Sleep

Can You Sleep Too Much (or Too Little)?

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“Sleep is that golden chain that ties our health and our bodies together.” – Thomas Dekker

 

I used to think you could never get too much sleep. Of course, that was years ago when I was chronically sleep deprived due to working full-time, going to college at night, raising my kids as a single mom, and trying to have some sort of social life when they were with their other parent. Turns out, there’s a growing body of research that points to the negative effects of either too much or too little sleep.

Too little or too much sleep can affect metabolic health.

Concerned about an expanding waistline? Prone to getting less sleep or more than you need? There’s scientific basis for the link between too little and too much sleep and metabolic syndrome and increasing waistlines in Korean men and women aged 40-69 years in one recent study. Researchers said the study’s observational nature did not allow for cause and effect conclusions, noting that participants provided sleep duration data and estimates may reflect time in bed and not necessarily time slept. Other studies have reported that short-duration sleepers (less than 5 hours per night) are up to 45 percent more likely to be obese.

Excessive and inadequate sleep can affect memory and cognition.

Chronically sleep-deprived people, says Harvard Health Publishing,  are more likely to have high blood pressure, narrowed blood vessels, and diabetes – each of which cause less blood flow inside the brain. Since the brain requires a good flow of oxygen and sugar to work optimally, too little sleep can contribute to memory problems. Those who get too much sleep, on the other hand, aren’t off the hook memory-wise as their quality of sleep may suffer, which could add to thinking and memory problems during the day.

Excessive daytime sleepiness can be particularly troubling for older adults. Researchers found that cognitive deficits and cognitive impairment may be predicted by excessive daytime sleepiness among the elderly. Excessive sleepiness, or hypersomnolence, has two main symptoms: excessive amount of sleep, and poor quality of awakening. Hypersomnolence is the leading cause of road accidents, and is responsible for increased risk of mortality related to neurodegenerative diseases.

If you’re an early riser, you may be less prone to depression.

Researchers are delving into pertinent data showing that middle-aged to older women who get up early may be significantly less likely to develop depression. The largest observational study to-date looks at the link between chronotype (also known as sleep-wake preference) and mood disorders. Researchers found that, even after accounting for such factors as work schedules and light exposure, chronotype, partly influenced by genetics, seems to have a mild influence on depression. The four-year study involved nearly 33,000 female nurses who were free of depression at the start of the study. Thirty-three percent self-described their sleep pattern as early-riser, 53 percent intermediate, and 10 percent evening types. After four years of follow-up, researchers found that early risers had 12-27 percent lower risk of depression than intermediate types, while late-riser types had a 6 percent higher risk of being depressed, although this was not considered statistically significant.

One study found that excessive sleep is “highly associated” with dysthymic disorder and major depressive disorder. Those researchers also found that many anxiety disorders are “associated with prolonged sleep episodes accompanied by consequences/distress.”

Better cardiovascular health is associated with early-rise behavior.

More good news for early risers is the apparent association such behavior has on better cardiovascular health. Researchers in the UK Biobank study found that those who are early to bed and early to rise are “more conscientious and are goal-getters.” They also spent less time in front of electronic devices, ate more fruit and vegetables daily than late chronotypes. Survey participants categorized as evening persons also tended to watch more television and were twice as likely to smoke tobacco than intermediate types and 45 percent more likely to smoke than adequate sleepers. Researchers noted that more study is needed to determine if sleep metrics can predict better cardiovascular health behaviors and if sleep behavior modification can enhance heart health.

If you sleep too much, you may have a sleep disorder.

For those who constantly sleep too much, sleeping longer than 8 hours a night, often napping during the day, finding it difficult to stay awake, the underlying cause may be a sleep disorder known as hypersomnia. Besides excessive sleepiness throughout the day not relieved by napping, hypersomnia sufferers may also experience anxiety, memory problems and low energy. The American Sleep Association states that more men than women have hypersomnia, with prevalence at 5 percent of the population. The ASA also reports that 50-70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder of some kind.

The most common sleep disorder is insomnia, affecting about 30 percent of the adult population with short-term insomnia, and about 10 percent suffering chronic insomnia. Other forms of sleep disorder and sleep-related breathing disorders include, narcolepsy, snoring, and central sleep. Circadian-rhythm sleep disorders include jet lag, shift work, and delayed, advanced, irregular and non-24-hour sleep-wake rhythm. Parasomnias and sleep-movement disorders round out the category of sleep disorders.

Insufficient sleep over a prolonged period can affect your mental and emotional states.

