Emotions

Finding Resilience in the Midst of Challenges

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“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” – David Brinkley

One thing is certain, and that is that each day presents new challenges. It isn’t the fact that challenges occur that is most important, however, but how well an individual is able to adapt and bounce back from setbacks and go on to face daily challenges. The secret is resilience, yet a little known fact is that it is possible to find and tap into a wellspring of resilience even in the midst of challenges.

Are You Up for Today’s Challenges?

A common misconception for many people is to wonder if we’re up for the challenges today brings. For some, the go-to course of action is to do anything and everything to avoid what is happening today. More specifically, to avoid what responsibilities should be attended to today. The difference between someone who acknowledges, accepts, and rises to meet the challenges and one who shirks, denies, ignores, or blatantly refuses to take action may well be their attitude.

The good news is that this is one area where proactive steps can be taken to turn a negative outlook into a more positive one, thereby improving outcomes regardless of the challenge at hand. Hence, going back to the reservoir of resilience can produce dramatic results.

How to Deal With Difficult or Unpleasant Tasks

Many people find that they steel themselves to tackle difficult or unpleasant tasks experienced on a more or less regular basis. Another common behavioral tendency is to shy away from anything unknown. Why is that? For one thing, people often feel at a loss as to how to deal with the situation, not having sufficient (in their estimation) experience or knowledge to take on the task with any degree of success. For another, they may be afraid – either that they’ll fail at it or that they’ll succeed. Success may mean yet more challenges, and they may not feel all that up to the job just now.

What If You Have Depression or Other Mental Health Disorder?

This can be especially true for anyone dealing with the difficulties inherent in coping with a mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others. Often, in addition to the uncertainty and self-doubt the disorder creates, the individual feels ill-equipped to make sound decisions. There’s also likely a fear that a previously-used coping mechanism or method may be faulty.

Even so, consider the fact that there’s probably a wealth of lessons just beneath the surface of the various daily challenges encountered, whether one is dealing with a mental illness or any other daily challenge. By failing to pay heed to these lessons or automatically rejecting them as unworkable, too difficult, indicative of failure or not worth the effort, that does a huge disservice to the individual. By way of illustration, think of the last time paying attention to a truth that’s become apparent during the course of tackling a difficult challenge made a tremendous difference in the task outcome. By tapping into that residual memory, it’s not only possible to benefit from resilience but also to jumpstart it this time. The circumstances may be different, yet our inherent knowledge source remains constant.

Finding Resilience in the Midst of Challenges

As to actually being able to find resilience in the midst of these challenges, this is a skill that can be developed and built over time and with practice. It’s possible to somehow stumble on a way to discern what’s hidden beneath or train ourselves to find the good in everything that we do, whether it is a daily task or taking on something that seems complex, demanding and out of normal expertise.

What we’ll find is that we’ve got more going for us than we realized. There are strengths that we each possess that will serve us well, but only if we give ourselves the opportunity to put them to work.

Look at challenges that arise and figure out ways that to possibly tackle them, where to start looking for the solution, how to implement it, when, and where to ask for help or marshal resources.

The stronger the foundation of resilience is, the more strength and resilience there’ll be to utilize when something unexpected threatens to derail progress in working through challenges. Indeed, every action taken makes us stronger we get stronger – as long as we constantly strive to learn something from our efforts, successful immediately or not.

How This Works in Real Life

How does this work in real life? What is an example that we can all identify with? Suppose we’ve attempted a task and find that we run into a roadblock of considerable proportion? We’ve tackled something that really goes beyond our area of experience or knowledge and believe we can’t go any further. There are, however, ways to look at this. Granted, it could be marked as a failure. On the other hand, it is also possible to acknowledge what was learned in the process. That may well be that we have the strength to take on difficult challenges and not shy away from them, or we’ve learned when we need to step aside, possibly turn over the task to someone with more experience and/or follow by their side so as to learn how to do it ourselves.

What we can take from the experience is the fact that all of this adds to our residual body of resilience, knowledge, experience, and self-confidence. While total success may not have been achieved this time out, this should not deter us from tackling challenges again. In fact, we’ll likely find that we’re more hopeful than ever, given the fact that we’ve learned how to make use of our innate resilience to identify and pursue innovative and workable solutions to everyday challenges.

Suppose others are critical of our efforts? Those are neither true friends nor supporters of our goals. Keep attuned to giving challenges complete effort and focus, doing the best possible in the moment. What comes out of this is something profound in return, and that is a belief in our ability to succeed in the end. Remember, as humans, we learn when we act. The more we learn, the more we grow. The more we grow, the stronger our resilience reservoir becomes.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Why It’s Important to Your Mental Health to Deal Constructively With Self-Doubt

My Best Ways to Deal with Frustration

How to Keep Frustration from Blocking Your Goals

How to Start Making Plans When You’re Recovering From Depression

Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

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How To Stop Fear From Holding You Back During Troubling Times

Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

 

Living life in fear is no way to live, no matter what is going on in the world. Without a doubt, these are troubling times, filled with uncertainty, sadness, perhaps physical pain as well. Much of what has happened is out of anyone’s control. The new reality of social distancing, working from home, constant hand washing and finding innovative ways to stretch groceries, paper products and cleaning supplies is enough to produce anxiety in any sane individual. Yet, coming to grips with fear is essential. Instead of struggling with this powerful emotion and allowing it to grow, do something to stop it. Here’s how.

What Is Really Bothering You?

While this may be the last thing on a to-do list, it’s important to sit down and identify what is really bothering you now. Just answering “COVID-19” is too broad, yet putting this on paper is a good starting point.

Before diving in, however, make sure family or business duties or tasks are taken care of. They must take priority. Then, feel free to devote sufficient time to centering on what’s most fear-inducing.

It may help to do this exercise with eyes closed. Think about what went on today that may have produced fear. Did something someone said (in the home, on TV, during Internet browsing, reading the newspaper) allow that knot of fear to metastasize? Did it mean reticence about doing something or shying away from any personal contact (even at a distance)? Write down specifics, anything that comes to mind.

The list will vary from one person to the next, although there are some common threads people mention about what makes them afraid. These include:

  • I’m so fearful to be around other people, even with social distancing. What if I’m next to someone who’s got the coronavirus?
  • I’m afraid that I’ll never enjoy success again and, with so many millions of people sick and tens of thousands dying from this novel virus, I feel guilty even thinking of personal goal achievement.
  • Others probably think I’m a selfish person, so I’m reluctant to tell them what I’m thinking so they won’t judge me.
  • I’m afraid for our children. What kind of world will they live in? What happens if we get sick and can’t take care of them.
  • All I can feel is fear – about everything.

This May Seem Obvious, But When Did the Fear Begin?

