A Reminder To Always Take Care Of Yourself

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No one can argue the importance of self-care. It is everywhere-from Facebook memes to Buzzfeed shopping lists to TV shows chanting “treat yaself.” And, it IS important. Without self-care, we will undoubtedly crash, burn out, or just merely exist. But Self-care is more than wine, pizza, and shopping (even though those are crucial too!), and, to be helpful, it has to be more than that.

Self-care is of course, at the most basic level, treating yourself. Allowing yourself to have that spa day. Freeing yourself to eat a bowl of ice cream or a whole pizza, or drink a bottle of wine. It’s letting yourself splurge and buy that pair of shoes, or that book you’ve been wanting to immerse yourself in, or that blanket you’ve been dreaming of cuddling up in and forgetting the world.

But, it goes deeper than that. self-care is allowing yourself to use those vacation days at work to take a break, even if it’s just to lay in bed and binge a new show. It is allowing yourself to cancel plans or obligations that you are not feeling so that you can instead do something that you are feeling. It is knowing that just because you received an invite doesn’t mean you have to say yes. self-care is freeing up the time and money needed to let yourself invest in your hobbies and passions.

And speaking of hobbies, self-care is doing what you love and giving a damn about what other people think. Too often we give up on what makes us happy because we lack the support of the people around us or the confidence to pursue it regardless of anyone’s thoughts. If knitting makes you happy, knit. If makeup makes you happy, learn as much as you can and be a badass at it. If dancing and concerts and clubs make you happy, then go out and dance until the early morning. Or, if you’re like me, and love your alone time and TV binge-watching, then let yourself do it, even when people say it is a lame, boring way to spend your time. Do what makes you happy and recharge your batteries and allow yourself to find happiness in life as often as you can.

Self-care is exploring the world and things around you. There is so much out there, and you’ll be surprised at what you were missing out on all this time. Try that new cuisine, go on that trip, read/watch a new genre of book/movie. Wake up and watch the sunrise over the ocean at the beach. Or stay up late in a field to watch the shooting stars and dancing fireflies. Or go for a walk in the woods and listen to the wind in the trees and the birds singing their lullabies.

Self-care is letting go of toxic people. It is one of the most important parts of self-care. Too often we keep people in our lives out of obligation or simply because we are scared to be alone. Loyalty is a trait that should be earned, not simply given out all willy-nilly. Friends, family, or partners-it doesn’t matter. If they are toxic or bitter or unsupportive or rude or emotionally draining…or anything else that brings bad energy into your life…let them go! The very essence of self-care is putting yourself first. Making sure that you are taking control of your life and making sure that you are allowing yourself to be happy and successful. And sometimes that means letting people go, no matter who they are or how long they have been around.

And piggybacking on that, self-care is not allowing yourself to settle for less. It is demanding what you need and taking what you want. Self-care is not letting second best be what you accept in any part of life. It’s not taking a backseat in your own life. Self-care is realizing when you are someone’s “maybe” or backup plan and making yourself move on to find someone who makes you their number one, who chooses you first. Self-care is knowing what will make you happy and not being afraid to ask for it.

Self-care is realizing your dreams and pursuing them. It doesn’t matter how crazy or big they are. It doesn’t matter what other people say or what roadblocks that may arise. Dreams are what keep us going. Dreams are what make life more than mundane routines. And yes, your dream may never come true. You may never achieve it, but at least you can say you tried. If you want to climb Everest, be the President, be the next Kim K, or just be a parent, then for God’s sake try. Give it your all. You never know what dreams just might come true. And the hope of what can be is what keeps us going, even when life gets hard.

Self-care is being honest. Self-care is not being afraid to quit. If something is not the right fit, then it is ok to stop. Quit your job or school, change your major, leave your relationship, move to a new city. It is ok to quit; it is ok to leave. Give yourself permission to start over anytime you find yourself anything less than happy, satisfied, and fulfilled.

Self-care is learning to love yourself. It is learning to be alone until you find the right person. Self-love is learning to put yourself first. Self-love is finally admitting to yourself that you deserve love and happiness. It is allowing yourself to believe you deserve everything and more.