If you’re perpetually sleep-deprived, your brain is exhausted, unable to adequately perform its duties. Besides difficulty concentrating, your brain’s ability to send signals to other parts of your body may be delayed, which could prove fatal when driving, using dangerous equipment, trying to avoid life-threatening situations. Lengthy periods of sleep deprivation can result in other problems with your mental and emotional states, including hallucinations, trigger mania in those with manic depression, or amp up risks of paranoia, depression, impulsive behavior, and suicidal thoughts.

If you suffer from the effects of too much or too little sleep, help is available. Besides tips for getting better sleep, make an appointment to see a sleep professional or your general practitioner to have tests to determine the cause of excessive or insufficient sleep, as well as how to get back to getting the right amount of sleep you need nightly.

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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 Benefits of Tai Chi for Better Overall Health, Well-Being and Living Longer

 

“The reason I exercise is for the quality of life I enjoy.” – Kenneth H. Cooper

 

In the search for effective ways to experience positive outcomes in the all-important life aspects such as overall health, well-being and mortality, one of the sleeper strategies to consider involves adopting an ancient Chinese practice called tai chi. Here are some of the benefits of tai chi documented by research.

Live longer.

Tai Chi is a mind-body practice that originated in China and remains today the most common form of exercise for adults in that country. In addition to the much-researched benefits for reduced mortality from moderate-intensity exercise, such as you get from regular walking and jogging, researchers found the first evidence that tai chi also promotes longevity. The greatest benefit from tai chi was obtained from those who self-reported engaging in the practice 5-6 hours per week.

Improve muscle strength, balance and flexibility.

A systematic review of older patients with chronic conditions who engaged in regular tai chi exercise found that, in addition participants’ physiological and psychosocial benefits, the practice also appeared to promote better balance control, flexibility, strength, respiratory and cardiovascular function. Researchers noted, however, that it was difficult to state firm conclusions about the reported benefits and called for more well-defined studies to drill down to specific, verifiable results. In other research, a clinical trial of older women with osteoarthritis who completed a 12-week tai chi exercise program found participants experienced improved arthritic symptoms (less pain), balance and physical function. Researchers urged a larger-sample longitudinal study to confirm use of tai chi in arthritis exercise management.

Boost cognitive function.

Although the fact is that cognitive decline is prevalent among older adults (about 40 percent of older adults in America have some form of cognitive impairment, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease), it need not be considered a foregone conclusion. Nor should getting older need be synonymous with cognitive decline. A growing body of evidence points to the benefits to older adults from practice of tai chi in the areas of global cognitive and memory functions, especially verbal working memory. A meta-analysis found agreement with the findings of numerous studies on the benefits to cognitive function from physical exercise, and researchers recommended tai chi as an alternative mind-body exercise to improve older adults’ cognitive functioning.

Improve COPD symptoms.

An Australian study found that a modified tai chi program – Sun-style tai chi — helped boost exercise capacity and improved participant’s chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms. Researchers noted that tai chi has “highly clinically relevant effects on endurance and peak exercise capacity in people with COPD.”

Get better night-time sleep quality.

A 2016 pilot randomized controlled trial evaluating the benefits of tai chi qigong (TCQ) on night-time sleep quality of older adults with cognitive impairment found better quality of both sleep and life than a control group not participating in tai chi qigong. Since more than 25 percent of older adults with cognitive impairment suffer impaired sleep quality, the search for nonpharmacological approaches to improve the quality of night-time sleep is gaining momentum. Due to their low physical strength and medical condition, however, many older adults with cognitive impairment cannot engage in certain exercises. Thus, developing exercise programs tailored to mental conditions and reduced physical well-being is important. Results from the pilot trial showed tai chi qigong participants benefited from improved sleep qualities in the areas of sleep duration, sleep efficiency, and the mental health component of quality of life. Researchers noted that, as a low-intensity exercise, TCQ is an appropriate intervention to improve night-time sleep quality in older adults with cognitive impairment.

Improve symptoms of fibromyalgia.

In a study comparing the effectiveness of tai chi and aerobic exercise on fibromyalgia symptoms in patients, researchers found that tai chi resulted in similar or greater symptom improvement than aerobic exercise. Longer-duration tai chi provided greater improvements, researchers noted, concluding that the mind-body approach of tai chi may be a viable therapeutic option in the multidisciplinary management of fibromyalgia.

See improvements in cardiovascular fitness.

