Guest Blogs

Hubbard in Prevention is fortunate to have the support of a wide variety of local businesses and individuals who support HIP in their effort to to reduce the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs by youth in Hubbard County.

Wellness Matters is one such Community Partner. Wellness Matters provides services such as:

  • Therapy and coaching for individuals, parents, and families.
  • Diagnostic Assessments
  • Co-occurring therapy – integrated treatment of both substance use and mental health
  • On-line (i.e., telehealth) appointments

You can visit Wellness Matters by clicking here.

They have graciously agreed to allow HIP to post their articles that are revelant to the youth in Hubbard County. You can read them at the links below.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the High School Experience

By Emily Pierson, M.Ed., Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Are you a high school student during these “uncertain times”?

Let’s talk about the obvious things first. High school is hard. The transition from middle to high school brings academic changes. Suddenly there is pressure to perform in the classroom to prepare for college. There are more activities to participate in, more classes to take, and typically, more people to meet. And if that wasn’t enough, there are also romantic relationships, friendships and family members to balance too. We won’t even get into the taboo topic of hormones and learning about yourself.  All of that can be challenging to work through at times. It’s been even more difficult recently, considering we’ve been in a global pandemic for almost two years.

COVID has changed a lot of things recently everyone.  School has never looked more different. Distance learning, masks in schools, and social distancing has complicated and changed the learning environment. As strange as it seems to think about, some students have never experienced “normal” high school. If you were an 8th grade student when the pandemic began, you may still not know what “normal” (i.e., pre-pandemic) high school looks like. If you are older, it may seem like life without social distancing, quarantines and masks is a distant memory. It’s no wonder research shows that teens are struggling to navigate this “new normal”.

Effects of the Pandemic and Distance Learning

While the changes to the high school environment during the pandemic may have been necessary, they did not come without consequences. Routines were lost. Access to teachers was reduced. Sports, activities, clubs and extracurriculars were gone. Learning environments were changed dramatically. In a comparative study conducted by psychologists in Chicago, 32,000 families were surveyed about emotional changes they noticed in their children (1). Since schools closed in Illinois, nearly 32% of children were identified as being lonely, compared to 4% pre-pandemic. Twenty-four percent of children were labeled as angry, compared to 4% before school closed. Discussing plans for the future fell 13% in households.  Positive peer relationships declined 13.5%. Stress, anxiety and depression levels increased approximately 10% in all categories.

This is just one study, in one area of the country that was performed and released so far. More information is needed to understand the full effect of changes to the school environment. Some districts were able to go back to in-person learning at the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year. Others were unable to do so until the Spring of 2021. However, when students did go back to school, it was different than before.

Grief and Loss, Anxiety and Depression as a Result of Isolation due to COVID-19

Traditionally, when we think of grief and loss, it typically involves a death. However, it’s ok to grieve something besides the loss of a loved one. For example, it’s ok to grieve the loss of the way things were before the pandemic. It’s ok to want to play sports without a mask or sit close to your friend in class. It’s ok to wish you could perform a theater production in front of a live audience. It’s normal to want to be “over” the idea of quarantines and contact tracing. It’s ok to want to experience “normal high school” (if there is such a thing). It’s also ok to miss hanging out with or hugging your friends. School has changed. Activities have changed.  The way we interact with one another has changed.

Unfortunately, a loss of normalcy can also mean mental health struggles. Extended periods of isolation and loneliness can lead to depression and other physical concerns (2). The unknown and uncertainty can lead to anxiety and other stress related issues. Will we get to stay in school this winter? Will we get to play sports all year? Will theater and music programs get to perform? When will I get to see my friends without worrying about contract tracing? When can I see older family members without worrying about getting them sick with COVID? When can we be mask-free in school and other indoor places? These are all valid questions. The feelings of frustration, anxiety, sadness, or depression that accompanies them are real and valid as well.  Pay attention to signs for these mental health issues. They may include (3):

  • Persistent sadness
  • Excessive worry
  • Loss of joy in activities
  • Withdrawing even more from others
  • Avoiding social engagements or activities
  • Anger or irritability
  • Changes to mood, behavior, or personality
  • Weight changes
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Recurrent headaches, stomach aches or other ailments

If you are experiencing these symptoms, pay attention to them. They are your body’s way of telling you that something might be wrong. Grief and loss and other mental health issues can also come in waves. One day you may feel ok. The next may be difficult to get through. If you are feeling this way, it’s ok to reach out for help.