And lastly, self-care is knowing balance. Walking that line between taking care of yourself and enjoying life and going overboard. Know your limits and weaknesses. Self-care is accepting your flaws and working on them. Knowing your means and making the most of them. Life is a balancing act, and self-care, when done wrong, can dig a deeper hole than it helps.

And in case you need to hear it like I did, you are amazing. You are loved. And you deserve nothing less than the most extraordinary life you can imagine for yourself. And you are free to do, or not do, whatever you think is needed for you to be happy, successful, and fulfilled.

7 Words You Should Immediately Stop Using To Describe Yourself

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We all know the words we say to others matter. But sometimes we forget that the words we say to and about ourselves are equally important. We need to be careful about the way we describe who we are. If you wouldn’t assign a word to a friend or other loved one, you probably shouldn’t assign it to yourself, either. Keep scrolling for seven specific words that you should stop using to talk about Y-O-U.



1. Alone: If you’ve just gone through a breakup with a significant other, have experienced a loss in your family, or are just feeling generally down in the dumps, it can be tempting to feel — and even say — that you’re all alone. Remember, though, that if you’re sharing these feelings with a friend or other confidante, you’re far from lonely. If you feel lonely, stop thinking of yourself as alone and reach out for support. “Perhaps it would help to reach out or let people in your life know that you need something versus trying to figure it out alone,” licensed psychologist Sue Sexton says. “You are not alone!”

2. Stupid: Licensed marriage and family therapist Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali tells us that she hears this word all too often. “If you say to yourself that you are stupid, you will trigger a negative feeling about yourself, as well as negative thoughts about yourself,” Osibodu-Onyali says. “Too many negative thoughts can lead to a drop in self-confidence or self-esteem.” Give yourself a little credit. Allow the necessary room to make mistakes so that you can relieve the pressure you put on yourself and be a little more compassionate to yourself.

3. Lazy: “Too many of us call ourselves out when we can’t rise early to exercise, take on one more task at home or at work, or just keep up with someone else,” says Karen Azeez, certified holistic health coach and author of The Kindfulness Solution. “At this point, we should see if we just need more down time, sleep, motivation, or information instead of judging ourselves harshly.” Don’t conflate exhaustion or overwhelm with habitual laziness. You’re only lazy if you choose to be.

4. Just/Only: When asked what you do for a living or even for fun, don’t hedge your answer with the word “just” or “only.” You’re not “just” a student or “only” an assistant or spending your weekend “just” hanging out. Own who you are and what you do. “These qualifiers undermine your power and awesomeness, serve as an apology for something that requires one, and broadcast low self-esteem or fake humility,” says Nikki Bruno, a power coach, speaker, and author.

5. Sorry: Women, in particular, are in the habit of making themselves apologetic way too often. While saying that you’re sorry may seem harmless — maybe even polite — you probably say it more than necessary. Executive coach and Development Corps founder Kate Gigax encourages you to be mindful that you’re not saying sorry for things that aren’t yours to own. Consider replacing “I’m sorry” with “thank you.” For instance, try saying, “Thank you for your patience” instead of “I’m so sorry I’m late!”

6. Sensitive: “By labeling your thoughts and feelings as sensitive, you’re not only judging yourself, but you’re instantly negating your thoughts and feelings,” therapist and life coach Tess Brigham notes. “There’s nothing wrong with having emotions.” Even if you’re convinced that you have more feels than the average human, you don’t owe it to anyone to justify your behavior. Instead, allow yourself to experience those emotions, so you can move past them when you’re ready.

7. Hopeless: No matter how low you’re feeling or how much you feel you need to grow or improve, we ask you to never, ever label yourself this way… and the experts back us up. “Reinforcing that you’re growing and learning is a far more positive, motivating, and effective message than expecting mastery out of the gate and beating yourself up over it,” life and career coach Sally Anne Carroll says.

This article originally appeared on Brit + Co.

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.

How To Practice Yoga At Home If You’re An Absolute Beginner

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY MOLLY CRANNA.

There’s an image that comes across my Instagram feed about once a day of a wellness blogger in their light-filled apartment, surrounded by house plants, doing yoga and looking very casual about it. The thought of doing yoga at home sounds ideal; you don’t have to deal with people, spend any money, or even leave the house. But in actuality, when I try to do yoga at home, I get distracted and end up scrolling my phone in child’s pose on a yoga mat.