Millions of Americans exercise to help boost their cardiovascular health. Yet, many who do so do not realize the research-backed evidence that certain types of exercise specifically benefit cardiovascular function. Indeed, zeroing in on what types of exercise benefit the heart in healthy adults is only recently attracting researcher interest. A review of 20 studies of healthy adults comparing tai chi exercise with non-intervention found that tai chi has a significant impact in improving heart efficiency by reducing resting blood pressure, resting heart rate, and enhancing stroke outcome and cardiac output at quiet reading. The review also found significant improvement in respiratory function from tai chi exercise.

Reduce risk of falls.

Among older adults, the risk of falling is an ever-present and major concern. As such, finding therapeutic approaches to help reduce fall risk in this cohort is of major importance. A 2016 review  of 10 randomized controlled trials examining tai chi’s effect on fall reduction found the ancient Chinese exercise demonstrates a significant protective effect on fall prevention risk among older adults. Researchers noted the need for additional trials to determine both optimal duration and frequency of tai chi programs and optimal style of such programs for older adults.

Reduce prenatal anxiety and depression.

A 2013 study of tai chi and yoga treatment for prenatal women with anxiety and depression found that the tai chi group had lower scores in depression and anxiety, as well as lower scores in sleep disturbance at the end of the 12-week, once-per-week sessions.

Obtain moderate benefits for chronic nonspecific neck pain.

Chronic pain sufferers are always on the lookout for effective pain relief that is nonaddictive, effective and safe. A 2016 study found that a 12-week program of tai chi resulted in more than 50 percent pain reduction in 39 percent of patients with chronic nonspecific neck pain, compared with more than 50 percent pain reduction in 46 percent of study participants engaging in conventional neck exercises. Researchers noted that both tai chi and conventional neck exercises are safe and effective. They said further that tai chi may be a suitable alternative to conventional neck exercises.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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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.

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In Search of Better Sleep

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“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.

Related Posts:

How Your Memory Suffers With Poor REM Sleep

The Incredible Value of Dreams

10 Ways Stress Harms You

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5 Tips To Banish Loneliness

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Photo by Myles Tan/Unsplash

Loneliness is not a very accommodating or welcoming emotion. It is also not a given. Yet far too many of us experience this powerful and debilitating emotion from time to time. While most are able to get past it without too much trouble, there are times when loneliness seems to hang around and is difficult to overcome.

While there can be no substitute for professional counseling should feelings of helplessness, despair and hopelessness persist for more than a week or two, these tips should help give loneliness the heave-ho.

Find something to do

When you’re lonely, feeling like you’re enveloped in loneliness, you’re likely spending too much time thinking about your situation and not really doing anything. Those who obsess over being lonely are going to be convinced there’s nothing they can do about it. That’s a misconception that should be put to rest.

The first step is to identify something you can do today, and get busy doing it. What that is doesn’t matter much. Doing something, other than thinking, you gets you out of your present surroundings and mindset.

Go out in the garden and yank weeds. Sweep the garage. Wash the car. Spend some time talking with your neighbor. Call a friend and meet for coffee, lunch or a movie. Go for a walk. Any of these will provide a change of scenery and get you outside your dismal thoughts for a while. When you’re actively engaged in doing something, you’re not suffering from loneliness.

Be good to yourself

The tendency to beat up on yourself when you’re blue is not beneficial. Unfortunately, we all do this, even without meaning to. We stumbled and made a mistake at work that was costly, we got into an argument with a significant other or friend and now find ourselves not talking with each other, the bills pile up and we’re not sure how we’ll get out of this mess. Instead of talking about what’s bothering us, we bottle up our emotions. The result: We feel a tremendous sense of loneliness.

When we hurt, we need to take care of ourselves. This self-care likely took a back seat to other pressing problems. Sleep may have suffered, as well as diet, lack of exercise, pushing ourselves past our limits. It’s time to hit the reset button and do something that will help us regain our equilibrium, make us feel physically better (a long soak in the tub works for some), and quashes feelings of loneliness.

Be with others

Most people who say they’re lonely spend too much time alone. While you can experience loneliness in a crowd, most people find the interaction and distraction of others takes away the lonely feelings – at least temporarily.

The best antidote to being lonely is to get out and be in the company of others. Friends are an excellent go-to resource, but groups involved in a hobby, recreational activity, educational or leisure pursuit, skills building, community get-togethers and travel also work.

When you are with others, listen, smile, communicate in a reciprocal fashion and be in the present. Should thoughts of loneliness seek to intrude, remind yourself that you’re taking active measures to counter that negativity. Find someone to talk with and strike up a conversation. It’s hard to think about being lonely when you’re chatting about something you enjoy.

