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Middle-Aged Americans in US are Stressed and Struggle with Physical and Mental Health – Other Nations Do Better

Midlife was once considered a time to enjoy the fruits of one’s years of work and parenting. That is no longer true in the U.S.

Deaths of despair and chronic pain among middle-aged adults have been increasing for the past decade. Today’s middle-aged adults – ages 40 to 65 – report more daily stress and poorer physical health and psychological well-being, compared to middle-aged adults during the 1990s. These trends are most pronounced for people who attained fewer years of education.

Although these trends preclude the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19’s imprint promises to further exacerbate the suffering. Historical declines in the health and well-being of U.S. middle-aged adults raise two important questions: To what extent is this confined to the U.S., and will COVID-19 impact future trends?

My colleagues and I recently published a cross-national study, which is currently in the press, that provides insights into how U.S. middle-aged adults are currently faring in relation to their counterparts in other nations, and what future generations can expect in the post-COVID-19 world. Our study examined cohort differences in the health, well-being, and memory of U.S. middle-aged adults and whether they differed from middle-aged adults in Australia, Germany, South Korea, and Mexico.

The US is an outlier among rich nations

We compared people who were born in the 1930s through the 1960s in terms of their health and well-being – such as depressive symptoms and life satisfaction – and memory in midlife.

Differences between nations were stark. For the U.S., we found a general pattern of decline. Americans born in the 1950s and 1960s experienced overall declines in well-being and memory in middle age compared to those born in the 1930s and 1940s. A similar pattern was found for Australian middle-aged adults.

In contrast, each successive cohort in Germany, South Korea, and Mexico reported improvements in well-being and memory. Improvements were observed in health for each nation across cohorts but were slowed for Americans born in the 1950s and 1960s, suggesting they improved less rapidly than their counterparts in the countries examined.

Our study finds that middle-aged Americans are experiencing overall declines in key outcomes, whereas other nations are showing general improvements. Our cross-national approach points to policies that could help alleviate the long-term effects arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Will COVID-19 exacerbate troubling trends?

Initial research on the short-term effects of COVID-19 is telling.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fragility of life. Seismic shifts have been experienced in every sphere of existence. In the U.S., job loss and instability rose, household financial fragility and lack of emergency savings have been spotlighted, and children fell behind in school.

At the start of the pandemic, the focus was rightly on the safety of older adults. Older adults were most vulnerable to the risks posed by COVID-19, which included mortality, social isolation, and loneliness. Indeed, older adults were at higher risk, but an overlooked component has been how the mental health risks and long-haul effects will likely differ across age groups.

Yet, young adults and middle-aged adults are showing the most vulnerabilities in their well-being. Studies are documenting that they are currently reporting more psychological distress and stressors and poorer well-being, compared to older adults. COVID-19 has been exacerbating inequalities across race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Women are more likely to leave the workforce, which could further strain their well-being.

Changing views and experiences of midlife

The very nature and expectations surrounding midlife are shifting. U.S. middle-aged adults are confronting more parenting pressures than ever before, in the form of engagement in extracurricular activities and pressures for their children to succeed in school. Record numbers of young adults are moving back home with their middle-aged parents due to student loan debt and a historically challenging labor and housing market.

A direct effect of gains in life expectancy is that middle-aged adults are needing to take on more caregiving-related duties for their aging parents and other relatives while continuing with full-time work and taking care of school-aged children. This is complicated by the fact that there is no federally mandated program for paid family leave that could cover instances of caregiving, or the birth or adoption of a child. A recent AARP report estimated that in 2020, there were 53 million caregivers whose unpaid labor was valued at US$470 billion.

The restructuring of corporate America has led to less investment in employee development and destabilization of unions. Employees now have less power and input than ever before. Although health care coverage has risen since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, notable gaps exist. High numbers of people are underinsured, which leads to more out-of-pocket expenses that eat up monthly budgets and financially strain households. President Biden’s executive order for providing a special enrollment period of the health care marketplace exchange until Aug. 15, 2021, promises to bring some relief to those in need.

Promoting a prosperous midlife

Our cross-national approach provides ample opportunities to explore ways to reverse the U.S. disadvantage and promote resilience for middle-aged adults.

The nations we studied vastly differ in their family and work policies. Paid parental leave and subsidized child care help relieve the stress and financial strain of parenting in countries such as Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. Research documents how well-being is higher in both parents and nonparents in nations with more generous family leave policies.

Countries with ample paid sick and vacation days ensure that employees can take time off to care for an ailing family member. Stronger safety nets protect laid-off employees by ensuring that they have the resources available to stay on their feet.

In the U.S., health insurance is typically tied to one’s employment. Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, over 5 million people in the U.S. lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs.

During the pandemic, the U.S. government passed policy measures to aid people and businesses. The U.S. approved measures to stimulate the economy through stimulus checks, payroll protection for small businesses, expansion of unemployment benefits and health care enrollment, child tax credits, and individuals’ ability to claim forbearance for various forms of debt and housing payments. Some of these measures have been beneficial, with recent findings showing that material hardship declined and well-being improved during periods when the stimulus checks were distributed.

I believe these programs are a good start, but they need to be expanded if there is any hope of reversing these troubling trends and promoting resilience in middle-aged Americans. A recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concluded that paid family leave has a wide range of benefits, including, but not limited to, addressing health, racial, and gender inequities; helping women stay in the workforce, and assisting businesses in recruiting skilled workers. Research from Germany and the United Kingdom shows how expansions in family leave policies have lasting effects on well-being, particularly for women.

Middle-aged adults form the backbone of society. They constitute large segments of the workforce while having to simultaneously bridge younger and older generations through caregiving-related duties. Ensuring their success, productivity, health, and well-being through these various programs promises to have cascading effects on their families and society as a whole.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: , Associate Professor of Psychology, Arizona State University.

Frank J. Infurna receives funding from the National Institute on Aging and previously from the John Templeton Foundation. The content is solely his responsibility and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.



The Health of Millennials (and those coming next) Can Benefit from Lessons of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

As a “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” celebrates the life and work of Fred Rogers, we can look to Rogers’s work for lessons on building a healthier world for our youth.

By | Common Dreams

A recent Blue Cross-Blue Shield study of millennials health revealed startling declines in the health of younger generations, who suffer higher rates of major depression, hypertension, hyperactivity, type-II diabetes, and endocrine disorders, among others. Considering the social conditions shaping these trends—including precarious work, intensifying academic competition and high-stakes testing, consumerism, exaggerated digital media environments, and climate change—the health effects for the Z generation will only get worse.