“One of the best things about yoga is that it can be done almost anytime, anywhere — including at home,” says Jade Alexis, a yoga trainer on the audio-based workout app Aaptiv. The problem is, without a yoga teacher around, or a proper app to walk you through the workout, it’s tough to know what exactly to do. You need to at least have a plan or intention each time you flow at home.

So, whether you also aspire to be an at-home yogi, or you just want to do yoga in private, ahead are some tips from Alexis and Sinikiwe Dhliwayo, yoga instructor and founder of Naaya Wellness (New York), a wellness collective for people of colour. With a mat and the right attitude, you too can be a yoga-flowing homebody.


1. Know a few basic poses.

When you’re starting out with your at-home yoga practice, it’s a good idea to have a vocabulary of postures that you can work with. Alexis and Dhliwayo suggest learning: cat cow, child’s pose, downward-facing dog, plank, cobra pose, upward-facing dog, warrior one and two, chair pose, and low lunge. If you know those, you can piece them together a beginner flow, like Sun Salutation B, Alexis says. Look up videos or images of the poses to get a sense of how they’re supposed to be done, but try not to get wrapped up in what they look like; how you feel is more important.

2. Listen to your body.

Form is essential in yoga, but without an expert to guide you through the poses or make physical corrections, it can be difficult to know if you’re doing it “right.” The best way to make adjustments or tell if you’re making mistakes is to just pay attention to how you feel, Alexis says. “Regardless of wherever you are, it’s important to listen to your body,” she says. “If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your body and ease of the posture.”


3. Try an online class.

The internet is full of tons of free yoga classes and resources for you to take advantage of — arguably too many. Dhliwayo is a fan of yogis Sara ClarkRocky Heron, and Dianne Bondy. The beauty of taking an online class is that you can stop it at any time, or rewind a section if it gets confusing. And of course, the Aaptiv app has lots of audio yoga classes that you can try that are varying lengths, styles, and levels of difficulty.

 

4. Get some gear.

You don’t need much to do yoga, but ideally you’d have a clutter-free space to practice, a good yoga mat, and most importantly a positive attitude and patience, Alexis says. Blocks can also be super helpful if you’re just starting out, because they essentially bring the floor up to you, which is imperative if you don’t have flexibility yet, Dhliwayo says. Other props like blankets help you be more comfortable in a pose, and can be nice to have during a restorative practice, she says. Music and calming essential oils can also help make your home practice feel more special, but those aren’t must-haves.

 

5. Don’t stress the names.

Often in yoga classes, teachers will use the Sanskrit names to define yoga poses, which can make it seem way more confusing. “Many people are concerned with knowing the names of poses, but that comes with time and I tell beginners to not worry about names when they get started,” Alexis says. Instead, just find beginner classes that will walk you through the individual poses, she says. With enough repetition, it’ll eventually click.

The 3 Powerful Steps To Develop Your Daily Routine

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“You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That’s the only thing you should be trying to control.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

The winter solstice recently passed and now, we find ourselves deep in the peak of shortened days, cold weather and lots of time inside with family and relatives. The lack of sun can really damper our moods and take away some of our energy. If we let it. Winter can make it challenging to find inspiration at times. But the days of less sunlight can also lead to great opportunities for solitude, reflection and contemplation.

While it may be tough to feel as inspired, I find that wintertime often is great for planning and refocusing our priorities. Some of my best ideas, as well as my most productive planning and actions have taken place at this time of the year. In fact, the majority of the writing that I did for my first book, The Value of You, occurred during the wintertime last year. It was a special time I’ll never forget.

Following the holidays, there are less distractions. And as a result, there are more reasons to find things that inspire and light the fire inside of our hearts.

In this vein, I urge you to develop an inspirational routine each morning. It may come through the power of meditation, prayer, genuine heartfelt interaction with those that you love or from your favorite song. It could be a video that plays back the piano recital you played to perfection that brought the house down.

It may be the words of this article or a book you find so profound and hold in such high esteem, you get the chills before opening the pages.

Develop your routine. I’ll show you what works for me and how you can integrate this into your life.

Here’s How to Develop Your Routine

“Great are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force — that thoughts rule the world.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Make your routine an every day thing. As I’ve climbed the mountain of productivity this year, I realize that I never want to come down. The ascension — the journey — has been a magical ride and it reassures me that all of my progress toward self-actualization, as well as greater harmony and rhythm in living the life of my destiny has been worth the pain and occasional doubts.

