Two-plus years of a pandemic have altered our mental health. Here are the signs and what you can do to cope.
Even though we’re armed with COVID-19 vaccines and updated booster shots, the world is still largely in a different (and oft-worried) place compared with before the pandemic.
This, experts say, can lead to a feeling of malaise — or “lifestyle fatigue,” in the words of Sean Grover, a psychotherapist who writes for Psychology Today. Lifestyle fatigue can be summed up as “feeling stuck in a rut,” Grover wrote ― and who hasn’t felt at least a little stuck at some point in recent years?
“As it says in the article, lifestyle fatigue’s not any sort of clinical diagnosis,” Alayna L. Park, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, told HuffPost. “You’re not going to go to a psychologist and get a diagnosis of lifestyle fatigue.”
But she said the concept can relate to “feeling off, feeling down [or] feeling tired,” all things that fall into larger areas of mental health research.
Such feelings are normal right now, and sad days are a part of life. However, a few warning signs can indicate that you may be dealing with something bigger.
Here, experts share what lifestyle fatigue means to them and why society is experiencing it more than ever. (If you’re feeling this way, you are certainly not alone.) Plus, they offer some advice on how to feel even just a tiny bit better.
Lifestyle fatigue may be related to a symptom of depression.
The description of lifestyle fatigue resembles the clinical signs of anhedonia, or an inability to feel pleasure, Park said. And while it’s a symptom of depression, experiencing anhedonia does not automatically mean you are depressed, she stressed.
“There can be a lot of causes for anhedonia or lifestyle fatigue,” Park said. One is engaging in very few pleasurable or productive activities. This contributes to a feeling of boredom, sadness or tiredness.
“We’ve definitely had a very prolonged period of that during the COVID pandemic,” she said, adding that this is due to (very necessary!) restrictions that meant we couldn’t take part in many activities and social interactions.
“Even if we’re not outgoing extroverts, we still crave that social interaction. And that social interaction does tend to bring us a sense of pleasure,” Park said.
And even now that restrictions have lifted and people are vaccinated, we are still faced with tough decisions as we consider the risks of certain activities. Our overall life may look different, too: Our friendships are changing and maybe leaving less room for social interactions. Our workplaces are more tiring or demanding, causing many to feel less pleasure from a career. All of this can take a toll.
It could also be related to emotional exhaustion.
Society is emotionally exhausted because of what is going on in the background of our lives — that is, the pandemic on top of any other stressful life events you’re experiencing — according to Dr. Elaina DellaCava, a psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
When experiencing emotional exhaustion, “you’re lacking the energy to do things, lacking the motivation [and] finding that there are things that you feel you should do [but] don’t have the desire to anymore,” she said.
In other words, you’re exhausted and don’t feel like doing something that would have felt pretty normal in 2019, whether that’s a trip to the grocery store or grabbing a drink with a friend.
“Over time, what I’ve seen in my practice is that people are reporting they try to make themselves do things but just the enjoyment isn’t there in the same way it used to be,” DellaCava said.
After two-plus years of less structure than ever (like rolling out of bed and logging in to your computer) and more isolation from loved ones compared with before the pandemic, any kind of structure — such as plans, chores or an in-person meeting — can feel like an unwanted responsibility.
Your ‘fight-flight-freeze’ response has likely been activated for too long, resulting in sadness.
The pandemic has activated people’s “fight-flight-freeze” response — named for the possible reactions to a perceived threat — for the past two and a half years, according to Park.
“What our bodies naturally do when our fight-flight-freeze response [has] been activated for so long is they start to experience some depressive symptoms,” she said.
These will tire you out so you can get more sleep and heal from this stress response, Park said, adding that the symptoms are essentially telling your body: “Hey, you’ve been in this fight-flight-freeze response for two years. That’s way too long. You need to rest.”
This is your body’s way of trying to get back to its normal state, but as the pandemic continues all around us, these fight-flight-freeze responses are still reacting to that stress. So instead of going back to its typical state, your body could be experiencing depressive symptoms over and over as it pushes for rest.
Though lifestyle fatigue isn’t depression in all cases, it may be in some.
It’s normal to feel sad or off at times, Park said, but if you feel tired or down for the majority of the day on most days for at least two weeks, this may be cause for concern. At that point, you should get in touch with a doctor or therapist, she said.
DellaCava said that many people attribute these emotions to burnout — a term that is now pervasive. But feeling down for long periods of time could be a symptom of something larger than burnout, which is generally more work-related and comes from chronic stress.
It’s OK to feel this way.
After multiple new COVID-19 variants, politicized public safety protocols and a sometimes overwhelming fear of getting the virus or passing it on to a loved one, it is normal to feel different than you did before the pandemic.
“If people are feeling this way, they’re certainly not alone,” DellaCava emphasized.
Much of this exhaustion or lifestyle fatigue may be due to the feeling that the pandemic cost someone an element of their identity.
People who love to travel may not feel comfortable getting on a plane now, or if they do go on a trip, they might worry about getting sick abroad and dealing with canceled plans. Similarly, someone who once considered themselves an extrovert might struggle with small talk or meeting new people. It’s hard to be the 2019 version of yourself in the world we live in right now. And that’s exhausting.
DellaCava added that social media makes this even tougher. People are inundated with happy images that can be tough to look at when you’re having a hard day.
“They say comparison is the thief of joy, and I think there is validity in that,” DellaCava said, but remember that “you’re seeing everyone’s best day on social media.” Others aren’t posting about their bad moments or restless nights, she added.
Certain activities can help you feel better.
