was going to do.” “My advice is to remember that your fitness journey is your own and everyone has their own strengths and struggles,” Kokes said. “The bottom line is that everybody is coming from a different place; everyone has their own histories of fitness, injury, illness,
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and stress,” said Naney. “You need to reassure yourself that you’re not going to lose everything that you built for yourself in terms of fitness. Our bodies are resilient. We may lose that acute sense of fitness, but it will return once we’re able to get back into our routines, in the places we feel most functional exercising.” “The things we do to adapt to circumstances, whether it’s gym closures or trail closures, it’s all just maintenance,” Naney said. “When things get back to normal, we can ramp back up and start to feel robust again.” Naney refers to some of the clients he coaches, who live in New York City and were in complete lockdown for weeks during the early pandemic. “They were literally not able to leave their apartments for days at a time, and even then it was only to get groceries,” he said. “But we created fun workouts for them, using body-weight type strength exercises for them, and they were all able to achieve their fitness goals later in the year.”
Don’t do it alone
MON TWISP BAKE A N
There’s safety in numbers, and this rings true for the fitness bandwagon. Not only is a group exercise setting a “fun way to meet new people,” according to Alison Naney, “it provides accountability that helps almost everyone.” Whether it’s a loosely-organized running group or a yoga or spin class at the gym, if we have some skin in the game—either a promise to meet others at a certain time, or a financial commitment—we’re more likely to show up for the exercise session. (“Part of why I offer classes is so I will show up!” Naney said.)
More information Links for seasonal and year-round fitness program options: www.winthroppt.com/full-service-gym www.cascadeendurance.com/ www.motiveyogaco.com/schedule methowvalleynordic.com/home-4/classes-clinics/ www.rebelmovementproject.com/book-online innmazama.com/activities/ methowcommunity.org/pasayten-taekwondo/ methowcommunity.org/yoga-classes/ methowcommunity.org/lfw-dance/ Links for trail reports for outdoor exercise: www.methowtrails.org/plan-your-trip www.methowcyclesport.com/articles/cycling-trails-conditions-pg176.htm www.fs.usda.gov/detail/okawen/alerts-notices/?cid=stelprdb5371608 Exercise buddies keep us accountable, and in a community that “is so great because of the value we place on physical health,” said Kokes, “everyone is so encouraging and positive.” Sam Naney added, “You feel like it’s worse for you than everyone else, but everyone has been experiencing these challenging times, and by showing up to classes you’re getting reassurance as well as providing it.” Workout group members buoy each other’s spirits. They also create an atmosphere of normalcy and solidarity. “If I had a dollar for every time someone tells me that [they’re too out of shape to be seen exercising in a group]….” Alison Naney said, implying that it happens all the time. “People are too busy judging themselves to have time to judge others! I often talk to people who don’t think they’re ‘good enough’ or ‘serious enough’ to have a coach, but training is for anyone. Coaching is like other forms of teaching, and if you think of it like you would learning to draw or play an instrument, it
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can feel less intimidating.”
Do it right Participating in a class also ensures that you are exercising correctly, which is especially important after an extended period of reduced (or non-existent) exercise. “If we’ve faced a layoff of exercise, we have a measure of impatience to get back into it,” Sam Naney said. “And there are all sorts of consequences of doing too much too fast. You might injure yourself, because your body is not used to the mileage or the weights. Having a class or a trainer ensures that it happens progressively.” Alison Naney noted that “It can be hard to know what to do to continue to improve; it simply takes more mental energy than you want to give. Having an instructor, program, or coach allows you to focus on whatever you want and have someone else figure out the details. Kokes agreed. “[An instructor] will do a movement assessment and discuss your goals and challenges
with you. This will allow them to create a specific program to help ensure success with appropriate load and difficulty. [They will] tell you what to do when you get to the gym and give you some direction. This then allows you to just focus on exercising instead of trying to program something for yourself or walking aimlessly around the gym.”
