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Wellness Wednesdays . Spring 2020


01/06 - Gratitude

Research shows that gratitude can help us cope with traumatic events, regulate our negative emotions, and improve our well-being. More importantly, gratitude can have a positive effect on our friends and family, too. It’s a small way to have a meaningful impact. This article outlines measurable differences in brain scans after people participate in a regular gratitude practice.

If you are intrigued, join Mr. Hoffman in a gratitude practice for the new year. It isn't complicated. Just write down 3 SPECIFIC things you are grateful for each day. You can do it on your phone or in a notebook. There are even apps that can help you! They don't have to be major things, just anything small or large from your day. Try to be specific and don't write down the same thing every day. We dare you to try it and see what happens!

01/13 - Social Creatures

Humans are intensely social creatures by nature. Even the most introverted among us still need human interaction to be well. In fact, our nervous systems expect to have others around us. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD, states, "according to biology, neuroscience, psychology, and more, our bodies actually tend to work better when we’re not alone. We’re built to really seek social companionship and understanding.”

During this time of physical distancing, it is a lot easier to feel isolated. A recent survey from Cigna indicates that more than 60% of the population feels lonely all or most of the time. While many of us feel the burden of loneliness, we are also part of the solution. Last week we challenged you to adopt a daily, 5-minute gratitude practice, and this week we want you to take it a step further. Use gratitude to combat loneliness. For the next 5 days, send one message a day to thank someone for being there for you or influencing you in a positive way. Better yet, tell them in person! As you do this, you remind yourself that you are not alone and take part in helping others recognize the same.

Watch this powerful video of this practice in action: Soul Pancake the Science of Happiness

01/06 - Importance of Sleep

COVID has brought many changes to our world, one of them being disrupted sleep patterns. Between worries about coronavirus and changes in routine, many people have found it harder to sleep this year. 

A recent study of 2000 Americans showed that people who get a good night of sleep experience higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of negative emotions the next day. Moreover, sleep impacted how the events of the day affected them. On days when participants had a stressful event, their positive emotions took less of a hit if they’d gotten a good night’s sleep beforehand. And, on days when good things happened, participants experienced an even greater boost in positive emotions if they were well-rested. In short, good sleep is ESSENTIAL for mental health.

Easier said than done, right? Homework and racing thoughts can get in the way of this happening, but there are steps we can take to make it easier to get good rest. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even after a bad night’s sleep or on the weekend.
  • Keep your bedroom temperature cool; about 65 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for cooling your body toward sleep. Wear socks if your feet are cold.
  • An hour before bedtime, dim the lights and turn off all electronic screens and devices. Blackout curtains are helpful.
  • If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something quiet and relaxing until the urge to sleep returns. Then, go back to bed.
  • Avoid caffeine after 1 p.m.
  • Consider using an app like Headspace to practice mindfulness, which can help you to fall asleep more easily. It's free for Michigan residents right now.

This video highlights some of the science related to sleep and mental health.

09/02 - Catastrophizing

By nature, human beings crave routine and information about the future. For many reasons, not knowing our next steps can feel like a real threat. One of the most beneficial things that we can do for our own mental health is to not believe everything we think. Take a moment to imagine the "best-possible scenario." How does that change your perspective and your feelings? For a more in-depth look, check out this video.

09/09 - Monotask

Here is ONE tip to make it through your daily "to-do" list. MONOTASK instead of MULTITASK, which means to focus on ONE thing. Set a timer and devote 20-30 minutes to ONE assignment or ONE class. Don't respond to emails or texts or check on your Instagram. Reward yourself with a short break before moving forward. Repeat this process until you come to the end of your school day. For more, watch this short video.

09/16 - Brain Dump

The act of taking 1-2 minutes to write down ALL the things that pop into your head without judgment. These could be things you are worried about, things you need to get done, or anything else floating around in your brain. You might be surprised at how calming this simple activity can be. Watch this quick video for a complete picture of how to do it.

9/23 - Practice Relaxation

Relaxation is a skill and finding it difficult to relax is extremely common. Try taking 1 minute to focus on your breath. Counting as it goes in and out. As your mind wanders, just bring it back to counting breaths. Researchers at Columbia University found that slow, deep breathing was associated with reductions in stress in groups affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as groups managing daily stress. Visit this link for a one-minute mindfulness activity on letting go of stress.

9/30 - Talk About It

When a thousand stressors weigh on your brain, sometimes the only way to relieve the pressure is to talk about it. Studies have shown that simply talking about our problems and sharing our negative emotions with someone we trust can be profoundly healing—reducing stress, strengthening our immune system, and reducing physical and emotional distress.You can talk to a friend, a parent, teacher, coach, or find support from a therapist. Watch this short video to hear real people talk about how reaching out helped them. 

10/7 - Help Others

If you hold the door open for someone, smile at a random stranger, or help your neighbor unload their groceries, clearly it is good for them. But did you know that it's likely good for you too? Research indicates that those who consistently help other people experience less depression, greater calm, decreased pain, and better health. They may even live longer. Your challenge for this week is to do 5 small acts of kindness and see what it does to your overall wellbeing. For a deep dive into this research, check out "How to Make Giving Feel Good."