What to Do If You Are Struggling

If you are struggling with the effects and changes that resulted from COVID-19, you are not alone. Here are ideas for how to cope with the difficulties and changes that came with the pandemic (2, 3, 4):

  • Recognize your loss: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of changes and has, essentially, taken a year or more away from everyone. School, sports, activities, friendships and family relationships all changed or were taken away. It’s ok to grieve these losses and to feel upset about them.
  • Focus on your health: It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut during quarantine or isolation. Even when the world starts opening up, it can be difficult to get back into a regular, healthy routines. Make an effort to focus on your health. Practice healthy eating, hydrating, and sleeping habits. Exercise and move your body. Go outside to breathe fresh air and get some sunshine. If you have felt unhealthy lately, these basic steps can make a world of difference.
  • Reconnect with friends and family: If you are able, see friends and family in person. Yes, it is different than ‘talking’ to them via text or messenger. Being physically near someone can be helpful to our mental health. Being in proximity with friends helps us to regulate our emotions.  Make sure you are staying safe while finding ways to reconnect with other, real life human beings. If you can’t be in the same room, consider facetime or zoom. It may be helpful to see a friendly face.
  • Talk about it: Chances are, you are not the only one in your area that is struggling with the effects of the pandemic. Talk to a trusted friend about your feelings. It may be helpful to know that other people your age are experiencing similar things. You may be able to find other ideas for how to manage these changes.
  • Practice healthy coping skills: As cliché as it sounds, healthy coping skills are important. If things are still shut down in your area, you may have a lot of time on your hands. Take this opportunity to try something new. Here are a few ideas:
    Telehealth appointments are effective and convenient.
    Telehealth appointments are effective and convenient.
    • Learn a new skill
    • Create art
    • Practice an instrument
    • Bake or cook a new recipe
    • Learn a new board game
    • Read a new book
    • Find a new hobby
    • Do something that a family member enjoys
    • Redecorate or rearrange your room
  • Seek professional help: While talking to friends or family members can be helpful, you might need something more. If you have tried other healthy coping skills and still feel anxious, depressed or as though you are struggling, seek professional help.      Therapists and counselors are trained to help others with these feelings.
  • Telehealth or video sessions: The pandemic has resulted in the mainstreaming of the use of electronic devices to obtain medical and mental health services.  You can access the services of trained professionals privately without having to physically go to a clinic. This is especially helpful in rural areas. And the built in “social distance” inherent in telehealth makes it worry-free from concern about contracting the virus.  Furthermore, many teens enjoy the extra privacy of not being seen attending counseling appointments.

The pandemic has changed school, activities, sports and how we interact with others. It has been frustrating, anxiety provoking, and depressing for most people. But you don’t have to go through it alone. There are people who can help, and healthy ways to manage these feelings. Sometimes the hardest part is admitting that you need help.  If you need something, don’t be afraid to reach out.  If you don’t get what you need, ask again or ask someone else. The world may look a little different nowadays. But you can get through this.


About Emily

Emily is a mental health therapist providing telehealth services for Wellness Matters.   She uses a strengths-based perspective to improve mental/emotional well-being, relationships, and physical health.  She is passionate about helping adolescents and adults set and meet realistic, achievable goals, while also meeting them where they are in their journey.

Emily was born and raised in Alaska, where she received her Master’s degree in counseling from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  After moving to the “Lower 48”, she has been working as a therapist for the past four years.

