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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Van Emburgh

EmiLeigh presented at NAMI's 2023 Mental Health Conference and Youth Summit

Recently, one of our team members, EmiLeigh Whitehouse, LPC, presented at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)’s 2023 Mental Health Conference and Youth Summit. This annual statewide conference took place in Chesapeake, Virginia at the end of June. This conference hosted many state leaders and experts in the field of mental health with a focus on promoting wellness, legislative advocacy, mental health research, and a special track for youth and their families. EmiLeigh provided a talk on the importance of wellness and self-care for youth which featured research on the importance of wellness, empirically supported practical strategies to take care of the self (that don’t involve bubble baths and face masks), as well as discussions about how to navigate systemic barriers in applying these strategies and staying well. These are some of the strategies discussed and practiced in the talk:

EmiLeigh Whitehouse at the NAMI Conference
EmiLeigh Whitehouse at the NAMI Conference

Wellness Tip 1: Breathe: 4-7-8 breathing is a special breathing technique that has been noted in the literature to be beneficial to the brain and body. Taking time to breathe is typically a well known strategy to manage feelings of stress and to promote wellness, but just how effective is it? Well, 4-7-8 in particular reduces anxiety levels and improves quality of life (Aktas & Elgin, 2023), improves heart-rate variability and blood pressure (Vierra et al., 2022), reduces breathing difficulties, anxiety, and depression (Pandekar & Thangavelu, 2019), helps to regulate attention, thoughts, and emotions (McFall & Jolivette, 2022), and consistent practice reduces feelings of burnout (Wood & Carina, 2023). You can learn more about this breathing technique and how to do it here.

Wellness Tip 2: Move Your Body: Another strategy that was discussed and practiced during the talk was all about being able to move your body. Those that were able and willing to got to experience the joy of movement. Simply stretching the body has many benefits to helping us feel well. First, stretching reduces anxiety, bodily pain and exhaustion, while raising vitality levels, mental health, general health and flexibility (Montero-Martin et al., 2013). It has also been known to reduce stress and enhance emotional stability (Kamraju, 2023). Stretching, even in a chair, can decrease stress reactivity, regulate mood, increase self-compassion, reduce rumination, improve meta-cognition and memory/attention, and improve blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels (Pascoe et al., 2021). Lastly, stretching has been shown in the literature to significantly improve bone mineral density, depression, and reduce eating disorder-related cognitions (Ziv et al., 2023).

Wellness Tip 3: Plan Self-care - While we often talk about practicing self-care, sometimes it can be difficult to follow through with applying the strategies. This is why it has been suggested throughout the literature to plan for self-care. Norcross & VanderBos suggest planning out self-care on a daily basis using a calendar or agenda. Planning for self-care creates a proactive stance towards it which increases the changes to engage in practices (Adams et al., 2020). Furthermore, creating a self-care plan assists in making self-care a priority (Butler et al., 2019).

Self-care isn’t just bubble baths and facemasks, but rather a multifaceted process involving the intentional engagement of practices and strategies which promote wellbeing (Dorociak et al., 2017). In other words, self-care is about doing things that make you feel good within the different realms of wellness. Self-care is a personal act and practices/strategies will vary for each individual. Therefore, it is helpful to try out a few different practices and reflect on which ones work best for you. From an intersectional identity framework, your abilities and identities can impact where, how or when you engage in self-care. Recognize that self-care is for everyone!


Aktaş, G.K., İlgin, V.E. The Effect of Deep Breathing Exercise and 4–7-8 Breathing Techniques Applied to Patients After Bariatric Surgery on Anxiety and Quality of Life. OBES SURG 33, 920–929 (2023).

Vierra, J., Boonla, O., & Prasertsri, P. (2022). Effects of sleep deprivation and 4-7-8 breathing control on heart rate variability, blood pressure, blood glucose, and endothelial function in healthy young adults. Physiological Reports, 10, e15389.

Pandekar, P. P., & Thangavelu, P. D. (2019). Effect of 4-7-8 breathing technique on anxiety and depression in moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. International Journal of Health Sciences, (5), 209-17.

McFall, A., & Jolivette, K. (2022). Mindful breathing: A low-intensity behavior strategy for students with behavioral challenges. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 1-7.

Wood, K., & Carini, C. (2023). A moment of peace: Utilizing practical on the job relaxation and meditation techniques to improve feelings of stress and burnout among healthcare professionals. Journal of Interprofessional

Montero-Marin, J., Asun, S., Estrada-Marcen, N., Romero, R., & Asun, R. (2013). Effectiveness of a stretching program on anxiety levels of workers in a logistic platform: a randomized controlled study. Atención primaria, 45(7), 376-383.

Kamraju, M. (2023). The impact of yoga on mental health. Indonesian Journal of Community and Special Needs Education, 3(2), 141-146.

Pascoe, M. C., J de Manincor, M., Hallgren, M., Baldwin, P. A., Tseberja, J., & Parker, A. G. (2021). Psychobiological mechanisms underlying the mental health benefits of yoga-based interventions: A narrative review. Mindfulness, 1-13.

Ziv, A., Barnea-Melamed, S., Meisman, A., Ofei-Tenkorang, N. A., O’Donnell, J., Altaye, M., ... & Gordon, C. M. (2023). Yoga as an intervention to promote bone and mental health in adolescent females with anorexia nervosa: a pilot study. Eating Disorders, 1-7.

Norcross, J. C., & VandenBos, G. R. (2018). Leaving It at the Office (2nd ed.) Guilford Publications.

Adams, M., Chase, J., Doyle, C., & Mills, J. (2020). Self-care planning supports clinical care: putting total care into practice. Progress in Palliative Care, 28(5), 305-307.

Butler, L. D., Mercer, K. A., McClain-Meeder, K., Horne, D. M., & Dudley, M. (2019). Six domains of self-care: Attending to the whole person. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 29(1), 107-124.

Dorociak, K. E., Rupert, P. A., Bryant, F. B., & Zahniser, E. (2017a). Development of a Self-Care Assessment for Psychologists. Counseling Psychology, 64(3), 325–334.


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