3 Major Ways to Tackle Stress in Your Life

Everyone agrees: Stress is terrible. It’s the thing that keeps you awake at night and unable to enjoy your day. Sometimes stress helps us prioritize the things that need doing now, but more often than not, it’s a terrible feeling that sucks the life out of you. At its worst, stress can increase your chances of heart attack, harm your immune system, decrease sexual function, and wreck your digestive system. Stress can come from your work, your personal life, or your environment, and it can manifest in a multitude of (not great) ways.

Battling stress is a part of caring for yourself and your body.  How do you get out from under the crushing weight of stress and get your life back on track?

The Art of Self-Care

The best way to combat stress is to practice the art of self-care. Self-care can be hard for a lot of people, especially those with busy lives who are used to putting work and the needs of others ahead of their own needs. Moms are especially prone to struggling with putting themselves first. Self-care is as much a part of thriving as eating and sleeping. It’s caring for yourself mentally, replenishing that spring of mental wellness and energy so that you’re able to do the things you need to do. When you’re busy, schedule time for self-care the way you would a doctor’s appointment.

So what counts as self-care? Anything that leaves you happy, satisfied, and rejuvenated: massages, time spent with a friend or romantic partner, watching a movie you enjoy, or anything that makes you laugh. Examine the things that make you genuinely happy and fulfilled, and when you find yourself lagging, indulge.

Practice Changing the Way You Think

Getting out of a funk is hard to do. When you’re super stressed, it’s easy to fall into a black hole of negative thinking. Practice changing the way you think. If you’re plagued by negative thoughts, flip them around into something positive. It’s hard to do, especially when you feel buried by worry. The more you practice, the more you’ll lean towards positive thinking naturally. You’ll be happier in the long run.

Kick Social Media

There’s a ton of evidence that social media is bad for us. Deleting Facebook from your phone, or drastically reducing your time on Facebook, can lower your cortisol levels (that’s the hormone associated with stress). Increased cortisol can lower your immune system, encourage obesity, and impair memory. Excessive social media use has been linked with anxiety and depression. That’s a lot to put up with just to see what your cousin had for lunch.

Take a 24-hour break from all the noise and pressure from social media. If your hands are still twitching to use your phone, replace Insta with an app designed to help you reduce stress and anxiety. Some apps walk you through mindfulness or meditation. Others help you breathe, or they play soothing sounds.

Take Care of Your Body

There’s definitely a connection between mind and body — just ask anyone who has experienced being hangry. When you’re stressed, taking care of your body can absolutely help get you back to balanced. If you’re working under a deadline, you might be tempted to forgo eating healthy for something quick, like vending machine food. Sugar bursts and crashes can exacerbate stress. Take some time to eat food that will give you energy without burning out quickly, like protein.

Physical activity can help you work through feelings of stress. It’s as simple as taking a quick walk to clear your head. A walk can help you calm down, catch your breath, and head back into a stressful job or project with a much clearer head.

Sleep is a powerful tool to relax and unwind. Follow practices that lead to a good night’s rest:

  • Don’t eat before bed
  • Give yourself time to settle
  • Prime your bed for comfortable sleep
  • Keep distractions or stimulating objects (like your cell phone) far away from your bed.

Like a lot of the other suggestions in this article, they’re small changes. Those small changes can lead to a big difference in your life — one that will leave you more relaxed, fulfilled, and able to take on your goals with increased gusto.

 

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3 Effective Ways to Beat Morning Depression

BY GREG MELBOURNE

Do You Dread Having to Wake Up in the Mornings and Face the Day? 3 Ways to Beat Morning Depression

Do you experience feelings of fatigue, extreme sadness or hopelessness first thing every morning? Perhaps these feelings fade as the day goes on, but they’re back again next morning.

You could be experiencing a symptom of depression known as diurnal variation of mood, commonly referred to as morning depression. People experiencing diurnal mood variation feel worse in the morning but gradually improve as the day goes on. Hence the name morning depression.

A specific cause of morning depression has not been clearly identified but there are thought to be a number of contributing factors. Some research suggests that morning depression may be a consequence of disturbed sleep-cycles or circadian rhythms, an internal body clock that signals, among other things, the sleep-wake cycle. Two hormones, melatonin and cortisol are important for this cycle. Melatonin helps you sleep while cortisol is released upon waking up. If melatonin is released during the day, you tend to feel tired and drained when you wake up. On the other hand, if cortisol is released during the night, you may suffer from disturbed sleep patterns.

Other factors thought to contribute to morning depression include recent changes in life circumstances such as the break-up of a relationship or the death of a loved one, a family history of depression, medical conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and substance addiction.

How to deal with your morning depression

If you are depressed, or think you might be depressed, it is important to consult a mental health professional for expert guidance. However the following coping strategies may help you to begin your day in a more relaxed and calm manner.