To overcome fear, it’s important to pinpoint when it took over and began to handicap everyday living.

Some fears are universal, such as fear of abandonment, fear of being alone, fear about disease, dying and death. Indeed, some of what’s now identified as fear may trace back to a dysfunctional home, childhood trauma, economic disadvantage, school bullying, the presence of a physical or mental disability.

Recognize that uncovering when and where the fear started and then focusing on the fear itself is likely to be painful. Dwelling on fear is unpleasant at best, yet getting past fear requires going through this process.

Be Willing to Ask for Help

Identifying fear, when it began, and specifics about the fear will likely produce feelings of discomfort and frustration. That’s because there aren’t any solutions as to how to get past fear yet.

Outside help can prove beneficial here. Psychological counseling or therapy may be appropriate, or taking part in online discussion groups and self-help forums. Literature available online on the topic of overcoming fear is another good source for help.

Two other options for overcoming fear are meditation and prayer, both part of a spirituality practice.

Most people are reluctant to ask for help, yet resources are available and no one should feel any stigma about asking for assistance during these troubling times. Indeed, climbing out of the pit of fear may begin with taking these first steps toward a proactive solution.

What Are You Afraid Fear Will Prevent You From Doing?

When thinking about the future, assuming there will be restrictions on personal movement lifted, are you afraid to return to work? Does the idea of interacting with co-workers and supervisors create a rush of fear?

What if you’ve had the virus, or been in quarantine with family members who’ve had it, are you afraid you’ll get it again?

Are you afraid of ever getting physically close with another individual due to uncertainty over how long COVID-19 will be present, or if it will become seasonal and a pandemic that will recur?

The point about looking at what fear may prevent you from doing isn’t how daunting the list is. It is, however, instructive to see in black and white how self-limiting fear is to daily living. Everyone wants to get life back to normal, even if that normal looks quite different than what it once was. Fear, in this respect, can be a powerful motivator to unleash innovation, creativity, and finding new solutions to everyday problems and daily life.

Future Planning: Create Goals

This crisis will eventually subside and things will get back to some semblance of order. Heartening research from the University of Sydney found that if 80 percent of people practiced strong social distancing, COVID-19 could be curbed in 13 weeks. Be ready with goals to tackle once that happens. These may include personal goals that have taken a backseat to others, yet now they take on greater significance.

Whatever these goals may be, put them down on paper. This exercise provides ample material to work from in taking the next step to get past fear.

Construct Action Plans

Action plans are necessary to get moving on goals. Be sure to include a range of goals, some that are more quickly achievable, some that take a bit longer, and others that are long-term.

In the interim, prioritize self-care, since you’ll need to be healthy to resume normal living once the pandemic subsides. Even during self-distancing, it’s possible to ensure you’re taking good care of yourself, according to suggestions from Johns Hopkins mental health experts. The list includes exercise, which helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression while also benefitting physical health.

Each type requires its own set of action plans. Without a plan to follow, there’s no roadmap to pursue the goal. Another crucial part of action plans and goals is that they’ll likely need to undergo revision. Change is part of life, and goals deemed important now may be less of a priority going forward. Live life in the present, always doing your best while remaining true to yourself and your core beliefs.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Are You Lonely Tonight? How to Combat Loneliness

5 Tips to Banish Loneliness

How to Help Your Child Banish Loneliness

My Best Ways to Deal with Frustration

How to Keep Frustration from Blocking Your Goals

How to Manage Your Anger

How to Start Making Plans When You’re Recovering From Depression

10 Health Benefits of Daily Exercise

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

Loneliness Erodes Your Mental Health – But You Can Get Past This Toxic Emotion

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“Loneliness is proof that your innate search for connection is intact.” – Martha Beck

Loneliness is one of the most miserable feelings to experience. Being alone, however, doesn’t necessarily mean a person is lonely. They may be, although they may be quite deliberate in wanting to be alone for a time, and have no negative effects from such solitude. It’s the protractedness and sense of isolation and desperation that can set in that seems to push loneliness to extremes, even potentially resulting in worsening mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Yet, for those who are suffering with loneliness and want to take proactive steps to get past this toxic emotion, there are some things they can do that can help.

WISDOM AND OTHER LONELINESS COPING STRATEGIES

A sobering statistic from the National Center for Health Studies reveals that, by 2029, more than 20 percent of the adult U.S. population will be age 65 and older. Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine sought to identify common loneliness characteristics of seniors in retirement or senior living facilities, as well as effective coping strategies to combat loneliness. With the increasing number of senior citizens moving into such facilities, it’s important to recognize that loneliness is considered as bad as smoking and obesity in curtailing longevity.

According to the researcher’s findings, the biggest risk factors for loneliness are losses associated with age, and poor social skills. Losing a sense of life purpose was mentioned by participants as another risk factor. Of course, loneliness is subjective, researchers said, and people feel the emotion differently.

Preventing loneliness or combating its presence, on the other hand, involves exploring interventions of wisdom and compassion. Researchers cited various studies on some of the effective loneliness coping mechanisms:

  • Engaging in activities with others. Finlay & Kobayashi (2018) identified poor health as sometimes providing social engagement opportunities with family, friends and caregivers considered valuable.
  • Keeping busy by yourself. Dragestet et al., 2015 found that occupying oneself was a help in combating loneliness.
  • Time for self-reflection and spiritual activities. Stanley et al., 2010, noted that there are benefits to being alone, chiefly that solitude affords time for self-reflection and conducting personally important spiritual activities.
  • Shared public spaces and communal activities help decrease loneliness. Li et al., 2018, said that acceptance and optimism, informal social support, and promoting independence and autonomy can help older Chinese immigrants enhance personal resilience.

GET  MOVING WITH ALMOST ANY KIND OF EXERCISE

A somewhat concerning finding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), garnered from data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System for the period 2015-2018, is that more than 15 percent of U.S. adults are physically inactive. Of course, inactivity levels vary by state, with Puerto Rico coming in highest at 47.7 percent, and Colorado lowest at 17.3 percent. Why is this important? The CDC says that inactive lifestyles are a factor in one in 10 premature deaths in this country. Guidelines for recommended amounts of physical activity call for about 150 minutes of brisk exercise weekly, which can be broken down into shorter periods of time, such as 25 minutes or a 30-minute walk five times in a week. Physical activity offers mental health benefits of improving mood, feeling and sleeping better, reducing certain cancer risk, and lowering risks for obesity and heart disease.

What kind of exercise should you take up to get started? Almost any exercise will do just fine, so perhaps begin with going out for a walk with the dog, riding a bike, or engaging in a brisk walk alone or with others. You mood, mind, and body will reap the benefits.

