Category Archives: strategies for self-care

How to feel less alone: 10 Tips

Social media helps us feel less alone. When you click like on somebody’s post, it’s a tacit agreement that you are not alone. You are with somebody else and their statement of being in the world. The main distinguisher: Being alone is a physical description (meaning when we are alone, we are just not with people), while loneliness is a feeling that often is experienced as negative and painful, and can occur in a crowd.

For many of us, aloneness is a negative state of being. Society doesn’t help us with this notion either; being alone often carries a social stigma, implying isolation, being on the outside. This perceived sense of aloneness seems to imply that being by one’s self is not volitional, or a choice we make, but rather an imposed state where a person is not socially engaged in the way that is somehow expected. Even further, it may imply that there is something actually wrong or defective with a person who remains alone.

How to be alone and be mentally sound

Spending time alone with yourself increases productivity
How quickly do you get a job done when you have family and friends chatting away? Your goal may be to complete things around the house, run errands, finish a school assignment, or meet a deadline for work. Even a ping from your phone when a chat or mail comes in can make you lose concentration on a task. The brain is naturally programmed to be more productive when there are little to no distractions. So, if you desire to be more productive, spend time alone.

Deepen your relationships
The strength of your relationships can speak bounds to how secure you feel when spending time alone. A lack of depth and connection can make you feel less heard, understood, appreciated or secure. The quality of your connections goes well above the quantity.

Stop tolerating unhappy relationships
It is a cruel fact of life that people are so scared of loneliness that they often opt into a relationship with the wrong person. There is enormous pressure from peers, family and society in general to get married or coupled. When this happens, people start making wrong decisions, getting involved with unsuitable partners because of the fear of being alone or lonesome; accepting inappropriate behavior just because of loneliness; seeking a temporary fix.

Spend some time with nature
There’s nothing quite as soothing as bonding with nature. You can simply spend time in a garden, where you can watch the flowers bloom with your favorite book in hand. Or you can listen to the chirping of the birds, lie under the skies, spend cuddle time with your companion animals, nurture indoor plants, and watch the shapes of the clouds and the brightness of the stars, and fall in love with yourself all over again.

Ease into the pleasure of relaxation
The moment you go for a massage, treat yourself to a bubble bath with wine in hand, order your favorite meal, or stay home to watch Netflix with home made popcorn. These are pleasures that are you, with you. Date nights with yourself have to be prioritized every week.

Step out alone
Perhaps you thought that to learn to be alone means camping at home and shutting the world out. However, that’s not the case. You can indeed have beautiful time with yourself by going out to town to do activities like reading outdoors, grabbing a coffee, having an appetizer and drink at a bar, and going to the seaside where you can feel the wind on your face, watch the sea waves come and go, or just gather your thoughts.

Be weird
Adulting does not stop you from playing your favorite song at home and dancing to it in your underwear, joking with friends and family, lor bingeing on your favorite ice-cream or meal. Nothing stops you from doing crazy activities like sky diving, traveling alone, we’re talking to people you don’t know – that will send some adrenaline shooting through your body.

Carve out ‘You’ Time
Experiment by setting a timer for 5 minutes. That is all.

Five minutes with no:
television
music
internet
podcasts
books

Get outdoors
Fifty minutes or more a week spent in nature can improve symptoms of depression and lower blood pressure.

Minimize conflict
Reducing sources of daily conflict or arguments will help you feel less alone. Your peace of mind is more important than winning a point, on social media, or IRL.

13 Ways to Fight Loneliness

A client recently said to me- loneliness is like being underwater while everyone around you is breathing. You can feel lonely by yourself or in a group. Loneliness is usually temporary, but it feels like forever when you are in the middle of it.

Acknowledge how you feel
You’re not alone in feeling alone. Loneliness is a common experience for most people at some time in their lives. The first step in combating loneliness, as in all challenges, is to acknowledge your feelings.

Talk to strangers
A growing body of research suggests that even seemingly trivial interactions with stranger, like chatting with a barista or server, may be able to keep loneliness at bay by helping us feel more socially connected. So reach out to other human beings to say hello, or ask them how they are. These small acts can make a big difference and help you reduce feelings of loneliness.