#1 Sleep Well

Since poor sleep cycles are thought to be a contributing factor in morning depression, trying to improve your sleep cycle is a good place to start. Try developing a regular routine that you follow before going to sleep. Your routine should suit your lifestyle, preferences and habit but you should focus on being relaxed rather than stimulated. For example

  • Try to go to bed at the same time most nights. Wake up at the same time most mornings.
  • Caffeine and alcohol are known to disturb sleep. It’s good to avoid these as bedtime approaches. Caffeine may be found in a number of foods including sweets and soft drinks.
  • Electronic devices can stimulate rather than relax. If you are using devices, turn on ‘night mode’ at least one hour before sleeping.
  • Rather than use your devices, try a relaxing activity before bed. For example, you could have a warm bath, read a book, play a musical instrument or practice mindfulness meditation.
  • Create comfortable sleeping conditions: think about your preferred pillows and mattress, sleep wear, room temperature, lighting
  • Some of us have difficulty letting go of our thoughts as we sleep. As a result, they linger on in our psyche. Try to empty your mind of any worries and concerns before going to sleep by writing them down
  • Include preparations for the next morning in your bedtime routine (see below)

#2 Nourish Your Body: Eat Nutritious Meals

A balanced diet that includes an abundance of fresh food can greatly assist us to get the energy we need to operate at our best. Lack of good quality food in the right quantities can result in reduced blood sugar levels and worsened depressive symptoms. In the mornings, particularly if we are struggling with depression, we often opt for the easiest breakfast we can get our hands on (if we bother to eat at all). Often this will include processed foods or ingredients which may not have the same nutritional value as fresh, whole foods. It is important to eat a nutritious wholefood breakfast to bring our blood sugar levels back up to a level where we can function more efficiently. This helps to reduce tiredness associated with morning depression.

While a nutritious breakfast helps you start the day, there are a number of foods that are thought to help manage depression that could be included into your meals throughout the day. For example:

  • Dark leafy greens such as spinach, watercress and kale are rich in folate, a water-soluble B vitamin. Low folate levels have been linked to depressive symptoms.
  • Dark Chocolate -yes, dark chocolate (in moderation). Cocoa beans contain antioxidants that can lower the risk of depression.
  • Other foods high in antioxidants include fruits and vegetables, nuts and whole-grains.

Overall, research suggests that the more natural and less refined the food is, the more likely it is to help decrease symptoms of depression, while more refined, sugary and caffeine rich foods may have a negative impact on moods.

 #3 Wake Up Earlier, Make Time for an Interesting Activity

Experiencing morning depression can make for a slow start to the day. However this can mean getting up just in time to rush off to school/uni, work, the gym, etc. This may intensify feelings of stress and anxiety, and even start to impact other areas such as your closest relationships or job performance. It’s a good idea to allow yourself a little more time to get ready in the mornings. Even ten minutes can make a huge difference. It can also be helpful to develop a morning routine. Again, your routine should suit your lifestyle, preferences and habit, but begin with the easier, smaller tasks that take less energy. For example

  • Try a few stretches when you first get out of bed or as part of your showering and dressing routine.
  • Waking up to chaos and confusion can intensify morning depression. You can reduce this by incorporating some morning preparations into your pre-bed routine. This can relieve you of some of the decisions you face in the morning as well as saving some time. As suggested above, decide what you’re going to wear, make breakfast preparations, keep your car keys and wallet/handbag in the same place.
  • Include an interesting activity in your morning routine. This can help to get you going. For example, you could try listening to music, playing with your pet or reading for a short while. Choose an activity that rejuvenates your mind and helps you feel centred.

Some of us have difficulty letting go of our thoughts as we sleep. As a result, they linger on in our psyche and force us to wake up to an avalanche of tumultuous emotions. Similarly, if you’re not happy with your reality, you may be averse in waking up to it every morning. For example, you may be dissatisfied with your marriage, income or job. You develop an inherent wish to avoid stepping into a stressful reality; essentially, we are in a state of denial and want to avoid facing our problems that seem to come rushing at us every morning.

It can be extremely draining to have to go through these emotions every morning. However morning depression can be managed. Proactively implementing effective coping strategies can help overcome the condition and wake up to exhilaration and vitality.

 

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7 Ways You Can Improve Your Concentration

Concentration and memory are the two key focus points for every individual. When you are concentrated, your memory automatically improves as you are able to retain the information for a longer period of time.

Having a sharp memory and good concentration power is useful to people of all ages and all professional domains, whether a student or a CEO. Do you not wish that you could have the memory of an elephant who never forgets anything? So, in this article, we are going to discuss some similar tricks and methods that you can use in your daily life to improve your concentration power and in turn, memory.

1. Play Mind Games

Before you plan to beat me up, listen. Mind games are an amazing method to improve your concentration.

Moreover, it is more effective when you are playing these games offline rather than opening a new tab and searching for the best mind games to improve concentration.

2. Creating a To-Do List

A to-do list is probably the simplest thing that you can do. With the availability of almost everything over the internet, we are now the people who take out the phone and ask Google everything right then and there. But, what about after that?

Also, have you ever noticed that once you ask your Google assistant what’s the weather like tomorrow, you are browsing through your Instagram feed before you realise it?

So, create a to-do list that you can paste right in front of you. Keep it in your view and you will be saved from getting distracted.

3. Meditate

You don’t need to be a sage almighty or you don’t need the peace of nature with a waterfall and chirping birds so that you can meditate peacefully.

Meditation can be done right at your home, at your desk! You just need to calm and focus. Play relaxation music, but take care to not fall asleep. Close your eyes and focus on the one thing that motivates you to go on about your day.

It can be anything, some fictional character, your girlfriend, your parents, money or any other thing. You don’t need to pack your bags and depart for the Himalayas but work here and now.

4. Exercise

A lazy body is the devil’s abode. You should not even cry that you have such a poor concentration when all you do the entire day is eat pizza, drink beer, watch tv and sleep.

The first step to a healthy mind is a healthy body. Dust off the shoes in the shelf, put ‘em on and go jogging. Watch yoga tutorials on YouTube and learn the techniques that will open up the jammed parts of your body.

When you start exercising, you will not restrict your energy to your body but channelise it and allow it to flow. Hence, it will improve your concentration and your memory significantly.

