Poll: Utah worst in nation for emotional burnout

Tuesday , February 17, 2015 - 1:13 AM

Take notice, fellow Utahns, that we’re in danger of burnout.

A recent study has declared that when it comes to taking action to “renew, refresh and recharge” our emotional well-being, Utah residents rank at the bottom of the heap. As in dead last in the field of 50 states.

The poll, conducted by the Lantern company of San Francisco, found the Beehive State the least emotionally recharged state in the nation, with just 40 percent of its inhabitants engaging in behaviors to promote a better state of mind.

We don’t have as many meaningful conversations with friends, according to the survey. We don’t take time to learn something new as often as others. We don’t do as many good deeds, or take time out for ourselves.

The survey of 3,000 Americans — a random sample conducted Dec. 26 to Jan. 9 — was not “super scientific” in its approach, says Alejandro Foung, co-founder and CEO of Lantern, but simply gathered responses to a series of questions and compared them by folks’ states of residence.

Yet whether you live in Utah or New Hampshire — the nation’s most emotionally recharged state — the takeaway is that most of us could benefit from paying more attention to our mental health, Foung says in a phone interview from San Francisco.

“Working on your emotional well-being is just as important as working on your physical well- being,” he says. “Having a healthy mind is just as important as having a healthy body.”

Setting things aside

That Utah would fare so poorly on the Lantern Emotional Balance Index is not news to two Top of Utah mental health experts.

“That doesn’t surprise me in the least,” says Michael Olpin, director of the Stress Relief Center at Weber State University in Ogden. “As far as my way of thinking of being emotionally recharged, I think we do a dismal job of it.”

Heather Potokar, a Layton licensed clinical social worker, agrees, adding that because Utahns are often overwhelmed with family obligations, religious obligations, and school and other volunteer obligations, “it’s really easy to set aside emotionally recharging.”

And given the culture of Utah’s predominant religion, Potokar also says, “There is a lot of pressure and expectations and things to live up to. I would say that would probably be part of Utah being at the end of the list, honestly.”

Many states at the bottom of the list are located in the West and Midwest, Foung says, so one explanation for their ranking might be their more rural nature.

“When you have less dense of populations, there can be a little bit of isolation,” he says.

Another factor could be that there’s more stigma about mental health and less access to mental health care in Utah than in other parts of the country, says Foung, whose company has created an app for evaluating and improving mind health.

Also, Foung says the survey was conducted during the winter and some of the top emotionally recharged states have more urban areas, where people are more apt to be getting out to walk to the store or to meet friends.

In the middle of winter in Wyoming, he quips, “You’re probably not leaving the house as much.”

Recharging a ‘must’

Taking time to recharge our emotional batteries is vital because there’s a direct connection between mental and physical health, the experts say.

“Chronic stress is responsible for just as many health problems as anything else we know of, or plays a part in just as many health problems as anything else,” Olpin says.

Being emotionally recharged means setting aside some time for yourself every day to “refill your bucket,” Potokar says. That might mean sitting quietly for five minutes or taking a long bubble bath or going for a 1-hour walk.

It all boils down to “filling your reservoir,” adds Randy Chatelain, an Ogden marriage and family therapist. People need to look for things that allow them to “enjoy the journey” in life rather than just survive it, he says.

Feeling emotionally recharged allows us to better cope with the normal stresses of life, Potokar says.

No time to unwind or recharge?

Schedule it in your planner if you have to, Potokar says. Everyone’s busy, she continues, but, “At the same time, we have to remember ourselves. We are just as important as all these little tasks we have to get done.”

Olpin agrees, adding that if we took time to truly recharge -- to watch a sunset or stop and mediate, for instance — then, “All the other things we do, we would do much better.”

People not only need to make time to relax and unwind, they need to fight for it and protect it, Chatelain says, explaining, “If you don’t make the time, you’re not going to have it left over at the end of the day.”

Not taking time to recharge puts Utah as a leader of the pack in terms of stress and depression rates, he says.

“We take more depression medication than other other state in the country and that doesn’t happen by accident,” Olpin says.

Shame, stigma

Olpin says research consistently shows the way to keep your body, mind and life in balance is to do five things regularly: meditate, practice yoga and aerobic exercise, adopt healthy eating habits and engage in social interactions.

After students in his classes at Weber State University practice these things for a semester, Olpin says they will tell him, “This was life-transforming, this has really changed how I approach everything.”

Keying in to our mental health can be difficult to do, Foung says. You assess your physical health every time you look in a mirror, but it can be easy to ignore or set aside our emotions, he says.

And there is still a stigma in today’s society about needing any help with our mental health, the Lantern co-founder says.

“There is a shame around it, like ‘Something is wrong with me,’” he says.

If someone has cancer, we tell them, “Oh that’s really unfortunate that happened to you,” Foung says. With mental illness, we tend to think, “You did this to yourself. People would never say, ‘You brought this cancer on.’ ... It’s kind of a weird thing we do.”

Lantern’s app (found at www.golantern.com) offers a free assessment of emotional health and then pairs folks with a coach, to help them work on any problems. Foung says using new technology to address mental health offers another approach to traditional methods like self-help books or therapy sessions.

“We’re not a replacement for therapy,” he says — just another option that is affordable (about $25) and readily accessible. The program is also anonymous, he says, so, “That’s a way for people to approach this issue and not necessarily feel as much stigma.”

Contact reporter Becky Cairns at 801-625-4276 or bcairns@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @bccairns or like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SEbeckycairns.

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