Lifestyle

Limiting Time on Social Media Increases Well-Being

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

“Today, spend a little time cultivating relationships offline. Never forget that everybody isn’t on social media.” – Germany Kent

 

If you are among those who anxiously check the posts of your social media contacts because you obsessively have to know what’s going on in their world and can’t seem to curb your urge to remain riveted to your feed, new research on the negative effect of too much social media on well-being is worth reviewing.

I recently spoke with Melissa G. Hunt, one of the authors of “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression,” published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Hunt and her research colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, in a 2018 study, alleged there is a causal link between usage of social media and loneliness and depression. They say that spending inordinate amounts of time on popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat does more than connect users to their contacts. It’s also making them decidedly more miserable, promoting greater feelings of loneliness and depression.

During the period of the study, participants in the research significantly reduced their time on social media for about three weeks. The result was they reported reduced feelings of loneliness and depression.

Researchers said that the fear of missing out (FOMO) is what drives people to obsess over social media, spending extraordinary amounts of time in this sedentary activity. They strongly recommend limiting screen time to about 30 minutes a day, saying that this simple self-limiting measure may lead to “significant improvement in well-being.”

Why do people use social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, if it makes them feel lonelier and more depressed?

MGH: Social media companies hire experts whose job is to make the sites as appealing and addictive as possible.  For example, they use algorithms to ensure that you are getting “new” information, and “likes” on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule.  That is, things appear at intervals to reward you for logging on and spending time.

Social media also gives the appearance of engagement and intimacy and sites like Instagram promise to keep you up to speed on the latest trends.  Women have been reading “women’s” magazines for decades, and we know that reading them decreases self-esteem and increases body image concerns and self-loathing.  Certain types of social media are no different.

What do you say to those who complain that social media is essential in today’s world, that they can’t live without it? Isn’t this an impossible recommendation, suggesting people limit their time? Or, can they get the benefit of social media with less screen time?

MGH: It might be unrealistic to suggest foregoing social media completely (although I do).  That’s why we didn’t require that.  We just asked people to limit themselves to 30 minutes per day.  That’s more than enough time to catch up with friends, find out when your study group is meeting, and like your cousin’s cute kid picture.  It prevents going down the “rabbit hole” of clicking randomly, following celebrities, or cyber stalking your ex’s new flame.

How do you wean yourself off social media? Any quick tips?

MGH: Self-monitoring seems to help.  Although we didn’t study them, apps that increase your awareness of how much you’re using (like In Moment and Space) may well help people become more mindful and self-aware.

Do you know of other studies that document how social media fuels loneliness and depression?

MGH: There are many correlational studies out there that establish the association, and a number that suggest that social media fosters social comparison that makes you feel bad about your own life, and FOMO that makes you aware of all the things you weren’t invited to and weren’t included in.

I think that social media tends to foster inauthentic connection.  True intimacy involves sharing both life’s highlights and the terrible times.  Things you’re proud of, and things you’re sad or anxious or embarrassed about.  Social media tends to reward only the highlights, and that doesn’t lead to true intimacy or social support.

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SUGGESTED WAYS TO LIMIT SCREEN TIME.

It’s not all dire. You don’t have to completely withdraw from social media. Indeed, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Hunt, you can reap the benefits of moderate limitations on your social media consumption. The next and most obvious question is, how do you limit social media time? Here are some suggestions.

Get an app for that.

Apple, the maker of perhaps the most popular smartphone in the world, recently made an update available that helps its users set limits on certain apps they use and track those that take up so much of their time. The update section this pertains to is called Screen Time.

Meanwhile, there are several apps that allow users to limit how much time they’re using their phones. These, of course, vary in terms of how intensely you limit phone time.

Yet another potential help for limiting social media time is the use of browser extensions such as StayFocusd, available through the Chrome web store. The idea is that users are allowed a certain amount of time on the website and then the screen is locked – and there’s no way back in. Check out the so-called “nuclear option” that prevents users from going into a specific website altogether. Now, that is a bit extreme, but it is out there.

Exert self-discipline.

Not everyone is blessed with the ability to not only set limits on how much social media time they’ll engage in, but actually follow through with the discipline it takes to do so effectively. Think of all the other things you could be doing instead of frittering away hours poring over likes, comments, postings and the like. Maybe enlist a trusted friend, a loved one or family member to get you out of the house and doing something in real time, with live people (not digital connections). What a concept!

Disable (temporarily) all social media notifications.

Another helpful way to curb your constant social media obsession (if not quite social media addiction) is to turn off or disable the notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media time-wasting sites. No more suffering through the anxiety-provoking habit of having to instantly reply to every notification. This doesn’t have to be a permanent deletion, just a temporary pause to allow you to get back in the realm of living in the present and interacting with real people.

Go colorless.

In the world of social media, just as in any websites, advertising, TV programs and other forms of media that grab attention, color is king. The brighter the color, the more enticing, right? As an experiment to see if this can help you ratchet down your social media consumption, use grayscale to make the sites less attractive. When everything is in shades of gray, it’s easier to forego the temptation to linger there. On iPhones, hit settings, general, accessibility, display accommodations, color filters (turn this on), and then grayscale. That’s it, you’ve made your screen colorless.

Get rid of your phone – or leave it home.

A bit more extreme is the suggestion you ditch your phone completely. Like that would ever happen in today’s always-on society. You could try leaving it at home while you go out for a walk. That would give you a social-media breather at least. It might even persuade you that you don’t need to be tethered to your phone. After all, you’re not really missing out on anything. All that social media interaction will still be there after you return from a well-deserved (and much-needed) break.

Make it a point to be with people who appreciate you for who you are.

Nobody’s perfect. Each of us has flaws and traits we’d like to minimize, as well as talents we wish we had or accomplishments we’d love to broadcast. The problem with too much time wasted on social media is that everybody else looks better than we do. That’s not reality and it certainly does nothing for our self-esteem. A proven remedy to increase well-being is also one of the easiest to implement: Spend time with those who appreciate you for who you are. Laugh together. Share a meal. Go to a movie. Garden, spend time in nature, take in a concert, do various types of activities together. In fact, once you resurrect the in-person kind of communication, you’ll find that digital connections are a pale and distant substitute.

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A version of this article was originally published on Psych Central. However, the interview with Melissa G. Hunt is new.

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New Research on Gambling Use Disorder

Photo by Benjamin Lambert on Unsplash

Photo by Benjamin Lambert on Unsplash

“Gambling: The sure way of getting nothing from something.” – Wilson Mizner

 

Who doesn’t enjoy a game of chance now and then? Trying your luck on an inexpensive lottery ticket can seem innocent enough, and might even net you considerable return. Spurred on by the lure of winning the big jackpot through television, radio, Internet, newspaper and other media ads may even prompt you to spend more than you intended. And it’s not just lottery tickets that people become hooked on but other forms of gambling as well: horse racing, slot machines, card games, sports betting. It should come as no surprise, then, that gambling use disorder (GUD) has steadily gained prominence as another form of addiction.

