NO STRESS ZONE.
In the productivity guru and influencer world, how people “do” their mornings is often a focus. To start your day right, you should eat this way and not that way. To be more productive, do this, not that.
Commonly recommended morning practices ― like exercising or journaling ― can be helpful and healthy. “But if we get too rigid about certain rituals in our day, that’s when they can become more toxic,” said Han Ren, a licensed psychologist, speaker and educator based in Austin.
When you put contingencies around what your morning “should” look like, this can make you anxious about doing everything perfectly ― then anxious if things don’t go as planned. Even healthy habits can stress you out if you feel you “must” do them for your day to start well.
This stress can be more pronounced if you’re a perfectionist. If you don’t achieve these self-imposed expectations, you can end up feeling like a failure or feeling like you haven’t done enough, said Athina Danilo, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Burbank, California.
Or you may have a subconscious belief that if you don’t fully carry out your morning routine, then you won’t be in a good place at work, added Alison Nobrega, a therapist and licensed clinical social worker practicing in Oakland, California. It’s not hard to imagine how these anxiety-inducing thoughts can affect the rest of your day.
That said, it can be difficult to pinpoint which morning practices are actually causing you stress. Below, experts give some examples of how common habits can be causing you anxiety — and what you can do about it.
Eating A Slow Breakfast
This recommendation, while meant to make you relaxed and centered, can backfire if it does not fit into your current life circumstances, Ren said.
Say you have children, and as a parent, you need to prioritize getting your kids dressed, fed and ready for school in the mornings. Trying to fit in a long breakfast during the chaos is probably going to be challenging and increase your stress.
Even without children, you may value an extra 30 minutes of sleep in the morning before getting ready for work, and you’ll feel more rewarded and in a better mental state by doing this instead of sitting down for a longer meal.
Snoozing Your Alarm
On the flip side, sometimes the way we prolong our sleep isn’t ideal. Pressing snooze multiple times can send you into a state of stress.
“Hearing that snooze button over and over is a reminder of all the things we have to do during the day,” Nobrega said. “Essentially, we’re procrastinating getting up because we don’t want to do those things.”
“Procrastination feels good in the moment, then doesn’t really feel good when it adds up,” Ren added. “Pushing the emotional or physical discomfort down the line puts you in a sense of urgency or time crunch later on.”
Not to mention the fact that you’re not getting quality sleep during this time, anyway. Snoozing actually makes you more tired when you finally do get out of bed. It’s probably better to set the alarm for half an hour later and savor the uninterrupted, deeper sleep. You’ll also save yourself from the mindset that you’re already delayed when you first wake up.
A lot of experts will tell you that journaling in the morning is a good way to start your day, and that can be true. But if you tell yourself you “need to do” the activity when you wake up, Nobrega said you may experience stress — particularly if you don’t do it as you intended to (for example, “I need to journal for 30 minutes every day and to write this specific way.”)
Also take into consideration that journaling may not fit your life at this time. “If you’re more of a verbal processor, it might actually stress you out, because you’re having to sit with your own thoughts and write them down,” Nobrega said.
It may also be stressful if you believe the journaling needs to achieve something or that there has to be an end result to the journaling exercise when really, it’s just a way to process your experiences and emotions.
Writing A To-Do List
There are certainly benefits to taking your floating thoughts and jotting them on a notepad to free up brain space. These thoughts are commonly in the form of to-do lists. Such lists can be helpful to manage anxiety, but you may want to gauge your perception of them to see whether they actually do the opposite for you.
“It could be stressful if you’re overly ambitious and have written down more things than you can realistically do,” Ren said. You may even copy over things you didn’t get to from yesterday’s list, and then the to-do list functions as a tangible confirmation of your worldview that you are unable to reach the perfectionistic standard you’re setting for yourself.
Ren said it almost becomes a “way [for some people] to punish themselves for what they didn’t get done the previous day.” If that’s the case for you, try creating a “done” list instead. It’ll help you recognize what you’ve accomplished.
Eating Breakfast With Your Family
While the benefits of sharing meals with your loved ones cannot be overstated, forcing this to happen first thing every morning may not be right for everyone. This is especially true if mornings in your household are busy and people may not be ready for amicable social interaction yet.
You may find it depleting instead of energizing, Danilo said. If so, quality time and bonding can happen at another time, like dinner, when there’s less pressure on the duration of the meal.
Getting Right Out Of Bed
There is merit in reserving your bed for sleeping and sex only and avoiding other activities like checking your emails or scrolling social media. But when you become rigid around this “rule,” that’s when things go awry.
Holding this rule too tightly can create pressure on you to bolt out of bed the minute you wake, Danilo said, even if you may want to laze around for a few minutes.
Ask yourself whether looking through your phone in bed leaves you feeling energized and in a good mental state, or if it causes some nervousness and stress, Danilo said. Then, choose the practice that best supports your well-being.
People with green space on their doorstep or access to a private garden reported better health and wellbeing during and after the first lockdown in the UK, according to a new study.
Researchers from Cardiff University and Cardiff Metropolitan University have shown that people with a garden and a park nearby were more likely to say they were feeling calm, peaceful and had a lot of energy as compared to those with no access to a garden or living further away from a green space.