Join a community of practice
Finding or creating a community of practice is a great way to not only combat loneliness, but also continue to grow professionally and personally. Peer-to-peer learning is so powerful. In Buddhist thought, your Sangha, or like-minded community, helps you stay focused and on track with personal and spiritual goals.

Seek out an accountability partner
One way to manage loneliness is to seek out an accountability partners so that you can meet, talk regularly, share your goals and hold each other accountable for achieving results- personal, professional, or fitness and health. One colleague goes over the wins and losses of the week every Friday with an accountability buddy. Discussing Ws and Ls can be a  powerful connection and motivator.

Volunteer remotely or in real life
Working on an important problem with others can help you decrease loneliness. Volunteering for a cause or activity that is meaningful to you also puts you in touch with others who share your values and interests.

Set aside one hour per week to learn something new
Taking an online course or training often includes a social component of discussion and interaction. Learning something new or obtaining a certification makes us feel like we are part of a like-minded community.

Read a new book
Books are a great companion. You can immerse yourself in whatever format you prefer, digital, audio, or print, and you are transported to something that interests or intrigues you.

Take care of something
Putting energy towards taking care of something will help alleviate feelings of loneliness. Be that a pet or a plant, the responsibility of maintaining life is inspiring and motivating. Companion animals are also great emotional comforters and cuddle buddies.

Get extra hours of sleep
Getting enough sleep is very beneficial to your health, so spend some down time resting.

Take on art projects
Whether you like to paint, sculpt, draw, compose, write, or color, do things that allow you to be creative. Lots of adults tell me they can’t express their creativity at work. Art is a very positive outlet, and finding a craft that you love can lead you to a whole community of others who also enjoys it.

Work on your personal spirituality
Regardless of what religion you practice, alone time is a great opportunity to work on your spirituality. That looks different for everyone. If you don’t practice a religion but want to get in touch with yourself, it’s the perfect time for self-discovery and growth.

Try new recipes
Cooking a nourishing meal or even doing meal prep for the work weekis a healthy way of giving a gift to yourself.

Call your loved ones
Try to call or FaceTime at least one close friend or family member every day, and text others regularly. That sense of daily connection can keep loneliness at bay,  even if you are home by yourself.

For more tips see Eight Tips to Fight Loneliness During Holidays.

The Mental Health Bedroom: Making Your Room a Sanctuary

How to make your room a sanctuary.

Sleep-only zone
Studies have shown that if you engage in a number of activities in your bedroom, you will come to think of your room as a place of activity and even stress rather than one of relaxation and peacefulness. So, out go the exercise equipment, office set-up, computer, textbooks, television, snacks and that mound of clothes you’ve been meaning to launder. Of course, there are exceptions to the sleeping-only rule. These are reading, dressing, relaxing to music, and of course, intimacy.

Declutter
Your brain is actually calmed by the sight of an empty or well-organized table top or dresser top. Decluttering at night, before bed, will keep your room feeling less like a busy traffic lane, and more like a private oasis.

Out of mind
Closed storage can be anything from a dresser or armoire with doors, to simple baskets or boxes. The idea is to put out of sight all those items that used to live on the top of your nightstand or dresser. It’s a good idea to have a small tray or drawer to corral the keys and pens and change that you might empty out of your pockets when you get home, but everything else should be put away, out of sight. You’ll feel instantly more relaxed when you put “Out of sight, out of mind” to work in your bedroom. If you have something that needs to be done, like a bill or email, do it in another part of the house. Your bedroom should be for relaxing and resting only, not working.

Have a seat
If you have room, it’s a great idea to have an extra chair or bench in your bedroom. It just feels more homey when you can carve out a little bit of sitting area, such as a reading corner by a window or lamp.

Cool down your bedroom
Try to crank up the air conditioning a little more at night before bed. Cooling down your body actually mimics sleep and promotes sleepiness.

White noise machines
Noise can also affect your sleep in a negative way. When you hear sounds, your brain tries to actively process them, which can cause problems when you’re trying to fall asleep. While noise affects everyone differently—some are more sensitive to it than others—it’s still important to create a quiet environment as possible for a good night’s sleep.

