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How People Are Practicing Healthier Behaviors in the Face of COVID-19

  • In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are getting motivated to make healthier choices and adopt healthier habits.
  • Some people living with chronic conditions have found they’re also vigilant about self-care.
  • Experts say even small changes can lead to big improvements in overall health.
  • With many things still shut down, experts say this is an excellent time to focus on your health.

Like most New Yorkers, Rob Taub, 64, has been sheltering in place as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the city and the nation at large.

For Taub, a writer and broadcaster who lives in the city’s Upper East Side neighborhood, there has been one surprising result of the radical day-to-day life changes brought about by the outbreak — his overall health has improved.

Taub has been living with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure for nearly 15 years. An athlete growing up, he said when he was in his 40s he “looked like an NFL player,” but then something changed as he got older.

“I started gaining 15 pounds a year. Soon I was 40 pounds, then 50 pounds overweight,” said Taub, who serves as an ambassador for the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.

Now, as he’s been adhering to physical distancing and stay-at-home guidelines, he’s found that his overall health has improved.

The man who ate out at restaurants for about 80 percent of his meals now cooks for himself at home. A big change has been salt intake.

“One of the things I switched to recently prior to COVID-19 was oatmeal because there’s no salt in it and I realized my blood pressure was going down while eating it,” he said. “When cooking for myself, there is no salt. I realize restaurant food is laden with salt and it’s not good for you.”

Taub takes his blood pressure every day — at the time of his interview with Healthline it was at 112/80 mm Hg — and has been able to cut back on his medications.

These readings are better than he ever thought he’d see, especially when they were at their worst about a decade and a half ago.

Being vigilant is also important because he has a family history of these health concerns. His mother died at 73 from complications tied to diabetes.

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A time to embrace healthy habits

While now is a difficult time for many — stress and anxiety are up, people’s insecurities and fears over their personal health have increased — for some people like Taub, this new way of life has ironically led to better, healthier behaviors.

Dr. Robert Eckel, the American Diabetes Association president of medicine and science, and an endocrinologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said Taub’s story isn’t unusual.

With life on pause, he said that “now is a good time to focus” on health.

He added that depending on a person’s individual lifestyle and desires — and assuming they’re not facing too severe of an economic impact from the current health crisis — sheltering at home gives an opportunity to adopt some healthier behaviors, from more routine fitness to better sleep habits.

A big piece of it is reflected in Taub’s experience — eating better food.

“In general, a heart healthy diet is a diabetes healthy diet and cancer healthy and blood pressure healthy diet,” Eckel, a past-president of the American Heart Association, told Healthline.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an independent science-based consumer advocacy organization, writes that rampant unhealthy diets have something of a domino effect on overall health in the United States.

The organization says that diets that rely on heavily processed meals low on nutritious value contribute to about 678,000 deaths each year as a result of diseases tied to poor nutrition and obesity, like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

It should be no surprise then that each of these conditions are highly prevalent in the North America.

Annually, heart disease is the leading cause of death nationwide, resulting in 1 in every 4 deaths, while more than 100 million adults live with diabetes or prediabetes.

Obesity statistics are similarly high, with the condition’s prevalence shooting from 30.5 percent in the year from 1999 to 2000, to 42.4 percent in the 2017–2018 time frame. The prevalence of obesity-related diseases moved from 4.7 percent to 9.2 percent during that time frame.

Eckel said that as the coronavirus puts a pause on day-to-day life, it gives Americans an opportunity to hit the reset button on some of these worrying trends.

He cited both the DASH and Mediterranean diets as fairly accessible healthy eating plans that promote weight reduction, decreased salt intake, increased daily nutritional intake, and lowered blood pressure.

He also cited moderate exercise as a way to maintain healthy behaviors while stuck at home.

This means trying to fit in about 40 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day — this doesn’t mean having fancy or expensive equipment. It could be a brisk walk or using light weights to include some sort of resistance-training workout at home.

Really anything to avoid being in a “predominantly sedentary position,” he explained.

The challenges of making these changes

Of course, all of this can be easier said than done for some people.

The emotional, psychological, and financial toll taken by COVID-19 can make it hard for people to dedicate time to make some of these lifestyle shifts.

Dr. Luke Laffin, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, told Healthline that the people he treats generally have fallen in two camps during this crisis. One group was already exercising, visiting gyms, and adhering to healthy diets. Anecdotally, he noticed this group actually seemed to “fall off a bit” from their schedules once sheltering at home.

“They haven’t been doing as well in this setting,” Laffin said.

The other group consists of people who weren’t regularly exercising, not making the best dietary choices, but are now changing their routines slightly, finding they have more time to go for a walk or start preparing meals.

“It’s a double-edged sword. I’ve seen people benefit from this time but also some people not benefit as much,” he added.

For those in the second group, does Laffin envision these new healthy habits being maintained over the years once the COVID-19 threat passes?

“I think the most important part is getting into these habits and routines, and sticking with them. People are creatures of habit, so if for a couple of months with more time to exercise and eat healthily, I hope they find they can’t go without the daily routine of eating healthier, of making these choices,” he said.

If they feel better and see that their weight is lower and that their overall health has improved, Laffin added that he hopes these people will see these are necessary behaviors to hold on to.

Maintaining new routines

For those in the first group who are finding it difficult to self-motivate during an uncertain time, Laffin suggested pursuing routines that aren’t intimidating.

Just walking around the block is a good way to add some activity, and taking quick breaks in between working from home to do some light exercise could be helpful.

As for food, one doesn’t have to embrace complicated recipes if they’re used to dining out or grabbing a quick meal at the office cafeteria. He said to make sure you try to make dishes that have 50 to 60 percent fruits and vegetables.

Try to stock up on some healthier items when you do go to the local grocery store, just so you have them on hand and can incorporate them with your meal, even if it’s a side dish to complement what you might naturally gravitate to.

“I think it’s important for everyone to be realistic with themselves, however,” Laffin added. “A lot of people out there will slide back a bit, they will put on some extra pounds, they won’t be as physically active. Understand that this is not a 6-week reality, this is going to be going on for 6, 12, 18 months — now is the time to make these adjustments but also be realistic.”

For Taub’s part, he’s a social person who lives alone and said he will heartily embrace eating out with friends once it’s safe and responsible to do so.

What will he make sure to do moving forward to keep up with his new shelter-in-place healthy behaviors?

“I’m going to be aggressive in restaurants about what I order, I might even call ahead to see what I can get that is salt-free. If they won’t accommodate me, then I won’t go there,” Taub stressed.