Official figures show that around one in eight households in Great Britain had no access to a private or shared garden during the coronavirus pandemic, and that just a quarter of people in Great Britain live within a five-minute walk of a public park.
The researchers say the study is the first to assess the impact of green space during the pandemic, and that it highlights the huge benefits for both physical and mental health and making our communities more resilient.
In the study, published in the journal Landscape & Urban Planning, the researchers surveyed 5,556 people about their home and neighborhood, as well as their perceived mental health and wellbeing, at two intervals—the first in March/April 2020 during the first peak of the pandemic and again in June/July 2020 after the first peak had subsided.
For the first 2-3 months of the lockdown, individuals were only permitted to leave their home for essential travel, such as food shopping, and for outdoor exercise once a day.
The survey formed part of the COVID-19 Public Experiences (COPE) study, with most participants recruited through Health Wise Wales (HWW), an existing national longitudinal study funded by the Welsh Government.
Among a wide-range of topics, participants were specifically asked if they felt calm and peaceful and had a lot of energy, or if they felt downhearted and blue, with answers provided on a scale of zero to five. Similarly, the participants were asked how they would rate their health in general from one to five.
The participants were also asked about their access to a private garden and how far they lived from the nearest green space, such as a park, woodland or playing field.
Subjective wellbeing was shown to be significantly higher in the post-peak period when lockdown restrictions were being eased than in the first peak of the pandemic when lockdown restrictions came into force in the UK.
People living a five-to-10-minute walk or more than a 10-minute walk away from public green space had lower levels of subjective wellbeing than those living less than a five-minute walk away, whilst those with access to a private garden had higher levels of subjective wellbeing than those without a private garden.
The results further show that, during the first peak of the pandemic, access to green space was particularly important for households without private gardens. Being close to a public green space or private garden had a greater health protective effect for those who did not have access to a private garden.
Though a statistically significant link was found between access to a private garden and the wellbeing of men, no evidence was found for specific groups benefitting more than others.
"What this shows is that both gardens and parks have been essential for people's health and wellbeing during the pandemic, especially when the toughest restrictions were in place," said lead author of the study Professor Wouter Poortinga, from Cardiff University's Welsh School of Architecture and School of Psychology.
"Public parks and other green spaces have been a lifeline for many in these difficult times."
"We have to make sure that everybody has access to such spaces, not only now but also in the future. This can be done by planting more trees and creating new parks, but also by protecting the few green spaces we have left."
Co-author of the study Dr. Rhiannon Phillips, from Cardiff Metropolitan University, said: "During the pandemic, green spaces have offered us a place to connect with nature, be physically active, and socialize when regulations allow. This has made spending time in private gardens and public green spaces vital to reducing the impact of the pandemic on people's health and wellbeing.
"Taking care of our green spaces is vitally important in enabling us to take care of ourselves. We need to value our green spaces and use them respectfully, making sure we don't damage these environments and take our litter home, so that they are there for all of us to enjoy."
For many people, the occasional dream is part of their natural sleep cycle, whether it’s a nightmare about your inbox or something decidedly sexier. But if the closest you’ve gotten to dreamland is listening to the instrumental cover of “Wildest Dreams” on Bridgerton, you might be asking yourself, “Why don’t I have dreams?”
Turns out, you might be asking yourself the wrong question. Here’s what to know about dreams—and why it feels like you’re not experiencing any.
Where do dreams come from, anyways?
“Dreams are flashes of images, sounds, and memories that take place while sleeping,” says New York City-based sleep psychologist Joshua Tal, PhD. “Science has not found a definitive reason for dreams, but dreams seem to be controlled by emotional and memory parts of the brain, indicating they help with emotional regulation and memory consolidation.” That explains why some dreams can be downright bizarre and include a myriad of memories and emotions.
The underlying messages of dreams can also be helpful in processing your feelings. “When a client tells me that they had the ‘strangest dream’ and share the details, my first question is: ‘How did you feel during the dream?'” says psychotherapist Jennifer Hoskins-Tomko, LCSW, owner of Clarity Health Solutions in Jupiter, Florida. “While the details are interesting and often symbolic of other things, it is the emotional content that gives me insight on how to help my client or how they are trying to help themselves through the dreams.” Recurring dreams can also shed some insight on what’s stressing you out in your waking life.
Alex Dimitriu, MD, double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine, adds dreams are very likely the brain’s way of working through problems, past events, as well as planning for the future. “Dreams allow us to connect loose concepts and ideas, and may also be a source of creativity and ingenuity,” he says. “They may also be a form of self-therapy, as the brain is able to process experiences and emotions and make sense of life events.” He says there’s also been a recent rise in research backing the belief that dreams are a type of psychedelic experience, which explains why dreams are powerful in emotional healing and growth. “Interestingly, the dreaming brain looks a lot like the psychedelic brain,” he says. “Both are able to make loose connections and come up with creative solutions.”
Okay, so why don’t I have dreams?
Sleep stages come in cycles throughout the night, and dreaming usually happens during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. “It involves intense brain and eye activity,” Dr. Tal says. “Your muscle tone turns off when in REM sleep, so you don’t act out your dreams.”