Adding some productive and pleasurable activities to your week can help calm feelings of lifestyle fatigue, Park said. But with many people feeling exhausted due to their work and home lives becoming intertwined, productive activities do not have to revolve around your job, she added.
“Things that can be productive are things like exercising — so, running further than you did two weeks ago — or learning a language,” Park said. Both of these can give a sense of accomplishment if you’re feeling down.
Pleasurable activities can include visiting a friend, playing an online video game with a family member or calling up a loved one.
For those feeling unmotivated or anhedonic, DellaCava suggested focusing on self-care, which can include getting a good night’s sleep or, if you’re a parent, taking time for yourself. If you’re caring for your own elderly parents, try going for a walk alone or using a meditation app. Self-care should consist of enjoyable activities that are just for you, she said.
That said, it may seem tough to go for a walk or visit a friend when you’re feeling this way. But once you’re engaged in something you enjoy, you’ll likely notice that you’re happy to actually be doing it. Plus, you should be proud of yourself for mustering up the motivation to try the activity.
But if you’re not noticing any change in mood while taking part in once-pleasurable activities, do not hesitate to reach out to a doctor or therapist, DellaCava said. There is a lot going on in the world, and it’s OK if you need someone to talk to right now or a little extra help.
Jillian Wilson – Wellness Reporter, HuffPost Sep 12, 2022
It’s normal to feel anxious as you follow what’s unfolding in Ukraine. Here’s how to stay informed while protecting your mental health.
Thanks to social media, news reports and violent images that bombard us at all hours, we often experience what experts call vicarious trauma when a horrific event occurs ― like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which as of Thursday morning had reportedly resulted in at least 40 deaths. It’s in our physiological nature as human beings to feel some amount of empathy and sorrow for others dealing with a traumatic event. Even though we’re not physically present, we still feel the mental health effects of what’s going on.
This is applicable to any grim situation. An impending war, a relentless virus, a devastating mass shooting ― you don’t have to be immersed in the crisis to be affected by it. If you are dealing with feelings of unrest, anxiety or doom right now, know that it’s completely normal. And while you may not be able to abate it entirely, there are ways to make it more manageable.
Here’s some advice on how to handle the emotions associated with vicarious trauma right now:
Follow trusted sources.
Disinformation spreads like wildfire during times of crisis. Make sure you’re following credible sources and engaging with confirmed reports, tweets and other content. (And remember that just because a Twitter account is verified doesn’t mean it’s legitimate.) If possible, try to find multiple sources confirming the same information before you share or even necessarily believe a report. Spreading and buying into inaccurate stories, photos and videos only contributes to your own panic and anxiety, and the panic and anxiety of others.
Set a few boundaries to prevent excessive doomscrolling.
It’s unrealistic to suggest logging off entirely, but it’s vital to set some boundaries when it comes to social media. Stay informed, then give your brain a break.
For example, try setting aside a block of time to check in on the news. If you find yourself reaching for your phone at night when you can’t sleep, try directing your attention to a lighter part of the internet instead of scrolling through headlines.
“Social media is a gift and a curse, but I’ve begun using it to find someone or something new,” Racine Henry, a therapist and owner of Sankofa Marriage and Family Therapy in New York, told me in December. “I limit myself to the explore page of either Instagram or Twitter and click around until something piques my interest. Or I watch random videos on Facebook of people making an extravagant cake or applying a complicated makeup look. I will never do any of the things I watch, but it’s entertaining and there are endless videos available.”
Turn to mental health experts on social media.
During tumultuous times, I personally find it soothing to read quotes and hear takes from mental health professionals, whether on Twitter, Instagram or even TikTok.
There are tons of great therapists who offer soothing words of wisdom on social media (here are a few of my favorite follows). Whatever they post online shouldn’t be taken as direct mental health advice, but it can serve as a calming voice when your brain is otherwise racing.
Try to keep a normal routine.
Speaking of scrolling late into the night, do everything within your power to stick to your normal schedule. That includes bedtimes, wake times, working if you’re able to handle it, and any other regular aspects of your routine.
When tragic events happen, “we feel a loss of control in our lives and everything going on around us,” Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, previously told me. “The more we can stick to our normal routines, the more our brains and our bodies feel like we’re back in control.”
It can be hard to shake the emotions that arise when following the news.
Move your body in some way.
Our emotions need a physical outlet. To relieve some of that anxiety and tension, try gently moving your body. This could mean going for a walk, doing some light stretching, taking a home boxing class, or whatever it is that helps you feel good. The idea is less about exercise per se and more about finding a tangible way to get out your feelings. And speaking of which…
Cry if you need to.
It’s not frivolous to feel affected by what’s happening in the world right now. Suppressing anything you might be feeling only contributes to poor mental health. Experts emphasize that it’s vital to acknowledge how you’re feeling, instead of dismissing it in the hopes of gaining some sense of ease. That might include crying (and research shows that crying can be a therapeutic release).
Be mindful of your other coping mechanisms.
I’ve certainly defaulted to grabbing drinks with friends in the midst of a stressful situation or pouring a glass of wine as I park myself in front of the TV. In moderation, that’s a normal part of our culture as long as you’re not living with a substance use issue. But you should definitely be aware of these habits and be mindful of when they might turn into something more insidious.
If you’re turning to alcohol or other unhealthy coping mechanisms as a crutch, you should reach out to a professional or someone who can help you process what’s happening in a healthier way. Experts stress that these behaviors often worsen your mental health if they turn into a reliance.
Reach out for extra support.
This could be to your therapist, your loved ones, your co-workers or anyone you trust when it comes to sharing your feelings. Support systems are crucial during periods of unrest and trauma.