  1. Dedicate 10 minutes of contemplation time, ideally, at the beginning of each day. This sets the tone for your day and gets you feeling inspired. All you need are 10 minutes of deep, powerful thinking without distraction and with a beginner’s mind.
  2. Use this time alone in solitude, in a quiet place. Focus your thoughts on positive, stimulative thoughts such as: romantic love, sexual love for a partner, girlfriend/boyfriend, wife or husband. Also, music, friendship and envisioning yourself attaining success or fame. There’s tremendous power that comes through dreaming and seeing yourself standing “in the winner’s circle.”
  3. Get these positive thoughts going and keep them going. Write down these thoughts that come to mind. Keep referring back to them throughout your work day or school day. Think of them when you’re out in the social world, during moments of difficulty or times of joy. Look at them again before you go to bed at night and reset your mind. Then rest and get read for the new day with excitement, anticipation and a clear mind for fresh, new thoughts.

What has become truer for me by the day is the concept that we control our own destiny through the power of our thoughts. We emotionalize our ideas with the power of love, faith and hope. We take these thoughts and envision ourselves doing what we desire. And we put it into plan and take the action that we’ve dreamed of. It really is that simple. Do this and you will never be denied.

There is no shame in any idea, as long as you believe in it and feel it will add value to your life and the lives of others. Don’t concern yourself with the ingenuity of your idea. Your race, your cause is the one that speaks to the desires and dreams of your heart. That’s what makes you unique and special.

I’ve got a long way to go. Chances are, so do you. The way to cultivate and build momentum — which you can then transform into empowered thought and constructive action is through inspiration — the power of “fire” that lifts your spirit and brings you unbridled enthusiasm. Be inspired everyday.

A Story To Tell

Any idea, plan, or purpose may be placed in the mind through repetition of thought. — Napoleon Hill

This is a story I know well. It’s the story of my best friend, my brother, Kevin. These days my brother is seen on national television five nights each week on ESPN. He’s a broadcast journalist and celebrity in his own right. Everything he has can be attributed to his natural talents, perseverance, desire and faith in himself.

Kevin worked hard until he reached the pinnacle of his profession. He reached the top because he envisioned himself reaching the top. He dreamed big and thought prodigious, stimulative thoughts. He had the mindset of a winner. But keep in mind, Kevin’s success did not come overnight.

Kevin knew when he was in 8th grade what he wanted to do with his life. He started announcing sports scores over the intercom at our middle school. He did the same thing while in high school. Kevin used his basketball-playing ability to earn an athletic scholarship at the college level, where he attended a school with one of the top Radio & TV programs in the United States.

After graduation, he embarked on what is now over a 20-year career in sports broadcasting. He busted his tail for nine long years at a regional television station making meager money. There were moments of doubt, frustration and at times, loneliness. Kevin dreamed of being on national television or working in a big market. But it seemed so far away.

He concentrated on getting better each day. He surrounded himself with inspiring thoughts, stories and images of fellow broadcasters who made the big time, as well powerful stories of athletes. He kept going. Kept believing.

Finally, his big break came in 2006 when he accepted a job with WCBS radio in New York. Less than one year later, he was working on television for WCBS-TV. And in 2008, he reached the big time: he was hired by ESPN. 11 years after graduating from college, with a few lean years in between where he thought about quitting or changing professions, Kevin received an offer to work at the worldwide leader of sports.

Your Journey

Chances are, you will not find success or personal fulfillment in your first job. Few people are blessed with both the talent and foresight to know precisely what they want to do with their lives right after college. Even less people know and possess this ability at a young age. My brother, Kevin, is one of those precious few lads who did know.

We all have unique stories to share with the world. Where are you on your journey? Are you going through the doldrums of doubt and fear? Do you see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel — the end-vision of your goal? And if you do, are you running into road blocks of creativity? What are your mental challenges? What are your emotional battles?

Perhaps your path is as open as the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset in Laguna Beach. Maybe it’s a Midtown Manhattan traffic jam. It’s all a state of mind. We need inspiration to help us create the beautiful landscapes of limitless possibility in our mind that serve as the foundation for our magical journeys.

