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11 Kind, Free Things You Can Do for Yourself

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It doesn't take deep pockets to treat yourself. Indulge in one of the following simple pleasures for an immediate mood boost.

1. SHAKE UP YOUR ROUTINE.

Even little changes can be very refreshing. Try taking a different route to work, meeting a friend at a new coffee shop, or listening to music you’ve never heard before. Cook something unusual for dinner. Give your senses something fun and unexpected to explore. 

2. START A "WARM FUZZIES" FILE.

The next time somebody says something encouraging or flattering about you, write it down. Did they say it in an email? Label the email “warm fuzzies” or something similar. Over time, you’ll amass a precious collection of personalized little boosts that you can pull up when you’re feeling down. 

3. TAKE A GOOD, LONG LOOK AT THE STARS.

There’s nothing like the night sky for a good dose of perspective. On a very clear night, you might be able to see hundreds or thousands of stars, each of them light years away. What you can’t see are the rest of the 400 billion stars in our galaxy, or the septillion (that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) stars in the universe. We are, as they say, a speck on a speck on a speck. (Tip: If you can’t see the cosmos from your house, a stroll through NASA’s Hubble Telescope image gallery ought to do it.)

4. ASSESS YOUR INTERNET DIET.

Your time and attention are limited resources. How are you spending them? Take a look at your social media accounts and the websites and apps you use. How do they make you feel? Are you following people or taking in content that brings you down? If so, are you getting anything out of it? If your feeds are full of pointless negativity, it may be time for a purge.

5. GET YOUR GIGGLE ON.

What makes you laugh the hardest? Maybe it’s your favorite cartoon or a comedy special. Maybe it’s your sister, or your next-door neighbor's dog, or cooking shows hosted by a foul-mouthed toddler. Whatever it is, seek it out. It only takes a few minutes of laughter to get the dopamine and endorphins flowing. 

6. GO FOR A STROLL.

The simple act of getting outside can do wonders for your outlook. Even a short jaunt offers a host of benefits: fresh air, a change of environment, an opportunity to move your body, exposure to nature (even if that’s just grass and fenced-in trees, it counts!), and the opportunity to see and interact with other people and animals.  

7. ZOOM IN ON THE GOOD THINGS.

Everybody’s got their something. Maybe you collect sneakers, or are a wizard with nail art. Maybe it’s cute algae, or crafting, or museums, or basketball. Start taking pictures of your favorite things at least once a day. You could share the photos on social media or keep them to yourself; the point is to take a closer look at the things that make you happy.

8. SNUGGLE SOMEBODY.

Cuddles are like some kind of wonder drug. Cozying up to someone you love (or a stuffed animal, or even a well-compensated stranger) can lower your blood pressure, reduce your stress levels, flood your body with happy-making hormones, and even boost your immune system. Having a bad day? There is no shame in asking someone you trust for a solid hug.

9. TAKE A 3-MINUTE BREAK.

By now you’ve almost definitely heard about the myriad benefits of mindfulness meditation. But you probably haven’t heard that even tiny doses can help refresh your system. Not sure where to start? Try apps and websites like Calm.com, which guide users through tiny meditation breaks and offer soothing sounds and images like thunderstorms and waves on the beach.

10. GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY.

Most of us spend many of our waking hours sitting at the computer, using our hands only for typing and clicking and our eyes for reading and watching. When’s the last time you baked a cake, or assembled a piece of furniture, or patched a bike tire? It doesn’t have to be complicated or hard. If you’re out of ideas or energy, just picking up a coloring book and pencils or petting a dog can send some good feelings from your fingers to your brain. 

11. CREATE A BAD-DAY BOX.

Sometimes when you’re feeling down it can be hard to figure out what would make you feel better. You can skip that step entirely by starting a bad-day box today. This is just a box (or tin or bucket) in which you put little things that bring you comfort or joy. That could be stickers or nail polish or miniature chocolate bars; it could be a mix CD you made for yourself, a friend’s phone number, or some really silly jokes. It could be a book of poetry or a slapstick comedy on DVD. Whatever does it for you, throw it in the box, and when the bad day comes, you’ll be ready.

All images courtesy of iStock.

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science
New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
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The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

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