Despite all the sources of inspiration on the topic, it’s hard not to take notice of an authoritative, 81-year-long study conducted by the big brains at Harvard University. Known as the Harvard Study of Adult Development, it is one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history.
Started in 1938, the Harvard study has been seeking to answer one question: What keeps us happiest as we go through life? The research started by tracking the lives of 724 men. Any original study participants left are now in their 90s, so now the study is examining the lives of 2,000 children of these men. This just might go on longer than The Simpsons.
As psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, the study’s fourth director, said in a recent TED Talk, the core conclusion of the study is breathtakingly simple: “The clearest message is this: good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
Life is relationships.
The study also elaborates on the happy and healthy part. First, an unexpected health benefit of maintaining relationships throughout one’s life; it protects the brain and preserves memory longer. Knowing you have people you can count on when things get tough keeps the brain healthy and less anxiety-ridden, thus sharper.
And having social connections means you live a longer, happier life — but loneliness kills. People who are more isolated experience health declines sooner (including declines in brain functioning), are far less happy, and die sooner.
Waldinger points out that you can be lonely in a crowd or a marriage, so it’s also about the quality of relationships, not just the quantity.
But if maintaining relationships was easy, everyone would do it.
Here are some common things that get in the way of forging and fueling relationships, and how to overcome them.
The work of it never ends.
Relationships can be exhausting, but they have to be a priority. Period. Doubling down on the investment you make in those that matter to you will matter in the end. And as for those friends who do fade for whatever reason, it’s critical to keep plugging in new ones. Waldinger says, “Those happiest in retirement were people who’d actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates.”
Having left the corporate world for the life of an entrepreneur (where I’m no longer surrounded daily by friends), I can tell you that keeping up with friendships is some of my most important work now.
That thing not said.
My wife and I base the strength of our marriage on our communication. Nothing gets left unsaid. I have seen friendships, marriages, and all walks of relationships rot from the inside because of a lack of courage in communicating the hard things.
The hard things are hard. The easy things are easy. The former strengthens bonds, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. To overcome the fear of saying that hard thing, try this simple trick: think of it as a bee sting. It will hurt at the moment it’s happening. But it’s soothed immediately thereafter if you apply salve, in the form of empathy and deep listening. And then everyone can move on.
Grudges do no one any good. Look in the dictionary under “Life’s too short” and you’ll find this. My dad was world-class at starting mystery fights with extended family members and holding grudges (and my mom even better at cleaning up behind him to keep the peace). It cost us a fair amount of potential family connectivity/joy.
Family-conflict expert Dr. Phil says the key to resolving family fights is to first recognize the impact the feud is having on the rest of the family, and then step up with a choice to forgive. Then get clear on what the disagreement is really about (sifting through emotions), seek to understand the others’ point of view, and extend an olive branch.
Work is only getting more intrusive.
Work-life integration has replaced work-life balance. We’ve never had more access to more distractions, devices, or demands. Integrating work into your life doesn’t mean it becomes your life. The integration part also means integrating with those you care about.
Strengthening relationships in the face of ever-increasing work demands involves redefining what success really is for you. In the end it’s a choice. I wish I had a more clever solve for you, but it really boils down to that. If success starts and ends with nurturing relationships, then everything else gets re-prioritized. You’ll find the things that go by the wayside to make room for relationships will soon seem trivial in comparison.
These researchers have been studying how to be happy for 81 years. Let’s learn from history to create a happier life, and one we can remember more clearly.
Scott MautzKeynote speaker and author, ‘Find the Fire’ and ‘Make It Matter’
There are thousands of tips and psychological techniques to help you feel happy. But what if our own body had a say in the matter? Here are some findings from neuroscientists — the people who know exactly when and why your brain can give you the feeling of total satisfaction! Other videos you might like: 10 Facts About Brain Prove You’re Capable of Anything https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhnFL… 12 Smart Psychological Tips You’d Better Learn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Szahr… 11 Military Hacks That’ll Make Your Life Easier https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frG12… TIMESTAMPS: Engage in pleasant expectations 0:42 Solve problems one at a time 1:17 Don’t keep things pent up: talk about what bothers you 1:50 Touch and embrace 2:29 Learn, learn, and, once again, learn! 3:12 Play sports 3:44 Always try to get a good sleep 4:40 Learn to say “Thank you” 5:16 SUMMARY: – The process of waiting for something nice, such as food or sex, is similar to the learned salivation response. Our brain experiences pleasure by simply anticipating the fun event. – For every right decision, our brain rewards itself with a dose of neurotransmitters that calm the limbic system and help us once again see the world in a better light. – Advisable not to keep your problems pent up. Whenever you talk about them, your brain triggers the production of serotonin and even manages to find some positive sides to the situation. – To us, humans, social interaction is important. Various forms of physical support, especially touch and embraces, can speed up a person’s recovery from an illness. – For the brain, acquiring new knowledge means permanent adaptation to a changing environment. Using this process, our brain develops, rewarding its own attempts to absorb and process new information with dopamine, the hormone of joy. – Physical activity is stress for the body. As soon as the stress ends, your body gets a reward: a dose of endorphins, released by the pituitary gland. – While we sleep in the dark, our body secretes the hormone melatonin. This hormone slows down all processes in the body, helping it to recover and increasing the level of serotonin in the hypothalamus. – When we say a person, or even fate, for something, we focus ourselves on the positive aspects of life. Pleasant memories trigger serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex. Subscribe to Bright Side : https://goo.gl/rQTJZz For copyright matters please contact us at: email@example.com —————————————————————————————- Our Social Media: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brightside/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/brightgram/ 5-Minute Crafts Youtube: https://www.goo.gl/8JVmuC —————————————————————————————- For more videos and articles visit: http://www.brightside.me/
Here’s something you know. Being self-confident improves odds of success, whether you’re a leader wanting to lead confidently, an entrepreneur, or someone just trying to learn how to deal with criticism. And you know the obvious ways to become more confident such as living with a sense of purpose and leveraging your strengths.