AEROBIC EXERCISE OFFERS COGNITIVE BENEFITS

While getting up and getting going often involves the ritual of drinking coffee, with the caffeine providing an energy jolt but also jumpstarting the mind, researchers from the University of Western Ontario found that a brief burst of aerobic exercise boosts working memory just as much as caffeine. Furthermore, the beneficial cognitive effects of the aerobic exercise were experienced during and following exercise, and after a short delay. The ability of caffeine to positively affect cognition and mood sometimes come with unwanted side effects during withdrawal: jitteriness, anxiety, headache, fatigue, decreased alertness and reduced contentedness. Aerobic exercise, on the other hand, has none of those side effects or withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, especially for those who may be anxious or otherwise unable to consume caffeine, engaging in aerobic exercise can help with safe and effective mood elevation and improvements in working memory. For someone who suffers from loneliness and yet doesn’t venture out much, aerobic exercise may be valuable as an intervention to get them in contact with people again.

TAKE UP JOURNALING

There’s something about the process of journaling, writing your thoughts down on paper, that serves as a catalyst to overcome loneliness. Besides resulting in a tangible document that’s accessible to review later, committing to journaling reinforces a sense of discipline, of sticking to a schedule and doing something proactive for your mental health. It’s for good reason that creative writing instructors encourage their students to take up journaling, since writing down felt emotions and capturing events as they happen often serve as starting points for future action. Whether that action turns out to be making small or significant lifestyle or behavior changes or spurs creativity in another endeavor, activity, hobby or pursuit, journaling is an important foundation for improving mental health.

How to get started is easy. Find something to write on or in, set aside time each day to jot down your thoughts, write without judgement and keep writing without stopping for the minutes you’ve allocated for this purpose. Remember that this is your journal, and doesn’t need to be shared with anyone else. So you needn’t worry about guarding your feelings. If you do have concerns that others may delve into your journal, lock it away. This isn’t about secrecy, however, but more about opening yourself up and voicing your daily thoughts, even venting, if that’s what it takes. Also be sure to detail the good things that occurred each day, how you felt when something pleasant or unexpected happened, the small successes you enjoyed, what you’re looking forward to tomorrow and so on.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Are You Lonely Tonight? How to Combat Loneliness

5 Tips to Banish Loneliness

How to Help Your Child Banish Loneliness

My Best Ways to Deal with Frustration

How to Keep Frustration from Blocking Your Goals

How to Manage Your Anger

How to Start Making Plans When You’re Recovering From Depression

10 Health Benefits of Daily Exercise

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

 

Why It’s Important to Deal Constructively With Self-Doubt

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“I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure… We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it.”—Kobe Bryant

 

Everyone, no matter who they are, inevitably experiences self-doubt. Reading through the biographies and autobiographies of some of the most accomplished, celebrated, famous, talented and intelligent people reveals that each one of them has had their moments of personal doubt. Not only did they wonder if they had what it takes, they worried whether they could persevere despite opposition and setbacks, without support and encouragement, even if they were physically capable of continuing.

Self-doubt isn’t an automatic determinant or precursor to declining mental health. Nor is it the killer of goals or success. Giving up is, however, on both accounts. The key point to remember here isn’t that you doubt yourself, because you will, but what you’ll do about it will make all the difference between being proactive with your mental health and allowing it to deteriorate through inattention.

The first step to dealing constructively with self-doubt involves recognition. If you recognize that what you’re feeling is doubt, you can begin to take proactive steps to overcome it. While each person will need to find what works best, here are some general tips to help get past the crippling paralysis that self-doubt can bring about.

AVOID SELF-DENIAL

It makes no sense to deny what you feel. As with any emotion, when you try to shove the present emotion or feeling aside, it only goes deeper. Instead, acknowledge that you have doubts about yourself and your abilities or capabilities. That’s the first step in getting past it.

ACCEPT SELF-DOUBT AS NORMAL

It probably seems like you’re alone in this experience, especially when you’re right in the thick of it. However, when you accept that self-doubt is normal, that it isn’t unique to you, and everyone has it, this can make the experience less discomforting.

NEVER WALLOW IN THE EMOTION

Never give in to self-doubt. If you do, you’ll never accomplish anything worthwhile. Your goals will slip away, you’ll become bitter and disillusioned, perhaps become depressed, and life will seem less hopeful and productive.

STIFLE THAT HYPERCRITICAL INNER VOICE

When you’re worried you won’t measure up, that you’ll fail at the prospective task or endeavor or not be able to meet the challenge you’ve set for yourself, you’re engaging in the futile act of listening to your harsh inner voice and endlessly worrying about self-criticism. You know, the one that’s always warning you to be cautious, reminds you that your ideas aren’t the best, and laughs at your attempts to succeed. Stop and think, though. Did that hypercritical inner voice ever do you any favors when you listened to it? Can’t think of one, can you? So, tell yourself that you know better than that annoying, and utterly wrong, inner critic. That’s another positive step to deal constructively with self-doubt.

REMIND YOURSELF OF PAST SUCCESS

Now is a good time to recall that you’ve had doubts before and were able to rise above them. You found solutions and techniques that worked then and you will do so again. Reminding yourself of past success in similar situations is a great motivator when you encounter something that makes you question whether you have what it takes this time.

LEARN TO IDENTIFY SELF-DOUBT TRIGGERS

When self-doubt cropped up in the past, what were the triggers that you recall occurring? Raising self-awareness about self-doubt helps you understand what’s at the heart of the emotion, so you can reassure yourself that most of it is fear-based and not grounded in reality.

ENVISION A POSITIVE OUTCOME

While it might be tough to do right now, concentrate on a positive outcome. In fact, be hopeful of one. The dynamic of what happens here is that by capitalizing on your strengths and working to overcome your weaknesses, you’ll position yourself for success. This will occur despite the presence of self-doubt.

SEE THIS AS A GROWTH OPPORTUNITY

Granted, it doesn’t seem like it at first glance. Could it be that something you’re worried about is holding you back? Yet, look past your fears and regard self-doubt as an opportunity to grow. This current situation where you feel such anxiety and doubt didn’t happen without some warning. Were you as prepared as you could be? Does this show you that planning, practice and lining up resources is perhaps a better way to push past self-doubt?

FORGET WHAT OTHERS THINK

It’s understandable that everyone has opinions, yet not all of them are in sync with yours. However, the culture of sameness, where only certain ideas and sometimes only the opinions of certain people are entertained is not helpful to productivity, let alone trying to overcome self-doubt. You don’t want this for yourself or your future, so forget what others think. At the very least, don’t put too much credence into their criticism. You need to own your future. That means thinking for yourself and having the self-confidence to know that you’ll make good decisions.

