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How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity

Research shows that most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation. Complaining is tempting because it feels good, but like many other things that are enjoyable — such as smoking or eating a pound of bacon for breakfast – complaining isn’t good for you.

Your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future – so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.

You can’t blame your brain. Who’d want to build a temporary bridge every time you need to cross a river? It makes a lot more sense to construct a permanent bridge. So, your neurons grow closer together, and the connections between them become more permanent. Scientists like to describe this process as, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.

And here’s the kicker: complaining damages other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus – an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.

Complaining is also bad for your health

While it’s not an exaggeration to say that complaining leads to brain damage, it doesn’t stop there. When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol shifts you into fight-or-flight mode, directing oxygen, blood and energy away from everything but the systems that are essential to immediate survival. One effect of cortisol, for example, is to raise your blood pressure and blood sugar so that you’ll be prepared to either escape or defend yourself.

All the extra cortisol released by frequent complaining impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes.

It’s not just you…

Since human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with. This process is called neuronal mirroring, and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy. The flip side, however, is that it makes complaining a lot like smoking – you don’t have to do it yourself to suffer the ill effects. You need to be cautious about spending time with people who complain about everything. Complainers want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. Think of it this way: If a person were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? You’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with complainers.

eckhart-tolle-complain-quotes

The solution to complaining

There are two things you can do when you feel the need to complain. One is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. That is, when you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something that you’re grateful for. Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels. Any time you experience negative or pessimistic thoughts, use this as a cue to shift gears and to think about something positive. In time, a positive attitude will become a way of life.

The second thing you can do — and only when you have something that is truly worth complaining about – is to engage in solution-oriented complaining. Think of it as complaining with a purpose. Solution-oriented complaining should do the following:

  1. Have a clear purpose. Before complaining, know what outcome you’re looking for. If you can’t identify a purpose, there’s a good chance you just want to complain for its own sake, and that’s the kind of complaining you should nip in the bud.
  2. Start with something positive. It may seem counterintuitive to start a complaint with a compliment, but starting with a positive helps keep the other person from getting defensive. For example, before launching into a complaint about poor customer service, you could say something like, “I’ve been a customer for a very long time and have always been thrilled with your service…”
  3. Be specific. When you’re complaining it’s not a good time to dredge up every minor annoyance from the past 20 years. Just address the current situation and be as specific as possible. Instead of saying, “Your employee was rude to me,” describe specifically what the employee did that seemed rude.
  4. End on a positive. If you end your complaint with, “I’m never shopping here again,” the person who’s listening has no motivation to act on your complaint. In that case, you’re just venting, or complaining with no purpose other than to complain. Instead, restate your purpose, as well as your hope that the desired result can be achieved, for example, “I’d like to work this out so that we can keep our business relationship intact.”

Bringing It All Together

Just like smoking, drinking too much, and lying on the couch watching TV all day, complaining is bad for you. Put my advice to use, and you’ll reap the physical, mental and performance benefits that come with a positive frame of mind.

TRAVIS BRADBERRY       Entrepreneur.com      Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016
A version of this article appeared on TalentSmart and Entrepreneur.com.
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11 Awe-Inspiring Facts You Never Knew About Your Brain

by Annalise Mantz for Thrive Market      April 8, 2016 

It only weighs 3 pounds. It runs on about 20 watts of electricity. It’s what sets us apart from other animals.

Figure it out yet? We’re talking about the human brain.

While it’s undoubtedly the most important organ, we tend to forget about it while it’s quietly keeping the body breathing, walking, and talking. The brain does so much, in fact, that scientists still don’t understand exactly why and how it carries out all its complex functions. What we do know about the brain, however, is seriously awe-inspiring. Case in point: these 11 facts.

1. The human brain is shrinking

For the first 2 million years of human evolution, the brain grew. And grew and grew, until the time of the Cro-Magnons, a brawny incarnation of humans with huge jaws and enormous chests. That was 20,000 years ago—and since then, our brains have shrunk in size, losing a chunk about the size of a tennis ball.

Though scientists don’t believe this change is anything to be concerned about, they also don’t know exactly why it’s happening.

2. The brain in your skull isn’t your only brain

Guilty of blowing your budget at the grocery store when you shop hungry? There’s a reason for that: each of us has a so-called “second brain” in the intestines.