New research on gambling addiction and GUD is both illuminating, troubling, and promising with respect to prevention, treatment and recovery.

Gambling Officially Recognized in DSM-5 as Behavioral Addiction

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) took gambling out of the “Impulse Control Disorder” section and reclassified gambling disorder as part of the expanded section covering “Substance-related and Addictive Disorders.” With this action, gambling disorder is the first non-substance behavioral addiction. A 2016 review in Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation examined the similarities and differences between gambling disorder and substance use disorders (SUDs) and found many shared characteristics, some of which include diagnostic criteria, comorbidity, genetic and physiological factors, even approaches to treatment.

Suicide Rates Increasing Among Those with Gambling Disorder

While previous research found that gambling disorder appeared to be an independent risk factor for suicide, and few studies looked at all-cause mortality as it relates to gambling disorder, 2018 research published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions explored both mortality and suicide rates in those with gambling disorder and the general population, as well as risk factors associated with mortality due to suicide and all causes. Their findings showed significantly elevated rates of mortality and suicide among those with gambling disorder. Furthermore, even though common comorbid mental health issues did not predict overall mortality, depression was found to predict suicide death. Researchers suggested that medical and mental health professionals pay attention to long-term risk of death in their patients with gambling disorder and promote effective interventions for mental health and other comorbid conditions.

Personality Disorders Consistently Associated with Pathological Gambling

In 2017 review published in Current Opinion in Psychiatry, researchers found a strong association between pathological gambling and personality disorders. They noted that studies consistently showed that the presence of a personality disorder is associated with severity of gambling and early age of onset of pathological gambling. Researchers called for further research on pathological gambling that goes beyond merely estimating rates of personality disorders and instead concentrate on longitudinal research to understand both the pathways between personality disorders and the early onset and severity of pathological gambling.

Disordered Gamblers Seeking Treatment Frequently Have Psychological Distress

What used to be called problem gambling or pathological gambling is now generally referred to as disordered gambling, according to several sources, including the New York Council on Problem Gambling. A 2017 study published in the Journal on Gambling Studies examined psychological distress as an indicator of co-occurring psychopathology among disordered gamblers seeking treatment. They found evidence of severe gambling pathology among those with greater levels of psychological distress. Furthermore, greater scores of psychological distress was found to significantly predict anxiety, depression, and deviancy. Researchers suggested that clinicians treating disordered gamblers may want to conduct a brief screening to check for the presence of co-occurring psychopathology, especially with reference to measures of psychological distress. The results could greatly aid clinicians in determining effective treatment approaches for disordered gamblers with psychological distress.

Co-morbid PTSD and Gambling-Related Cognitions: How They Affect Treatment

A 2018 study published in Addictive Behaviors looked at the association of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and gambling disorder in individuals with both conditions. Researchers sought to determine how PTSD might be related to specific gambling-related cognitions in terms of expression and experience. Hypothesizing that those with symptoms of PTSD (or symptoms of PTSD, even if undiagnosed) would show greater erroneous beliefs and cognitive distortions about gambling, researchers found the study participants consistently reported greater gambling-related cognitions. This led researchers to suggest that PTSD is uniquely associated with increased levels of cognitive distortions and erroneous beliefs about gambling and, further, that the findings both add to current understanding about the relation of PTSD and gambling to each other and to treatment of those diagnosed with the co-morbid conditions.

Other 2018 research published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors postulated that PTSD symptoms were likely to be associated with unique beliefs about types of gambling behavior and unique motivations to gamble. Researchers studying two groups, an inpatient group of U.S. Armed Forces veterans in treatment for gambling disorder and an online sample of gambling adults found that symptoms of PTSD were related to positive expectancies for gambling and consistently associated with greater coping mechanisms for gambling for both sample groups. Researchers said that the high co-morbidity of symptoms of PTSD and gambling disorder are likely of interest for clinicians treating individuals for either PTSD or gambling disorder (or both).

Flashing Casino Lights/Sounds: Influence Risky Decision-making and Promote Problem Gambling?

Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience indicates a possible connection between the sensory cues of flashing lights and sounds in casinos and increased risky decision-making, potentially even promoting problem gambling behavior. Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that individual choices were less influenced by the odds of winning when the gambling environment featured the audio and visual sensory cues. In other words, they took more risks in gambling despite the odds. Researchers suggested that the findings might help explain why individuals continue to gamble even though the odds of winning are against them. In addition, they said that gambling sights and sounds are far from innocuous and may form an important piece of the puzzle surrounding gambling addiction in that such environmental cues encourage risky decision-making and bias attention.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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10 Surprising Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

“The real meditation practice is how we live our lives from moment to moment to moment.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

As someone who strives daily to be the best I can be, to be present in the moment, minimize stress and appreciate the beauty and preciousness of life, I’m always keen to learn about scientifically-proven new health benefits of mindfulness meditation.

Get better sleep.

Anyone who’s suffered the lingering mental and physical effects of a poor night’s sleep on a regular basis, as I have on numerous occasions in the past, can appreciate this all-important benefit from mindfulness meditation: better sleep. In fact, research with older adults diagnosed with sleep disturbances found that the practice resulted in significant short-term improvement in sleep quality by remediating sleep problems. Researchers noted this improvement apparently carried over to “reducing sleep-related daytime impairment that has implications for quality of life.”

Make progress toward your weight-loss goals.

If you’ve struggled with yo-yo fluctuations in weight and tried many fad diets and weight-loss crazes, it might be motivating to learn that mindfulness meditation has been shown to be a good strategy to support weight-loss goals. A clinical study involving overweight and obese women found that mindfulness intervention for stress eating, while not designed to induce total weight loss, did stabilize weight among those who were obese. Researchers also found that greater frequency of eating meals mindfully was slightly related to weight loss, noting that, “Minimally, these techniques may support weight maintenance efforts, and actual weight loss might occur for those participants who eat a high proportion of meals mindfully.”

A survey of American Psychological Association licensed psychologists by Consumer Reports found that mindfulness, along with cognitive therapy and problem-solving, are “excellent” or “good” weight loss strategies. That’s because the focus of dieters should be more on the role their emotions play in weight management, rather than solely on exercise and calorie control or eating less.

Lower your stress levels.

It’s a fast-paced society we live in, which contributes to and exacerbates everyday stress. Learning how to control or minimize the effects of stress on body and mind is important in overall health and well-being. So, it’s refreshing to know that a review of 47 clinical trials found that mindfulness meditation programs show “small improvements in stress/distress and the mental health component of health-related quality of life.” Another study found that focusing on the present through the practice of mindfulness can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Decrease loneliness in seniors.

Getting older has its challenges, yet relationships can be deeply satisfying and personally enriching. For many older adults, however, loneliness due to the loss of a spouse or partner can be made worse when there are concurrent medical or psychological conditions or issues to deal with. One study found that an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program reduces loneliness and related pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults.

Banish temporary negative feelings.