EMBRACE SELF-DOUBT TO ENRICH LIFE 

Perhaps the simplest and most effective advice regarding self-doubt and your mental health is to embrace the emotion. By learning to embrace self-doubt and allowing yourself the experience of overcoming it, you will enrich your life in ways that may today seem unimaginable.

For example, once you’ve realized that you can overcome self-doubt, you’re no longer troubled by fears of failure. You recognize that you may stumble, yet you’ll learn valuable lessons in the process, emerging stronger than before, able to see past obstacles, ignore unwarranted criticism and the enmity of others. A pattern of success makes for greater self-esteem and self-confidence, both of which are integral in good mental health. While you cannot predict when things may go awry, you know that you’re fully capable of weathering the challenges that life presents. That’s another sign that you’ve dealt constructively with self-doubt.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How to Keep Frustration from Blocking Your Goals

10 Health Benefits of Daily Exercise

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10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

How Gratitude Can Affect Your Physical and Psychological Well-Being

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life… makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melodie Beattie

 

Saying thank-you and showing your appreciation does more good than you may think. This benefit accrues both to the giver and recipient. Indeed, these types of expressions and acts are powerful forms of gratitude. Yet, while it may seem normal to be verbally appreciative at certain times and with specific people, there’s much more that you can get out of gratitude at other times. Here’s a look at how gratitude can affect your physical and psychological well-being.

Gratitude Promotes Positive Mind-Sets and Reduces Stress

A 2017 study published in Scientific Reports looked at the effects of gratitude meditation and resentment and mental well-being. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and heart rate at three intervals – before, during, and after interventions – researchers suggest that gratitude interventions modulate heart rhythms in a manner that enhances mental health. Gratitude intervention, said researchers, improves both emotional regulation and self-motivation by modulating resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) in brain regions involving emotion and motivation. Furthermore, researchers pointed to the potential use of gratitude interventions in treating those with mood disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Gratitude Related to Better Sleep, Mood, Less Fatigue and Inflammation

Mills et al. (2015), in a study of patients with asymptomatic heart failure, found that an “attitude of gratitude” was related to better moods and sleep, less fatigue, reduced inflammation, and better cardiac-specific self-efficacy. Authors said this is important because depressed mood and poor sleep are both associated with a worse prognosis in heart failure patients, as well as in other cardiac condition populations. Thus, researchers said, the simple, low-cost efforts to help heart failure patients increase gratitude may have clinical value and be a potential target in treatment to improve patients’ well-being.

Gratitude Predicts Lower Depression Rates In Patients with Chronic Illness

Sirois and Wood (2017) examined longitudinal associations of gratitude to depression in two chronic illness samples, one with inflammatory bowel disease, and the other with arthritis. The study included two timepoints: completion of online survey at start of study (T1), and completion of a follow-up study at 6 months (T2). There were assessments of gratitude, depression, perceived stress, social support, illness cognitions, and disease-related variables at both time points. Study results showed that T1 gratitude was a “unique” and “significant” predictor of T2 depression in both sample groups. Authors noted that gratitude has relevance and potential benefits as an intervention for adjusting to chronic illness.

Various Elements of Well-Being Associated with Gratitude

A white paper on the science of gratitude prepared for the John Templeton Foundation by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley highlights a number of studies showing possible connections between gratitude and various elements of well-being in those with self-reported higher dispositional gratitude. These include life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, optimism, and subjective well-being. Authors also mention studies of university students self-reporting higher-order gratitude also reporting increased life satisfaction and positive affect. Examples of higher-order gratitude include thanking God, appreciating life’s hardships, cherishing the present, thanking others, and cherishing blessings.

How Gratitude Helps Improve Mental Health

Joel Wong and Joshua Brown, writing in the Greater Good Magazine, outlined research showing how gratitude helps improve mental health. The article’s authors also provided insights from their research on what may be the origins of the psychological benefits of gratitude:

  • Gratitude shifts attention away from toxic emotions like envy and resentment.
  • The benefits of gratitude occur even without sharing written gratitude letters with intended recipients.
  • Gratitude’s benefits take some time to occur as they don’t always happen immediately following the gratitude activity.
  • Effects on the brain from gratitude activity appear to be lasting, and may train the brain to become more sensitive to gratitude experiences later, thus helping to improve mental health.

Gratitude Fosters Well-Being at End of Life

Everyone dies, although not all of them die a quick and painless death. For many people suffering terminal illness, specifically cancer, the end may be a long time coming. During that slow, inexorable approach to dying, the patient generally interfaces with a number of caregivers: family, friends, hospice and other medical and mental health professionals. Not much has been studied about what is termed positive emotional communication in caring for those at the end of their lives. However, a 2018 study published in Patient Education and Counseling found that positive emotions serve as a protective function and are “associated with enhanced coping, meaning-making, and building resilience to stressful events,” which researchers determined was especially relevant to cancer patients and their hospice caregivers. The shared positive emotions, which included expressions of gratitude, created “mutual enjoyment and social bonds.”

Appreciation or gratitude was one of the category codes for positive emotional communication between the hospice nurses, caregivers, and their cancer patients. Included in the category are counting blessings, appreciation of life circumstances, gratitude toward others, and thinking of someone. An example exchange between patient and nurse might be: “I’m so grateful for everything you do for us.”

Researchers said that the results of their study show that a focus on positive emotional communication brings a strengths-based approach to communication with patients during end-of-life care. Other category codes for positive emotional communication include humor, praise or support, positive focus, savoring or experiencing joy, connection, and perfunctory (social etiquette, etc.). Authors said that such communication can “build a sense of strength, connection, and joy despite facing loss and life-limiting illness.”

Conscious Decision to Increase Gratitude Pays Off

Making the choice to increase gratitude isn’t difficult, yet the decision to do so can and will pay off in ways not immediately seen. Think of the immense power of positive thinking, maintaining a positive attitude, and seeing life in all its richness and variety of opportunities. There’s much to be grateful for each day, from waking up to going to sleep. Being mindful of blessings, thankful for all the gifts we’ve been given, and expressing our gratitude to others costs nothing, and is an ongoing benefit.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

10 Health Benefits of Daily Exercise

10 Ways to Express Gratitude

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

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Happiness Is Not Automatic – You Have to Put Effort Into It

Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

 

“If you think that peace and happiness are somewhere else and you run after them, you will never arrive. Only when you realize that peace and happiness are available here in this moment, will you be able to relax.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

 

There always seems to be a lot of talk about happiness. We want to know what it is, where to get it, how to make it better, last longer, how to be happy in the face of illness, pain, despite financial setbacks, lack of progress at work and so much more. While it would be nice if happiness was a vitamin you could take, or something that could be instantly transmitted via a massage, some kind words, even an injection, such is not generally the case. Indeed, the harder we search for happiness, the more likely it is that happiness will elude us. The truth is that happiness is not automatic – you have to put some effort into it.