5. Avoid Multitasking

I know it hurts but this is actually a way you can improve your concentration power and your focus.  It is natural that the person want feels the need to juggle so many tasks at once and try to complete them all at once. Though the capabilities of the human brain are not fully known, we do not know very well that how can multitasking become more efficient.

Hence, for the time being, avoid multitasking and focus on one thing at a time. Rather than trying to complete 5 different works with your 20% efficiency, allow your 100% efficiency on one single task.

6. Reduce Dependency on Gadgets

There is a phrase I am fond of – phones are getting smart and humans dumb. This is really true. If you ever look around yourself, you will see that everyone is busy with their necks down and thumbs moving.

These smartphones and other gadgets affect our brain directly and hamper with our decision making capability, our judgment and our concentration.

Whatever be the thing, we simply ask Google assistant to save a reminder. We ask Alexa to create our to-do list for the day. We need to set birthday reminders for the people who are close to us! Such dependency on technology should be reduced and the brain should be made to function more and more.

Trust me, your concentration will improve significantly after a couple of weeks when you start remembering everything and not your phone.

7. Identify Your Learning Style

Every human has a preferred learning style with which they learn everything. Whether you remember better and focus more during a video or by hearing something. Once you identify this, your concentration will improve.

What happens is that you will be able to identify which style of learning suits you more. As a result, you will automatically strive to focus more when your preferred learning style is available. See, your concentration improved.

These 7 tips are easy to incorporate in your daily lives as a way to improve your concentration.

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Ten Tips to Help You Feel Happier

Happiness is an elusive concept, we all want it but not many of us can define what it actually is and even fewer how to get it.

Unfortunately, a lot of us fall into the trap of the ‘I will be happy when’mentality. It’s an easy fix supported by our own psychology and propagated by the modern world. You end up thinking; ‘I will be happy when I have lost 10kg’s’, ‘I will be happy when I find a partner’, ‘I will be happy when I get that new car’ and so on. The difficulty is that you will be happy briefly, or at least you think you will. But this feeling won’t last long and then you will be onto the next thing that you believe you need to feel happy.

Now, don’t get me wrong, being healthier and finding positive relationships are good goals, but when you anchor your entire life onto the ‘i’ll be happy when’ philosophy you will always be left wanting more and the happiness you seek will likely remain elusive.

I am not promising that trying the following tips will immediately fix everything, but remember that you are the author, editor and viewer of your own life. You choose what you do from day to day. You filter experiences based on what you expect to see and you choose what you focus on and remember. So maybe just try some of these and see how you feel, who knows it could really make a difference, they have to me over the years.

  1. Try something new.

Now this doesn’t have to be big, in fact it can be tiny and in any aspect of your life. Try a new route from work and see what different sights there are, or people you meet. Maybe it will simply turn out to be quicker. Try a new restaurant, try a new activity.  Go big and visit a country you have never been to before, go brave and ask that person out, or end a toxic relationship. Novelty can help reinvigorate you, it can give you new perspectives, new experiences. You may meet new people, who in turn give you new ideas. It can give you new things to consider and talk about. Maybe just try one new thing a month and see what changes.

  1. Start Small

This is really important, people often make the mistake of trying to change everything at once. You set yourself giant targets and when you don’t achieve them in a month you start giving up and feel like you have failed. Instead focus on the tiny wins. If you want to lose weight, don’t think “I want to lose 2 stone”, start some exercise and if you feel a bit better then thats your target. Maybe your clothes feel a bit looser or you have little bit more energy. There is nothing wrong with big bold targets, but don’t measure your progress by it. Instead, break it into smaller goals and celebrate when you achieve them (perhaps not with a cheesecake though).

  1. Count the Good Things

Try this experiment with a friend, when you are somewhere you haven’t been before, ask them to look around and memorize everything that is red. Once they have done that, ask them to close their eyes and list all the things around them that are blue. A lot of people will struggle because they simply haven’t paid attention or focussed on the blue things around them. This is how our minds work. Very simply, we see what we expect to see and remember based on our preconceptions, your mind filters to make it more efficient. Now this is great from a survival perspective however it can cause problems. If we expect to have a bad day we will unconsciously only look for the things that confirm this. If we think we are unlucky we will look for things that prove our bad luck streak. Instead try something very simple, everyday before you go to sleep, think through your day and focus on five good things that have happened. They could be anything from ‘a nice walk in the sunshine’ to ‘meeting someone new’. There are always at least five events you can find that haven’t been awful or disastrous. Try this for a while and you may be surprised how it starts to change your mindset. You will start to look for more and more of the good and likely feel more positive.

  1. Say no….and yes more

This might sound like contradictory advice, but a lot of us spend a significant amount of time trying to second guess what other people want us to do. We try and make decisions on their wants and needs. We might do this for lots of reasons; we care for them, love them, live with them, dislike them and so on. Instead I want you to make decisions about how you feel and what you want. Have the confidence to say no to things you don’t want to do and yes to things that you do want to do. You may have avoided things in the past as you are worried that friends and family might judge you or it might change their view of you, but it’s not their life! It’s not about being selfish, just recognising that to be a good friend to others you need to first look after yourself and that you are entitled to do what makes you happy.

  1. Read a Book

In a world of social media and access to non-stop entertainment, books have sometimes fallen out of favour. Books give you a window into a different world or another persons life, a glimpse into history, they stimulate your imagination and mind. The focus required to read without distractions is sometimes considered a form of meditation; you can’t half read like you do with some TV programmes, it requires all of your attention. Books have the time to be more descriptive and delve deeper, ask questions that mass media are unwilling to, they can put you in the shoes of another world changing your perspective on life. Books have literally changed the course of history so why not give one a go.

