Sapphire Community Health Clinic in Hamilton is offering a series of wellness classes this spring designed to provide some valuable skill sets to anyone of any age in the community that can help them handle stress, anxiety, depression, fear, unworthiness and chronic pain.
Although not all stress is bad, long-term stress can harm your health. According to the American Institute of Stress, stress is the basic cause of 60% of all human illness and disease, and 3 out of 4 doctor’s visits are for stress-related ailments. Stress related ailments cost the nation $300 billion every year in medical bills and lost productivity. Unmanaged stress can contribute to serious health problems and increase one’s risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke, as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that approximately 18% of adults in the United States are affected by anxiety disorders, and approximately 8% of the adult population is dealing with depression.
Deb Eckheart, Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Sapphire Community Health, will be facilitating these wellness classes. She said they are designed to increase a person’s emotional resilience and rewire their brain for happiness as a way of managing chronic pain by discovering more self-acceptance, contentment, and inner peace.
Eckheart has been exposed to a lot of pain and suffering in the course of her career. She started working as a victim advocate at Emma’s House in 2007, helping child victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse navigate the legal system. She got her master’s degree in Social Work in 2011 and worked for a couple years in the Darby School District as a mental health specialist before returning to victim advocacy and working for the Sheriff’s Department and the City of Hamilton doing civil and criminal legal advocacy.
Now that she is working at Sapphire Community Health, she said, she saw it as an opportunity to put some energy into getting out in front of the problems rather than just dealing with the fall out.
She said it is a bigger problem than many people realize. She said one of every three people in the U.S. is suffering from anxiety, and depression is the number one mental illness that people state as a disability. She said it was no different here in the Bitterroot Valley.
“I see a need to provide a variety of mental health resources in our community and overcome the stigma around accessing mental health services,” she said. Her aim in offering the wellness classes is to give people in the community a simple set of skills or tools that can improve a person’s overall health and well-being.
These lessons in “mindfulness,” these ways to reduce stress and assuage chronic pain without simply numbing it, she said, are not difficult things to learn and actually could easily be taught in the schools or in the homes. Eckheart saw the opportunity to provide this kind of integrative behavioral health approach to the wider community.
“Wellness of mind affects wellness of body,” said Eckheart. “They are all inter-related.”
Eckheart said that people can get “stuck” in their fears and emotions just like they can get “stuck” in chronic bodily pain. She said drugs are now available that can numb the pain, whether physical or emotional, and provide a kind of immediate relief. But it only masks the problem and it may serve to disconnect a person from their feelings. Eckheart said that avoiding pain by numbness was not a satisfactory solution. It leaves you disconnected from your body and from your emotions. She doesn’t believe you have to quit feeling pain in order to deal with it.
“Through ‘mindfulness’,” she said, “the pain may not disappear, but you can manage it,” by being fully in the present and learning to look at your pain instead of looking away from it and avoiding it or trying to deny it.
“You can look at it from a different perspective,” said Eckheart, “by being fully in the present, in the moment, and accepting what is without judgment but with curiosity.” She calls it “making friends” with your fear and with your pain instead of just wishing it were gone; going through your trauma rather than avoiding it or denying it.
The classes, which start on April 5 and run through May 25, are held at the Sapphire Community Health Clinic. The classes in April are all held on Fridays from 10 to 11 a.m. The classes in May are held on Saturdays from 10 to 11 a.m. Class topics include relaxation and stress management; mindfulness and body awareness; alternative emotional and thought response; facing worry and anxiety; coping skills for training fears; increasing emotional resilience and self-acceptance; healing unworthiness and shame; and trauma-informed mindfulness stretching. According to Eckheart, each class stands alone, and a person could go to one class or several.
The classes cost $10 per class or $50 for all eight classes. Anyone interested in attending can register by calling Sapphire Community Health Clinic at (406) 541-0032 or on the web at www.sapphirechc.org/events.