But how?

Why Not Just Wait for Happiness?

“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” Dalai Lama

You could decide to wait for happiness to somehow come around. It’s true that lolling around sometimes feels good. It’s not a bad thing to take some time to do absolutely nothing – now and then. After all, everyone needs a little down time, a respite when they can let ideas bubble to the surface and begin to take shape, igniting creative ways to do something new. And brainstorming new ideas is its own form of self-generated happiness. It still takes determination and intent.

Yet the time to take action on those creative new ideas will not be far away and is actually necessary to getting things done.

This is also important in the pursuit of happiness. If you want to be happy, you won’t find happiness sitting on a shelf for you to pick up and own. You’ll only find your happiness as a result of what you do in life.

This doesn’t mean your profession or occupation defines your happiness, although you can be wondrously happy in your chosen career if that’s what is meaningful and purposeful in your life. Happiness springs from within, but it requires your action in order to come forth.

Does this sound complicated? It really isn’t.

Say you want a happy family, to feel comfortable and loved by those closest to you. If you do nothing to inspire and nurture warm and loving feelings from them, you might not realize the happiness you so desire. On the other hand, if you give without expectation of return, always show by your actions that you care very deeply about your family members and let them know you love them with what you say, the likelihood of experiencing a happy family increases. Taking delight in small pleasures is inherently experiencing happiness.

On the work front, if a promotion and the opportunity to lead a team is what you believe will make you happy, you’ve got some work to do in order to get there. It won’t happen by chance. And it may take longer than you’d like. But if you truly desire this goal, if you know in your heart that this will bring you happiness, put together a plan of action and get to work.

It’s worth noting that no one is happy all the time. Some people are even afraid of being happy. There are ups and downs in everyone’s life and that is something to expect. Still, the little moments, the small victories, the shared successes often signal a deep and strong feeling of contentment and happiness in life.

If you want happiness, don’t just sit there. Get out and do something to help you achieve it.

Ready to Go for It?

If you’re all fired up and ready to go, what’s holding you back? After all, if working towards something you value and want to achieve is one avenue toward happiness, why not jump in? If you have a goal in mind and a plan in place, you just need to get started, right? Not so fast. It could be you have last-minute doubts, aren’t all that motivated, or you’re worried that you won’t have enough time, energy or resources to do it right.

This is perfectly normal. You can be eager to begin something, but still have aspects of that intended activity that give you pause. You’d be foolish to disregard cautious thoughts, for those may very well be things you need to pay attention to. In your zeal to get going, you may have forgotten a key component, neglected to take a critical first step, or realized you have a conflict that will prevent you being able to devote your full effort to the task right now.

Still, you can acknowledge the doubts, reinvigorate your energy, calm your worries and remind yourself why this is important to you. That’s when you’ll summon the appropriate mindset and the will to get moving.

And none of this detracts from the happiness you feel about what you want to do. You’re not, in fact, idle. You’re doing all-important prep work. That creates a measure of satisfaction, which is a key component of happiness in the moment.

Happiness in Taking on Difficult Challenges

“I think anything is possible if you have the mindset and the will and desire to do it and put the time in.” Roger Clemens

Even with projects that seem impossibly difficult, that don’t seem to stand a chance, and may be well beyond what others believe you capable of, with the will, tenacity and hard work you’re determined to put in, you can very well succeed.

Take a moment to remind yourself of some of the incredible things you’ve accomplished in the past. Think about the challenges you faced and how you overcame them. As you do so, you’ll recall the skills you knew you had, as well as ones you discovered that you didn’t know you possessed. That memory of the joy you felt when you put your skills to work is another measure of happiness. If you face difficult challenges today, remember that what worked before may help you overcome any temporary inertia you feel now, enough so that you summon the self-confidence you know you have and pick up and get working.

Keep in mind too that there are no easy shortcuts to success. Whatever your goal, if your mind and heart and energy aren’t fully into it, you could stumble. In addition, if you’re looking for a quick result and don’t really give it your full attention, the result may be less than satisfactory. Since that’s not what you want, recognize the lazy way and adopt the proactive and more likely to succeed effort. Also recognize that you may need to embrace some negative emotions (how you felt when you made a mistake) in order to find the way toward successfully achieving your goal (and happiness).

You can be happy when tackling difficult challenges if you look forward with hope and confidence, put your plan to work, do what’s required and then some, and reap the rewards you so aptly deserve.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

10 Health Benefits of Daily Exercise

10 Ways to Express Gratitude

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

10 Tips on Reaching Your Life Goals

How to Tap Into Your Capabilities

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Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

 

Factors Linked to Psychological Distress

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Psychological distress, a widely-used indicator of the mental health of a population, nevertheless remains vaguely understood. In numerous studies, psychological distress is “largely” defined as “a state of emotional suffering characterized by symptoms of depression and anxiety.” But how do you know if what you’re experiencing is psychological distress or a diagnosable psychological disorder, such as anxiety or depression? If you’ve had a bad day, does that mean you’re suffering psychological distress? If you lose your job and feel anxious and short-tempered, is this a sign you are in a state of psychological distress?

Psychological Distress Vs. Psychological Disorder

Psychological distress is generally considered a transient (not long-lasting) phenomenon that is related to specific stressors. It typically subsides when either the stressor is removed, or the individual adapts to the stressor.

  • In the example of having a bad day, you’re likely experiencing transient psychological distress. Tomorrow is another day, bringing with it the opportunity to see things differently, start anew, employ healthier self-protective measures and more.
  • On the other hand, if you’ve lost your job and are irritable, anxious, quick-to-anger and display other negative emotions and behavior, and such distress continues for some period of time and now interferes with your daily activities, you may have crossed over from psychological distress of a transient nature to a more deeply-embedded psychological disorder requiring treatment.

Distress that is characteristic of psychological disorders, such as anxiety and depression, involves functional impairment and “clinically significant distress” (also called “marked distress”). With anxiety disorders, symptoms do not go away and worsen over time. They also interfere with daily activities such as job, school, and relationships. To be diagnosed with depression, severe symptoms (negatively affecting how you feel, think and handle daily activities) must be present for two weeks.

Signs of Psychological Distress

You likely know when something is off with someone you love, or within yourself. It could be transient and resolved rather quickly, or it could be indicative of an accumulation of factors causing psychological distress. WebMD lists a number of signs of emotional distress that equally apply to psychological distress.