Go somewhere new

The discovery process is an almost guaranteed way to get past loneliness. When you activate your curiosity gene and pursue something that intrigues or interests you, the inevitable result is that you follow your enthusiasm as far as you can. There’s no room for feeling lonely when you’re eagerly going after that beckoning beacon.

Take a drive using a different route than you normally take. Or, chart a course for a day trip that allows you to check out a small town, state or national park, wildlife refuge, botanical garden, museum, a restaurant you’ve long wanted to try. While you’re on the road, anticipate learning something new, meeting people, making memories.

Not only will this help dispel any loneliness you may have felt before starting out, the good feelings will remain with you on your trip home.

Help someone

If you’re wrapped up in yourself, feeling sorry that you’re lonely and not able to get past it, another method to employ is to go out and help someone. This doesn’t mean that you walk the street looking for a person who’s down-and-out. There are other more effective ways of helping others that you can use.

Go through your closets and find usable clothing that you no longer wear and donate it. There are many charitable organizations in desperate need of clothing. The still-working small appliances, electronic devices, dishes, furniture items, linens, toys and other items also are much in demand for those less fortunate. When you donate, it’s good for the recipients and it’s good for you.

Perhaps you know of a neighbor who’s elderly, unable to get out, a widow or widower or single parent. Bring a food item, flowers, a board game or just call and ask to come by for a visit. If you experience loneliness, you can imagine how a shut-in must feel. Two people visiting have more of a chance of dispelling loneliness than either one sitting alone ever will.

Remember that you don’t have to suffer loneliness. But it is up to you to do something to get past it.

 

This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Related Articles:

The Incredible Value of Dreams

How to Be Fair to Yourself

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

Are You Lonely Tonight? How To Combat Loneliness

How To Be Flexible With Your Perceptions

How I Learned To Overcome Stress

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

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Stop Beating Yourself Up: 8 Tips to Overcoming Remorse

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Photo by Tyler Lastovich/Unsplash

Endlessly revisiting what happened in the past, beating yourself up for the bad things that you’ve done won’t change anything.

It certainly won’t make the events or actions go away. Yet the pattern of wallowing in remorse, guilt, shame and self-loathing doesn’t have to continue. Here are some tips on overcoming remorse that may help.

  1. Work on becoming healthier

Flooded with toxic thoughts and emotions takes a toll on your body. Before you can begin to heal from the effects of remorse, you need to act to restore your health. If you used drugs and alcohol as a crutch to deal with the pain, these also contributed to your current poor physical and mental state.

If you sincerely desire to make positive changes, the first step is to detoxify your body. Go into drug rehab if the need is severe and you can’t do it on your own. Otherwise, make it a point to eat nutritious foods, get sufficient sleep, hydrate often with water, and engage in regular vigorous physical exercise. It may take a few weeks or longer to get back to health, but a healthier body will greatly improve your ability to get past remorse.

  1. Develop new habits.

Analyze how you’ve spent your days with emphasis on what you’ve done to numb the ache of remorse. Facing up to the reality that you’ve used unhealthy coping mechanisms isn’t easy, but it is necessary to get to the point where you recognize that you need new and healthier habits to replace them. Part of this process may require training from a professional and include behavior modification, individual and group treatment, outpatient counseling and self-help groups and manuals.

  1. Restore your spirit.

After being battered by long months of struggling with remorse, your spirit is likely at its lowest ebb. The unfortunate correlation of drug and alcohol abuse with engaging in illegal, unethical and immoral acts also contributes to tremendous guilt and shame.

Learning how to heal from the damaging effects of remorse is best accomplished with the help of a professional counselor or therapist. You need to learn not only that it’s fruitless to beat yourself up over the past, but also that you can choose a path toward spiritual renewal. In this, you don’t need to be religious. What is necessary is a realization that it’s vital to rebuild your spirit to cope with remorse.

  1. Activate your sense of self-discovery.

Remorse doesn’t only sap your physical body. It also wreaks havoc on your emotional state. Instead of looking forward to daily activities and learning new things, you spend most of your time in a state of stagnation. There is no joy, no self-discovery, no excitement about much of anything. A trained therapist can help guide you in the process of rehabilitation and self-discovery.

  1. Commit to a change in lifestyle.

To successfully cope with and overcome feelings of remorse, you’ll have to consider the fact that certain people, places, times and events trigger those negative emotions. Most likely, you’ll need to find new friends, avoid the situations and locations that remind you of painful memories and fill you with remorse.

  1. Join a group with similar goals.

If you’re in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, or compulsive gambling, compulsive shopping or another process addiction, or have a diagnosis of co-occurring mental health and substance abuse, a big part of your recovery will involve participation in recovery groups. This will continue long after your formal treatment program concludes.

