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The Most Natural Way To Boost Mental Health During COVID-19

It can help improve mental health and wellbeing and reduce anxiety.

Even modest reminders of nature can help boost mental health during lockdown, research finds.

Nature can be experienced on a walk close to home, in the back yard or even indoors.

All have been shown to improve mental health and wellbeing and reduce anxiety.

Experiencing nature mindfully can help increase its effect, as can sharing memories of nature, thinking back to natural places that induce calm and sharing these stories with others.

Nature can help stop rumination — thinking about the causes and consequences of depressing events — a process common in depression.

Dr Kathleen Wolf, an expert on the health benefits of nature, said:

“Studies have proven that even the smallest bit of nature—a single tree, a small patch of flowers, a house plant—can generate health benefits.
Look closely in your neighborhood, and the bit of nature you may have taken for granted up until now may become the focus of your attention and help you feel better.”

Over the years, thousands of studies have shown the positive effect of nature on mental health.

As little as 20-minutes of nature can help to reduce stress, one study has found.

Gardens and backyards provide some with access to grass, bird song, leaves and flowers.

For those stuck indoors, though, potted plants or even photos or videos of nature can provide the necessary reminder.

Being mindful is key to getting the most out of nature, said Dr Wolf:

“It’s important to be mindful, commit to the activity and think about your observations while looking at these materials or elements of nature.
That means not merely scrolling through on your computer, but looking at photos or video streams with more intention.
It’s essentially nature-oriented meditation.”

Sharing experiences of nature with others is also powerful, said Dr Wolf:

“Even though we are physically distancing, it’s really important to our health to maintain our social connections.
There is evidence that people who are lonely or who are socially isolated can be prone to poorer health.
Nature might be a means, either by being outside a safe distance from others or by sharing stories with each other, of staying socially connected.”

Exposure to nature helps to stop people ruminating, a process of continuously worrying about the past and the future linked to mental health problems.

Professor Peter Kahn, an expert on environmental sciences, explained:

“In these times, I think our minds can be a little out of control.
Part of the effect of nature is that it can soften negative conditioned mental patterns.
If you can find nature, engage with it and get your heart rate down, then your mind begins to settle.
When your mind isn’t ruminating, it can then open to a wider world, where there’s great beauty and healing.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology (Hunter et al., 2019).

About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog.
He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

source: Psyblog
mask girl

Why You’re Having Anxiety Over Lockdown Ending,
And How To Cope

As coronavirus restrictions lift and states began to reopen, therapists say there are things you can do to manage your anxiety and stress about the transition.
As states and cities start to ease lockdown restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, many are thrilled to get back to business and return to normal — well, normalish — life.
Yet there are just as many people who feel conflicted about these seemingly overnight developments. You can be glad to see things reopening ― and heartened to see people protesting systemic racism across the country ― but simultaneously, a little anxious about how the next phase of cities reopening will play out.
After all, the stats are still overwhelming: As of this week, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world has exceeded 6.6 million. In the United States, more than 1.8 million cases have been recorded and more than 108,000 people have died so far from COVID-19.
If you’re experiencing anxiety over lockdown ending or just the coronavirus in general, know that you’re not alone. Recent Census Bureau data found that 30% of Americans now show symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.

“Many of my clients, most of whom have never previously experienced anxiety about going out, are nervous as states begin to reopen and loosen restrictions,” said Jennifer Chappell Marsh, a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, which is in the process of moving from stage 2 of reopening to stage 3.

As that happens, Chappell Marsh said many of her clients are reporting generalized social anxiety about resuming their regular lives in public.

“They’ve spent months without much exposure to people and places while consuming a lot of coronavirus-related media,” she said. “But there are so many unknowns: We don’t know how bad this will get and we don’t know how long this will last. They don’t know what to expect and the unknown can be terrifying, especially because the risk of infection is real, can lead to death and there is no vaccine.”

Over the last few months, Chappell Marsh has learned on the fly how to address concerns like these. Below, she and other experts share their best advice for managing panic and anxiety as states begin to reopen.

Recognize that it’s entirely natural to feel anxiety about this.

Amelia Aldao is a psychologist and anxiety specialist in New York City. People in big metropolitan areas like NYC may feel heightened concern about the end of isolation since most city dwellers are used to seeing and interacting with hundreds of people in the course of a day (during subway commutes, at the office, walking around the city).

“We were used to [it], but during the last few months, most of us have only had real, face-to-face interactions with a small subset of people,” she said. “It’s going to take some adjustment to go back to ‘real life.’ At the very least, we might experience sensory overload, since our brains are no longer used to processing so many social interactions.”

As the city begins to reopen, even Aldao has said she’s dealt with some unexpected anxiety while walking around town.

“I was walking in the park here in NYC and all of a sudden I was feeling very foggy and confused,” she said. “I then realized it was because my brain had a hard time adjusting to seeing that many people outside!”

People at the park were spaced out far enough from each other and wearing masks, but it still felt jarring, Aldao said.

“My brain was just having a hard time adjusting,” she said. “Much like when we are outside on a very bright day and our eyes have a hard time adjusting to the change in light when we go inside.”

Ask yourself: What can I control now?

You’re living with a lot of unknowns right now: Will the surge of COVID-19 infections slowly decline in your part of the country, or will it pick up as it has in other parts of the country? Will your workplace do enough to ensure employees are social distancing? How safe are indoor public places right now (retail stores, for instance, and restaurants)? Will people remain vigilant about wearing masks?
When you get stuck in this loop, try to refocus on positive thoughts about things in your life you can control, Chappell Marsh said. You can wear a mask to lower your chance of catching the virus and others’ chances, too, for instance. You can talk to your manager at work and slowly reacquaint yourself with going out in public places again. (No need to rush to make those restaurant reservations!)

“In times of uncertainty and overwhelm, it’s best to bring our focus to the here and now, asking ourselves, ‘What can I do?’ said Chappell Marsh. “Shifting our mindset in that way takes us mentally from overwhelm and anxious to empowered and hopeful.”

You don’t have to rush back out there, but try to take baby steps to get comfortable with being in public again.

With the exception of work demands, there is no need to rush into anything as restrictions are loosened, said Julia Yacoob, a psychologist in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. You can still avoid big crowds and say “no” to invitations to a bar or restaurant if you’d rather keep your social circle somewhat small.

“Stay in touch with your feelings, continuously check in with yourself, and respect where you are, given what you’ve just experienced,” Yacoob said. “That doesn’t mean you need to let your feelings completely dictate your actions if you know rationally that they are not serving you well. As in, just because you feel something is true does not mean that it is.” (In other words, sometimes our feelings can convince us of that we’re more at risk than we are when, say, we go to the market with a mask.)