Health and wellness are linked to our social and physical environments, which are shaped by social policies and practices on which we must focus efforts to address this health crisis. As “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” celebrates the life and work of Fred Rogers, we can look to Rogers’s work for lessons on building a healthier world for our youth

Some highlights include:

1) Make time for play: Rogers learned from child psychologist Margaret McFarland  that “for children, play is serious learning.” He regularly invited his young audience to join him in the “land of make-believe,” modeling play and encouraging children to engage their innate creative tendencies. Conversations with make-believe neighbors opened possibilities for imaginative thinking not possible with today’s screen-based play. Researchers have shown important links between unstructured play and cognitive development and physical health, and educators at all levels are noting serious deficits in students’ critical thinking skills and creativity.

2) Engage in active listening: Rogers’s program was so popular because of his unusual skill at communicating with children. He listened attentively to them and could read the fear, excitement, or confusion they struggled to express. While Rogers was unusually gifted at this kind of listening, we all need such skills for healthy relationships.

Excessive screen time deprives developing minds of opportunities to cultivate listening and communication skills. Learning requires thoughtful, engaged listening, but digital dependence and multi-tasking tendencies obstruct this, constraining our capacity to express and manage thoughts and emotions effectively. Declines in empathy, linked with screen time, is one worrisome result.

3) Slow down For Rogers, “hurrying up and using a lot of shortcuts doesn’t get us very far at all.” Neighborhood life was not about accomplishing many things quickly—unless you’re Mr. McFeely delivering the things neighbors need—but rather, it was the quality of social interactions that made time there special.

Slowing down his speech helped Rogers ensure that all viewers could process and reflect on his messages. Nobody was too busy to make time to talk and answer questions in an attentive and thoughtful way. Slowing down and cultivating greater mindfulness of what we see and do in our daily routines can help reduce anxiety and its physical manifestations, such as hypertension and poor nutrition.

4) Cultivate community: For Rogers, “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”There was room for everyone in Rogers’ inclusive and mutually supportive neighborhood, and the community shaped who members were as individuals. Neighbors shared concerns and frustrations with one another, and they worked together to solve individual and collective problems. Nobody was deemed weak for needing to ask others for help, and membership in the community also brought responsibilities. Rogers worked to demonstrate for children how such two-way relationships—community-building—work.

5) Neighbors include non-human beings: As Rogers reminded his viewers, “There is something fancy about every … person, each fish, each bird, each living creature.” Recognizing children’s innate connections to animals and nature, and the importance of environmental health to human health, Rogers ensured that his framing of the neighborhood included non-human beings. We must be good neighbors to all: “If you were a fish, you wouldn’t want somebody dumping garbage into your home.”

Researchers now appreciate humans’ inherent need for connections with other life forms or biophilia. Not only is a connection to nature important for individual well-being, but it is also essential for our ability to be good neighbors with our Earth. Appreciating the complexities of the natural world and our impacts on it requires knowledge of this world. As children become more distracted by screens and enjoy fewer opportunities to explore outdoors, they suffer growing rates of “nature deficit disorder.”

5) Find good role models: The characters Rogers brought into his neighborhood were designed to help “children and their families…know that there are many constructive ways to express who they are and how they feel.” Conversations centered on the diverse things people did and often stressed how these were helpful to others. When Hall-of-Famer Lynn Swann visited the neighborhood, it was to share his ballet skills. The people and careers Rogers lifted up were valued not for their fame or how much money they generated, but for their value to people and community.

Growth and corporate concentration in mass media have generated unprecedented competition for people’s attention.  Messages targeting youth operate 24/7 and encourage them to find role models in celebrities more than in people they actually know. Mass media also encourages consumerism and the glamorizing of lucrative careers. Whereas children once aspired to careers in nursing, teaching, or firefighting, now they wish to be CEOs or millionaires.

6) Screen-free communication If Mr. Rogers was programming today, would there be smartphones in his neighborhood? Rogers knew that direct, face-to-face exchanges between children and adults were the foundation for joy, learning, and creative problem-solving, and they were the core of his program. While noting, “No computer will ever take the place of wooden toys or building blocks,” he did not see these as mutually exclusive.

Rogers would have been attentive to emerging evidence about the effects of screen time on young people’s mental and physical development. Today, young (and older) people spend an average of more than seven hours a day looking at screensPsychologist Sherry Turkle shows how increasing screen time undermines young people’s social development, making them less confident and capable of interactive face-to-face or even verbal telephone communication. Declines in empathy and compassion linked to screen time help account for today’s problematic social and political polarization.

We see these effects in our work with university students and entry-level employees: the manners and communications skills once taken for granted are often not nurtured in young people before they go into the world outside their immediate families. Although new forms of communication have value, we worry about their effects on longstanding social norms, conventions, and conflict management tools developed over many generations of human evolution.

Time spent cultivating real-time relationships helps children learn to create and maintain the meaningful friendships and adult relationships they need to thrive. Online “friends” can’t provide a warm shoulder for support, and a screen can’t take the place of offline human interactions.

The Millennial Health Study is a wake-up call: Young people need to be encouraged to develop effective communication skills and connections to communities. Declining physical and mental health is linked to social isolation, which is tied to atrophied social skills, practices, and values that were staples of Rogers’ programming.

Jackie Smith

Jackie Smith is a professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and editor of the Journal of World-Systems Research. She is author or editor of numerous books and articles on global organizing and social change, including Social Movements and World-System TransformationSocial Movements in the World-System: The Politics of Crisis and Transformation, and Social Movements for Global Democracy. She helps coordinate Pittsburgh’s Human Rights City Alliance and is a member of the steering committee of the US Human Rights Network’s Human Rights Cities Alliance.

Bob Glidden has been an Environmental Health Sanitarian and Administrator for 33 years and presently works at the former location of Pittsburgh’s Arsenal Family & Children’s Center, where Fred Rogers began his study of child psychology.

Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share it widely.

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Loving Relationships: The Biggest Predictor Of A Happy Life

By Melanie Curtin | Inc.com

Prioritizing what’s important is challenging in today’s world. The split focus required to maintain a career and a home, not to mention a Facebook feed, can feel overwhelming.

Enter the science of what to prioritize, when.

For over 75 years, Harvard’s Grant and Glueck study has tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study), and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944 (the Glueck study).

Due to the length of the research period, this has required multiple generations of researchers. Since before WWII, they’ve diligently analyzed blood samples, conducted brain scans (once they became available), and pored over self-reported surveys, as well as actual interactions with these men, to compile the findings.