Emily has immediate telehealth appointment openings available through Wellness Matters LLC.  Read more about Emily and other Mental Health Therapists in the “About Us” tab.

  1. How the Closure of In-School Learning Damaged U.S. Children’s Mental Health During the Pandemic. Retrieved from: https://time.com/5964671/school-closing-children-mental-health-pandemic/. Accessed November 10, 2021.
  2. The Growing Mental Health Effects of COVID-19 for Young Adults: The pandemic, school closures, and social isolation are all taking a serious toll on the lives of high school and college students. Health Central. Retrieved from: https://www.healthcentral.com/article/mental-health-effects-of-covid-19-on-students. Accessed November 10, 2021.
  3. Mental Illness in Children: Know the Signs. The Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577. Accessed November 10, 2021.
  4. Coping with Grief and Loss – Mourning Changes Since COVID-19. Purdue University. Retrieved from: https://www.purdue.edu/caps/covid-19/coping-with-grief.html. Accessed November 11, 2021.

Friends – Are They Really That Important?

By Emily Pierson, M.Ed., Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Do you ever feel like a piece of you is missing?

Like no matter how many self-help books you read, or how many times you try to ‘focus on yourself’, there is still a gap you can’t seem to fill? Turns out, the solution may not be found by looking within, but instead, by turning to others.

It is no secret that humans interact and have relationships with other humans. However, developing meaningful, positive, long term relationships with others can be more difficult the older we get. In school, kids have a built-in network of peers that they see every day. They don’t just go to class with their peers, but they go to recess, play sports, participate in activities, and eat lunch with humans their own age.   In other words, they get to do fun things with people who have interests that align with their own. That’s a lot harder to do when you’re older, and other obligations (work, kids, aging parents, etc.) take your time and energy. Putting time and effort into building and maintaining relationships becomes much more difficult at the end of a long week at work when all you want to do is go home and stay there. But are there consequences to not spending time with others?

Benefits of Positive Relationships with Friends

According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, having positive friendships with others are, in a nutshell, incredibly good for you. They can (1):

  •         Promote overall health
  •         Reduce risk of health problems
  •         Increase longevity
  •         Improve a sense of purpose
  •         Reduce stress
  •         Boost self-confidence
  •         Be a support system for traumas

In addition to the benefits of these positive relationships already listed, friends can help you to try new things, combat loneliness, and fill the void that you may feel without others in your life. Good friends can also help you emotionally or physically when needed as well as listen to you and be a shoulder to cry on. That support and dependability can be crucial at times. Friends also allow you to be yourself and accept you for you. You don’t have to hide who you are, which in and of itself, has very substantial health benefits.

Are All Friends, Good Friends?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is no, not all friends are ‘good’ friends. Some can be toxic, cause stress, cause instability, or unhealthy habits (2). These aspects of a relationship can actually have a negative effect your mental and physical health. Some negative social interactions have been shown to lead to inflammation in the body, loss of sleep, stress, and mental exhaustion (2). If someone in your life that you consider a friend is rude, degrading, unreliable, or encourages unhealthy behaviors or poor decisions, it may be time to reevaluate whether that particular person is a positive influence on your health. If not, it may be time to end that relationship, or at least take that person in small doses to protect yourself. Now the more complex problem, becomes finding newer, healthier relationships.

I’m Ready to Build Some Positive and Healthy Friendships… But How Do I Find Them?

Making friends can be very difficult. How do you find people that are your age, in a similar place in life (i.e. are in a serious relationship, are single, have kids, don’t have kids, work full time, share similar interests, etc.)? Unlike school aged children, or even college students who are around same aged peers often, it can be downright hard to find people with whom to be friends. Add in family commitments, a career, or other solo hobbies, and finding time to find and make friends can make the process even more stressful and daunting. There are ways to make and build relationships, however.