The goal here is to build emotional tolerance slowly, Chappell Marsh said. Obviously, the risk is real and we can’t ignore that. But avoiding everything that triggers anxiety will only make it worse, she said.

Take baby steps. Start by asking yourself, “What is a small risk I can tolerate today?” the therapist said.

“Then identify one thing that you can do that feels uncomfortable,” she explained. “Keep washing your hands, wearing your mask and maintain good distance when in public while also pushing yourself to take one small step outside your comfort zone. Once there, allow yourself to stay in the discomfort and breathe through it until the discomfort dissipates.”

When you start to worry, try this simple thought exercise.

Aldao has been telling her clients dealing with COVID-related anxiety to try this simple cognitive behavioral therapy exercise. It might help you, too.
First, identify what’s at the core of your anxiety.

“What’s triggering it?” she said. “What are the specific worries you’re having?”

Once you’ve identified these worries, ask yourself the following five questions:
  1. What is the evidence for and against the worrisome thought?
  2. What’s the usefulness of having this thought? (Is it adding more tension than helping you solve problems?)
  3. What would you tell a friend or loved one in a similar situation?
  4. Can you set aside time to worry later?
  5. Can you breathe through the worry and practice mindfulness?
Lastly, she said, try to identify how the worries and anxiety hold you back.

“Are there specific things that they make you avoid? If so, write these down and every day, try to push yourself to do those things you’re scared of,” she explained. “This is a technique called exposure and we use it in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders.”

Consider counseling at least temporarily if you’re feeling a heightened sense of anxiety.
If your stress is worsening or you’re noticing a major uptick in anxiety, low mood or problematic behavior (substance abuse, for instance), it might be worth talking to a professional. Many people are currently turning to teletherapy ― videoconferencing with a mental health expert ― to get help.

“Counseling to help improve mental health in response to this experience can be helpful,” Chicago therapist Anna Poss told HuffPost. “As a society, we haven’t done a great job of normalizing counseling, but it is a great way to get support and does not mean anything is ‘wrong’ with you. It just means that something is hard and you don’t have to go through it alone. That’s certainly the case with a pandemic.”

Keep the focus on you and your self-care, not on others and how they’re approaching things reopening.

Continue to prioritize self-care, including exercise, a healthy diet and sleep, but also self-compassion and compassion toward others, Yacoob said. That means holding back on the judgment when you see your sister-in-law bouncing around from bar to bar on her Instagram story over the weekend or questioning the number of people your neighbor has over.

“We have no insight into what those around us may be experiencing, so as best you can, lighten up on judgment and harsh words towards others,” she said. “It’s healthier to focus on you right now.”

By Brittany Wong             06/09/2020


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5 Tips For Combating Loneliness During Lock Down

Weekends and weekdays are not what they used to be, with a pandemic happening all over the world, we are all told to stay home and self-isolate for an extensive period of time. Although this is to help reduce the spread of the virus and ensure we keep ourselves healthy and safe, more and more people will feel extremely lonely. Being told not to leave our homes can have a huge impact on our mental health as we feel isolated and cut off from the world. Naturally we want to communicate with others, go out freely and do what we do on a daily basis. So, having these restrictions put in place can be difficult for many. This is why it is important for those feeling lonely during this period of time to find ways to combat it.

It is extremely important that you keep yourself occupied or that you find ways into getting into contact with other people. Here are a just a few ideas to help fight your loneliness during your self-isolation time.

1) Make use of technology
Yes, you read it right. This might come across as a surprise as many people will be against others spending a long period of time on their mobile phones or laptops whilst being alone.

But it is all about how you utilize your mobile phone!

This does not mean spending hours scrolling endlessly on your Instagram or watching YouTube videos back to back that have no meaning. You want to take advantage of the things your mobile phone can offer.

There are millions of apps you can download falling under different categories. If you enjoy reading or listening to audiobooks, there is an app for that. If you want to learn a new skill, there is an app for that. If you want to learn a new language, there is an app for that. If you want to catch up with a group of friends and play a game, there is an app for that. If you want to connect with like-minded people (in industry, for dating etc), there is an app for that. Now it is easier than ever to do what you’ve always wanted to do through your mobile phone, there is a world and a wealth of knowledge at your finger tips. So take advantage and go for it!

2) Communication
It is hugely recommended that you try to avoid texting friends and family and instead opt for different forms of communication while you are self-isolating. This includes voice notes and video calls. Video calls are recommended as is truly is the best thing after face to face interaction. If you find yourself lonely, video call a friend or family member. Seeing their facial expressions and reading their body language will help you feel like you’re not alone in your home.

There is also the possibility of having Thursday night drinks online, or watching a movie synchronised with friends.

3) Find your community
Now is the perfect time to identify your community. By this I mean, think about what your passion is. Now I can guarantee you, you will find an online community for it. Explore different platforms and find support groups and online communities that fulfil your needs and interests. It is the perfect opportunity to meet like-minded people and allows you to be your true authentic and vulnerable self. You will begin to build your own safe space online, allowing you to escape from your home to a space filled with interesting people.

4) Keep yourself occupied
It is important that you fill the time you have while you are self-isolating, keeping yourself occupied. With so much time on your hands, you can find yourself overthinking leading to you feeling anxious and lonely. Keeping yourself occupied can simply mean tidying up your room, learning a new recipe, working on a business idea, thinking of how you can add value to your employers or even picking up that book you’ve wanted to read for some time.

It is also important to have some downtime, you can keep yourself occupied by watching a series on an online streaming platform or listening to an audiobook. Podcasts are also highly recommended as it gives the feeling you are surrounded by others in the room. This will stop you from feeling lonely as you will have distractions all around you.

5) Stay active
There is an emphasis placed on ensuring you stay active throughout this self-isolation period. As gyms and many parks are closed, there are several alternative options instead:

  • YouTube – YouTube has millions of workout videos you can do online from the comfort of your home. There are all kinds of workouts available, with something for everyone. In addition to lots of personal trainers offering online sessions live on Instagram.
  • Cycle – if you own a bicycle, go for a ride. This is a great way to stay active and also ensures you are not in contact with anyone whilst doing it.
  • Go for a walk – If you don’t own a bicycle or don’t want to work out at home, the best option is to go for a walk. Take a walk around your neighbourhood, allowing yourself time to relax and take in the scenery around you.

These are only a few suggestions to help you during your self-isolation. Give some a try and make sure you are always keeping yourself busy or communicating with others to help fight the feeling of loneliness. If you need help, confide in someone or call a helpline.

Stay home, Stay safe!