  1. Stop and Meditate

We spend so much time running around thinking about work, family, friends worrying about what we have to do next, dwelling on something we did last week, rarely just stopping and taking in where we are and how we feel right now. Meditation can be practiced in many forms and its worth learning more about it. Essentially though, meditation asks you to focus on the moment you are in now, your place within it and the internal feelings and thoughts going on at that moment. Acknowledge them and then work to find stillness and quietness. Learn to slow down and quieten your mind to stop if from jumping from thought to thought like a over excited animal. Simply give yourself 5 minutes a few times in your day to just stop and look around you, admire the view and really take it in. Ask yourself, where are you now and how do you actually feel?

  1. Exercise

In anything, anywhere and anytime, just do it. Stop worrying about what to do and stop giving yourself the excuse that you have no time. Everyone has 10 minutes to take a brisk walk even if it’s to pick up the kids, 20 minutes for a run, 15 minutes for some Yoga, weights or just some stretching in your living room before you crash in front of the TV. The physical and psychological benefits of exercise are documented on an almost daily basis and finding information could not be easier online. Just start, today, you will not regret it.

  1. Think about your Food

Like with little changes you don’t have to stop eating all your favourite foods (pizza) immediately but perhaps just cut down on some of the worst offenders. You know what they are. Fast food, packaged cheap food full of salt and sugar. Reduce your meat intake for the sake of your own gut and the environment, eat…….some…….greens. It really isn’t rocket science, you just have to eat a balanced diet, there is so much information online and healthy food isn’t that expensive anymore. Now I know this is difficult when you don’t have time or money to cook, but a bag of salad is instant and chicken takes 10 mins to cook. Like above, focus on little changes that you can maintain and see how you feel after a few weeks. It should be no surprise that the food you put into your body can dramatically affect your internal state.

  1. Give

“No-one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another” Charles Dickens

Giving money is great and I applaud you for doing it, but also try and give your time. Stop and talk to people and really listen to them. Volunteer for something nearby.  Your time is the most precious resource you have, far greater than money, and spending it to help others is an amazing way to improve the world around you and you will be surprised how good it makes you feel. Give to charity, help others, give anything you can and as much or as little as you want to. There are always people more and less fortunate than you, don’t judge or compare just give.

  1. Spend time with your Friends and Family

There have been numerous surveys over the years conducted with terminally ill patients each one asking them about the meaning of their life, what made them happy and what they wished they could change about how they lived their lives. With each study there are some things that just keep coming up. For a start “I wish I worked more” is never in the list and almost always at the top is wishing they had spent more time with their friends and family. Good relationships are believed to even lengthen your life and none of us can get through this alone.

Remember though people come and go into your life, don’t be afraid to make new friends or say goodbye to toxic relationships. Never worry about calling that friend or relative you haven’t spoken to for years. They are just like you and will be busy with their lives and wondering if they should call you. Always try and make time for a coffee or beer or just a chat with your friends and family, they are literally the anchors of your life. They reflect who you are and how you live your life and are the ones standing with you in your time of need and you in theirs.

One more thing before you go, another common theme from these studies is patients often comment how they wished they had lived true to themselves and had the bravery to live their lives as they wanted to and not how they thought others wanted them to.

So here is a little experiment to leave you with, in Australia, the life expectancy is just over 82 years which is actually only 718,320 hours, this really doesn’t sound like much does it? But it gets more powerful when you divide that by three. A third for sleep and at least a third for work leaving you with less than 240,000 hours of free time…..then subtract how ever many years you have lived.

Life is genuinely very short and you should strive to live your own life and as positively as possible.

“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present” – Jim Rohn

https://www.pickthebrain.com/

Don’t Get Crushed By Anxiety

By Laura Greenstein

Have you ever felt hesitant about approaching someone you met eyes with? Or felt nervous talking to someone you’re interested in? Or felt a knot in your stomach while finding the courage to ask someone on a date? Most likely, you’ve experienced at least one—or maybe all—of these feelings, because anxiety and dating are a difficult pair to separate.

Dating enhances several of our deepest fears: rejection, being judged, getting emotionally wounded. It can be challenging to overcome these fears and put yourself out there. In fact, our dating culture has shaped itself aroundthese fears in an attempt to make the process of dating “easier.” But in many ways, this evolution has made dating more complicated and anxiety-inducing than ever. Take, for example:

Meeting People Online

Many online websites and apps have been created so people can screen potential suitors before ever having to physically meet them. For those who engage in online dating, there is a multitude of new concerns to contend with: Is this person real or are they just “catfishing” (using a fake profile)? How are they going to perceive me based on my profile? What questions can I ask to get to know them? This is all before the anxiety of actually meeting the person.

Knowing “The Rules”

It has become the norm to refrain from showing too much interest in someone you’re getting to know. This standard has produced a set of unspoken “rules” for any person engaging in modern dating culture. Some of these rules include:

  • Don’t double text (i.e. send an additional text before the person responds to your first text). This makes you seem too eager.
  • Don’t call someone. This will likely be met with distaste and confusion because phone calls are essentially obsolete.
  • Don’t respond immediately to a text message. This makes it seem like you were sitting around waiting for them to text you.
  • Don’t “like” any old posts or photos on their social media. Otherwise, they will know you were “Facebook stalking” them, or intently monitoring or looking through their Facebook updates or history.
  • Don’t let them see you typing for too long on systems that show the other person when you are typing a message (e.g. iMessage, Facebook Messenger, etc.). Then they will know you were putting a lot of thought into saying the perfect thing.