If you wake up in the morning without having dreamed, think again. “Most people are having dreams but do not remember them,” Dr. Tal says. “You have a higher chance of remembering your dream when you wake up in REM sleep, but if you are not paying attention to your dreams, you are less likely to remember them.” In other words, most of the time, it’s a not-remembering issue versus a not-dreaming issue.
There are exceptions, of course. You could be one of the few people who, in fact, do not dream. The reason, Dr. Tal says, is because their REM sleep is interrupted by a substance (such as alcohol or marijuana), medications (like antidepressants), or a mental health condition like depression.
If you’re a serial non-rememberer of your dreams, it can be a sign of sleep apnea, a condition where your throat muscles relax during sleep, causing breathing pauses, thus interrupting your sleep. “Apneas are highest during REM sleep when your muscles naturally turn off,” Dr. Tal says. “So if you are not dreaming, it could be a sign your sleep quality is being broken up by breathing events.”
One more thing to note: Sleep quality isn’t dependent on dreams. So if you wake up not remembering your dreams, that doesn’t necessarily mean your quality of sleep wasn’t noteworthy.
How to remember your dreams
So to recap: If you’re in the “why don’t I have dreams?” camp, odds are you likely aren’t remembering them. But never fear, there are some science-backed strategies to help you better remember your dreams—and everything they’re trying to tell you.
1. Write them down
The best way to remember your dreams when you wake up is to get into the practice of writing them down as soon as you open your eyes. Dr. Tal recommends keeping a dream journal by your bed and writing a detailed description while the dream is fresh.
2. Talk about your dreams out loud
If you’re not a journaler or are always rushed in the morning, Tomko suggests telling someone like your partner about your dream when you wake up or even recording yourself a quick voice note on your phone.
3. Step up your sleep quality
“The quality of sleep affects your ability to reach REM,” Tomko says. So if your sleep quality sucks, you’re less likely to experience dreams. “Once sleep is consistently good, some people are able to become aware that they are dreaming—this is called lucid dreaming, and may be possible to learn with practice,” Dr. Dimitriu says.
According to Dr. Dimitriu, there are many factors that can contribute to poor quality sleep, including:
How to improve your sleep quality
It’s one thing to know you should improve your sleep quality; another thing entirely to do so. Here are some expert-backed suggestions to try that actually work.
1. Create a pre-bed ritual
To make your shut-eye the most effective it can be, create a pre-bed ritual of, say, a hot bath, meditation, and a diffuser releasing relaxing scents. Because irregular bedtimes also impact your quality of sleep, it’s a good idea to jump into your pre-bed ritual around the same time every night.2. Keep a sleep diaryKeep a sleep diary (slightly different from your dream journal) so you can tweak your routine to find the best one for you. Dr. Tal suggests making a note every day of how different factors (like how dark the room is, the temperature in your bedroom, and if your sheets are cool) affect or don’t affect your sleep. Make sure to include when you go to bed and wake up, that can also impact sleep quality, Dr. Tal says. For example, if you stayed up late the night before and usually don’t, that could throw off your schedule. Other factors to log are substances, medications, medical health, chronic pain, stress, and mental health.
3. Use sleep technology to assess your sleeping patterns
If you’re serious about elevating your sleep quality (and have some extra money to burn), investing in sleep technology can also be helpful. There are a variety of nifty gadgets available such as the Apple Watch ($380) and the Oura Ring ($300) that keep track of different stats including your heart rate, body temperature, and how many hours of sleep you got each night.amzn.to/3pLl6BY
4. Sleep in your birthday suit
One of the easiest (and sexiest?) ways to improve your sleep quality is to ditch your pajamas and sleep naked. “Being naked keeps one cooler and avoids skin rubbing [and the] bunching up of sleeping garments,” Felice Gersh, MD, an OB/GYN and founder of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine previously told Well+Good.
5. Have a bedtime snack
When you have trouble getting your shut-eye, having a healthy bedtime snack can actually help lull you to sleep. The key is to keep it light and small. Peanut butter and a banana and Greek yogurt are perfect examples.
6. Use aromatherapy
Dreamy scents (no pun intended) can also help relax your mind and body and get better sleep. Aromatherapist Amy Galper’s top scent recommendations include clary sage, lavender, rose, chamomile, frankincense, and surprisingly, your partner’s scent.
Stocking your beauty cabinet with skin-care products that dermatologists approve of is an A-plus way to craft a skin-care routine. But you could also incorporate some dermatologist skin-care tips and practices into your regimen—all of which cost zero dollars—for a healthier complexion without having to add anything to cart.
While pricey serums and facial treatments can work wonders on your skin, some of the best beauty practices don’t involve a product or a price tag at all. When we posed the question to dermatologists of what their top free beauty tips are, they delivered. From getting an instant glow via your sink to going on a makeup break, keep scrolling for the very best zero-dollar dermatologist skin-care tips to add into your regimen stat.