Play the long game Fitness goals take time to accumulate and “sometimes it’s hard to see that you’re progressing,” so you need to keep an eye on the small improvements, Alison Naney said. “Having encouragement from an objective source is really helpful to provide feedback so you can see the improvement. Coaches and trainers can show you the gains, even if they’re small or non-linear.” Sam Naney noted that a coach or trainer will “have a plan. They’ll be thinking about injury prevention, how your body has adapted to movement patterns that you’re used to, how a given workout will affect you. It takes the guesswork out of it for you.” Extravagant fitness resolutions often fail, typically because they’re executed in a grandiose, unsustainable manner. A regular, balanced exercise program—such as one prescribed by a class—is more defensible. Whether it takes something new and exciting—a circuit class, kettlebell sessions, Barre yoga, half-marathon training—or just a return to the familiar, doing it in a safe, structured manner gives you a better chance of maintaining the program. And this, say the fitness experts,
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Healthcare groups see lingering change — both good and bad BY NATALIE JOHNSON
n the past two years, maskwearing, mass vaccination events and drive-through COVID-19 testing have become routine sights. Stressed-to-the-max medical staff dressed head to toe in protective gear, missed preventative care appointments and protests over doctors’ orders may be some of the most visible and concerning changes to the healthcare system during the past two years. Some changes are here to stay, but not all of them are bad, healthcare providers say. Telehealth and increased reliance on technology have provided access to care that might not otherwise have been possible, and are one of a handful of ways clinics and hospitals have thought out of the box to maintain care, including pooling resources to better serve the community. “I think for one we are enjoying much better communication and collaboration with other health systems as well as public health, as well as emergency management folks and then a host of other partners,” said Family Health Centers CEO Jesus Hernandez. “The collaboration with other health systems is something that emerged out of the pandemic. … We intend to continue that collaboration.” Healthcare organizations were forced to adapt quickly, and worked together to organize mass vaccination events and reinforce guidelines on social distancing and other measures. They’ve also learned to face criticism and skepticism daily. “I think on a more negative side, I’m curious or concerned about the long-term implications about a
Photo by Natalie Johnson
Family Health Centers has experienced many changes to the way it provides healthcare since the COVID-19 pandemic, including an expansion of telehealth.
really politically divided community that looks at things through a political lense that maybe they didn’t used to,” said John McReynolds, CEO of North Valley Hospital.
New roles, new skills North Valley Hospital in Tonasket was the first in the county to be able to give COVID-19 vaccines. They got to find out first in the county what a mass vaccination effort was like. “We got to meet and register a lot of new patients that had never been here,” McReynolds said. “It was a great opportunity to connect with our greater community … It’s also pushed us to do some things we haven’t done before.” In addition to helping with mass
vaccination events, North Valley started a mobile vaccination clinic — a small bus that travels to some of the most remote areas of northern Okanogan County. Family Health Centers, usually focused on its family practice clinics, also headed outward to do vaccination events with farmworkers in Brewster and elsewhere. Healthcare groups also said the trial by fire they faced especially in the early days of COVID has helped them grow. “I think a lot of our planning around disasters and emergency management started with the assumption there are always supplies, you just need to find them,” McReynolds said. Early on, that wasn’t the case, spurring mask-making drives and
efforts to conserve and even sanitize and reuse PPE like N-95 masks. The clinics and hospitals had to learn to be self-reliant, but they also had to work with each other. That collaboration was important, and will continue to be, Hernandez said. “We’re staying very much connected and sometimes we put out messages together, right now for example, we’re addressing the (vaccine) mandate together,” he said.