All kidding aside, recent research has shed more light on what experts call the gut-brain connection. Sure, the mass of 100 million neurons in the intestines deals mainly with digestion, but that’s not all. The enteric nervous system also produces serotonin (the neurotransmitter that balances our moods) and may have an impact on depression.

3. Your brain is better at some things at 70 than it was at 22

As you age, you get better at some things and worse at others. Contrary to popular belief, cognitive function doesn’t just drop off after middle age.

Though your brain processes information most quickly at age 18 or 19, its ability to understand complex emotions improves until your 50s, and your grasp of vocabulary will likely be its best in your 70s.

4. Your subconscious really runs the show

Think you’re in control of your life? Think again. Researchers believe that 95 percent of decision-making occurs in the subconscious mind. You’re not consciously deciding whether or not to stop at a red light or continue breathing in or out—the subconscious is taking over.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a bad thing—experts say the subconscious mind is much more rational than the conscious mind.

5. A bad attitude could permanently alter your brain

Every time you have a thought, the brain shoots neurotransmitters across its synapses to pass the message from cell to cell. The more you think a certain way, the easier it becomes for those synapses to connect—and the more likely you are to have those thoughts in the future.

Yes, that means negativity actually rewires the brain. Complaining more often actually makes you more unhappy—so keep that in mind the next time the barista gives you whole milk instead of skim.

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6. There’s no such thing as a “photographic” memory

Just imagine it: During a test, you could conjure up an image of your notes to give you the answers. There’s no need to add phone numbers to your address book—you’d know them all by heart. Having a photographic memory sure would be nice.

Convenient as seems, scientists say there’s no such thing. The closest thing? Eidetic imagery. People with this rare ability can vividly remember an image with near-perfect accuracy after having seen it for only a few seconds. It’s most common in children, but often fades as their brains grow and learn to process information more efficiently.

7. Your brain can predict the future—sort of

A 2012 study revealed that the frontopolar cortex draws on past experiences to predict future events. In the experiment, researchers gave their subjects four slot machines to play. What the patients didn’t know is that the probability of winning on one of the machines changed unexpectedly throughout the experiment. Researchers were surprised to see that their subjects were able to devise a strategy to win the most money by observing the trends in winning—using the frontopolar cortex. Pretty impressive. (No word on why you always lose money in Vegas, though.)

8. No, you’re not psychic—but scientists don’t really know what causes déjà vu

Hate to break it to you, but that feeling of already having been here you sometimes get when walking into a room doesn’t make you clairvoyant. At least 30 percent of us will experience déjà vu—French for “already seen”—in our lifetime, and it’s most common in people under 25. Some even experience this unsettling feeling for the first time by age 6!

Scientists still don’t know exactly what causes this condition, since it’s extremely difficult to research, and no one really knows how to trigger it in a lab. Methods to induce déjà vu in clinical settings (like squirting warm water in a patient’s ear) have rarely worked. The operating theory is that misfiring neurons produce this feeling of having “already seen” something. And, since we do know that people with epilepsy or dementia experience the condition more often, the theory makes sense.

9. Some people really do experience stimuli more vividly

Ever watched a Kanye West interview? He speaks so ardently about his music. This is the guy who said, “I am Warhol. I am the No. 1 most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh.”

Maybe there’s a reason for that. Like Duke Ellington, Pharrell Williams, and Stevie Wonder, Yeezy has synesthesia, a condition in which one sense is perceived as another. Specifically, West sees music as brilliant colors. Only one in 2,000 people experience this condition, and it takes many forms—you might feel voices brush against your skin, or taste food as explosions of colors and texture.

10. Under the right conditions, you can control your dreams

It sounds like something right out of “Inception,” but lucid dreaming—or the ability to interact with and control your dreams—is real.

Though scientists used to be pretty skeptical, they now believe lucid dreaming happens during REM sleep, when you realize you’re dreaming and consciously decide to enter the dream. Never had one? It’s not too late—the average person has three to five dreams every night, and you might be able to hack into one of them by following these tips.

11. While you sleep, the brain paralyzes the body

When your dreams feel real, it’s a wonder you aren’t sleepwalking, running, and jumping all over the place in the middle of the night. Guess what—the brain’s responsible for keeping you safe from harm while your mental self is off in dreamland, too.

During REM sleep, specialized neurotransmitters switch off the cells that allow your muscles to move. (We shudder to imagine what would happen if this wasn’t the case!)