“If I’m able to control my blood pressure more, then I have to be more cognizant of my behaviors,” he added. “It’s too easy to depend on medication, as great as it is. I need to be really diligent about it.”

Written by Brian Mastroianni              May 26, 2020              Fact checked by Dana K. Cassell


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Long-Term Social Distancing May Be Traumatic. Here Is What To Expect And What To Do

Passover, Easter and Ramadan are occasions that typically bring families together to pray, reflect and celebrate – fellowship needed, perhaps, now more than ever – will look different this year as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The loss of those traditions is added to a growing list of losses that North Americans are facing as they endure at least another month of social distancing and with it an extended departure from routines, habits, social circles and normalcy.

The protracted disruption to life as it was, mental health experts say, could bring feelings of anger, depression, anxiety and even grief.

“There is literal grief like losing loved ones,” said Dr. Vaile Wright, the American Psychology Association’s director of clinical research. “But there is a grief of experiences that we are losing right now. There can feel like there is a lot of loss right now, a loss of freedom, a lot of things we took for granted.”

The next few months may take a toll on the nation’s mental health, experts say, but it is possible to mitigate the stress.

North Americans’ collective trauma

Extended isolation and stress from the pandemic can affect everyone differently, said Dr. Dana Garfin, a health psychologist.

It could put strain on families, send children home to abusive situations, make those living alone feel isolated and threaten people’s sense of purpose by keeping them from work, Garfin said.

And those experiencing financial insecurity in the midst of the pandemic have an added stress that is difficult to resolve, said Dr. Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University.

Despite those differences, the experience of staying home together through a pandemic can be considered a collective trauma, said Garfin, who studies collective traumas such as hurricanes, terrorist attacks and earthquakes.

Collective traumas start at some point of impact and then ripple out to loved ones of the afflicted, witnesses to the devastation and people whose lives are disrupted.

In this case, many Americans fall into one or more of those categories. People in quarantine show signs of confusion, depression and anger, Garfin said.

“We necessarily run much of our lives by habit,” said Fischhoff. “We know what we have for breakfast, we know how to prepare the kids for school, and that enables us to get through the day reasonably well.”

But now that many North Americans aren’t waking up and going to school and work, it can be difficult to know how to restructure even the most rote daily habits that won’t be coming back for weeks yet.

What life might look like on the other side of coronavirus

How long the pandemic and the isolation continue will dictate how severe the effects are on people’s mental health, Garfin said.

Prolonged exposure to the traumas of coronavirus can activate the fight or flight response, which over time can cause cardiovascular problems, anxiety, depression and PTSD, Garfin said. And the extended isolation can contribute to fear, anxiety, headaches, muscle tension and difficulty concentrating, said Wright.

For some groups, like health care workers, those in the media and people in newly deemed “essential jobs,” the end result may be guilt, grief and PTSD, said Wright.

But, Wright and Garfin agreed, humans are resilient.

Some may forget everything they just went through and go back to their daily lives when it is all over, Wright said, but many can come out of this with stronger relationships and a better perspective on what is important.

How to get through it

The future is uncertain, but life will be different for at least the next month and that knowledge can be the first step to making this new, temporary reality as good as it can be.

Now that it is clear the change is for more than a couple of weeks, it is important to create a new routine – one that includes showering, getting dressed and maintaining family meals — not treating the time as an extended snow day or spring vacation, Wright said.

There is an opportunity for people to develop new habits around the disruption, which can relieve the stress of feeling like starting from scratch every day, Fischhoff said.

And all three say it is important to use social media to be social, not to feed the anxiety that conflicting coronavirus information on the platform stokes.

They also agree that this experience is difficult, and it is important to acknowledge that and not be too critical of what one could have done before or could be doing now.

“I think that we need to recognize that this is totally unprecedented, and we really are just doing the best we can – and that’s OK,” Wright said. And for people doing the best they can but struggling to work, study or care for their families, virtual mental health resources may be a crucial next step.

And for those who are lonely and isolated, Garfin suggests reframing for a feeling of community within that experience.

“We aren’t in our houses alone, we are doing something for each other for our community,” Garfin said. “It’s a shared effort, something that we are all a part of and something we are all contributing to.”
“It’s going to be difficult, but it’s not permanent.”

 

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN       Thu April 9, 2020
source: www.cnn.com
plan

Take A Breath:
How The Simple Act Of Meditative Breathing
Helps Us Cope

A global pandemic causes so much worry, concern and fear. There’s the pressure of suddenly being a homeschooling parent and trying to create structure around newfound chaos in your home.

A lot of us are adjusting to working from home, all while tending to worries about the state of the world. Maybe you fret over the health of aging parents or feel anxious over the ever-changing news cycle.

Psychological stress can damper your overall health, affecting your ability to remain resilient in the face of challenges. It can also thwart a strong immune system, which is needed to keep from getting sick.

“Living through a pandemic can be scary,” said CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the March 18 episode of CNN’s “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction” podcast.

The good news: Meditation is one tool that can help our immune systems functioning optimally, according to a recent study.

One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is by simply focusing your attention on your breath, according to Harvard Medical School, since it’s a form of beginner level meditation that anyone can do.

Alternative medicine advocate Dr. Deepak Chopra, in Dr. Gupta’s podcast episode titled “Pandemic Panic,” walks us through how to do a breathing meditation to ease our stress, thus calming our minds.

Breathing through the stress of a pandemic

According to Harvard Medical School, breathing meditation requires either sitting comfortably, standing or walking in a setting with minimal distractions. Many people prefer to sit.

If you’re sitting, focus first on your posture: You should sit with your spine erect.

As you become aware of the space you’re in and sit comfortably, observe your breath without manipulating it for a few seconds, Chopra suggests.

Then, slow your breath down by inhaling deeply to the count of six.

Pause for two seconds.

Exhale to the count of four. Then repeat this six-two-four breathing method for two minutes.

“Then, when you’re done with that, bring your awareness into your body and wherever there seems to be any discomfort, just bring the awareness there without manipulating it,” Chopra said. “Awareness by itself heals. Awareness without conceptual intervention restores self-regulation.”

“The goal is really to breathe from your diaphragm,” as opposed to shallow breaths from your chest, said Vaile Wright, a psychologist and director of clinical research and quality at the American Psychological Association.

“And the way to know whether you’re doing that or not, or a trick at least, is to place your hand just below your ribs on your stomach.” When you inhale you should feel your body expanding, then contracting when you inhale.