Write a single sentence
Simply write one sentence in a journal that you keep by your bedside, every night. It helps you reflect on the day, consider your word choice, and summarize your thoughts. It’s a powerful way to close the day.

Add some greenery
Add greenery to your room but if you don’t want to add the stress of keeping it alive, choose one of the low-maintenance, hard-to-kill indoor plants, such as English Ivy or a Snake Plant.

Soft music
Music does wonders to set the mood. In the case of your bedroom, your objective is to create a peaceful, relaxing mood, so choose your music accordingly. Whether you prefer soft jazz, classical, world, or trip hop, keep the beat and the sound soft and calm. Keep the volume low. Set the music to shut off automatically after a certain amount of time, because even though the soft sounds may lull you to sleep, they are likely to wake you during the night.

Aromatherapy
Your sense of smell is a very powerful thing. It is our only sense that goes directly into our brains. Smells enter our nostrils and up the olfactory nerve onto the surface of our brain. Integrating essential oils like lavender and chamomile into your bedtime routine can work wonders at keeping your mind calm and centered. These scents can also get the brain to release the hormone melatonin. When that hormone is released, it washes over the brain and uses it as a signal to shut down all those distracting thoughts and just go to sleep.

Podcasts
Listening to podcasts is a great way to lull yourself to sleep without the intrusive glare of television, telephone, laptop, or tablet screens. Find some podcasts that are soothing to you.

Relaxation apps
The Calm App (Android and Apple) has sleep meditations, breathing exercises, bedtime stories, and white noise to promote sleep and relaxation.

Yoga Nidra
This is an ancient breath work tradition used to battle insomnia and facilitate deep rest. https://www.yoganidranetwork.org/downloads

For more tips check out, Making Sleep Your Best Friend. 

The Morning Routine Checklist for Anxiety

Wake up at 7 AM.

Stretch.

Check day planner or calendar to mentally set the day.

Brush teeth and wash face.

Take care of companion animals and younger children.

Drink water.

Respond to important overnight texts.

Make bed, tidy room.

Eat healthy breakfast.

Write or journal.

Meditate/Pray.

Go for a twenty minute walk. Even just on your street.

Shower and get dressed.

The foundation holds up the house.

Ways to Stop a Panic Attack

I’ve heard numerous comments recently that people are having trouble breathing, racing heartbeat, and deep fearfulness. Even without symptoms that we fear are from virus, these are very significant in their level of distress. Panic attacks are sudden, intense surges of fear, panic, or anxiety. They are overwhelming, and they have physical as well as emotional symptoms. Often people end up at the emergency room or going to their primary doctor because the experience can be very frightening. I am urging my patients to stay at home, or contact their therapist, rather than trying to go to the hospital.

Many people with panic attacks may have difficulty breathing, sweat profusely, tremble, and feel their hearts pounding. Some people will also experience chest pain and a feeling of detachment from reality or themselves during a panic attack, so they make think they’re having a heart attack. Others have reported feeling like they are having a stroke. Other patients have told me of feeling electric currents in their body. Panic attacks can be very scary and may hit you quickly. People can often start feeling that they might have a panic attack and it makes them even more afraid. Anxiety is contagion.

Here are strategies you can use to try to stop a panic attack when you’re having one or when you feel one coming on:

1. Use deep breathing
While hyperventilating is a symptom of panic attacks that can increase fear, deep breathing can reduce symptoms of panic during an attack. If you’re able to control your breathing, you’re less likely to experience the hyperventilating that can make other symptoms and the panic attack itself actually worse. Focus on taking deep breaths in and out through your mouth, feeling the air slowly fill your chest and belly and then slowly leave them again. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a second, and then breathe out for a count of four. Repeat.

2. Recognize that you’re having a panic attack
By recognizing that you’re having a panic attack instead of a heart attack, you can remind yourself that this is temporary, it will pass, and that you’re OK. Take away the fear that you may be dying or that impending doom is looming, both symptoms of panic attacks. This can allow you to focus on other techniques to reduce your symptoms. I have people create self-statement index cards to remind themselves that they survived panic in the past and they will get through this.