And not just during sleep—when you think about it, your noggin protects you from harm all day long. That’s reason enough to treat it to some brain food, if you ask us.


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How To Make Friends With Your Inner Critic

Today it’s my pleasure to introduce you to licensed counselor and intuition coach John Harrison. John has written a fantastic guest post about the benefits of negative self talk. Yes, that’s right! John shows us how to make friends with our inner critic and let it guide us back to authenticity.

by John Harrison, LPCC      Sharon Martin, LCSW

We all experience positive and negative self talk.

We’ve been alive long enough to have experienced viewpoints of ourselves that are negative, self deflating, and undermining and those that tell us we are limitless creators, lovers of life, and the masters of our own destiny.   One set of beliefs tells us we “aren’t”.  The other tells us we “are”.  How do we know which is the affirming view of our own reality?  Who are we, really?

Most of my clients come to see me looking for guidance to help them “get on the right track”.   One person in particular has a stretch of weeks where her life is really coming together for her.  She’s engaged, excited, and feeling she’s turned that corner.  Then, to her disappointment, she’ll have one of her negative interactions with her family.  They’ll tell her she’s being selfish.  They’ll suggest she’s wasting her time with her career and that “if she’d just change” she’d be able to find someone that would want to date her.

After these run-ins with her family she’ll come to my office completely devastated.   The self doubt creeps in.  “What if they’re right?  Am I being selfish?  Can I ever be happy with my decisions?”  She really feels that each time she has a setback she is starting over from scratch.  I know that it feels that way to her.  But she’s doing just fine.

Your inner critic doesn’t define you.

Although we all contain negative self talk, we are actually much more than this “self chatter”.  Sure, we carry the doubts and fears of our parents, our families, the experiences of failure from growing up.   We hear those “voices of the past” as we move into adulthood and even now in our current life experiences.   But this isn’t actually who we really are.  There’s a part of us that knows the “right way”.  A part of us that knows joy and peace.  So how do we tap into this?  How do we tune out the negative self talk and ignore those crippling, shameful voices that tell us we aren’t enough?

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You don’t turn them off.  You can’t completely stop that negative self talk.  But you can actually use those awful feelings you get when your negative self talk is at its worst to give you guidance.   You can learn from your negative beliefs, self talk, and feelings.  The negative feelings caused by negative self talk are the first indication that you aren’t in alignment with your true self.   Why?  Because you are worthy just by being alive.  You deserve to feel good.  You deserve to be confident, healthy, and thriving.

Self affirming thoughts and beliefs feel good.  They feel right.  And if you want to feel good, this is all you need to pay attention to in knowing you are “on the right path”.

You don’t need permission to feel good.

You are supposed to feel good.  You are supposed to be happy and get what you want.   Feeling good, alive, and engaged in life is what life is all about.  Sure we’ve all been taught in one form or another that we get love and acceptance as long as we “play by the rules”.  But I’m going to tell you this:  You are deserving of what you want because you are.  Period.  You don’t need permission to feel good.  You don’t need to be ashamed to feel happy and get what you want.

Your negative self talk can guide you back to yourself.

You have an internal GPS.  A guidance system that tells you when you are “off” and when you are “on” and where you want to be.   If you use those negative beliefs of yourself, or that negative self talk, to signal you that you aren’t where you want to be, the negative voices and stories in your mind can be a powerful ally.  Stop trying to look for proof that your self defeating beliefs aren’t your reality.  Stop trying to prove yourself and look for external affirmation.  Give yourself permission to accept that you can demand and get what you want because you say so.  And I’m assuming that you want more good in your life.  You want to be happy, content, and be in love with your life.

And here you are.  Living your life while going through the ups and downs.   But you’ve made it this far.  You know that for every self defeating belief, there is still a part of you who continues to seek something better.  There’s a “you” that’s constant through all of this.   The you that knows the contrast of life.  The pain, the shame, and the love and excitement of being happy and alive.  All of it.   The truth is you want to be happy, engaged, and in love with life.  But as life does, it gives us the negative experiences that bring those voices of doubt to the forefront of our conscious minds.  But “you”, the real “you” continues to tell you through negativity that you aren’t living your truth.   This is your intuition.  Your internal GPS.  It loves you.  It doesn’t lie.  All you have to do is listen to it.