  • Disturbances in sleep
  • Fluctuations in weight, along with eating pattern changes
  • Physical changes that are unexplained, including headache, constipation, diarrhea, chronic pain, and rumbling stomach
  • Frequently provoked to anger
  • Developing obsessive/compulsive behaviors
  • Chronic fatigue, excessive tiredness, no energy
  • Forgetfulness and memory problems
  • Shying away from social activities
  • No longer finding pleasure in sex
  • Comments from others about your mood swings and erratic behavior

Junk Food Linked to Psychological Distress

Researchers at California’s Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center found that state adult residents consuming more unhealthy food were also likely to report psychological distress symptoms (either moderate or severe), compared to peers eating healthier diets. The study, published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, also found that nearly 17 percent of California adults are likely to suffer from mental illness, some 13.2 percent with moderate psychological distress and 3.7 percent with severe psychological distress. Researchers recommended targeted public health interventions promoting healthier diets aimed at young adults and those with less than 12 years of education.

Goal Conflict and Psychological Distress Linked

A study conducted by the University of Exeter and Edith Cowan University found that personal goal conflict may increase feelings of anxiety and depression. They studied two forms of motivational conflict, inter-goal conflict (which occurs when pursuing a goal makes it difficult to pursue another goal), and ambivalence (when the individual has conflicting feelings about particular goals). Results of the study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, showed that each of these goal conflict forms were associated independently with depressive and anxious symptoms. Researchers said that those with poorer mental health are more likely to say their personal goals are in conflict with each other. Such goal conflicts can contribute to psychological distress.

An earlier meta-analysis by researchers from the University of California, Riverside, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, found that higher levels of goal conflict are negatively associated with psychological well-being (lower levels of positive psychological outcomes and greater levels of psychological distress).

How to Cope with Psychological Distress

The first step in effective coping with psychological distress involves identifying the potential causes for the distress and then resolving to take steps to alleviate or overcome it. This may involve psychological counseling to get at the root cause for the psychological distress. As part of the counseling, the psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional may recommend a number of different therapeutic approaches to help reduce psychological distress.

Getting out in nature – A 2019 study published in Health Place looked at the beneficial effects of greenness (green space) and serious psychological distress among adults and teens in California and found epidemiological evidence of such benefits in the study group’s mental health. While numerous other studies focused on adults and beneficial effects of green space, this population-based U.S. study aimed to fill in the gap with inclusion of teens.

Another 2019 study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, reported that even short-term time spent in an urban park contributed to improvement in subjective well-being. The effect was independent of levels of physical activity. Improvement was reported as stress reduction and recovery from mental fatigue. Researchers recommended a minimum of 20 minutes in the park to achieve benefits from being in the green space.

Try giving hugsResearched published in PLOS One found that receiving hugs on days when subjects experienced interpersonal conflict helped attenuate the negative effects of the conflict on same-day and subsequent day. Researchers said their findings help contribute to an understanding of the role of interpersonal touch as a buffer against negative outcomes of interpersonal conflict and distress.

Identify what you need and focus on what you wantPsychological distress is no picnic and when you’re in the throes of it, you may be uncertain what to do next. Experts recommend healthy ways to deal with such distress that include, first and foremost, identifying what it is you need and then also focusing on what you want. You need to practice good self-care (being kind to yourself), engage in grounding, developing your nurturing self-voice and other proactive coping methods to help deal with psychological distress.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

My Best Ways to Deal with Frustration

How to Keep Frustration from Blocking Your Goals

How to Manage Your Anger

How to Start Making Plans When You’re Recovering From Depression

10 Health Benefits of Daily Exercise

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

Research Finds New Health Benefits From Sleep

Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

Surprising New Pain Relief Methods

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How to Identify and Overcome Frustration

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

 

“I was an accomplice in my own frustration.” – Peter Shaffer

 

While we may not recognize when we do it, or even admit to it when we know we do, we all sometimes have a tendency to sabotage our efforts, thus leading to unnecessary and sometimes disruptive frustration. The key to being able to overcome frustration is to learn how to identify it and then implement strategies to combat it.

Where Does Frustration Come From?

In the simplest terms, frustration is an emotion that comes from being blocked from achieving an intended goal. There are internal sources of frustration, as well as external sources.

Internal sources: If you are not able to get what you want, the disappointment and frustration you feel may well be the outcome. This may be due to a loss of self-confidence or self-esteem or you may be afraid of certain social situations.

External sources: Often, it’s the conditions you encounter outside yourself that are the sources of some frustration. These include the people, places and things that serve as roadblocks to getting things you want done. Perhaps the most universal source of frustration is anything that causes you to waste time. We’re all familiar with and likely have to deal with on a regular basis the time lost due to traffic delays, waiting in line, getting to a store or establishment only to find that it’s closed or doesn’t have what you want in stock.

How Does Frustration Make You Feel?

People react to frustration in a number of ways. In response to frustration, they can:

  • Get angry
  • Give up or quit
  • Lose self-esteem
  • Feel a loss of self-confidence
  • Experience stress
  • Feel sad, uncertain, depressed or anxious
  • Turn to substance abuse
  • Engage in other negative, self-destructive or addictive behaviors

A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience analyzed facial expressions and brain-activation mechanisms using functional near-infrared spectroscopy to detect frustration in drivers. Researchers found that frustrated drivers tend to activate mouth region muscles, such as chin raiser, lip pucker and lip pressor). Frustrated driving can result in aggressive behavior, as well as having negative effects on cognitive processes important for driving, including attentiveness, judgment, and decision-making. Another study published in 2016 in Frontiers in Psychology listed some of the emotional and affective responses in the aftermath of frustration, including acute stress, lasting anger, rage, and sadness.

Do Certain People, Places and Things Make You Frustrated?

Sometime, just the sight of a person you’ve had disagreements with is enough to trigger feelings of frustration. Another instance where frustration might crop up is passing by or having to go to a place where you’ve suffered frustration in the past. Maybe it’s trying to help your child with homework that’s a source of frustration, or some other activity that regularly ends with you being frustrated.

Knowing when and where you get frustrated is important to your ability to devise effective strategies for removing and/or coping with the sources of frustration in the safest and most effective manner.

Do You Get More Frustrated at Certain Times?

Undoubtedly, if you’re keeping a calendar or making notes on instances where you’ve experienced frustration, you may notice a pattern. For example, are you more frustrated when you have to pay bills, knowing that you may have to move some finances around or are over-budget this month? Do you become more frustrated on Friday at work because you know you haven’t accomplished key goals for the week? Or is it Monday that frustrates you because you know of important deadlines looming and you’re not sure you’ll be able to fulfill your obligations.

Like taking notice of the people, place and things that cause you frustration, you need to be able to see the patterns in timing for your frustration. This will better allow you to construct coping mechanisms that will be readily available to employ the next time you get frustrated.