If the initial peace is interrupted by your thoughts, the meditation isn’t a failure. Though breathing meditations are simple to begin with, they can take practice before you’re able to maintain focus for an extended period of time, Wright said. Just acknowledge the thought and try to let it go.

You don’t have to concentrate on any format, but some people find that adding some sort of mantra or visualization to it helps, Wright said.

“For example, when you’re breathing in, telling yourself [in your head that] you’re breathing in love. When you’re exhaling, telling yourself you’re exhaling anxiety. Or, breathing in positive energy, exhaling negative energy or visualizing negative energy coming out of your mouth and out of your body.”

Chopra starts his day with three or four intentions: “I’m going to maintain a joyful, energetic body today; a loving and compassionate heart today; a reflective and quiet and creative and centered mind today; and lightness of being and laughter today, whatever it takes.”

By doing these intentions, you can start to feel better, he said.

Modern technology offers up apps and smart watches that can help guide you through a meditation if you have trouble staying focused.

“Slow your breath, your thoughts will slow down as well,” Chopra said.

breathe
try this for 2 – 5 minutes

Benefits for your overall health

Breathing meditations can contribute to a state of mindfulness by bringing your focus to one thing and only thing only – your breath, Wright said.

“The goal of that is to draw your attention away from maybe worry thoughts you’re having or sort of the catastrophic thoughts or maybe depressing thoughts about feeling alone,” she added. When you’re focusing, those thoughts can be pushed aside, helping you to control your emotions.

Mindfulness has been found to influence two stress pathways in the brain, altering brain structure and activity in regions that regulate attention and emotion, according to the American Psychological Association.

In a 2015 review of studies on the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), researchers found that people who received this therapy were less likely to respond to stressful situations with negative thoughts or unhelpful emotional reactions.

Those participants were also more likely to focus on the present moment and less likely to experience ruminating thoughts.

Breathing meditations can also reduce muscle tension and your heart rate, which are signs of stress, Wright said.

Carrying yourself through a hard time

Breathing meditations are another tool you can add to your coping toolkit, which may also include journaling, baking or virtually connecting with others.

“What’s great about breathing is you can do it anywhere,” Wright said. “If music is your way of relaxing, what happens when you don’t have access to it? You always have access to your breathing, so in that sense [breathing meditations] are really portable and very accessible. We really need a variety of different coping skills in order to get through particularly unprecedented situations like this one.”

Mindfulness may not make everything go away, Wright said, but it can bring you to a “calmer state so that you’re better able to deal with all the stress that’s going on.”

By Kristen Rogers, CNN      Fri March 27, 2020
source: www.cnn.com


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20 Ways To Be A Happier Person

20 Ways To Be A Happier Person In 2020, According To Therapists
If you’re going to make a resolution for the new year, it may as well be improving your mental health.

Looking to make 2020 your happiest, most fulfilling year yet?

If your mental and emotional wellness took a backseat in 2019, there’s no better time than right now to prioritize it. (If anything, it’ll make the election year just mildly more bearable.) Your mood affects everything in your life ― your relationships, your work, your self-care ― so improving it should be at the top of your goal list.

That might feel like a huge and lofty task, but small, actionable habits can help you get there, according to experts. Below are the most common happiness tips therapists recommend. Maybe they’ll sound challenging or unrealistic (more on that later), but maybe they just might change your life.

1. Conquer one anxiety

Give yourself a motivational benchmark to start conquering your biggest fears this year.

“Single out the goal of selecting an anxiety that is holding you back, and thoroughly commit yourself to obliterating that fear,” said Forrest Talley, a clinical psychologist. “Hold nothing back in your assault; treat that fear as though it is enemy number one.”

Perhaps you’ve been worried about signing up for a half marathon. Maybe you’re afraid to reach out to book agents because you don’t want to be rejected. Perhaps you’re fearful of having a difficult conversation with a toxic friend or family member and you’re putting it off. Set the goal, pick a reward you’ll get when you complete it, then get to it.

“The thing to keep in mind is that very often happiness is found just on the other side of a doorway guarded by our anxieties,” Talley said. “And the new year is a great time to start kicking down some doors.”

2. Lock down a sleep schedule that works for you

You may think you’re doing OK on sleep, but take a closer look at your schedule. Are you really getting optimal hours? Are you maintaining relatively the same bed time every night?

“Getting a [consistent] good night’s sleep is vital; chronic sleep deprivation is a huge problem, especially for those who work late or are extremely busy,” said Joanna Konstantopoulou, a psychologist and founder of the Health Psychology Clinic. “It’s not just the 40-hour marathons without sleep which can be detrimental to your psychological health, but simply losing an hour or two on a regular basis can have a significant impact on your mind and well-being.”

That last bit is important. If you’re constantly shaving off an hour here or there ― thinking you can get by on five hours a night ― it’s time to reevaluate that sleep schedule.

“Start with small steps by giving yourself a sensible and realistic bedtime,” Konstantopoulou said. “Try to go to bed half an hour before your usual bedtime and stick to it. Evaluate this new habit every day by having a journal and writing down your progress.”

She noted that this new routine will improve your memory, reduce anxiety, and “transport toxins out of the brain” to potentially prevent chronic illnesses.

3. Find one small self-care act that works for you and prioritize it

Pick a you-centric activity and engage in it regularly, said Elena Touroni, co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.

“The most impactful mental health goal a person can set is the commitment to balance workload and responsibilities alongside activities that bring them a sense of well-being and enjoyment,” she said. “When there is an imbalance in what we’re giving out to the world, and what we’re taking for ourselves, that’s when our psychological resources get depleted.”

Her suggestions to get you started? Try beginning each day with a five-minute mindfulness meditation session. Want to go further? “Go to therapy to unravel a lifelong pattern, get a personal trainer, or make time for reading,” she said. “This commitment can be broken down into specific and concrete goals, depending on your personal preferences, but it all comes down to making self-care a priority.”

4. Spend 10 minutes a day outside

Go for a walk during your lunch break, spend a few minutes drinking your morning coffee outside or pick up running. It doesn’t even have to be for a long period of time.

“This year, resolve to spend less time inside and more time outdoors in natural settings,” said Michael Brodsky, a psychiatrist. “Research in multiple countries show that spending time in green spaces can lift your mood and relieve anxiety in as little as 10 minutes.”

5. Regularly practice a simple mindfulness exercise

“Many of us spend our days worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, thus, missing a great deal of what is happening in the here-and-now,” said Anna Prudovski, the clinical director of Turning Point Psychological Services.

