Feel happy and relaxed with these 8 simple evidence-based strategies for reducing stress and improving mood
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
Stress is the body’s reaction to an event or situation. Primarily a physiological response, stress is also experienced psychologically (i.e. worry). Too much stress is associated with mental health issues and chronic health problems.
Because we often have no control over stressors in our lives, it’s important to effectively manage stress.
Here are eight fast-acting stress relievers for short-term relief. (Click here for additional mood boosters.)
Less time sitting = Better mood. A recent study found that replacing sedentary behavior with sleep or light exercise (i.e. walking, gardening, etc.) improved mood. Substituting sleep was associated with decreased stress levels in addition to enhanced mood.
You’ll feel more relaxed and less stressed after receiving a head-and-neck or neck-and-shoulder massage. One study found that participants experienced reduced rates of both physiological and psychological stress after 10 minutes of massage.
When faced with a stressful situation, have your significant other present to ease your anxiety. If your partner is unavailable, visualize him/her; simply thinking of a significant other has comparable positive effects on blood pressure and stress reactivity.
Frequent laughter seems to be a buffer for stress; people who laugh a lot experience fewer stress-related symptoms. Researchers found that the more someone laughed, the less likely they were to feel stressed.
“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”
In one study, participants who listened to upbeat music while actively trying to feel happier experienced improved mood as well as increased happiness over the next two weeks.
A 2017 study indicated that listening to your favorite songs impacts the brain circuit involved in internally focused thought, empathy, and self-awareness. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter what type of music you choose; the mood-boosting effect is consistent across genres.
Alternatively, consider a stroll in the park for a boost. Researchers found that individuals with depression who took an hour-long nature walk experienced significant increases in attention and working memory when compared to individuals who walked in urban areas. Interestingly, both groups of participants experienced similar boosts in mood; walking in an urban area can be just as effective!
More recently, researchers found that people who regularly commute through natural environments (i.e. passing by trees, bodies of water, parks, etc.) reported better mental health compared to those who don’t. This association was even stronger among active commuters (walking or biking to work). If you commute through congested or urban areas, consider an alternate route, especially when you’re feeling down.
Spending time outside does more than just improve your mood. A 2018 report established a link between nature and overall wellness. Living close to nature and spending time outside reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure. Exposure to green space may also benefit the immune system, reduce inflammation, and increase sleep duration.
Read/view something inspiring or humorous
Do you have a favorite inspirational book or collection of poems? Do you like viewing motivational TED Talks? Do you enjoy comedy shows? Maybe you like watching videos of baby goats or flash mobs on Facebook. (I do!)
One study found that viewing cat videos boosted energy and positive emotions while decreasing negative feelings (such as anxiety, annoyance, and sadness). Internet cats = Instant mood boost. However, if cyber cats are not your thing, search around to find something enjoyable to read or watch for your happiness quick-fix.
Plan your next adventure
I’m happiest when I’m traveling the world. Unfortunately, I have limited vacation days (as well as limited funds), which means I don’t get to travel as often as I’d like. Happily, planning a trip may produce the same mood-boosting effects as going on a trip.
In 2010, researchers found that before taking a trip, vacationers were happier compared to those not planning a trip. A 2002 study indicated that people anticipating a vacation were happier with life in general and experienced more positive/pleasant feelings compared to people who weren’t. In both studies, researchers attributed happiness levels to anticipation. (The brain releases dopamine during certain activities, causing us to feel pleasure. Dopamine is also released in anticipation of a pleasurable activity.) For a mood boost, start planning!
The next time you’re having a bad day, listen to your favorite song, go hiking in the woods, watch a TED Talks, start planning your next vacation, or spend some quality time with a furry friend… you’ll feel better!
What foods are associated with increased psychiatric symptoms? What should you eat if you want to boost your mood? Learn what researchers have found when it comes to diet and mental well-being.
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
You may have heard of the “food-mood connection.” Research indicates that our food choices greatly impact not only physical health, but mental well-being. Some foods seem to boost mood and reduce psychiatric symptoms while others are linked to depression and anxiety.
Fruits and vegetables are good for mood, but raw fruits and veggies are better. A raw diet is associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing and lower levels of psychiatric symptoms. According to a recent study, the top raw foods associated with mental wellness are apples, bananas, berries, carrots, citrus fruits, cucumbers, grapefruit, kiwi, lettuce, and dark, leafy greens.
So how many servings of fruit/veggies should you eat per day for optimal mental health? At least 8, according to one study that found happiness benefits were evident for each portion for up to 8 servings per day.