Bianca Miller Cole  Apr 4, 2020
 
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Four Ways to Help Prevent Loneliness
While You’re Social Distancing

What if we were told that the best way to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic was to smoke 15 cigarettes a day? What would you do?

Loneliness, we know from the research, can be as bad for your health as smoking. It’s more predictive of mortality than obesity. And loneliness itself was a pandemic long before covid-19 got its name. (Between 1990 and 2010, there was a threefold increase in the number of Americans who said they had no one in whom they could confide.)

So canceling church, school, work and sports means we are doing something that can be hazardous to our health — in order to save lives.

It sounds like a trap. But it’s more like a balancing act — a seesaw we all have to ride now. You can alter one side and stay in balance, but only if you change what’s on the other.

We’ve heard a lot about what not to do. Now it’s time to talk about what we can do. “Look, I wash my hands a lot,” says Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “But if that’s all people are told to do, it only takes you so far.”

There are at least four specific activities that can help compensate for all the things we are not doing, according to the research and my conversations with disaster experts, psychologists and epidemiologists.

Loneliness creates a kind of toxic chain reaction in our body: It produces stress, and the chronic release of stress hormones suppresses our immune response and triggers inflammation. And the elderly, who are most at-risk of dying from covid-19, are more likely to say they are lonely.

Fear also causes the release of stress hormones. And a pandemic involves massive amounts of uncertainty: by definition, the kind that won’t go away quickly. That kind of ongoing stress is hard for anyone to handle.

So what is the antidote? First, anyone who can exercise should do more of it now, every day. Physical exercise reduces stress and boosts immune functioning. “Outdoor activities are good. Going for a walk, riding a bike, those are all great,” says Caitlin M. Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins. You can even do this with a friend, assuming you both feel healthy and are not in high-risk groups (and assuming you stay six feet apart in places such as San Francisco, where public health officials have so ordered). “Our overall goal is to reduce the number of contacts we have with other people, but you have to strike a balance.” And there’s never been an easier time to exercise without going outside or to the gym. (My current “gym” is on my phone, through apps such as Aaptiv, as well as free online yoga classes.)

Second, social closening. (Yes, that’s a word, it turns out.) Relationships are as good for the immune system as exercise. In a meta-analysis of 148 studies that followed more than 300,000 people for an average of eight years, researchers found that positive social relationships gave people a 50 percent greater chance of surviving over time compared with people with weak social ties. This connectedness had a bigger impact on mortality than quitting smoking.

To keep your relationships active, the phone is your lifeline. I’ve set a personal goal to talk (actually talk, not text) with one or two friends, elderly neighbors or family members by phone every day until this pandemic ends.

The one upside of every disaster I’ve covered over the past two decades is that people feel a strong impulse to come together and help each other. So far, I’ve seen that same tendency play out among friends and neighbors, despite social distancing, and we all have to work to keep that going. The coronavirus gives us an excuse to check in with each other.

The third antidote is mindfulness. If you have resisted this trend so far, now may be the time to reconsider. Meditation reduces inflammation and enhances our immune functions, literally undoing the damage of self-isolation. There is evidence that prayer can have a similar effect.

I’ve been using the meditation app Headspace for 10 minutes every day for the past two years. The big surprise is that meditation is not about clearing your mind. It’s about managing your attention, and it’s a hard skill to learn without some kind of guidance. It may sound kind of woo woo, but the science is persuasive. More persuasive than it is for other things we do (such as taking multivitamins).

Fourth, do something small for someone else. In surveys, people say volunteering gives them a sense of purpose and reduces anxiety. In Ireland, a woman named Helen O’Rahilly has helped organize nearly 6,000 volunteers to help elderly and immune-compromised people get groceries, almost entirely through Twitter. In Louisville, Erin Hinson is matching volunteers with people in need using Google Docs. My son and another kid on our street created fliers offering to help run errands for anyone who can’t go outside.

Wherever they strike, disasters have a way of revealing our preexisting weaknesses. But they also open up opportunities. I’ve seen this again and again, from communities destroyed by Hurricane Katrina to families devastated by 9/11. There is a golden hour after disaster strikes, a chance to come together and build resilience.

But this doesn’t happen automatically. We have to seize the opportunity, without fear. Viruses may be contagious, but so is courage.

By Amanda Ripley     March 17, 2020
 
Amanda Ripley is a contributing writer at the Atlantic
and the author of “The Unthinkable: 
Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why.”
 

How to Prevent Loneliness in a Time of Social Distancing

Here’s advice for preserving your mental health while avoiding physical proximity
With increasing numbers of people isolated because of quarantine and social distancing, COVID-19 is not the only public health threat we should be worried about—loneliness is one as well.
While scientists are rushing to understand how the coronavirus works, researchers have long understood the toll that social isolation and loneliness take on the body. People who do not feel connected to others are more likely to catch a cold, experience depression, develop heart disease, have lower cognitive function and live a shorter life. In fact, the long-term harm caused by loneliness is similar to smoking or obesity.
In January, a national survey found that 79 percent of Gen Zers, 71 percent of millennials and 50 percent of baby boomers feel lonely. Similarly, the proportion of people who belong to any kind of community group, such as a hobby club, sports league or volunteer group, fell from 75 to 57 percent over the past decade. Even without the coronavirus keeping us apart, it seems the majority of the population suffers from poor social health.
Although isolation is the right response to the coronavirus pandemic, we need the exact opposite in response to the loneliness epidemic. So how can you cultivate your social well-being while avoiding infection?
An obvious answer is the device you are reading this article on. People often blame technology for the prevalence of loneliness, pointing out that we spend too much time scrolling through social media and not enough of it interacting IRL. Yet recent research by my colleagues at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health paints a more nuanced picture: how you use such platforms seems to matter more than how much you do so. We can all benefit from developing digital habits that support meaningful human connections—especially now that it may be our only option until the outbreak calms.
Whether you are quarantined, working remotely or just being cautious, now is the perfect time to practice using technology in socially healthy ways. Here are a few suggestions for how to connect without contact.
Face-to-face from afar: The next best thing to in-person interaction is video chat, because facial cues, body language and other nonverbal forms of communication are important for bonding. When possible, opt for video over messaging or calling and play around with doing what you would normally do with others. For example, try having a digital dinner with someone you met on a dating app, a virtual happy hour with friends or a remote book club meeting.
One-minute kindness: Getting lots of likes on a social media post may give you a fleeting hit of dopamine, but receiving a direct message or e-mail with a genuine compliment or expression of gratitude is more personal and longer lasting—without taking much more time. When you find yourself scrolling through people’s posts, stop and send one of them a few kind words. After all, we need a little extra kindness to counter the stress and uncertainty of the coronavirus.
Cultivate your community: The basis of connection is having something in common. Whatever your niche interest is, there is an online community of people who share your passion and can’t wait to nerd out with you about it. There are also digital support groups, such as for new parents or patients with a rare disease. Use these networks to engage around what matters most to you.
Deepen or broaden: Fundamentally, there are two ways to overcome loneliness: nurture your existing relationships or form new ones. Reflect on your current state of social health and then take one digital action to deepen it—such as getting in touch with a friend or family member you haven’t spoken with in a while—or to broaden it—such as reaching out to someone you’d like to get to know.
Use a tool: Increasingly, apps and social platforms are being designed to help us optimize our online interactions with loved ones, including Ikaria, Cocoon, Monaru and Squad. If you do well with structure, these resources may be a useful option for you. Or you can consider using conversation prompts, such as TableTopics or The And, to spark interesting dialogue during a video call.
The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that human connection can spread illness. But human connection also promotes wellness. Let’s take this opportunity to recognize the importance of relationships for our health and to practice leveraging technology for social well-being.
By Kasley Killam      March 12, 2020
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Kasley Killam is an Master of Public Health candidate at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper who specializes in social health and well-being.
 


