University of Maryland Extension intern creates new self-care texting service

February 11, 2021

COLLEGE PARK, MD. -- A new texting service, developed by University of Maryland Extension Family & Consumer Sciences intern Rebecca Ajiboye, delivers self-care advice to remind caregivers and health service workers to give themselves the same level of care they provide for others.

Just in time for the new year, Ajiboye created the new health and wellness texting service through 2-1-1 Maryland, a nonprofit organization partnering with state agencies to provide mental health resources to Marylanders. The free texting service offers reminders with self-care tips for caregivers, especially as many are isolated from their own families while attending to others during the pandemic. 

“They’re the ones who are spending a lot of their time and energy taking care of other people, so we wanted this texting platform to be a reminder to them to take care of themselves,” said Ajiboye, senior family science major in the School of Public Health. “It’s very necessary to put into yourself and to make sure you are taking care of yourself and taking care of your needs. Once you do that, you will be better equipped to take care of other people.”

Though healthcare workers were targeted for this new service due to their increased demands due to COVID-19, the service is available and useful for anyone needing reminders to engage in self-care practices and healthy routines. 

“There are three categories of messages - mindfulness, nutrition, and messages about seeking social support or getting support from social contacts,” says Ajiboye, who is also the creator of the 60 different messages participants will receive periodically throughout the week. Each message provides comprehensive information and many times, a tip or call-to-action to help people create new healthy habits in their daily routines.

“There’s a disconnect between what people know they need to do and actually doing it, so if you just get a little nudge, it might be all you need to engage in that healthier behavior,” said Alex Chan, UME mental and behavioral health specialist and supervising faculty for Ajiboye’s project. “Developing all of the messages was really the way to give people the idea that they should value those things for themselves.”

The service is not limited to Maryland and can be accessed from anywhere, although resources are Maryland-centric. Additionally, messages are not specific to people in caregiving positions; they are applicable to anyone who needs a reminder to practice self-care, including teachers and parents. “If your needs are not met, it’s very hard for you to put yourself into others because you're not whole yourself,” said Ajiboye. “If you’re not whole, how can you invest yourself into someone else’s care?”  

The three different subject areas -- mindfulness, nutrition, and connection -- are a basic but holistic approach to starting self-care routines. One message provides this tip: “Rumination or obsessive thinking can be dangerous to your mental health. Being mindful of your surroundings can remove you from your head and allow you to focus on what is going on outside of you. Take a moment to notice what the sky looks like, or perhaps the color of objects around you.”

“So if you’re working and in your head, stressed, just getting that text will help prompt you to take a step back and breathe,” Ajiboye said. “A lot of times we get caught up every day and we’re constantly moving, so the goal is to try to get people to be mindful of their actions and take a moment for stress reduction.”

To access the free texting service, available to anyone looking for health and wellness advice, text MDWellness to 898-211. To learn more about UMD Extension visit https://extension.umd.edu/.