“When we are distressed by something, the more we talk about it, the better off we are going to be,” Reidenberg previously advised. “There’s only so much ‘yuck’ we can handle before it begins to come out in unhealthy ways … so if you are feeling distress, say so.”
Pay attention to how you feel and behave in the coming days. If you notice you’re withdrawing from others, not keeping up with a standard routine, or feeling intense emotions that make it difficult to function, it’s time to seek professional mental health advice. (The same applies if you notice this happening with loved ones.) This type of reaction is a completely normal response to what’s going on in the world; a therapist can give you the tools to make it more manageable.
As Russia Invades Ukraine,
Tips to Manage ‘Headline Anxiety’
By Damian McNamara, MA
Turn to any news channel, news site, or social media platform, and you’re bound to see continuous updates on the situation in Ukraine, the individual and public health toll from the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing political and racial divisiveness in the United States, and more.
So how can someone who wants to keep up on developments protect themselves from stress, anxiety, and dysfunction when such negative news seems to be everywhere?
Today’s news will induce even more anxiety than usual. The sight of plants & gentle colour gradation alleviates stress. 15 mins walking in a green space dials down blood pressure, pulse rate, stress hormone levels (cortisol) & lifts mood but if that’s tricky my photos may help. pic.twitter.com/3ktiVe4APB
— Emma Mitchell 💙 (@silverpebble) February 24, 2022
“I think everyone’s experiencing some degree of anxiety about what’s happening in the world,” says Michael Ziffra, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago.
It’s a matter of severity; being anxious is a normal human reaction, he says. But watching the news becomes a problem if it “makes it hard for you to do what you need to do and just sort of enjoy life.”
Different people will react differently, but in general, “the sign that it’s getting a bit too much is if you cannot stop or pull yourself away from it,” he says.
It also can be a problem if someone spends a lot of time obsessing or ruminating about negative news while off screen, to the point that it disrupts their work or home life, Ziffra says.
When Stressors Stack Up
A cumulative effect is also possible when negative news updates come close together.
“Clearly, what we’re experiencing right now is unprecedented — all this happening at once — prolonged pandemic, the political turmoil, the war, climate change,” Ziffra says.
Long-term exposure to stressors generally worsens anxiety, he says.
Although the effects of chronic stress vary from person to person, many have feelings of depression, anxiousness, sleep disruption, and fatigue.
Uncertainty Can Up the Anxiety
A stressful event generally has a beginning and end, which can help people manage their reactions to it. In contrast, some of the current stressful situations carry more uncertainty.
“Look at what’s going on in the world right now. We still don’t know how things are going to play out with the pandemic or with the Russia and Ukraine conflict,” Ziffra says.
I stopped watching the news after Jan 6 bc the fixation was so unhealthy. For the first time ever something really snapped and I said you know what, I can’t do this to my anxiety anymore.
— Angela (@TheKitchenista) February 24, 2022
If someone has a relative or friends in Ukraine, keeping up on developments is normal, he says. But “people need to be mindful of the fact that they’re going to be very sensitive to the latest developments.”
Avoid looking at photos or watching videos coming out of Ukraine, he says, because they can be graphic. Instead, restrict your exposure to written news updates.
In addition, Ziffra suggests anyone feeling more stress or anxiety than usual seek out their friends and other social contacts. Because most of the country is not in a COVID-19 lockdown, it is easier to reach out to friends and family now for support.
In March 2020, ahead of the divisive federal elections and the beginning of the pandemic, Ziffra wrote “5 Ways to Cope with the News” on the Northwestern Medicine website. His suggestions on ways to avoid triggers and manage stress still apply today, he says.
Okay so it’s bad domestic and world news time, you wanna be in the know but you don’t want to make your anxiety worse. Here’s some tips:
– Rather than “hearing every side” prioritize news sources with some kind of journalistic integrity.
— jupitarian decadence as praxis 🍋 (@praxisastrology) February 24, 2022
He warned at the time that “developing obsessive habits of consuming news and information can be dangerous to your mental health.” In addition, social media can intensify the effects of news overload.
Also recognize that obsessing over the news is very common. Ziffra wrote, “We’re in very uncertain times, and times of uncertainty tend to be very anxiety-provoking for people.”
Michael Ziffra, MD,
associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences,
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The coronavirus pandemic is understandably causing panic in many people. Yet, fear doesn’t help anything. So how can you remain calm—and healthy—and help others in the process? How can you be a positive emotional contagion that helps not only yourself but others feel better about the global situation?
Buying six months’ worth of toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning goods, and food won’t help. Really.
Yes, it might give you a little peace of mind. I know my full pantry, refrigerator, and freezer (and large package of TP) do, indeed, provide me with a sense of security during this pandemic.
But purchasing more than what you need for a week or two, stockpiling as if the world were ending…that isn’t helpful. First, it leaves others without supplies—ones they might actually need. (Some people are out of toilet paper and just want a few rolls!) Second, the buying frenzy only adds to the emotional upheaval, panic, and overwhelm you and others feel.
So, let’s talk about what will help you stay calm and healthy during a pandemic.
In North America as in most parts of the world, we are focused on taking precautions and acting wisely. We are practicing social distancing by staying home more, not gathering in large groups, and washing our hands and using hand sanitizer…a lot.
We are also doing other things. My acupuncturist closed his clinic to do a deep clean. My husband is being interviewed virtually for a gig (rather than in person). Companies have asked employees to work from home. My 96-year-old mom’s new doctor told her not to come to the office for a routine visit.
The key is to avoid potential exposure—from you or someone else, like eating out, attending large events, spending time in crowded places, or flying. Yet, you also want to live your life to the fullest extent possible.