What Other Things Contribute to Frustration?

Even after you’ve made a list of the people, places and things and certain times when you’re likely to become frustrated (based on experience), there may be other things that serve as contributing factors to your frustration. Certainly the level of frustration may be affected by:

  • Your state of health, and any physical or medical conditions
  • Financial situation, including bankruptcy, being overextended, wasteful spending
  • Emotional difficulties or loss, including bereavement, a diagnosable psychological condition, loss of a friend
  • Stagnation at work, or loss of a job, losing a promotion

Indeed, knowing how some of these contributors to frustration affect you is instrumental in putting together a plan to overcome further frustration. It isn’t avoiding the source of the frustration, but approaching it with optimism and a carefully-constructed strategy.

When You are Frustrated, What Works to Get Past It?

Perhaps one of the greatest quotes about wisdom is one from Oscar Wilde: “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” The takeaway here is that as you get older, you have the ability to learn from prior experience – positive and negative ones. And older brains are not necessarily slower brains, since older adults are able to benefit from accumulated wisdom. In other words, they cope better in certain situations because they know what works or has worked in the past, they’re more impervious to criticism and have the confidence to know how to make the right decisions.

Various coping methods for frustration recommended by psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals include some that are no-cost or low-cost, as well as some that may involve a financial expenditure from consulting with a professional.

  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation practice
  • Yoga
  • Communications skills
  • Emotional and/or physical techniques to release frustration
  • Physical exercise
  • Relaxation activities
  • Travel
  • Taking up a hobby or pastime
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Learning how to release emotion
  • Psychological counseling or therapy

Why not take up exercise as one of the first lines of defense against frustration? A 2015 study reported in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that exercise offers an acute stress-buffering effect. Besides, it’s quick and convenient to take a walk outside, getting fresh air into your lungs and gaining a fresh perspective, all of which may temper your frustration and boost your mood.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

My Best Ways to Deal with Frustration

How to Keep Frustration from Blocking Your Goals

10 Health Benefits of Daily Exercise

10 Ways to Express Gratitude

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

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Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

 

 

Kindness Counts: Here’s Why

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“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” – Dalai Lama

 

In my opinion, there isn’t enough attention paid to the recommendation to be kind. While we may read or hear the advice to “Be kind to yourself,” or “Be kind to others,” how many times do we take the words to heart and act accordingly? Kindness, research shows, has many benefits to both body and mind. It also makes the giver and receiver of the kindness feel better in most reports. A deeper dive into how and why kindness counts reveals the following relevant (and hopeful) points.

All Kinds of Kindness Acts Boost Happiness

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Social Psychology looked at a week’s worth of kindness activities intervention and how they affected changes in subjective happiness. In the study, researchers did a systematic review and meta-analysis to determine if performance of different types of acts of kindness resulted in differential effects on happiness. They found that kindness boosts well-being and happiness. Yet, noted researchers, rarely had other researchers done a specific comparison of kindness acts to different recipients, such as strangers or friends. In this study, researchers used a single factorial design to compare kindness acts to the following: strong social ties, weak social ties, observing kindness acts, novel self-kindness acts, and a control of no acts. Results showed increased happiness over the 7-day study period, that the number of kind acts and happiness increases had a positive correlation, and the effect did not differ across all groups in the experiment. The key takeaway is that research strongly suggests acts of kindness increase happiness to strong and weak ties, to self, and to observing acts of kindness.

Kindness Helps in Cancer Care

Those undergoing cancer treatment, as well as their families, often experience intense turmoil. Not only is there uncertainty over treatment success, worry about levels of pain, functionality and quality of life, the setting and personnel involved in cancer care may seem impersonal, not conducive to well-being or even optimistic over outcomes. In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Oncology Practice, researchers from Texas A&M University, Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Henry Ford Health System, and Monash University proposed six types of kindness care for cancer patients. The six types included: deep listening; empathy for the cancer patient; generous acts of discretionary effort going well beyond what’s expected; timely care using tools and practices to reduce anxiety and stress; gentle honesty, and support for the cancer patient’s family caregivers. Researchers said these manifestations of kindness by clinicians are mutually reinforcing and can help temper cancer’s emotional toll on all concerned.

Altruistic and Strategic Kindness Both Provide Benefits

Researchers at the University of Sussex analyzed existing research on the brain scans of over 1,000 people who made kind decisions. Their findings, reported in NeuroImage, showed activity in the brain region for both those who acted with strategic kindness – kindness when there was something in it for them – as well as in those who performed kind acts altruistically, expecting nothing in return. Both gift types (altruistic and strategic) benefit others, and both, according to this research, are consistently rewarding to the giver. Furthermore, although they share many neural substrates, the decisions to give aren’t interchangeable in the brain. Altruistic kind acts, however, also sparked more activity in the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, showing that there’s something unique about altruistic kindness. Researchers concluded that the fact “that any region is more involved in altruistic decisions suggests that there is something additive and special about giving when the only benefit is a warm glow.”

Being Kind to Your Partner Helps Improve/Stabilize Relationship

While many studies of relationships between partners look at how they deal with negative experiences rather than positive ones, researchers from the University of California found that feeling that your partner is there for you when things are going well and will actually be there when things go right is important to the health and stability of the relationship. They also found that capitalization, sharing news of positive events with close others, plays a likely central role in the formation and maintenance of a relationship. The researchers, whose work was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, said that sharing positive emotional exchanges may form the basis of a stable and satisfying relationship. In other words, be conscious of being kind and sharing good news, positive feelings, and hopes/dreams with your significant other. So, while this study focused on partnership relationships, the results seem somewhat appropriate to extrapolate to how kindness affects other close relationships as well.

WAYS KINDNESS IMPROVES WELL-BEING

Looking at things in a positive light and deciding to act in a likewise manner has many benefits to overall well-being, both for you and the recipient of your kindness. Among the many ways kindness helps in this regard are the following:

  • Kindness boosts happiness.
  • Being kind improves the body’s immune system.
  • Acting in a kind manner has been shown to lower the rate of depression.
  • Creativity gets a helpful assist when you are kind.
  • When you are kind, it may motivate you to work harder.
  • Kindness increases the brain’s natural supply of endorphins, creating the so-called “natural high.”
  • In addition, kindness produces a kind of emotional warmth, itself the by-product of the hormone oxytocin, which helps lower blood pressure and pulse rate.