You are the creator of your world. When you are safe in the knowledge that you control your worldly destiny, nothing will ever stop you. Those with a winning mindset are never denied. They inspire themselves to achieve great things.

Be inspired. Enjoy this winter season and take some time for yourself to develop a routine that positions you for fulfillment and productivity. As St.Francis of Asisi once wrote, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

This article originally appeared on Medium.

3 Small Habits That Improved My Productivity and Well-Being

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CREDIT: Getty Images

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.

Scientists Have Discovered The Best Way To Combine Coffee And Naps So You Feel Less Tired

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Caffeine and napping have something in common. Both make you feel alert and can enhance your performance, whether that’s driving, working or studying. But some people are convinced that drinking a coffee before a nap gives you an extra zap of energy when you wake up.

How could that be? Is there any evidence to back the power of these so-called coffee naps? Or are we better off getting a good night’s sleep?

Positive Thinking Can Help Your Health Later In Life, According To A Recent Study

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Life sure can have its ups and downs, but it looks like maintaining a strong sense of optimism could actually benefit your health in the longterm. According to a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), positive thinking can help your health in your later years. Who knows — positive thinking could just be the key to immortality. I’m kidding, of course (or am I?)

The study, conducted by Professor Andrew Steptoe and Dr Daisy Fancourt, analysed data collated between 2012 and 2016 from over 7,000 adults over the age of 50 as part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), as described by University College London.

When asked “to what extent they felt the things they did in their life were worthwhile,” participants were instructed to rate their answer on a scale from one to ten. Researchers found that those who rated higher lived life significantly better. From walking faster to sleeping well, those with a positive attitude exuded it in both mind and body.

Having an optimistic outlook on life has plenty of other benefits too, including an improvement on your ability to cope with stress, can boost your immunity, and can even lead to an increased lifespan, according to Verywell Mind.

Lucas Ottone/Stocksy

Taking other aspects of a participants life into account, the study was also able to determine that those who had higher ratings kept their lives pretty busy, surrounding themselves with strong relationships, socialising, and exercising. Participants who rated lower were “twice as likely to develop depressive symptoms,” and were also linked with living on their own and feeling overwhelmingly lonely.

“As more and more men and women live longer, we need to understand better what factors lead to healthier and happier older age,” Steptoe explained. “This is a two-way process. Not only do good social relationships and better health contribute to our sense that we are living meaningful lives, but this sense of meaning sustains social and cultural activity, health and wellbeing in the future.”

Jovo Jovanovic/Stocksy

Even though this study focuses on those aged over 50, that doesn’t mean that those in their thirties, twenties, or even teens can’t adopt a more positive outlook on life. I mean, starting early is always the best thing in my book, especially if it can improve your health and mental wellbeing.

And even if you’re introverted or have mental health issues like depression, you can gain positivity from literally anything. For me, it’s always the little things like immersing myself in video games or just spending time with my family.

Jayme Burrows/Stocksy

“We do not know what activities the participants in this study thought were worthwhile,” Fancourt explained. “For some it might be supporting their families, for others a particular accomplishment in their work or hobby, enjoying nature or perhaps following a favourite sports team. What is important is that the individual finds these activities worthwhile and feels like they give a sense of meaning to life.”

If you want to start living your life to the optimistic full, here’s some advice. Pick one thing your absolutely passionate about, and fit it into your daily routine. Even if you’re having a rough day, it’ll be there to pick you up and spin your mind back into the positive.

Your Genes and Addiction

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Over the last decade, the prevalence of opioid addiction has increased to epidemic levels, but unfortunately therapeutic interventions for the treatment of addiction remain limited. We need to better understand the triggers for the development of addiction in order to develop more targeted prevention and treatments. One of the key questions that researchers in the field of neuropsychiatry are trying to answer is why some people are more vulnerable to addiction. As in most cases of psychiatric disorders, genetic and environmental factors interact to determine how vulnerable, or likely, you are to developing a substance use disorder.

Drugs of abuse, including opioids, act on the brain’s reward system, a system that transfers signals primarily via a molecule (neurotransmitter) called dopamine. The function of this system is affected by genetic and environmental factors. For example, a recent study published in the scientific journal PNAS revealed one of those genetic factors. Researchers demonstrated that a type of small infectious agent (a type of RNA virus called human endogenous retrovirus-K HML-2, or HK2) integrates within a gene that regulates activity of dopamine. This integration is more frequently found in people with substance use disorders, and is associated with drug addiction.