How can you live fully while stuck at home? It’s not as hard as it seems.
Stay focused on your priorities and take action in ways that are appropriate and safe. For example, you can hunker down and write your book, shoot and share videos to promote a product, conduct virtual meetings, build the website you never have time to create, declutter, and exercise from the comfort of your home.
Or be a positive force for good. A friend of mine said she had started calling those people she knows who live alone. A neighbor of mine that goes into town daily offered to shop for those in our community who can’t or don’t want to leave their homes.
4 Ways to Stay Calm During a Pandemic
See yourself as a leader and role model. Your job is to be calm and centered amidst the chaos. That means you have to quell your own fear and panic.
Here are four ways to remain calm:
1. Limit your intake of news. I’m not saying you shouldn’t remain informed. Of course, you want to do so! But don’t watch the news incessantly.
I remember after 9/11, I watched identical CNN broadcasts for hours waiting for a new report. I have found myself doing the same in the last few days…watching or listening to the news to hear updated news about the pandemic.
Constant consumption of news just feeds your panic and fear. Watch the news only once or twice per day. In this way, you remain informed without allowing yourself to obsess all day long. I, too, have begun to limit how much I watch the news or consume information about the coronavirus via social media or the Internet.
2. Stay busy. If you have nothing to do, you will find your mind trained on fearful thoughts. Or you will seek out other panicky people on social media or television.
Focus on your agenda. What did you want to get done today? What projects could use your attention? Take action on these things so your mind and body remain busy…and calm.
Plus, being productive will make you feel better in general.
3. Increase your mental, emotional and physical self-care routines. These will provide you with a more peaceful countenance no matter what is going on around you.
Now is the time to increase or start a meditation practice. Try meditating twice daily.
Make sure you exercise daily. Exercise makes you happier and reduces stress. Plus, it helps you remain healthy. Try a quick walk outside to boost your mood.
Train your brain on the positive. What might you gain by staying home for a few weeks? How might you make being housebound a pleasant experience? What might be the outcome of a self-quarantine—for yourself and others?
4. Have faith. It’s been said that faith is more important than fear, and in the case of a pandemic, that’s true.
We know that “this, too, will pass.” So focus on a positive future, one where no one gets the coronavirus, travel bans are lifted, large gatherings are safe, and you no longer need to stay at home.
7 Ways to Take Care of Yourself During a Pandemic
Now is a great time to take a serious look at your health routines. Are you taking good care of yourself? Not only do you want to increase your level of emotional and mental health by staying calm, but you also want to improve your physical health.
To help you boost your immune system and ward off illness, here are seven common-sense things you can start doing today.
1. Wash Your Hands (and More)
You’ve heard this ad nauseam and seen all the cartoons as well, but it’s sound advice. Wash your hands for more extended periods and more often—especially after touching surfaces, shaking hands, handling any items made of plastic, glass, or cardboard. Wash your hands also after opening mail, receiving packages, or putting away groceries.
Along with hand washing comes the following advice: avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes (especially if you haven’t washed your hands first).
If you feel unwell or have a compromised immune system, consider wearing a mask, too.
2. Use Hand Sanitizer and Sanitizing Wipes
I know these can be difficult to find right now, but if you have some, use them to clean surfaces and to cleanse your hands after touching anything. Don’t forget to wipe off the plastic or cardboard boxes of food you purchase at stores or any packages your receive via mail delivery services—or wash your hands afterward.
The Internet has a host of articles on making your own hand sanitizer and wipes. So, if you can’t purchase any, make your own.
3. Sleep Enough
If you are working from home or quarantined for any reason—sick or not, sleep needs to become your priority. Actually, even if you are still working, sleep should be non-negotiable.
To boost your immune system, sleep eight hours per night…or more. Sleep helps fight off infectious diseases. In fact, there are studies that show that sleeping less than seven hours increases your chances of getting sick considerably. This is not the time to be sleeping only five or six hours per night!
4. Eat a Healthy Diet
Help your body fight off illness and stay strong by eating healthy foods rather than sweets and junk. You’d be amazed at how much difference a nutrient-rich diet makes on your immune system.
And cook healthy meals at home for the time being. Stop frequenting restaurants, salad bars, and fast-food places. Even take-out or delivery could introduce a source of infection.
5. Boost Your Immune System
If you don’t already take multi-vitamins, start doing so. I could go into a long discussion of what supplements to take, but I’m not an expert or doctor. Find a herbalist or nutritional counselor who can help you determine what supplements are best for you.
There are also a host of herbs that boost your immune system. Of course, check with your doctor before adding anything new to your diet.
Some people will claim that supplements and herbs are effective only because of their placebo effect. It doesn’t matter why they work; all that matters is that they help you stay healthy.
6. Lower Your Stress Level
The immune system reacts badly to stress. Fear and anxiety put your body into the flight-or-fight mode, which is driven by your sympathetic nervous system. This response is your body’s reaction to danger and helps you survive stressful and life-threatening situations.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “During the fight or flight response, your body is trying to prioritize, so anything it doesn’t need for immediate survival is placed on the back burner. This means that digestion, reproductive and growth hormone production, and tissue repair are all temporarily halted. Instead, your body is using all its energy on the most crucial priorities and functions.”
The article goes on to explain, “Living in a prolonged state of high alert and stress can be detrimental to your physical and mental health.” Indeed, chronic stress is known to suppress immune function and increase susceptibility to disease.
So…again…stay calm! Meditate. Pray. Exercise. Watch funny movies. Go for a walk in the woods or on the beach. Take a nap. Read a book.
Don’t watch the news or engage in conversations about the pandemic that raises your level of stress.