John Harrison is a licensed counselor and intuition coach who works with individuals and couples helping them get “unstuck”. He shows them how to empower their lives, helping them see they are their own greatest asset. John counsels individuals and couples in Cincinnati, Ohio and coaches people from all over the country showing them how to use their “higher self” to get the lives they want. You can find out more about John and his services at johnharrisoncounseling.com.


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11 Tips To Feel Calm and Focused: A Psychiatrist Explains

by Dr. Joseph Annibali      January 6, 2016

In this excerpt from Dr. Joseph Annibali, M.D.’s new book, Reclaim Your Brain: How to Calm Your Thoughts, Heal Your Mind, and Bring Your Life Under Control, the leading psychiatrist explains why getting negativity under control is crucial to a calm, mindful brain — and how to do it.

When I first began to explore the “busy-brain” phenomenon — or when a chaotic brain interferes with our attention, focus, and mood — I quickly recognized a pattern in those who have it. Many of these individuals also struggled with excess negativity. It was as if not only were their brains caught in a loop but that loop was almost uniformly negative.

The reality is that the brain is hardwired for negativity.

Why would our brains make us so negative? The reality is that the brain is hardwired for negativity. Studies of brain development and observations about early traumas support this.

But negativity is not unalterable. First, it’s important to recognize that we all have an inner critic or judge inside our heads. Second, it’s important to understand that the critical stranger actually is an invader. Because the negativity isn’t you; it’s your brain activity.

Let me reemphasize that: You are not just your brain; you are not just your thoughts. Why do I make this claim? Well, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The brain is a key part of who we are, yes. But we find that the real us is beyond our thoughts.

This is why Buddhist and other meditative traditions claim that we find ourselves only beyond our thoughts, apart from our thoughts, in a state of mental peace, often in meditation or silence. Our heart beats, but we are not our heartbeat. Our brain thinks, but we are not our thoughts.

That’s why you can learn to separate yourself from the rampant negativity in your brain. And in separating yourself from your poisonous negativity, you can calm your busy brain.

Here are some of the strategies I recommend:

1. Detach yourself from the negative thoughts.

Remember, “You are not just your brain; you are not your thoughts.” Thoughts arise automatically, just like the heart beats automatically and we breathe automatically. We don’t control our thoughts. And yet they can control us if we let them.

If we remind ourselves that our brain makes our negative thoughts, that we are not our brain, we gain much-needed distance from our negative thoughts. They happen; that’s it. Don’t fight them.

But we can think about our thinking. We can put things into perspective: Our thoughts are not facts. With practice and experience, we can learn to more automatically gain distance from our negative thoughts. Try observing the flow of negativity in your mind, the way you might sit on the bank of a stream and watch the water flow by. You might even view your negativity as a scientist would: “Oh, how interesting that there are self-critical thoughts occurring now.”

Another way to create distance and detachment is what I call the “Ronald Reagan Approach.” In his presidential election debates with Walter Mondale, Mr. Reagan repeatedly and quite effectively said to Mr. Mondale, “There you go again.” Tell yourself, “There’s my brain being negative again.”

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2. Distract yourself.

Pour yourself into something productive and positive, or at least seek out a change of gears.

When we’re preoccupied with something we enjoy (a crossword puzzle, a good book, a game of catch) or even just find something to absorb us (take a coffee break or talk to a colleague), it gives our system a chance to calm down and our thoughts a chance to refocus from negative to more neutral, if not positive.

3. Remember your values.

Remind yourself what your values are. If you are ruminating over negative thoughts and decisions, refocusing on your core values will help reduce the negativity.

4. Practice gratitude.

Embrace an attitude of gratitude. Write down three things for which you are grateful. Studies show that simply writing down what you are grateful for can really change the brain and improve mood, moving you away from negativity.

5. Shun the “shoulds.”

Get out of what I call the “Cold Shower of Shoulds.” Among the torment of negative thinking that afflicts us often is a constant flood of “shoulds”: I should do this … I should do that …

This Cold Shower of Shoulds is nothing but destructive. Once we become more aware of our tendency to stay too long in this destructive shower, we have a better chance of stepping out of this negative shower stall.

6. Mentally twist the dial.

Imagine that there’s a dial on the side of your head that you could use to turn down the negative thoughts. Actually envision yourself turning down the negativity by twisting the dial.

7. Have a laugh.

Can you find the humor in what the negative critic is saying to you? Laughter can be the best medicine. Make fun of the negative thoughts. Laugh at them and yourself for believing them … but make sure that you do so gently.