3. Close your eyes
Some panic attacks come from triggers that overwhelm you. If you’re in an environment with a lot of stimuli, this can feed your panic attack. Stimuli includes TV news, social media, and being around other stressed out people. To reduce the stimuli, close your eyes during your panic attack. This can block out any extra stimuli and make it easier to focus on your breathing.

4. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness can help ground you in the reality of what’s around you. Since panic attacks can cause a feeling of detachment or separation from reality, this can combat your panic attack as it’s approaching or actually happening. Focus on the physical sensations you are familiar with, like digging your feet into the ground, or feeling the texture of your jeans on your hands. These specific sensations ground you firmly in reality and give you something objective to focus on. Some people have to go outside, and get some fresh air or walk around.

5. Find a focus object
Some people find it helpful to find a single object to focus all of their attention on during a panic attack. Pick one object in clear sight and consciously note everything about it possible. For example, you may notice how the hand on the clock jerks when it ticks, and that it’s slightly lopsided. Describe the patterns, color, shapes, and size of the object to yourself. Sometimes, I recommend finding a picture frame and counting the corners while you do your breath work. No matter where you are, there are objects on the wall that you can use to focus your gaze and your breath. Focus all of your energy on this object, and help your panic symptoms subside.

6. Use muscle relaxation techniques
Much like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques can help stop your panic attack in its tracks by controlling your body’s response as much as possible. Consciously relax one muscle at a time, starting with something simple like the fingers in your hand, and move your way up through your body. Muscle relaxation techniques will be most effective when you’ve practiced them beforehand. Progressive muscle relaxation or PMR is an important behavioral strategy that can be learned and practiced.

7. Picture your happy place
What’s the most relaxing place in the world that you can think of? A sunny beach with gently rolling waves? A cabin in the mountains? For me, it’s running on the beach with my dogs, breaking bread with my best friends, sitting by a bonfire or fire pit. Picture yourself there, and try to focus on the details as much as possible. Imagine digging your toes into the warm sand, or smelling the sharp scent of pine trees. This place should be quiet, calm, and relaxing. One client told me that he pictures himself in his mother’s very large clothes closet, because everything in it has her scent, and it soothes him.

8. Engage in light exercise
Endorphins keep the blood pumping in exactly the right away. It can help flood our body with endorphins, which can improve our mood. Because you’re stressed, choose light exercise that’s gentle on the body, like walking or stretching. The exception to this is if you’re hyperventilating or struggling to breathe. Do what you can to catch your breath first.

9. Keep lavender and sage on hand
Lavender is known for being soothing and stress-relieving. It can help your body relax. If you know you’re prone to panic attacks, keep on hand and put some on your forearms when you experience a panic attack. Breathe in the scent. You can also try drinking lavender or chamomile tea. Both are relaxing and soothing. Smudging using sage or Palo Santo can be very healing and calming. Nutmeg, in tiny amount helps promote sleep. Note: Lavender should not be combined with benzodiazepines. This combination can cause intense drowsiness.

10. Repeat a mantra internally
Repeating a mantra internally can be relaxing and reassuring, and it can give you something to grasp onto during a panic attack. Whether it’s simply “This too shall pass,” or a mantra that speaks to you personally, repeat it on loop in your head until you feel the panic attack start to subside.

11. Take benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines may help treat panic attacks if you take one as soon as you feel an attack coming on. While other approaches to the treatment of panic may be preferential, the field of psychiatry has acknowledged that there is a handful of people who will neither respond fully (or at all in some cases) to the other approaches listed in above, and as such, will be dependent on pharmacological approaches to therapy. There is no shame in seeing your primary care doctor or psychiatrist, if you continue to struggle. Because benzodiazepines are a prescription medication, you’ll likely need a panic disorder diagnosis in order to have the medication on hand. They should only be used sparingly and in cases of extreme need.

12. Have an emotional coach buddy.
Somebody that you can call during a hard time who will literally talk you down. It’s like a sponsor for your emotions.