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7 Elements of Wisdom That Can Make You Happier as You Age

Despite aches and pains, the wisdom that comes with age can make you happier.

Despite more physical aches and pains as we age—the ‘paradox of aging’ suggests that older people are generally more comfortable in their own skin, feel better about themselves, and grow happier in their lives year after year…decade after decade.

Nora Ephron once said, “Looking back, it seems to me that I was clueless until I was about 50 years old.” As someone who just entered my sixth decade of life, I concur. The inherent wisdom that comes from life experience makes it easier to cope with the pitfalls of aging. Empirical evidence also suggests that lots of people get happier as they get older.

A new study by age researchers at the University of California, San Diego, reports that despite having more physical ailments, older adults living in southern California tend to be happier and have markedly better mental health than their younger counterparts.

The August 2016 study, “Paradoxical Trend for Improvement in Mental Health With Aging,” appears in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

For this study, senior author Dilip Jeste, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego, and colleagues collected data via phone interviews on the physical health, cognitive function, and other measures of mental health in 1,546 adults, ages 21 to 100 years living in San Diego county.

Jeste emphasizes that this study wasn’t restricted to psychological well-being, but included other markers of mental health. One caveat about this demographic—and the cross-sectional method of collecting information—is that these findings only provide a snapshot of a limited geographic area at one-moment-in-time and are not longitudinal.

The Wisdom of Aging Facilitates an Upward Spiral of Psychological Well-Being
The researchers found a substantial improvement to psychological well-being among older adults that followed a linear trajectory—which improved year after year once people got over the hump of the colloquial “midlife crisis.” The linear nature of the findings surprised the researchers. In fact, the oldest cohort in this study had mental health scores significantly better than the youngest cohort.

Across the board, the participants in their 20s and 30s reported higher levels of perceived stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Alarmingly, this period of early midlife was associated with far worse levels of psychological well-being than any other period of adulthood, which is cause for concern.

These findings turn conventional notions of aging upside down. Aging in the 21st century doesn’t appear to be an unavoidable process of physical and cognitive decline. In a statement, Jeste said, “Some cognitive decline over time is inevitable, but its effect is clearly not uniform and in many people, not clinically significant—at least in terms of impacting their sense of well-being and enjoyment of life.”

In terms of causation, the specific reasons for improved positive mental health in old age are difficult to pin down. That said, below are seven elements of wisdom that I’ve found make people happier as they age based on empirical evidence and life experience.

7 Elements of Wisdom for Aging Gracefully by Bergland

  • Stop holding grudges against yourself and others.
  • Embrace who you are, warts and all.
  • Vocalize your imperfections shamelessly.
  • Practice conscientious emotional regulation.
  • Stay even-keel via equanimity.
  • Apologize wholeheartedly for any wrong-doing.
  • Move on! Let go of negative emotions and regrets.

As we age, many people inherently learn the above elements of wisdom through life experience. That said, over the years I’ve found that having an itemized punch list of target mindsets and behaviors makes it easier to expedite your learning curve.

Conclusion: It Really Is “Getting So Much Better (All the Time)”
From a public health perspective, Jeste is concerned that the rates of psychological distress and mental illness in young people are rising at an alarming rate. Also, other studies have shown that mortality rates among specific middle-aged groups have skyrocketed in the past ten years. In a statement, Jeste concluded,

“Inadequate attention has been paid to mental health issues that continue or get exacerbated post-adolescence. We need to understand mechanisms underlying better mental health in older age in spite of more physical ailments. That would help develop broad-based interventions to promote mental health in all age groups, including youth.”

The latest research reminds us all that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for anyone in an earlier stage of life, or in midlife, who is feeling malcontent or suffering from depression. I’ve lived through this myself. As an adolescent—and again in my late 30s—I suffered major depressive episodes (MDE) that included suicidal ideation. Hang in there. I am living proof that it really does start getting better at a certain point in life. If you are suicidal, please seek assistance: <U.S.> http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/       <Canada>  https://www.suicideprevention.ca/need-help

Below is a passage I wrote for The Athlete’s Way over a decade ago—just months after getting through a harrowing MDE. This advice has continued to work for me over the subsequent years. If you are currently struggling with mental health issues, hopefully, these insights will be helpful for you, too.

“When life throws me a curveball, I have learned from experience to be proactive and reach out to friends and mental health professionals to help me through. When you are in the blackest of blackness, the light seems like it will never enter your brain again. But it will. The light will flicker again. That is the human spirit; it always, always comes back. I’ve been there myself. If you are depressed or suicidal do whatever you have to do to stay vital and get yourself back on track.
You were born to be alive. Don’t isolate. Reach out. Ask for help. There will be sunbeams in your soul again. Ride out the storm—but don’t do it alone. People will take care of you. Let them. And make a vow, when you’re back on top, to give something back.”

 

Christopher Bergland       Aug 29, 2016

 

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Express Gratitude
– Not Because You Will Benefit From It,
But Others Might

The world is currently in the midst of a pandemic where the most useful thing many of us can do is stay at home and keep away from others. Schools, restaurants, office buildings and movie theaters are closed. Many people are feeling disoriented, disconnected and scared.

At this time of soaring infection rates, shortages of medical supplies and economic downturns, there are also examples of people looking for ways to express their gratitude to those on the front lines of fighting the epidemic. In many European countries, for example, people are expressing gratitude for the work of the medical staff by clapping from their balconies. Recently, this same practice has migrated to New York City.

As psychology researchers, we have been working to study the connection between gratitude and well-being.

