- Accept what we can’t change. This time of year, we make lofty resolutions and seek quick changes to fix our problems, setting ourselves up for failure (think of gyms packed full in January, but empty by February). Our time might be better spent cultivating acceptance of what we can’t change, like a big city’s traffic jams, or a perceived physical flaw, says psychologistThomas Ellis, PsyD, ABPP, Menninger’s director of Psychology. “Very often positive mental health involves coming to terms with our weakness and shortcomings, and accepting that none of us is perfect,” Ellis says. It’s not easy, he admits, and requires practicing mindfulness, and learning to live in the present moment.
- Develop a commitment device. If you do decide to make a change, automate it with acommitment device — a way to lock yourself into an action and help you meet your goals. Clients in Menninger’s Pathfinder program, a community re-integration program, often use this technique to incorporate mentally healthy behaviors in their lives. For example, clients who want to commit to an exercise plan may have a friend come pick them up for workouts, saysBrad Kennedy, director of Rehabilitation Services. “We also have some clients who participate in an early morning meditation group at work. They keep their work clothes at work, to compel them to come into work early and attend the group, instead of sleeping in.”
- Spend time near someone your trust. “Research shows that just being in the presence of someone we trust is the most powerful way to reduce distress,” Allen says. Most advice to improve mental health focuses on individual efforts at self-regulation — exercising, meditation, relaxation. Although such methods are very important for all of us, “they are not as effective asinterpersonal regulation of stress. We do our best when we outsource our stress regulation to trusted companions and confidants.” For people who don’t have strong relationships, Allen says a good way to forge connections is to join a structured group, such as church or community group, a club organized around a hobby or interest or a 12-step group or support group for people struggling with substance abuse or mental illness. A trained therapist also can provide guidance on building and nurturing relationships.
- Find a purpose and spend time nurturing it. Philosophers throughout the ages, including Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, have singled out love and work as central to good mental health. The same holds true today. Love doesn’t have to be romantic; it can be spiritual in nature, or directed toward family, friends or a shared purpose. Allen says work can be done in the pursuit of money, but it doesn’t have to be paid, as long as it is some form of “productive engagement,” such as taking care of family, volunteering in the community or following a creative pursuit. “A sense of purpose is essential to mental health,” Ellis adds. “Patients often talk about a feeling a sense of meaninglessness in their lives. If there is not a sense of meaning and purpose, it is very difficult to be happy.”
Looking for a way to improve your studying skills? Joseph Stromberg of Vox.com writes about his interview with psychologists Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel — who’ve spent a combined 80 years studying learning and memory, and recently distilled their findings with novelist Peter Brown in the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Here is a summary of their findings.
For more information on smart studying skills, contact Holly Scott at Uptown Dallas Counseling.