How You Can Improve Your Emotional Well-Being With This One Activity

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Bad movies have robbed nature of some of its most impressive phenomenons, but I think sunsets might have gotten the worst of it. In film, they’re usually meant to kickstart one of two moments: a moment of mindfulness where the protagonist arrives at a crucial instance of clarity, or the moment when two starry-eyed lovers finally figure out how copulation works. It’s redundant, cheesy and potentially completely accurate.

Several studies have recently come out championing the correlation between observing natural beauty and longevity. Both in the abstract and in more tangible biological ways.

Light Exposure and balance

Researchers have found that early light exposure can help us regulate our metabolism. Additionally, a study conducted by the  University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada disclosed increased instances of weight gain during the winter months,  in part due to the absence of light. Of course, there are plenty of adverse effects associated with overexposure, but the proposed physical profits of sun rays aren’t as frequently discussed.

Sunlight leads to surges of the mood-boosting hormone known as serotonin. When levels of serotonin become too low, you have a much higher risk of developing seasonal affective disorder; a condition more than 20% of Americans suffer from each year. Light therapy is being considered more and more as a method of better managing conditions like insomnia,  seasonal depression and even major non-seasonal depression. 

There is also a freshet of somatic benefits to penciling in a morning or two to take in a sunset. A 2008 study furthered research intended to confirm the major role sun rays play in bone health.  Exposure to the ultraviolet-B radiation produced by the sun causes the skin to create Vitamin D.

“Unlike other essential vitamins, which must be obtained from food, vitamin D can be synthesized in the skin through a photosynthetic reaction triggered by exposure to UVB radiation. The efficiency of production depends on the number of UVB photons that penetrate the skin, a process that can be curtailed by clothing, excess body fat, sunscreen, and the skin pigment melanin,”  says the study’s lead author M. Nathaniel Mead.

According to Felice Gersh, MD watching sunsets can reduce the stress hormone called cortisol. Moreover, it causes surges in melatonin production, a hormone that decreases oxidative stress and inflammation. More than the studied biological effects, setting aside time to appreciate beautiful natural occurrences promotes other healthy activates, like mindfulness and patience. You can also enjoy sunrises while you do other physical activities, like jogging, or biking.

The emotional advantages of observing a sunset have been presented several times, via various mediums over the years and the results seem to speak for themselves.

3 Small Habits That Improved My Productivity and Well-Being

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You often hear about new methods to increase productivity, boost incomes, and raise brand profile. You get advice from experts on habits to decrease clutter, work on the essential, and concentrate harder. You aren’t always told that these same habits and methods can help your wellbeing–and your productivity.

This is why I was happy to come across Atomic Habits by James Clear and watch him talk on the subject in Nashville this January. Clear’s New York Times bestselling book collects all the current research on habits and distills it down to easily applicable principles you can use in your own life and work. In the end, it’s all about building good systems so you see the results you want down the road.

After listening to Clear, I found these three small habits really useful.

1. Stack your habits.

Habit stacking is a great way to jump-start a new habit. The idea is to use a habit you already have as a cue to trigger your new habit. Basically, it follows this formula: After [current habit], I will [new habit].

This idea, which originally came from research conducted by Stanford professor BJ Fogg, can be applied to many areas of life. For example, I found I wasn’t drinking enough water to stay hydrated. So I stacked drinking water onto something I already do, which is drinking a cup of coffee.

Getting my coffee fix is an automatic, preexisting habit. Once I have my favorite dark brew, I will drink three cups of water.

This can be applied to your productivity as well. Clear shared how a woman at a financial firm stacks her habits at work. She said, after she checks future prices, she will email her clients.

2. Change your environment.

A good habit doesn’t stand a chance against a bad environment. This is why those office cookies can keep throwing you off even if you work out and eat well. But if you design your own environment to encourage good habits or discourage bad ones, you will have more success.

I had read Tim Ferriss’s idea of cutting back on technology for wellness. So I designed my new environment to keep my phone and computer out of the bedroom. I would place them in a bowl on my living room coffee table, so if I wanted to use them I would I have to go out there.

When you’re already in bed, you don’t want to get out. This has allowed me to relax at night and focus on my new habit of practicing 10 minutes of mindfulness.