Now for the less obvious, unexpected ways that the most confident people become that way. I encourage you to tap into these unexpected, even counterintuitive hidden gems to shine more confidently from within.
1. Don’t start with self-confidence, start with self-compassion.
Believe it or not, to start feeling more self-confident, don’t start with trying to feel more self-confident. Start by focusing on feeling compassionate towards yourself. Forgive yourself when you make a mistake, remind yourself that you’re not perfect, allow yourself a learning curve and don’t expect to be an overnight sensation in everything you do.
Here’s the good news, research from the University of Texas, Austin shows that focusing first and foremost on self-compassion will lead to more consistent confidence, because you have a built-in mechanism to keep from spiraling downward in moments you catch yourself beating yourself up. To practice self-compassion, talk to yourself like you would a friend in need in those moments.
2. Insist that you’re not good enough.
Wait, huh? Isn’t self-confidence about insisting the opposite of this? It’s about the spirit and intent behind this insistence. For example, when you’re facing a tall task, cheerily remind yourself that you’re probably not good enough to do the task to your absolute best ability by going it completely alone –no one is. In other words, it’s a self-reminder that it’s OK to ask for help.
Highly self-confident people view asking for help as an opportunity to go from good to great. You should too. Research from Harvard and University of Pennsylvania even shows that asking for help makes you look good in the eyes of others which can further boost your self-confidence.
3. Be egotistical (at times).
Standard advice is to be confident without being egotistical, otherwise it backfires and that whole self-confidence thing begins to unravel. But actually, you should leverage your ego specifically to pump yourself up here and there with self-affirmations. Remind yourself of what you’re good at, that you’ve done it before, or that you’ve come so far already.
2013 research published in the psychology journal PLOS indicates that engaging in self-affirmations even improves problem solving under stress because you aren’t thrown off your game as easily and don’t let negativity add to the difficulty at hand.
4. Celebrate self-doubt.
Hold on, don’t confident people cast self-doubt aside? Not necessarily. In fact, they embrace it. The highly self-confident don’t wait until they feel 100 percent confident before proceeding, knowing that the simple act of doing will make them feel more confident over the long run. Think about it. After you try something difficult, even if you don’t 100 percent succeed, aren’t you going to be more confident the next time for having the experience under your belt?
A seminal, 2010 study in sports psychology even showed that a little self-doubt can improve performance, because it helps athletes maintain an edge.
5. Be stubborn when it counts most.
We’re told to stay flexible-minded because confidence flows from knowing you can bend and mold to what the moment requires. Except when it comes to preparing for that big, challenging event. Then it’s time for stubbornly sticking to rituals you’ve created. Harvard research shows that sticking to preparation rituals make you calmer when the moment to perform arrives.
I’ve found this to be true in preparing for any keynote I give. I have a ritual of rehearsing a keynote, no matter how many times I’ve given it, twice two days before and on the day before, and once the morning of. It gives me great comfort in knowing I’m prepared, and helps me to perform at my best.
6. Make comparisons (but do draw the line).
I often write about the importance of understanding that the only comparison that matters is to who you were yesterday. I’d like to amend that a bit to acknowledge that comparing to someone who has achieved what you want to can be helpful for goal setting. But stop there, because carrying on with the comparisons is more dangerous than meets the eye.
2018 research from Oakland University proved it’s a vicious cycle; when you compare to others you experience envy, the more envy you experience the worse you feel about yourself and thus the lower your self-confidence.
So pulling from the unexpected means you can expect to pull your self-confidence up. Better get started –greater success awaits.
Scott Mautz Keynote speaker and author, ‘Find the Fire’ and ‘Make It Matter’
Whether your fears involve your relationship, career, death, or discomfort, staying inside your comfort zone will ensure you live a small life.
In fact, as a therapist, I see a lot of people work so hard to prevent themselves from ever feeling anxious that they actually develop depression. Their efforts to make themselves stay comfortable inadvertently backfire. They live boring, safe lives that are void of the risk and excitement they need to feel fully alive.
Here are the top 10 fears that hold people back in life:
We live in an ever-changing world, and it is happening more rapidly than ever before. Despite this fact however, there are many people who fear change, and so they resist it.
This can cause you to miss out on many good opportunities that come your way. You run the risk of being stagnant and staying stuck in a rut when you avoid change.