A surge in telemedicine While the vaccine allowed providers to do more outreach and more patients to come in their clinics, early pandemic social distancing requirements meant some appointments were shifted to telehealth,
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which existed pre-pandemic, but became essential by mid 2020. Telehealth isn’t universally popular, but providers said it is a positive addition to clinics’ offerings. “Many health care visits are ‘virtual’ now. Some like that; some don’t,” said Linda Evans Parlette, executive director of the North Central Accountable Community of Health, which includes Okanogan County. “I think ‘telehealth’ or ‘telemedicine’ is here to stay, recognizing that one size does not fit all.” Telehealth isn’t always ideal, said Julie Wehmeyer, registered nurse and employee health and infection control manager for Family Health Centers. She noted it’s hard to do an exam when you can’t touch the patient, but it gave providers a way to see patients without either risking COVID exposure. It also helped patients who might struggle to find transportation to appointments. “I think Family Health Centers was very fortunate because they had the infrastructure from the IT standpoint to rapidly implement telehealth,” Weymeyer said. “And I think patients have appreciated that ability.”
File photo courtesy of Three Rivers Hospital
Free coronavirus testing was offered by Three Rivers Hospital, Family Health Centers and Confluence Health.
counts, COVID fatigue has long since set in. “I think the thing I hear more than stress is the fatigue,” McReynolds said. “I think that’s more the cumulative effects of just always being under COVID and never being able to escape it for a few minutes.” That added stress on medical
workers — from doctors and nurses to office staff who check in patients and janitors who sanitize rooms — is one of the reasons healthcare organizations are having staffing shortages. “I think staffing at all organizations is really tight right now,” McReynolds said. “A number of
people left the workforce due to COVID and I think generally you’ll see that at a lot of businesses where there’s just not as many people looking for work.” Making matters more complicated, area clinics and hospitals expect to lose staff in the coming months due to a state vaccination mandate for healthcare workers. “There are certainly some people who are not ready to or are even adamantly opposed to getting vaccinated, McReynolds said. “Even a really small percentage (of employees lost) could be impactful. In some cases those ancillary departments might be a bigger concern because if you work as a housekeeper or janitor you could probably find another place to work.” It remains to be seen if there will be a staff exodus, or if only a handful of people will leave. “I think it could potentially impact all healthcare organizations,” Wehmeyer said. “People don’t want to be told that they have to do something.” Wehmeyer noted the Twisp Family Health Centers clinic staff and providers are already fully vaccinated.
Staffing struggles The effects on staff at hospitals and clinics has in some ways been much the same as in other fields, said John McReynolds, CEO of North Valley Hospital. “A lot of our meetings are still remote or hybrid,” he said. “Our campus is less open than it used to be.” However, medical workers have a higher risk of exposure to the illness and there is a higher risk of having an outbreak than in a typical office. Especially early in the pandemic, when medical providers faced shortages in protective equipment, stress and burnout was high. “I think the organization as a whole (Family Health Centers) has worked hard to acknowledge the stress level for the staff and make sure people understand there are resources available both locally and through the employee assistance program,” Wehmeyer said. Vaccine availability and a surge in PPE production helped with the initial fears, but the day after day grind, especially as the Delta variant leads to higher weekly case
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Preventative care delayed, caught up “I think in the beginning with COVID there was fear and people postponed anything to do with their healthcare,” Wehmeyer said. “I’ve heard stories of women who postponed mammograms for a year.” However, in the past six months, she said, people have done a better job of keeping up with physicals and preventative care, along with well-child exams and childhood vaccinations. “We did see that yes a number of folks were not coming in for care, but then we did notice that once the vaccines were starting to roll out, it did kind of level out,” said Mariah Kelley, practice facilitator for the North Central Accountable Community of Health’s Whole Person Care Collaborative. She noted that the clinics she works with in Okanogan County worked hard to get people to come in for those preventative care appointments. Clinics and hospitals have also doubled down on efforts to go beyond basic healthcare in serving
their patients and put an emphasis on a person’s wellbeing, looking at environmental and behavior factors in health. “I see that becoming even more important in the pandemic,” Hernandez said. That could include providers being trained in “motivational interviewing” or having constructive conversations about topics including the importance of wearing masks and getting vaccinated. The NCACH works with healthcare providers on maintaining and improving quality in a number of factors related to “whole person care.” When the pandemic hit, they decided narrowed their focus for 2020 and 2021 on chronic conditions, specifically health metrics related to diabetes, and on depression. “A lot of great things have come out of this. it has really forced teams to have to adapt quickly,” Kelley said. “The metrics, a lot of them even though there’s so much competing priorities and it’s challenging, they still have been able to participate and move the metrics or even hold them stable during this time.”