Get out of the house   

It goes without saying, that in order to meet people, you need to leave the house. With today’s technology, it can seem as though we are ‘connected’ with people through social media, cell phones, or other electronic means of communication all day long. This electronic connection can help at times, but does not always allow you to physically go do something with another person.  Getting out and meeting others face-to-face will help you to ease the loneliness that social media sometimes brings on.

Go do something involving other people   

Now that you’re out of the house, the next key piece is doing something that will allow you to ‘run into’ others. Preferably, choose a social activity that you enjoy doing (this will help give you something to talk about as well). Maybe try going to the gym or taking an exercise or class. Join a book, running, gaming or dog walking club. Take a painting, art, or photography class. Get involved with local government or volunteer at an animal shelter. The important thing is that you get out into your community and give yourself the chance to interact with others. One thing is for certain, you won’t meet anyone face to face, while staying at home. For some, it can be scary to do things on your own, but don’t let that stop you. Ask a family member or coworker to go with you. Perhaps they could introduce you to someone, or just be with you for support while you try new things.

Put yourself out there

Ok, you made it out of the house, you’re out doing something you’re interested in. Now it’s time for the hardest part; putting yourself out there. Understandably, talking to people we don’t know can be difficult at first. What do you talk about? What about those anxious thoughts of self-doubt? While it can be scary, try to talk to others. Whether you chat about the weather or whatever it is you’re doing (because that’s at least one shared interest!) starting conversation is the first step to forming a friendship. Here are some easy conversation starters:

    • Talk about the weather: Yes, this may be a tad cliché, but the weather affects everyone! Comment about the rain, the snow, the sun. The weather is a shared experience. After all, no one can control it, it just happens. It is a easy conversation starter and a great transition into other topics.
    • Mention current events: Most people out there have some way of learning about things that are happening in the world. Maybe bring up something that has recently happened locally. Try to keep this light and positive. It will help keep the conversation ‘happy’.
    • Discuss shared interests: Animals, food, drinks, books, sports, music, hobbies, hometowns, games, work, favorite places to go in town… the list goes on and one. The point being, ask someone about their interests. You may find something you have in common or learn about something new.
    • Ask the person questions: This may seem a bit obvious, but an easy way to get to know someone, is to ask them questions about themselves. Do they like to travel? Do they enjoy cooking? Where do they like to eat or hangout in town? And the million-dollar question; how are you today? Asking questions will allow you to learn more information about a person, discover similarities and differences, and help you to see if you may be compatible friends. Start with the easy questions and work your way up to more personal ones. Parade magazine has a great list of online conversation starters for you to check out (3).
    • Be ready to be a little vulnerable: I don’t mean this in an arrogant, ‘they seem full of themselves’ type of way. But what if the person you’re talking to is just as shy and nervous as you are? Maybe they need you to break the ice and mention things that you are interested in to help them feel more comfortable. I’m not saying tell them your whole life story the second you meet them but be open to sharing things about yourself. Sharing can help the conversation flow and will help others get to know you as well. Just be careful not to dominate the conversation. You got this.

Making friends can be an exciting and sometimes scary experience. It’s hard to put yourself out there, especially as an adult when you are busy with other commitments. Trying to balance work and family is tough enough, without trying to build new relationships with others. It is not impossible, however, science tells us that having friends is extremely beneficial to our health and happiness.  Get out of your comfort zone, put yourself out there, and you may just find someone that may change your life for the better.  Joe Cocker said it best when he sang “I get by with a little help from my friends”!

Emily offers a holistic approach to mental health and wellness. In addition to prioritizing mental well-being, she uses a strengths-based perspective to improve relationships and physical health.  She is passionate about helping teens and adults set and meet realistic, achievable goals, while also meeting them where they are in their journey.

Emily was born and raised in Alaska, where she received her Master’s degree in counseling from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  After moving to the “Lower 48”, she has been working as a therapist for the past four years.

Emily is accepting new telehealth clients – immediate openings are available.

Go to the “About Us” page if you would like to read more about Emily and the other Mental Health Therapists at Wellness Matters LLC.