How does stress induce epigenetic changes?

Accumulating evidence suggests that environmental factors, such as stress, induce epigenetic changes that can trigger the development of psychiatric disorders and drug addiction. Epigenetic changes refer to regulations of gene expression that do not involve alterations in the sequence of the genetic material (DNA) itself. Practically, epigenetic changes are information that is added on to already existing genetic material, but can affect the expression of genes.

A stressful situation, such as the death of a significant other or the loss of a job, triggers the release of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids. Those stress hormones trigger alterations in many systems throughout the body, induce epigenetic changes, and regulate the expression of other genes in the brain. One of the systems that is affected by stress hormones is the brain’s reward circuitry. The interaction between stress hormones and the reward system can trigger the development of addiction, as well as a stress-induced relapse in drug or alcohol recovery.

Stress reduction can help reduce the risk of developing an addiction and prevent relapse

Fortunately, the negative effects of stress can be alleviated by other factors, such as physical activity or social support. These behaviors produce epigenetic changes that prevent the development of addiction and can have a beneficial role in treatment when used in combination with other interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and, for some people, medications. One of the ways that physical activity could be effective is by reducing negative feelings, including stress and the accompanied stress-induced epigenetic changes. In the example of a stressful situation such as the death of a significant other or loss of a job, if a person engages in physical activity this can reduce their stress-induced epigenetic changes, which will decrease the risk of developing addiction or stress-induced relapse.

Hope for targeted addiction treatments

We now know that the function and dysfunction of the brain’s reward system is complicated, plastic (undergoes changes based on negative and positive factors), and involves complex interactions of genetic and environmental factors. Alterations in gene expression can lead to changes in the function of the brain’s reward system, so a person is more or less likely to self-administer drugs. Together this knowledge can ultimately lead to the development of multilevel and more efficient prevention and therapeutic approaches to address the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Resources

Human Endogenous Retrovirus-K HML-2 integration within RASGRF2 is associated with intravenous drug abuse and modulates transcription in a cell-line modelProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 24, 2018.

Why Daydreaming Can Improve Your Mental Health

Author Article

stockfour/Shutterstock
Source: stockfour/Shutterstock

How many times do you catch your mind wandering when you’re plodding through your day’s activities? As you slip into reverie, for example, do you see yourself relaxing at your favorite beach resort? How about imagining the big event you’re attending next weekend? Are you starting to think about who you’re going to see there, and what you’ll wear? After a few seconds, you snap back to attention and focus your mind back on what you’re supposed to be doing. Perhaps you were in the middle of a meeting and realize that everyone is waiting for your answer to a question posed to the group. It’s also possible that you were trying to finish a repetitive task on your desktop, and while clicking through an endless number of cut and paste operations, you started to time travel back to the weekend before. Maybe you’ve just gone to the gym for an hour and spent most of the time thinking about a problem in your relationship.

The effects of daydreaming or mind-wandering are generally thought of as negative. When attention is diverted, you’re more likely to make a mistake — and while driving, you certainly do need to focus all of your senses on what’s going on around you. Apart from all the other potential hazards that can come from distracted driving due to cell phones, GPS, and even the car radio, drifting off into oblivion should certainly rank high on that list of dangers. At work, though, or while involved in your household routines, is it really all that bad to retreat into your thoughts, if only for a moment?

Georgia Institute of Technology’s Kelsey Merlo and colleagues (2019) decided to take a new approach to studying the age-old question of why people daydream, and what effects daydreaming can have on people’s productivity. The authors note that despite how common it is to think about something other than what you’re doing (they claim perhaps as many as half of all waking moments), the work and organizational psychology literature virtually ignores the phenomenon altogether. Most studies of daydreaming have a cognitivefocus or pin the activity down to the brain’s “default working network,” which produces internally generated activity. As in that example from the gym, your mind dissociates relatively easily when you’re involved in automatic activities. This is when the default working network allows you to split your consciousness.