The fear of loneliness can sometimes cause people to resist living alone or even to stay in bad relationships. Or, the fear of loneliness causes people to obsessively use social media to the extent that they miss out on making face-to-face connections.
And while it’s smart to ward off loneliness (studies show it’s just as harmful to your health as smoking), it’s important to surround yourself with healthy people and healthy social interactions.
One of the most common fears on earth is the fear of failure. It’s embarrassing to fail. And it may reinforce your beliefs that you don’t measure up.
You also might avoid doing anything where success isn’t guaranteed. Ultimately, you’ll miss out on all the life lessons and opportunities that might help you find success.
Many people avoid things like meeting new people or trying to enter into a new relationship because of the fear of rejection. Even individuals who are already married avoid asking a long-time spouse for something imagining that the person will say no.
Whether you fear asking that attractive person out on a date or asking your boss for a raise, the fear of rejection could keep you stuck. And while rejection stings, it doesn’t hurt as much as a missed opportunity.
People often avoid trying something different for fear of uncertainty. After all, there’s no guarantee that doing something new will make life better.
But staying the same is one surefire way to stay stagnant. Whether you’re afraid to accept a new job or you’re afraid to move to a new city, don’t let the fear of uncertainty hold you back.
6. Something Bad Happening
It is an unfortunate and inevitable fact that bad things will happen in life. And sometimes, the fear of doom prevents people from enjoying life.
You can’t prevent bad things from happening all the time. But don’t let that fear stop you from living a rich, full life that’s also full of good things.
7. Getting Hurt
Hopefully your parents or a trusted adult taught you to look both ways before you cross the street so that you wouldn’t get hurt. But, quite often, our fears of getting cause us to become emotionally overprotective of ourselves.
Your fear of uncomfortable feelings and emotional wounds might prevent you from making deep, meaningful connections. Or, it might stop you from being vulnerable at work. But, without emotional risk, there aren’t any rewards.
8. Being Judged
It’s normal to want to be liked. But, the fear of being judged can prevent you from being your true self.
The truth is, some people will judge you harshly no matter what. But, trusting that you’re mentally strong enough to live according to your values, is key to living your best life.
Another fear shared by many people is the feeling of not being good enough. If you feel like you don’t measure up, you might become an underachiever. Or, you might become a perfectionist in an effort to try and prove your worth.
The fear of inadequacy can be deep-rooted. And while it’s hard to face it head-on, you’ll never succeed until you feel worthy of your success.
10. Loss of Freedom
A certain amount of this fear can be healthy, but it becomes a problem when it holds you back in life. For many people, the fear of the loss of freedom becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For example, someone who wants to live a free life, might avoid getting a job with a steady income. Consequently, they might miss out on the freedom that comes with financial stability. So it’s important to consider what you’re giving up when you fear losing certain freedoms.
By Amy MorinAuthor, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”
In Carol Dweck’s famous study on growth mindset, Dweck taught high school students about brain plasticity and about how the characteristics of intelligence are not fixed. The idea was to convince students that they had control over improving their academic ability. Years later, these students scored higher on standardized tests.
It’s tempting to think of the Dweck study as a near instant fix. You teach students, or yourself, the details of growth mindset. This takes about an hour. And then afterward your performance magically improves.
Although Dweck’s study has been supported by future studies, for example this one, I suspect there is a crucial missing element to the story. What behaviors did the students change after the lesson? Knowing this is the key to understanding how you can improve your own life.
My story is about my mom, now a retired 3rd grade teacher. She took that same concept of teaching growth mindset and reworked it for 3rd graders. The reworked lesson plan came down to three YouTube videos. I’ll share those below and then share what happened in the class room after the lesson was over. In my observations of my mom’s classroom, all of the magic was in the behaviors that the students built afterward. In other words, it’s not knowledge that transformed the students, it was new habits.
#1. Success Is Not an Accident
First, my mom inspired her class with someone who embodies self-improvement. Steph Curry came into the NBA too short, too small, and too slow to be a star. Now he’s an MVP and World Champion. And it was all because of his practice habits.
I don’t think you need to be a third grader to be inspired by this.
#2. Your Brain Changes!
Then she threw a two minute video on neuroplasticity at the class.
This is a classic self-improvement tactic — practically all self-improvement books are written to start with an inspirational story and then to immediately pivot into an explanation of why anyone could achieve the same thing.
So my mom was hitting her kids with Curry for inspiration and then brain science for plausibility.
Here’s where I’m hoping you are finding your own future growth plausible: your brain can change. That’s what brain plasticity is. So no matter how bad you are at something right now, you can change that so that future you becomes very good at it. That’s basically what the concept of Growth Mindset is about.
#3. The Power of Yet
After the first two videos, my mom’s class was sold on growth mindset, but they didn’t know how to put it into practice.
Thankfully, Jannelle Monet was a guest on Sesame Street and gave the simplest behavioral pattern for practicing growth mindset: use the word Yet.
The Growth Mindset Habit
The three videos above are not enough to change a child’s life. They have to be followed up by a change in behavior.
That’s the entire misunderstanding with Carol Dweck’s study. The focus is on the initial lecture, not the follow on behavior.