At Clear’s talk, he shared with the audience how he used environmental design to increase his own productivity. When he was writing his book Atomic Habits, he got way behind. In order to complete the book, he decided to change his work environment to make it less distracting.

Basically, Clear made it difficult to look at his social media accounts during the week. He accomplished this not by strength of will but instead by having his assistant log him out of his accounts every Monday–and change his passwords. He would then get the new passwords on Friday, leaving him free to concentrate on the book during the week.

3. Never miss twice.

People tend to be all or nothing with habits. You’re either someone who works out three days a week or doesn’t work out. You’re someone who eats salads or someone who eats office cookies. There’s no middle ground.

The problem is that life always interferes with cues and triggers for good habits. It breaks your routines.

Clear’s advice is we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about falling off track. The goal is to never miss twice. Sure, you may have missed the gym once this week, but that doesn’t mean the whole system is off. Chocolate may come into my office and I’ll have a piece, but as long as I don’t miss my good eating habits twice in a row, I can keep on track.

This can be applied to work as well. Clear shared how he used the idea of never missing twice with his online blog. When he started the blog, his goal was to publish every Monday and Thursday. However, sometimes life would intervene and he would miss a Monday. Instead of giving up writing altogether, he would just get back on track on Thursday. By not missing twice, he was able to consistently publish his blog and grow a following.

All three habits are great. His practical advice has worked wonders for creating habits that stick for me. Since applying his advice, I’ve been able to start new habits, stay focused, and, more importantly, get back on track if I lose out one day.

Showing Yourself Compassion Can Have Mental and Physical Benefits

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Expressing love for your nearest and dearest is a hallmark of Valentine’s Day, but research suggests that you may want to save some of that love and compassion for yourself.

A study published in Clinical Psychological Science shows that university students who engaged in exercises focused on self-compassion had lower physiological arousal relative to peers who engaged in other exercises.

“These findings suggest that being kind to oneself switches off the threat response and puts the body in a state of safety and relaxation that is important for regeneration and healing,” says Hans Kirschner of the University of Exeter, first author on the research.

“Previous research has found that self-compassion was related to higher levels of well-being and better mental health, but we didn’t know why,” explains lead researcher Anke Karl, also of the University of Exeter.

“Our study is helping us understand the mechanism of how being kind to yourself when things go wrong could be beneficial in psychological treatments,” Karl says. “By switching off our threat response, we boost our immune systems and give ourselves the best chance of healing. We hope future research can use our method to investigate this in people with mental health problems such as recurrent depression.”

For the study, the researchers recruited 135 university students and assigned them to one of five experimental groups. Each group completed an exercise in which they listened to an 11-minute audio recording and engaged with a specific scenario.

The researchers monitored participants’ physiological arousal during the exercise, measuring their heart rate and sweat response. Participants also answered questions about how safe they felt, how likely they were to be kind to themselves, and how connected they felt to others.

As expected, the two groups that engaged in self-compassion exercises — either a body scan meditation or a loving-kindness meditation — reported feeling more self-compassion and connection with others as a result of the exercises. And they also showed reduced physiological arousal, with a drop in heart rate and diminished sweat response. They also showed an increase in heart rate variability, a sign of being able to flexibly adapt to different situations.

Importantly, participants who engaged in positive thinking by focusing on an event or situation that was going well also reported increased self-compassion and decreased self-criticism, but they did not show the same physiological response.

In contrast, the group that engaged in self-critical thinking, contemplating something they hadn’t managed or achieved as they had hoped, showed an increase in heart rate and sweat response — physiological signs consistent with feelings of stress.

“These findings help us to further understand some of our clinical trials research findings, where we show that individuals with recurrent depression benefit particularly from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy when they learn to become more self-compassionate,” says coauthor Willem Kuyken of the University of Oxford.

Future research will need to explore whether the one-time self-compassion exercises used in this study have similar effects for people with depression.

Overall, the findings suggest that showing yourself a little love and compassion may help you feel more connected and less stressed.