If someone breaks these rules, they are typically perceived as desperate and unattractive. So if we like someone, we have to bury it away. It’s almost a competition of who can be less interested. How can our pride be hurt if our attitude is: “Oh I wasn’t really that into you anyway”?

Dealing With “Trendy” Rejections

The way people reject those they are casually dating is constantly changing based on what’s “in.” For a while, the trend was “ghosting,” or abruptly ignoring the person on every channel of communication. This causes the person rejected to anxiously wonder when the other person will respond and what they did so wrong. Similarly, there is also the “slow fade,” which is the same thing, except more drawn-out.

As if those trends weren’t bad enough, there’s a new one coined “breadcrumbing,” which is not being interested in someone, but continuing to lead them on. People who do this are trying to keep a person interested while they seek out other options.

How Can We Make This Easier?

With all these challenges (and more), it’s important to maintain your mental health when trying to connect with someone. And it’s important to remember that dating isn’t hopeless—even if you experience a mental health condition that makes it even harder. Here are a few things you can do to reduce your anxiety while dating:

️ Accept Yourself First

As cliché as it sounds, it is essential to love yourself and be happy with who you are before you add another person to the mix. A lot of dating anxiety happens because of insecurities within ourselves. Learning to be content and fulfilled while single before looking for a relationship is extremely helpful towards dating in a healthy way. When your happiness isn’t dependent on your search, you won’t put as much pressure on the situation or feel as anxious about every person you meet.

“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have.” – Robert Holden 

️ Be You Always

Once you have accepted yourself, you will feel comfortable being open and honest about who you are. You will respect yourself and won’t waste your time playing the usual games to pique someone’s interest. If someone doesn’t like you or the fact that you are open with your feelings, then they’re not the type of person you should be with anyways.

️ Dismiss Exaggerated Thoughts

Thoughts that rev up anxious thoughts need to be either ignored or thought through in a logical way. For example: “I’ll be alone forever” is not a rational thought. Yes, you may have to wait to find someone, but most likely, you will not be alone for the entirety of your life. Being able to recognize that a thought is exaggerated can be helpful in minimizing your anxiety.

️ Know It’s Okay to Feel Anxious

It’s okay to feel nervous, awkward and uncomfortable when first meeting someone. And it’s also okay to tell them that when you meet them—chances are they feel the same way. After all, it’s human nature to feel nervous at the prospect of finding a partner.

 

Laura Greenstein is a communications coordinator at NAMI.

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/April-2017/Don-t-Get-Crushed-by-Anxiety

The Power of a Morning Routine

By Laura Greenstein

It’s early. You don’t want to move, let alone get up and start the day. You feel drained. You’re cozy, all wrapped up in blankets. Thoughts about all that you should accomplish today floods your mind. You feel overwhelmed, so you hit “SNOOZE” one more time.

Uh oh, now you’ve overslept. You’re running late. Time to get up and rush into the day.

Sound familiar? Mornings are hard, right? Actually, mornings aren’t definitively hard—they can be made easier.

The key to an easier morning is to keep your first waking hour as consistent as possible throughout the weeks. The more we struggle to make decisions, the more energy we deplete. When first starting the day, it’s important to avoid “decision fatigue” by having a set morning routine.

Having a morning routine can increase your energy, productivity and positivity. It also generates momentum, building up to the brain’s peak time for cognitive work (late morning). Here are a few suggestions to include in your morning routine.

Ease Into The Day

It’s easier to lull yourself out of sleep when you’re not rushing into the day. You feel more motivated to open your eyes and let your body properly wake up when you have a little bit of time to lounge in bed without jumping up. After a few minutes of lounging, follow these steps:

  1. Open your curtains and let the natural light energize you. Exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning can improve your alertness and energy during the day.
  2. Put some upbeat tunes on—music lights up the entire brain.
  3. Do some light stretching to get your blood flowing.

These small things can help you start the day in a positive mood, rather than feeling stressed to get up and out the door.

Eat Breakfast

Research shows that those who eat breakfast have more energy than those who wait until lunch to eat. While coffee will help jolt you awake, your body will eventually crash without food. You don’t need to feast first thing in the morning—a healthy snack and lots of water is all that’s needed to start the day off right.

Read

There are many ways to stimulate your brain, but one of the most recommended methods is reading. Reading a book in the morning can start your day in a richly detailed story, “how-to” or narrative, as opposed to a stressful, overflowing to-do list.

Reading is considered a “mental break,” because the brain is only focusing on one thing rather than the usual eight things. You can’t multitask while reading a book, and what you’re focusing on causes you to think, use imagination and create your own visual imagery. It’s this type of focus that gets our minds more nimble and creative. As the saying goes: “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”

Stimulate Your Body

Speaking of, you should also exercise in the morning. Exercise increases production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, which enhances the body’s ability to deal with stressors and creates a post-workout feeling of bliss. Research shows that you are more creative and productive for the two hours following exercise. It also shows that people who exercise regularly are less stressed at work and more able to maintain work-life balance.

Begin Work With A Proactive Mindset

Psychologist Ron Friedman explains in an interview with Harvard Business Review that our usual start to the work day—checking email, answering questions or listening to voicemails—is, as he says, “cognitively expensive.” Starting the day this way puts you into a “reactive” mindset, and while switching from a proactive mindset to a reactive mindset is easy, the reverse is much more challenging. Instead, he suggests starting the workday with a brief planning session: strategize first, execute second.