  1.     Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860. Accessed July 18th, 2021.
  2.     Signs of a Bad Friend. WebMD. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/balance/signs-bad-friend. Accessed July 18, 2021.
  3.      Let’s Talk: 250 Perfect Conversation Starters for Any Social Situation. Parade. Retrieved from: https://parade.com/969981/parade/conversation-starters/. Accessed July 21, 2021.

Read more here.

Taking Self-Care to Heart

By Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD, CLT

We often hear about what good nutrition means for our heart. But, how often do we talk about what else is good for our heart and overall health? Taking care of our heart, mind, and body begins with having positive self-love and correlates to our happiness, which begins with nourishing our heart, mind and body together as part of self-care. By doing so, we are prioritizing our health (and happiness), which naturally boosts our ability to handle all the daily stressors that life throws at us.

The benefits of good self-care are numerous. It can boost our immune system, improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and confidence, and support healthier relationships with others. And, since we are not only in the midst of a pandemic right now, we are also seeing increasing numbers anxiety and depression across the spectrum from youth through adults and seniors.  So, the need for self-care now is more important than ever before! We all need it and the beautiful thing is that anyone can practice self-care and everyone can benefit from it. So, here is a little more background on what it is, why it’s so important and what you can do to start increasing your self-care today.

What is Self-Care & Self-Love?

According to the World Health Organization, self-care is defined as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” (1). Self-care encompasses our physical, mental and emotional health.

Self-love, according to Meriam Webster, is defined as “an appreciation of one’s own worth or virtue, proper regard for and attention to one’s own happiness or well-being, and an inflated love of or pride in oneself (narcissism).” (2) Many people think self-love is selfish referring to the third definition, but in reality, this is not the self-love we are talking about. Self-love means you accept yourself as you are, your flaws and weaknesses and you have high standards for your well-being and happiness, which is something we all should have!

If we are striving to be healthy, we need to put ourselves at the top of our priority and “to-do” lists and not wait until we may experience a health scare or new diagnosis that ends up being a wake-up call. Although, this is a good time to make changes too, we can and should be practicing good self-care every day. This starts with having a mindset that true health begins with being kind to our bodies, and also includes good nutrition, getting adequate sleep, stress management and healthy relationships.  These are all keys to our self-care puzzle.

In her book, Body Kindness, Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN talks about how we all have choices to make and each positive choice we make is a little investment in our health and happiness. Making positive choices can build on each other and create energy. Being kind to ourselves is about connecting with and make caring and loving choices that can transform our health into enjoyable habits. (3) This doesn’t mean we are perfect and letting go of perfection and giving yourself grace is a part of learning to be more kind to yourself.

So, how are you doing with nourishing yourself with self-care? Do you prioritize self-care and make it a part of your normal routine? Do you struggle with it being the last on your to-do list that often gets overlooked – easy to do for so many people who juggle working full time, are caregivers, and have little time left over at the end of the day. And/or you may think taking time for yourself is too “woo-woo,” not important or even selfish. However, wherever you are with self-care, let’s take a closer look at why it is so important to your overall health and well-being and some simple ways you can start to cultivate more self-care into your life.

Where do I Begin with Self-Care?

Beginning to embrace self-care is a journey and can improve your overall health and well-being. It can be hard at first and there’s no road map or cookie cutter approach. Much like how diets don’t work, self-care must be individualized to work for you and what your body needs at any given moment. It starts by becoming more aware of and listening to your body. So much of the time we are too busy going about our day to notice how our body is actually feeling and once we pause to just breathe and slow down, we may be surprised at what it is trying to tell us.

There’s one question you can ask yourself in regard to your habits and choices: “Is this (habit or choice) helping me to create a better life for myself?” This can help guide your choices and determine whether a certain habit is helping or harming your self-care.