8 $0 dermatologist skin-care tips
1. Splash ice-cold water on your face
One of the quickest ways to boost your complexion? Use really, really cold water on your skin. “I always recommend washing your face with cold, even icy, water, which helps to reduce puffiness and inflammation,” says Howard Sobel, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and founder of Sobel Skin Rx. The quick rush of cold also boosts circulation, which gives you an instant evened-out skin tone.
2. Take makeup breaks
Dr. Sobel also recommends ditching makeup once in a while. “Going bare-faced even once a week will do wonders for your skin,” he says. “Makeup blocks up your pores, so going makeup-free allows your skin to breathe, making it less likely to break out.”
3. Seek the shade
Sun is not your skin’s friend, and exposure can lead to pigmentation, fine lines, and collagen degradation. This is why Jennifer Hermann, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, says to always opt for the shady side of the street. “Either that or stay protected with a hat or clothing when in direct sunlight—it’s definitely your best non-dollar spent,” she says.
4. Use aspirin on breakouts
Fun fact: Aspirin can help soothe skin inflammation. “Crush an aspirin tablet in a small amount of something sticky, such as toothpaste or baking soda and water paste, and apply to a pimple,” says Ted Lain, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and chief medical officer at Sanova Dermatology. “The aspirin is both anti-inflammatory, which decreases redness, and converts to salicylic acid, which is exfoliative.”
5. Get enough ZZZs
Studies indicate that if you’re not getting proper sleep, it can show up on your face in fine lines. Because of this, Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, founder of Mudgil Dermatology, says that one of the best things you can do for your skin—and your overall health, really—is to clock a sufficient amount of sleep each night.
6. De-stress as much as possible
Another simple, completely free healthy skin hack? Staying cool as a cucumber. “Stress accelerates aging and can promote breakouts,” says Dr. Hermann, who notes that even 10 minutes of breathing before bed, or at any point during your day, can help improve your skin health and your sleep.
7. Moisturize post-cleansing
To get as much hydration as possible into your skin, the trick is in your product application. “Once you cleanse, it’s super important to apply your other skin-care products immediately afterward,” says Dr. Sobel. “This helps avoid dehydration and maintains the skin’s moisture.”
8. Eat your fruits and veggies
What you put on your plate can also have an impact on your skin. Dr. Hermann recommends eating plenty of antioxidants and minerals, which can help boost collagen synthesis and skin DNA repair. Also, avoiding inflammatory foods like highly refined sugars, trans fats, and artificial ingredients can keep breakouts and redness at bay.
When schedules get busy and days get long, it can be hard to keep up with everything on your to-do list. Unfortunately, for many, exercise is one of the first things to go. However, there are several ways to get in movement in those seasons when you feel like you "literally have no time"
As some people return to school or work, and there is some semblance of structure, it may feel like all you can do to get back into a routine. But believe it or not, keeping up with a healthy lifestyle doesn't have to be difficult or time consuming. Here are some tips for squeezing in physical activity even when you are busy.
Make It Quick
You don't have to set aside an hour of your day to get in movement. Even just 15 minutes at a time throughout the day can help you meet your activity goals. Research has found that even if you exercise regularly, sitting for long periods of time can be damaging to your health and can increase your risk for chronic illness, like heart disease.
Additionally, moving your body can help you get out of an afternoon slump and can boost your energy for the rest of the day. Try waking up 15 minutes early and going for a short jog or walk with your dog before starting your day or do it at lunchtime when you have a break in the day. Bike somewhere you would usually drive. And don't underestimate a few minutes of body weight exercises in your home, like sit-ups, push-ups or planks, which are nice when you're really in a pinch.
Taking the brainpower out of finding time to workout can help you stick to it and make it feel easier. Treat bouts of exercise like a meeting or an appointment—set a time and stick to it. Plan ahead for what you will do, for how long and when during the day. Especially as many of us are still working from home, this has helped me find some much-needed structure in my days. Plus, having to make fewer decisions when you are feeling stressed or tired can make a workout seem more like a break and less like a chore. Getting into a routine will lower the mental strain of "finding the time" and will help you stay accountable.
Multitask—When It Makes Sense
Work movement into your day where it makes sense to multitask. Schedule a walking phone call or meeting, so you can move while you chat. Do ten squats or push-ups after sending an email if you're working from home. Stand at your desk or even set a reminder to stand every few hours. This may not seem like much, but over the course of a week (or a year), it adds up. Plus, moving around frequently during the day can help you keep your energy up, which can make you feel more motivated for more structured exercise at the end of the day.
Summer is a great time to get outside and enjoy the sunshine, especially if you live in a place that has long winters. However, times are different and your local yoga studio or gym may not be an option right now. A great, efficient way to get a nice sweat or stretch in is through virtual classes or YouTube videos. One app I love is called Down Dog. You can customize the length of time, difficulty level and even focus for the practice, like core, back or legs. Finding virtual workouts allows you to exercise in the comfort of your own home for just the amount of time that you have.
Stress is often thought of as a mental health issue, but it can also have serious effects on physical health. Research has shown that chronic stress is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and heart attacks, and it can also wreak havoc on the digestive system. In some cases, it might even lead to diarrhea.
Why does stress cause diarrhea?