Making an effort to be more present “increases the sense of well-being, promotes vitality, heightens our awareness, helps train our attention, improves the quality of our work, and enhances interpersonal relationships,” she said. Sounds pretty nice, right? “Be more present” can feel a little vague, so here’s how you can get started:

Each day, spend five minutes noticing your surroundings and how you feel. Do this by naming five things you see, four things you can physically feel, three different sounds you hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. It’s OK if you point out something far away from you. Then take a second to label how you’re feeling in the moment (like, “I’m frustrated,” “I’m bored,” or “I’m excited”). This is known as a grounding exercise, which experts say helps with anxiety.

6. Say nice things about yourself

Roseann Capanna-Hodge, pediatric mental health expert and psychologist, suggested an adjustment to your everyday vocabulary, both in your thoughts and out loud.

“Instead of always focusing on the negative, flip your dialogue to only positive outcomes. For example, instead of saying, ‘If I get that job,’ switch it to, ‘When I get that job.’ Those subtle changes in using positive language helps to change your mindset to a glass half full instead of a glass half empty.”

You can also increase your positive thoughts by stating one thing you like about yourself when you look in the mirror each morning. Cheesy, but worth a shot.

7. Give up or cut back on one unhealthy habit

We know when things are bad for us, which can cause stress. You can curb that by reducing them or giving them up entirely, said Sarah C. McEwen, a cognitive psychologist. Think activities like high alcohol consumption or excessive caffeine consumption.

Getting those things in check “will all help to manage stress levels,” McEwen said.

8. Find a physical activity you love

“Exercise plays a large role in mental health,” said physician Jena Sussex-Pizula. “While studies are ongoing, a review article found consistent beneficial effects of exercise on depressive symptoms across multiple studies.”

How often? McEwen suggests 30 minutes a day if you can. “This [amount] has been shown to produce the most benefit for improving mood and reducing stress levels,” she said.

The most important part is finding something you enjoy. It doesn’t matter if it’s pilates, martial arts, spinning, running, dancing or lifting weights ― just make sure the activity is something that excites you.

9. Try meditation

Haven’t jumped on the bandwagon just yet? Now is as good a time as ever. McEwen suggests meditation for those who want to improve their level of stress resilience.

“A mindfulness meditation practice will have a tremendous positive effect longterm,” she said. “I recommend allocating at least 30 minutes daily, which can be divided into morning and evening.”

Feeling intimidated by the concept? McEwen suggested trying a local class or an app like Headspace, Waking Up or Insight Timer.

“Research has shown that the regular practice of meditation can actually improve your health because it lowers the negative effects of not only high cortisol, but also high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” she said. “Other great benefits of regular meditation include mental clarity and focus, improvement of memory and overall higher level of mental performance.”

10. Stop negative thoughts in their tracks

“Our thoughts are not always reality,” said Judy Ho, a clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and author of ”Stop Self Sabotage.” “And we need to get into the routine of challenging them and changing our relationships to our thoughts.”

You can do this by asking yourself a simple question when you’re beating yourself up. Next time you have a negative thought, ask yourself: Does this completely and accurately capture what’s going on?”

Ho said from there, you can transform the thought using one of two tactics. One is called “yes, but” and one is called “labeling.”

“‘Yes, but’ involves recognizing a not so great thing, and [adding] something that is positive or shows progress,” she said. “Example: I did eat three cupcakes while trying to cut down on sugar, but I have been doing a great job with healthy eating and can start fresh tomorrow.”

And as for labeling, try mentally recognizing or acknowledging that the thought you’re having is toxic. According to Ho, this “takes the wind out of the sails of a negative thought and reminds you that a thought is just a mental event, and nothing more.”

11. Invest in a quality relationship

“If you want to have good long-term mental and physical health, you need to first see if you have meaningful, loving relationships,” said clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland. “Who knows you better than anyone and who do you know better than anyone? Have you invested in that relationship by staying in touch and talking on the phone (not just texting)? And when was the last time you got together?”

Gilliland suggests picking one person close to you this year, and planning to spend quality time together.

“If we’re not careful, we will end up giving our best in places that aren’t good for our mental health,” he said. “Study after study finds that loving meaningful relationships are good for our mental and physical health.”

12. Read self-development books

“Read at least one book on someone you admire, and how they have dealt with the struggles in their life,” Gilliland said. “There are a lot of ways to learn about your mental health, from therapy to self-help to the lives of other people.”

You can pick up many tips and find a lot of inspiration in these motivational books, whether they’re memoirs or expert-backed advice. Need a specific suggestion?

“I have so enjoyed Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography and recent album ‘Western Stars’ where he talks about his struggle with depression and family issues,” Gilliland said. “It’s powerful and encouraging … You can’t help but see yourself in some of his stories, he can paint with words like very few people can. It’s a wonderful way to learn about your mental health without feeling like its work.”

13. Cut back on your social media use

So often we view people’s highlight reels on social media. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy in our own lives, according to experts. And given that research shows spending too much time online is linked to poor mental health, now’s the perfect time to cut back.

“External validation is temporary; it’s difficult to maintain the pressure to chase ‘likes,’” said therapist Jennifer Musselman. “Build your self esteem from competence of something important to you, and by being of service to others.”

14. Set better boundaries

Did you find yourself feeling chronically overwhelmed and stretched thin in 2019? Time to reel that in and make more space for you by setting boundaries.

“This one is more important than people realize, and they have way more control than they realize,” Gilliland said. “If you don’t want to go, then don’t go!”

Consider: Is it something you think you “should” do? If so, then why? In the words of a popular therapist joke, stop should-ing yourself. Set those boundaries to thrive in 2020.

15. Make a progress list each week

Expecting perfection guarantees you’ll feel like a failure at least part of the time, and can lead to serious anxiety.

“Learn the art of progress, not perfection,” Musselman said. “We are setting ourselves up for failure from the get-go [when we expect] to ‘have it all’ perfectly balanced. In other words, we will always feel like we are failing.”

From “doing it all” as a mom to building your entrepreneurial business to perfecting your talent, it’s time to let go of that expectation that things are always going to be perfect. Instead, try writing down the incremental improvements you made each week. Celebrate small successes that eventually will lead to big ones.

17. Get a therapist if you’re able to do it

If you were trying to get in physical shape and had no idea where to start, you might turn to a coach or personal trainer. Mental health works the same way.

There are so, so many benefits to seeing a therapist. And there are affordable options, too: Attend group therapy at a local mental health center, seek free options in your community, opt for a sliding-scale psychologist, find a provider through your health insurance or try an app like Talkspace to get started.

“Getting a therapist in 2020 would be a good goal if you need a therapist and have been putting it off,” Talley said.