Using these tips, here’s an example of what a healthy morning routine could look like:

6:55-7:00 – Slowly wake up, and open your eyes.
7:00-7:15 – Open the curtains, put on energizing music and do some light stretching.
7:15-7:30 – Eat some fruit and almonds for breakfast.
7:30-8:00 – Read and drink tea or water to get the mind stimulated and the body hydrated.
8:00-8:30 – Shower (don’t forget to sing!) and get ready for work.
8:30-9:00 – Walk to work to get in some moderate exercise.
9:00-9:15 – Begin work with a planning session to strategize your day.

As you can see, this routine takes two hours from the time you wake up until you get to work. While it may be difficult to find the extra time, you will find yourself reaping only benefits throughout the day. Many people don’t like getting up early, but this is the type of routine that can help you actually enjoy mornings.

 

Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator at NAMI.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/August-2017/The-Power-of-a-Morning-Routine

Rules Of The Road For Succeeding In College With A Mood Disorder

By Sharon Carnahan, Ph.D.

 

You’ve done it! High school is over and it’s time for college. Everyone is just so proud… and you’re alternating between wildly optimistic and sure of certain failure. As a person with a diagnosed mood disorder, you just barely survived high school—and that’s no exaggeration.

Maybe you’ve accumulated a list of experiences that don’t exactly enhance your resume—frequent absences, medication trials, psychiatrist visits (outpatient or in), special schools, therapists, suicide attempts and drinking sprees. But you’ve gotten good enough grades, and you’re off to college away from home. Maybe you’re hoping the geographic and lifestyle change will help you (You can confess! It’s what your Aunt Mildred thinks, too).

You are one of a new and mighty generation, with access to early diagnosis and treatment for your mood disorder. In generations past, a “nervous breakdown” in youth meant years of seclusion, sedatives and broken dreams. Today, though, higher education has never been more accessible for those living with mental illness.

With support from NAMI and resources like “The Mighty” and social media, you certainly won’t be living with mental illness all alone, and you’re about to join an exciting, new college community where stigma is reduced. But only about 56% of students earn degrees within six years—it isn’t easy.

Your success depends partly on how quickly you can get into the driver’s seat of managing your illness. So, here are a few practical tips for the road ahead:

Prepare For Your Trip

Make a mental health plan with your parents and hometown mental health professionals. Assume the year won’t be perfect and set up your supports before you go. NAMI actually has an awesome guide that can help you plan and start all necessary conversations—including what you decide to disclose to college officials about your mental health condition. Planning will help you succeed.

Avoid The Potholes

Sleep! You know you have to. Lack of sleep is both a trigger and a symptom. Even if you’re behind on studying—it’s better to get a C on a quiz than deal with a trip to the ER. Limit your late nights to 1-2 per week, max. If your sleep gets disrupted in a dorm, make a change. Speaking of lost sleep: please party wisely. Your medications probably don’t mix well with alcohol and ignoring this warning will be at your peril.

Put On The Gas

Practice self-care. This is likely to be easier than in high school, because many of your new friends will be going for walks or runs, working out in the campus athletic center, taking classes in dance or fencing, practicing meditation and joining clubs full of likeminded students. College is a great time to develop healthy habits, and exercise and self-care are so important for mental health.

Choose Your Passengers

At home, most people probably knew a lot about you. Be honest and open at college, but be wary. Once you’ve shared your story, you cannot un-share it. The world is not always a fair place. If you tell others you have a mental health condition, you may be known by your personality and your diagnosis. Some will see you through a veil of their own ignorance. If this happens, you can take on the task of educating others. You may choose to become a mental health advocate, but wait until you are ready.

As you head off to college, be happy! And be prepared. You have a disorder that you wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it is part of who you are. You’re already accomplished: You made it to college and that’s a great achievement. Your preparations will help you be even more successful and every class will bring you closer to having an educated mind.

Many of the people you will be reading about in school—Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, J.K. Rowling, William Styron, Annie Lamott, Kay Redfield Jameson—were once in your shoes. These role models were once young adults facing the adversity of living with a mood disorder, but not letting it define them. When their works are discussed in class, you will have powerful insights about their lives. Mood disorders don’t go away, but with medication, support, lifestyle care and a little luck, they can be managed. You can succeed on your journey.

 

Sharon Carnahan, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL and Executive Director of Hume House Child Development & Student Research Center. She has taught first-year college students since 1990 and is an advocate for students with special health care needs. www.rollins.edu/cdc.

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/August-2017/Rules-of-the-Road-for-Succeeding-in-College-with-a

Preventing Mental Health Effects Of Divorce On Children

By Michelle Manno

 

Researchers have found that teachers and other school personnel may show bias against children in divorced families without even realizing it. This bias can impact expectations about a student’s academic, social and emotional functioning. Even though children are amazing in their ability to navigate the changes and challenges of life, students who experience this type of bias can be at increased risk for long-term mental health struggles later in life.

Recently, Counseling@NYU released a guide to help with this issue because it is essential for educators and parents to work together to ensure the effects of divorce on a child do not become permanent. Educators can use the guide to identify misconceptions about divorce that may impact their behavior and bias and to better understand their role in working with families going through a divorce.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to assess whether a divorce is negatively impacting a child or whether problem behaviors are just an expected part of the growing process. Knowing the signs of struggle according to age can help parents and educators identify whether a child needs additional support:

Grades K-3:

  • Blame themselves or their “bad behavior” for the divorce
  • Complain of headaches and/or stomach pain
  • Experience separation anxiety and/or emotional outbursts
  • Regress to younger behaviors, like needing a pacifier, wetting the bed or throwing tantrums

Younger children may lack the ability to communicate their thinking about the divorce. Parents should ensure young children that no bad behavior will ever make them leave or stop them from loving their child. In addition to seeking professional support, educators and parents should create space for children to express their fears and worries about the divorce.