The conclusion? According to Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one thing surpasses all the rest in terms of importance:

“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Not how much is in your 401(k). Not how many conferences you spoke at–or keynoted. Not how many blog posts you wrote or how many followers you had or how many tech companies you worked for or how much power you wielded there or how much you vested at each.

No, the biggest predictor of your happiness and fulfillment overall in life is, basically, love.

Specifically, the study demonstrates that having someone to rely on helps your nervous system relax, helps your brain stay healthier for longer, and reduces both emotional as well as physical pain.

The data is also very clear that those who feel lonely are more likely to see their physical health decline earlier and die younger.

“It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship,” says Waldinger. “It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”

What that means is this: It doesn’t matter whether you have a huge group of friends and go out every weekend or if you’re in a “perfect” romantic relationship (as if those exist). It’s the quality of the relationships–how much vulnerability and depth exists within them; how safe you feel sharing with one another; the extent to which you can relax and be seen for who you truly are, and truly see another.

According to George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study from 1972 to 2004, there are two foundational elements to this: “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

Thus, if you’ve found love (in the form of a relationship, let’s say) but you undergo a trauma like losing a job, losing a parent, or losing a child, and you don’t deal with that trauma, you could end up “coping” in a way that pushes love away.

This is a very good reminder to prioritize not only connection but your own capacity to process emotions and stress. If you’re struggling, get a good therapist. Join a support group. Invest in a workshop. Get a grief counselor. Take personal growth seriously so you are available for connection.

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How to Find Your Purpose in Midlife

By Jill Suttie | Greater Good Magazine

My youngest will be going off to college next fall, meaning I’ll soon be an empty nester. After having raised my kids for the last 22 years or so, a large part of my purpose in life will leave along with my son.

I know I’m not alone in feeling both sad and panicky about this big shift—a lot of other people face similar feelings. We wonder what life will be like and what we will do with ourselves once our kids have flown the coop.

One possibility is to renew our sense of purpose.

Having a purpose in life means caring deeply about a goal that you are willing to work toward achieving—often to help others or affect the world in some positive, productive way. Researchers like Kendall Bronk and educators like Patrick Cook-Deegan have done a lot to understand how we foster a sense of purpose in adolescents.

But what about older people like me? Do we need a sense of purpose, or should we just sit back and enjoy life? For young adults, the world and their possibilities seem wide open—college students embark on a career path, and young parents start their families. How do we find a sense of purpose after we’ve had the career and raised our children?

Though purpose may seem like it belongs to the realm of younger people, evidence is mounting that having a purpose is important throughout one’s lifespan. Researchers are finding strong associations between having a purpose in life in adulthood and better physical health and well-being down the road. Their findings point to the need to foster purpose in older adults, especially in those who may find themselves adrift after children move away or post-retirement.

Not only could encouraging a new purpose in life result in happier, healthier midlife adults, it could motivate older adults to use their gifts for the greater good—thereby benefitting us all.

Why older adults need a sense of purpose

The physical benefits of a sense of purpose are well-documented, says Eric Kim of Harvard’s School of Public Health.

Using data from the Health and Retirement Study at the University of Michigan, he and his colleagues have found that people who report higher levels of purpose at one point in time have objectively better physical agility four years later than those who report less purpose. There is even a “dose response”—meaning, for every jump in purpose scores, people were 13-14 percent less likely to experience physical declines in grip strength and walking speed.

Though initially skeptical that purpose could have this kind of an impact, Kim is now convinced otherwise.

“It’s very interesting to see how this construct of purpose—which has long been discussed by philosophers and theologians—is associated with all of these benefits,” Kim says. “It’s not counterintuitive to me anymore; though it is when I present this kind of research to cardiologists or other scientists.”

Patrick Hill of Washington University’s Purpose, Aging, Transitions, and Health Laband his colleagues have also found important advantages for more purposeful adults, including better cognitive functioning and greater longevity. They’re more likely to floss their teeth, exercise, and get to the doctor.

“Perhaps because people with purpose have an overall outlook regarding the importance of their goals in life, they take care of themselves better,” Kim suggests.

There’s probably something else going on, too, says Hill. He points to an unpublished study where researchers monitored people daily to see how stressful events in their lives affected their stress levels. Those people who reported having a higher sense of purpose felt significantly less stress and anxiety after a stress-filled day than other participants—a finding supported by other studies on purpose and decreased stress reactivity.

“If you have a day in which you experience a stressful event, maybe those stress events aren’t influencing you or impacting you as much if you have a purpose,” he says.

Are some purposes better than others?

Does it matter what kind of purpose we pursue? The answer so far is yes—if you are older.

Hill points to a study done with college students whose goals coalesced around four different categories. On one side stood goals that aimed to help others—that is, “prosocial” goals. Others were artistic, and some were simply more self-oriented: financial goals or recognition and achievement at work. The researchers didn’t find significant differences in positive outcomes between the groups. It was just good to have a goal, no matter what it was.

“There are benefits to living a life of purpose even if it isn’t deemed to be focused on helping others beyond the self,” Hill says.

But there’s an important caveat for older adults. That same study found that students with a more prosocial purpose experienced benefits later in adulthood—namely, greater personal growth, integrity, and generativity—a marker of purpose tied to well-being. This suggests the focus of one’s purpose may indeed make a difference down the road, as you age.

Researchers at Stanford are starting to dig into that question. In a soon-to-be published study, Anne Colby and her colleagues surveyed almost 1,200 Americans in their midlife about what goals were important to them, offering choices that were focused beyond the self—like improving the lives of others, building a better community, or teaching what they’d learned to others—and choices that weren’t—like strengthening their financial situation, pursuing sports or hobbies, or continuing their education. They also measured their psychological well-being, including their levels of empathy, wisdom, generativity, gratitude, and happiness.

“Those who were purposeful beyond the self said their lives were filled with joy and happiness”―Professor Anne Colby

Next, they interviewed over a hundred representatives from the survey in depth to find out how engaged they were in pursuing those goals and the impact this had on their lives. Colby found significantly higher well-being in people who were involved in pursuing beyond-the-self goals, compared to those who were pursuing other types of goals. In other words, engaging in prosocial goals had more impact on well-being than engaging in non-prosocial goals.

“To get very high psychological well-being from being deeply engaged with others and transcending the self, that’s a well-documented impact,” says Colby. “We saw this clearly in our interviews, too: Those who were purposeful beyond the self said their lives were filled with joy and happiness.”

Colby doesn’t know whether having a beyond-the-self purpose affects physical health, though, as her study didn’t measure health changes over time. But when she asked people about their current state of health, she found that, contrary to popular belief, poor health was not a barrier to having a purpose beyond the self.