From a physical standpoint, studies have shown that the body and the intestines will tense up under stress. That intestinal cramping can result in diarrhea.
Another primary reason stress leads to digestive issues, including diarrhea, is the gut-brain axis, which connects to the enteric nervous system.
"Our stomach and intestines have their own unique nervous system called the enteric nervous system," holistic psychologist Nicole Lippman-Barile, Ph.D., tells mbg. "These nerves respond to the same stress hormones and neurotransmitters that our brains do."
When the enteric nervous system absorbs stress hormones, it can affect the speed at which food moves through the digestive tract, resulting in either constipation or diarrhea.
How long does it usually last?
Stress-induced diarrhea will typically occur during or around stressful events. If the problem persists far beyond the stressful moment, or over the course of a couple of days, that could be a sign of more serious gastrointestinal issues. In this case, it's a good idea to consult with a doctor.
Can stress cause long-term digestive problems?
When under high stress, the immune system will send out signals to break down the gut lining, registered dietitian Ali Miller R.D., L.D., CDE, says. The resulting damage will then trigger a chronic stress response and can perpetuate further gut damage, she explains.
This is mostly problematic for people with preexisting gut issues, like leaky gut or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but it does not necessarily lead to chronic digestive problems. With proper stress management, stress-induced diarrhea can generally be managed.
How to treat stress-induced diarrhea:
1. Practice stress management.
Reducing stress can help reduce the effects of stress-induced gut issues. "Engaging in regular moderate exercise such as walking, yoga, or swimming has proven stress-reducing benefits," functional medicine doctor Isaac Eliaz, M.D., M.S., LAc, says. High-quality sleep and meditation may also help.
2. Take probiotics.
Probiotics, aka good gut bacteria, help support a healthy gut microbiome.* "Think of probiotics as your little helpers that restore order and help maintain harmony in your gut ecosystem," Vincent Pedre, M.D., tells mbg. Taking a probiotic supplement supports a healthy amount of the beneficial bugs in your gut, which can help manage digestive issues, including bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea.*
Along with promoting healthy digestion, probiotics have also been shown to improve mood and manage symptoms of depression, which may play a role in stress management.*
Stress can manifest in a lot of ways, and because of the gut-brain connection, diarrhea may be one of them. With proper stress management and gut-friendly habits, these issues can typically be managed at home. If the problems persist, it's a good idea to consult a doctor.
When life gets crazy, some people retreat into their running. Others take the opposite approach—they put running on the back burner to devote all their time and mental energy to the current crisis. Research on exercise and stress is firmly in favour of the first camp. It found that staying active during work crunches, family emergencies, relationship troubles, and the like will help you experience the stressors less severely and survive the situation in better physical and mental health.
Research in lab settings has found reduced emotional reaction to artificially induced stress after people exercise. For example, in a University of Maryland study, people who looked at unpleasant images 15 minutes after a half-hour workout showed lower levels of anxiety than people who looked at the images after sitting quietly for 30 minutes. Of course, runners have long intuited the value of maintaining some semblance of routine during hectic times. Doing so usually provides a short respite from your worries, gives you a focused opportunity to think through things, and helps you feel like you haven’t lost complete control of your life.
What’s significant about this new research is that it compared people’s activity levels to their recall of real-world stressors and confirmed that getting out the door on tough days is key to those days not seeming as bad.
The research, published in Health Psychology, had more than 2,000 adults track their exercise and recall stressful life situations for eight consecutive days. The daily-life events included arguments with others, avoiding arguments with others, discrimination, stress at work, home, or school, and stress involving a family member or close friend. The researchers did two key sorts on the data they collected: first, between generally underactive people and regular exercisers; and second, between how people recalled their stress levels on days they exercised and days when they didn’t.
Specifically, the researchers measured what’s known as “negative affect reactivity,” or how you emotionally experience unpleasant events. Having low negative affect is roughly akin to emotional stability; you experience unpleasant situations but aren’t overwhelmed by them. Low negative affect is good not only in the moment—your day isn’t ruined because your boss yelled at you—but also long-term, because you’re less likely to suffer the health consequences of frequent swings in your blood pressure and stress-hormone levels. To capture which subjects had low negative affect in response to stressful events, the researchers had them rate the degree (from “not at all” to “all the time”) to which a stressor made them feel angry, sad, shameful, nervous, or anxious.
There was no difference between how often active and less-active subjects had stressful days. What was different was that, on high-stress days, the regular exercisers’ negative affect was 14 percent lower than that of the other subjects. That is, the same sorts of bad things happened, but the exercisers were significantly less rankled by them. Eli Puterman, Ph.D., the lead researcher and a professor of kinesiology at the University of British Columbia, said that exercisers’ edge in this matter is probably a combination of reacting less severely as the stressor is happening and not remembering the stress as severe at the end of the day.
“We are constantly rewriting our memories, so of course, if exercise makes me happy or calm more often, I might interpret the stressor as less impactful as it’s happening but I might also recall it later as less stressful,” he wrote in an email.