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Photo by Steve Mitchell
Dense smoke from wildfires contributed to stress and anxiety, as well as impacted the physical health of many Methow Valley residents in summer 2021.
Changing climate, changing health Warmer, wetter world could lead to new health risks BY SANDRA STRIEBY
limate change is likely to produce a warmer, wetter world with more natural disasters. Locally, we can expect larger and more frequent wildfires; smoke, locally generated or otherwise; and earlier loss of mountain snowpack (with potential flooding as snow melts more quickly in the spring). Drought may become more frequent
Health & Wellness 2021-22
and problematic, possibly affecting food production. Those changes can affect both our mental and our physical health. How our bodies may be affected According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people.” We’ve already seen that happen in Okanogan County, with four
heat-related deaths this summer. Higher temperatures may also exacerbate or increase the incidence of illnesses such as kidney problems and urinary tract infections. Warmer temperatures are likely to result in longer growing seasons and earlier pollen production. Increases in atmospheric CO2 may also increase the amount of pollen that’s produced. Those factors can add up to more allergic reactions in those who are susceptible, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Diseases carried by ticks and mosquitoes may be on the rise, as well. Warmer weather is expanding their ranges and the seasons during which they are active, and increasing rates of disease caused by their bites. The Washington Department of Health (DOH) lists several ailments that may be spread by ticks in our state, including Lyme disease
and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. DOH also reports that Washington’s 40-plus mosquito species can spread disease, including West Nile virus, western equine encephalitis, and St. Louis encephalitis. Air pollution is also likely to increase, both as a direct result of temperature increases and as a side effect of wildfires. High temperatures increase ground-level ozone, which forms when heat and sunlight act on pollutants in the air. It can cause mild symptoms like a scratchy throat and breathing discomfort; effects can be more severe for people with lung disease and asthma. The greater threat in the Methow Valley is likely to be one with which we are all familiar: wildfire smoke and the tiny particles of burned material that it contains, according to Liz Walker, Director of Clean Air Methow. Those particles can irritate
Smoke Ready Checklist • Gather N95 masks • Ensure you can create clean indoor air • Know how to get air quality information • Make a plan for vulnerable household members • Consider ideas to stay mentally strong and engaged Learn more about each item on the check list at https:// www.cleanairmethow.org/ smoke-ready-checklist.
our eyes, noses, skin, lungs, and hearts, Walker said, and contribute to kidney problems, neurological disease, and low birth weights. “We will continue to have poor summer air quality … for the foreseeable future,” Walker said. She adds, though, that “there are ways we can learn to live with it, learn to stay healthy, that will make it easier.”
Defensible space Our No. 1 defense, according to Walker, will be to “create spaces
Photo by Natalie Johnson
Instant Brands, a Chicago-based company, donated 2,000 of its Instant Air Purifiers and 2,000 replacement filters to the Methow Valley after reading national news coverage of its air quality during summer 2021.
that have clean indoor air … as a safe refuge when we have poor air quality.” To do that: if you have an HVAC system, be sure it’s set to recirculate
air, and use an upgraded (ideally, MERV 13) filter. Many houses in the Methow Valley don’t have HVAC — in that case, using an air purifier can keep the air safe to breathe.