Sitting all day at a desk or computer is not good for your overall health and well-being. The often-recommended advice to get up and move is well-founded in research.  A study assessing college students’ daily waking movement-based behaviors found less momentary negative affect from movement with mindfulness in mind and suggested that incorporating mindfulness into daily movement may lead to better overall health benefits.

Improve attention.

Researchers found that brief meditation training (four days) can lead to enhanced ability to sustain attention. Other improvements from brief meditation training included working memory, executive functioning, visuo-spatial processing, reductions in anxiety and fatigue, and increased mindfulness.

Manage chronic pain.

Millions of people suffer with chronic pain, some following an accident that leaves them with a long-term debilitating medical condition, some as a result of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) after serious injury during combat deployment, others due to diagnoses with cancer. Managing chronic pain in a healthier way is the focus of much current research. Indeed, the search for and clinical trials of alternatives to medication to help patient cope with chronic pain continues to gain momentum. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a therapy that combines mindfulness meditation and yoga, has been found to result in significant improvements in pain, anxiety, well-being and ability to participate in daily activities.

Help prevent depression relapse.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), according to a growing body of research, may prove beneficial in preventing depression relapse. A particular strength of the mind-body technique is how it shows participants how to disengage from the kind of highly dysfunctional and deeply felt thoughts that accompany depression. A 2011 study found that MBCT is an effective intervention for depression relapse in patient with at least three prior episodes of major depressive disorder (MDD). Another study found that MBCT provided significant relapse protection for participants with a history of childhood trauma that left them with increased vulnerability for depression.

Reduce anxiety.

Feeling anxious? Researchers have found that even a single session of mindfulness meditation can result in reduced anxiety. For the study, researchers focused on the effect of a single session of mindfulness meditation on participants with high levels of anxiety but normal blood pressure. They found measurable improvements in anxiety following the single mindfulness meditation session and further anxiety reduction one week later. Researchers suggested that a single mindfulness session may help to reduce cardiovascular risk in those with moderate anxiety.

Increase brain gray matter.

Along with the well-documented benefits of mindfulness meditation, another surprising finding of the mind-body practice is that it appears to increase gray matter in the brain. A controlled longitudinal study investigated pre- and post-changes to gray matter that could be attributed to participation in MBSR. Researchers found that increases in gray matter concentration occurred in the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, temporo-parietal junction, and cerebellum. These are the regions involved in memory and learning processes, regulation of emotion, self-referential processing and taking perspective.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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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, Pinterest, and Google+.

Best Ways to Spend Idle Time

Best Ways to Spend Idle Time

Photo by Pacto Visual on Unsplash

 

If you ever feel like there just isn’t enough time in the day to get things done, you’re probably overstressed, overworked and overcommitted. On the other hand, do you sometimes recognize that time stretches on, like you’re in a slow-motion movie, and it seems like this moment will last forever? How can two different views of time exist? Here are some of my favorite quotes on time that may serve as reflection on the best ways to spend idle time – and be time well spent.

Spend time with family.

“I absolutely love spending time with my family.” – Kevin Alejandro

You may not get to choose your family, yet you do choose whether to spend time with them or not. Too often, though, we tend to take family for granted, feeling they’ll always be there – until they’re not. Use spare time to do something with family, for it will always be some of the best idle time you’ve ever spent.

Find the beauty in each moment.

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” – Henry David Thoreau

When was the last time you looked at your surroundings? Really looked, not just allowed what’s there to serve as background? There’s true beauty all around, if you but make a conscious choice to look at it and be amazed by its power to enrich and nourish you.

Reflect on your blessings.

“I think, every time I’m on the mountain, I’m just so thankful to be there.” – Chloe Kim

I’m grateful to be alive, having experienced a brush with death more than a few times. Some might call me lucky, while others just marvel I’m still here. Nevertheless, what those life-threatening experiences taught me is to be profoundly appreciative of life. I’ve been blessed with many gifts, not the least of which is my ability to find the positive in almost any situation.

Relax.

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” – Sydney J. Harris

Why put off doing what relaxes you when the science proves that relaxing activities help refresh, restore and revitalize your body, mind and spirit? Take a half hour for meditation, or engage in restorative yoga, or surrender to a luxurious massage. If something relaxes you, you’ll reap enormous benefits from using the time you have to do it.

Enjoy your passions.

“If biking is your passion, set aside time to enjoy a good ride.” – Patrick Dempsey

I’m passionate about many things. For example, I find the wilderness awe-inspiring and mysterious and treasure memories of driving, hiking, fishing, swimming and exploring America’s great national parks. That wilderness is also dangerous and ever-changing doesn’t lessen my passion to be in it. I just exercise appropriate caution. I have other passions as well, some of which many share. These include gardening, walks in nature, creating tasty and low-fat desserts, writing, decorating, shopping for the best deals, and painting. It isn’t the what but the fact that I do what I’m most passionate about. Whatever time I spend with my passions is the best time.

Have a cup of tea.

“Tea time is a chance to slow down, pull back and appreciate our surroundings.” – Letitia Baldridge

I love a good cup of tea. My favorite for the past year is green tea, sweetened with Stevia and organic honey. Perhaps some of the research around the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in tea swayed me when I first started drinking in during convalescence from a hospital stay, although I have to admit tea drinking is totally different from my daily latte experience. I do appreciate my surroundings when enjoying each of them, and I value the time I spend treating myself to both.

Walk in nature.

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” – Rabindranath Tagore

Whatever the season, nature is always there to be experienced, appreciated and treasured. Personally, I’m fond of trail walks, possibly because there are numerous nature trails near my home. Whenever we travel, though, I’m always keen to explore the local trails and plan our lodging to take advantage of the most scenic trailheads. There’s a sense of peace and belonging I get from walking in nature. For me, it’s a kind of meditation. I’m conscious of breathing in and out, being in the present, fully aware and alive. What a wonderful and welcoming way to spend a little time. Besides, as  research shows, nature walks, especially in groups, can help banish stress and increase well-being. And, for women with depression symptoms, regular walking can improve their quality of life.

Play with your cat.

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” – Sigmund Freud

You needn’t be a cat person, or even have a cat in your household, to derive benefit from playing with a feline. It can be a friend’s cat, or the beloved furry friend of a loved one, family member, neighbor or co-worker. I’ve owned several cats over the years and they’ve always amazed me with their never-ending curiosity, playfulness and independent spirit. Hearing and feeling them purr fill me with a sense of contentment and joy. I can be watching TV, listening to music, or just sitting back doing nothing else but playing with the cat. Nothing against dog-lovers, for spending time with dogs ranks just as high in satisfaction. In addition, pets have healing powers and much more, according to research. They make you feel less lonely, for one thing, which is incredibly useful for shut-ins and those without family.

Be flexible.

