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Mental Health Mondays: Taking a Break

Posted on June 29th, 2020 by

We are not mental health professionals. If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like anxiety or depression, or they are impacting your daily life, please reach out to professionals who can help you. If you need immediate help, use the National Suicide Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, which offers online chats as well. Jewish Community Services also offer help to people experiencing emotional crises.

We aim to provide some tips and guides to help those who are self-isolating and to connect with our JMM community. These ideas might not work for everyone, but we hope that by starting the conversation about mental health, we can inspire you to take a moment to breathe and reflect on what you need today to feel good.

Breaks are important. They help us to refocus and recharge. Taking a break can help you escape a certain mindset, find perspective, and make time to reflect. Whether you’re taking a break from social media, taking a few days off from work, or finding times throughout your busy day to relax, we encourage you to take the time for yourself. In fact, we’ll be doing the same.

In this black and white image, a woman in a bathing suit, a hat, and a towel around her shoulders reclines in a folding chair on the beach. There are other people on the beach in the background of the image, also dressed in bathing suits and costumes.

Even if it’s not safe to visit the beach right now, laying outside and catching some sun can do wonders for your mood and creativity. JMM 1993.59.16.1

Taking just five minutes to move around during your workday can have huge benefits. Getting enough exercise throughout the week is important to maintaining physical health, but it can also help lift your mood and allow you to return to work feeling refreshed and happy. Just getting a brain break from the projects you’re working on can help you to be more productive, as this study suggests.

There have been many different conversations about how workers can be more productive and tools for people to use. A common method is the Pomodoro Method, developed by Francesco Cirillo in the ‘80s. This method calls for setting a timer (or using one of the dedicated apps for this method available on your smartphone) for 25 minutes of work on a specific task. After focusing for 25 minutes, you take a 5-minute break. You repeat this process four times, you take a longer 10-15-minute break. Of course, you can also adapt this system of focus times and short breaks to whatever you need to get done during your day. But those breaks are essential for your brain to relax and actually absorb the information you’re working with.

A red tomato shaped kitchen timer. It has numbers written on it to show how much time is left on the timer.

The Pomodoro method is named after the tomato timer that Cirillo used as a student.

There are many more ways to incorporate breaks into your daily life or for an upcoming chance to relax. Your health should be your priority, and having the opportunity to recharge will allow you to tackle challenges even better!

As we continue creating online content and plan for the future reopening of JMM, we’ve decided to take a break from our regular MHM blog posts, as well as our Voter Education posts. It doesn’t mean we’ll never return to each series, and in fact, we’ll probably pepper in a few mental health tips on our Facebook and Twitter, but we’re going to pause on our longer posts for now.

If you have any mental health tips to share with others, please let us know! And if you have topics in mind for when we return to the series, send them our way. We love hearing from you and helping everyone to find connections and growth.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Voter Education: Mail-in Votes

Posted on June 26th, 2020 by

As primary elections continue during the pandemic, there’s been lots of discourse about mail-in voting or absentee voting. We’ve talked about absentee voting before, and how you can request an absentee ballot in Maryland right on the Board of Elections website. I just did it this morning and it took about five minutes to fill out the application. Of course, it may not be easy for everyone to request an absentee ballot as you may need to provide an excuse, you usually need to have a state-issued ID ready to fill out the information, and more. If you are unsure how to request your absentee ballot, visit which has a page dedicated to helping people access their absentee ballot.

In this black and white image, an older, white man steps out of a polling booth, which has curtains he's pulling aside for privacy.

Voting in person is still risky, especially as voting sites become more crowded during this important election year. JMM 2012.054.140.041

Voting by mail is slightly different than absentee ballots. When a state or jurisdiction decides to use vote by mail, as Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii do, it means that all 100% of the ballots are mail-in ballots, sent to voters’ addresses. As election officials and leaders grappled with the challenges of voting during COVID-19, some have chosen to do mail-in votes, as Maryland did for the primary election. This quick change in plans did cause some delays and issues, but it allowed voters to safely cast their ballots without overloading polling centers, as other states experienced over the past few weeks.