Grades 4-6:

  • Most likely to show anger, embarrassment or frustration
  • Might stir up conflict with peers
  • Could show frequent tearful distress and/or lack of interest in activities

Children of this age may feel pressure to “pick a side,” keep both parents happy or take personal responsibility for one parent’s emotional well-being. Educators should work with parents to encourage students to try out new activities that can direct their attention toward play and creativity.

Grades 7-12:

  • Experiment with new and risky behaviors (i.e. substance use)
  • Display extreme moodiness or negativity
  • Begin demonstrating poor school performance and/or disinterest/distraction from their future

Teenagers experiencing the effects of a divorce might feel guilty about leaving home or feel that they have to change or sacrifice their plans. Parents can support teens’ mental health by encouraging them to pursue their goals and to plan for the future. Educators can do the same by listening to their students’ college goals, for example, and helping them plan.

At any age, individual professional counseling can be a useful space for children to express their frustrations outside the home and to get help for extreme changes in behavior. Educators and school counselors can also set up counseling groups for children in changing families so students know that they are not alone. With thoughtful and engaged parents and educators, children can maintain good mental health and healthy relationships later in life, despite divorce.

 

Michelle Manno is the education editor at 2U. She works with programs such as Counseling@NYU’s online master’s in school counseling and online master’s in mental health counseling from NYU Steinhardt to create resources that support K-12 students. Say hi on Twitter @michellermanno.

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/August-2017/Preventing-Mental-Health-Effects-of-Divorce-on-Chi

Mental Health In The Workplace: The Value Of Rest

By Jennifer W. Adkins, Ph.D.

 

Earlier this week, I found a scrap of paper while cleaning that stopped me in my tracks. On it, I had written “take a year off” followed by a short list of commitments in my personal and professional life. The list included things I had entered into with excitement—like training other people in my profession and organizing community events—but didn’t have the time or energy needed to continue.

At the time I wrote the list, exhaustion was my norm. I was living with episodic and unpredictable pain, and my work was suffering. I didn’t have the energy to do all the things I normally do. I was keeping my commitments but performing poorly, which made me feel miserable.

What I didn’t know when I wrote that list was that depression would soon be a part of my life. I missed some of the early signs, but eventually it became clear that I was not well. The first clear sign came when I felt no joy during the Night to Shine Prom, an event my friends and I had spent months planning. It’s something we always consider to be “the happiest night of the year.” I thought something might have been “off” with the event, but as I saw joy on everyone’s face except my own, I realized something was “off” with me.

It was then I realized I needed a period of rest for my mental health. And along the way of implementing that rest, I learned a few helpful tips:

It Can Take A While

Some commitments are easy to take a break from, while others require more planning. After the Night to Shine Prom, I let the planning committee know that I wouldn’t be able to help plan the next prom. It was emotionally difficult, but it was quick. However, some of my other commitments took time to transition away from, as I had to identify and train a replacement before I could step down. It took months to fully cross off everything on my list, but each time, I felt a weight lift.

You May Second-Guess Yourself

Each person will face different challenges when preparing for a period of rest. I felt like I would be judged, I felt guilty for being less involved, I worried that important things would be left undone, and I didn’t want my relationships to suffer. These thoughts were common in the beginning, and I had to keep reminding myself how important it was for me to rest and recover.

People May Not Support You

Your colleagues, friends and family probably aren’t fully aware of the reasons rest is necessary for you. If their initial responses aren’t as supportive as you’d hoped for, it might mean they’re just surprised, or they rely on you and will miss your contributions. You may find it helpful to explain why you need to take a break. In some instances, though, the best thing you may be able to do is to quietly try to understand things from their perspective.

Stepping Away Is A Surprisingly Positive Process

Maybe you realize how important it is for you to cut back and have fewer responsibilities. What you may not realize is how positive it can be for other people. During the process of transitioning my responsibilities, I got to see people step up who were just as passionate about these roles as I had been. Almost immediately, the energy they brought to the roles resulted in growth and improvement I hadn’t been able to fully offer for a long time.

Rest Is Hard…

Rest is not accomplished by simply taking time off and then going back to your busy schedule. Rest occurs when you allow yourself to be fully inactive. A period of stillness and rest may be a necessary precursor to a more active mental health recovery. After a period of rest, you may find that you are more motivated to engage in activities like exercise, reading, crafting, praying, journaling or spending time with loved ones. You will be more likely to benefit from those wellness-promoting activities if you have taken time to rest first.

But The Results Are Worth It

When you’re rested, you’ll have energy to enjoy the things you love again. You’ll know you’re on the right track when your response to your personal and professional opportunities changes from “Oh no” to “Heck yes!” Even before I considered myself fully rested, I found I had more energy to be a mom, to be a wife and to commit to my work. After resting for a month, I was thrilled with the quality of my work. I even had energy left over to spend on myself and the things I enjoy.