“Summertime, this is the time that you flex.” – Cardi B

Each season presents unique opportunities to spend free time. My favorite season has to be summer, however, since there’s invariably good weather (occasional thunderstorms notwithstanding) and myriad activities to choose from to have a good time. The key, I find, is to be flexible. If you’re intent on going for a hike and a friend invites you to go swimming, have lunch at a favorite café, shop a great sale, the more willing you are to rearrange your free time to accommodate this unexpected gift the more likely you’ll be glad you did.

Make a choice.

“Time flies. It’s up to you to be the navigator.” – Robert Orben

While it’s true that each day contains just 24 hours, how you spend your time is very much your choice. Even if you must work, that’s a choice. Doing chores is a choice. Taking a break now and then is a choice. So is parceling out an hour for doing what you want, pursuing an interest, investigating something new, making new acquaintances. No one else dictates – or should be allowed to tell you – what you can or cannot do with your time. Own your destiny. Choose how you spend your time.

Savor a favorite food.

“We all need to make time for a burger once in a while.” – Erica Durance

Who doesn’t love a good burger? Whether its angus beef, turkey, salmon or veggie, burgers have long been a go-to form of comfort food for millions of people. The same holds true for many other favorite dishes, whether exotic cuisine or homecooked meals. That’s why turkey dinners are so scrumptious, why the smell of bacon makes you salivate, why the aroma of baking pies brings back your childhood. Instead of wolfing down a favorite food, pause and take in everything about it that’s special. Really savor it. This is the essence, I think, of mindful eating.

Make someone feel important.

“No matter how busy you are, you must take time to make the other person feel important.” – Mary Kay Ash

If you want to go for the gold, use some of your spare time to go out of your way to make someone else feel important and loved. This act of self-generosity doesn’t need to entail spending money. Indeed, often it’s the mere act of conscious listening to what the other person has to say that results in them feeling important, the center of your attention for that brief span of time. Acknowledge what they say, offering words of encouragement, comfort, congratulations, assistance or whatever the person seems to need most. Doing so sincerely and without haste will make you both feel you’ve made good use of the time.

Cherish the moment.

“Time itself comes in drops.” – William James

Time isn’t like a daylong downpour. It doesn’t present itself in four-hour blocks. Instead, time is seconds and minutes, more like gentle drops of rain. Once this moment is gone, it’s forever lost. For this reason, be mindful of the fleeting nature of time and make a concerted effort to live in the present and cherish every moment.

Feel empowered.

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – Bertrand Russell

I believe that every day I deserve to chuck my schedule aside for a while and do whatever I feel drawn to do most. I’m not talking about completely abandoning what must be done, just taking a short hiatus from tasks and responsibilities. The knowledge that I’ll return to my work or chores with a sense of renewal and feeling newly motivated further encourages and empowers me to do what I want with my idle time.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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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.

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11 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy Your Life More

 

11 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy Your Life More

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

“Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify.”Henry David Thoreau

 

If the idea of simplifying your life is appealing, you might be more motivated and likely to get started on this goal if you can find an easier way to do it. Complicated lists filled with difficult tasks won’t get the job done.  What will, however, are ways that are both easily-understood and generally easier to do and have the added benefit of helping you get more enjoyment out of life. Here are 11 to try.

Streamline your to-do lists.

Most efficiency and time-management experts recommend streamlining items on your to-do lists. There’s good reason for this, since having less items staring you in the face daily helps remove the gnawing impediment of impossible-to-achieve success. Maybe you have 20 tasks, projects and objectives you’ve told yourself are essential. That’s too many. No wonder you get frustrated and abandon or put off working on them. Start by paring the numbers, doing away with the nonessential and non-value-added ones.

Focus on quality, not quantity.

It’s easy to lose enthusiasm and get lost in the muddiness of details, timelines and complexity of too many goals. Instead of generating momentum, the opposite is likely to occur. The solution? Once you’ve pared your to-do lists, focus on delivering quality results, not half-hearted and hastily completed items that add up to an arbitrary and too high a number. Remember, you’ll get more satisfaction out of producing a quality result than several that are less-than-your-best effort versions.

Do what matters most to you personally.

Simply put, when you do what you find valuable and focus on what matters most to you personally, you’re much more likely to be motivated to begin with and to follow through to completion. Tackling goals, projects and tasks that you don’t feel strongly about or that don’t align with your values will drain your enthusiasm as well as your energy. It will also add complexity to your life that will leave you feeling less satisfied overall. On the other hand, when you get to work on what excites and interests you, time will fly, and it will seem less like work and more like fun. Isn’t that a terrific way to enjoy your life more?

Create desirable goals and create workable plans to achieve them.

In line with streamlining to-do lists and focusing on quality over quantity, another highly-recommended way to simplify your life and enjoy it more is to create desirable goals and workable plans to achieve them. You may identify an overarching goal, such as getting your college degree, buying a home, getting married and starting a family, or a few seemingly-unrelated goals, even some that are tangential. If it stimulates your interest enough to research and pursue, it’s worth adding to your list. Keep in mind that goals and plans are a work-in-progress strategy, something you revise as your interests and objectives change, you achieve some and identify others. It’s also a great feeling to tick off the successes as you make your way through your goal list.

Eliminate sources of stress – and find effective ways to keep stress at bay.

Stress, especially chronic stress, depletes you in every possible way. There are numerous physical consequences of stress, as well as emotional and psychological ramifications of this insidious condition. Learn how to recognize stress, whether the cause is something at work, relationship oriented, self-generated, or environmental. Get rid of the stress sources that you can and then research and put into practice effective ways to keep recurring stress from negatively affecting your life. One proven method to reduce stress is exercise, and experts say almost any exercise will help to manage stress.

Focus on a few true friends.

Trying to please 100 friends or follow up and stay in contact with a 1,000 or more social media contacts is a losing proposition. Casual contacts, commenting on posts, celebrating milestones is one thing, but you simply cannot maintain high-quality friendships with that many individuals. Instead, single out those who you value as true friends. Spend one-on-one time with them as often as possible and practical and be truly with them when you are together. This is both satisfying and personally enriching as well as adds to your overall well-being and life enjoyment.

Clean out your closets and de-clutter your surroundings.

A UCLA study on “The Clutter Culture” found that the need to constantly reward ourselves with material things, to offset the stress of the workplace and life in general, instead contributes to increased stress. At least it did for moms in the survey of American families. One of the quickest ways to get busy simplifying your life is to literally clean out your closets and buckle down to declutter your surroundings at home. Researchers in the study found that participants mentioned parking their cars on the street, so they could store accumulated stuff in the garage and piling the dirty laundry in the shower because there’s no other convenient place to stash it out of the way. How many of us have garments and objects ferreted away in the closet and drawers that have never been used, still have the price tags on them and have gone out of style? Start with your wardrobe and keep going from there. Once you’ve got piles of things you never wear or use, are still serviceable and potentially useful to others, donate them to a worthy charity. Recycle, repurpose or toss out everything else. Trust me, this suggestion is very effective in both simplifying your life and helping you find more joy in it.

Practice gratitude daily.