Reference

Kirschner, H., Kuyken, W., Wright, K., Roberts, H., Brejcha, & Karl, A. (2019). Soothing your heart and feeling connected: A new experimental paradigm to study the benefits of self-compassion. Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/2167702618812438

The 3-Keys To Daily Well-Being

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Tom Rath is a researcher, author, and filmmaker who studies the role of human behavior in business, health, and well-being. The bestselling author of Are You Fully Charged? and Strengths Based Leadershiphe’s also a senior scientist and advisor to Gallup. Since age 16, he’s been successfully battling a rare disease that causes cancer cells to appear throughout his body. He joined Susan CainNew York Times bestselling author of Quiet, for a conversation on the secrets to living a healthy, happy, and meaningful life.Susan: At only age 39, you’ve lived a pretty extraordinary life. And you’re well known for your natural humility. How do you channel all that quiet modesty into your work?

Tom: One of the lessons I learned very early in life, from my grandfather, is that it is an extraordinary waste of time to try to be someone you are not. So while I aspire to have a positive influence on other people, I know I’m not going to accomplish that by being the loudest or most charismatic person in a room. What I can do is read, learn, and listen as much as humanly possible and channel my findings into something productive. This is the part that comes naturally to me.

My challenge is that all the knowledge in the world does little good for others until it is shared in a practical form. This is why I have spent quite a bit of time trying to become a semi-competent writer over the past decade. There is so much amazing research being conducted today that could influence people’s lives. But that knowledge has to meet people at a time of need in order to have any chance of influencing a person’s daily choices.

Susan: At age 16, you were diagnosed with VHL disease, a rare genetic disorder that causes cancer cells to appear in various parts of your body. Since that time, you’ve been researching and experimenting with various ways of slowing down the growth of those tumors. What have your most important findings been?

Tom: An essential learning for me is that anyone can dramatically improve their odds of living a long and healthy life by making better choices. Just look at the physical aspects. If you get a good night’s sleep tonight, it gives you a clean slate for tomorrow, where you are more likely to be active throughout the day and make better food choices. Perhaps most importantly, this starts an upward spiral, where you feel progressively better as each day goes by.

The broader learning for me, after battling cancer for a couple of decades, is: you have to do something today that will continue to grow after you’re gone. I may have a more constant threat to my mortality than the average person, but in reality the only thing any of us can count on with extreme certainty is that we have today to do what matters most. When I orient my days around this simple thought, it makes it easy to spend even more time doing things for other people each day.

Susan: What do you do when you feel scared or anxious?

Tom: It helps me to simply acknowledge the fact that I am feeling anxious. In most cases, this keeps my physiological response in check so it does not exacerbate the problem. I think a majority of things we allow to create anxiety in our lives are a reflection of how we choose to respond to external circumstances. Another thing that helps me is focusing on everything that isgoing right. Simply bringing the thought of my children’s laughter to mind induces a smile almost instantaneously.

When I am anxious as a result of larger stressors, I tend to tackle the problem right away. Life is too brief to let fears—that are often unfounded—erode entire days or weeks. Especially for someone like me who needs a lot of thought time, it would be easy to let fears consume far more bandwidth than they should.

Susan: In recent years, and especially in your latest book Are You Fully Charged?, your focus shifted to daily well-being. Why that shift?

Tom: Looking at what improves well-being in the moment is infinitely more practical. In the past, most research focused on asking people to reflect on their lives overall. That is like inquiring about the quality of someone’s career by asking them to read their resume. It misses almost all of the richness and emotion that occurs in the thick of a typical day.

This is why I’ve been deeply encouraged by a lot of smart research around daily well-being or what researchers call “daily experience.” When you look at what really matters on a moment-to-moment basis, it is things like brief interactions with loved ones that matter significantly more than how much money we make or whether we live in a wealthy country.

Susan: What are the three keys to daily well-being?

Tom: The first key is doing some type of meaningful work today.

The second key is having far more positive than negative interactions.

The third key is having the energy you need to be your best today, which starts with eating, moving, and sleeping well in combination.

Susan: What are the essentials of meaningful work? And can most people, who are already overwhelmed with paying the bills and supporting their families, afford to think in these terms?

Tom: It’s important to note that I am defining meaningful work as doing something that benefits another person. If you think about it in terms that are this basic, even small acts that have a little positive value for society count. In this context, I would argue that meaningful work is more of a basic necessity than a luxury for those who can afford it.