“It’s not that purpose makes no difference to health,” says Colby. “But people whose health was not good for different reasons were still able to be purposeful.”

While her results on well-being sound promising, they are not Colby’s main concern. She believes it’s important to study beyond-the-self purpose so we can understand how to engage people in caring about others and the common good—not because it makes someone happier or healthier.

“The fortunate thing is that you don’t have to choose between sacrificing yourself to make the world a better place and well-being,” says Colby. “In fact, it’s the opposite: You gain and the rest of the world gains at the same time.”

How to foster purpose in midlife

While this research continues to evolve, it’s unclear whether purpose can be taught to adults in midlife or whether it develops naturally over time. But Kim suggests purpose can at least be enhanced.

He points to programs designed to increase purpose in older adults and cancer patientsthat have resulted in greater health and well-being. Though this research is fairly preliminary, it suggests that purpose might be enhanced through specific therapy add-ons.

Connecting people to volunteering can help build purpose, too, says Kim. He points to a study where randomly assigning older people to tutor schoolkids increased their feelings of generativity in comparison to a control group. Plus, it benefitted the students, too.

Colby agrees that volunteering can be an entryway to purpose, and says there is a lot of research supporting the benefits of volunteering, in general. However, she also warns against seeing volunteerism as a panacea.

“Sometimes volunteering can be deadening. It needs to be engaging. You have to feel you’re accomplishing something,” says Colby.

Jim Emerman, a collaborator of Colby’s, agrees. He is the former CEO of the American Society on Aging and current vice president of Encore.org—an organization devoted to studying and advocating for purposeful engagement for midlife and older adults. Encore.org not only helps match adults to opportunities in their communities, it also educates organizations and policy groups about what older Americans have to offer.

“Older adults are a growing population with a strong motivation and desire to actualize those feelings, to become a force for good in their community,” says Emerman. “Too often, institutions devalue them, or they’re entrenched in ideas about what old age is about and set up obstacles.”

This is particularly ironic, given how older people often have a renewed sense of freedom when their kids have left home or after they retire. They may finally be at a point where they have more time to pursue purposeful activities and find that too few value their contributions.

Emerman would like to change that.

“We found that around 31 percent of our group [from Colby’s survey] are pursuing purpose, while another 20 percent have a strong desire for purpose, but something is holding them back,” says Emerman. “That’s a lot of people who could be giving back to their community if given the right opportunity.”

How can someone find that opportunity? Often, people just need to be asked by someone they know to step up, says Emerman—but many are not asked. Their workplace goes out of business or they leave, and there’s no one there to help connect them to something else, he says.

“If supports were more widely available, it would help more people who are on the cusp of engaging with purpose do so,” he says.

Still, adults in midlife might not want to wait around until somebody figures out how they can plug in. If you’re an older adult and you long to contribute, he suggests using online resources, including Encore.org, to see where your interests take you.

“The key things to think about are: What are you good at? What have you done that gave you a skill that can be used for a cause? What do you care about in your community?” says Emerman. “Those questions really help one focus.”

About the Author
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Jill Suttie

Jill Suttie, Psy.D., is Greater Good’s book review editor and a frequent contributor to the magazine.

Read more great articles at Greater Good Magazine.




Is Gratitude Good for Your Health?

By Summer Allen | Greater Good Magazine

After 15 years of research, we know that gratitude is a key to psychological well-being. Gratitude can make people happier, improve their relationships, and potentially even counteract depression and suicidal thoughts. But might the benefits of gratitude go beyond that? Could gratitude be good for your physical health, too?

While some studies have associated gratitude with a whole slew of benefits—from fewer aches and pains to improved sleep to better cardiovascular health—others have found more mixed results. More research is needed before doctors start giving out prescriptions for gratitude, but there’s good reason to suspect that gratitude has positive ramifications for your body.

“Gratitude…can be an incredibly powerful and invigorating experience,” says researcher Jeff Huffman. “There is growing evidence that being grateful may not only bring good feelings. It could lead to better health.”

Are grateful people healthier?

People of all ages and various nationalities who have more grateful dispositions report fewer health complaints than their less grateful counterparts. In one study, more grateful participants reported fewer health problems (such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory infections, and sleep disturbances); in another, they reported fewer physical symptoms (including headaches, dizziness, stomachaches, and runny noses). Seems pretty clear-cut, right?

Not necessarily. One big question is whether gratitude causes good health or whether good health causes gratitude—or perhaps something else makes us both grateful and healthy. Indeed, while these studies suggest that grateful people are healthier, they could also suggest that people in poorer health are less likely to feel grateful. To tease apart this relationship, researchers have begun to explore whether people who engage in gratitude activities benefit from improved health.

Results from the GGSC’s own Thnx4 project found that participants who kept an online gratitude journal for two weeks reported better physical health, including fewer headaches, less stomach pain, clearer skin, and reduced congestion. These results are consistent with a 2003 paper published by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough. In that study, college students who wrote about things they were grateful for just once a week for ten weeks reported fewer physical symptoms (such as headaches, shortness of breath, sore muscles, and nausea) than students who wrote about daily events or hassles.

Other studies, however, have found no health benefits from gratitude. In one study of middle school students, those who completed a “counting blessings” activity for two weeks didn’t report better physical health than other groups. And, in their 2003 study, Emmons and McCullough found that college students who kept daily gratitude journalsfor two weeks (rather than ten) didn’t fare better in terms of health complaints. Emmons and McCullough also found that people with neuromuscular disease who kept a daily gratitude journal for three weeks reported the same amount of physical pain as people who just filled out basic daily surveys.

Do these mixed results mean that keeping a gratitude journal or writing gratitude letterswon’t improve your health? Not necessarily. In the studies that failed to find health benefits, participants tried their gratitude activities for relatively short periods of time (two to three weeks). It could be that people who keep a gratitude journal for longer—say, multiple months—see stronger effects. Future studies will need to test this possibility.

Do grateful people sleep better?

Sleep is vital for good health. Inadequate sleep puts strain on the body and increases your risk of developing obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions. But anyone who’s struggled with insomnia knows it’s not always so easy to get enough z’s. Perhaps surprisingly, studies suggest that boosting your gratitude might be a relatively easy way to improve your slumber.

People with heart failure and chronic pain who are more grateful report sleeping better, despite their condition, than less grateful patients. In a study of 401 people, 40 percent of whom had clinically impaired sleep, more grateful people reported falling asleep more quickly, sleeping longer, having better sleep quality, and staying awake more easily during the day. This study also found evidence that more grateful people sleep better because they have fewer negative thoughts and more positive ones at bedtime.