The Psychology of Houseplants

Plants are a metaphor for our lives.

The average person spends more than 85 percent of their time indoors, maybe more so now because of COVID-19. So it’s no surprise that quarantine has made plant parents of a lot of us. But the human connection with plants is ageless; countless studies have analyzed the mental health benefits of keeping indoor foliage.

People have been keeping potted plants as far back as ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Rome. Wealthy Victorians embraced houseplants as a way to brighten the dull, dreary English winters. In the 1970s, the decade of the world’s first Earth Day, there was an indoor foliage boom. There are many mental health advantages to having plants in your home and office spaces that have been documented across psychology studies.

Houseplants give you a taste of nature.
Houseplants are an easy way to bring the outside in and reap the restorative benefits of being in nature, even when you can’t be outside.  A Japanese study that explores Shinrin-yoku (‘forest bathing’) found that spending time around nature lowers stress levels, reduces blood pressure and has an overall relaxing effect on the body. Forest bathing is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.

Tending to plants models self-care.
Caring for a plant, giving it water and sunlight, cutting it back when needed, repotting to a better space, the simple consistent habits required for plants to thrive, lay the foundation of doing these things for yourself.

Plants improve executive functioning.
Caring for plants creates a positive feedback loop, in which you are taking on a measured responsibility, following through, and witnessing the effects. Tangible evidence of what can happen when we are consistent, do what needs to be done, and adapt to our environmental needs. Plants teach us the outcome is worth the effort and that we are constantly growing and evolving. The sequential aspect of plant care is good for our mental functioning.

Plants can boost your creativity.
Plants are good for brain storming and creativity. A Texas A&M University, department of psychology, study found that having indoor plants in the workplace greatly improved idea generation, creative problem-solving, and boosted sustained effort.

Plants can make you more productive.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that the presence of plants in the workplace led to increased productivity, energy, and higher levels of concentration. Maintaining plants actually appears to stimulate your brain and increase your attention span.

Plants reduce feelings of anxiety.
Exposure to indoor plants has positive effects on mental health. When we’re in the presence of indoor plants, the activity of our sympathetic nervous system, which is the fight-or-flight portion of our nervous system, decreases. Indoor plants promote a sense of relaxation, comfort, and calm.

Plants promote mindfulness.
Most people with anxiety worry about the future. They may be mentally living in the future, worried about what’s going to happen next, or what could go wrong. Mindfulness brings emotions and feelings to the present. Taking the time to tend to plants can be considered a mindfulness activity.

Depression in the Workplace

Last year, I had the opportunity to teach a seminar to the upper level management of a large East Coast restaurant company, on mental health in the workplace. More and more, it has become imperative for employers to address mental health problems in the workplace. One in five adults experience depression during their lifetime. And yet, a distinct stigma still exists around the topic, especially in the workplace. Employees may be hesitant to speak up about mental health issues for fear of being unfairly judged, or worries that it may lead to a reduction in job status, loss of future opportunities or even termination.

The World Health Organization lists depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide. Calling in sick to work because of depression is a common occurrence. In fact there’s been an uptick in depression in the workplace since the pandemic. Many people are struggling to meet their deadlines, not logging on, skipping meetings, struggling with technology glitches, and the added stress of distractions and responsibilities in the household.

But beyond the negative personal impacts that stress, anxiety, or depression can cause, it can actually take a toll on the business itself. Depressed, anxious, stressed, sleep-deprived, or substance using workers can be unproductive, forgetful, and accident-prone. If it’s a service organization, they may not be able to work effectively with customers or they may call out more, which can interfere with scheduling and productivity.

Signs of Workplace Depression
Depression in the workplace can be invisible and go undetected. However, there are noticeable signs that could initiate a conversation. Perhaps you’ve noticed a colleague who’s been keeping to themselves lately, or an employee who’s been coming late to meetings or missing them entirely. Other signs include becoming easily frustrated, irritable, or overwhelmed.