You May Not Have All The Resources You Need To Rest

I am blessed to have the support of family and friends—and access to paid sick leave. I know these are not resources everyone has and sometimes paying the bills, getting your kids to school or taking care of your loved ones may not be things you can readily disengage from. My advice if you cannot commit several days—or, dare I say, weeks—to rest is to take advantage of whatever opportunities you can. Do what you absolutely have to do and then rest the remainder of the time. Maybe instead of committing a month to complete rest, you start by committing a month to only doing the things you need to, letting non-essential projects wait and accepting help from others when it’s offered.

I am grateful to have experienced firsthand the profound impact rest can have on mental health and work. Its positive impact has influenced me to incorporate continued rest into my regular schedule. I feel great, and I am proud of the work I am doing. I know if I want things to stay this way, I will need to intentionally make time for rest.

Coming across the slip of paper that started my journey toward rest was a shock. As soon as I saw it, memories of how physically and emotionally exhausted I was rushed in. I cried as I recalled all the moments and days I lost to pain and depression. Then I realized how much better I feel now and the role that rest played in me getting to a better place. Seeing that slip of paper strengthened my resolve to rest when I need it.

 

Jennifer Adkins is a wife, a mom, and a psychologist. Her professional interests include treatment of anxiety disorders, improving family relationships, and reducing stigma associated with mental illness. 

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/August-2017/Mental-Health-in-the-Workplace-The-Value-of-Rest

Can Social Media Save A Life?

By Ryann Tanap

 

Like many who have social media accounts, I regularly check my timelines and feeds for intriguing articles, updates and happenings. Two years ago, I was mindlessly scrolling through one of my accounts before going to bed and one post immediately stood out among the rest: It was a suicide note.

Frantically, I read my friend Mark’s post. It detailed his internal suffering over the years, which he no longer wanted to endure. The comment section grew at an alarming rate. People asked questions, both directly to Mark and to each other. Some people were pleading with him to reconsider. Others offered comments of hope.

Over the next few days, I saw something I did not expect. Hundreds of comments on Mark’s post evolved into a community of people coming together to help find Mark, who had gone missing. People used his previous posts on other social media platforms to piece together his possible location. Some contacted the authorities—and thankfully, those authorities located him before he took his life.

Social Media On The Rise

We live in a world driven by technology. We see the media regularly report on new apps for our smartphones and the latest trending celebrity tweets. Whether we’re commuting to work, studying in a coffee shop or spending time with our family and friends, being connected digitally is part of our lives. An entire generation of young people is growing up with devices in their hands, regularly engaging in social media.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2005 only 5% of American adults used at least one social media platform. That number has since grown significantly: Today, 70% of the public uses social media, with many people using more than one platform.

Some researchers are beginning to identify connections between online social networking and mental health concerns. Among these concerns are varying levels of self-esteem and addiction to social media, as well as the internet. However, it is uncertain whether signs and symptoms of mental health conditions are the causes or effects of using social media. Since each platform is different and new platforms continue to be introduced, future research is needed to assess the true effect of social media on mental health.

Identifying Mental Health Concerns Online

When used responsibly, social media can be used in positive ways. It can be used to promote mental health to a large audience. I’ve seen individuals share their personal stories of recovery, like those on NAMI.org at You Are Not Alone and OK2Talk. I’ve seen mental health writers connect with one another on Twitter. And as with my friend Mark, during times of crisis, social media can even save lives.

On platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, users now have options for getting a friend help. If a user thinks a friend is in danger of self-harm or suicide, they can report their concerns by going to the social media websites’ Help Centers. These online Help Centers have dedicated content about suicide and self-harm prevention, which include online resources and phone numbers for suicide hotlines around the world.

The most helpful feature I’ve seen instituted recently is on Instagram. Users can anonymously flag posts by other users that have content about self-harm and suicide. That user then receives a message encouraging them to speak with a friend, contact a helpline or seek professional help. The same message appears for people who are regularly searching self-harm- or suicide-related content on Instagram.

Recent research by the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office notes that personal social media accounts “can provide an important window into a person’s state of mind.” At the Secretary of the Army Symposium on Suicide Prevention in mid-January 2017, military leaders, mental health professionals and companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn came together to see how social media can be used to connect those in need to care and resources.

How Can I Help?

With social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat dominating our screen time, it’s wise to assume that social media will continue to be a primary method of communication. Therefore, it’s up to us to look out for mental health warning signs while on social media so we are better prepared to assist a friend in need.

If you see any of the following behavior online, it may be time to step in and contact your friend directly to see how you can help:

  • Cyberbullying, which includes:

a. harassing messages or comments

b. fake accounts made to impersonate someone else

c. someone posting unwanted pictures or images of another person

  • Negative statements about themselves, even if it sounds like they are joking, such as

a. “I’m a waste of space.”

b. “No one cares about me.”

c. “I seriously hate myself.”

  • Negative leading statements with little to no context that prompt others to respond, such as:

a. “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through.”

b. “Today was the worst day ever.”

c. “It’s like everyone is against me.”

If someone you know is in immediate danger—for example, they talk about a specific plan for harming themselves—contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. This lifeline can support the individual and their family members, and has the ability to connect with local law enforcement, if necessary. If a person has attempted self-harm or is injured, call 911 immediately.

If the threat of physical danger is not immediate, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Report the content on the social media website’s Help Center;
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255; or
  • Reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting the word “NAMI” to 741741 (standard data rates may apply).

As you scroll through your social media feeds, be mindful of what others post. Being educated about available resources is important for those of us who promote mental health, but knowing when to reach out to a friend who may be experiencing a mental health crisis is even more important: You just might save a life.

 

Ryann Tanap is manager of social media and digital assets at NAMI.

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2017/Can-Social-Media-Save-a-Life