You don’t have to be a natural gratitude guru to get good sleep. Evidence suggests that just performing gratitude exercises can help. In one study, people with neuromuscular disease who kept a daily gratitude journal for three weeks reported sleeping significantly longer at night and feeling significantly more refreshed than people in the control group. And in a 2016 study, women who kept a gratitude journal for two weeks reported slightly better daily sleep quality compared to women who performed other tasks.

While the evidence that gratitude practices benefit sleep is still preliminary, it’s strong enough to suggest that those of us counting sheep may want to try counting blessings instead.

Is gratitude good for your heart?

Gratitude feels heartwarming, and a growing body of work suggests that gratitude might help keep our actual hearts healthy, too.

This line of research began in 1995, when a study found that people feeling appreciation (an emotion related to gratitude) have improved heart rate variability, an indicator of good heart health. In a more recent study, women who kept a gratitude journal where they wrote about “previously unappreciated people and things in their lives” for two weeks ended up with lower blood pressure than those who wrote about daily events. Together, these and other results suggest that feeling gratitude can be good for healthy hearts.

What about people who already have heart problems? Recent studies by Paul Mills, Laura Redwine, and colleagues have probed the relationship between gratitude and health in people with Stage B, asymptomatic heart failure—people whose hearts have suffered structural damage but who show no clear outward symptoms. In their study of 186 patients, more grateful people reported better sleep, less fatigue, less depression, more confidence in their ability to care for themselves, and lower levels of systemic inflammation (an immune response that can have negative effects on the body, including the cardiovascular system). Patients who did daily gratitude journaling for eight weeks also showed decreased markers of inflammation at the end of the experiment.

These results are especially important given that both depression and sleep problems can worsen heart failure, and they suggest that a gratitude journal might indeed be a good addition to the care provided to heart patients.

Gratitude may even help patients recover from a heart attack. In the Gratitude Research in Acute Coronary Events (GRACE) study by Jeff Huffman and colleagues, more optimistic and more grateful people showed signs of improved blood vessel function two weeks—though not six months—after being hospitalized for heart attacks, compared to less grateful patients. Unlike optimism, though, gratitude didn’t seem to improve patients’ physical activity levels or their likelihood of being readmitted to the hospital. A follow-up study found that people who were more grateful or optimistic two weeks after their heart attack were more likely to follow their doctors’ recommendations six months later.

A 2017 study by Neal Krause and colleagues may point to yet another way that gratitude supports heart health. This study found that more grateful people had significantly lower levels of a protein found in red blood cells called hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c). High HbA1c levels are a “biomarker” associated with an increased risk of heart failure and non-fatal heart attacks. HbA1C has also been implicated in poor blood sugar control in diabetes, as well as chronic kidney disease, a number of cancers, and overall risk of death. (This study does not tell us that being more grateful directly affects one’s HbA1C level; it is just as likely that more grateful people engage in other positive health activities that in turn lower their HbA1C.)

Studies focused on identifying biomarkers like this are likely to be an important part of the future of research on gratitude and health. For example, as part of the Greater Good Science Center’s Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude initiativeNaomi Eisenberger is testing how a gratitude intervention can change the expression of genes related to inflammation, and Wendy Mendes is examining how experiencing gratitude changes biomarkers related to stress, resilience, and aging.

How might gratitude improve health?

Research on the relationship between gratitude and physical health is still developing, but studies so far suggest that there may be a connection. At the very least, it appears that more grateful people report feeling healthier and sleeping better, and they may even have some physiological markers of better health.

This raises a clear question: How is it that gratitude might make people healthier? Besides helping them sleep, gratitude may lead people to engage in other behaviors that help keep them healthy, like eating well and not smoking. Indeed, more grateful people report having healthier lifestyles, more grateful heart attack patients adhere better to their doctors’ recommendations, and college students who count blessings weekly for 10 weeks exercise significantly more than those who do other writing activities.

But there are other possible mechanisms. Gratitude’s stress-buffering ability and known power to increase happiness and positive emotions may have downstream positive influences on health. And gratitude’s role in fostering and strengthening social connections may be just as important. A growing body of research strongly suggests that our relationships with others can have tangible health benefits.

Still, there is a lot we don’t yet know. As we speak, researchers are exploring how different types of gratitude might have different benefits, whether the target of your gratitude makes a difference, and how gratitude could impact your body in real time.

Additionally, we still need more evidence to determine whether or not particular gratitude activities can improve specific health outcomes, how long these improvements last, and whether characteristics such as age, gender, religion, or personality can influence gratitude’s effects on health. But the evidence is mounting that gratitude may well be one of the fundamental pillars of a healthy lifestyle.

About the Author

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Summer Allen, Ph.D., is a Research/Writing Fellow with the Greater Good Science Center. A graduate of Carleton College and Brown University, Summer now writes for a variety of publications including weekly blog posts for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is also very active on twitter: follow her, or just reach out and say hello!

Read more great articles at Greater Good Magazine.




How You Can Bring Balance To Your Work Week

By Dr.Josep Mercola | mercola.com

If you are an American working 50 to 60 hours a week, a study1 out of Australia may give you pause. Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) suggest 39 hours to be the ideal work week to ensure you maintain life balance and good health. The study asserts working those who have domestic chores and caregiving responsibilities should trim their work schedules back to just 34 hours a week. The upper limit for those spending less time on domestic work was suggested as 47 hours.

According to USA Today,2 Americans spend about 47 hours a week, on average, working. Brits clock in at 37.5 hours and French employees a little less, at 35 hours a week. While it’s well known Americans work longer hours than many of our counterparts around the world, how often do you stop to consider the effects those extra hours are likely having on your health and well-being?

Long Work Hours Drain Your Mental and Physical Health

The research3 mentioned above was based on data drawn from about 8,000 adults, ages 24 to 65, as part of the Household, Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia survey. Lead researcher Huong Dinh, research fellow at ANU’s research school of population health, asserts, “Long work hours erode a person’s mental and physical health, because it leaves [them] less time to eat well and look after themselves properly.” According to Dinh, reducing the number of work hours seems particularly important for women. She says:

“They spend much more time on care and domestic work. Given the extra demands placed on women, it’s impossible for women to work long hours often expected by employers unless they compromise their health. Despite the fact that women, on average, are as skilled as men, women … have lower paid jobs and less autonomy than men, and they spend much more time on care[giving] and domestic work.”