There must be something you’re grateful for, even if what that is does not spring immediately to mind. Start by acknowledging the gift of life today. Go on to express mental thanks for all that you’ve been given, whether that’s good health, recovery from illness, accident or injury, a satisfying job, plentiful friends or something else. Being grateful is a personal sentiment in the sense that you’re putting out to the universe a thank-you for what you value. The more you practice gratitude daily, the more your well-being will improve and the happier with your life you’ll be.

Enrich your spirituality.

Along with expressing gratitude every day, find ways to nourish and enrich your spirit and your spirituality. This may mean going to the church, temple or synagogue or being outside in nature and reflecting on a Higher Power. It may involve meditation, yoga, visualization exercises, imagery, focused breathing or some other technique to connect you to your inner self and the overarching meaning of life. A sense of connectedness to the universe, to the God as you know Him or Her is always beneficial in expanding your enjoyment of this precious life on earth, altogether fleeting and worthy of spending what time you have well.

Make time for yourself.

It isn’t selfish or self-centered to carve out time to do what gives you pleasure. On the contrary, making time for yourself is an endeavor that’s both life-affirming and produces a sense of joy and satisfaction. Go for that walk in nature. Meet with friends. Relax with a good book. Garden. Pass the hours involved in a hobby, gardening, sports or other form of relaxation or activity. You’ll know you’ve simplified your life if you feel good about allocating time in your daily schedule to do what you like. It will also make today much more enjoyable.

Live in the present.

In addition to creating space and room in your life through simplification of non-essential, non-value-added items and activities, focusing on doing what matters most to you personally, spending time on yourself, eliminating sources of stress, prizing a few true friends, creating desirable and workable goals and plans, exercising gratitude, nurturing your spirituality and embracing quality over quantity, you’re primed and ready to accept and practice living in the present. This is also called mindfulness. Frankly, the present is when you live. You cannot relive the past or experience the future. Today is it. Make the most of today by fully being present in the moment. It doesn’t get any simpler or better than that to enjoy your life more.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related posts:

7 Tips on Calming the Noise of Life

5 Ways to Find Peace of Mind

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

My 10 Favorite Ways to Waste Time – And Not Feel Bad About It

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

 

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10 Easy Ways to Increase Your Energy Levels Naturally

10 Easy Ways to Increase Your Energy Levels Naturally

Photo by Jared Erondu on Unsplash

 

“You are responsible for the energy that you create for yourself, and you’re responsible for the energy that you bring to others.” – Oprah Winfrey

 

I’m all about doing what I can do in a better way. This includes taking proper care of my health and watching my energy levels throughout the day. There’s no denying that a busy lifestyle contributes to a drain on how much energy you feel you have, yet there are natural ways to boost your energy levels that are easy and relatively quick to do. After doing my research, I’ve discovered that science backs up the merits of the following 10 easy ways to increase your energy levels.

Lower stress.

Stress is a huge culprit when it comes to drained energy. When you’re stressed-out, you’re likely worn out as well. If you suffer from chronic stress, the effect is cumulative and can result in worsening physical and mental conditions over time. Most stress is the result of anxiety, worry about things you have no control over or agonizing over making the wrong decisions, even worry about decisions you know are right. In short, living with non-stop stress will zap your energy like an electronic bug killer. Figure out healthy ways to lower your stress levels and you’ll find that you have more energy daily.

How can you lower your stress? Do whatever relaxes you, whether that’s reading an engrossing novel, going for coffee with a friend, watching a favorite TV show or movie, exercising vigorously, gardening, playing sports, working on a hobby, taking a drive, going out for dinner and so on. It isn’t what you do but how relaxing the activity makes you feel that will lessen the tension and reduce stress.

Eat more nuts and fish.

Studies of women with magnesium deficiency showed that the women felt physically exhausted much of the time. Why? When you have magnesium deficiency, your heart beats faster and requires more oxygen to get things done. Natural sources of magnesium that are low calorie and delicious include almonds, cashews and hazelnuts, as well as fish such as halibut. Recommended daily magnesium allowances are 300 milligrams for women and 350 milligrams for men.

Get out and walk.

Perhaps one of the simplest ways to boost energy levels is to go out for a walk. How can it be that engaging in physical activity such as walking increases your energy? It sounds contradictory, yet the science is sound. A brisk 10-minute walk is enough to elevate energy levels and the effects last up to 2 hours. Do regular daily walks and you’ll have not only increased energy and stamina, your mood will also improve.

Drink lots of water.

Another nasty culprit causing lack of energy is dehydration. Simply put, when you’re dehydrated, your body is starved of life-saving water. You may not realize that you’re thirsty, though, and by the time that you do, you’re likely dehydrated. Sometimes, you think you’re fatigued when the truth is that you’re dehydrated. You also might confuse hunger with thirst, thinking you need to eat something when what you really need is water. There is a simple solution: drink lots of water at regular times throughout the day. Strive for eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. If you have trouble downing that much plain water, go for fruit-flavored, sugar-free water. In so doing, you’ll be benefiting every organ in your body, including muscles, which are re-energized with water. You’ll also find that you’ve got a little more energy by exercising your water-drinking habit.

Cut back on sugar.

Besides contributing to a thicker waistline and more pounds on the scale, eating a diet high in sugar will also leave you feeling drained. While sugar initially spikes blood sugar and provides an energy boost, that increased energy is short-lived, quickly followed by a rapid blood sugar drop. You may feel wiped out consequently. If you’re like me, however, adding a natural sweetener to morning lattes and hot tea is an absolute must. I’ve become an aficionado of Stevia, a no-calorie natural sweetener that tastes 30 times sweeter than table sugar. Another natural sweetener I’ve decided to try is coconut sugar, which has 20 calories per teaspoon (the same as table sugar), but it is an excellent alternative to regular sugar for baking.

Meditate.

If you’re a fan of yoga, you might already know that the Savasana pose (also called the corpse pose) is beneficial in reducing fatigue. I was unaware of this, not being very proficient in yoga, yet willing to learn. The Savasana pose is what you do at the end of your yoga session. It looks like taking a quiet nap on the floor while resting on your yoga mat. You are resting, yet fully conscious for the 10-20 minutes you allocate for this restorative energy exercise.

Eat breakfast every day.

Your mother probably told you that breakfast is the day’s most important meal. That advice echoes what nutrition experts have said for years. It’s tempting to skip this vital meal, though, especially when busy schedules mean every minute counts, yet don’t fall for that excuse. It doesn’t have to be a long, sit-down affair for you to gain the benefits of breakfast. Just make sure you eat wisely. Go for breakfasts that help you power up your morning. As Harvard Medical School experts points out, include whole grains, fruit and protein – and eat at home, not from a fast-food eatery.

Add power snacks to provide energy between meals.

It might seem a long way to dinner or your next meal, especially if you’ve been engaged in vigorous physical activity or concentrating on a complex work project. The healthy solution here is to snack on some power foods to give yourself an instant energy lift. Do a combination of fat, protein, a little bit of fat and fiber and you’ll be doing yourself and your energy levels a favor. Try a low-fat, low-salt (or salt-free) cracker with peanut butter or enjoy yogurt with a small handful of nuts.