18. Write in a gratitude journal

Practicing gratitude “is so essential for a full and happy life,” Talley said.

Instead of allowing your brain to go to a place of anxiety and stress, Talley says to arm yourself with grateful thoughts. Writing them down helps.

“If you wake up and focus on that which you have to be grateful for, your brain becomes better at finding even more [gratitude],” Talley said.

19. Turn your phone off

It’s been shown in many studies that too much tech time can negatively impact mental health.

Become less available via text and email so you don’t feel emotionally tethered to your phone, and spend more time off your devices. Opt for screen-free activities ― especially at night ― that help you disconnect from certain social and work stressors.

“While it’s unclear if sedentary screen time is a marker for or risk factor for depression (as all that has been shown is a correlation), there appears to be a consistent association of increased screen time in patients with depression and anxiety,” Sussex-Pizula said.

20. Reduce food shame and stress through mindful eating

Have thoughts around food, calories, dieting, etc. been weighing on you in 2019? Lisa Hayim, a registered dietitian and founder of food therapy program Fork The Noise, said it’s time to kick this to the curb.

“When we feel nervous, scared, anxious, or even unsure of what to eat or how much, our stress hormones begin to fire,” she said. “Our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, and we’re no longer making empowered decisions.”

Does this sound like you? Are you constantly thinking about what a food choice might “do” to your body?

“Breathe. Your body knows what it wants and how much it wants, when it wants it,” she said. Listening to it is called intuitive or mindful eating: enjoying whatever you want and taking cues from your body when it’s hungry and full.

“Decreasing stress around food choices is not just good for the body, it’s good for the mind and the soul,” Hayim said.

 

By Dominique Astorino   12/30/2019
wellness@huffpost.com.
happiness-comes-from-within-and-is-found-in-the-present-moment-by-making-peace-with-the-past-and-looking-forward-to-the-future

 

6 Things To Let Go Of
If You Want To Be A Tiny Bit Happier This Year

Examining the toxic thoughts and behaviors that you should kick to the curb and advice on how to do it.

Most people kick off January by creating resolutions that drastically aim to add healthy habits to their daily lives (which doesn’t always work, by the way ― and that’s OK). But sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to let some things go instead.

“The new year offers a fresh opportunity, while the weight of the past keeps us in a place of inaction,” said Olecia Christie, a certified life coach and owner of Optix Communications in San Antonio, noting that it’s important to discern when to release the things that no longer serve our own growth and happiness.

With that in mind, here are a few things you should consider leaving behind in the new year, according to Christie and other experts:

Comparing your life to others’ on Instagram

In this era of social media, it always appears that everyone is living their best life — that is, everyone except you. Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, a licensed marriage and family therapist at The Zinnia Practice in California, said you should remember that social media is a highlight reel. Comparing your daily life to a single picture capturing a perfect moment isn’t the best use of your time.

Instead, Osibodu-Onyali suggested engaging with the people you admire in 2020.

“Rather than spending so many hours per week scrolling mindlessly, begin to actually connect with people you admire on social media. Send them a DM, ask for advice, seek out actual mentorship,” she said. “You’ll be surprised how many new friends you will acquire just by reaching out, rather than being a jealous onlooker.”

Letting fear hold you back from something you want to do

Anthony Freire, the clinical director and founder of The Soho Center for Mental Health Counseling in New York, said in order to release fear, shame and guilt, you must first “shine a spotlight” on them.

“On your deathbed, you don’t want to be kicking yourself for not having completed your bucket list for any reason, but especially because of feelings like guilt, fear and shame — which are only problematic feelings because you’ve told yourself that you should feel that way,” he said.

Worrying about things you cannot control

It’s unrealistic to suggest giving up worry or stress entirely ― these feelings are a normal part of life. Instead, try to focus just on the worries you can take action on.

“Focus your thoughts on things you can change. When you have a list of worry thoughts, write out what you can change and what you can’t. Work on the situation that you can change, and just release the rest. It takes a lot of time and practice to learn this skill, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that you’ll worry less,” Osibodu-Onyali explained.

For some, this is easier said than done. If you find that you’re unable to manage your excessive worrying ― especially over things out of your control ― it might be worth seeking advice from a professional. This could be a sign of an anxiety disorder, which is a very real and common condition.

Old grudges or grievances

Research shows holding onto a grudge or anger for longer than necessary can be toxic for your physical and mental health. Right now is the perfect opportunity to work on letting go of some old baggage “by either working on repairing strained relationships or closing the chapter on relationships that cannot be salvaged,” Osibodu-Onyali said.

This doesn’t apply to people who have severely damaged or hurt you, but could be useful for someone you’ve grown distant with or just no longer envision as a healthy part of your life. You can either choose to move forward or let go.

“Although saying goodbye to a relationship can be tough, the closure can be very freeing,” Osibodu-Onyali said.

What other people think of you

There’s a saying that goes “what other people think of you is none of your business.” It’s important to know what your values are and to be grounded in them, so that you’re not swayed by the thoughts of others. Osibodu-Onyali said she often challenges her clients by asking: “So what if they don’t like you? What happens next?” She said more often than not, the answer is usually “nothing.”

“The truth is that the world doesn’t end and you don’t have to be liked by everyone,” she said. “Stick to your core group of supporters who truly love and respect you, and don’t spend time worrying about the people who don’t quite get you. If they don’t get you, that’s OK. You can’t be a part of every group.”

The need to be right in every conflict

We’ve all strived to win arguments; however, that can cause more stress than it’s worth. Freire said letting go of the need to win “takes up enormous energy because people tend to want to be right.”

“How many times do we fight with someone and we’re simply fighting to be right?” he said. “We say things we can’t take back and later we apologize and think to ourselves ‘I overreacted’ or ‘We fought over something so stupid.’ Sometimes we don’t even remember why we were fighting to begin with. Sometimes trivial things we get stuck on are just smaller manifestations of larger underlying issues.”

These kinds of interactions can often lead to “negative self-talk and anxiety as [we] overanalyze the situation and stress about the impact of the interaction,” according to Elise Hall, a licensed and independent clinical social worker in Massachusetts.

Instead, try looking at a fight as a problem to be solved (experts say there’s one phrase that can easily help you do this with a partner). This can help you let go of the need to be right and put your focus on a solution.

This all might be challenging, but it could be worth it to increase your joy — even just by a fraction.

By Stephanie Barnes      01/02/2020


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What’s The Key to Achieving Workplace Happiness?

So many of us overlook the direct relationship between our body and our mind, according to Yu Dan Shi, author of the book, Come Alive – Live a Life with More Meaning and Joy.