7. Focus on the Positive
Drop the end-of-the-world mindset. Be a positive emotional contagion. Guide conversations toward something other than the pandemic. Be happy and upbeat and help others stop feeding the negative emotional cycle.
And think positive thoughts. Feel grateful for whatever you can—the rain, the sun, your elderly parents’ safety, the paycheck you just received, the spring flowers in bloom, the call from your friend or child, the extra time to read a book, or the new opportunities coming your way.
While you are at it, stop complaining about things that are out of your control, like empty shelves at the supermarket, the kids being home from school, not being able to attend a concert or the theater, or anything else. Complaining doesn’t help you or anyone else.
You will find it easier to stay positive and grateful if you remain present. Stop focusing on the past or the future. Stay in this moment.
This, Too, Shall Pass
Finally, remember, this pandemic will pass. It may take a little while, but the coronavirus will peter out. When it does, you and I—and the entire world—will be more prepared next time, if there is a next time. And we will find that the aftermath provides new opportunities, deepened relationships, and a different view of what it means to be part of a global community.
While you wait for the situation to change, be a force for good—a positive emotional contagion that infects everyone you encounter. By staying positive, calm, and healthy, you keep those around you calm and healthy, too.
If you have helpful advice to add to this post, please share it in a comment below. And share this post with anyone you feel might benefit.
Note: It’s important to stay informed about the state of coronavirus for the health and safety of your friends, family, and co-workers. Please visit the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control websites for up-to-date information. Also, be sure to check out your local health agencies and authorities for updates about your area.
Staying Healthy During a Pandemic: 10 Immune-Boosting Tips
During the current coronavirus outbreak, you’re probably (very rightfully so!) concerned for your health and that of your family. The CDC has several recommendations for preventative action against coronavirus, including social distancing, hand-washing, and clean frequently touched surfaces daily.
We 100% agree with all of these recommendations, but additionally believe it’s prudent to do everything possible to boost your immune system to decrease the likelihood of getting sick (with coronavirus or any other seasonal bug, for that matter!)
Here are 10 easy ways you can help strengthen your immune system.
Raise your core body temperature.Studies have found evidence that higher body temps help certain types of immune cells to work better, and thus make it better able to fight infection. Your body knows what it’s doing when you have a fever while sick! It’s thought that you can encourage the same benefits by proactively raising your body temp.
Try a sauna, steam bath, or move your body to break a sweat.
Get your veggies on: eating lots of veggies, especially leafy greens which are full of antioxidants, can help your body fight viruses and other free radicals.
The more diverse your diet (and especially veggie intake), the better!
Prioritize sleep: studies show that sleep can help build your immune system and fight infection.
Aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Need some help getting a good night of rest? Check out these tips!
Get your exercise on!Exercise has many great benefits and one of those is that it builds a stronger immune system.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week – we say shoot for at least 20 minutes a day, every single day. Check out this 7-minute at-home workout that works – do it 3x for bonus points.
Ditch bad habits such as smoking and excessive drinking, as they can decrease ability to fight infection.
Reduce stress. The hormones released when you are stressed have been shown to have a negative effect on the immune system.
Get some sunshine. A natural dose of vitamin D from the sun can do wonders not only for your mood but also your immune system – studies have shown that it can even decrease the length and severity of infections.
Go outside for at least 15-20 minutes a day even if it’s just on your patio or backyard.
Have any other immune-boosting best practices? We would love to hear them! Please share them at email@example.com.
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.
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.
These research-backed habits will make your life so much better.
There’s a quote from author Jaeda DeWalt that looks at joy from a different perspective: “Happiness is created and not found, it’s a state of mind and in its best form, it stands independent of life circumstances.”
Regardless of whether you buy into the idea, the maxim can assure you that acquiring at least some happiness is within your power. This means every day you can choose to do something to make yourself more joyful. And in a world where you’re dealing with devastating news, work woes, money stress, relationship struggles and more uncomfortable obstacles that are out of your control, isn’t it kind of nice to know you have a little autonomy over how you feel?
With an arsenal of simple and free techniques to lighten any situation, you’ll be better prepared to handle anything. Here are just a few ways you can make yourself happier this year (and beyond):
1. Check in with someone you love
With so many ways to connect these days, this one is simple to do ― we just often forget. Shoot a text, initiate a FaceTime or go old-fashioned and write a letter to someone who makes you smile. Research shows those who foster connections tend to lead healthier, happier lives. You might not always have time for a long catch-up over the phone, but even a simple heart emoji could do both of you some good.
2. Write down one thing you’re grateful for
Gratitude and happiness are intrinsically linked, so you might consider making gratitude journaling a habit. If journaling isn’t your thing, you can still benefit from a lower-commitment version of the practice. Try scribbling one or two things you’re grateful for on a notepad or even just jotting down a good thing that happened to you during your day. (Did you catch the train at just the right time? Did you answer the final “Jeopardy” question correctly? Did you eat a delicious meal?) This exercise will help remind you that no matter how dark you may be feeling, points of brightness exist in your life.
3. Make yourself a quick, healthy breakfast
“What we do first thing in the morning typically sets the tone for the rest of the day,” psychologist Tim Sharp previously told HuffPost. Starting the day with a nutritious, filling breakfast may very well be the thing your routine has been missing. Research suggests that eating more fruits and veggies may boost your happiness, and getting some calories in your system before you take on the world can set up your body and your brain for success.
Daunting as it may sound, prepping a morning meal for yourself is an easy task. If you haven’t yet mastered your preferred recipes, here’s a suggestion: Put some oats into a jar. Pour milk onto said oats. Refrigerate overnight. Come morning, top it with frozen or fresh fruit, peanut butter, nuts, honey or whatever you like. This fibrous number will keep you full and satisfied.