But group participation is also highly recommended for anyone who’s working to overcome remorse. It doesn’t have to be a recovery group, however. Any group that shares similar goals or helps you pursue an activity or interest will benefit your desire to get past remorse.

  1. Pay special attention to family.

Often, it’s the people who know you the best and care for you most that can really jumpstart the healing process. They’re often also the ones you tend to shy away from, fearing criticism, negativity and dredging up the past. It’s important to make full use of your loved ones and family members, as they are instrumental in helping to affirm your commitment to living a healthier and happier life. Just because some issues and memories are painful doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile working through them with the help of your family.

  1. Seek to embrace life.

Along with a concerted effort to work on becoming healthier, beginning new habits, replenishing your spirit, allowing yourself to discover what’s good and interesting to pursue, committing to lifestyle changes, joining groups with similar interests and being mindful of the importance of family, there’s one final tip that can help you move past remorse. To achieve a purposeful life, filled with opportunities and self-fulfillment, you must seek to embrace life.

After working on creating positive steps and taking the actions necessary to achieve them, life starts to look different. It’s no longer bleak and monotonous. Instead, life-affirming thoughts, dreams and plans will replace the self-destructive ones you’ve lived with so long. With a commitment and enthusiasm to embrace life, your path forward will lead you in directions you will find unexpected and delightful.

As for how long it will take to successfully overcome remorse, bear in mind that each day is another opportunity to make progress toward healthy change. Live in the present. Put forth your best effort in whatever you do. Surround yourself with people who are positive and share your values. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Above all, be grateful that you have this day to make all the choices you want.

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Related Articles:

The Incredible Value of Dreams

How to Be Fair to Yourself

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

8 Healthy Reasons to Ditch Your Bad Habits

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This article was originally published on PsychCentral https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2016/08/18/stop-beating-yourself-up-8-tips-to-overcoming-remorse/

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Forgetful? 8 Tips to Help Memory

Photo by Stefanos Martanto Setyo Husodo/Unsplash

Photo by Stefanos Martanto Setyo Husodo/Unsplash

 

“We try many ways to be awake, but our society still keeps us forgetful. Meditation is to help us remember.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

 

The days leading up to a holiday are often filled with chores, errands and obligations. Not only do you find yourself with endless lists of things to do, but you often neglect good self-care in the process. No wonder you forget details, fail to live up to your obligations, or walk around in a fog.

Everyone has bouts of forgetfulness from time to time. It’s generally nothing serious and doesn’t linger. If forgetfulness does become persistent and begins to cause problems in your life or that of your loved ones, see a doctor to rule out any medical issue.

For the occasional memory problems, however, here are eight tips that may help.

Learn how to make and use lists.

Far from being a bother, lists are very effective in helping keep track of important tasks and goals. When you take the time to construct a list, you’re removing the burden of trying to keep too many things in your head. By eliminating this logjam, you’re freeing up memory. Listing things on paper is much simpler and more effective than juggling, and dropping, them in your head.

Get a good night’s sleep.

Lack of sleep is one of numerous causes of forgetfulness. In addition to waking up grumpy, insufficient sleep messes with your memory. You forget details, don’t remember what you told yourself the night before was important. The solution is to make it a habit to get a good 8 hours of sleep each night, more if you’re a teenager or young child.

Avoid drugs and alcohol.

As the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) warns, one of the ways alcohol affects the brain is by impairing memory. Memory deficits can occur after only a few drinks, increasing in length and severity with more drinks consumed. Binge drinking – consuming five or more drinks in about 2 hours for men, four for women – causes blackouts. These are serious episodes where you wake up and don’t remember anything from the night or day before.

Drug use, whether prescription or illicit substances, can produce similar impairment in memory. Some drugs also interact with other medications and significantly impair memory when used in combination with alcohol.

The best way to protect your memory is to avoid drugs and alcohol, especially to excess.

Meditate.

Clearing your head of all the conflicting messages can give you more than just peace of mind. It can also aid memory. For centuries, people have been practicing meditation to produce a sense of harmony and balance, as well as the calming influence it bestows. And studies have shown that mindfulness meditation helps with attention span and memory. When you meditate, you’re not shutting off all thoughts as much as you’re acknowledging them and letting them go. The resulting peace of mind disentangles those internal conflicts you felt and allows your memory to recalibrate. Also, try mindful walking to ease stress and help with memory.

Do one thing at a time.