Some of the study highlights published by Dinh and her team are as follows:

  • While longer work hours are not necessarily bad and do not have a uniformly negative impact on your mental health, there is a distinct tipping point when the hours worked do begin to affect your mental health
  • Due to constraints related to caregiving and domestic chores, if you are a woman, you are perceived to have a lower threshold when it comes to achieving work/health balance
  • Australia’s current system of work-hour regulations and expectations appears to be negatively affecting women’s health in that country
  • To encourage men and women to equally share caregiving responsibilities, work hours would need to be reduced

Working More Than 55 Hours a Week May Negatively Affect Your Heart

Research4 conducted by the European Society of Cardiology suggests it might actually be possible to work your heart out. Based on a study of 85,500 men and women over a 10-year period, researchers observed a negative tendency with respect to the relationship between work hours and heart health.

Specifically, individuals who worked more than 55 hours a week were 40 percent more likely than those working a normal workweek (35 to 40 hours) to develop an irregular heartbeat, or atrial fibrillation (AFib). The correlation between longer work hours and increased risk of AFib remained even after scientists adjusted for risk factors such as age, alcohol use, gender, obesity and smoking. Lead researcher Mika Kivimaki, a professor in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said:5

“Nine out of 10 of the atrial fibrillation cases occurred in people who were free of pre-existing or concurrent cardiovascular disease. This suggests the increased risk is likely to reflect the effect of long working hours, rather than the effect of any pre-existing or concurrent cardiovascular disease.”

The current study seems to support previous research linking long work hours to an increased risk of stroke. Kivimaki states:6 These findings … could be one of the mechanisms that explain the previously observed increased risk of stroke among those working long hours. Atrial fibrillation is known to contribute to the development of stroke, but also other adverse health outcomes, such as heart failure and stroke-related dementia.”

Another very important factor to consider with atrial fibrillation, though, is exposure to EMF, just as cell phones, Wi-Fi, portable phones and sleeping in a bedroom that has the electrical power turned on to it. The heart has a high density of voltage gated calcium channels and is highly susceptible to EMF and one of the primary symptoms are cardiac arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation.

Other Reasons You Might Want to Cut Back on Your Work Hours

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics7 reveal nearly 15 million Americans work full time on the evening shift, night shift, rotating shifts or other employer-arranged work schedules considered “irregular.” According to 2010 U.S. health interview data, nearly 19 percent of working adults are on the job 48 hours or more per week.

More than 7 percent logged 60 hours or more each week. The risk of heart disease and stroke are not the only reasons you might want to cut back on your work hours. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest when your work overtime, you put yourself at risk for:8

Edward Hitchcock, Ph.D., supervisory research psychologist and deputy chief of the organizational science and human factors branch, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, stated:9 “There is currently a lot of scientific evidence showing that shift work and long hours of work are associated with significant health and safety risks. Scientists believe these risks occur due to disruptions in sleep and circadian rhythms associated with these demanding schedules and strains on social life.”

Hitchcock also noted the disruptive effects lack of sleep and inconsistent sleeping hours can have on your body. He said:10 “The human body cannot naturally adjust to sleeping during the day or at irregular hours … consequently, many shift workers do not get the seven to eight hours of good quality, restorative sleep that most of us need.” A nearly two-year-long experiment in Sweden involving nurses working six-hour days instead of traditional eight-hour days at an elder-care facility revealed several benefits of shortened work days, including:11

  • Being less tired and retaining more energy for home-based and free-time activities
  • Demonstrating better attitudes and work behavior while on the job
  • Getting an average of seven hours of sleep a night versus the less-than-six hours of sleep nurses working a traditional schedule achieved
  • Providing higher quality care to their patients
  • Taking fewer sick days than nurses working a longer shift

Five Tips to Help You Create a More Balanced Life

If you are in a job situation that is upsetting your work-life balance and detracting from the overall quality of your life, it may be time for a change. I believe you will find it worth your time to talk to your employer about possible options to help you reduce stress, be more productive and achieve greater job satisfaction. It’s important to remember that working longer hours does not necessarily mean you will be able to get more work done.

In fact, I imagine if you are routinely unhappy or stressed while on the job, you will actually be less productive and the quality of your work may suffer. Everyone wins when you feel good about the work you do, there is balance in your schedule and your stress level feels manageable.

Regardless of whether you are able to make changes related to your job, there are several areas you can address in and outside of work that will go a long way in helping you create a more balanced life. I recommend you choose at least one of these areas to begin working on today. (Over time, I believe you will be helped by addressing all five areas.) Some tips to help you create a more balanced life are as follows:

1.Create a support network: Isolation and loneliness can be a major source of stress, so it is important that you make a point to connect personally with people around you. Particularly if your work environment is filled with difficult, or even toxic, people, you’ll need to create a support network outside of your job.

Even a quick chat while you are sitting in a waiting room or standing in line at the grocery store can help you feel connected to the world around you. You might also consider attending community events, meeting friends for coffee, taking a class or volunteering.

While you may think you are connected to others through email, social media and texting, that type of connection is not the same as personal, face-to-face contact. If you are unsure of the extent to which you use technology as your interface to other human beings, keep track of how much “face time” you have during the next week. The results may surprise you.

2.Learn to say “no:” Sometimes the stress and strain on your life comes from your inability or unwillingness to set boundaries and limits. When asked to take on yet another responsibility at work, for your children or on a volunteer project, you may feel guilty for saying “no.” If you were raised to say “yes” to almost everything that comes along, particularly because this is the only way you think people will like or accept you, it’s time to rethink the powerful word “no.”

Especially if you feel you are continually busy — racing from one activity or commitment to the next, all day long — from the time you get up until you fall into bed at night, you are a prime candidate for change. Start this week to re-establish some balance in your life by saying “no” to any new request or activity you know will only serve to cause additional stress and imbalance.

3.Look inward: Because you cannot separate your physical health from your emotional well-being, it is important you take time on a regular basis to look inward. Every feeling you have affects some part of your body, so it is important to notice and address the feelings that come up in the context of your everyday circumstances and relationships.

When left unchecked, lingering negative feelings and the emotional stress that often accompanies them can wreak havoc on your health. This is true even if you are doing everything else — diet, exercise and sleep, for instance — “right.” Some tools you can use to look inward and explore your emotions include:

Coloring, drawing or painting Relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing and positive visualization Yoga
Journaling Meditation Prayer

My personal favorite tool to manage emotional stress is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), which involves light tapping over the major energy meridians of your body. It is a handy tool you can use as often as you need to unload emotional baggage. EFT is quick and painless, and so easy even children can learn it.