What nutrients should you include in your diet for improved mental health? Research indicates the following are important for mental wellbeing: Omega-3 fatty acids (fish, flaxseed, walnuts), phospholipids (egg yolk, soybeans), niacin (liver, avocado, brown rice), folate (legumes, beets, broccoli), vitamin B6 (chickpeas, tuna), and vitamin B12 (sardines, fortified nutritional yeast).
In sum, skip the fast food and soda; head to the salad bar instead to feed your mood and your belly!
→ Bonnie Beezhold, Cynthia Radnitz, Amy Rinne & Julie DiMatteo (2015) Vegans report less stress and anxiety than omnivores, Nutritional Neuroscience, 18:7, 289-296, doi: 10.1179/1476830514Y.0000000164
→ Knüppel, A., Shipley, M. J., Llewellyn, C. H., & Brunner, E. J. (2017). Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific reports, 7(1), 6287. doi: 0.1038/s41598-017-05649-7
(Updated 9/22/20) A resource list for mental health professionals and consumers. Free PDF manuals/workbooks/guides for group and individual therapy or self-help purposes.
Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
The following list is comprised of links to over 200 PDF workbooks, manuals, and guides that are published online and are free to use with clients and/or for self-help purposes. Some of the manuals, including Individual Resiliency Training and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Psychotic Symptoms, are evidence-based.
Please repost this and/or share with anyone you think could benefit from these free resources!
A collection of free printable PDF workbooks, manuals, toolkits/self-help guides for substance and behavioral (i.e. food, gambling, etc.) addictions and recovery
There are several SAMHSA workbooks listed below; you can find additional free publications on SAMHSA’s website. For printable fact sheets and brochures, go to the National Institute on Drug Abuse website or the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. If you’re looking for 12-step literature, many 12-step organizations post free reading materials, workbooks, and worksheets; don’t forget to check local chapters! (See 12-Step Recovery Groups for a comprehensive list of 12-step and related recovery support group sites.) Other great places to look for printable PDF resources for addiction include education/advocacy and professional membership organization sites. (Refer to the Links page on this site for an extensive list.)
(Updated 4/9/19) A list of 30+ mental health, wellness, and personal development blogs
Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
Creating Mind ReMake Project opened my eyes to a whole world of blogs! There are tons of informative and thought-provoking sites out there that share my “niche.” This post lists a variety of blogs related to mental health, wellness, and personal development.
Amy McDowell Marlow, a 22-year survivor of suicide loss who lives with mental illness (bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder), blogs about living with mental illness
A blog created to help people better understand the medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction using either buprenorphine (Suboxone) or methadone from a physician, board-certified in Internal Medicine and Addiction Medicine
(Updated 8/22/20) A list of sites with a variety of assessment tools for mental health and related issues, including mood disorders, relationship attachment styles, suicide risk, communication skills, and domestic violence. This list includes both self-assessments and screening tools for clinicians to administer and score.
Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
The following list will link you to a variety of mental health assessments and screenings for clinicians or for self-assessment. While an assessment cannot take the place of a clinical diagnosis, it can give you a better idea if what you’re experiencing is “normal.” (For additional screening tools to use with couples, see Marriage & Relationship Assessment Tools.)
Free Online Assessment & Screening Tools for Mental Health
✅ ACE Questionnaire | Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are associated with a variety of health (both physical and mental) conditions in adults. To find your ACE score, take an interactive quiz. Learn more about ACEs on the CDC’s violence prevention webpage. You can also download the international version (PDF) from the World Health Organization’s Violence and Injury Prevention webpage.
✅ ADAA Screening Tools | The Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides links to both printable and interactive tests for depression, generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, panic disorder, PTSD, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. This site does not provide test results. (It’s recommended that you print your results to discuss with a mental health practitioner.) This is an excellent resource for clinicians to print and administer to clients.
✅ Borderline Symptom List and Scoring Instructions | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) Citations: Bohus M., Limberger, M. F., Frank, U., Chapman, A. L., Kuhler, T., Stieglitz, R. D. (2007). Psychometric Properties of the Borderline Symptom List (BSL). Psychopahology, 40, 126-132.
✅ Demographic Data Scale | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) A self-report questionnaire used to gather extensive demographic information from the client. Citations: Linehan, M. M. (1982). Demographic Data Schedule (DDS). University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Unpublished work.
✅ Depression Self-Assessment | A simple self-assessment tool from Kaiser. Results are provided on a spectrum, ranging from “None” to “Severe” depression.
✅ DrugScreening.org | An interactive test that provides feedback about the likely risks of your drug use and where to find more information, evaluation, and help
✅ Danger Assessment Screening Tool | Clinicians can download this PDF version of the assessment, which helps predict the level of danger in an abusive relationship; this screening tool was developed to predict violence and homicide.