Outside a bus, two women dressed in nurse uniforms help an older woman get to the bus.

Getting to the polls can be difficult for some people. Here two nurses help a Levindale resident onto a bus that is shuttling people to the polling site during the 1968 election. JMM 1997.134.452

Voting by mail or voting at home as the practice is called in certain states is a reliable and accessible way to vote. Despite accusations that voting by mail leads to a rise in voting fraud, there is no more fraud than there is among in-person ballots, and these instances are easily identified. (In fact, voter fraud is a pretty rare crime overall. You can view the Heritage Foundation’s research on voter fraud to see the numbers they’ve collected of actual convicted instances of voter fraud). Rather, voting by mail has actually led to higher turnout rates, as states with the policy in place have experienced. In this report by America Goes to the Polls, about the 2018 midterm election, they found that the states with vote-by-mail policies had some of the highest turnouts in the country.

Part of this may be due to the accessibility of voting by mail. You don’t need to take time off work, you don’t need to leave your home and fight traffic to get to the polls, you don’t need to wait in line. And these issues that prevent people from voting in person disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people. So, it makes sense that the states that enacted vote-by-mail had higher rates of cast ballots, as the policy solves many of the problems that people face.

This image shows Fallstaff Middle School cafeteria where a polling site is set up. There are some people sitting at the tables to check in voters and some people signing in to vote.

Low voter turnout in the US is a common problem for each election. The bottom of this photo has the note “Fallstaff Middle School – a scarcity of voters”. A lack of voters can be because of voter suppression, people are unable to access voting places, or due to apathy. JMM 2012.054.140.016

Voting by mail doesn’t directly affect election results either, other than encouraging more people to vote. As evidence, such as the work done by Standford University researchers, voting-by-mail does not actually favor one political party over another. The only change it brings is allowing more accessibility to vote for everyone, raising participation. Well, the other change is that it can actually save voters money, but otherwise, it is a safe and reliable way to vote.

A crowd of people stand outside glass doors and windows. Many of them are knocking against the windows with their hands.

On Tuesday, 6/23, voters in Kentucky were locked out of a polling place, despite waiting in line. They knocked on windows and doors, demanding that the election workers “Open that door.” Eventually, they were allowed to vote by an injunction filed by Democratic Senate candidate Charles booker.

As more states experience issues such as long lines, absentee ballot mix-ups, and limited polling places, all things that cause voter suppression, it’d be worth investing more time and money in reliable and safe ways to vote, especially as the threat of coronavirus is far from over.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Mental Health Mondays: Sleep

Posted on June 22nd, 2020 by

We are not mental health professionals. If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like anxiety or depression, or they are impacting your daily life, please reach out to professionals who can help you. If you need immediate help, use the National Suicide Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, which offers online chats as well. Jewish Community Services also offer help to people experiencing emotional crises.

We aim to provide some tips and guides to help those who are self-isolating and to connect with our JMM community. These ideas might not work for everyone, but we hope that by starting the conversation about mental health, we can inspire you to take a moment to breathe and reflect on what you need today to feel good.

It’s a common stat that people will spend about one-third of their lifetime asleep. However, getting the proper 8 hours of sleep (and yes 8 hours is the recommended amount for adults) can be difficult. In a time when people are feeling anxious or stressed or their regular routines are upended, it can be almost impossible to get a restful and full night’s sleep. We’re going to talk about some of the reasons why you need to sleep and some tips for getting better sleep!

In this black and white photo, a toddler lays asleep on a floor, near a pile of coats.

Getting enough sleep is incredibly important. And so you don’t fall asleep on the floor like this kid! JMM 2006.013.1178

Sleeping affects not only how well you can think the next day but also your physical health. Lack of proper sleep can increase the chance of heart disease, strokes, and other issues. Your body works to repair heart and blood vessels, and so losing out on that time can make you more susceptible to a whole host of diseases. Sleep also helps balance the healthy hormones in your body, affecting not only children and teens as they grow but also the hormones that control cell repair and muscle mass growth. So, sleep is essential when you’re working out to actually help with muscle growth. Additionally, sleep is crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system, something that should always be a priority but is only more important today.

