happiness

Small Ways We Can Maintain Mental Health This Season

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Many of us are taking care of ourselves less this year, which is the last thing we need for our health and happiness. Whether we’re making changes to our routine or taking more time for self-care, the best thing we can all do for ourselves right now is to preserve a positive mindset.

No matter how well you may feel in the moment, there are many ways, however small they may be, you can help maintain your mental health and feel better this season and beyond.

Be Kind to Yourself

First and foremost, treat yourself kindly. Making an effort to value yourself and avoid self-criticism does more than you think. The way you perceive yourself ultimately affects how you feel and has a substantial impact on your self-worth (Harteneck).

Take Care of Your Body

Your body has just as important of a role regarding mental health. It’s been proven that proper diet and exercise significantly improve mental health. When exercising, stress-reducing and mood-boosting endorphins are released, lowering stress, anxiety, and depression (Harteneck). The same can be said for getting good sleep, which contributes to lowered irritability and increased concentration.

Surround Yourself with Love

Remind yourself what you’re grateful for and take time to do what you love. Taking care of yourself doesn’t always have to be a chore. A vital part of maintaining mental wellness is surrounding yourself with people and things you like. Spend time with supportive friends, family members, and groups that make you happy. Self-care comes in many forms and tends to be a gradual process that comes with adopting beneficial, healthy habits. Your happiness is a priority — treat yourself!


References

Harteneck, Patricia. “9 Ways You Can Improve Your Mental Health Today.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 27 Oct. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-s-mental-health-matters/201510/9-ways-you-can-improve-your-mental-health-today

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Are We Really Born That Way?

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(Picture Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

By Riah Skrinnik, MS APCC

Traditional science once established the notion that our DNA molecules control our mind and program our behavior. But in the groundbreaking book, The Biology of Belief, Dr. Bruce Lipton discusses how our behavior is instead a subconscious reflection of our beliefs and not our genetic data. “We are not victims of our genes, but masters of our fates, able to create lives overflowing with peace, happiness, and love,” Lipton wrote. With these wise words in mind, we can explore the marvelous discoveries of both seen and unseen abilities of human biology.

The traditional thinking had been that the information from our DNA is flowing in one direction forming the concept that we are the result of our genes and, therefore, we cannot influence our genetic data. This hypothesis was firmly embedded in academia as well as society as a whole. As a larger community, we embraced this limiting belief, leading us to operate as if we were biological machines controlled by genes. This gave many of us the excuse that we were born a certain way and that there is nothing we can do to change. This thinking had relieved pressure of responsibility to heal and had impacted generations to accept the limited idea that we are victims of our DNA.

Later it was assumed that by altering genes, we could alter functions and behaviors. This concept was even tested in a well-known study that discovered what has been coined the “gene of happiness,” a particular gene more active in happy people. (Weiss). But this was unfortunate news for the group of people who showed no extra activity in their “happy gene” because they assumed they can’t change anything about their mood because they can’t control their genes.  This dogma promoted mass acceptance of a victim mentality that is constantly in need of a rescuer. This theory had programmed our minds to believe that the part of our inheritance is to be an expression of our genes.

Lipton is one of the revolutionary teachers who claimed that the notion of how genes dictate our existence was, in reality, a false belief. According to Lipton, our genes do not control our biology, rather, they are just a blueprint that requires our minds to design and produce our behaviors, habits, and lifestyle. We have about 150,000 parts of different proteins in our body that react to the environment by altering their shape. In fact, our life is a movement of our proteins that can create and recreate new designs. “Just like a single cell, the character of our lives is determined not by our genes but by our responses to the environmental signals,” wrote Lipton.

With this discovery, a modern scientific term was born called epigenetics, which means “above genetic.” This new field is a game changer because it challenges us to look “above the genes” and takes us from victim to creator. New research has found that the perception and response to our environment control the genes. We are not victims of our genes because we have the power to change the immediate environment around us and, consequently, change our response. New studies show that our well-being depends not on hereditary dogma, but on our ability to understand the enormous capacity of our mind, which can lead to effective responses for external stimuli so that we can achieve a healthier environment for ourselves, our families, and our communities. There is much we can learn from this new biology, but the most important is the emerging belief that we have the power to create the lives we lead.


References

Lipton, Bruce H. (2016). The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles / Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D. — 10th-Anniversary Edition.

Weiss, A., Bates, T.C. & Luciano (2008). M. Happiness is a Personal(ity) Thing: The Genetics of Personality and Well-being in a Representative Sample. Psychol. Sci. 19, 205–210.

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Cultivating Gratitude To Improve Well-Being

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(Photo Credit: Natalie Board)

By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

Even though many of us believe we are grateful for what we have in our lives, we may not always use gratitude in our everyday life. Gratitude is defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” We may believe that we feel this way but can forget to stop and reflect on what we are grateful for as part of our daily routine. There are many mental health benefits associated with reflecting on gratitude. Including a gratitude exercise in your daily routine can not only improve your mood but can also influence your general well-being.

There are several ways one can cultivate gratitude. In one study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, older adults participated in a gratitude intervention to improve their well-being and non-clinical depression. Each adult was asked to write down three good things that they are grateful for in their life, every day for 15 days. As a result of this intervention, the adults showed significant improvement in happiness and well-being by the end of the intervention. This positive improvement continued to the 30 days follow-up. There was also a decrease in stress while participants were actively involved in the research study. This gratitude exercise has not only been shown to be an effective treatment, but it is also inexpensive for participants to join in this exercise. All you would need to participate in this exercise is a journal, either on your computer or in written form, and write down what you are grateful for each day.

In another study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, researchers used a gratitude contemplation intervention to improve mental health of individuals. When a person completed a 4-week gratitude contemplation exercise, they reported higher rates of self-esteem and satisfaction with their lives. It was also shown to consistently cultivate gratitude in a person’s everyday life. The positive effects of the treatment intervention were maintained over the course of the study. This study showed that daily participation in a gratitude exercise improved one’s well-being, in addition to various components of one’s mental health.

Another method you can use is to reflect on what you are grateful for at the end of each day. You can do this in bed before falling asleep or in a meditation, any method you find useful to contemplate the positive qualities of your life. I know from personal experience that it can sometimes be difficult to find things that you are grateful for when you have multiple stressful events thrown at you or you are dealing with chronic illness or pain. By making this exercise part of your daily routine, just as you would with brushing your teeth, you can temporarily shift your attention to what is going right in your life and receive all the mental health benefits that come along with it.


References

Gratitude (n.d.) In Google online. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?q=define+gratitude&oq=define+gratitu&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j69i57j0l4.3638j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Killen, A. & Macaskill, A. (August 2015). Using a gratitude intervention to enhance well-being in older adults. [Abstract] Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(4), 947-964. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-014-9542-3

Rash, J. A., Matsuba, M. K. & Prkachin, K. M. (27 October 2011). Gratitude and well-being: who benefits the most from a gratitude intervention? [Abstract] Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01058.x

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