✅ DBSA Mental Health Screening Center | The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers screening tools for both children and adults (including versions for parents to answers questions about their child’s symptoms). Take an online assessment for depression, mania, and/or anxiety.
✅ DBT-WCCL Scale and Scoring | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) Citations: Neacsiu, A. D., Rizvi, S. L., Vitaliano, P. P., Lynch, T. R., & Linehan, M. M. (2010). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Ways of Coping Checklist (DBT-WCCL).: Development and Psychometric Properties. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 66(61), 1-20.
✅ Keirsey | Take this interactive assessment to learn your temperament. (There are four temperaments: Artisan, Guardian, Idealist, and Rational.) My results were consistent with my Myers-Brigg personality type. (Note: You must create an account and enter a password to view your results.)
✅ Learn Your Love Language | Choose your version: Couples, Children’s Quiz, Teens, or Singles. An online assessment to determine your primary love language. (You are required to enter your information to get quiz results.)
✅ Library of Scales (from Outcome Tracker) | 25 psychiatric scales (PDF documents) to be used by mental health practitioners in clinical practice. Includes Frequency, Intensity, and Burden of Side Effects Ratings; Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence; Fear Questionnaire; Massachusetts General Hospital Hair Pulling Scale; and more. (Note: Some of the assessments have copyright restrictions for use.)
✅ Lifetime – Suicide Attempt Self-Injury Count (L-SASI)InstructionsScoring | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) The L-SASI is an interview to obtain a detailed lifetime history of non-suicidal self-injury and suicidal behavior. Citations: Linehan, M. M. &, Comtois, K. (1996). Lifetime Parasuicide History. University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Unpublished work.
✅ Lineham Risk Assessment and Management Protocol | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) Linehan, M. M. (2009). University of Washington Risk Assessment Action Protocol: UWRAMP, University of WA, Unpublished Work.
✅ Mental Health Screening Tools | Online screenings for depression, anxiety, bipolar, psychosis, eating disorders, PTSD, and addiction. You can also take a parent test (for a parent to assess their child’s symptoms), a youth test (for a youth to report his/her symptoms), or a workplace health test. The site includes resources and self-help tools.
✅ Non-Suicidal Self-Injury Assessment Tool Brief Version | Full Version | Assessment tool created by Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery
✅ Open Source Psychometrics Project | This site provides a collection of interactive personality and other tests, including the Open Extended Jungian Type Scales, the Evaluations of Attractiveness Scales, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale.
✅ Parental Affect Test | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) The Linehan Parental Affect Test is a self-report questionnaire that assesses parent responses to typical child behaviors. Citations: Linehan, M. M., Paul, E., & Egan, K. J. (1983). The Parent Affect Test – Development, Validity and Reliability. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 12, 161-166.
✅ Patient Health Questionnaire Screeners | This is a great diagnostic tool for clinicians. Use the drop down arrow to choose a PHQ or GAD screener (which assesses mood, anxiety, eating, sleep, and somatic concerns). The site generates a PDF printable; you can also access the instruction manual. No permission is required to reproduce, translate, display or distribute the screeners.
✅ SAMHSA Screening Tools | Valid and reliable screening tools for clinicians. This sites links you to PDF versions of assessments/screenings for depression, drug/alcohol use, bipolar disorder, suicide risk, anxiety disorders, and trauma.
✅ The SAPA Project | SAPA stands for “Synthetic Aperture Personality Assessment.” This online personality assessment scores you on 27 “narrow traits,” such as order, impulsivity, and creativity in addition to the “Big Five” (Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Openness). You’re also scored on cognitive ability. This test takes 20-30 minutes to complete and you will receive a full report when finished.
✅ Social History Interview (SHI) | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) The SHI is an interview to gather information about a client’s significant life events over a desired period of time. The SHI was developed by adapting and modifying the psychosocial functioning portion of both the Social Adjustment Scale-Self Report (SAS-SR) and the Longitudinal Interview Follow-up Evaluation Base Schedule (LIFE) to assess a variety of events (e.g., jobs, moves, relationship endings, jail) during the target timeframe. Using the LIFE, functioning is rated in each of 10 areas (e.g., work, household, social interpersonal relations, global social adjustment) for the worst week in each of the preceding four months and for the best week overall. Self-report ratings using the SAS-SR are used to corroborate interview ratings. Citations: Weissman, M. M., & Bothwell, S. (1976). Assessment of social adjustment by patient self-report. Archives of General Psychiatry, 33, 1111-1115. Keller, M. B., Lavori, P. W., Friedman, B., Nielsen, E. C., Endicott, J., McDonald-Scott, P., & Andreasen, N. C. (1987). The longitudinal interval follow-up evaluation: A comprehensive method for assessing outcome in prospective longitudinal studies. Archives of General Psychiatry, 44, 540-548.