The truth is that when our body isn’t performing well, it’s unlikely we can feel well at an emotional level, added Yu Dan.

Yu Dan cited 2017 research from Australian National University which shows that working longer than 39 hours a week puts your health at risk if you also spend more than 28 hours a week in caring or domestic work.

These people will more likely experience mental illness and symptoms of distress, such as feeling nervous, anxious or down.

“Given many professionals and business owners work more than 40 hours a week, what this tells us is working more is not the answer; we need to work smarter,” said Yu Dan.

“Work-life balance is not a new topic. However, what we seldom explore is the fact that it’s not easy for people to achieve work-life balance – unless they have been taught how.

“We are creatures of habit. We can’t change the way we work or live overnight. It’s a skill.”

The reality is the majority of the workforce has never been taught how to work in a healthier way or how to perform at an optimal level, according to Yu Dan. Most of us have only ever been taught how to work harder.

“I was so burnt out in 2008 that it took an emergency operation to force me to look at things differently. My doctor explicitly told me that my life-threatening illness was the result of stress,” she said.

“To the outside world, I was a positive, strong, resilient mother and leader, but I suffered internally and lacked the tools to manage the situation. I see this happen over and over through my coaching practice, how talented individuals find difficult to cope due to unhealthy working habits.”

Worryingly, the majority of employees have never been taught how to work in a more authentic fashion

According to Yu Dan, there is a limit to how much and how hard we can work. Like a fuel tank, our energy needs to be topped up, or they will run out.

When people work long hours, there is not enough time for rest and renewal. In reality, the faster we know how to recover and renew ourselves, the faster and more consistently we reach the optimal performance. Elite sports people have mastered this approach.

Yu Dan added that over the past 10 years, sleep has become the secret weapon of more and more Olympic competitors. Dr Mark Rosekind, who has helped gold medalists optimise their sleep, explains in an interview with the Huffington Post that science has shown our performance will suffer if we don’t have enough rest.

“Once we understand slowing down creates better performance, I have found people are much more willing to improve how they work and live,” she said.

Yu Dan outlined four daily habits that can make a huge difference to energy, wellbeing and happiness:

Stop reacting
Many people jump into the reacting mode from the moment they get up. If most of our hours are spent reacting, we are likely to feel exhausted and out of control. I have often suggested my clients begin their day with the things they want to achieve first, instead of simply reacting.

Learn to rest
Have you ever felt that two hours of good work is better than 20 hours of poor work? It’s likely that you were rested to do the work. If you feel less motivated to do something, it might be an indication that your energy is running low. Instead of blaming yourself for lacking perseverance, take a break.

Be in nature
Research shows that being in nature refreshes us and increases our cognitive performance. It can be as simple as including a daily walk in your routine. I have often suggested my clients have meetings outside their office, whether in an open café or turn a sitting meeting into a walking meeting.

Do something fun
Research has shown that having fun reduces stress, keeps us energetic, and increases more job satisfaction. When I play with my dog silly at the park, I always walk home feeling much more energetic and happier. On the surface, some activities seem non-productive, when in fact, they provide vital recovery time.

We all want to succeed. But we don’t have to sacrifice our happiness and wellbeing in the process. Once people learn to work and live in a more optimal way, not only they become happier, but also they sustain success for much longer.

21 May 2019
 


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The Neuroscience of Bad Habits and Why It’s Not About Will Power

Why are bad habits so hard to break? What if the bumper sticker “Just Say No!” actually works against us? If willpower were the answer to breaking bad habits then we  decisionswouldn’t have drug addiction or obesity. There’s something going on in our brains where we literally lose the ability for self-control, but all hope isn’t lost.

Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls the phrase “Just Say No!” “magical thinking.”

It appears that dopamine is one of the main chemicals regulating the pleasure center of the brain. At the most basic level, it regulates motivation — it sends signals to receptors in the brain saying, “This feels good!”

Whether you’re a heroin addict and you see an association to heroin, you’re a caffeine addict and you see a cup of coffee, you’re a Smartphone addict and you see another person pick up their phone, or if you’re hungry and you see some good-looking food, your brain rushes with dopamine and that is now caught on brain-scanning machines.

The fascinating thing is that Volkow has found that  the images alone affect the rise of dopamine in our brains. So if we pass a McDonald’s and see the arches, our brain associates that with a tasty hamburger (for some) and shoots up dopamine. That good feeling will unconsciously drive the motivation to go in and get a Big Mac. It’s a conditioned response. The same goes for anything including most likely our relationships to our phones.

A blue button with the word Change on it

What can we do?

It makes sense why more and more addiction centers are integrating mindfulness into their curriculum. Mindfulness practice has been shown to activate the prefrontal cortex and cool down the amygdala. This gives us the ability to widen the space between stimulus and response where choice lies and access possibilities and opportunities we didn’t know were there before. This is crucial when it comes to our addictive behaviors to take a step back, “think through the drink” and recognize the various options that lie before us.

We can learn to step into the pause, notice the sensation of the urge that’s there and as the late Alan Marlatt, Ph.D. said, “surf the urge” as it peaks, crests and falls back down like a wave in the ocean.

One place to start is to just get curious about the pull you feel to whatever you think you’re compulsive with. An easy one besides some of the arguably more destructive habits (drugs, alcohol) is our phones.

Today, be on the lookout for what cues you to check your app. Do you see someone else doing it? Are you waiting somewhere and there’s something uncomfortable about waiting? Is it a certain time of day or place?

Training your brain to recognize this cue can help you get some space from it to ask, “What do I really want to pay attention to right now? What matters?” As we get better at recognizing that space between stimulus and response and making the choices that run alongside our values, like riding a bike, it will start to come more naturally.

Just because our brains have been altered by our compulsive behaviors, doesn’t mean we’re destined to fall into the same habits. With the right skills, community and support we can learn how to break out of routine and into a life worth living.

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. 
 


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Don’t Just Focus On Exercises, But Principles Too

Your exercise choice will evolve in tandem with your fitness level, but the principles that get you moving are constant!

Contrary to popular fitness PR mythology, health success is produced from finding, and implementing, principles, not through discovering the “perfect” exercise or workout.

Your exercise choice will evolve in tandem with your fitness level (for example, over time you’ll need a weighted vs. body weight squat), but the principles that get you moving are constant!

Principle One: Create “systems” that protect you from your lesser self

Know your triggers so you can protect yourself from yourself!