Tips for Supervisors:
*Be a listener and sounding board.
Managers/supervisors should create opportunities for confidential, nonjudgmental conversations, like weekly or biweekly one-on-ones, where they can openly ask the individual what’s going on and how they can help, while assuring them it’s a safe place to chat. While some people may not open up to their supervisors for fear of judgement and job security, kindness from a manager could shift the trajectory of someone’s day.

*Maintain an open-ended conversation
Employees should feel supported by their colleagues and bosses, especially during personal hardships. These should be ongoing conversations. Offering a book, or sharing an article or mental health website are also indirect helpful ways to maintain a conversation.

*Provide effective mental health resources at work
Now’s the time to review what mental health resources are available at your company, regardless of whether you’re employed at a large corporation or a small local business.

Every organization needs to look at itself. Are there regular educational seminars or information being made available online or in pamphlets, guest speaker events or trainings, or other ways employees can get information on physical and mental health issues? This can include employee assistance programs, maintaining a list of mental health resources, and establishing connections with community services, such as mental health workers and clinics.

Sometimes one company can help shift an entire culture. If you see that your company or organization is lacking in support of those dealing with mental health issues, be the person to help change the stigma and impact your work’s environment.

The powerful first step: “Are you OK?”

Tips for Employees:
If you’re too depressed to work:
First and foremost: If you’re having trouble working during a depressive episode, don’t beat yourself up over it. This is not something you can “snap out” of with willpower. Many people become depressed or anxious about being depressed or anxious.

  • Take short breaks with a meditation app when you need them.
  • Get outside for a walk in the fresh air.
  • Go to the gym on your lunch breaks.
  • Pack or prep a nutrition-filled lunch.
  • Maintain good sleep hygiene. It will help you stay rested, regulate mood and your mental state.
  • Check in regularly with a trusted friend or colleague. I call this an emotion buddy or coach.

What to do if you can’t work
*Disability benefits are an option.
Some states offer this on a temporary basis. On a federal level, the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs will provide your retirement benefits early (including Medicare). Many companies also offer short term and long term disability possibilities. Depression and anxiety disorders are an illness, not a weakness.

*Remember that you’re not alone.
Dark thoughts can be especially heavy during this time, so reach out to family and friends for support. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a website and can be reached 24/7 at 800-273-8255, should you need it. Seeking professional counseling can also make a world of difference.

*If you don’t feel like your work is meaningful and/or the environment is dreadful, you’re not in a good place. It may be time to move jobs. Again, it’s important to note that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

*For those returning to work, you could talk to your supervisors about working from home options to avoid some triggers.

*You can obtain a note from your treating psychologist or physician documenting your treatment. Under ADA law, companies cannot harass or terminate people for absences due to medical treatment.

For additional resources see, Wellness in the Restaurant and Bar Industry.

 

Shades of Gray

Black and white thinking – also known as all-or-nothing thinking – splits your world neatly into one category or another. If you’re experiencing depression, it’s common to fall into black-and-white thinking. You might focus a lot on your perceived failings, what you should have done differently in a situation and not surprisingly you end up feeling low. Black-and-white thinking also plays a role if you’re experiencing anxiety. A panic attack can make you think about a situation as either completely safe or completely unsafe.

Why Thinking in the Gray is Important

  • Black and white thinking can negatively impact your relationships
    Your partner is the most wonderful person in the world — until they’re the worst. This cycle of love/hate, down/up, good/bad can be seriously stressful for any relationship. In some cases, these wild lows and highs can be a sign of something more serious, such as mental health problems. In family relationships and friendships, quickly changing from thinking a loved one is perfect to feeling they’re awful can erode intimacy and trust. By seeing your loved one as either all good or all bad, you’re not letting yourself see them for what they are: a normal, fallible human.  See also How Mental Flexibility Helps Romantic and Family Relationships.
  • Binary Thinking Leads to Poor Decisions
    According to psychological research, thinking in binary terms can actually change the way we perceive the world, effectively conditioning us to miss nuance. In a 2016 study, Pomona College researchers found that participants’ perceptions of how someone was feeling changed depending on whether they were given black and white, or more fluid categories, to understand emotion. By conditioning a person to see things in more binary terms, black and white thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, making it even harder to perceive nuance.
  • It can signal a deeper problem
    While everyone experiences black and white thinking to some extent, extreme black and white thinking can also be a symptom of mental illness. People with Borderline Personality Disorder, for example, experience intense black and white thinking, which can in turn affect their perceptions of their relationships with others and with themselves.