4. Forgive someone
This is a tough one, but it’d serve you well to wake up every morning with fewer grudges than you had yesterday. If you’re really struggling to let go, consider forgiveness a gift to yourself, not the person or event you’re attempting to forgive. Research has underscored the benefits of releasing resentments: The practice can improve your well-being, lower your anxiety and even strengthen your immune system.
5. Allow yourself to feel sad or angry when you need to
It sounds counterintuitive, but it works. While it’s important to let go, it’s equally important to let yourself feel what you’re feeling when the time comes. There are actually constructive ways to complain and deal with annoyances; keeping it all in may sometimes do more harm than good. One 2015 study examined the effects of letting one’s irritations fester, finding that doing so often resulted in feelings of regret. Research also shows that crying can be therapeutic.
6. Toss your negative thoughts in the garbage
If your brain continues to replay a thought that’s negative and getting in the way of your happiness, literally throw it away. Write any toxic thoughts about yourself on a piece of paper, crumple it up, then toss the paper into a garbage can. This practice has been shown to improve your feelings. It might sound a little ridiculous but give it a try — you’ve got nothing to lose but your negativity.
7. Make a point to get some fresh air
Your happiness prescription is in the clouds — you just have to go out and get it. That familiar scent of pine trees has been shown to decrease stress and help you feel relaxed, while fresh oxygen can lead to feeling energized. Ditch that stale office air, if only for a few minutes, to dose yourself with some nature.
8. Commit to some kind of social media detox
It’s no secret that social media can harbor toxicity. Taking a break from these platforms can be your secret weapon for fighting off the digital blues. You don’t have to fully delete your Facebook account to feel better (though if you’d like to, by all means). But if you can spend a little less time looking at random couples’ wedding photos and reading sick political burns, your brain might be able to make more room for the good stuff.
You could start by deleting certain social apps off your phone, giving yourself access only when you’re on a desktop with some time to spare. Doing so could make incessantly checking your social feeds less of a habit and more of a deliberate choice, which will give you control over these technologies, rather than the other way around. You can also try unfollowing accounts that feel a little soul-sucking and incorporating more positive ones into your feed instead.
9. Listen to a good bop
Even babies like to rock out to their favorite tunes, and studies show there’s a link between listening to music and feeling happy. Listening to music you love increases your levels of dopamine, so put on your favorite playlist and enjoy.
10. Get moving — even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing
By now it’s well-established that exercise has some undeniable, mood-boosting powers. Knowing this doesn’t mean you feel any more motivated to work out. The key here is to find an activity you don’t completely dread: maybe it’s taking a neighbor’s dog for a jog, walking a few blocks while catching up with a friend or doing YouTube workouts in your underwear. Give yourself some time to try different techniques so you can figure out kinds of movement that you love. The rest is easy.
Even if you’re the kind of person who looks forward to a spin class, you might experience some off days where you just can’t bring yourself to go. Stretching is another great way to release some endorphins and get the blood flowing. Here’s permission to reap these benefits from the pillow: Check out these yoga poses you can do from the comfort of your own bed.
12. Don’t be afraid to make it known that you value your time
If you’re a people-pleaser who takes on way too much, this one’s especially for you. Give yourself the gift of turning things down more often — whether it’s a last-minute happy hour that interferes with your “you time” or a project that doesn’t fit in with the rest of your to-do list.
Experts advise that saying no more often is one of the best resolutions you can make this year. You can figure out what’s worth going to and what isn’t just by your initial, gut reaction. “If you are worrying about what is being asked of you, or you feel angry, stressed or anxious, chances are this is going to be some kind of imposition on you, or something you don’t want to do,” Rachel Tomlinson, a registered psychologist in Perth, Australia, recently told HuffPost.
Your time is just as valuable as anyone else’s, and you deserve to reclaim it.
13. Define what “self-care” means to you — then practice it
Face mask, afternoon nap, getting your nails done, watching a football game, spending time surrounded by books and quiet: Whatever it is that makes you feel good, keep it in your back pocket as a stress-busting resource.
If you’re confused about what exactly self-care means for you, know that you’re not alone. In a recent post on Instagram, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked for some self-care tips from her followers, admitting she wasn’t quite sure how to go about the practice. Later, in a tweet, Ocasio-Cortez recognized that the importance of self-care is stressed differently, often depending on things like class.
The concept can be tough to unpack “for working people, immigrants, & the poor, self-care is political,” she wrote. “Not because we want it to be, but bc of the inevitable shaming of someone doing a face mask while financially stressed.” Still, Ocasio-Cortez stressed that self-care is a necessary survival tactic for all types of people, for without it, burnout is inevitable.
“I went from doing yoga and making wild rice and salmon dinners to eating fast food for dinner and falling asleep in my jeans and makeup,” she wrote. “We live in a culture where that kind of lifestyle is subtly celebrated as ‘working hard,’ but I will be the first to tell you it’s NOT CUTE and makes your life harder on the other end.”
14. Be nice to someone
Smile at a stranger, hold the door for someone a few extra feet behind you, let the grocery shopper with just a couple of items go ahead of you in line. Kindness doesn’t cost a thing, and studies show that little acts of goodness do contribute to your own well-being. And if you’re looking for some inspiration, check out these feel-good (and sometimes life-changing) stories about strangers being nice to others.