Gratitude and well-being connection
In 2013, psychologists Robert Emmons and Robin Stern explained gratitude as both appreciating the good things in life and recognizing that they come from someone else.

There is a strong correlation between gratitude and well-being. Researchers have found that individuals who report feeling and expressing gratitude more report a greater level of positive emotions such as happiness, optimism and joy.

At the same time, they have a lower level of negative emotions such as anger, distress, depression and shame. They also report a higher level of life satisfaction.

Furthermore, grateful individuals report a greater sense of purpose in life, more forgiveness and better quality of relationships, and they even seem to sleep better.

In short, grateful individuals seem to have more of the ingredients needed to thrive and flourish.

There are several plausible explanations for the apparent connection between gratitude and well-being. It may be that gratitude serves as a positive lens through which to view the world.

For example, grateful individuals may be inclined to see the good in people and situations, which may result in a more compassionate and less critical view of others and themselves.

Grateful individuals may also be naturally prone to forming mutually supportive relationships. When someone expresses gratitude, the recipient is more likely to connect with that person and to invest in that relationship in the future.

Gratitude exercises have weak effects
However, there is one important caveat to this research. It shows that gratitude is correlated with well-being, but it does not prove that expressing gratitude actually improves well-being.

Psychologists have conducted a number of experiments to see if giving thanks leads to greater well-being. For example, individuals may be asked to perform gratitude exercises at home and then report on their well-being afterward. These exercises include writing a thank-you letter or keeping a journal of things one is thankful for.

Several review papers over the past four years, including our recent paper, indicate that these gratitude exercises have fairly weak effects on well-being.

These review papers combine the findings from multiple different studies, which allows researchers to be more confident that the findings are consistent and can be trusted.

Researchers found that such gratitude exercises only increase happiness and life satisfaction a little bit. Similarly, the effect on symptoms of depression and anxiety was also small.

Express gratitude to help others
We are not suggesting that expressing gratitude has no value. Rather, we argue that gratitude should not be thought of as a self-help tool to increase one’s own happiness and well-being.

Instead, gratitude may be most valuable as a way of honoring and acknowledging someone else. Indeed, researchers have found that expressions of gratitude lead to improved relationships for both the one expressing gratitude and the recipient. The lead researcher of a 2010 study – psychologist Sara Algoe – concluded that for romantic relationships, gratitude worked like a “booster shot.”

During this global pandemic, perhaps it is more important than ever to express gratitude to the important people in our lives – not just loved ones, but the countless public officials, health care professionals and others who are fighting on the front lines.

April 2, 2020 
 
Jennifer Cheavens          Associate Professor of Psychology, The Ohio State University
David Cregg       Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology, The Ohio State University
 
Disclosure statement
Jennifer Cheavens receives funding from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
She is also under contract with Cambridge University Press and receives compensation for editorial duties from John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
 
David Cregg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article,
and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
 
Partners
The Ohio State University       /      The Ohio State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

 


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20 Small But Substantial Ways You Can Use Pandemic Isolation to Emotionally Grow

Has anyone else been thinking lately about the endless ways that life can challenge us? Because I sure have. Whatever negative events you may have imagined happening in your future, the coronavirus pandemic was probably not one of them.

It seems that the current state of our world, replete as it is with quarantines, stay-at-home orders, closed businesses, lost projects, and social distancing leaves probably about 90% or more people feeling alone, uncertain and lost.

As a psychologist who specializes in the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN on adults, I can tell you that scores of people have brought a big dose of those 3 feelings forward from their childhoods and have been coping with them for years. And now, in this current situation, we are now handed an extra dose of them plus a whole lot more.

Whether you grew up in a family that ignored the emotions of its members (CEN) or not: If you are stuck at home, feeling stressed, lost, confused, terrified, alone, helpless or hopeless, sad, worried, or angry, I want you to know that there is a way to turn this around for yourself.

The Importance of Control in an Uncontrollable Time

Much of this situation is truly out of your control, but not all of it. It is possible to reframe your current situation into an opportunity. An opportunity to do things you were never able to do because of time, stress, and all the life demands that you’ve always been juggling.

I believe you can survive the challenges of this pandemic. But I want you to do better than survive. I want you to keep on growing in surprising ways. I want you to thrive.

Not all of the ideas I’m going to offer below seem psychological, but believe me, they are. Each has the potential to greatly impact your emotional health now, and also continue once this pandemic eases up. They will all return you to your regular life as an improved version of your current self.

20 Ideas to Help You Survive & Thrive Through the Epidemic

  1. Declutter your house. Is your clutter getting out of control because of your busy life? Use this time to get organized. Go through the papers and unnecessary objects in your house and sort it and get rid of some detritus. It will feel so good. It’s you taking control in an uncontrollable situation.
  2. Learn a new language. It has so many benefits. It not only improves your brain, but it also connects you to a different culture and that is a good thing in today’s world.
  3. Write. Writing, no matter what kind you do taps into an expressive, thoughtful part of your inner self. Have you had an idea for a novel or a memoir? Is there a part of your life that you would like to remember? Some unprocessed painful memory? Write about it.
  4. Clean the small spaces in your home. You know those little corners behind furniture, under furniture, window sills or the tops of windows and doors? Now is a great chance to attack those. You’ll feel so good about it.
  5. Improve your cooking. Cooking is a form of creativity and it’s also a way to practice self-care.
  6. Explore new music. It’s easy to fall into a rut of listening to the same artists or styles over and over. Get yourself out of it and try something new.
  7. Sharpen a music interest or talent. Always wanted to learn the guitar or how to sing in tune? Now’s your time.
  8. Improve your relationship with an important person. This might be anyone who you’ve always wanted to have a better relationship with. Amazing progress can be made when you have the time and energy to focus on it.
  9. Become more familiar with your emotions. This would benefit almost every human alive today. Why? Because your feelings are amazing tools that you could be harnessing better than you probably are to assist you in self-knowledge, self-expression, and decision-making. This is also one of the steps of healing Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.
  10. Practice and learn meditation and mindfulness. This will help you find your center better and control your own brain, both of which are helpful when dealing with stressful situations.
  11. Make a list of the strengths that got you through previous life setbacks. I know you have some. Being aware of them allows you to consciously call upon them when you need them.
  12. Be grateful every morning when you wake up healthy and alive. Be grateful for the lives and health of your loved ones. Gratitude has been found to be a major contributor to life happiness. No matter what is going on around you, there are, without a doubt, some genuine things you should still be thankful for.
  13. Think of a goal that’s achievable now that could not have occurred to you in the pre-Covid world. This might be anything positive and healthy.
  14. Reach out to someone you cared about before but lost track of due to hectic life. An old childhood friend, a cousin, aunt or uncle, or a college buddy. Reconnection is enriching and enlivening.
  15. Practice or learn a new skill that applies to your career. Take an online course or read a book. Or simply practice what you already know to get better at it.
  16. Choose an intimidating exercise you can do at home and do it every day. For example, 10 push-ups or pull-ups/day. Tailor it to your own body and abilities.
  17. Give. Find a way to help in person or online and offer to help them. Like gratitude, research shows that helping others makes a person happier.
  18. Let your mind wander. There is a great shortage of this simple pleasure in today’s world. Just sit. Ponder. Let your mind go. It’s good for you, I promise.
  19. Read a challenging book. This could be any book you’ve wanted to read but haven’t had the time or energy for.
  20. Reach out to someone you wronged in the past and apologize. Virtually everyone has a nagging sense of guilt about having behaved in some negative or harmful way in the past, even if unintentional. This is your opportunity to wipe your guilt away by offering an explanation or apology. Or, if you cannot reach out to the person, think it through, learn a lesson from it, and put it behind you.

