Life is like being a boat in the sea; riding the waves, drifting into the unforeseeable, and holding on for dear life when the tempests come.
The reality is, we can’t predict or control the frequency or the intensity of the waves that hit us. Sometimes we can’t even control where the boat takes us.
However, we can control how we react to the waves and build our defenses for the next round. We can make small changes in our daily habits that make a remarkable difference in our day-to-day experiences and the overall quality of our lives.
We did some research on behavioral changes that are demonstrated by studies to improve our lives and mental well-being. We hope the items on this list are helpful for you. While this isn’t a comprehensive list, it’s a start, for developing a more resilient, positive, and stronger you.
Cut down on sugar.
We all know that high consumption of sugar can lead to some serious and debilitating health issues later in life. However, not many people are aware that a high-sugar diet can have a significant impact on mental health, affecting mood, learning ability, and quality of life. Research shows that heavy sugar consumption is tied to an increased risk of depression and worse outcome of schizophrenia. There is also a growing body of evidence of sugar addiction; a research study found that rats with dependence on sugar demonstrated symptoms similar to those observed with drugs of abuse (addictive drugs, opioids, etc.) including binging and withdrawal.
Ditch the soda and drink water or tea instead. Reduce indulgence of treats such as cakes and cookies to once-in-a-while occasions. Try healthier snacking alternatives such as unsalted nuts and vegetables.
Address your stress.
According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can lead to long-term cardiovascular, endocrinal, gastrointestinal, and reproductive problems. Chronic stress also affects your mental health and studies show a correlation between stress and the development of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Try meditation, deep breathing exercises, moving mediation (Tai Chi), reaching out to friends for support, and practicing mindfulness – awareness and acceptance of our thoughts, sensations, and environment without judgment.
Develop healthy coping skills
When we are in overwhelming situations and experiencing intense emotional distress, it’s important to have a variety of healthy coping skills in our arsenal. Healthy coping skills help reduce the intensity of emotional distress, reduce the likelihood of us doing something harmful (e.g., saying something we would regret, binge drinking, etc.), improve our ability to stay steady in stressful situations, and build our confidence.
Find coping activities that work for you. Listen to uplifting or relaxing music. Go out for a walk. Take up a new hobby such as dancing. Enroll in martial arts classes. Call or text a friend. You can also call a helpline like the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK when you’re in a crisis. Count to 100. Squeeze an ice cube for distraction. Find a therapist who can help you.
Stop comparing your life to others.
Friends getting married, getting a job promotion, going on extravagant vacations – while looking to other people’s journeys can be great for inspiration, it can be significantly harmful when you compare your life to others. Facebook and Instagram users are guilty of populating our newsfeeds with frequently embellished and filtered highlights of their lives, which give the impression that their lives are perfect – when they are not. What we are really doing is comparing our behind-the-scenes to their spotlights.
Remember that we all have our weaknesses and strengths, unique blessings, and virtues. We all have unique paths and we walk them at our own pace. Money, relationships, and vacations are arbitrary measures of success. Focus on your goals and keep on working towards them, while celebrating each step forward and remembering how far you have come.
Check Fundamental Attribution Error at the door.
Fundamental Attribution Error is defined by Wikipedia as the “tendency to overestimate the effect of disposition or personality and underestimate the effect of the situation in explaining social behavior.”
Simply put, we have a natural tendency to relate people’s behaviors to their dispositions – personality – rather than the situation they are in. Furthermore, we have a tendency to take things too personally and believe that every little thing revolves around us, thereby regarding micro transgressions as direct signs of disrespect. For example, someone bumps into you rudely while entering the train – you are predisposed to assuming that the person is a jerk, that he’s/she’s singling you out, etc. – when maybe, the person doesn’t want to be late to work, is also just as exasperated by the crowded trains, and perhaps is having a bad day.
While it is true that their situations do not necessarily absolve them of their bad behavior, it’s beneficial to our emotional health to stop, consider their situations, and accept that most actions are results of circumstances and are usually not personal.
Rise up to challenges.
As Gretchen Rubin wrote in her article, “10 Ways to Be Happier” – “Challenge and novelty are key elements of happiness. The brain is stimulated by surprise, and successfully dealing with an unexpected situation gives a powerful sense of satisfaction.”
A chance to interview for a promotion? A random proposition from a friend to go on a 15-mile hike? An opening for a job that seems to be above your qualifications? Go for it. What do you have to lose? It is easy to slip into doing the same thing every day, putting in the same amount of effort, and taking safe options. However, it is much more rewarding to take on new challenges – and even if it doesn’t work out, you grow in the process and learn more about your capabilities.
We are constantly attached to our phones. Working, checking emails, thumbing through social media; relying on our smart phones as a social crutch and primary source of entertainment. It’s gotten to a point where nomophobia – fear of being without your smartphone – has become a prevalent issue, affecting 40% of the population. According to a poll by SecurEnvoy, 70% of women and 61% of men have phone separation anxiety.
Studies also show that browsing on your phone, laptop, or tablet before bed can actually negatively impact your health – the light from screens suppresses melatonin secretion levels, affecting your quality of sleep. Sleep deficiency has been linked to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
Recognize how much digital time you really need and find time to disconnect – don’t browse on your phone while eating or when spending time with loved ones. Enjoy and absorb your surroundings, especially when you’re in a new environment, instead of staring at the screen. Read a book before bed. If it’s absolutely necessary to browse the internet in bed, install an application that blocks blue light, such as F.lux.
If you’re a compulsive apologizer – apologizing for everything including things that are clearly not your fault – please stop. This lowers your self-esteem, justifies other people’s poor actions, and reinforces your belief that you should express remorse for being you, for taking up space, and for being in the world. How can we feel good about ourselves when we keep blaming and invalidating ourselves?
Before you blurt out “sorry” next time, ask yourself these two questions, recommended by Lori Deschene at Tiny Buddha:
- “Did I actually do something wrong?”
- And if not, “Did I really want to communicate that I think I did?”
Instead, turn your “sorry” into “thank you”. For example, instead of apologizing for being late, thank them for waiting. When someone criticizes your work, thank them for their input instead of apologizing for what you worked on. Turning self-blame into gratitude is much better for your mental wellbeing.
Buy experiences, not things.
Studies demonstrate that “allocating discretionary resources toward life experiences make people happier than allocating discretionary resources toward material possessions.” Why? Because of five reasons:
- Experiences can be re-lived and enjoyed for years. Material possessions degrade over time.
- Memories of experiences are easier to recall than memories of a material purchase.
- Experiences are more personal and unique.
- Experiences have a much longer lasting impact.
- Experiences help establish and strengthen our relationships.
Instead of saving up for the new designer bag or buying unnecessary little things here and there that eventually add up to a big sum – allocate your extra resources toward new adventures, such as going on a day trip with friends, having a picnic at a park, going to a theme park, etc.
Send positive energy to the world.
Help a friend. Volunteer. Donate. Say something kind to a stranger.
The more we are connected with the world and the people around us, the better we understand ourselves and the happier we are. Helping others gives us a strong sense of purpose and self-worth, as well as help us develop strong and healthy relationships.
“No man is an island”, as the saying goes – we are all in this together and by sharing our unique experiences and skills to help each other in our journeys, we are better equipped to face the challenges that come our way.