Start with simple steps and with the area you are struggling with the most can help. Is it managing your time to fit self-care in? Perhaps, starting your day with journaling about what you are grateful for; spending 5 to 10 minutes focusing on daily gratitudes can help start your day with a positive mindset.  Another option can be to read or do a daily meditation to help you feel more grounded and relaxed; there are numerous daily meditation apps and books that can aid in this practice.  Or, maybe you could benefit from getting a better night’s rest?  Whatever area it is, you can make small, simple changes that will have a big payoff on your health.

5 Simple Steps to Self-Care:

Sleep – The secret superpower of self-care.

 If you are like many Americans who are chronically sleep deprived or who are experiencing sleep issues as a result of the pandemic and added stressors, this may be your first place to start and it may involve asking for help. Without good sleep, everything can feel off. Think about your energy, mood, eating and motivation when you don’t get a good’s night sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to serious health issues and deserves to be checked out. There are many ways to work on getting better sleep and it depends on what you may be struggling with such as relaxing and winding down for sleep, or do you wake up frequently and can’t fall back asleep? Having a good bedtime routine to help you relax and wind down for sleep is a good start. Eliminating “screen time” – including television and devices – in the hour before bed helps get our brains and bodies on the side of sleep.  Keeping a sleep journal can help identify what you are struggling with and then you can work on ways to get better night’s rest. For more information, check out the Sleep Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic from the Sleep Foundation (link at the end of the post). (4)


Starting or ending your day with writing and reflecting can really change your outlook by reminding you that no matter what your circumstances are, there is always something to be thankful for. Every day is a gift and we should take time to notice the people and things around us that make us happy and bring us joy. Better yet, seeking out ways to bring joy to others will reflect back to you in a positive way and provides a ripple effect. When we express gratitude  our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside. Try writing down three things every day that you are grateful for over the next two weeks and see how it changes your day. 

Manage Stress

 If only there were a magic bullet, pill of potion to take all our stress away, we’d all be living our best lives, right? Unfortunately, stress is not going to go away, but learning how to better deal with it can make all the difference in the world. Identify your major stressors and try to come up with ways to help manage them. Could it be taking the time to meal plan for the week reduce your daily stress of “what’s for dinner?” Or, maybe you can enlist the help of your spouse to watch the kids while you take 30 minutes to do something for yourself (i.e., call a friend, take a bath, lay down for a nap, go for a walk). 

Nourish to Flourish & Mindful Eating

Good nutrition is a foundation of self-care. If we don’t eat nourishing foods, our body and brain won’t have the energy and nutrients to feel good and do all the things we want it to. Becoming a more mindful eater can help to slow down and enjoy every bite of food and the experience of eating. Remember, it’s not about following a diet to lose weight to magically be healthier, rather it’s about making peace with food and your body and learning to enjoy food for pleasure and comfort when desired and be ok with that.

Get Outside

Getting outside for as little as 15 minutes during the day can be a quick energy boost and de-stressor. Better yet, combine it with a brisk walk around the block or down your driveway breathing in the fresh air and noticing how your body feels. Reconnecting with nature can be a natural benefit for your overall self-care and well-being. Yet, in today’s world, so many of us are stuck behind our screens or working indoors all day, we’ve lost our connection to the outside world and the amazing sights and sounds that nature has to offer.

Saying “Yes” to you and prioritizing your self-care can have positive benefits to your overall health and well-being. The choice is yours and after all, the most important relationship you will ever have is the one with yourself. Why not be kind to and love yourself more. In the end, you’ll be much happier and healthier and your heart will you thank you for it.

 Curious for more information, check out the resources below and/or contact Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD at kellyjo@nutritiousweighs.com.

For more informative reading about living our day-t-day lives, visit Wellness Matters blog by clicking here.



  1. What Do We Mean by Self-Care? World Health Organization. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/self-care-interventions/definitions/en/. Accessed Feb. 24, 2021.
  2. “Self-love.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/self-love. Accessed Feb. 24, 2021.
  3. Scritchfield, R. (2016). Body Kindness. Workman Publishing.
  4. Sleep Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic – Sleep Foundation