8. Power up your problem solving.

If the negative thoughts relate to a clear problem (e.g., a serious health issue), make a list of the steps you can take to deal with the situation. Break down the potential solution into small, achievable steps you can take to improve things.

9. Find the positive.

Try to find the positive in what seems to be a negative situation. Turning around a negative thought often shows us another side of the situation. A problem or crisis can even be an opportunity. Search for it.

10. Breathe.

Take slow, deep breaths. This relaxes the body and the brain and reduces brain overactivity.

11. Move your body.

Do something physical; exercise. Don’t stay stuck and immobile, literally and metaphorically.

Reprinted from Reclaim Your Brain – Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company    Joseph A. Annibali, M.D.


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The 5-Minute Fix to A Bad Day

By: Jordyn Cormier     January 17, 2016

We all have bad days. Your alarm doesn’t go off. Your breakfast bar becomes smooshed after you sit on it in the car. You get stuck in deadlock traffic. And, to top it all off, you are callously berated for being late to work. Things happen—sometimes we have little control over our circumstances. But what do you do in these tough times? Do you just grumble and lean into the negativity that your life is pushing? Or do you launch a positivity counterattack?

Don’t just settle into a bad day. You attract whatever mood you are putting out. If you’re angry and negative, only more negativity will find you, while if you smile in spite of the difficulties, positive things will begin to take shape. The truth is, you can turn any bad mood around in relatively little time if you set your mind to it. What is the secret, you ask? The secret is immersing yourself in something you love. That’s right. All it takes is 5 minutes—5 minutes of complete and utter love. Find something that always make you smile, whether it’s your favorite song, a steaming cup of hot cocoa, a brisk jog or your favorite poem. Whatever it is, completely immerse yourself in that for 5 minutes. Do not wallow over your bad day—sink yourself into this positive activity. Blast your favorite song on your headphones or in your car and sing along and dance. Allow happiness to flood you and keep worries at bay for 5 minutes. Most of the time, this small break from the negative cycle is enough to turn your day and your mood around.

Can’t access your go-to favorite things? There is another simple action that can turn a bad mood swiftly around. It lies in the magic of your smile. By forcing yourself to smirk or smile for a few minutes, your emotions will start to follow suit.

“Charles Darwin first posed the idea that emotional responses influence our feelings in 1872. ‘The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it,’ he wrote.” (Scientific American)

By exhibiting happiness on the outside, it can cause you to feel the actual emotion within. Studies have shown that those who have had botox injections, which make frowning difficult, experience more happiness than those studies who did not receive injections and could frown freely. So, if you’re having a rough time, keep a grin on your face and everything will feel a heck of a lot more manageable.

Fitting something you absolutely love into your schedule is a quick remedy to invigorate any bad day. It’s very similar to meditation, in fact. Try to make it a regular practice—much like (and perhaps in replacement of) your 3 o’clock caffeine or sugar fix. Whether you’re smiling, dancing, sketching or indulging in a small mocha, you will be amazed at how powerful 5 minutes of pure positivity and love can be.


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This Fine Belief May Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease

This belief about ageing may protect against memory loss linked to Alzheimer’s.

Holding more positive beliefs about ageing may protect against Alzheimer’s disease, a new study finds.

The results come from one of the longest-running studies of ageing in the US.

People who thought of the old in negative terms, such as being decrepit, were more likely to show signs of Alzheimer’s themselves.

Dr Becca Levy, who led the study, said:

“We believe it is the stress generated by the negative beliefs about aging that individuals sometimes internalize from society that can result in pathological brain changes.
Although the findings are concerning, it is encouraging to realize that these negative beliefs about aging can be mitigated and positive beliefs about aging can be reinforced, so that the adverse impact is not inevitable.”

Brain scans of participants found that those with negative ageing beliefs had smaller hippocampi.

In fact, those with negative beliefs had the same decline in three years as those with positive beliefs had in nine years.

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The hippocampus is an area of the brain vital to memory.

Shrinking of the hippocampus is a sign of Alzheimer’s.

Autopsies also looked at two other signs of the disease.

Researchers found that those with more negative beliefs about ageing also had more amyloid plaques and tangles of proteins in the brain.

Both are also indicative of Alzheimer’s.

The results tie in with previous studies findings that negative stereotypes about age are linked to worse memory and even cardiovascular problems.