Unless you’re a professional juggler, you can’t juggle more than one thing at a time. In a similar manner, trying to do more than one thing at a time is likely to result in a less-than-favorable outcome for both. Not only that, but you don’t focus completely on the task at hand, thus splitting your concentration and causing your memory to work overtime when it doesn’t have to. The clear solution is to do one thing at a time. Then you can move on to the next item, task, project or goal with a clear head and a sense of accomplishment.

Eliminate distractions.

How can you concentrate on a project that’s on deadline when you’ve got your social media messages flooding in, the phone’s jangling nonstop, you allow interruptions from your co-workers or seek out distractions to keep you from tending to the job? In addition to wreaking havoc with a work, school or home assignment or duty, constant distractions produce a confusing effect that’s bad for your memory. When you eliminate distractions, however, you facilitate full use of your mind without overtaxing it.

Make use of reminders.

Sticky notes, post-its, alerts, reminder calls and emails are a great way to keep from forgetting important things. There’s nothing wrong with using these to ensure you never miss what must be done. That way, even if you didn’t get enough sleep last night, are ill, overstressed, had too much to drink or too much on your to-do list, you’ll have a ready reminder at hand.

Take time to relax.

Not only do you not want to be that dull boy (“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”), but you want to have quality time for yourself. This means making sure that you take time to relax. Whether the relaxation takes the form of a hobby, walking outdoors, going to a movie with a friend, shopping, recreational activity or sport doesn’t matter. You and your memory need some downtime, time that you spend doing something you enjoy.

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Are You Lonely Tonight? How to Combat Loneliness

Photo by Molly Belle/Unsplash

Photo by Molly Belle/Unsplash

 

Are you lonely tonight? Do you feel powerless about how to combat loneliness? You’re not alone. But there are things you can do about it.

 

Loneliness is a powerful emotion that can be devastating in its consequences. Being alone and isolated has been shown to be an underlying factor in some of the most common health conditions, including depression, substance abuse and chronic pain.

 

This is borne out by the findings of a recent study conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of more than 2,000 American adults surveyed said they have felt loneliness, while nearly a third (31 percent) admitted to feeling loneliness at least once a week.

 

What Loneliness Is…And Isn’t

 

Do not confuse loneliness with being alone. You choose to be alone or solitary, sometimes to meditate or think through problems, sometimes for other reasons. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a state of mind. When you are lonely, you may feel unwanted, empty and isolated. Most lonely people desperately want contact with others but find it difficult to make connections because of their state of mind.

 

10 Effective Ways to Combat Loneliness

 

As dire as loneliness sounds, it can be overcome. Whether your loneliness is situational due to travel, business or other circumstances, or the kind that almost always accompanies the loss of a loved one or close friend, there are things you can do to combat it.

 

Get checked out. To rule out any underlying conditions, physical or mental, it’s important to get a thorough medical checkup by your doctor. This is especially true if your loneliness has spiraled downward into depression that lasts for longer than two weeks. If there is a medical reason at least contributing to your lonely feelings, your physician will be able to offer approaches to remedy the situation, perhaps with professional counseling, a prescription for medication or other treatment.

Recognize loneliness for what it is. Just saying you feel miserable isn’t going to make things change. You need to recognize that what you’re feeling is loneliness in order to make a decision to change.

Understand the effects of loneliness. Talking with your doctor and reading about the effects of loneliness will give you a clearer picture of how loneliness affects your physical and mental well-being. If you’re so lonely you don’t want to eat, for example, your physical and mental health will suffer as a result of poor nutrition. Once you know the ways loneliness is bad for you, you can concentrate on working to change those areas of your life that need attention.

Learn to be resilient. Instead of breaking under the weight of your problems and withdrawing even further into a shell of self-imposed isolation, work on cultivating resilience. Granted, this might seem impossible at first, but learning to bend with the wind and not snapped by its force will help you nurture resilience.

Adopt a positive outlook. When everything seems dark and hopeless, it might appear to be counter-intuitive to look on the bright side. Yet, when you adopt a positive outlook and see life’s possibilities instead of its negatives, you’ll find yourself more willing to go after opportunities. Furthermore, you’ll be more motivated to be with others and end your self-limiting isolation and loneliness.

Be sparing with social media. Connecting virtually with others on social media isn’t the same thing as one-on-one and face-to-face interaction. When you’re lonely, the last thing you need to do is immerse yourself on Facebook and other social networks.

In fact, studies have shown that social media addiction actually contributes to feelings of loneliness and depression. For now, go for a hiatus on using social media. At the very least, limit your time there. Get out and interact with people real-time.