In addition, Walker said, “People need to use N95 masks, fitted well ... It’s worth the effort to find an N95 mask that you feel comfortable in.” Gathering masks and preparing to maintain clean indoor air are two of five steps on Clean Air Methow’s Smoke-Ready Checklist and are part of becoming a smoke-ready community that is prepared for seasonal smoke.
How our minds may be affected
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Climate change can affect mental as well as physical health. Amy Snover, Director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington and part-time valley resident, outlined four ways in which climate change is likely to affect mental wellbeing. First, there may be stress or anxiety related to immediate effects. “We know one of the most stressful things that happens in the valley has been the fires, and we know that climate change is going to increase the risk of fires,” Snover said. Fires are likely to be unsettling while they’re happening, provoking fears about our safety and whether our houses or land will be burned. “Along with that go all the challenges of it not being safe or healthy to be physically active outdoors in
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smoky times,” Snover said. “There can be real mental health stress over whether it’s safe to do your job outside or whether your livelihood is likely to survive or what economic stress you are going to have,” she said. Other traumatic changes, such as flooding or extreme weather events, can have similar effects. In addition to the stresses during and immediately following such events, people may experience grief related to loss of place and landscape changes; anticipatory grief; and feelings of alienation related to societal response (or lack of response) to climate change. Changes in landscapes and natural patterns can evoke feelings of loss. Some of those changes may happen very quickly, as when a forest is transformed by fire. Others may occur over time, as when trees stressed by heat and drought are killed by insects, or snow seasons become shorter. “That can bring grief, that can bring anxiety, that can bring anger or frustration,” Snover said. Anticipatory grief, or climate anxiety, is likely to be triggered when
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people acknowledge the prognosis for the future, “knowing the large changes that are set in motion, and that even larger changes are coming if we don’t drastically reduce emissions, and yet feeling resigned around an inability to fix the problem,” Snover said. Finally, watching communities and governments proceed as if climate-related changes are not happening “can be very alienating and dislocating,” she said.
Andrew Bryant, developer of the Climate & Mind website and a therapist practicing in Seattle, suggests four steps for dealing with mental and emotional responses to climate change. First, it’s important to identify and accept one’s reactions. Then, talk with someone you trust—a friend, family member, or therapist, for instance. “Getting the feelings out and naming them is a huge step,” Bryant said. It’s important to validate “realistic concerns or anxieties based on projections about the future,” and recognize that you’re not alone in having those feelings, he said. Once those two steps have been taken, Bryant recommends connecting with others who have
similar concerns. Whether you join an environmental group, collaborate with neighbors, or volunteer as part of a trail crew, said Bryant, becoming part of a larger community can help overcome a sense of isolation. Finally, take action. Taking the first three steps will leave you better prepared to identify “action that can be meaningful and aligned with your strengths, capacities, and resources,” said Bryant. Skipping the initial steps may lead to feeling overwhelmed and inaction, or action that doesn’t suit you. The ideal is to “find action that’s sustainable [and] rewarding” for oneself, recognizing that each of us has a unique role to play, he said. Both Snover and Walker agree that there’s much we can do to take charge of our circumstances and affect long-term outcomes related to climate change. Walker suggests we acknowledge the scope of the problem and then “do what we can. Work locally to make sure your property is as prepared as possible; engage on forest health plans; become a knowledgeable citizen—participate.” “The actual change we will see is not set in stone…we have to choose not to have that future, and we can,” said Snover.
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Guarding our mental health The threat of wildfires, evacuations and smoke causes stress and anxiety each summer in the Methow.