4.Nurture yourself: If you live a hectic, fast-paced life, the idea of nurturing and caring for yourself may be a foreign concept. It is a rare person who knows how to practice self-care on an ongoing basis. Sure, you may take an annual vacation or visit a spa occasionally, but do you have a daily practice of nurturing that contributes to feelings of balance, tranquility and wholeness?

If not, it’s never too late to start thinking about ways you can practice healthy self-care. I challenge you to create a list of at least 25 things you can do to nurture yourself.

For example, you might choose to prepare one of your favorite meals, get a massage, go for a bike ride, listen to music, spend time with a friend or take an exercise class. Some of the ways I nurture myself include eating healthy food, doing peak fitness, reading a book, walking on the beach and enjoying an occasional chocolate fat bomb truffle.

I caution you from falling into the all-too-common trap of adopting habits that start out under the guise of self-care but inevitably decline into unhealthy, self-destructive practices. Some of them may include drinking alcohol, eating out frequently, indulging in junk food or sugary treats, spending hours on social media and watching TV. Reliance on these and other unhealthy coping mechanisms will only increase the stress and imbalance in your life.

5.Prioritize activities: Being frequently late or constantly feeling hurried are significant stressors, making it important for you to carefully prioritize your activities. By focusing on the aspects of your day that are truly “must do” activities, you put your energy and time where they will garner the most positive effects.

Prioritizing also helps you identify possible responsibilities and tasks that can be delegated. Furthermore, prioritizing gives you permission to temporarily set aside any task standing between you and some much-needed self-care, because you don’t really need to have a certain task done until next week.

Finally, by making lists of your important activities, you can more easily schedule them into your day and time them conveniently and efficiently. For example, one of the easiest methods to reduce your stress level related to running errands is to group them together by geography. In doing so, you can more effectively run a series of errands on a single day with a prioritized focus.

Final Thoughts About Balancing Your Work Week

Life is short. Time flies. Upon retirement, very few people, if any, say they wished they would have worked longer hours during the many years they spent on the job. In fact, it’s often the people you work alongside and the relationships you forged that make the most impact on you. That said, no matter how close or far you are to retirement, your health and well-being simply will not self-manage.

You need to take active steps every day to balance the needs and expectations of your job with your life outside work and the people in it. Even if you cannot imagine working as few as 39 hours a week, as suggested by the ANU researchers, any reduction at all will be an improvement if you currently work more than 40 hours.

Particularly if you are working upward of 50 hours a week, it will be nearly impossible to optimize your health until you find a way to cut back your work hours and rebalance your life. Start today. You won’t regret it.

Read more great articles at mercola.com




You’ll Be Mentally Stronger If You Do This One Small Act Every Day

By Ana Erkic | Lifehack

As humans, we tend to set goals throughout our entire lives and dedicate most of our time trying to achieve them. That gives us purpose and motivation to strive forward. Yet, it can have detrimental consequences to our mental health, activating stress indicators that come as a byproduct of pushing ourselves too hard towards massive goals.

Related Article: Morning Inspiration: How To Overcome Limiting Beliefs (Motivational Video)

As psychologist Karl Weick suggests in his article “Small Wins,” we should make it an everyday practice to focus our attention towards the positive by counting each small win we make. By taking the Alcoholics Anonymous as an example, he suggests that the principle works due to the change in perspective. Instead of focusing on overwhelming and complex goals, participants are encouraged to choose small, achievable daily actions:

The impossibility of lifetime abstinence is scaled down to the more workable task of not taking a drink for the next 24 hours, drastically reducing the size of a win necessary to maintain sobriety.

By celebrating these small, daily wins, participants feel more confident and motivated to achieve the same satisfactory feeling the next day, and so the behavior gains momentum leading to an almost effortless achievement of the ultimate goal.

The Dangers of Dreaming Big

We are encouraged on a daily basis to “dream big” and set our bars high if we want to achieve great things. This phrase is an inescapable part of every motivational speech by almost every successful person who ever lived. There is nothing wrong in the saying itself, yet it tends to be misinterpreted by us, the regular mortals who are fascinated by fairy tale stories of dreams that come true to those who are brave enough to wish and focus on the ultimate goal.

For every great achievement ever made, there have been a million of small wins and breakthroughs that gradually led there, and this is something many people tend to overlook when working on achieving their goals. If we forget to appreciate the small wins we regularly make, the following negative consequences will appear:

  • Our sense of self-worth can be worsened
  • We risk feeling bad about ourselves and feeling incompetent when we constantly compare present state to our final goals, which can only lessen our chances of making progress
  • We are prone to the feeling of failure and depression when our goals can’t be achieved
  • The increased amount of stress we have to cope with when we work on getting it all and now is counterproductive, as it blocks our productivity and weakens our physical health

Related Article: LOA – Aligning with How You Are Feeling

Once we change the perspective from big to small and break our final goal into smaller, achievable chunks, we take the pressure off and avoid the risks to our health. By focusing on everyday progress, we automatically feel much more motivated, which causes our brain to get hooked on the positive rush and the feeling of accomplishment striving to achieve more. Understanding the importance of small wins and knowing how to apply it to your everyday life will cause tremendous benefits to your goal achieving and your overall health.

Here is the 4-step process you can take to develop the habit of celebrating small wins:

Step 1: Start small

First of all, you need to write down your final goal, and forget about it. It sounds silly, but this will help you focus on the fragments ahead of you, which is the only way to get things done. Instead of wasting energy on planning months ahead, focus on the next day’s challenges only. Be here and now and only think one step ahead in order to move forward. This will give you the constant sense of accomplishment, which will motivate you to move forward and boost your self-esteem.

Step 2: Reflect often

Every once in a while, take some time to reflect on your progress. So often we focus on goals yet to be accomplished and forget about the progress that has already taken place. This means comparing yourself — with yourself. For example, if your goal is to lose certain amount of weight, instead of beating yourself up for not getting there yet, you should compare some older photos of yourself to the new ones. By doing so, you will get the visual proof of your progress which serves as great inspiration for future advances and inspires positive emotions.

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5 Effective Ways to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence

happy-hipster

By Jordan Gray | Jordan Gray Consulting

“How can I improve my emotional intelligence?”

I’ve had three clients ask me this question over the last week, and whenever something pops up that frequently, I usually take it as a sign that it needs it’s own article.

What is emotional intelligence?

How does having it improve your life? Is it something that you’re just born with? Can you cultivate it?

Simply put, emotional intelligence is your individual ability to identify, manage, and express your emotions, and to identify and empathize with the emotions of others.

Emotional intelligence can be broken down into four primary skill sets: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Self-awareness: being aware of your own emotions, moment to moment, and understanding how your emotions influence your thoughts and behavioural choices.