✅ Substance Abuse History Interview | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) The SAHI is an interview to assess periods of drug use (by drug), alcohol use, and abstinence in a client’s life over a desired period of time. The SAHI combines the drug and alcohol use items from the Addiction Severity Index (ASI) and the Time Line Follow-back Assessment Method to collect information about the quantity, frequency, and quantity X frequency of alcohol and drug consumption. Citations: McLellan, A. T., Luborsky, L., Woody, G. E., & O’Brien, C. P. (1980). An improved diagnostic evaluation instrument for substance abuse patients: The Addiction Severity Index. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 168, 26-33.
✅ Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire | SBQ with Variable Labels | SBQ Scoring Syntax | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) The SBQ is a self-report questionnaire designed to assess suicidal ideation, suicide expectancies, suicide threats and communications, and suicidal behavior. Citations: Addis, M. & Linehan, M. M. (1989). Predicting suicidal behavior: Psychometric properties of the Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Advancement Behavior Therapy, Washington, D.C.
✅ Suicide Attempt Self-Injury Interview (SASII) SASII Instructions For Published SASII | SASII Standard Short Form with Supplemental Questions | SASII Short Form with Variable Labels | SASII Scoring Syntax | Detailed Explanation of SPSS Scoring Syntax | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) The SASII (formerly the PHI) is an interview to collect details of the topography, intent, medical severity, social context, precipitating and concurrent events, and outcomes of non-suicidal self-injury and suicidal behavior during a target time period. Major SASII outcome variables are the frequency of self-injurious and suicidal behaviors, the medical risk of such behaviors, suicide intent, a risk/rescue score, instrumental intent, and impulsiveness. Citations: Linehan, M. M., Comtois, K. A., Brown, M. Z., Heard, H. L., Wagner, A. (2006). Suicide Attempt Self-Injury Interview (SASII): Development, Reliability, and Validity of a Scale to Assess Suicide Attempts and Intentional Self-Injury. Psychological Assessment, 18(3), 303-312.
✅ Therapist Interview | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) The TI is an interview to gather information from a therapist about their treatment for a specific client. Citations: Linehan, M. M. (1987). Therapist Interview. University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Unpublished work.
✅ Treatment History Interview | Appendices | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) The THI is an interview to gather detailed information about a client’s psychiatric and medical treatment over a desired period of time. Section 1 assesses the client’s utilization of professional psychotherapy, comprehensive treatment programs (e.g., substance abuse programs, day treatment), case management, self-help groups, and other non-professional forms of treatment. Section 2 assesses the client’s utilization of inpatient units (psychiatric and medical), emergency treatment (e.g., emergency room visits, paramedics visits, police wellness checks), and medical treatment (e.g., physician and clinic visits). Section 3 assesses the use of psychotropic and non-psychotropic medications. Citations: Linehan, M. M. &, Heard, H. L. (1987). Treatment history interview (THI). University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Unpublished work. Therapy and Risk Notes – do not use without citation. For clarity of how to implement these items, please see Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Book, Chapter 15.
✅ University of WA Suicide Risk/Distress Assessment Protocol | (Source: University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology) Reynolds, S. K., Lindenboim, N., Comtois, K. A., Murray, A., & Linehan, M. M. (2006). Risky Assessments: Participant Suicidality and Distress Associated with Research Assessments in a Treatment Study of Suicidal Behavior. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior (36)1, 19-33. Linehan, M. M., Comtois, K. A., &, Ward-Ciesielski, E. F. (2012). Assessing and managing risk with suicidal individuals. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 19(2), 218-232.
✅ Wellness Self-Assessment | A PDF-version of Princeton University’s tool to measure your wellness in seven dimensions (emotional, environmental, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, and spiritual) – Calculate your results and then create an action plan.
Individuals with “big picture” styles of reasoning make better decisions. Learn four strategies for “big picture” thinking to get optimal results.
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
A recent study found that individuals with a “big picture” style of thinking made better decisions. (“Better” decisions were defined as those resulting in maximum benefits.)
If you took the Myers-Briggs (a personality assessment), and fell on the “Intuition” side of the spectrum (like me!), it’s likely you’re already a “big picture” thinker. If you’re on the “Sensing” side, you’re more apt to examine individual facts before considering the sum of all parts.
“Big picture” thinking is a practical and balanced method of reasoning. It suggests taking a step back (zoom out!)… and looking to see how all pieces fit together.