Other terms refer to daydreaming in a more negative light, noting its repetitive nature in the form of rumination or worry. From the standpoint of the Georgia Tech researchers, mind-wandering or daydreaming can be defined as being stimulus-independent, in that the content of the thoughts are not a reflection of sensory input or related to the task being performed at the moment. Such thoughts can be fanciful, such as imagining yourself winning the lottery, or pragmatic, as in planning what to make for dinner. They can be related to work, as when you try to plan out your schedule for the day, and they can be triggered by stimuli such as the phone ringing, which reminds you that you have an important call coming up later in the day.

The comprehensive study conducted by Merlo and her associates took a person-centered approach in which participants provided, in their own words, the causes of their daydreaming, the content of their daydreams, and the results they felt followed from the mind-wandering interlude. The authors focused, as they stated, “on the lived-through experience of a mind wandering episode as that episode is experienced subjectively, by the worker him/herself” (p. 3). They also wanted to allow participants to experience mind-wandering in real situations rather than in the artificial conditions of a lab. They wanted to see, as they proposed, “the dynamic nature of mind wandering as part of work experience” (p. 4). This approach allowed them the flexibility to study daydreaming in its natural environment, while also maintaining scientific rigor. According to “grounded theory,” it’s just as valid to analyze open-ended responses (if done in a systematic manner) as it is to apply the methods of survey research and quantitative analysis.

Participants in the Georgia Tech study, then, were all working adults, obtained from two university sites, whose average age was 40 years old. They represented a diverse set of occupations, and half were white/Caucasian with the remainder identifying as African American (45 percent) or Asian (5 percent). In the open-ended interview that the participants completed, the less technical term “daydreaming” was used rather than “mind-wandering.”

The analyses, then, rather than representing statistical tests, reflected the broad themes that emerged across interviews, divided into the three areas regarding the onset, ending, and outcome of daydreams. Looking first at onset, or triggers, these ranged from internal states (sadness, fatigue, or boredom), direct prompts (looking at something or someone), an internal progression (thinking about one thing that then leads to another), being in a meeting, and just taking a natural break (such as being in between projects). You can enter a daydream at work, then, either because you’re inwardly triggered to do so by a mental state, externally stimulated by something that happens to you, or by being in a work situation that naturally fosters daydreaming.

People snapped out of their mind-wandering, the authors reported, for similar reasons. They can be faced with external cues, such as the “ping” of an email landing in their inbox, internal cues, or becoming aware that they were daydreaming, or by the daydream reaching its natural conclusion, and there being nothing left to daydream about. You might wake from your daydream, then, because someone is standing in front of you and demanding your attention, or because you realize it’s time to get back to what you were doing.

Most interesting from the standpoint of daydreaming’s effect on your mental health and productivity were the responses that participants provided about the perceived outcome of a mind-wandering episode. They described some negative impacts, such as feeling guilty about having drifted off from their work tasks, or continuing to experience a negative mood state from the daydream if it involved worrying or reliving a sad event. However, many of the participants believed that daydreaming had benefited their emotions and their work performance. One software consultant noted, “Because they are so short, and I find them to be pleasant, they never hurt me.” Some noted that they worked harder after the daydream ended to catch up any lost time or effort. A financial administrator started making fewer mistakes after a daydream break, “because I was getting bored with the task.”

The authors were struck not only by these positive outcomes, but also by the fact that mind-wandering seemed to be a process that the participants stated they could control. They could decide to avoid an aversive work environment with a brief mental wander somewhere else, and when they wanted to end the daydream, they could readily do so. As a result, the authors concluded, “mind-wandering may be able to be used strategically to enhance work experience” (p. 12). The micro-break which the daydream provides can help to combat fatigue and strain during the day, because “it allows individuals to cognitively and affectively disengage from their work demands” (p. 13). You don’t need to wait until the weekend or your next vacation, the findings suggest, to get the mental health benefits of a break. Although mind-wandering seems “mindless,” at another level, using your daydreams to enhance your well-being can be an exceptionally mindfulness-boosting experience.

To sum up, the Merlo et al. findings suggest that the occasional daydream, especially the one that allows you to unfocus and then refocus, can be one of the best ways to become better at what you’re doing. The associated feelings of being refreshed and ready to tackle your next task can become just the antidote you need to lower stress and boost your feelings of day-to-day fulfillment.

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