Take care of yourself. When you’re lonely, you tend to ignore good self-care. You likely aren’t getting enough sleep, or the sleep you do get is fitful, interrupted, plagued by unsettling dreams. You wake feeling exhausted and even more lonely.

Sleep deprivation erodes mood, contributes to getting sick, saps energy and becomes an ingrained pattern. Along with ensuring you get sufficient, quality sleep, also work on eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, and getting a good amount of physical exercise.

Create a list of goals and plans to achieve them. Many times, when a person says they feel lonely, they also describe feeling that something is missing from their life. Spend some time to determine what that might be.

o Is it that you have no hobby or interest to devote your time to?
o Do you feel unable to make any progress in your career?
o Is the house just too empty?

Once you know what that missing piece is, you can work on finding potential solutions. Most of them, you’ll find, involve interaction with other people.

Take action. In order to stop feeling lonely, you have to take action. Sitting around the house feeling sorry for yourself is not the solution. If you identify that there’s no one in your surroundings that you can hang out with, join a club or group.
o Connect with others at work with whom you share something in common.
o Go visit your neighbors.
o Volunteer at church.

Making new friends and keeping your social calendar filled will help dispel loneliness.

Consider a pet. For some people, there’s nothing like a pet to help banish loneliness. Why is this? For one thing, pets need nurturing and attention. Along with feeding and grooming and cleaning up their mess, pets naturally gravitate toward displays of affection. They give as well as receive. As the pet’s owner, you benefit from this loving exchange. It helps you feel less lonely when you have your constant pet companion.

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Also see these articles for inspiration and uplifting messages:

7 Tips on Mastering Change
Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of is You
5 Tips on How to Make Plans
Stuck in a Rut? Tips on How to Break Free from Monotony

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The Incredible Value of Dreams

Photo by Joshua Earle/Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Earle/Unsplash

“The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

 

A dream isn’t something tangible. You can’t hold it in your hands. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a formidable force. In fact, dreams shape your actions, for they inspire and motivate you to go beyond your comfort zone and take on challenges you might otherwise avoid.

You can do anything you want in your dreams. You’re invincible, all-seeing, possessed of extraordinary gifts and powers. The best dreams allow you a glimpse at your perfect self, the one who embraces change, looks at life in a positive light, works through difficulties with ease and strives to embody hope and joy in everything you do.

Don’t like the present? You can do something about it. Want a different career, new relationships, a lasting love? The key to what really matters can be found in your dreams.

Not the nightmares, for those are your subconscious trying to resolve issues or problems or work through grief or some other powerful emotion. The dreams that help shape your future are the ones that uplift and energize, that fill you with passion and make you feel happy when you wake up.

You want to have a life of purpose, to live in accordance with your beliefs and values, to love and be loved, to give back, to make a difference.

The vision that drives you forward could be one that is at the end of a challenging path, requires years of preparation and work, proceeding through a succession of stages or steps.

It could be the realization that the present is a gift and it’s the only opportunity to make things happen.

Your dream could consist of an achievement, happiness, a family, being healthy, financially independent, recognizable success.

It isn’t the what of the dream but the underlying energy it provides to motivate you to follow your passion, to pursue your goals with vigor and enthusiasm.

Here’s what I find helps me with dreams. Maybe these tips will help you, too.

  • Know that dreams can sometimes be scary, but they can also be exciting revelations, times spent in sleep that you want to prolong so that you can experience it as long as possible. Remember that these are only temporary. They are dreams, after all, not reality.

 

  • If you awake with the memory of a dream that you don’t want to forget, write down everything about it that you can recall. There could be an idea, something to pursue, a hint of a solution to a problem, someone you need to get in touch with, a way to better manage powerful emotions. Dreams, it seems, hold the keys to unlocking goals. Make use of them.

 

  • If you have a frightening dream, teach yourself to recognize that you’re in a dream and not real life. Say to yourself, “This is just a dream.” It’s like seeing a signpost to tell you where you are. Maybe you had chocolate too late in the evening or consumed too much caffeine during the day. If you went to bed angry or experienced another powerful emotion, this could play out in some of your dreams.

 

  • Since you dream several times during the night, you might find yourself revisiting one particular dream once or more often. This means there’s something in the dream you need to pay attention to. Try to figure out what it is. Books on dreams may be helpful to uncover the underlying meaning.

 

  • Talk about your dreams – the ones you have when sleeping – with others who find dream analysis interesting. Sometimes just the discussion of dreams can help you interpret them better or worry less about their content.