One of my mom’s strengths as a teacher was that she brought a consistency to classroom management. And one of the changes she made to her classroom was that she started insisting that the class adopt the word yet.
Every time a kid says yet, they are representing that they are open to learning something new.
The lesson that my mom put together was the launchpad for a new habit. And that new habit was then reinforced hundreds of times over the school year.
You can’t A/B test my mother because she is retired. But I can share that her kids had one of the highest test score improvements of any class in her district.
Regardless of the merits of standardized testing, something about her teaching that year worked especially well. And anecdotally, that something revolved around the word Yet.
And for that reason, the word Yet has become a big part of my own self-talk. I hope you adopt it too.
From young adults to people in their 60s, everyday functioning in today’s world can place high demands on our attention and memory skills.
Memory lapses such as forgetting an appointment, losing our keys, forgetting a distant relative’s name or not remembering why you opened the fridge can leave us believing our thinking skills are impaired.
But you might be too hard on yourself. Tiredness, stress and worry, and feeling down or depressed are all common reasons adults experience attention and memory difficulties.
Attention and memory skills are closely connected. Whether we can learn and remember something partly depends on our ability to concentrate on the information at the time.
It also depends on our ability to focus our attention on retrieving that information when it’s being recalled at a later time.
This attention system, which is so important for successful memory function, has a limited capacity – we can only make sense of, and learn, a limited amount of information in any given moment.
Being able to learn, and later successfully remember something, also depends on our memory system, which stores the information.
Changes in attention and memory skills
In people who are ageing normally, both attention and memory systems gradually decline. This decline starts in our early 20s and continues slowly until our 60s, when it tends to speed up.
During normal ageing, the number of connections between brain cells slowly reduce and some areas of the brain progressively work less efficiently. These changes particularly occur in the areas of the brain that are important for memory and attention systems.
This normal ageing decline is different from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which cause progressive changes in thinking skills, emotions and behaviour that are not typical of the normal ageing process. Dementia comes from a group of diseases that affect brain tissue and cause abnormal changes in the way the brain works.
If you’re concerned your memory difficulties may be a symptom of dementia, talk to your GP, who can refer you to a specialist, if needed, to determine whether these changes are due to normal ageing, dementia or some other cause.
If you experience persistent changes in your thinking skills, which are clearly greater than your friends and acquaintances who are of a similar age and in similar life circumstances, see your GP.
Normal attention and memory difficulties
Broadly, there are two main reasons healthy adults experience difficulties with their memory and/or attention: highly demanding lives and normal age-related changes.
A person can be consistently using their attention and memory skills at high levels without sufficient mental relaxation time and/or sleep to keep their brain working at its best.
Young adults who are working, studying and then consistently using attention-demanding devices as “relaxation” techniques, such as computer games and social media interaction, fall into this group.
Adults juggling the demands of work or study, family and social requirements also fall into this group.
Most adults need around seven to nine hours of sleep per night for their brain to work at its best, with older adults needing seven to eight hours.
The second common reason is a combination of ageing-related brain changes and highly demanding work requirements.
For people in jobs that place a high load on thinking skills, the thinking changes that occur with normal ageing can become noticeable at some point around 55 to 70 years of age. It’s around this time age-related changes in the ability to carry out complex thinking tasks become large enough to be noticeable. People who are retired or don’t have the same mentally demanding jobs generally experience the same changes, but may not notice them as much.
This is also the age many people become more aware of the potential risk of dementia. Consequently, these normal changes can result in high levels of stress and concern, which can result in a person experiencing even greater difficulties day to day.
Emotional distress can take its toll
Feeling down and sad can affect memory and concentration. When a person is feeling worried and/or down regularly, they may become consumed by their thoughts.
It’s important to recognise how you’re feeling, to make changes or seek help if needed. But thinking a lot about how you’re feeling can also take a person’s attention away from the task at hand and make it difficult for them to concentrate on what is happening, or remember it clearly in the future.
So feeling worried or down can make it seem there is something wrong with their memory and concentration.
Boosting your attention and memory skills
There are a number of things that can be done to help your day-to-day memory and attention skills.
First, it’s important to properly rest your mind on a regular basis. This involves routinely doing something you enjoy that doesn’t demand high levels of attention or memory, such as exercising, reading for pleasure, walking the dog, listening to music, relaxed socialising with friends, and so on.
Playing computer games, or having a lengthy and focused session on social media, requires high levels of attention and other thinking skills, so these are not good mental relaxation techniques when you are already mentally tired.
It’s also important to get enough sleep, so you are not consistently tired – undertaking exercise on a regular basis often helps with getting good quality sleep, as does keeping alcohol consumption within recommended limits.
Looking after your mental health is also important. Noticing how you are feeling and getting support (social and/or professional) during longer periods of high stress or lowered mood will help ensure these things are not affecting your memory or concentration.
Finally, be fair to yourself if you notice difficulties with your thinking. Are the changes you notice any different to those of other people your own age and in similar circumstances, or are you comparing yourself to someone younger or with less demands in their life?
If you have ongoing concerns about your attention and memory, speak with your GP, who can refer you to a specialist, such as a clinical neuropsychologist, if needed.