Besides, wouldn’t you rather show kindness than the opposite? And, as research demonstrates, kindness is contagious. Kindness may be religion, as the Dalai Lama’s quote states, yet it’s part of the human condition, is it not? Mankind has evolved to be more than merely a survivor in the species, due perhaps to the extraordinary ability to show kindness and caring for other like beings, as well as animals, the environment, and the planet on which we exist.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

10 Ways to Express Gratitude

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

10 Tips on Reaching Your Life Goals

How Practicing Compassion May Help You Feel Better

How to Tap Into Your Capabilities

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Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

 

 

Realistic Ways to Achieve Happiness: An Interview With Tim Bono

Photo by Michele Hohner

Photo by Michele Hohner

Every year, many people make themselves promises to engage in healthier behaviors, to jumpstart in earnest a pursuit of personal happiness. Resolutions notwithstanding, the pursuit of happiness is not only a worthwhile endeavor, it’s also life-affirming and can result in lasting change to overall well-being.

To delve deeper into realistic ways to achieve happiness, I recently spoke with Tim Bono, a psychology lecturer in Arts & Sciences who teaches courses in happiness at Washington University in St. Louis. Bono is the author of “When Likes Aren’t Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness.”

You say “life-changing” and that there’s a science to happiness. Can you explain what you mean by that?

TB: People have been interested in pursuing the good life for as long as there have been people. Over the last few decades, the field of psychology has applied the scientific method to the age-old questions around how we can increase our well-being and strengthen our psychological health. Beyond just intuition and conventional wisdom, the scientific method tests hypotheses by collecting data on large groups of people to identify the behaviors and mindsets that are most effective at increasing our happiness.

What are your top tips for making this a happier year – by doing something proactive to get a handle on personal happiness?

TB: I have a few I recommend, as follows:

  • Get outside, move around, take a walk.
  • Get more happiness for your money. Buy experiences instead of things and spend your money on others.
  • Carve out time to be happy, then give it away. Thirty minutes helping others is more rewarding and actually leaves us feeling empowered to tackle the next project, helping us feel more in control of our lives and even less pressed for time. This translates to higher levels of happiness and satisfaction.
  • Delay the positive, dispatch the negative. Anticipation itself is pleasurable, and looking forward to an enjoyable experience can make it all that much sweeter.
  • Enjoy the ride. People who focus more on process than outcome tend to remain motivated in the face of setbacks.
  • Embrace failure. How we think about failure determines whether it makes us happy or sad.
  • Sweet dreams. Get a full night’s sleep on a regular basis.
  • Strengthen your willpower muscles. Exercising willpower muscles in small, everyday behaviors strengthens our ability to stay focused at work.
  • Introduce variety into your day-to-day activities.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others.
  • Reach out and connect with someone.
  • Limit time on social media.
  • Use your phone in the way phones were originally intended.
  • Practice gratitude.

The most effective interventions in my view are gratitude, sleep, exercise, and social connection.

Are most of your tips on how to achieve happiness – like going outside for a walk – more physical than mental? That is, do you initiate the code to happiness by doing something physical? Or is it more of a balance between the two?

TB: We know there is a strong link between our psychological health and our physical health. One of the most effective ways to take care of our minds is to take care of our bodies. Physical activity releases neurotransmitters like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, which are the brain’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. There’s also a feeling of accomplishment (what psychologists call “self-efficacy”) that comes from completing the hard work of an intense exercise or workout routine. In this way, exercise is a very important way to strengthen psychological well-being. But there are, of course, many other ways to increase happiness that aren’t predicated on physical activity. Gratitude, meditation, and prosocial behavior are chief among them and do not require physical labor of any kind.

Do different stages of life have anything to do with how easy or difficult it is to achieve happiness?

TB: On average, there doesn’t seem to be a strong relationship between age and happiness. However, there is evidence to suggest that older adults tend to be slightly happier than younger people, which could be due, in part, to a tendency to savor life more during its later stages instead of striving for the next promotion or worrying whether their career is on the right track for optimal future success. Older adults are more likely to live in there here and now, and that kind of mindfulness is important for our well-being.

What additional methods, if any, do those in recovery from addiction (alcohol, painkillers, polydrug use) and/or mental health disorder (anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorder) need to employ in order to get on the road toward feeling happier?

TB: One of the most important ways to recover from addiction or disorder and get back on track toward mental health is with a strong social support system. Caring people who provide a shoulder to lean on during the inevitable difficult times along the way, as well as people who are there to help you celebrate your successes, are extremely valuable on the road to recovery. When people you trust know about your goals to improve your well-being, they hold you accountable and provide support, both of which can go a long way toward making progress.

Any advice on how to deal with obstructive others – that is, those closest to you (family, loved ones, friends, even co-workers) who try to dampen your enthusiasm or are critical of your efforts to prioritize you and work on your personal happiness?

TB: As difficult as it may be, bring sympathy toward your interaction with that person. Anyone who stands to obstruct another person from improving their own happiness and well-being is likely battling their own inner demons. If someone criticizes you or otherwise attempts to derail your efforts, you might choose to acknowledge that you’ve heard them, but do not modify your behaviors to accommodate their negativity. Find friends or colleagues who support you—or better yet, want to join you in these efforts—and spend more time with them. Negative people are unavoidable in our daily lives but that does not mean that we have to allow them to dictate our behaviors. As you make progress toward your own psychological health goals, you might also consider serving as a model for those who were not initially supportive. Don’t do this to show off, but merely to show that it can be done. I’m a strong believer in the sentiment that we should be kind to unkind people—they’re the ones who need it the most.

How best to cope with disappointments? Maybe you’ve been on a great trajectory, but some unexpected glitch or problem has suddenly derailed your progress. How do you get back on track and not feel like you’ve failed?

TB: First, use failures and setbacks as learning opportunities. Like a lot of other things, failure is neither inherently positive nor is it negative, but the beliefs we hold about it make is positive or negative. As Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Maybe something didn’t turn out as we hoped or expected, but there are likely important lessons that could be gleaned from the experience, which can serve us well in the future. Plus, we are gaining more and more awareness today of how successful people have gotten to where they are, and we now see that for most it has involved a circuitous path with stumbles along the way. The most successful people will tell you that in order to achieve their success they had to learn a lot along the way. Often, a very effective way to learn where there’s still work to be done, or to figure out what needs to change in our approach, is through failure–trying things one way, identifying what doesn’t work, and then making the appropriate modifications.

Second, acknowledge that failure is important for growth. There’s other research showing that adults who had to overcome a moderate level of adversity while growing up tend to have the greatest outcomes later in life because they have had to engage their social support networks and develop the coping mechanisms that are necessary to negotiate life’s challenges. Developing these skills early on comes in handy for bouncing back from later hardships and responding to future adversity. The people who have the strongest psychological health later in life are often those who have learned how to fail. They’ve learned how to pick themselves back up after being knocked down, reflect on the experience, grow from it, and soldier on.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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