Try a 1-hour power nap to prevent burnout.

Experimental research conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that participating subjects who took a 60-minute power nap were able to prevent burnout. Like physical effects of stress that cause fatigue, mental performance during repeated cognitive tasks, especially stressful ones, can simulate feelings of fatigue and low energy levels. While not everyone has the luxury of taking a 1-hour nap every day, if you do opt to take time for a snooze, remember that 60 minutes is more beneficial in preventing burnout than a half-hour nap.

Tend to your emotional health.

Depression and anxiety often make you feel exhausted, tired all the time, lacking energy and desire to do much of anything. If you are otherwise healthy, yet you feel constantly fatigued, examine your life for what may be bothering you emotionally. If you’ve experienced depression or anxiety that persists for two weeks or more, consider getting professional help. Psychotherapy can help you overcome these debilitating issues and help regain your normal energy.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

10 Health Benefits of Daily Exercise

10 Ways Stress Harms You

Combat Stress with Mindful Walking

7 Tips on Calming the Noise of Life

8 Healthy Reasons to Ditch Your Bad Habits

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

 

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In Search of Better Sleep

Photo by Alberto Restifo/Unsplash

“Sleep is the best meditation.” – Dalai Lama

 

After a year of emotional upheavals and health challenges, I resolved to enter 2018 with a singularly proactive step: getting more restful, productive sleep. It can’t be coincidental that numerous sleep studies caught my attention, as my subconscious mind probably directed me to find them. I already know, as do most of us, that sleep is necessary for the body to rest and replenish, as well as heal, yet there are many more aspects of stages of sleep and effective sleep that I’ve discovered in my quest to become more sleep-proficient.

NIGHTMARES: MORE COMPLEX THAN YOU THINK

As someone who’s been plagued by vivid nightmares many times in the past, and sometimes even the present, I welcome research that provides a more complete picture of this nighttime torment. Ever wake up in absolute dread, feeling a sense of impending doom, like you can’t escape the horrible dream you just awakened from? That’s a nightmare, and who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to learn more about them as well as how to overcome them?

It makes sense to me that, as a study in Brain and Behavioral Sciences reported, the form and content of dreams is not random, but constructed by the brain in an organized and selective fashion. Furthermore, certain types of waking experiences profoundly affect dreams. Study authors proposed that the function of dreaming is to simulate threatening events, and then rehearse both threat perception and threat avoidance. Weinstein et al. (2017) found that waking-life psychological need experiences are reflected in daily dreams. Another study published in Stress and Health linked need frustration to higher stress, leading to greater evening fatigue and subsequent poorer sleep quality and shorter duration of sleep.

University of Montreal researchers found that nightmares have more emotional impact than do bad dreams, and frequently contain themes of physical aggression – death, health concerns and threats. Researchers learned that men more often have nightmares involving calamities and disasters, while women’s nightmares centered on themes of interpersonal conflict twice that of men.

During the dream stage of sleep, called REM (rapid eye movement), the sleeper’s brain processes emotional experiences and can promote healing from the reactivation of memories of the event, say researchers. This is thought to happen due to low levels of norepinephrine, a brain chemical associated with stress, during REM sleep and results in a stress-free environment in which to process emotions. The sleeper awakes the next day with those experience memories softened, thus, better able to cope. This finding holds promise for new treatment for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

IN SEARCH OF BETTER REM

If REM sleep is so important in sleep hygiene, I wanted to know more about how to achieve a higher quality and longer duration of this vitally important sleep stage. An intriguing 2015 study by Japanese researchers identified a neural circuit in the brain in mice that both regulates REM sleep and controls the physiology of non-REM sleep, another major sleep stage. Of interest to me was a 2017 study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology that found that people who get less REM sleep may be at greater risk of developing dementia.

Checking recommendations on the web for improving REM sleep, I found several that seem to be self-evident:

  • Avoid alcohol before going to bed.

Alcohol interferes with the various stages of sleep and can result in restless sleep, interrupted sleep, and less high-quality REM sleep as well as deeper, more restorative sleep.

  • Skip that late-day caffeine.

Since caffeine is a stimulant, sleep experts advise curtailing any caffeinated drinks (lattes, coffee, espresso, sodas and teas) later in the day. Drinking caffeine just before retiring can result in an inability to fall asleep or remaining asleep.

  • Mind your meds.

Certain medications can have a negative effect on sleep. This includes both prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbal remedies. Check into their effects on sleep and ask your doctor if there are other medications that can be substituted that won’t interfere with sleep.

  • Curb the urge to smoke late in the day.

Nicotine interferes with sleep. Heavy smokers are prone to be light sleepers, which cuts down on the amount of REM sleep they achieve nightly. Complicating the matter is the fact that nicotine withdrawal during the night causes heavy smokers to wake more often, which makes it hard to fall into REM sleep or maintain it.

While I don’t smoke or drink, I do like my daily lattes. Sometimes I have one in the afternoon and, now that I’m more knowledgeable about the effects of caffeine, I understand why my sleep is erratic. I also take a few prescription medications, although they do not cause me any sleep problems.

Other helpful tips to achieve better REM sleep include meditation, setting a relaxing sleep routine (getting ready for bed), arranging a comfortable sleep environment, and even adding an extra 60 to 90 minutes of sleep. The latter is because REM sleep occurs in cycles every 60 to 90 minutes, so in theory, adding that extra hour to hour and a half should provide another chance at REM sleep. I’ve implemented each of these to my sleep program and attest to their effectiveness.

I also bought and wear a monitoring device on my wrist that helps me keep track of my steps, heart rate, calories consumed, and amount of time spent exercising. Through an online dashboard, I can log my food, water intake, weight and see the results of my nightly sleep. This smart technology allows me to see my sleep patterns and view the results in graphs (showing the various stages of sleep) as well as minutes/hours in each stage, where I am in comparison to benchmark, and 30-day average. It has proven immensely valuable in helping me achieve better REM sleep.

DEEP SLEEP RESTORES THE BODY

If the mind and emotions become revitalized during REM sleep, when does the body get the opportunity to recharge itself? Researching this question, I learned that the third stage of non-REM sleep, called N3, delta sleep, or slow wave sleep, is the deepest stage of the nightly sleep cycle. It’s during N3 that the body repairs itself and, in fact, the body requires deep sleep to perform other vital functions such as building muscle tissue, healing wounds and regenerating cells. The kidneys clean the blood and organs detoxify during the deepest stage of sleep as well.

Sleep experts say that deep sleep typically occurs in longer periods during the first half of nightly sleeping, with the first N3 episode lasting from 45 to 90 minutes and subsequent deep sleep episodes of shorter duration. N3 decreases with age, sleep is intermixed with wakefulness, and is considered normal. Minus other factors, does not indicate presence of a disease or disorder. During this time, muscles relax, breathing and heartbeat slow further, and brain waves (measurable on an EEG) become even slower. It is very difficult to awaken someone in deep sleep.