Indeed, there’s growing consensus that, as a review of research published in Clinical Psychology Review put it, ‘exercise training recruits a process which confers enduring resilience to stress.’ This phenomenon is thought to be related to structural brain changes, such as the growth of and better connection between neurons, caused by running and other forms of aerobic exercise.
So, as a runner, you’re better equipped to survive high-stress times. Still, on any given stressful day (no matter how severe), you should still try to get out for a run. The researchers found that the subjects’ negative affect was 17 percent lower on days when they worked out. And this finding comes with a special gold star for regular exercisers: They got that benefit regardless of when they worked out. The less-active people, in contrast, got the biggest boost in handling stress if an event happened soon after a workout, then saw their emotional stability dissipate as more time passed since exercising.
The takeaway: make that much more of an effort to find time to run when you know it’s going to be a stressful day.’“My best advice is to schedule workouts, because when you’re stressed, it’s really difficult to feel that you have the time or energy to work out,’ Puterman said. It doesn’t have to be a long or hard run—a few easy miles at a conversational pace will do the trick. Consider that time your secret weapon in handling whatever life throws at you that day.
In 2020, I am vowing to only date men committed to prioritizing their emotional and mental health. If he doesn’t go to therapy, I’m not interested.
In my last serious relationship, I had both the benefit of exploring my toxic behavior patterns and the burden of being with a partner who refused to do the same. Our relationship started to shift when, during the height of an argument, I grew frustrated when my attempts at “helping” him solve a problem were being ignored. He followed up, like he often did, by screaming at the top of his lungs. Then he said something that snatched the movement from my body: “I’m not your project or something you can control.”
This was my second relationship where what I called “the lack of appreciation for my help” my partner called “controlling.” I realized I was the common denominator here.
What started as an exploration of trying to understand my own harmful behaviors ended in a commitment to therapy. There, I learned to call my attraction to “broken” men something more than a lack of gratitude or control; the illusion of “fixing” them allowed me to ignore all the areas where I was fractured. It allowed me to overlook the ways childhood traumas shaped my current relationship choices. It was classic avoidance.
For months, I remained both in the relationship and in therapy to do the deeper work on myself. I directed my gaze away from scrutinizing his behavior and toward addressing the root of my own. I practiced mindfulness to reduce anxiety, used journaling to record and disrupt unhealthy patterns, and rotated coping mechanisms until I found one that fit. I was slowly forming healthy new habits. The need to control others was replaced by a desire for self-improvement.
Meanwhile, he refused to go to therapy or even examine his own harmful patterns. He saw therapy as a “useless waste of time” that had nothing to do with “real life.” Besides, “nobody” in his family believed in “that stuff” and they all turned out “fine.”
My former partner was not an anomaly. According to the American Psychological Association, research shows “men of all ages and ethnicities are less likely than women to seek help for all sorts of problems — including depression and substance abuse.” Which is particularly alarming considering the data that suggests “men make up over 75 percent of suicide victims in the United States.
O’Brien Wimbish, a clinically trained therapist who specializes in intimacy and infidelity recovery, told Vox, “A lot of men are still operating under an unhealthy belief that addressing their feelings isn’t masculine. They think talking about their emotions — or even identifying an emotion other than rage — can make them what they consider soft. So they shut down, or sometimes become more aggressive, in their interpersonal relationships.”
Wimbish, who has never treated me or my former partner, offered a perspective that was consistent with my experience. During the course of our relationship, my former partner’s propensity for screaming escalated to name-calling, and conflicts reached an all-time high. Or perhaps my tolerance for toxic relationships hit at an all-time low. But eventually, his version of love was no longer enough. I wanted reciprocity.
I ended that relationship aware that constant self-work is a prerequisite for an emotionally healthier life and, if both parties are committed to it, the possibility of a healthy relationship.
To be clear, therapy is not a magic pill. “Committing to therapy does not mean your relationship will be immune to trials,” Wimbish said, “but it certainly helps if both parties are fully invested in doing the work for their individual growth.”
Therapy is also not cheap. Mental health providers in many cities can charge $75-$150 for a 45-minute session. Rates in New York City can be upward of $200 per hour. Therapists like Wimbish mitigate this by offering a sliding scale for payments. Sometimes, when the cost is still too high for me, I scale back and reserve sessions for particularly stressful seasons. And if a sliding payment scale is still a financial burden, research suggests regular practices of things like mindful meditation and creating a positive social support system can be forms of self-work. Wimbish added, “establishing an accountability system centered around a self-improvement goal can increase success and sustainability.”
There’s also the fact that therapy doesn’t work if you don’t apply it once the session is over. As Wimbish said, “You will not get the full benefits of therapy sessions without doing the homework assigned. It requires a personal commitment outside of my office.” If therapy has taught me anything, it’s taught me that the real work starts when you go home and use a new coping skill in response to stress or anxiety, instead of engaging in a familiar unhealthy habit.
These days, I have refined my approach to dating. Now, during that early stage when a man mentions how long he’s been single, instead of inquiring about the details of the breakup, I ask how he managed the healing process. I recently met a guy who wasn’t alarmed by the question. Without pause, he identified a couple of healthy coping strategies provided by his therapist. This on its own does not mean he will be the best partner for me. Rather, it suggests that he recognizes self-work as an individual process, one that he isn’t socialized to be ashamed of. Which is a healthy start.