People struggling with mental illness, from the mildest and most routine to the intractable and utterly devastating, are also burdened by the stereotypes and prejudices of stigmatization. The stigma of mental illness interferes with getting needed care and causes social isolation and alienation. This is not how things should be. Instead, people with emotional, cognitive and behavioral problems, regardless of whether the causes are external traumas or circumstances, internal events, or some combination, should be given the same respect and access to treatment as someone dealing with a mild sprain, a flu, or a life-threatening cancer. Healthcare should be healthcare. But it’s not. And stigmatization is largely to blame.
Everyone has a stake in fighting stigmatization. With around 1 in 5 Americans suffering from a mental illness over the course of a year, chances are pretty good you either are, have been, or are close to someone bearing the burden by stigma. The fight to reduce that burden really should involve everyone. So, after some context, I want to talk about three ways anyone can join the fight.
The context of stigma
Regardless of good intentions, people tend to perceive anyone whose psychological problems are worse than one’s own as “them” and not “us.” They are “other.” For the really serious problems there tends to be a perception of people as dangerous and deserving social isolation; we should “lock ‘em up!” People with milder conditions often confront a “weak-not-sick” attitude; they should “just get over it.”
These stereotypes help create social and emotional distance between the stigmatizing and the stigmatized. By creating this distance people can nurture the comforting fiction that instead of a fine line there’s a large gap between the mentally ill (them!) and the mentally well (us, whew!!). But that’s a myth. The line is very fine. They is us.
Sure, people differ in how psychologically resilient they may be, just like how people differ in how physically resilient they may be. But the fundamental reality about mental illness is that it can, and often does, happen to anyone. The social and emotional distance people create is just a way to avoid the anxious-making reality that things like depression, anxiety, emotional dysregulation, behavioral disorders, and the rest can strike anyone. Just like with physical illnesses where a wayward cell or pathogen can strike anyone, mental illness can strike anyone anywhere. We take illusory comfort from the distance stigma creates.
Stigma is insidious. A recent experience from my clinical practice illustrates the burden of stigmatization people with a mental illness must carry. A young man shows up at the ER complaining of an unusual set of symptoms: nausea, trembling, tingling in his legs, numbness around his mouth, and weakness in his hands. He also had an extensive history of mental illness, although he was psychiatrically asymptomatic at the time of this visit and doing very well.
But after the ER doc learned of this history, he quickly sent the patient home with a vague reassurance not worry since it was probably just a panic attack. Of course, it wasn’t. Happily he’s now under the care of an excellent neurologist and making progress. But this episode shows stigma’s insidious influence in stark relief.
Stigmatization is also pervasive. It has a broad social reach. Just consider the marketing campaigns of companies like Talkspace and Betterhelp who broke into the mental health marketplace with promises of anonymous therapy. Leaving aside the problem that anonymous therapy violates various codes of professional ethics, the promise of anonymity as an initial marketing ploy both builds on and enhances the stigmatization against which we should all be fighting.
It cynically trades on the pervasiveness of stigmatization, otherwise it wouldn’t work. What they did is like confronting racial bigotry by saying people should just try to pass or telling a gay person they should stay in the closet. Anonymity validates the prejudice that one should keep secret one’s struggles with mental health.
The fact that this marketing ploy appealed to so many, and it did, also highlights what’s called in the literature “self-stigma.” That’s the term used to refer to the fact that people internalize stigmatization so that it functions as an obstacle to seeking help and therefore as a magnifier of suffering. For example, one study of college students showed that the more people perceive stigma operating in the world the more they blame themselves for having problems and the more they resist seeking care. Other people’s prejudices about mental illness became their attitudes toward their own suffering and towards seeking help.
There’s actually lots more to say about stigma. There’s even an official APA journal specifically on the topic: Stigma and Health. But hopefully this has been enough to activate interest and maybe motivate at last some action. At least I hope you agree the fight against stigma is worth some attention. Here are three things anyone can do to join the fight.
But be careful, you don’t want to get caught in the paradox of choice so you end up doing nothing. Don’t over think. Instead, dive in and be helpful. Whether you donate money or time, or express support in some way, find an organization that speaks to you and support it.
Here are two stigma-fighting organizations I support.
The first is a group called “Phd Balance.” Graduate student mental health is their focus. Their mission is to show that students pursuing advanced academic degrees who are, quoting their mission statement, “dealing with mental health issues are NOT less capable, are NOT less intelligent, are NOT less creative, are NOT failures … [they] might just need support and a different set of tools.”
They pursue this mission by creating spaces where mental health issues can be openly and safely discussed and by curating resources that can be useful for those pursing both an advanced degree and a healthy balance in their lives. As a former graduate student myself, and someone who now treats and works with several people pursuing doctorates, this groups resonates with my interests and values. So, I want to help them achieve their goals. They have my support.