Factors inhibiting deep sleep that you can control include mitigating stress – especially pre-bedtime stress – and controlling the temperature of the sleep environment. If the room where you sleep is too warm, getting to sleep will be more difficult, since the body drops temperature when it’s ready to sleep. Too warm and you’ll be restless. In addition to adjusting room temperature to between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit, make sure sleeping clothes, bed linens and pillows are conducive to cooler sleeping.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How Your Memory Suffers With Poor REM Sleep

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10 Health Benefits of Daily Exercise

Photo by Denys Nevozha on Unsplash

Photo by Denys Nevozha on Unsplash

“A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise.” – A. A. Milne

 

You don’t need to knock yourself out at the gym each day to reap the many health benefits of daily exercise. With simple planning and a determination to engage in a healthier lifestyle, you can add easy stints of exercise to your schedule without breaking too much of a sweat. Best of all, you may realize some of these 10 health benefits of daily exercise.

Exercise elevates your mood.

When you are physically active, it stimulates brain chemicals that make you feel better and lifts your mood. Some experts say that any intensity exercise, such as a walk or a time on the elliptical, exercise bike or other equipment at a home or outside gym can even be instrumental in preventing future depression. A study in the journal Brain Plasticity reports that even a single episode of physical exercise confers “significant positive effects” on mood, as well as cognitive functions.

Control your weight with exercise.

Anyone experiencing problems with fluctuating weight, an accumulation of extra pounds, weight loss or difficulty maintaining a healthy weight can benefit from regular daily exercise plus a healthy diet. When you exercise vigorously, you burn even more calories than when you walk around the office. And burning calories can make your desired weight goal easier to attain. It’s also easy to add a little exercise to your day: take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a walk outside at lunch or on break, park several aisles from the grocery or mall entrance. You get the idea.

Want toned muscles? Regular exercise helps with that goal.

Along with caloric burn and the slimming effect you might be after, daily exercise will greatly help in toning muscles and getting rid of body fat. It needn’t result in a bodybuilder physique – that’s more an outcome of intense, targeted (some call it hard-core) exercise. Get rid of belly flab and loose skin after weight loss, pregnancy, or yo-yo dieting by working on different muscle groups with specific exercises – such as jumping rope for calves, hand weights or dumbbells for upper arms, sit-ups for belly fat and sit-to-stand for your backside. Find something you enjoy doing, work out with a friend, add music to your routine – whatever it takes to motivate daily exercise.

Sleepless nights? Adding daily exercise to your routine can promote restful sleep.

The good kind of tired you feel after a bout of vigorous physical exercise does more for you than what you might expect. You’ll be readier for sleep, have more deep sleep (which helps the body repair itself), and be less likely to wake up during the night when you make it a point to do some form of physical exercise every day. There’s compelling evidence that exercise and a good night’s sleep are linked as essential to overall health.

Exercise helps in preventing health conditions like cardiovascular disease.

There’s no secret to the fact that regular exercise is good for your health. Yet the number of medical and health conditions exercise can help prevent is impressive. One way exercise helps your heart is that it releases high-density lipoproteins (HDL), the good kind of cholesterol, while reducing nasty triglycerides. Not only helpful in preventing cardiovascular disease and maintaining good cardiovascular health, exercise is also proven to be a preventive strategy for stroke, developing type 2 diabetes, several types of cancer (cervical, breast, even skin cancer, when combined with intake of caffeine), depression, arthritis, and the damage resulting from falls.

You’ll get an energy boost.

How can exercise boost energy? Simple. During vigorous exercise, oxygen gets delivered to tissues and organs. This helps the heart to work more efficiently as well as the lungs. A more efficient heart and lungs translates to more energy. So, combat fatigue while you boost your energy with regular, daily exercise.

Put a spark in your sex life with exercise.

This health benefit should perk up your interest in beginning regular exercise – beyond the physical exercise you get during sexual activity, of course. With a continuing exercise routine, such as daily brisk walks, a focused home workout, jogging, playing sports, swimming, skiing and more, you’ll have more energy, be more toned and fit, and see dramatic results in physical appearance. Exercise may help women feel more sexually aroused, and men may experience less problems with erectile dysfunction, contributing to a healthier sex life.

Alleviate stress and help improve memory with regular exercise.

Dealing with a high-pressure job or increased stress at work, school or home? Instead of reaching for a pill or downing a cocktail to cope with stress, go for regular exercise. In addition to being a healthier way to cope with stress, regular exercise has also been shown to improve memory and learning functions, both impaired by chronic stress. Scientists have also discovered that exercise helps in preventing dementia and cognitive impairment in older adults.

Exercise – especially aerobic exercises – helps prevent or delay aging.

Researchers have discovered that relatively short stints of high-intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking or biking, can help stave off the effects of aging. The improvement occurs as the aerobic activity causes cells to build more protein necessary for energy-producing mitochondria and their protein-building ribosomes. Researchers said, “there’s no substitute for these exercise programs when it comes to delaying the aging process.”

Staying active can help reduce chronic pain.

Several studies have examined the beneficial effect that exercise can have on chronic pain. In older adults, especially, scientists have found that physical activity may reduce the risk of developing chronic pain. Other research found that targeting exercises for spine-support and muscle control helps reduce disability and pain caused by lower back pain. Yet another study found that exercise reduces nerve pain by decreasing inflammation, a key contributor to neuropathic pain.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

Combat Stress With Mindful Walking

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

10 Ways Stress Harms You

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10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

 

Who doesn’t enjoy a walk outdoors in nature? The fact that nature settings are less and less accessible to those who live in cities should be concerning, especially with respect to overall health and well-being. The fact is, however, that continuing research shows nature has multiple benefits for your well-being.

More than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas and that proportion is projected to increase to 70 percent by 2050. Despite many benefits of urbanization, studies show that the mental health of urban dwellers is negatively affected by their city environment, with greater prevalence of anxiety and mood disorders and an increasing incidence of schizophrenia. Finding that bit of green space in cities or spending time in nature visiting rural areas may do more than provide a temporary escape from concrete, steel and glass.

Being in nature improves creativity and problem-solving.

Ever been stumped, hit a wall, unable to arrive at a well-reasoned decision? Most people have, at one time or another. It isn’t coincidence that talking time out to be in nature can result in a subsequent creativity surge and/or the sudden realization of a workable solution. Beyond that, according to 2012 research published in PLoS One, there is a cognitive advantage that accrues from spending time in a natural environment. Other research published in Landscape and Urban Planning found that complex working memory span improved and a decrease in anxiety and rumination resulted from exposure to natural green space.

Individuals with depression may benefit by interacting with nature.

Research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2012 suggested that individuals with major depressive disorder who engaged in 50-minute walks in a natural setting showed significant memory span increases compared to study participants who walked in an urban setting. That participants also showed increases in mood was noted, the effects were not found to be correlated with memory, leading researchers to suggest that other mechanisms or replication of previous work may be involved.