Never in my life, when suffering from physical pain, have I said to myself “I must do yoga to take my mind off this!” However, there is one person who has made me re-think pain. Her name is Christine, and she says that yoga is her pain relief. But she's not talking about localized pain; this is chronic pain, which derives from multiple sclerosis (MS).* Multiple sclerosis literally means "many scars," an etymology which can indicate just how painful this disease can be.
It’s not just yoga that helps Christine deal with her MS (which is now in a progressive state); it’s also her positive attitude which enables her to transform any negative emotions she has toward pain. “I've heard a quote about how a spiritual being has a human experience," she says. "These words give me a reason for going through this, like it’s meant to be my experience.”
It is this outlook that enables Christine to be mindful when it comes to experiencing emotions such as sadness and anxiety, which numerous studies have shown can aggravate pain. (A famous example and one of the very first research papers on the subject explored how wounded soldiers in World War II expressed less pain than civilians with comparable wounds—likely because the soldiers were so happy to be off the battlefield— demonstrating that one's mental state can play a key role in modulating physical pain.)
For me, as a yoga teacher and science writer, Christine’s words demonstrate the remarkable person that she is. Although I have never met her, I feel that I know her because I have heard so much about her from my yoga colleague Julia Green (we work together as co-founders of WriteIntoYoga). Together, Julia and I meet many people who are not usually able to express themselves, but when we ask them to tell us what yoga means to them (at our writing and yoga retreats and workshops), then the emotive words come flooding out. I emailed this question to Christine and her words touched my heart: She said that without yoga, she wouldn’t be here right now. Words that, given her personal story, hold such a significant meaning.
But it is Julia who has the honor of teaching Christine. Julia is an expert when it comes to teaching yoga to people with challenging conditions where bones can easily break or muscles are frequently pulled. "I first met Christine when her daughter, a doctor, approached me five years ago to teach a private yoga session," she explains. "When we first started working together, Christine was able to get down on the floor, and we would do postures like child's pose, cobra, and cat; we even modified tree pose so that she could do it lying down. But since then, she has suffered a severely damaged knee from a fall, a broken sternum bone, and two broken vertebrae from muscle spasms that are symptoms of her MS. Later, after these injuries, we modified the poses further so she could use a chair."
Despite these setbacks, since she started practicing, the longest Christine has gone without yoga has been about two weeks for each injury. However, she says that she never wants to stop because if she doesn’t stretch she is in pain, and without yoga she feels worse. So even though her body is changing, she has never given up on yoga. "When my arms are stretched for me, the relief is almost indescribable," Christine explains. "When most people wake up in the morning they stretch without thinking about it. I can only think about it! I have no movement but my limbs are not numb—I just feel heavier as my joints stiffen. Then we do yoga and I breathe a sigh of relief."
For Julia, part of the challenge is being prepared, because every day that she works with Christine is a little bit different. She says: "Another challenge for me as a teacher has been simply learning about MS. I have spent hours, days, and weeks studying so that I can better understand how to teach her, but MS is tough. It's hard to fully understand because there is no known cure and everyone with it suffers differently. Therefore, when Christine and I work together, I focus on how she feels rather than trying to teach out of a textbook."
"Christine is by far the most determined woman I have ever met," she emphasizes, "and she always seems to stay upbeat. She accepts each day as it comes, whether good or bad. Knowing her is humbling. When I ask her how she maintains such a positive attitude, she tells me that her mood is managed by her yoga and goes so far as to say that yoga has helped her to hold back time. As her MS changes we face it and deal with her unspoken aches and pains together."
"Julia always asks me if I have any new aches and pains," adds Christine, "or if anything is particularly bad that day. [MS] is not a condition you can ignore, but I don't like talking about it to my friends and family; I don't like to burden anyone with it. I only talk to Julia as she isn't fazed by anything I say, and we can laugh together. I'm not sure I could laugh about this condition with anyone else. We don't speak about tomorrow or what might happen next week. We talk about what I'm going to do when I can walk again.”
"One thing Christina has always said to me over the years," says Julia, "is 'I wish I could somehow send a message out there to everyone with my condition and tell them to try yoga. It is such a relief.'”
Christine says that yoga stretches alleviate the dull aches and pains she feels throughout her body, and adds, “Before we start yoga I feel heavy, tight, and stiff, but as my arms and legs are stretched out into the various poses and positions I feel light, comfortable, and more relaxed than I can ever explain.”
And Julia can certainly vouch for that: "As our sessions near their close, Christine is sometimes so relaxed that I have to wake her up after our final meditation to say our closing Namaste!"
"I have trouble sleeping because I can’t move in bed," explains Christine. "It hurts not being able to move. Sometimes I [feel] pins and needles, sometimes I get cramps, and sometimes I get muscle spasms. But I am unable to move in order to adjust or get rid of any of it. The muscle spasms have been so violent I've broken my spine—it’s broken right now as you're interviewing me! I always ask Julia to come 'round as soon as my carers have gotten me up, as a stretch in the morning not only helps with the pain that’s been brought on by lying in one position all night, but it also helps me face the day."