The way you are feeling now as an adult mimics, in many ways, the feelings of an emotionally neglected child. Lost, alone and uncertain, you wonder what comes next.

But now you know that the answer to that is in large part up to you. You can use this painful time to improve yourself and become stronger for whatever your future holds.

What feeds your self-respect, self-like and self-love more than watching yourself take the lemons the world is handing you and turn them into lemonade?

There is no stronger sign of emotional health than resilience. And growing yourself in any one of these impactful ways during a global crisis rife with setbacks is definitely a sign of just that.

Stay healthy and safe.

By Jonice Webb PhD         29 Mar 2020
Better-Mental-Health

For Mental Well-Being, Live in Moment But Plan For Future

People who manage to balance living in the moment with planning for the future are best able to weather daily stress without succumbing to negative moods, according to a new study by researchers from North Carolina (NC) State University.

“It’s well established that daily stressors can make us more likely to have negative affect, or bad moods,” said Dr. Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at NC State and corresponding author of a paper on the recent work. “Our work here sheds additional light on which variables influence how we respond to daily stress.”

In particular, the research team looked at two factors that are believed to influence how we handle stress: mindfulness and proactive coping.

Mindfulness is defined as a mental state in which a person is centered and living in the moment, rather than dwelling in the past or stressing about the future. Proactive coping is when people engage in planning ahead to lower the risk of future stress.

To better understand how these factors influence responses to stress, the research team looked at data from 223 study participants. The study included 116 individuals between the ages of 60 and 90, and 107 people between the ages of 18 and 36. All of the study participants were in the United States.

All of the study participants were asked to complete an initial survey in order to determine their tendency to engage in proactive coping. They were then asked to fill out questionnaires for eight consecutive days that assessed fluctuations in mindfulness. On those eight days, participants were also asked to report daily stressors and the extent to which they had experienced negative moods.

The research team found that engaging in proactive coping was beneficial at limiting the effect of daily stressors, but that this advantage essentially disappeared on days when a participant reported low mindfulness.

“Our results show that a combination of proactive coping and high mindfulness result in study participants of all ages being more resilient against daily stressors,” Neupert said. “Basically, we found that proactive planning and mindfulness account for about a quarter of the variance in how stressors influenced negative affect.

“Interventions targeting daily fluctuations in mindfulness may be especially helpful for those who are high in proactive coping and may be more inclined to think ahead to the future at the expense of remaining in the present.”

Several studies have shown the benefits of mindfulness in daily stress reduction, as well as in reducing cognitive impairment in older adults, helping people in high-risk jobs and those struggling with drug addiction.

The new findings underscore the importance of daily mindfulness coupled with adequately planning ahead for the future, as these may help a person stay in a positive mindset and not succumb to high stress levels or negative moods.

The new paper is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. First author of the paper is Melody Polk, an undergraduate at NC State. The paper was co-authored by Emily Smith and Ling-Rui Zhang, graduate students at NC State. The work was done with support from North Carolina State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

By Traci Pedersen
Associate News Editor     29 Mar 2020
Source: North Carolina State University


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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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The Best Support and Practices For Your Mental Health

A psychologist shares tips on how to find and maintain the mental health support you need.

Mental health struggles can affect anyone. Even high-profile celebrities put on a brave public face to hide their struggles, and no one (not even Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade, who both died by suicide in June 2018) is immune.

But the reality is many people living with mental health issues and other invisible conditions still sweep internal despair under the rug instead of opening the curtain of their own psyche to find answers. This has largely to do with the continued stigma of seeking out mental health support. Sheryl Blum, a Montreal-based psychologist, says the reason many hesitate to get help is due to “discomfort in having to admit there’s a problem and needing outside assistance; shame; and being scared about what they’ll uncover if they come to therapy.”

If you need help, know you are not alone; research has shown that one in five Canadians experience a mental health problem in any given year. Overcoming the long-held stigma against talking to a mental health professional by seeking therapy isn’t an admission of fault—it’s an admission of the desire to be happier, less anxious and more at ease.

Here are a few tips to help you determine if seeking mental health support is right for you, and if so, the next steps you can take.

1. LOOK FOR WARNING SIGNS
Everyone experiences periods of sadness, stress, anger and confusion, but when certain feelings start to take over your life and debilitate you, those are warning signs to get help.  Blum recommends looking for significant changes in behaviour. “One of the things I do when someone first comes to see me is what I call ‘back to basics,’” says Blum. “I ask: How are you sleeping? How are you eating? Are you doing exercise? Are you seeing friends? Are you doing work? I look for the balance, and if there’s an upset in the balance, that’s where I want to start. Those are important signs to look for.”

So how do you know if there’s an imbalance before you talk to a professional? Trust your gut. “If your gut is telling you, I just don’t feel right, something is off—even if you can’t pinpoint what exactly it is—that merits watching, documenting, and noticing if it’s affecting your sleep and your appetite,” says Blum. She also recommends being mindful of an unusual drop in your functioning at school, work and social activities.

2. ENGAGE WITH THE MENTAL HEALTH COMMUNITY ON SOCIAL MEDIA
There have been many campaigns, like #EndtheStigma and Canada’s very own #BellLetsTalk and #OneBraveNight, that have fought head-on to bring the topic of mental illness to the forefront and provide courage to the public to take care of themselves.

Yes, social media has gotten a bad rap over the years, and there are definitely negative aspects—just as with almost everything in life, there can be cons—however, the creation of mental health initiatives through social hashtags promotes open discussions and enables individuals from all over to bring personal journeys into the public domain. This, in turn, helps normalize the conversation, lets people connect with others struggling, and can act as a medium for discovering recovery resources and support.