When one is motivated, energized, happy, not exhausted, not in a social situation, at the grocery store, etc, it’s easy to say, “I won’t drink at the party,” or, for me, “I won’t eat the entire box of fudge bars.” Now, following through? Not so easy.

In the grocery store I can tell myself, “Buy the bars; have one every few days,” but I know from experience that at 11 p.m. I will eat the entire box. So, I built a system where I can have them — in safe spaces. My mom keeps a box so I can visit her to have a chat and a bar. I save myself from my lesser self, but I don’t feel deprived (deprivation is health death — see Principle Two.)

Basically, create a safety net; don’t give yourself the opportunity to “go there.”

Become aware of your habits; you can’t guard against your lesser being if you’re not aware of your triggers. Journal your food intake and have “mindfulness moments” before eating. Ask, “Why am I eating? Am I hungry? Tired? Bored?” Maybe you always eat while watching TV. Possible solution? Knit instead; keep your hands busy.

One way the past replicates itself is through lack of presence; if you don’t become aware of your thought loops and habits, you will just replicate them.

Live by the equation “awareness + preparation = success!” Know your triggers. Have a plan. Then a back-up plan! Plan doesn’t work? Learn from the experience. Tweak the plan.

Principle Two: Feeling deprived is the kiss of health death

Never replace a “positive” with a negative “have to!”

Find a healthier, yet still enjoyable, substitution, or re-frame the situation.

New habits won’t stick until you figure out what the original habit offered and find a healthier way to get a similar effect

If drinking with friends provides a “social high,” don’t simply state “I am staying home.” If your 3 p.m. treat offers you a moment of peace, don’t just say,”No afternoon treats.” Walk and socialize with friends. Have herbal tea during your afternoon “me” moment.

If you can’t find a healthier substitute, re-frame the new option as a positive.

Instead of being frustrated “having to” have a salad, feel grateful that you “get to” make the choice. Replace “I can’t eat cake,” with, “How lucky am I that I get to eat berries?” This re-framing is empowering since it involves ownership, which helps fight feelings akin to adolescent rebellion; no one likes to feel forced or deprived.

Success

 

Principle Three: Realistic expectations are the seeds of happiness and success

Unhealthy habits were not formed overnight. New healthier habits will not form instantaneously.

Stop setting the bar impossibly high! Give yourself time to establish new patterns.

Set the success bar to an appropriate height. Embrace “little wins.” Expect three weekly workouts, not five. Expect less sugar, not no sugar.

Expecting the impossible, such as overnight success or perfection, simply sets one up for failure. Often it produces a mentality that justifies “snowballing,” where when we deviate even slightly off our impossible course (which is inevitable), we let one small unhealthy choice snowball into multiple unhealthy choices. One cookie turns into five, which turns into a bottle of wine and no workouts for a week. Why wouldn’t we? We have framed the slip as a “failure” rather than an opportunity to analyze our goals, program and expectations.

Let small victories domino into larger victories until all of a sudden you have more healthy habits than last month. Trend positive.

Principle Four: Re-frame “failure” as an “opportunity for growth,” BUT don’t mistake “failure” for simply not trying!

Learn from every experience. Every “fall” is an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. If you overeat or skip a workout, aim to understand why. Did you get too hungry, then scarf down everything in sight? Did you skip a workout because of a lack of advanced planning?

Life is your laboratory. Keep what works. Ditch what doesn’t.

The caveat is, failing and growing is not the same thing as being lazy, sloppy or simply not trying. Don’t justify a “fall” with something akin to, “Kathleen said falling is good.”

You have to care, to learn, to be aware.

Principle Five: Stop finding problems for every solution! Find solutions for every problem

Stop focusing on what you can’t control and what you don’t have. Start focusing on what you do have and what you can control!

If you always focus on what you don’t have and what you can’t control, of course you won’t be successful.

Put another way: stop focusing on if the glass is half empty or half full. Learn how to fill your cup. Take ownership. Take control.

There is always a solution — you just have to be aware enough and care enough to find it!

Can’t get to the gym last minute? Do a 20-minute home interval workout. Missing the gym because of a child’s softball practice? Do squats and lunges on the sidelines. Traveling? Use the band!

Frame every day as your “birthday” — a time to begin again. The day will pass regardless; you may as well do something good (and healthy) with it when you can!

Kathleen Trotter    Personal Trainer             04/10/2018 


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Start A New (good) Habit, Kill An Old (bad) One

Odds are, you are trying to break a bad habit or institute a good one right now. As a species, we are impressively committed to self-improvement, and most of us believe that habits are an effective means to that end.

Habits – actions performed with little conscious thought and often unwittingly triggered by external cues – are powerful influences on behavior and can be our greatest allies for positive change. But because they are so difficult to break, habits are also frequent saboteurs of personal progress.

“Habit is a good servant but a bad master” is how author Gretchen Rubin summed it up in her book “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habit of Our Everyday Lives.” Hers was one of three recent books I read back-to-back on the subject of habit formation; the others were Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” and Jeremy Dean’s “Making Habits, Breaking Habits.” Together, they helped me understand more deeply the importance of habit control, how to choose a habit to begin or end, and the mechanics of sticking with it.

The first thing to know, each book explained, is that a lot of our daily actions are so rote, they are automatic. “All our life … is but a mass of habits,” philosopher and psychologist William James wrote, though a 2006 study put the amount of habitual daily action at 40%. Still, that’s a lot of mindless behavior.

It’s helpful that we don’t need to think about how or when to drink coffee, brush our teeth or drive to work. If we did, we’d waste so much time rethinking or learning those tasks, we’d get little else done.

The whole trick is to get habits to work for you, not against you. Self-control is a limited resource, Dean explains, so a good habit means not having to exert effort every time you need to do the right thing.

Room to grow

The first thing to identify for yourself is the habit you want to work on, whether it’s starting a new (good) one or ending an old (bad) one. That’s a minor distinction, by the way. Eating healthier is eating less junk. Exercising more is being less sedentary. One is often the inverse of another.

This step requires some honest self-evaluation. What is not working in your life? What personality flaws are holding you back? Where is there room to do better?

We know what many of the most common areas of improvement are, at least when it comes to making resolutions. People want to lose weight, eat better, be more mindful, spend money more wisely, sleep better and improve relationships. By eliminating bad habits and starting new ones, you can succeed in most of these areas.

One helpful checklist frequently used for goal-setting is the acronym SMART, created by economic theorist Peter Drucker. Effective resolutions, research has shown, are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Before finishing the first book (Dean’s, which is the most prescriptive and research- and science-based), I decided on two habits to work on myself. The first was to be more present and mindful with my kids. The second was to stop seeking out and consuming free, non-nutritious food at work. One was a good habit to start, the other a bad habit to quit.