 

  • Dreaming during the day, so-called daydreams, are a different type of dream, but no less valuable. When you have a vision of what you want for your life, you often see yourself being successful in that endeavor. Maybe it’s just for a short period of time, but that’s fine. You’re reinforcing your desire to follow your dreams, to make the most of your life, and to take action now to help you realize your goals.

 

  • If you have a favorite dream, one that you keep coming back to, this is also another indication of a powerful force at work. It’s no accident that this dream is a frequent visitor. It’s telling you that action is required to help you live the life you want to the fullest. Pay heed.

 

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

Photo by Wilson Magalhães

Photo by Wilson Magalhães

“There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by myself.” — Brian Andreas

 

When life swirls around us, it’s often difficult to remember that the first priority has to be taking care of ourselves. Instead, we look to care for others, even to the point of self-exhaustion. While it’s loving and kind-hearted to be so selfless, it’s not good for our overall well-being in the long run. In order to be around and able to help others, we have to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy.

Good self-care, then, is not only important, but also imperative. Here are some tips on how to take proper care of you.

Eat right. With life so hectic, the temptation to skip meals, scarf down junk food and eat too much at once is sometimes tough to ignore. That doesn’t mean it’s good for your body. Think about what you put in your mouth before you eat. Maintain a well-balanced diet and eat regular meals. Your body will thank you for eating healthy.

Sleep well. In order to be alert and ready to go each day, you first need to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep, according to experts, plays an important role in everything from memory to learning. Adults generally need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. The key is uninterrupted sleep.

Get regular exercise. A healthy body and mind requires regular physical exercise. What you do is less important than doing it. Start with something manageable, such as a good run or walking in a park or through the neighborhood. If you have a dog, this is a natural for both of you. Ask friends to accompany you. Walk instead of drive to a nearby coffee shop. Take up a recreational sport. Join a gym. The choices are endless. The point is to do it.

Drink plenty of fluids. You might not realize it, but your body constantly loses fluids during the day. Such losses occur naturally in urination and elimination of stools, in breathing, and skin evaporation. The more physical exertion you do, the faster you lose fluids. The human body requires hydration for organs to operate efficiently. In fact, the body is about 60% water. The best way to replace lost fluids is to drink water. It’s readily available and the fact is that you can’t live without it.

Manage stress. Allowing the day’s turmoil to eat at you is going to drag you down, physically and mentally. Taking proper care of yourself means that you do whatever you find that works to manage stress. This can take many forms, from meditation to deep breathing exercises, massage, prayer, yoga or other relaxation techniques, to cognitive-behavioral therapy and setting clear goals.

Spend time with friends. You know how much you value friendships, particularly with those who share your interests. Studies show that friendships enrich life and make it healthier. Not only do you enjoy being with good friends, the interaction is good for your overall health and well-being. What more evidence do you need to share some quality time with your friends?

Engage in learning new pursuits. When you pursue something new, something different, your mind is actively involved in a desirable goal. The unknown, while sometimes scary, can also be stimulating, challenging and ultimately rewarding. Learning something new can help you overcome fear, push you beyond self-imposed boundaries, and provide a much-needed boost in self-confidence and self-esteem.

Tap into your spirituality. You don’t need to be religious to be able to tap into your spirituality. Tending to your spiritual needs is as important as getting sufficient sleep, eating well and everything else you do to take care of your body. There is more to life than just existing. You are more than the sum of your parts. Take time to reflect on the bigger picture, using yoga, meditation, self-reflection or whatever helps you get outside of yourself.

Avoid excessive alcohol intake. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism is bound to backfire. The tendency to reach for a drink to deal with problems or forget about them for a while can quickly spiral out of control. If you aren’t able to decrease your drinking on your own, get professional help. Otherwise, cut down on how much you drink.

Don’t smoke. There is absolutely no physical benefit to smoking. If you’ve never smoked, don’t start. If you do smoke, make a decision to stop. Smoking can lead to serious health problems, but you will improve your health by quitting the smoking habit.

Pay attention to your needs. Put yourself at the top of your list of priorities. Remember that you need to be healthy in order to be available to help others. This means being mindful of what you need to do to stay healthy. It isn’t selfish, it’s actually self-care.

Maintain an optimistic, hopeful outlook. Life will throw you a few curve balls, to be sure. And you never know when you’ll be called on to deal with them. The best thing you can do is to adopt and maintain an optimistic, hopeful outlook. If you believe you will succeed, you will. If you see the positive instead of the negative, the results are likely to follow suit. Don’t be afraid of challenges. Be hopeful, prepare yourself to act and follow through.

 

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