Meaningful work is also a lot more practical than I ever thought before I did a deeper dive on this topic. I had always assumed things like meaning, mission, and purpose were higher level needs, but the more I learn, the clearer it becomes that meaningful work is a basic human need that cuts across professions and income levels.

Susan: You write about the importance of positive social interactions. What does this mean for introverts, who often prefer their social time in smaller doses, with closer friends, and punctuated by solitude?

Tom: There is nothing more appealing to this introvert than a combination of solitude and a little time with my closest friends. Perhaps this is why the research around ratios of positive to negative interactions has always resonated with me. The quality of social interactions matters far more than the frequency of those interactions. Based on what I have studied, we need about 80% of our interactions with other people to be more positive than negative. This is simply because negative interactions carry much heavier load and outweigh positive ones.

I have also learned to leverage my more analytical and inquisitive personality to create better interactions. It is a lot easier for me as an introvert to ask a good question than it is to initiate a story or other banter. So I ask a lot of questions, listen well, keep my electronic devices stowed away, and learn as much as I can during each interaction. In a world where attention is so incredibly fragmented by voices and devices, I have a feeling that some of these things introverts naturally do better will be even more highly valued in the future.

This article originally appeared on Heleo.

Coffee Linked To Youthful Skin And Longevity

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A controlled randomized study conducted on 100 healthy Europeans just vindicated you and your coffee obsession. As far as DNA integrity is concerned coffee is actually more beneficial than water.Over the course of a month (comprised of two periods), 50 men and 50 women were organized into two groups. The first served as the control group and were instructed to consume 500 ml of water a day with a precondition that disallowed them to imbibe coffee or any other kind of caffeinated drink.The second  group was instructed to consume 500 ml of freshly brewed dark roast a day.

At the end of each period, blood was drawn and analyzed by a single-cell gel electrophoresis in order to evaluate how DNA was affected by the two opposing diets.

The coffee group exhibited much less DNA strand breakage than the control group by the end of the 4-week span.

The Reasoning

The positive effect coffee has on repairing cells has been previously suggested on three separate occasions, once in 2011, 2015 and 2016.

All three studies used dark roast blends, though the correlation between the degree of effectiveness and the breed of coffee used has yet to be thoroughly tested.

As it stands–all coffee is rich with anti-oxidants, a compound that enables cells to better repair themselves in the wake of the damage done by free radicals. Free radicals, birthed by sunlight, oxygen and pollution,  deteriorate the collagen fibers in the skin. The microbial properties in coffee help ward off germs in the skin. Its caffetic acid boosts collagen levels which in turn reduces the aging process.

The antioxidants found in coffee are also instrumental in fighting diseases, preventing cavities, diabetes, siroccos of the liver and various forms of cancer.  The Journal Of The National Cancer Institutereports that habitual coffee drinkers were 20% less likely to develop malignant melanoma.

An epidemiological study published in Circulation back in 2015 found that people that drink coffee were 15% more likely to live longer than those that don’t. More specifically the subjects studied were less susceptible to neurological disorders, heart disease and even suicide.  Caffeine has been independently reported to prevent the development of Parkinson’s disease and drinkers express fewer instances of cognitive failure.

Setting Realistic Goals Linked to Higher Level of Well-Being

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A new study shows that people who set realistic goals can hope for  better well-being.

The key for later satisfaction is whether the life goals are seen as attainable, according to psychologists at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

For the study, researchers used data from 973 people between the ages of 18 and 92 living in German-speaking parts of Switzerland. More than half of the participants were surveyed again after two and four years.

The participants were asked to assess on a four-point scale the importance and the perceived attainability of life goals in 10 areas: health, community, personal growth, social relationships, fame, image, wealth, family, and responsibility and care for younger generations.

The study’s findings revealed that perceiving one’s personal goals as attainable is an indicator for later cognitive and affective well-being.

This implies that people are most satisfied if they have a feeling of control and attainability, the researchers explained.

Life goals also hold predictive power for specific domains, according to the study’s findings. For example, participants who set social-relation goals or health goals were more satisfied with their social relationships or their own health.

The researchers also found that the link between life goals and subsequent well-being appeared to be independent of the age of the participants.

However, age did play a factor in what goals people valued.

The younger the participants were, the more they rated personal growth, status, work, and social-relation goals as important. The older the participants were, the more they rated social engagement and health as important, according to the study’s findings.