Photo by Steve Mitchell
How we’re faring in the face of COVID, wildfire BY SANDRA STRIEBY
ur whole community has been destabilized by the pressures of resurging COVID-19 coupled with another round of devastating wildfire. We’re all experiencing mental and emotional upheaval, while finding and seeking ways to keep ourselves, our families, and our community on an even keel. What we’re experiencing There’s no doubt that conditions this year are contributing to stress among Methow Valley residents. “I don’t talk to [anyone] who isn’t affected on some level by the strain that this struggle
Health & Wellness 2021-22
has brought on,” said Kathy Kirner, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Family Health Centers’ Twisp Medical Clinic. Everybody is feeling hopeless or discouraged or unsafe or anxious, she said. Methow Valley Elementary School Counselor Tracie Powney observed that families were stressed by the end of the 2020-21 school year, and said “I anticipate that the cumulative stress I was seeing at the end of the year will be intensified by the wildfires,” At Methow at Home, “We are definitely seeing ongoing effects of both the pandemic and smoke,” said Executive Director Tracy Sprauer, noting that spending more time at home in order to stay safe can lead to a sense of isolation. Room One staff have seen the mental and emotional effects of the current situation too, stating, “We definitely have noticed higher stress experienced because of wildfire and added
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You matter to this community. Look to the following resources if you need help beyond self care. • Counseling • Okanogan Behavioral Healthcare: http://www.okbhc.org/; (866) 826-6191 or (509) 826-6191 • Family Health Centers Twisp Medical Clinic: https://myfamilyhealth.org/twisp-medical-clinic/; (800) 660-2129 • Powney and Liberty Bell School Counselor Erika Spellman are available to provide support and referrals to counselors. See the link below for their contact information • The Methow Valley School District’s Counseling page lists counselors serving children and adults, and contact information for school counselors: https://methow. org/parents-students/counseling-support-services/ • Phone support for anyone experiencing stress due to COVID-19: Washington Listens, (833) 681-0211 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday • Room One offers resources to support mental well-being: http://www.roomone. org/#/mental-health-support/ • If you or someone you know needs immediate help, the resources below are free and available 24/7 • Okanogan Behavioral Healthcare crisis line: http://www.okbhc.org/; (866) 826-6191 or (509) 826-6191 • Disaster Distress Helpline: call or text (800) 985-5990 • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273- 8255 • Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741
layers of COVID-19.” They’ve also reported rises in suicidal ideation and household violence. Some groups are disproportionately affected by the combination of COVID and wildfire. “There was no outlet for kiddos and families,” said Room One staff. Kirner noted that “as the traditional family managers, women have borne the brunt of social distancing. Some have left the workplace and others have lived with increased stress related to the need for child care and home/ remote schooling.” And Sprauer pointed out that “it can be especially challenging for the people who have respiratory or other health issues to participate in community life” when they’re confined at home because of health risks outside. Kirner said that “Hispanic and Native American groups also tend to have a proportionally higher rate of COVID compared to total population,” which can lead to higher stress levels for members of those groups who feel themselves at risk. Others facing greater-than-average mental and emotional burdens include people who have lost income, essential workers, people struggling with housing, and those not able to leave the valley during the
smokiest times. Young adults may be among the hardest hit. An ongoing Census/ CDC Household Pulse Survey of adults reveals that Americans aged 18-29 are reporting the highest anxiety levels. “The main task in that age group is to develop relationships, which has been more difficult during the pandemic,” said Kirner.
How we’re handling it Local experts stress Methow Valley residents’ adaptability in the face of the multiple stressors confronting the community. “I’ve been impressed by how flexible people are. We have adjusted to an entirely new pattern of socializing, working, and learning,” said Kirner. Sprauer concurs. “People are incredibly resilient,” she said. “I’m always amazed at their attitude.” That said, she notes that “There are people who can spend most of their time alone and still feel energized and there are people who really suffer in that isolation.” Many people have found or created strategies to address stress on their own. “People are using exercise or social support — their usual
Photo by Steve Mitchell
Experts recommend using good coping mechanisms, like exercising, to combat stress and anxiety.