The other organization is The Ride for Mental Health. Started by an attorney, Malcom (“Mac”) Dorris who lost his son to an intractable and ultimately fatal mental illness, this event is a two day bike-ride through the Hudson Valley in New York. Its mission is both to raise funds for research (McLean Hospital’s research programs being the current beneficiary) and, quoting their mission statement, “to end the stigma surrounding mental illness through education and awareness.” I’ve ridden all three years of this growing event and am already looking forward, and spreading the work, about next year’s ride. Not only is it a wonderful ride on gorgeous roads, participation is a way to do good by having fun.
Tell your story
Stigma lives in darkness, in shame. Bringing stories of struggle into the light weakens it. The social distance and self-stigma that comes from the “them not us” myth can’t survive people telling the story of how they, or their loved ones, experienced emotional suffering. Truth destroys stigma.
Truth telling is actually how Phd Balance began. Its efforts to “increase visibility and awareness for students and to let those struggling know they are not alone” began with Susanna Harris, the founder and a graduate student in microbiology, telling her story of depression and anxiety in a moving video monologue. Sinking into a depression after an academic setback, she spoke up about the experience rather than hiding in silence. Phd Balance grew out of her courage and she has inspired many more to do the same.
I also had an email exchange with Mac Dorris from The Ride for Mental Health about this. He told me that after his son Eric died he “suddenly had a key to everyone else’s story or stories about mental illness.” He recounted being at a business dinner and telling Eric’s story to a new business associate who “responded by telling me that he lost his brother years earlier under very similar circumstances.”
He also shared a story about a colleague of his who had previously lost a son to what was called an unusual heart aliment. When he called Mac to express condolences for Eric’s death “I told him that I was sorry I had joined the club of having a kid pre-decease us. He then explained that his son didn’t die from the heart ailment but from an accidental overdose and that he suffered with mental illness.”
Stories brought to light reduce shame. And one person’s story really can be the key to unlock someone else’s story from the shackles of shame and stigma.
Stop perpetuating it
This one is simple; don’t make things worse. If you insult someone by saying they’re “crazy” or “nuts” you’re inadvertently perpetuating stigma. Same when you judge someone to be “less than” because you found out they’ve been in therapy of years and years. There’s even research showing that even benign, diagnostically accurate labels result in harsher, more negative judgements.
Unfortunately, mental illness is frequently used to explain bad behavior. Instead of describing a mass shooter as a murderer with too easy access to weapons of war, we make them into mental patients as though the illness explains the evil. It doesn’t, any more than one could say someone became a mass murderer because of their diabetes.
We have a particularly pernicious version of this these days. During the Trump presidency mental health professionals have unfortunately fallen into the stigma-supporting trap of explaining his bad behavior with a diagnosis. I firmly believe there are many things that make him unfit for the office such as his racism, history of sexual predation, constant dishonesty, science denial, invitations for Russian election interference and subsequent obstruction, family separations, and historical ignorance, especially about immigration, to name a few.
Just this week he stood in front of an audience of 9/11 first responders and lied about his participation. Of course, your politics may be such that you do not think such reasons disqualify him. OK, difference of opinion. But saying those qualities are symptoms of a mental illness will not convince anyone of his unfitness. I believe the reality is that a mental illness is not what is making him unfit for the office, anymore than someone with a mental illness is unfit to be a lawyer, a plumber, a teacher or any other job or profession. What makes him unfit is how he does what he does, a constellation of evil actions that spells the end of the American experiment. I believe we should not insult people with mental illness by implying it is illness rather than his dishonorable actions that make him unfit for his office. Doing so merely supports the stigma.
I’m a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst. For 20 plus years I’ve been practicing on 12th Street, around the corner from what used to be the Forbes Building and right in the middle of New York’s digital revolutions. Having written for professional audiences and become a not infrequent source (e.g., Wired, New York, NY Times, The Today Show) I decided to put my ideas out there myself. First at True/Slant, then Psychology Today, and now at Forbes, my “beat” includes clinical insights and research developments useful for building an authentically good life in our increasingly complex and technologically-mediated world, along with identifying those choices that promise more than they can deliver. Along with my full-time private practice I’m a Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst at the William Alanson White Institute.
They’re right. I’m not broken. It’s not that I can’t be fixed. It’s not that I can’t overcome my anxiety. It’s not that there is no hope and I should just be thrown out like the pieces of my favorite porcelain mug that I accidentally dropped. I can be put back together and there’s a great possibility that I will one day return to my former, non-anxiety-filled self.
I’m not broken, but I’m definitely glitching.
I can’t wake up, get myself ready for the day and get things done, without some sort of malfunction. Anxiety has been a constant disruption in my daily life, for years now.
Some days it’s the inability to stop working long enough for a little self-care. Other days, my anxiety level is so high, I have to lay down or cry, or a combination of the two. Then, there are the days when I have errands to run, but have to continuously tell myself that I won’t have a panic attack while we’re on our way to the store, inside of the store, or on the way home from the store.
I’m not broken, but I’m definitely not ok.
My mind’s first reaction to just about any invitation, experience or opportunity is fear. Pure fear. Fear that I’ll have a panic attack in front of people. Fear that they will talk about me. Fear that they will stare. Fear that my kids will witness it. Fear of how far our car will be from wherever we are and whether or not I can get back to it quickly, if I need to. Fear of waiting on a line that might be one minute too long and I’ll have to walk out of the store, because the anticipation of the anxiety attack has already overcome me and I know I can’t come back from that.