Reductions in anxiety levels may result from green exercise.

While exercise is nearly universally recommended as a means of improving overall health and well-being, the benefits of green exercise have recently been studied relative to how such activity reduces levels of anxiety. Researchers found that green exercise produced moderate short-term reductions in anxiety, and found that for participants who believed they were exercising in more natural environments, the levels of reduction in anxiety were even greater.

Urban and rural green space may help mitigate stress for children and the elderly.

Relief of stress is an ongoing goal for millions of Americans living in urban areas, as well as for residents of cities across the globe. For children and the elderly, access to parks, playgrounds, gardens and other green areas in cities can help improve the health of these groups vulnerable to some of the challenges of urbanization.

Reduce stress by gardening.

Gardening can produce more than food for the table or aesthetically pleasing plants and landscaping. Working in the garden is also beneficial for reducing acute stress. So says the research from Van Den Berg and Custers (2011) who found reduced levels of salivary cortisol and improved mood following gardening.

A nature walk could help your heart.

Among the many health benefits ascribed to being in nature, say scientists, is the protective mechanism that nature exerts on cardiovascular function. This is due to the association between improved affect and heat reduction from natural environments in urban areas. Other research found that walks in nature reduce blood pressure, adrenaline and noradrenaline and that such protective effects remain after the nature walk concludes. Japanese researchers in a study published in 2011 suggested that habitual walks in a forest environment benefit cardiovascular and metabolic parameters. Another Japanese study of middle-aged males engaging in forest bathing found significantly reduced pulse rate and urinary adrenaline, as well as significantly increased scores for vigor and reduced scores for depression, anxiety, confusion and fatigue.

Mood and self-esteem improve after green exercise.

A 2012 study published in Perspectives in Public Health found that study participants, all of whom experienced mental health issues, engaging in exercise in nature activities showed significant improvements in self-esteem and mood levels. Researchers suggested that combining exercise, social components and nature in future programs may help promote mental healthcare. Research by Barton and Pretty (2010) found that both men and women experienced improvements in self-esteem following green exercise, with the greatest improvements among those with mental illness. The greatest changes in self-esteem occurred with youngest participants, with effects diminishing with age. Mood, on the other hand, showed the least amount of change with the young and the old.

Green space in a living environment increases residents’ general health perception.

Not everyone lives in a natural environment, where abundant trees and open space provide welcoming respite from everyday stress and a convenient outlet for beneficial exercise. However, the addition of thoughtfully-planned open spaces in urban environments can add to city dwellers’ perceptions of their general health. That’s according to 2006 research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Nature can improve the quality of life for older adults.

As adults age, they often experience diminished quality of life due to medical issues and mental health concerns. In a 2015 study published in Health and Place, researchers found that nature exerts an influential and nuanced effect on the lives of older adults. They further suggested that a better understanding of how seniors experience both health and landscape will better inform methods to improve daily contact with nature that can lead to a higher quality of life for this population.

Natural environments promote women’s everyday emotional health and well-being.

Sedentary lifestyle in urban environments has been lined with poor mental health among women. Yet, it’s more than just getting up from the desk in an office environment and taking a quick walk that works best to augment overall emotional health and well-being. There’s increasing evidence that public access to natural environments helps women to alleviate stress and anxiety and facilitate clarity, reassurance and emotional perspective.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

Combat Stress With Mindful Walking

10 Ways Stress Harms 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.

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5 Hidden Benefits of a Good Massage

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

 

Aside from the fact that a good massage makes you feel better, what are some of the other benefits to this practice? As a longtime advocate for massage, I decided to delve into its not as well-known aspects to see what else it offers beside a well-spent hour on the table. What I discovered are the following five hidden benefits of a good massage.

Massage loosens muscles

Being in physical therapy for a recent low back pain episode means I’m working muscles that have not seen regular activity for some time. That results in soreness that proves I’m doing things right, but it’s also a little uncomfortable. While the therapy starts with dry heat and then massage before exercise, I also find that getting a good massage at times other than during physical therapy helps loosen those tight, sore muscles.

I’ve also taught myself how to deliver a good self-massage. I also use a hand-held massager called the Thumper that helps break up knots in muscles.

The lymphatic system gets a workout

There is a type of massage known as lymphatic massage or lymphatic drainage that stimulates the lymphatic system. The benefits of such stimulation are improved metabolism, removal of bodily waste and toxins, and promotion of a healthy immune system. Some people are prescribed lymphatic massage following breast cancer or other surgeries. But this gentle form of massage, alone or in conjunction with deep tissue or Swedish massage, is also helpful for those with a sports injury, emotional problems, stress, low energy, illnesses or an impaired immune system. During the massage, the therapist exerts gentle pressure and pumps toward the direction of the lymph nodes throughout the body. A combination of deep thumb pressure (shiatsu) and Swedish techniques help relax the body. The therapist may focus on one area requiring attention (at the request of the client) or do a whole-body workout.

Stress and tension melt away

Everyday stress is unavoidable in today’s fast-paced world. Tension headaches, tightness in your shoulders, stomach aches and assorted pains are major signs of built-up stress. The confident hands of an expert massage therapist help melt all that stress and tension away during the session. This is a case where you don’t need to do anything other than relax and feel your body ease a sigh of relief. As you breathe in and out, visualize the stress and tension escaping, like a dark cloud being chased by the wind. The warmth you feel is like the sun bringing life and energy to every part of your body.

Circulation improves

For people with impaired vascular function or limited mobility, research has shown that regular massage may offer significant benefits, especially in improved circulation. A study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that massage helped improve vascular function in people who had not exercised. Researchers said this suggested the benefits of massage for circulatory function for anyone regardless of level of physical activity. Those with physical injury who underwent massage showed improved blood flow and vascular function was changed at a distance from the site of the injury and the massage. When you’re on the table, you can almost feel your circulation changing. At least, I can. This can’t be just my imagination. My massage therapist says my overall skin color – a nice pink – is evidence of the improved circulation. No wonder I feel good afterward.

Massage contributes to healing – especially after surgery

One of massage’s biggest benefits, in my opinion, is how it aids in healing the body post-surgery. Having had several surgeries for carpal tunnel syndrome, a reconstructed leg, cyst and tumor removal and so on, I can attest to the relief from pain that strategic therapeutic massage or massage therapy delivers. When you alleviate pain, your body is better able to heal. There’s less focus and concentration on what hurts, and the body does what it does best: function properly. This means all-systems go for jumpstarting healing. Yet it doesn’t only apply to those who’ve had surgery. Any painful injury or overworked muscles can be helped through massage. Just be sure the massage therapist knows where it hurts and tell him or her how much pressure to use. The idea isn’t to feel pain, but to allow the therapist to take you just up to that point while breathing in and out deeply. Releasing tense muscles, easing the stiffness and helping alleviate pain are the end results of a good massage that are worth any temporary discomfort.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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