Though Christine has found asana to be immensely helpful, she's also found great benefit from other aspects of yoga. "We do breathing exercises [too]," she says. "Sometimes due to the blankets feeling so heavy on my chest, I get up in the morning struggling for breath. Yoga helps with that as well. I've tried to get my husband to help me stretch before bed to help me sleep, but it’s not just stretching [that helps], is it? It’s yoga."
Obviously the stretches Christine does now are not the typical yoga poses you see in the pages of magazines, but they are modifications and variations of those poses. And for her, they work. And Christine wants everyone to know they work. So for others with MS or other chronic pain her message is this: "Give yoga a try!"
"I'm proud to be Christine's yoga teacher," says Julia, "but really, she has been MY teacher in so many ways too. MS is an unkind bully, but Christine is a shining example of a person who won't be beaten by it. She has also taught me so much about yoga itself. If I hadn't met her I would never have learned as much as I have about MS, and I wouldn't have learned so many ways to adapt the poses. Working with her has kept me on my toes as I constantly have to keep abreast of what is happening in the MS world and even more importantly, I have to keep studying adaptations to keep her safe. She keeps me learning."
*Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects movement, sensation, and bodily functions. It is caused by the destruction of the myelin insulation covering nerve fibres (neurons) in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
Ear seeds are small seeds used to stimulate pressure points in your ear. They’re a type of auriculotherapy, which refers to acupressure or acupuncture focused on the ear.
They’re based on the same general principles as acupuncture. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), your health depends on the flow of qi (energy) in your body.
According to TCM, this energy travels along invisible pathways, known as meridians. Meridians are found throughout your body, including your ears.
Ear seeds are placed on certain points, usually along meridian lines, to help clear up any qi blockages. In TCM, resolving these blockages may help with a variety of health conditions.
Read on to learn more about ear seeds, including their potential benefits and how to use them.
What do people use them for?
People claim ear seeds help with a range of health issues, including:
How do I use them?
While it’s possible to place ear seeds yourself, it’s usually best to see a trained acupuncturist for your first time.
They can go over the symptoms you’d like to address and help you find the corresponding points on your ear. They can also show you how to properly place the seeds.
Traditionally, ear seeds come from the flowering herb vaccaria. But today, you can also find metal or ceramic beads.
Most acupuncturists who do ear seed placement have their own seeds, but you can also purchase your own online.
If you do want to try them yourself, follow these steps:
While using ear seeds, check your ears each day for signs of irritation, such as:
Is there any evidence to back up their use?
There aren’t many high-quality studies about ear seeds and other forms of auriculotherapy.
However, the few that do exist suggest ear seeds may be beneficial for certain conditions, especially when used alongside other treatments. More research is needed to fully explore the benefits and side effects, though.
Low back painResults of a 2013 studyTrusted Source looking at 19 people living with chronic low back pain suggest ear seeds could help reduce pain and improve mobility.
Participants were randomly divided into two groups. The first group had ear seeds placed on points associated with low back pain. The second group had ear seeds placed in random points on the ear.
The first group noticed better results than the second group after four weeks of treatment. Participants in the first group noted an overall decrease in pain intensity of 75 percent. The improvement lasted for at least a month.
A 2015 literature reviewTrusted Source looked at 15 studies on auricular acupuncture with ear seeds for insomnia. Together, the studies indicated that the combination of ear seeds and acupuncture seemed to reduce insomnia symptoms.
However, the authors of the review noted several flaws in studies they analyzed, including small sample sizes, low-quality study models, and potential biases.
A 2015 studyTrusted Source compared the minimum and maximum sensations of pain felt by 16 healthy people before and after using ear seeds. The results suggest that using ear seeds could increase pain tolerance.
Keep in mind that pain tolerance refers to how much pain a person can withstand. This is different from a pain threshold, which is the point at which someone starts feeling pain.
Are they safe to try?
Ear seeds are generally safe. They’re noninvasive and don’t require the use of needles, so there’s a much lower risk of infection or bleeding compared to acupuncture.
However, if you have sensitive skin or a latex allergy, metal seeds or adhesive tape might cause some irritation. If your skin tends to get irritated by metal, stick with ceramic or vaccaria seeds.
Some people also develop small sores around the seeds. This is often due to massaging the seeds too frequently or not letting the ears rest before applying new seeds.
In addition, some people do experience side effects while using ear seeds, including brief spells of:
While these side effects aren’t very common, it’s best to avoid driving immediately after massaging your ear seeds until you know how your body reacts.
Generally, it’s always a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider before trying any new treatment, including ear seeds.
If you’re pregnant, don’t try ear seeds or other forms of auriculotherapy before talking to your healthcare provider. Some points may induce early labor.
The bottom line
Ear seeds, a type of traditional Chinese medicine related to acupuncture and acupressure, may be a cost-effective approach to complementary treatment.
This is especially the case if you’re interested in acupuncture but prefer a noninvasive approach.
While scientific evidence supporting the benefits of ear seeds is limited, existing research does suggest ear seeds may provide relief from certain things, including insomnia and pain.
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