I know I’m not broken, but sometimes I don’t believe it.
Every morning, I tell myself that this is not permanent. Nothing in life is. Tomorrow will be better. I will overcome something big today and celebrate my victories, no matter how small. With each victory, every obstacle ahead will seem easier and easier. I don’t have to settle for what anxiety has brought into my days.
I’m not broken. I’m just glitching and glitches can be fixed.
When a computer glitches, we restart or reset it. I just need to restart myself, clear my memory of the thoughts and feelings that seem to be the root of the problem. If I can get rid of whatever combination of factors that created the glitch in the first place, I can restore myself to the time when I didn’t have a care in the world.
But what are they? How do I find them and more importantly, how do I drag them to the trash?
My faith is bigger than my anxiety.
I have faith that one day, those obstacles won’t be an issue anymore.
Fear won’t be an issue anymore.
Anxiety won’t be an issue anymore.
I refuse to believe that anxiety will cause a total system failure. I have too much life left to live. Too much to see. Too many places I want to travel to. Too much to say to too many others like me who are reading this and know exactly what I’m feeling.
No one wants to hang out with me. I’m a failure at school. All my other friends seem happy. What’s wrong with me?
These kinds of negative thoughts are becoming more common in our homes and schools. Teens are experiencing increased anxiety, and studies indicate that college students in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States are becoming more perfectionistic over time, measuring themselves against unrealistic standards.
Why is this happening? We can’t say for sure—but we do know there are steps teens can take to improve their mental health.
A 2018 study of early adolescents suggests that self-concept (your perception of self) plays a central role in emotional well-being. According to the study, a supportive classroom environment and positive social relationships also affect teen well-being—but the impact is indirect. Positive self-concept seems to be the key variable in the well-being equation. If a student feels good about herself, then she may be more likely to connect with others and benefit from the supports provided at school.
So, how can we influence how students think about themselves? This may feel like a very tall order; yet there is a lot of research out there that provides some clues for supporting the teens in your life. Here are five ways to help tweens and teens move toward a more positive self-concept.
1. Get physical
Although you may have heard this before, kids really can benefit from regular exercise (especially when their tendency is to sit in front of a screen). A recent review of 38 international studies indicates that physical activity alone can improve self-esteem and self-concept in children and adolescents.
Apparently, the exercise setting also matters. Students who participated in supervised activities in schools or gymnasiums reported more significant growth in self-esteem than those who exercised at home and in other settings.
Adolescents’ self-concept is most strongly linked to their sense of physical attractiveness and body image, an area where many people struggle. So, encourage more regular exercise programs during and after school, and support team sports, strength training, running, yoga, and swimming—not just for their effects on the body but on the mind, as well. Getting out and engaging in some form of exercise can make us feel stronger, healthier, and more empowered.
2. Focus on self-compassion (not self-esteem)
Because self-esteem is a global evaluation of your overall worth, it has its dangers. What am I achieving? Am I good enough? How do I compare with my peers?
What would happen if we could stop judging ourselves? Researcher Kristen Neff claims that self-compassion—treating yourself with kindness, openness, and acceptance—is a healthy alternative to the incessant striving and performance orientation often tied up with self-esteem.
In her study of adolescents and young adults, she found that participants with higher self-compassion demonstrated greater well-being. Why? They were okay with their flaws, acknowledged that they struggled just like those around them (“Everybody makes mistakes; you are not alone”), and treated themselves with the same kindness they would extend to a friend (“It’s okay; you did your best”).
Participants with higher self-compassion demonstrated greater well-being. Why? They were okay with their flaws, acknowledged that they struggled just like those around them (“Everybody makes mistakes; you are not alone”), and treated themselves with the same kindness they would extend to a friend
If you are interested in specific techniques and strategies for enhancing self-compassion in teens, take a look at the work of psychologist Karen Bluth. She recently developed a program called Making Friends with Yourself. Youth participating in this eight-week program reported greater resilience, less depression, and less stress at the end of it. However, if there isn’t a program near you, consider sharing this self-compassion workbook with the teens in your life.
3. Avoid social comparison
When we focus on self-esteem, we tend to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others. Teens, in particular, often sense an “imaginary audience” (i.e., “Everyone is looking at me!”) and can become highly sensitized to who they are relative to everyone around them.
Instagram and other social media platforms don’t necessarily help. Some research suggests an association between social media and depression, anxiety, loneliness, and FoMO (fear of missing out) among teens. Their posts may not rack up the number of “likes” that their friends’ posts do, or they may feel excluded when they see pictures of classmates happily spending time together without them.
A new app for teen girls called Maverick may be a healthier option than Snapchat or Instagram. On this social media platform, teens can connect with role models (called “Catalysts”) and explore their creativity (such as designing their own superhero or choosing a personal mantra). Of course, there is always the option of taking a break from social media, as well.
Regardless of what teens choose to do online, many of our schools are also structured for social comparison. Grading, labeling, and tracking practices (grouping students based on their academic performance) don’t necessarily honor the stops, starts, and inevitable mistakes that are a natural part of the learning process.