Rubin, who approaches the topic personally and looks for specific techniques that work for her, recommends starting a habit at the same time as a big turning point such as pregnancy, marriage, a medical diagnosis, a family death, an anniversary, a long trip or a new year.

Repeal and replace your behavior

The consensus among these books is that the most effective way to adopt a habit is to replace a bad one with a better one. Dean’s metaphor is to think of habits as well-worn rivers of action that flow out of the predictable path of your routine. Often, the most effective way to stop it flowing in harmful directions is not by damming it but by diverting it. For example, many people stop smoking by chewing gum.

The point is that bad habits die hard, and as with riding a bike, your brain never stops learning how to do them.

So it’s easier to think about any habit formation, even new “good” ones, in terms of replacing unwanted behavior. That made sense for my snacking at work. I started buying healthy yet still delicious snacks to keep there: yogurt instead of morning doughnuts, dried papaya instead of chocolate, sweetened rice cakes instead of stale leftover doughnuts. A supply of healthy snack options kept me on a new course of action that largely followed the old eating habit pattern.

To be more mindful with my kids, I needed to avoid the opposite behaviors, such as checking my work phone or planning activities while with them so I could focus on their needs and thoughts.
Duhigg explains that habit “reversal therapy” is a legitimate technique used for things like tics and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as predilections such as gambling, smoking and bed-wetting.

It’s important to make a distinction between a bad habit and addiction, however, even if the behaviors seem to overlap. Addiction requires greater intervention than habit hacking.

Dean describes the hallmarks of addiction as not being in control and not being aware of time/energy spent on the behavior. People with addictions are preoccupied with soothing a craving and needing more and more to get the same effect, as well as suffering withdrawal without it.

Unlike bad habits, addictions eat away at important activities such as relationships and work. They tend to be an escape from normal life and are often hidden from others.

The wonderful thing about triggers

We like to think we have free will in every situation, but many of our actions are predictably triggered by external situations. And if those events are part of your daily or weekly routine, our Pavlovian tendencies become ingrained. Pajamas are on: Time to floss and brush. Cup of coffee in hand: Time to dunk a doughnut. Beer finished: Let’s have a cigarette. But triggers can also be feelings, such as stress or boredom.

Being aware of your triggers is the first step in learning how to keep them from sabotaging you and make them work for you instead. Is there a certain time of day or task when you crave a treat? What do you always do when you feel stress (go for a run or go for a drink)? What is your bedtime ritual to let your brain know it’s time to sleep?

You can help create conditions to avoid triggers, but not fully. If the trigger is deeply ingrained, maybe going back years, it will sabotage you when your guard is down. For these situations, you need contingencies. Dean calls them “If … then …” plans. When trigger X happens, I won’t do bad habit Y, as I usually do, but I will replace it with much healthier Z action.

My favorite example of effective trigger planning is Starbucks, a company that puts a higher premium on customer service than on the (habit-fueled) products it sells. Duhigg, who prefers Malcom Gladwell-esque case studies for his book, explains that the chain’s baristas are well trained on what to do when something goes wrong, such as a messed-up order that angers a customer.

Rather than improvise or consider options in those moments, they practice rapid responses – such as apologizing and offering a replacement drink for free – until it’s second nature.

You likewise need to have a plan for when a strong, perhaps rare, trigger threatens your winning habit streak. Ordinarily, I can avoid eating cupcakes at work, but what’s my plan when I’ve skipped lunch, it’s late afternoon, I have some onerous task that would be made more enjoyable with a treat, and the cupcake is filled with peanut butter?

66 is the magic number

According to one study cited by Dean and Rubin, it takes 66 days of doing something to convert it to a habit. However, that number varies depending on the person and activity. For example, it took those participating in the study less than 20 days to habitualize drinking a glass of water every day, 60 days for eating fruit with lunch and more then 84 days to make 50 sit-ups a daily habit. Some habits could take a year to form. But 66 days is a good target.

I avoided work snacking and improved my capacity for parental mindfulness for 66 days straight. Or rather, I diligently monitored these habits over 66 days, because another pillar of successful habit formation is tracking. Even something as subjective as “be more present with my kids” can be numerically self-scored every evening.

And another pro tip of habit-making (or replacing) is accountability. Tell other people. Share on social media (unless social media is the habit you’re changing). Ask your friends and family to support the effort. Getting others involved, or even just aware, makes it harder for you to give it up. And others’ support can be inspiring and helpful.

Treat yo’self: rewards

Unlike tracking and accountability, incentives are a debatable strategy. Duhigg believes that they are central to the exercise, because habits are reward-based. Rubin concludes that external rewards take you away from internalizing the right motivation behind your new habit.

For me, rewards have been pivotal. Five years ago, I took off 25 pounds and have kept it off by establishing an elaborate reward system.

If you do treat yourself for keeping a habit, make sure it’s not self-defeating. You may not want to reward, say, avoiding doughnuts by indulging in a half-gallon of ice cream.

And that’s one to grow on

At the end of 66 days, I stopped tracking my new habits and found that they had largely stuck. When I came home from work, seeing the faces of my daughters was the trigger to remind me to give them my undivided focus. I rarely (instead of automatically) checked my phone for work updates, and I put off my personal agenda items until after bedtime. And I replaced workplace snacking with my private stash of more nutritious snacks: same trigger, but alternate behavior at much fewer calories.

The real test though, is time. More than six months have passed since my 66 days of daily tracking, and I’m still doing a solid job on mindful parenting. I have occasionally slipped on the work snacking, though. I wouldn’t say I’ve failed at it, because I’m building up a new long-term habit muscle for healthy snacking, and I ate a lot less junk food than I would have without trying.

Rubin would call it “stumbling,” and we should accept that it happens in the habit game. Stumbling is not a reason to quit trying.

You may want to read one of the habit books, too. The three overlap and support each other, but my personal preference was for Rubin’s, largely because I feel a kinship with her love of life-hacking, introspection and applied psychology.

She’s the author of the bestselling “The Happiness Project” and wrote this new book, she explained, after concluding that habits were the best means to actually achieve happiness.

But I’ll give the last word to the wise Ben Franklin, whose advice would make all these books unnecessary. ” ‘Tis easier to prevent bad habits than to break them,” he wrote.

By David G. Allan, CNN       January 5, 2018
 
This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness.
The series is on applying to one’s life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. 
You can follow David at @davidgallan
 
source: www.cnn.com