How to challenge black and white thinking
Shifting your thinking can be difficult but with the right support, you can learn some helpful strategies. Cognitive BehavioralTherapy (CBT) and Mindfulness based therapy are effective ways to address black and white thinking. It is a process where you are encouraged to replace unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving with more helpful approaches. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight but with time and professional help, it is a very effective treatment.

How to Be In The Gray
Reframe your thinking. Catch yourself in the middle of a thought and challenge whether it is true or not. Are you really a terrible partner? Does your boss really hate you? Is your best friend actually ignoring you? Is it more accurate to think: ‘I might not have been at my best today, but my partner loves me and I can work to communicate better.’ Or ‘My boss doesn’t need to constantly reassure me, they will tell me if there’s an issue.’

Words like ‘never’ and ‘every’ are not helping you. Catch yourself using ‘absolute’ words and rethink them as ‘sometimes,’ maybe,’ or ‘every now and again’. Acknowledge and accept that life is filled with uncertainty. You don’t have all the answers all of the time. It’s completely fine to say, ‘I don’t know, I need to think about that more.’

The Small Things That Are Huge

  • Telling people that you can’t take on any more tasks.
  • Allowing yourself to sleep when you are tired. (See also Making Sleep Your Best Friend)
  • Spending your time with people who get you.
  • Respecting your limitations and boundaries.
  • Being honest. With you and others.
  • Walking your talk.
  • Asking for help.
  • Enjoying your leisure time.
  • Throwing away guilt.
  • Speaking about your expectations in relationships.
  • Recognizing red flags. This is intuition, an ancient trait.
  • Not arguing with people about your values.
  • Stepping away when angry, instead of engaging in that moment.
  • Allowing yourself to be loved and supported by others.
  • Forgiving yourself.

The Neuropsychology of Wine

Neuropsychologists already know that the brain’s memory hub, the hippocampus, is the first area to be compromised by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Those who smell, serve, recommend, and taste wine for a living are apparently doing more than just expanding their palates. According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the brains of Master Sommeliers seem to be much more resistant to neurodegenerative diseases than those of the average person.

Scientists analyzed MRI scans of Master Sommeliers and compared them to those of non-wine-experts, to determine how the human brain responds when it gains a certain level of expertise. There are currently less than 250 Master Sommeliers worldwide, all of whom must pass a rigorous and in-depth exam to earn the title. The certification process can take several years and is the highest official professional distinction one can attain in the beverage service industry.

In 2016, a study on Master Sommeliers at the Cleveland Clinic for Brain Health located in Las Vegas found that the entorhinal cortex (the important area of the brain that includes the Hippocampus) was physically thicker in the wine professionals’ brains versus a control group. Results showed that sommeliers with long careers in hospitality exhibited enhanced and healthier brain tissue in the entorhinal cortex, suggesting that the specialized training of sommeliers might result in advantages in the brain, well into advanced adulthood. This is especially significant, given that the cortical regions involved are the first to be impacted by many neurodegenerative diseases. Additional research has also backed up the theory that sommeliers make excellent models to study brain health.

We know from previous research done in other fields that the brain benefits from active studying, and using the brain areas processing senses, especially smell, are responsible for memory, emotion, learning, and reward. Olfactory training, in particular, improves brain capacity which lingers in individuals, even those who have developed early stages of dementia. The research also demonstrates the importance of integrating sensory stimuli across modalities, and assigning pleasure (hedonic value) and emotional salience to stimuli. You will remember the scent of the perfume of your beloved.

Take away: experts who use ALL of their sensory knowledge for their work on a regular basis, integrating sensory stimuli across modalities, and assigning passion (hedonic value) and emotional salience (engagement) to stimuli seem to have a brain advantage.

For stats please see: Structural and Functional MRI Differences in Master Sommeliers: A Pilot Study on Expertise in the Brain in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 

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