3. CONSIDER CHECKING IN WITH YOUR FAMILY DOCTOR FIRST
A primary care doctor can play a critical role in one’s mental health journey. “I think they are the first step,” says Blum. “If somebody comes to me and they have not gone for a physical checkup, I actually will request they do.” She further explains that many medical issues can cause psychological issues. “For example, a thyroid imbalance can cause anxiety or depression, so maybe you need something to regulate your thyroid instead of spending a year in therapy.” And unlike a psychologist, a family physician is able to prescribe and monitor medication if needed. “I think they’re hugely important so that you can rule out anything medical.”

 

mental health tips

4. CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS
With over a half-dozen different professions that provide services that focus on helping a person overcome a concern (like psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed counsellors, and clinical social workers), choosing the right therapist to connect with can seem like an overwhelming hurdle to surmount. Blum describes the process much like dating; you may have to meet a few different ones before you find your perfect match.

Knowing where to look for a mental health professional is a helpful start. Blum recommends online resource Psychology Today, which has an extensive directory of therapists, treatment centres, and support groups. Visitors are able to filter their search by location, insurance, faith, sexuality, age, treatment approach and desired language. Opening up to supportive friends and family about what’s going on is also good. Not only are you allowing them to be part of your support team, but it’s also possible they can share recommendations or experts that have worked for them personally.

5. DO AN INTERVIEW
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a few therapists who look promising, opt for a quick consultation call before committing. “I’ll always chat with people for 15 to 20 minutes, no charge,” says Blum. “You can get a feel for what the [therapist] is like, and it also helps me because maybe there’s a problem [somebody] tells me about that’s not my specialty. I wouldn’t want to waste their time, and then I can refer them to a colleague or somewhere else.”

6. MEET THE THERAPIST OR PSYCHOLOGIST BEFORE FIRMLY DECIDING
“You want to try the person out,” says Blum. “Somebody can look really good on paper, but I don’t think reading someone’s bio necessarily gives you a sense of what’s going on.” By going in and actually sitting with and talking to someone, you can get a better feel for whether it will work for you. Then you can ask yourself: “Do I feel comfortable with this person? Do I think that I might be able to trust them as the sessions move on? Do they appear confident? Are they reviewing things like consent? Are they telling me what to expect? Are they answering my questions? Do they have a diploma on the wall? Do I feel safe and comfortable on their couch or in their chair?”

7. TALK IT OUT
Finding the right therapist is one thing, but often an even bigger hurdle is trying to decide which type of support you should receive. It really depends on what your mental health struggles are, and “you might not know what your problem is until you go for help,” says Blum. Her advice? Just begin. If upon talking to a therapist, you both decide that there is another professional better suited to address your mental health concerns, your therapist will be able to refer you to the appropriate person.

Choosing a therapy type, from psychoanalytic therapy to behavioural and cognitive therapy, also comes down to a personal call. “You’ll know,” says Blum. “If nothing is changing or things are getting worse, then it’s the wrong approach.”

MOST IMPORTANTLY, TALK TO SOMEONE YOU CAN CONNECT WITH
At the end of the day, the most important aspect of therapy is the relationship you have with your therapist, despite the treatment approach. “There’s nothing that replaces what we call the therapeutic alliance, which is the connection between the therapist and the client,” says Blum. “That alliance is where the magic happens and is the biggest predictor of someone making an improvement.”

It’s often spoken about in hushed tones, but seeing a therapist can make a world of difference for anyone who struggles with mental health issues.

This article is featured on:Mental health in Canada
BY: NATASHA BRUNO


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The Everyday Foods Linked To Good Mental Health

The foods can offset the impact of major life events, like divorce and unemployment.

Eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to a lower risk of depression new research concludes.

An extra four portions of fruit and vegetables per day can offset the impact of major life events, like divorce and unemployment.

The boost from more fruit and vegetables could counteract half the pain of getting divorced or one-quarter that of being unemployed.

The effect on mental well-being of eating 8 portions per day compared with none is even more dramatic.

These benefits come on top of the well-known protective effect against cancer and heart disease.

The conclusions come from an Australian survey of 7,108 people carried out every year since 2001.

All were asked about their diet and lifestyle.

The results showed that the more fruit and vegetables people ate, the less likely they were to be diagnosed with mental health problems later on.

fruits-veggies

Dr Redzo Mujcic, the study’s first author, said:

“If people eat around seven or eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day the boost in mental well-being is as strong as divorce pushing people the other way, to a depressed state.
We found being made unemployed had a very bad and significant effect on people’s mental health, greatly increasing the risk of depression and anxiety.
But eating seven or eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day can reduce that by half.
And the effect is a lot quicker than the physical improvements you see from a healthy diet.
The mental gains occur within 24 months, whereas physical gains don’t occur until you are in your 60s.”

One possible mechanism by which fruit and vegetables affect happiness is through antioxidants.

There is a suggested connection between antioxidants and optimism.

Dr Mujcic said:

“If people increase their daily intake of fruit and vegetables from zero to eight they are 3.2 percentage points less likely to suffer depression or anxiety in the next two years.
That might not sound much in absolute terms, but the effect is comparable to parts of major life events, like being made unemployed or divorced.
We tested for reverse-causality—ie whether it might be that depression or anxiety leads to people eating less fruit and vegetables—but we found no strong statistical evidence of this.”

About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. 
He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
The study was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine (Mujcic & Oswald, 2019).

 


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Does Living Alone Increase Mental Health Risk?

A new study has concluded that living alone is linked to common mental disorders. The authors have also identified the main driver of this worrying relationship.

Some common mental disorders (CMDs) include mood disorders, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

According to some studies, almost one-third of people will experience a CMD in their lifetime.

These conditions can have a significant impact on the individual, of course, but due to their high prevalence, they also affect society at large.

Due to the widespread influence of CMDs, scientists are keen to understand the full range of risk factors that feed into mental health.

In recent years, scientists have investigated whether living alone might be one such risk factor.

A new study, the results of which now appear in the journal PLOS ONE, takes a fresh look at this question. The study authors conclude that there is a link between living alone and CMDs. They also find that it affects all age groups and sexes, and that primarily, loneliness is the driver.

Living alone

The number of people living alone is steadily growing throughout much of the Western world; this is due to a number of reasons, including the aging population, people tending to get married at an older age, and increased divorce rates.

Researchers have already looked at the relationship between CMDs and living alone, but most have focused on older adults, so their findings may not apply to other age groups.

Also, earlier studies generally focused on just one mental condition: depression. This might not provide the full picture.