“Many of our results confirmed theoretical assumptions from developmental psychology,” said lead author Janina Bühler, a Ph.D. student. “If we examine, however, whether these goals contribute to well-being, age appears less relevant.”

The study was published in the European Journal of Personality.

What Is Well-Being? Definition, Types, and Well-Being Skills

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What Is Well-Being?

Well-being is the experience of healthhappiness, and prosperity. It includes having good mental health, high life satisfaction, and a sense of meaning or purpose. More generally, well-being is just feeling well (Take this quiz to discover your level of well-being).

Well-being is something sought by just about everyone, because it includes so many positive things — feeling happy, healthy, socially connected, and purposeful. But unfortunately, well-being appears to be in decline (at least in the U.S.). And increasing your well-being can be tough without knowing what to do and how to do it. These are some of the reasons why I founded The Berkeley Well-Being Institute — an organization that translates the science of well-being into simple tools and products that help you build your well-being.

Can You Actually Improve Your Well-Being?

Increasing your well-being is simple — there are tons of skills you can build. But increasing your well-being is not always easy — figuring out what parts of well-being are most important for you and figuring out how, exactly, to build well-being skills usually require some extra help.

How Long Does It Take to Improve Well-Being?

Usually when people start consistently using science-based techniques for enhancing well-being, they begin to feel better pretty quickly. In the research studies that I’ve conducted and read, most people show significant improvements within five weeks.

But you have to stick to it. If you are feeling better after five weeks, you can’t just stop there.

Why? Well, you probably already know that if you stop eating healthy and go back to eating junk food, then you’ll end up back where you started. It turns out that the exact same thing is true for different types of well-being. If you want to maintain the benefits you gain, you’ll have to continue to engage in well-being-boosting practices to maintain your skills. So it’s really helpful to have strategies and tools that help you stick to your well-being goals — for example, a happiness and well-being plan or a well-being boosting activity collection that you can continue to use throughout your life.

So, what are the skills you need to build and the practices you need to engage in to build your well-being? Here’s what you need to know:

Where Does Well-Being Come From?

Well-being emerges from your thoughts, actions, and experiences — most of which we have control over. For example, when we think positive, we tend to have greater emotional well-being. When we pursue meaningful relationships, we tend to have better social well-being. And when we lose our job — or just hate it — we tend to have lower workplace well-being. These examples start to reveal how broad well-being is, and how many different types of well-being there are.

Because well-being is such a broad experience, let’s break it down into its different types.

Five Major Types of Well-Being Are:

  • Emotional Well-Being — The ability to practice stress-managementtechniques, be resilient, and generate the emotions that lead to good feelings.
  • Physical Well-Being — The ability to improve the functioning of your body through healthy eating and good exercise habits.
  • Social Well-Being — The ability to communicate, develop meaningful relationships with others, and maintain a support network that helps you overcome loneliness.
  • Workplace Well-Being — The ability to pursue your interests, values, and purpose in order to gain meaning, happiness, and enrichment professionally.
  • Societal Well-Being — The ability to actively participate in a thriving community, culture, and environment.

To build your overall well-being, you have to make sure all of these types are functioning to an extent.

Think of it like this. Imagine you are in a car. Your engine works great, and maybe your transmission works pretty well too, but your brakes don’t work. Because your brakes don’t work, it doesn’t really matter how well your engine works. You’re still going to have trouble going about your life.

The same thing is true for your well-being. If everything else in your life is going great, but you feel lonely, or you’re eating unhealthfully, other areas of your life will be affected, and you likely won’t feel as well as you want to.

Because each part of well-being is important to your overall sense of well-being, let’s talk about how to build each type of well-being.

How Do You Build the Different Types of Well-Being?

Emotional Well-Being

To develop emotional well-being, we need to build emotional skills — skills like positive thinkingemotion regulation, and mindfulness, for example. Often, we need to build a variety of these skills to cope with the wide variety of situations we encounter in our lives. When we have built these emotional well-being skills, we can better cope with stress, handle our emotions in the face of challenges, and quickly recover from disappointments. As a result, we can enjoy our lives a bit more and pursue our goals a bit more effectively.