Negative stereotypes about age can even affect people’s senses the same as their cognitive abilities.

Professor Alison Chasteen, author of a recent study which confirmed the link, explained:

“People’s feelings about getting older influence their sensory and cognitive functions.
Those feelings are often rooted in stereotypes about getting older and comments made by those around them that their hearing and memory are failing.
So, we need to take a deeper and broader approach to understanding the factors that influence their daily lives.”

The study was published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

source: PsyBlog


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13 Incredibly Smart Tips To Be Happier From Mental Health Experts

Genius tips from people whose job it is to make you feel better.

Jul. 9, 2015      Anna Borges

It’s pretty safe to assume that you want to be happy, because…well, who doesn’t? But how to actually make that happen is a little more elusive. BuzzFeed Life talked to a bunch of experts to get their best tips.

Of course, everyone brings their own set of experiences to the table and some people might be living with mental illnesses like depression or anxiety that make things more complicated. But hopefully you might be able to find a few pieces of advice here that can help life feel a little easier.
Heads up: Responses were edited for length.

1. Realize that happiness doesn’t mean having everything you want and being problem-free all the time.

“We cannot control everything that happens to us in life, but we can choose how we respond. When we respond with an attitude of ‘Why is this happening to me?’ and adopt a victim mentality, we suffer. When we choose to respond with an attitude of ‘Why is this happening for me and what can I learn?’ then we feel a lot more empowered, which impacts our mental state positively.
The biggest misconception about happiness is that we can outsource it — that something external is going to make us happy. Happiness is NOT a constant state. As humans we experience and grow through a variety of emotions. The expectation that we should be happy all the time will leave anyone with an expectation hangover. What we can be is grateful.”

—Christine Hassler, empowerment coach and author of Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Love, and Life

2. Cut “should” from your vocabulary, because it basically guarantees whatever you think “should” happen, won’t.

“When we use the word ‘should,’ it’s like this big, judgmental finger wagging at yourself. ‘I should work out more, I should be happier, I should be more grateful.’ It causes us to feel guilt and shame. It depletes our happiness. It causes us to engage in behaviors that are completely against what we want.
Instead, replace ‘should’ with ‘I would like.’ For example, ‘I’d like to lose weight, because I want to have more energy and be a role model.’ That is more motivational, it’s more based on passion rather than the fear and judgment of ourselves that prevents us from being the people that we want to be.”

—Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love

3. Remember that your negative thoughts are not true. They’re just thoughts.

“Sadly, many people make the mistake of believing the negative things that their ‘inner voice’ tells them, often without even being aware of their right to question whether these things are accurate! When it comes to mental health care, many people still think you will need to spend years exploring your childhood or past in order to get better. That’s simply not the case nowadays. Catch, challenge, and change negative thoughts.”

—Simon Rego, Psy.D., director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York

4. Start your day by reminding yourself one positive thing about your life.

“This can be a small observation like enjoying beautiful weather or something more profound like recognizing you have achieved one step towards a life goal (working in the industry you always dreamt of, have a best friend who you are grateful for, etc). We tend to hold onto negatives a lot stronger than positives so this can be a small way to give yourself a moment to check in with the ‘happier’ thoughts and realities.”

—Jess Allen, LMSW, ACT, NYC-based cognitive behavioral therapist

5. Anyone can benefit from therapy, so consider making an appointment for a checkup.

“There is a stereotype that many people have about the unique person who chooses to see a therapist. ‘They must be an emotional wreck,’ or ‘they can’t take care of their own problems,’ or ‘they must be crazy.’ That last one is probably the most popular and worst misconception of them all!
It takes a lot of insight and emotional awareness to realize that you want to enlist the services of a trained mental health therapist to get the right help you need. Yes, there are some clients who seek therapy when they are at the absolute lowest emotional point in their lives, but there are also just as many who simply want to become emotionally healthier people to enhance their work and intimate relationships. No problem is too small or large when you come to see one of us. It’s all welcomed because our job is to meet you where you are at in life, not where we or anyone else thinks you should be.”

—Gabriela Parra, LCSW, California-based counselor

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6. Don’t think about your work responsibilities at home, and vice versa.

“Be present when present, which requires dropping the guilt. Guilt has no benefits for anyone. When you are at work, stay focused, when you are home, give [it] your undivided attention. Doing your best in each place will keep you sane and feeling good about your output.”

