CNA/THE NEW YORK TIMES – Phew, what a decade that went by. With everything happening all the time, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. How can we focus on ourselves when there is so much going on around us, not to mention worrying about careers, families, money, stress and everything else that comes with modern life?
But it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it seems. Here are eight simple ways to be a little kinder to yourself in 2020.
TAKE MORE TIME FOR YOURSELF
Choosing to spend time alone can benefit your social relationships, improve your creativity and confidence, and help you regulate your emotions so that you can better deal with adverse situations, according to experts.
“It’s not that solitude is always good, but it can be good” if you’re open to rejecting the idea – common in the west – that time by yourself is always a negative experience you’re being forced into, according to Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Durham University Thuy-vy Nguyen who studies solitude. She added that because solitude helps us regulate our emotions, it can have a calming effect that prepares us to better engage with others.
Getting better at identifying moments when we need solitude to recharge and reflect can help us better handle negative emotions and experiences, like stress and burnout, said psychotherapist Emily Roberts.
TAKE TIME TO DO NOTHING AT ALL
Running from place to place and labouring over long to-do lists have increasingly become ways to communicate status: I’m so busy because I’m just so important, the thinking goes.
Perhaps it’s time to stop all this busyness. Being busy – if we even are busy – is rarely the status indicator we’ve come to believe it is. Nonetheless, the impact is real, and instances of burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases are on the rise, not to mention millennial burnout.
One way out of this madness? Doing nothing. Counter-intuitively, idleness can be a great productivity tool because “if our energy is totally shot, our productivity is not going to be good because we’re not going to have fuel to burn with which to be productive,” said productivity expert and author of the blog A Life Of Productivity Chris Bailey.
CULTIVATE MORE CASUAL, LOW-STAKES FRIENDSHIPS
Think of the parents you see in the drop-off line at school. Your favourite waiter. The other dog owners at the park.
The sociologist Mark Granovetter calls these low-stakes relationships “weak ties.” Not only can these connections affect our job prospects, they also can have a positive impact on our well-being by helping us feel more connected to other social groups, according to Dr Granovetter’s research. Other studies have shown weak ties can offer recommendations for services and empower us to be more empathetic. We’re likely to feel less lonely, too, research shows.
A 2014 study found that the more weak ties a person has (neighbours, a barista at the neighbourhood coffee shop or fellow members in a spin class), the happier they feel.
Maintaining this network of acquaintances also contributes to one’s sense of belonging to a community, researchers found.
LEARN TO ENJOY THINGS WHEN THEY’RE GOOD
Worrying about when “the other shoe will drop” will only steal your current joy.
In a paper examining the costs and benefits of negative expectations in the journal Emotion, researchers found that students who predicted getting a poor grade on an exam felt bad for days before receiving their results. Worse, their stressing didn’t diminish the disappointment they felt once they got their scores.
One underlying reason people worry is that on some level they assume it helps. Yet we need to accept that we can’t perfectly prepare for potential challenges.
“There are an infinite number of bad things that could possibly happen (although most are unlikely), and there is just no way a person can anticipate them all,” according to Psychology Professor at the University of Quebec Dr Michel Dugas.
Keep in mind that research has shown we are notoriously bad at predicting how we will feel in a given situation, and things often go better than we imagine they will in moments of fear. Dr Dugas shared a takeaway a client observed: “I try to worry about everything bad that could possibly happen so that I won’t be taken off guard. What really bothers me is that although I do sometimes experience bad things, they are never the ones I thought about!”
LEAN INTO YOUR ‘GUILTY’ PLEASURES
The TV shows and movies we love, even though we just know they’re bad. The trashy books we simply can’t put down. The awful earworms we hate to love.
Yes, these are our guilty pleasures – what some people consider the junk food in our media diets.
But if we enjoy them, why should we feel guilty? We should be free to enjoy whatever we like!
And as it turns out, these so-called “guilty” pleasures can actually be good for us, so long as they’re enjoyed in moderation.
“When we rest, we think we’re supposed to use that time productively with problem solving,” said Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin Dr Kristin Neff. While “that may be good for survival,” Dr Neff said, constantly running through hypothetical problems “is not very good for happiness.”
Taking a mental break and enjoying something that doesn’t require intense intellectual focus gets us out of problem-solving mode, and it can also improve our ability to productively deal with stressors and help us engage more positively with other people, according to experts.
LEARN TO ACCEPT A COMPLIMENT – EVEN IF IT’S FROM YOURSELF
Pumping yourself up after a big win can feel a little awkward.
You want to acknowledge good work, but you don’t want to feel arrogant.
It’s that tricky balance of quietly revelling in a job well done without coming off as, well, a jerk.
Despite that awkwardness, getting credit for your work gives your brain good feelings and helps you accomplish more.
Companies use praise to try to boost productivity and even revenue, and experts say that the psychological impact of keeping a positive view of your accomplishments can decrease stress and encourage better habits.
And even if you’re bad at taking a compliment, or you’re not getting external recognition, you can still enjoy major psychological benefits from celebrating your achievements on your own, according to experts.
EMBRACE THE UNEXPECTED JOY OF REPEAT EXPERIENCES
Novelty is so overrated, and research has shown that you’re far more likely to enjoy something the second time around than you think.
“Doing something once may engender an inflated sense that one has now seen ‘it’, leaving people naive to the missed nuances remaining to enjoy,” according to professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business Ed O’Brien.
“When an experience has many layers of information to unveil, it’s probably a good bet to repeat it,” O’Brien said. “The rub is that it’s hard to tell which experiences will be like this, and our studies show that people are too quick to assume that they’ve ‘seen all the layers’ even in those cases where they haven’t.”
TURN YOUR REGRETS INTO SELF-IMPROVEMENT
Many of us try to push pain away. Others ruminate about perceived mistakes. But whether you ignore or fixate on what’s troubling you, research has shown that it’s impossible to run from emotions without consequences. And in a vicious twist, dodging upsetting feelings actually makes them even more present: Suppressing our emotions can diminish our capacity for joy and potentially manifest as physical pain.
So instead of trying to ignore your regrets, it’s a better idea to practise acknowledging the experience.
Try this: Start by slowing down and noticing your thoughts and sensations. Relax your face and hands, and think about accepting how you feel now without worrying you’ll feel this way forever. Reaching this middle ground between avoiding and dwelling will prove less depressing.
Researchers also found that when people find a silver lining in their regret, they are able to think more clearly.
“Regret can be a problem, but one benefit of regret is that it signals improvement is possible,” said Professor of Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University Neal Roese who focusses on the psychology of judgment and decision-making. “The trick is to avoid obsessing and pull out a lesson that can be applied in future situations.”