coping mechanisms that they’ve developed and that have worked for them,” said Kirner. Returning to school is likely to help students, according to Powney. “I think the kids are excited to see their friends and the routine of school can help them feel less anxious,” she said. Community organizations have been able to alleviate some stress. Methow at Home offers educational programs via zoom and a phone-buddy program. Both Methow at Home and Room One have been able to distribute air filters, which Room One staff believe “has been lifting spirits and helping community members navigate air quality and having to be indoors more.” In spite of all that, said Kirner, “it
seems like people have less reserve in their tank of resilience. The fires this summer seemed harder to manage in the setting of social distancing and increased COVID rates.” What can we do to pull ourselves through when we need a boost? Young adults may be helped by opportunities to connect through sports and activities that don’t include alcohol or drugs, said Kirner. Limiting digital connectivity can help too, she said, noting that social-media use “has been linked with increased rates of anxiety.” Users can be “inundated with mixed messages” and become caught up in interactions that may not be supportive, she said. Sprauer lists key strategies for all ages: “connection, giving back,
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education, becoming more prepared to handle extreme temperatures and air quality.” In particular, she recommends reaching out. “Asking questions, listening, reflecting back and sharing some of my travails” are tools she’s used that those around her have found helpful, she said. Kirner also suggests reaching out to give or receive support; her other tips include: • Be kind to yourself • Establish a daily routine • Get some physical activity every day
• Pursue a hobby • Step away from electronic devices whenever possible • Find safe ways to gather with friends • Be on the lookout for signs that you or those close to you may need professional help: trouble with sleep; inability to keep up with housework and work; irritability • Be on the lookout for signs of suicide risk — risky behavior, disregard for self, isolating That’s not a daily to-do list, Kirner notes. Choose suggestions that feel right for you—they should alleviate
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stress, not add to it. If you do want to reach out for support, take a look at the resources listed in the sidebar on [this/the next] page. Powney offered several ideas for supporting children through this challenging time: • Allowing and encouraging children to process through artwork and play • Listening; trying to understand and empathize rather than correcting • Slowing down the breath • Using grounding exercises, such as getting in touch with the senses
• Spending time outside Powney adds: “Kids will be directly and indirectly affected by our stress … when we can model healthy self-care in managing our own stress, it sets an excellent example for our children.” As you and your family navigate the COVID and wildfire landscape, remember that there’s help available, through both self-care and more formal avenues. Room One staff offered the reminder that, “We’ve been here before and we lean on each other as we move toward the next season.”
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Reliable information is essential during the pandemic BY MARCY STAMPER
hat’s the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 – and what precautions aren’t really necessary? Are there vitamins and supplements that can boost your immune system? What’s the risk of the COVID vaccine compared to getting sick with COVID?
The COVID-19 virus.
Although it seems like it’s been here forever, COVID-19 has been a factor in our lives for only a year and a half, so medical researchers are still learning about the virus. Beyond that, the virus has been mutating, and each variant behaves
a little differently. COVID has such dramatically different impacts on people – from no symptoms to a bad cough to life-threatening illness and longterm disability – that it can be hard to know what to believe. As health
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officials share new information about COVID with the public, it can lead to confusion and even mistrust. Fortunately, there are lots of excellent sources of information about COVID-19 that answer questions and address concerns in non-technical language that’s easy to understand. The information takes a scientific approach while acknowledging the anxiety and emotions surrounding the virus and how it’s changed our daily lives. There also are videos from local physicians who tell a compelling story of what they’re seeing on the front lines as they treat people for COVID.
What’s your risk? It can be hard to assess risk. We are so used to driving that we talk
on the phone, eat and multi-task without thinking twice. But we can be exposed to COVID-19 by merely breathing when we do ordinary things like go to the store or a social event, since the virus is spread by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes – or simply speaks, according to Okanogan County Public Health. That makes the risk harder to compare to specific action like getting a vaccine. It’s understandable that people have strong feelings about individual choices and decisions, and some people view requirements to wear a mask or get vaccinated as an assault on their freedom. There are candid sources of information that put these concerns in perspective with the risks COVID presents to the entire community.