Here are some of the skills that research suggests contribute to emotional well-being:

Physical Well-Being

To develop our physical well-being, we need to know what a healthy dietand exercise routine looks like, so that we can implement effective strategies in our daily lives. When we improve our physical well-being, not only do we feel better, our newfound health can also help prevent many diseases, boost our emotional well-being, and limit the number of health challenges we have to deal with in our lives.

Here are some of the things that can help you boost your physical well-being:

  • Eating for Health
  • Detoxing Your Body
  • Correcting Nutritional Deficiencies
  • Removing Plastic From Your Home

​Unfortunately, it’s possible to eat healthy and still be unhealthy. We can accidentally miss important foods or nutrients. Or we can overburden ourselves with toxins from plastic or processed food. As a result, we may need to eat additional foods, detox our bodies, or prevent these toxins from entering our bodies again. This is why it’s essential to learn about health, so that we can make the right changes — changes that lead to long-term health and well-being.

Social Well-Being

To develop our social well-being, we need to build our social skills — skills like gratitude, kindness, and communication. Social skills make it easier for us to have positive interactions with others, helping us to feel less lonely, angry, or disconnected. When we have developed our social well-being, we feel more meaningfully connected to others.

Here are some of the skills that research suggests contribute to better social well-being:

It’s important to know that building social well-being is one the best ways to build emotional well-being. When we feel socially connected, we also tend to just feel better, have more positive emotions, and we are able to cope better with challenges. This is why it’s essential to build our social well-being.

Workplace Well-Being

To develop our workplace well-being, we need to build skills that help us pursue what really matters to us. This can include building professional skills which help us to advance more effectively, but it also includes things like living our values and maintaining work-life balance. These skills let us enjoy our work more, helping us to stay focused, motivated, and successful at work. When we have developed workplace well-being, our work, and therefore each day, feels more fulfilling.

Here are some of the key skills you need for workplace well-being:

  • Maintaining Work-Life Balance
  • Finding Your Purpose

​Because we spend so much time at work, building our workplace well-being has a big impact on our overall well-being.

Societal Well-Being

To develop societal well-being, we need to build skills that make us feel interconnected with all things. We need to know how to support our environment, build stronger local communities, and foster a culture of compassion, fairness, and kindness. These skills help us feel like we’re part of a thriving community that really supports one another and the world at large. When we cultivate societal well-being, we feel like we are a part of something bigger than just ourselves.

Although each one of us only makes up a tiny fraction of a society, it takes all of us to create societal well-being. If each one of us did one kind act for someone else in our community, then we would live in a very kind community. Or if all of us decide we are going to recycle, then suddenly we create a world with significantly less waste. In order to live in a healthy society, we too need to contribute to making a healthy society.

Here are some of the skills you can build for greater societal well-being:

Who Benefits Most From Building Well-Being?

Not everyone experiences the same benefits from building their well-being. For example, lots of research suggests that the more motivated you are to build well-being skills, the greater the impact. Perhaps this is not surprising.

Still other research shows that having skills like a growth mindset or a positive attitude can actually help you build your other well-being skills more easily. This is why I tend to encourage people to build these skills first — afterwards, you may be able to increase the other types of well-being more easily.

In addition, building well-being skills is perhaps most beneficial for people who are struggling with well-being the most, particularly if they’ve recently undergone something stressful. It may be harder to build well-being during this time or for these people, but the impact may be greater, because there is more room for improvement.

There Is No Magic About Building Well-Being

Keep in mind, it takes time and effort to build any new skillset — that includes well-being skills. It’s important to be realistic with yourself about what you can reasonably accomplish is a given amount of time. Having unrealistic expectations can lead you to give up before you’ve reached your well-being goals. So it’s key to create a realistic plan for your well-being, stick to it, and take small actions every day that add to big improvements up over time.

If you’ve read my articles before, you might know that I too have struggled with aspects of my well-being, particularly with maintaining work-life balance. The truth is, we all struggle with different parts of well-being, and new struggles can and will pop up, even if you’re doing well. But the longer we’ve worked on strengthening our well-being skills, the easier it is to be resilient, take the actions needed to bounce back, and continue moving forward even in the face of challenges.

Yes, growing your well-being is a lifelong pursuit, but it is a pursuit that is totally worth it.

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