Previous work has also not quantified how other factors influence this relationship; for instance, people who live alone are more likely to be overweight, smoke, use drugs, and lack social support. So which of these, if any, is the main driver of CMDs?

The authors of the new study aimed to fill in some of these gaps. They looked for links between living alone and CMDs in general, and they investigated which factors seemed to be influencing the relationship.

 

Looking at the data

To investigate, scientists from the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France analyzed data from 20,503 adults, ages 16–74, living in England. The data came from three National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys that experts conducted in 1993, 2000, and 2007.

Participants completed Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised questionnaires, which assessed whether they had experienced neurotic symptoms during the previous week.

The surveys also collated data on a range of variables, including height and weight, level of education, employment status, alcohol and drug use, social support, and feelings of loneliness.

As expected, the authors found that the number of people living alone has steadily grown. In 1993, 8.8% lived alone. This is compared with 9.8% in 2000 and 10.7% in 2007.

Their analysis also showed that across all age groups and sexes, there was a significant association between living alone and having a CMD. The size of this relationship was fairly similar across the three surveys.

CMDs were more common in those living alone than those not living alone:

1993: 19.9% vs. 13.6%
2000: 23.2% vs. 15.5%
2007: 24.7% vs. 15.4%

The trouble with loneliness

When the scientists delved deeper into the relationship between CMDs and living alone, they found that loneliness explained 84% of the association.
Earlier studies had shown that loneliness is linked with depression and anxiety. Others still had investigated whether loneliness might increase mortality risk.
During what some experts call a “loneliness epidemic,” this finding is particularly important. Similarly, because ill mental health is a growing concern, understanding the risk factors associated with CMDs might help turn the tide.
Of course, not everyone who lives alone is lonely. However, for those who are, interventions to tackle loneliness are available. These may include talking therapies, social care provisions, and animal-based interventions.
The next and most challenging step is to find ways to ensure that people in need get access to these tools.
The researchers acknowledge certain limitations to the study. For instance, this was a cross-sectional study, meaning that it looked at a snapshot of people at one point in time. The authors call for longitudinal studies to ascertain how this relationship might play out over time.
As with any study of this nature, assessing cause and effect is not possible: Did a person develop a CMD because they lived alone, or did they develop a CMD and then decide to live alone?
Or, perhaps, someone with a predisposition for CMDs is more likely to want to live alone. As ever, scientists will need to carry out more work to fill in the gaps.
Earlier findings back up these results, but the new findings also go a few steps further; they show that the relationship between mental health and living alone is stable across time, that the link is not restricted to older adults, and that loneliness plays a pivotal role.
Thursday 2 May 2019       By Tim Newman Fact checked by Jasmin Collier


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Positive Self-Talk: 7 Things Mentally Healthy People Tell Themselves

The messages we give to ourselves every day have enormous power. Anything that is repeated and repeated and repeated can become “truth” — even when it isn’t. Any coach will tell you that practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect but it certainly does make permanent.

Repeating negative messages can wear down our sense of self as surely as a constant stream of water will wear down even the hardest stone. Repeating positive messages, on the other hand, is more like creating a pearl in an oyster. With each additional positive message, our confidence and competence grows.

Positive psychologists have studied this extensively. As long ago as the 1950s, Abraham Maslow said that a self-actualized person is someone who focuses on her talents and strengths. Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center Dr. Martin Seligman, who has been called the father of positive psychology, has found that when people identify and use their top strengths regularly, they can be more productive and can experience a high level of self-esteem. (If you’d like to identify your top strengths, you can take Dr. Seligman’s free quiz).

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has concluded that positivity helps “broaden our ideas about possible actions, opening our awareness to a wider range of thoughts and actions than is typical.”

What all this means on a practical level is that deciding to emphasize the positive is the key to a happy and productive life. Yes, deciding. Where we put our attention is a decision. It can seem like dark clouds cover every silver lining. But that silver lining is still there if we look for it.

Feeling good (or at least better) will not happen if we tell ourselves over and over that we are helpless and the situation is hopeless. To strengthen or improve our mental health, we all need to think the way mentally healthy people think: Shifting our focus from all that is wrong to whatever we can find that is good, positive and possible in ourselves, other people and in our situation is the key to thriving.

7 Things Mentally Healthy People Tell Themselves

“I am a lovable.” No child is born who is not lovable. Look at any newborn. That button nose and those tiny fingers and toes are meant to engage adult’s protective and loving feelings. You were no different. The adults around you when you were small may have been too wounded, too ill or to overwhelmed to love you but that is on them. You were and are — just by the fact of your existence — a lovable person.

“I am capable.” From the time they take their first breath, humans are wired to learn, to adapt, and to grow. You have been learning and growing every minute. You may not have been taught all you need to know to manage your feelings or to take care of yourself. You may have learned unusual behaviors or in order to survive. But you are never too old to learn new skills. Anything you’ve learned that is not helpful or healthy can be unlearned.

“Most other people are lovable and capable, too.” It’s crucial not to let negative or painful experiences with a few negative or toxic individuals color our opinion of everyone. The majority of people in the world do mean well and are doing the best they can. Once we’re adults, we can choose who we want to surround ourselves with. We can seek out the people who are living lives that are decent, warm and contributing good to the world.

“Success comes from doing.” It’s been proven over and over again by researchers: Feeling good comes from doing good things. Positive self-esteem is the outcome, not the prerequisite, for being successful in relationships, school, work, sports, hobbies —  just about anything. We all have a choice whether we wait to feel better or we do the things that we know will help us become better.

“Challenges are opportunities.” Life isn’t always easy or fair. How we meet challenges and obstacles is a choice. Healthy people find ways to engage with a problem and look for ways to solve it. They refuse to let their fears keep them from trying something new, even if it is difficult. Stretching ourselves outside of our comfort zones is what helps us grow. Mentally healthy people also recognize that sometimes the opportunity hidden inside a challenge is the opportunity to say “no.” Not all problems are worth solving. Not all problems can be “solved” as they are defined.

“It is only human to make mistakes”: Mentally healthy people know that a mistake is not the reason to give up. It is an opportunity to learn and try again. Willingness to acknowledge and fix our errors is a mark of strength. Cultivating the courage to be imperfect is central to being willing to try again.

“I have what it takes to cope with change — and to make changes.” Change is inevitable in life. Mentally healthy people believe in their ability to cope and to adapt to changes. They aren’t unrealistic. They don’t deny the seriousness of a problem. They do acknowledge when a situation is very difficult. They don’t criticize themselves for not wanting to deal with whatever it is they have to deal with. But they have a deep seated belief that if they do tackle the problem, they will eventually find a solution or a way around it.

 

By Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.     8 Jul 2018