Of course, we’re familiar with the mental effects of lack of sleep. Being sleep deprived affects a person’s ability to focus and process information. It also causes memory loss. This lack of cognitive function can be downright dangerous, if that person is driving, for example. Some have compared drowsy driving to drunk driving, and claim that driving without sleep in a 24 hour period is like driving with a blood-alcohol level of .10. Sleep deprivation can affect cognitive performance in all areas of your life, so it’s important to get enough sleep so that you can be alert and ready to face whatever challenges come your way.

A man and a boy sit on a red and white striped couch. The boy is leaning against the man who has fallen asleep.

Sleep deprivation can cause you to fall asleep during the day, making it hard to spend time with family. JMM 2009.040.4814

Sleep also affects your emotional state, and your mental health can impact your quality of sleep. This relationship is complex, but trying to find ways to get better sleep can help a person living with depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders.

Getting that good night’s rest is easier said than done. If you experience dramatic disruptions to your sleep, and you are consistently sleep deprived, we recommend that you seek out help with your Primary Care Physician or with a sleep professional. It’s vital for your health to get the help you need. If your sleeplessness is only occasional and not greatly impact your life, here are some tips to help get better sleep.

1. Keep a consistent bedtime routine. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will help you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Once you’re in the habit of going to bed around the same time, your body will start to recognize when it’s time to get sleepy, allowing you to fall asleep faster. It can also help you to feel more awake if you’re waking up at the same time every day. Just make sure to schedule in those full 8 hours.

2. Exercise regularly. Exercising in the morning or in the afternoon helps your body to release stress and tire itself out. Exercising can make you feel more awake, perfect for that afternoon slump, and then allows for a natural fall of energy that can help you fall asleep easier. With that in mind, exercising too close to bedtime can make you feel too pepped up, making it more difficult to catch some shut-eye. If you want to practice a movement before bed, I recommend trying out a nighttime yoga routine that can help stretch out your muscles and relax your back, preparing you for bed in a gentler way.

3. Turn off your screens before bedtime. Taking an hour away from electronics, which give off blue light. Our eyes don’t block blue light as well and so more of it is transmitted to our brains. This light actually affects the way our hormones are released, even blocking melatonin, which helps us to fall asleep. Spend an hour not looking at your computer, tv, or phone and instead do some stretching, read a book, or relax without any electronics.

A woman sits in bed, reading a book. Her legs are covered by a

Taking some time to read before bed can help your brain to relax and help you fall asleep faster. JMM 2009.026.087

4. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine helps us to stay awake, and so it’s not a good idea to drink a cup of coffee before bed. Alcohol may cause you to fall asleep quickly, but it affects the quality of sleep you get. It affects the rhythms of your sleep and can block the high-quality restful sleep that you should be getting every night. Avoid both and similar substances right before bed, to prevent sleeplessness and waking up feeling drowsy (and hungover).

5. Make a restful environment. Your bedroom, and bed, should be a haven for you to relax and sleep. Make sure that you have a comfortable mattress (that still supports you properly), pillows, and blankets. Ensure that the room is dark at night, as light affects your circadian rhythm, which is the wake/sleep cycle your body experiences. Keeping your room at a cool temperature, between 60-67 degrees according to some experts, also helps you to fall asleep and stay asleep. And make sure that you’re only using your bed for sleep. Watching tv, working from home, eating, and other daytime activities should be done in other places in your home. Keeping your bed exclusively as a place to sleep will help signal to your brain it’s time to rest when you lay down.

In this black and white image, a group of people sit near the road, on the curb. Two of the people in the image are laying down on the road, asleep. There is a sign that says "Choice. Legal"

Getting enough rest is important as an activist. You can’t help others without first helping yourself! JMM 2012.054.001.008

We hope that these tips help you the next time you’re feeling sleeplessness. Remember, if sleep deprivation is affecting your everyday life, we highly recommend you seek out professional help. Getting quality sleep greatly impacts your health and wellbeing.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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