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Get the best information on COVID-19 • Okanogan County COVID-19 page: https:// okanogancountycovid19.org See, in particular, the What You NEED To Know tab. Check out: *COVID-19 Vaccine * Trusted Resources * FAQs Under the News tab, find answers to questions under Common Worries and Facts. • For informative videos from physicians, faith leaders and community members, see the Okanogan County Public Health Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/OKCPH. The NCW Life physician video is at https://youtu.be/ZN4gmhp0ooU. • The Washington Department of Health (DOH) has a detailed list of FAQs at https:// www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/
FrequentlyAskedQuestions. • Lots of information and data are available at DOH’s main COVID page, at https://www. doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19. • The CDC has a wide variety of info for the general public, plus scientific papers and reports, at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. • The Harvard Medical School Coronavirus Resource Center’s clear info and recommendations are at https://www.health. harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/ coronavirus-resource-center. • The World Health Organization has lots of comprehensible info and graphics at https:// www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019. Check out “Advice for the Public” and “Mythbusters.” There’s also
good info about the development, efficacy and safety of vaccines in WHO’s “Vaccines Explained” series at https://www.who.int/ emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/ covid-19-vaccines/explainers. • You can watch WHO scientists break down the science of COVID in easy-to-understand videos in “Science in 5.” Videos are available on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Start with https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/media-resources/ science-in-5 or https://www.youtube.com/user/ who. • See how easily COVID spreads throughout a community in the Grant County COVID transmission map at https://www.ncwlife.com/ grant-county-health-district-shows-the-spreadof-a-covid-19-cluster.
A diagram from the Grant County Health District shows how COVID spread from one infected individual through multiple households, workplaces, social gatherings and churches to sicken dozens of people – people who’d had no contact with the first person to get sick.
Where to find reliable info Okanogan County Public Health has assembled information about testing, vaccines, and daily infection data in no-nonsense, easily understandable language on its COVID website. COVID-19 Common Worries and Facts gets to the heart of the matter on vaccines, addressing concerns like “I’m worried… the vaccines have microchips that track people” or “I’m worried… the COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility or impotence.” For suggestions of safe activities,
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This graphic shows how you can slow the flow of misinformation.
explanations of changing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and info about what type of mask offers the most protection, check out Harvard Medical School’s
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Coronavirus Resource Center. They offer straightforward advice about helpful precautions and let you know which ones are unnecessary. For example, you don’t need to wear gloves when doing errands or disinfect your groceries. Many local health care providers and community leaders have taken the time to make videos that explain COVID precautions and the vaccine, and to address people’ concerns and questions. Many people look to Facebook for their news, but it can be hard to sort out opinion from reliable, factual information. The Okanogan County Public Health Facebook page offers links to candid videos from the people who work in local hospitals and clinics, from faith leaders, and from community members who’ve been sick with COVID or gotten the
vaccine, that help people understand the day-to-day impacts of COVID in their community. In particular, check out the Aug. 30 video produced by NCW Life featuring two physicians, infectious disease specialist Mark Johnson at Confluence Health in Wenatchee and Tanya Sorenson, in maternal fetal medicine at Swedish Hospital in Seattle. Johnson talks about how many people are critically ill with COVID at Central Washington Hospital, virtually all of them unvaccinated, and 40% age 40 or younger. Sorensen has been treating severely ill pregnant women in the ICU, and has seen some die from COVID. She describes how the risk spreads to the babies, since doctors have to deliver some of them prematurely to help the mother breathe. The World Health Organization has lots of clear information under “Advice for the Public,” including a special section devoted to “Mythbusters.” You can also take a quiz to assess your risk of getting COVID. Under Mythbusters, you can find information on everything from the effects of cold weather on the coronavirus to whether adding hot peppers to your food will kill the virus. For people who don’t use a computer or who’d rather get information from someone they know, call your doctor or health care provider. They can provide information specific to your health status and concerns.
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