10/14 - Get Moving

A recent study from Harvard Medical School looked at the relationship between physical activity and symptoms of depression and the results speak for themselves. Even if you don't join Crossfit or run with the cross country team, something as gentle as a walk or taking the stairs on a regular basis can protect your mental health. Watch this amazing video on The Brain-Changing Effects of Exercise.

10/21 - Find the Good

With all that is going on in the world, it can be very challenging to see anything but the negative. Social Psychologist, Alison Legerwood has studied this tendency and provides some helpful ideas for retraining our brain. One simple exercise is to find the good. The next time you have a situation with a friend where you feel upset with their lack of understanding of you, think about how lucky you are to have them in your life. Check out this TedTalk on other ways to overcome getting stuck in the negative- Getting Stuck in the Negatives (and how to get unstuck).

10/28 - Happiness Advantage

Shawn Anchor, the author of the book "The Happiness Advantage," points out that success does not equal happiness, and oftentimes happiness is the precursor for success. "If you cultivate happiness while in the midst of your struggles, work, at school, while unemployed or single, you increase your chances of attaining all the goals you are pursuing...including happiness." Shawn goes on to say, "Happiness is not a mystery. You have to train your brain to be positive just like you work out your body." For a more in-depth look at Anchor's work, watch this short video summary of his book, The Happiness Advantage.

11/04 - Positive Self-Talk

The conversations you have with yourself throughout the day are impactful–the quality of these conversations influence the way you tend to think of yourself as a whole. Self-talk is something you are doing almost constantly, and it can be either encouraging or distressing. The good news is, positive self-talk can be learned! 

A good way to start to reshape the way you think is to ask yourself some challenging questions. 

  • Is there a different explanation for what is going on?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • What is the best thing that could happen?
  • What is the evidence that supports my thinking?

Check out this video for some greater insight: Bill Harder on Self Talk

11/11 - Just Breathe

Did you know that yawning is an important skill for anxiety relief? We often try to tame anxiety by changing our thoughts—questioning the worst-case scenarios in our heads, interrupting rumination with some kind of distraction, or going to therapy. But breathing offers a different approach, bypassing the complexities of the mind and targeting the body directly. Instead of trying to think yourself out of feeling anxious, you can do something concrete—breathe slow or fast, in a particular rhythm, or through a nostril—and sometimes find immediate relief.

To read about this more in-depth, check out: Is the Way You Breathe Making You Anxious?You can also review practical tips on how to breathe to reduce anxiety here: Diaphragmatic Breathing (Anxiety Skills #12)

11/18 - Science of Productivity

As we continue with virtual learning, we know that this format can be a real challenge. Motivation and productivity vary greatly from day-to-day. We have a few tips to keep you going during this time. Take a deep breath...we're going to get through this together. Let's begin with a few simple starting points.

Science of Productivity

  1. No distractions
  2. Set reasonable limits
  3. Plan it out
  4. Positivity

Start with these 4 things. Keep it simple and try to stop your brain when you notice it going away from the intended focus - just bring it back and tell yourself something positive. And, above all, give yourself grace. This is new; this is different. It's going to take time to adjust, and that's okay.

11/25 - Stress Management

During the coronavirus crisis, mental health has been a struggle for students and adults alike. The Child Mind Institute has started the "We Thrive Inside" campaign to promote wellness during this difficult time. Here are some tips from them on managing stress: 

  • Cut yourself some slack!
  • Be smart about what you’re reading and watching.
  • Set achievable goals. 
  • Practice mindfulness and self-care.
  • Stay connected virtually.  
  • Accept your feelings. 

Watch this video for tips from Olympic Athlete, Missy Franklin: We Thrive Inside with Olympic Athlete

12/02 - Using Your Senses

According to a recent article in Greater Good Magazine, research suggests that young people are more stressed, anxious, and depressed than other age groups during COVID-19. The loss of important rituals, social connections, and milestone events mark a few of the reasons that this year has been so hard for many. All is not lost, researchers have found that one way young people can combat mental health struggles is to try to deliberately savor ordinary, everyday experiences by using the five senses to amplify positive emotions and promote a sense of calm. In practice, this might look like bringing attention to your breathing and the sensation and taking in your surroundings by noticing something you can see, touch, smell, taste, and feel.

12/16 - Pandemic Brain Hijak

In an article titled, 10 Ways Your Brain Reacts to Uncertain Times, neuroscientist Amishi Jha explains how the pandemic is hijacking our brain's attention.

"Volatility. Uncertainty. Complexity. Ambiguity. In my lab at the University of Miami, these four words (shorthanded to 'VUCA') describe the type of high-stress, high-demand scenarios that can rapidly degrade one of our most powerful and influential brain systems: our attention. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed or unfocused; if you’ve struggled with staying on task or been blindsided by emotion during this time—me too! This is precisely what our prior research regarding the human brain’s attention system would predict. Your attention system is complex and multifaceted, but the more you know about how it works, the more able you will be to navigate VUCA events. This article explains 10 things you need to know about your attention—and how to protect it—that will serve you not only through this crisis, but for the rest of your life."