Provide opportunities to revise and redo assignments.
Avoid ability grouping as much as possible.
Focus on individual growth and improvement.
Acknowledge students’ small successes.
4. Capitalize on specific skills
If you keep your eye out for teens’ talents and interests, you can support them in cultivating their strengths. Your son may think he is a terrible athlete, but he lights up when he works on school science projects. Then there’s that quiet, disheveled ninth-grade girl who sits in the back of your class. She may feel socially awkward, but she wows you with her poetry.
Researcher Susan Harter has studied adolescent self-esteem and self-concept for years. She claims that self-concept is domain-specific. Our overall self-esteem or sense of worth tends to be rooted in eight distinct areas: athletic competence, scholastic competence, behavioral conduct, social acceptance, close friendship, romantic appeal, job satisfaction, and physical attractiveness.
Talk to the teens in your life. What are their personal values and priorities? Share surveys with them like the VIA (which identifies character strengths like bravery, honesty, and leadership) or have them take a multiple intelligences quiz. Celebrate their talents and tailor activities and instruction around their abilities as much as possible.
It may not be easy to shift teens’ global sense of self-worth, but we can certainly highlight and encourage areas of interest and particular skill sets so that they feel more confident, capable, and inspired.
5. Help others (especially strangers)
Finally, when teens reach out to others, they are more likely to feel better about themselves. A 2017 study of 681 U.S. adolescents (ages 11-14) examined their kind and helpful behavior over a four-year period. Researchers found that adolescents who were kind and helpful in general had higher self-esteem, but those who directed their generosity toward strangers (not friends and family) tended to grow in self-esteem.
Last Friday, I joined my daughter and her peers during the “action” phase of their “Change the World” project. Their social studies teacher, Tim Owens, tasked the eighth graders with choosing a sustainability issue, researching the problem and possible solutions, planning action, and implementing the action.
These middle schoolers spent a full day canvasing their neighborhoods to advocate for policies that protected people they don’t know, like local refugees and homeless youth—as well as animals used for product testing. I’ve never seen my daughter and her friends more energized, confident, and engaged with their community.
As adults, we can actively support service learning projects in our schools and our teens’ interests in advocacy and civil engagement. Adolescents around the world can also work remotely with non-profit organizations like DoSomething, “a digital platform promoting offline action” in 131 countries. On this site, young people can choose a cause, the amount of time they want to commit to it, and the type of help they would like to provide (e.g., face-to-face, improving a space, making something, sharing something, etc.)
When teens regularly contribute to a larger cause, they learn to think beyond themselves, which may ultimately help them to be more positive, empowered, and purposeful.
As many teens struggle with anxiety and perfectionism, our urge may be to jump in and fix their problems, whatever we perceive them to be. But a better approach, one that will hopefully help reverse these worrying trends, is to cheer them on as they develop the mental habits and strengths that will support them throughout their lives.
Handshakes could be forbidden under new workplace rules to circumvent costly sexual harassment allegations, and every employer may ban all kinds of physical touch to avoid uncertainty about what sort of touching is suitable.
It comes off the back of the #MeToo movement, with bosses rethinking their strategies and heading to a more black and white attitude, and some employers may put a full embargo on physical touch, but is this going a tad too far, especially when shaking someone’s hand? But they might say just no contact at all because there is no grey area’s then.
And according to a recent poll of 2,000 adults on Totaljobs, three out of four were keen for a full physical contact prohibition when at work, and it was pointed out that gestures such as putting your hand on someone’s back or giving a reassuring embrace could all come under the umbrella of being too personal.
It will still plausibly be safe to shake hands at work, except if your employer forbids it, in which event you will have to obey the rules, but it’s not only how you comport yourself in the office which matters either. The workplace does extend outside the office as well, the perfect example is the Christmas night out and staff behaviour when going to functions.
But indeed, isn’t this getting to be a little absurd, next you’ll not be permitted to make hand contact when getting change from a cashier in shops, and a handshake is consensual, when somebody puts out their hand to shake it, you consent by shaking it back, but if they keep their hand by their side or behind their back and it’s grabbed and shook against their will, then this is clearly physical assault, which is already covered in the law, so obviously there’s no call for a handshake ban, which would be complete insanity.
If anything, handshaking is social, polite, appropriate and NORMAL.
Perhaps we should go and work in France where men and women, men and men and women and women kiss each other when meeting, an extension to shaking hands, I can’t see this being banned any day soon, but we shouldn’t say women because apparently that sexist, or men for that matter, but HUMAN has man in it, so don’t use that either.
Is there a point to being politically correct, especially when it dictates our everyday lives? And the cultural niceties of the past that assisted human interaction is being denounced, but for what outcome? Because in the end what it will bring us down to is an emotionless society that will be undoubtedly controlled by our socially correct leaders, and it’s about time these minority, sad individuals, who want to dictate to others how they run their lives, to in no uncertain terms to “sod off”.
So, welcome to the unfortunate death of social norms, and the courtesy of a band of senseless society inept imbeciles.
The rationalization actually lodges the person in a bad faith, a faith that is far away from reality. It puts a resistance on the real tough phase situations like emotional distress and cognitive dissonance.