That voice inside your head can be a massive jerk, but you don’t have to let it. Research shows self-acceptance is the key to a happier life but it’s a habit we rarely practice. Squashing negative self-talk, which can be done by trying cognitive techniques on your own or with help from a professional, might be one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Have you ever wanted to tell someone about a tough day at work or scary medical news, but felt nervous about calling a friend to share what’s going on?
Findings from a new study suggest that people who feel apprehensive about one-on-one interactions are taking advantage of a new form of communication that may help regulate emotions during times of need: online social networks. The study is available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
“When people feel badly, they have a need to reach out to others because this can help reduce negative emotions and restore a sense of well-being,” says Eva Buechel, a professor in the business school at the University of South Carolina. “But talking to someone face-to-face or on the phone might feel daunting because people may worry that they are bothering them. Sharing a status update on Facebook or tweet on Twitter allows people to reach out to a large audience in a more undirected manner.”
Sharing short messages to an audience on a social network, called microblogging, allows people to reach out without imposing unwanted communication on someone who might feel obligated to respond. Responses on online social networks are more voluntary. To test whether people are more likely to microblog when they feel socially apprehensive, Buechel asked participants in one group to write about a time when they had no one to talk to at a party, while the control group wrote about office products.
Then she asked the participants who had an online social network account to log in and spend two minutes on their preferred social network. When the time ended, she asked people if they had microblogged. The results showed that those who had been led to feel socially apprehensive were more likely to microblog.
To explore who is more likely to microblog, Buechel conducted another experiment in which one group of participants watched a clip from the movie “Silence of the Lambs,” while the control group watched clips of pictures from space. Then they answered questions about how likely they were to express themselves in three different forms of communication: microblogging, in person or direct message (a private online message to an individual). Finally, she asked people to answer a series of questions that measured their level of social anxiety in a variety of situations.
Buechel discovered that people who were higher on the social apprehension scale were more likely to microblog after they had experienced negative emotions (as a result of watching the “Silence of The Lambs” clip). People who were low on the social apprehension scale, however, were more interested in sharing face-to-face or via direct message after watching the scary clip.
“There is a lot of research showing that sharing online is less ideal than having communication in person, but these social networks could be an important communication channel for certain individuals who would otherwise stay isolated,” she says.
She acknowledges that there is a danger for those who start to rely on social media as their only form of communication, but when used wisely, microblogging can be a valuable means of buffering negative emotions though social interaction.
Materials provided by Society for Consumer Psychology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
December 11, 2017
Eva Buechel et al. Microblogging and the Value of Undirected Communication Authors. Journal of Consumer Psychology, December 2017 DOI: 10.1002/jcpy.1013
During the holiday season, many of us feel pressure to find our loved ones the “perfect” gift. Why? Because gift-giving has long been considered a prime way to express love. However, recent research suggests that gestures don’t need to be large or have a hefty price tag to feel meaningful. The study, published this summer in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests that small acts of kindness, not grand overtures, make people feel most loved and supported.
“Our research found that micro-moments of positivity, like a kind word, cuddling with a child, or receiving compassion make people feel most loved,” says Dr. Zita Oravecz, a professor in human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University and one of the study’s researchers.
In the study, 495 men and women between the ages of 18 and 93 completed a questionnaire evaluating 60 possible ways that people can feel love. Each question began with, “Most people feel loved when…” The scenarios included situations like spending time with friends, receiving gifts, and spending time in nature. The survey also included negative interactions, like being controlled and criticized by others. Oravecz says the findings highlight the psychological benefits that intimate relationships can offer. In fact, study participants ranked human interaction as a more significant expression of love than receiving material items, like presents. Connecting with others was also rated more highly than getting positive feedback on the internet, indicating that people derive the most support from personal human contact. In fact, other studies suggest more time on social media leads to increased feelings of isolation. Yet despite the findings that spending time with friends and family makes us feel good, during hectic times like the holidays, these social interactions can feel burdensome instead of fulfilling. Fatigued from an overload of shopping, spending, and travel, most Americans describe this time of year as stressful instead of magical. In fact, a telephone survey conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that compared to other times of the year, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men (out of 786 individuals polled) feel more stress during the holidays. In addition, 51 percent of women and 42 percent of men said purchasing and giving gifts added to their distress.
Esther Lui for NPR
Small acts of kindness are what make us feel loved.
Any kind of stress can strain relationships and cause us to withdraw from others, but small stressors can be just as trying as larger burdens. A 2015 research study found that daily hassles like working, running errands, and money troubles negatively impact romantic unions, causing people to feel less satisfied and more alone in their relationships. When we’re anxious and fatigued, it can also be more challenging to see someone else’s point of view, which might explain why family feuds seem more likely to arise during the holidays. While prioritizing one’s self-care during the months of November and December may be difficult, adopting a mindset of being present in the moment may help lessen the stress of the season.
“During the holidays, anxiety rises, making it harder to remain present with ourselves and others. However, the power of spending time with another person is a gift we can give at any moment,” says Dr. Carla Naumburg, a mindfulness coach and social worker in Newton, Mass.
While we may associate presence with mindfulness meditation, we don’t need to be Zen masters to create a calmer holiday. Naumburg says we can cultivate presence by cutting back on social media (which helps limit distractions), getting plenty of rest, and taking a pause (and remembering to breathe).
“For everyone, breathing is a small but powerful act that can keep us connected to ourselves by shifting our awareness to the present moment,” she says.