—Samantha Ettus, work-life balance expert

7. Stop checking your smartphone randomly. Instead, give yourself specific times to catch up on social media and email.

“Most people would be happier (and less stressed) if they checked their phone less. A study of college students at Kent State University found that people who check their phones frequently tend to experience higher levels of distress during their leisure time (when they intend to relax!).
Instead of willing ourselves to just check less often, we can configure our devices and work time so that we are tempted less often. The goal is to check email, social media, and messages on your phone just a few times a day — intentionally, not impulsively. Our devices are thus returned to their status as tools we use strategically — not slot machines that randomly demand our energy and attention.”

—Christine Carter, Ph.D., happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work

8. Make keeping up with your friendships a priority.

“People think that when work or school or family responsibilities get busy, then hanging out with your friends becomes a luxury that has to be cut. It’s often the first thing to go, even if people are still going to the gym or binge-watching whatever’s new on Netflix. In reality, making sure to spend time with your friends has enormous mental health benefits, and keeps your stress level in check. It’s a great coping mechanism and a necessity for your health that should not be cut when things get tough — on the contrary, you need it more then than ever.”

—Andrea Bonior, Ph.D, clinical psychologist

9. Actually take the time to plan short-term pleasure AND long-term goals — aka actively make your life what you want it to be.

“A lot of people rush around without devoting a few minutes each week to reflecting and strategizing. We may all recognize we’ve periodically contemplated signing up to volunteer at Big Brother Big Sister, then totally forget. Or we mean to switch jobs and then procrastinate, [then] we’re facing our second year in a position we planned to quickly exit.
As Greg McKeown notes in his book, Essentialism, ‘When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and times, other people — our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families — will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.’
Spend time each week planning ahead — plan activities you may enjoy in the moment and also think bigger, considering what you want long term.”

—Jennifer Taitz, Psy.D., clinical psychologist

10. Treat yourself with compassion and lots of love.

“People believe that self-care is selfish, so they avoid doing things that are actually necessities. Self-love, self-care, and self-fulfillment. It’s a lot of self, because happiness starts from within. Self-love includes eliminating negative self-talk and accepting yourself, flaws and all. Self-care means setting boundaries and taking time to refill your energy. Self-fulfillment is all about living your values and having authentic relationships.”

—Rachel DeAlto, communications and relationship expert

11. Don’t forget that your physical health has an impact on your mental health, too.

“Some physical things you can do to create a habit of happiness:
—Honor your circadian rhythm by waking shortly after sunrise and going to sleep a few hours after sunset. Not only do we need seven to nine hours of sleep in order to be happy, but our brain functions better by sharing the rhythm of the sun.
—Incorporate play into your life: Some easy ways to this are when you exercise, do something that makes you laugh, like a dance class, jumping on a trampoline, or playing a group sport.
—Meditate. This can be as simple as an app [like] Headspace.”

—Jennifer Jones, Ph.D., clinical psychologist

12. Several times throughout your day, take a deep breath and tell yourself that everything is OK. Eventually, your brain will get the memo.

“The bills may be piling up with you having no idea of how they are going to get paid. Your mother may have Alzheimer’s, and dealing with that is wearing you out. You may be starting to wonder if there really is someone out there for you. BUT in this moment, your heart is beating, you’re breathing, and you have food in your tummy and a roof over your head. Underneath all the circumstances, desires, and wants, you’re OK. While fixing dinner, walking through the grocery store, driving to work, or reading emails, come into the present moment and remind your brain, ‘I’m all right, right now.’
Over time with repetition, learning to come into the present and calming your brain and body will actually change the neural pathways in your brain — a scientific truth called neuroplasticity — so that this becomes the norm for you.”

—Debbie Hampton, founder of The Best Brain Possible and author of Beat Depression and Anxiety By Changing Your Brain

13. Make a conscious effort to take care of your mental health the same way you would your physical health.

“Too many people neglect to make their mental health a priority! And so it gets forgotten about and put in the ‘too-hard’ or ‘too-busy.’ But just like physical health, mental health really should be considered non-negotiable because without it, we have nothing else.
If I had to limit the key ingredients to happiness and good mental health to just a few I’d say good quality relationships and connectedness, good physical health and well-being, living a life with meaning and purpose, loving oneself and others, and having a sense of hope and optimism for the future.”

—Timothy Sharp, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of 100 Ways To Happiness: A Guide for Busy People.