Self-management: being able to shift, manage, and consciously suppress your emotions when necessary.

Social awareness: being aware of the emotional realities of others.

Relationship management: knowing how to develop and maintain healthy personal relationships with others.

Why Would You Want To Enhance Your Emotional Intelligence?

The benefits of heightened emotional intelligence are plentiful. Emotional intelligence, sometimes referred to as your EQ, positively impacts your self-esteem, your physical health, your mental health, your job performance, and the quality of your relationships.

While heightened emotional intelligence isn’t a requirement to thrive in life, it certainly helps with a lot of important areas. And, I would argue, that emotional intelligence is becoming increasingly valuable as our world turns more and more towards systems, automation, and robotics, and human beings are starting to crave authentic emotional connection now more than ever.

Regardless of whether you were born with a naturally lower EQ set point, or you were more emotionally attuned earlier on in your life and it was conditioned/discouraged out of you, everyone can improve their emotional intelligence if they’re willing to put in a little bit of work.

Related Article: 25 Small Changes To Be A Happier Healthier Version Of Yourself [VIDEO]

Here are five things that you can do to raise your emotional intelligence.

1. Slow down and feel your feelings

When challenging, difficult, or overwhelming emotions come up for us, the default response is to either get busy doing more stuff or to temporarily deaden our emotions using some maladaptive numbing behaviour.

Instead of distracting yourself, slow down and feel your feelings fully.

If you feel anxious, accept that you feel anxious. If you feel the heaviness of grief in your chest, allow it to be there. If you need to cry, then cry.

Ask yourself, “What is coming up for me right now?”

Sit with it patiently and allow the emotion to speak to you.

Don’t judge, rationalize, or bypass your emotions – allow them to come up as they are. Remember, you’re working to get out of your head and into your heart… let it take it’s time to build the bridge to connect the two.

Slowing down and simply allowing your feelings is the first and most effective tool in order to gain emotional self-awareness.

2. Learn to reduce accumulated negative emotions

Have you ever felt stress? Of course you have. But what is stress? For something that so commonly permeates our lives, it never ceases to amaze me how little we understand about it.

Put simply, stress is the accumulation of unfelt feelings. That’s it.

Have a whole bunch of sadness that you haven’t felt? A lot of anger, frustration, or resentment that you haven’t dealt with? As it piles up in your body, you begin to feel the cumulative effects of stress.

It’s harder to differentiate what you’re feeling if there’s too much internal stimuli flooding you.

It becomes imperative that you learn to eliminate stress via emotional processing.

Not sure how to do that? This article on releasing difficult emotions gives you the step by step process.

3. Communicate your challenging emotions to key, trusted people

There will be times when you’re so flooded by your feelings that it will be nearly impossible to understand what’s happening inside of you. Or there might be times where, when you’re first cultivating new emotional self-awareness, a seemingly ‘new’ feeling comes up for you that you don’t necessarily understand.

In these moments, it is perfectly acceptable to confide in a safe, loving, trusted person who you can talk your feelings out with. Explain to them as much as you can, and have them reflect back to you what they are seeing and hearing about your emotional experience.

Related Article: How To Communicate A Difficult Truth With Love!

4. Observe your internal and external reactions to others

One rapid way to increase your emotional intelligence is to start becoming aware of the reactions that you have to others.

Then, allow those reactions to inform you of your own emotional defaulting patterns.

For example, if you find yourself becoming upset/frustrated/triggered by people who (fill in the blank… are always late, are rude to people, cut you off in traffic, etc.) then allow yourself to witness those emotions as they come up. Notice what your default emotional state is when it comes to reacting to others.

Once you notice your small handful of most frequently utilized emotional responses, it will become that much easier to identify and manage those same emotions later on.

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Don’t Skip Your Vacation: Studies Show Travel Makes You Smarter and Healthier

Female wearing hat with suitcase walking away through wheat field-compressed

By Lauren Curatola | Life Hack 

In today’s on-the-go world, it’s hard to take a break. And I don’t mean a 15 minute break to get a quick cup of coffee. I’m talking about a break from your daily tasks, office responsibilities and everyday pressures. I’m talking about a vacation, a destination getaway to a tropical island or a cross-country road trip through America’s heartland.

A recent study shows that more and more Americans are forgoing their vacation days, opting to work months on end to meet tight deadlines and prove company loyalty. And while managers probably appreciate your dedication to the job, your mind, body and soul are anxiously waiting for a much-needed break.

Related Article: New Online Travel Agency Sends Customers On Mystery Vacations (Where Your Destination is a Surprise)

Why does your mind, body and soul desperately need a jet-setting experience? Because traveling can improve your overall health and boost your creativity.

That’s right–traveling can positively affect your ability to be innovative while helping you de-stress, which improves your brain health, heart health and physical health.

Traveling Boosts Creativity

For most, creativity comes through new and exciting experiences. But when the most exciting thing about your day is the commute to and from work, or the office gossip at the water cooler, you’re limiting your mind’s ability to expand and be inspired.

Professor and author Adam Galinksy says that “foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms.” This essentially means that new sounds, sights and smells all spark the creativity synapses in the brain.

How can you get those brain synapses to fire? By traveling.

Many creatives, like writers Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain, used their international traveling experiences to sculpt their work. Hemingway’s novels are heavily inspired by his time spent in France and Spain, and Twain’s sail through the Mediterranean is documented in his travelogueInnocents Abroad. Their exposure to new and different cultures enabled them to write some of their best work.

Related Article: 8 Super Sensible Tips To Travel More for Less This Year

Vacationing in another country, or even another state, helps you open your mind. You can try exotic foods, visit notable landmarks, make friends with locals, or even hike through the mountains. Simply immersing yourself in a different environment for several days can inspire your creative abilities to new heights. And not only will you be more creative, you’ll be healthier and happier.

Traveling Improves Your Health

Traveling boosts brain power

Your mental health also experiences the perks of traveling. A poll conducted by the U.S. Travel Association discovered that travel, especially for retirees, prevents dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study also found that 86% of those who travel are more satisfied with their outlook on life, compared to the 75% who do not travel.

Traveling strengthens your heart

Not only does traveling enrich your brain power, but it also strengthens your heart health. The Framingham Heart Study found that those who didn’t take a vacation for several years were more likely to suffer from heart attacks than those who traveled annually.

Why is this?

Because those who get away from their work and homes are typically less stressed and less anxious–decreasing the strain on their hearts. In fact,travelers also reported that their stress-free and light-hearted feelings lasted for weeks after they returned home from their vacation.

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