According to The American Institute of Stress, focused breathing elicits the body’s “relaxation response,” slowing one’s heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and helping muscles relax. This physical process aids in repairing an overactive nervous system, helping us to enter a calmer physical and emotional state. Although it can be challenging to forgo doing extra errands during the holidays, Naumburg suggests balancing party planning and online shopping with moments of human connection. Activities like reading to a child, meeting a friend for a walk, or taking a moment to call a family member, are ways to express love and care and can keep us emotionally grounded. While the idea of offering loved ones the gift of our time may pale in comparison to giving them a lavish present, recent empathy research shows shared human experiences can tighten social bonds. Oravecz and her colleagues also found that despite personality differences, most people agree on what makes us feel loved — the presence of our loved ones.
Juli Fraga is a psychologist and writer in San Francisco. You can find her on Twitter @dr_fraga.
Depression and anxiety risk much higher in some people using social media.
Using over seven different social media platforms is linked to a tripling in depression risk, psychological research finds.
The study asked about the 11 most popular social media platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.
Those who used between 7 and 11 of these, had 3.1 times the depression risk.
They also had 3.3 times the risk of having high levels of anxiety symptoms.
Professor Brian A. Primack, who led the study, said:
“This association is strong enough that clinicians could consider asking their patients with depression and anxiety about multiple platform use and counseling them that this use may be related to their symptoms.
While we can’t tell from this study whether depressed and anxious people seek out multiple platforms or whether something about using multiple platforms can lead to depression and anxiety, in either case the results are potentially valuable.”
There are a number of ways in which using multiple platforms might lead to depression and anxiety, the authors argue:
Multitasking is known to lead to poor mental health and weakened thinking skills.
Using more platforms might lead to more opportunities for embarrassing mistakes.
Professor Primack said:
“It may be that people who suffer from symptoms of depression or anxiety, or both, tend to subsequently use a broader range of social media outlets.
For example, they may be searching out multiple avenues for a setting that feels comfortable and accepting.
However, it could also be that trying to maintain a presence on multiple platforms may actually lead to depression and anxiety.
More research will be needed to tease that apart.”
The results come from a 2014 survey of 1,787 US adults aged between 19 and 32.
No matter how much we believe we have it together, life carries many harsh truths, and no matter how much we may wish to run away from them, it is only through accepting them that we can take full responsibility for our lives.
You may be aware of some of these already, but for the rest, I’m willing to be the blunt bastard that tells them to you. You may hate me today, but you’ll thank me tomorrow.
For the record, this isn’t meant to be a pessimistic rant about how tough life is. It’s meant to motivate you to take action armed with this knowledge.
Here are 8 brutally honest truths you need to hear if you want to get it together:
1. You’re Going to Regret How Much Time You Spend on Social Media
Social media is amazing, and I’m as addicted to it as you are. But social media is also making us all more disconnected than we’ve ever been before through the illusion of increased connection. Yes, we are able to communicate with thousands of people with ease, but with what depth?
Social media is robbing way too many of us of real connection and real life experiences. Rather than looking at the world as we walk somewhere or ride public transit, we regress to what the digital world has to offer. If our addiction level stays the same, things could become really scary, and this doesn’t even take into account the potential repercussions of so much exposure to technology.
2. Your Reactions Are the Problem
Yes, shit happens. And quite often that shit really sucks to have to go through or deal with. But regardless of how challenging something is, it’s always our reaction to it that will dictate how much it is going to impact our lives.
You decide how much, and for how long, getting cut off on the highway is going to piss you off, and you decide how much someone’s poor opinion of you is going to make you shell up in insecurity. Let your natural reactions happen, but then consciously choose how long you want to let them impact everything else.
3. The Riskiest Thing You Can Do Is Avoid Risks
Whether or not you consider yourself a risk-seeker, there is nothing more risky than complacency. I’m not suggesting that you cannot get to a point where you are truly happy with your life and therefore simply want to sustain that lifestyle, but I’m suggesting that never taking any risks is about as dangerous as it gets.
Stop playing small if you know you want to play big, and stop telling yourself “this is good enough” if you know deep down you would love to do, create, and have so much more. The cost of taking that risk is your long-term happiness.
4. You Should Always Have Enough Money for What Matters
“I would love to attend that seminar or buy that course that can change my life, but money is too tight right now.” As true as that may be, you should always have more than enough to do the things that really matter.
The biggest obstacle is the way we instead spend it on the things that don’t. We don’t process buying a $7 premium coffee daily as an investment in nothing, but we do overthink and see spending a couple hundred dollars on something life-changing as too much. I’m not suggesting we start spending recklessly, or never treat ourselves, but rather that we do reassess how we currently spend our money.
5. People Are Going to Hate You No Matter What You Do
You can try and people please your entire life, but no matter what, some people are always going to dislike you. So rather than wasting your time trying to match what you think is the most acceptable, spend that time accepting exactly who you are.
6. Blaming Only Makes You Weaker
In the moment, to unjustly direct blame towards a circumstance or other person may seem relieving, but in the long term it really takes its toll. The less you take responsibility for your actions and decision making, the weaker you become mentally.
Taking responsibility may come with some immediate repercussions, but over time, it builds a life founded on honesty, and it strengthens your ability to tackle challenges when they do arise.
7. People Don’t Think of You as Much as You Think They Do
From our perspective, the whole world revolves around us, but there are 7 billion people who see it the same way. While we are not all inherently selfish or self-obsessed, we are all far more concerned with how we are perceived by others than how we perceive them.
So once again, embrace your true self and find peace in knowing that people are too concerned with themselves to give you as much as attention as you think they are.
8. Not Even the Perfect Relationship Is Going to Complete You
I have close friends whose long-term romantic relationships I not only admire, but also hope to one day experience. But even they, who seem to have found “the one,” recognize that true happiness comes from within and can never be filled in by another.
Relationships are an extension of our happiness and not the basis of it, so focus on strengthening the one with yourself and all of the others will follow accordingly.