The following strategies promote “big picture” thinking:
Research indicates that when weighing out options, it’s ideal to take small breaks. Don’t deliberate for long periods of time or you’ll start to lose focus. If things become fuzzy, you won’t see the big picture.
Ask around to learn how others’ view your situation. Every perspective you collect is another piece of the “big picture” puzzle.
Seek opinions from those you trust (only those who have your best interests in mind). Make sure you ask a variety of people (especially those with whom you typically disagree). The end result is a broader and more comprehensive awareness of what you’re facing.
Employ all four strategies to optimize your thinking style and decision-making skills!
→ American Psychological Association. (2018, April 23). Let it go: Mental breaks after work improve sleep: Repetitive thoughts on rude behavior at work results in insomnia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180423110828.htm
→ Berman, M. G., Kross, E., Krpan, K. M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlib, I. H., & Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.012
→ Black, D. S., O’Reilly, G. A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. C., & Irwin, M. R. (2015). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances. JAMA Internal Medicine, DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081
→ Curry, O., Rowland, L., Zlotowitz, S., McAlaney, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2016). Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Open Science Framework
→ Demsky, C. A. et al. (2018). Workplace incivility and employee sleep: The role of rumination and recovery experiences. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, DOI: 10.1037/ocp0000116
→ Labroo, A., Patrick, V., & Deighton, J. served as editor and Luce, M. F. served as associate editor for this article. (2009). Psychological distancing: Why happiness helps you see the big picture. Journal of Consumer Research,35(5), 800-809. DOI: 10.1086/593683
→ Northwestern University. (2017, July 10). Purpose in life by day linked to better sleep at night: Older adults whose lives have meaning enjoy better sleep quality, less sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170710091734.htm
→ Spira, A. P. (2015). Being mindful of later-life sleep quality and its potential role in prevention. JAMA Internal Medicine, DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8093
→ Stillman, P. E., Fujita, K., Sheldon, O., & Trope, Y. (2018). From “me” to “we”: The role of construal level in promoting maximized joint outcomes. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 147(16), DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2018.05.004
→ Turner, A. D., Smith, C. E., & Ong, J. C. (2017). Is purpose in life associated with less sleep disturbance in older adults? Sleep Science and Practice, 1(1), DOI: 10.1186/s41606-017-0015-6
(Updated 1/13/20) Self-care is a vital piece of the wellness puzzle. This post is intended for the well-informed “self-carer,” who already knows about (and maybe even practices) deep breathing, massage, aromatherapy, etc. and wants to expand their horizons. This is also for people (like me) who don’t get much from your typical self-care practices (i.e. lighting a scented candle).
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
Self-care is a vital piece of the wellness puzzle. As a mental health professional, I practice self-care to prevent burnout. (Once a counselor reaches burnout, he/she is no longer able to fully meet a client’s needs; if you’re not taking care of yourself, how are you going to help someone else?)
To illustrate the importance of self-care, consider a vehicle; it requires ongoing maintenance for optimal performance and safety. Similarly, we require self-care. It’s a concept that encompasses a variety of needs, including health, solitude, human connection, self-love, spiritualty, and more.
I’ve read many articles, posts, and books on self-care; there’s a wealth of information out there. Commonplace self-care tips, such as taking a bubble bath or meditating, make up the majority of posts on the topic; but unoriginal content has no place here. And to be honest, some (okay, a lot!) of the ideas make me want to roll my eyes. (Lighting a scented candle? Nope, not gonna do it for me.)
This post is intended for the well-informed “self-carer,” who already knows about (and maybe even practices) deep breathing, massage, aromatherapy, etc. and wants to expand their horizons. This is also for people (like me) who don’t get much from your typical self-care practices.
Here are 11 unique ideas:
1. Create an inspirational scrapbook or a “bliss book”
Any time you happen upon something that makes you smile, inspires you, or motivates you, add it to your scrapbook (or journal or binder). Maybe it’s a photo, a happy thought you jot down, or a magazine article. Alternatively, you could create a “bliss board” on Pinterest.
Creating a bliss book (or board) has the potential to generate positivity and compassion. Whenever you need an emotional pick-me-up, flip through your scrapbook. Share it with others to generate a double dose of cheer!
2. Plan a trip
If you can’t take a vacation, you can at least plan! Preparation is half the fun (for me, at least)! Look up places you’d like to travel and research things to do there. Create an itinerary. Set a tentative travel date (even if it’s years from now) so you have something to look forward to.
3. Poop in public bathrooms (without shame)!
If you’re one of those people who avoid going number 2 in public bathrooms, stop. Holding in your poop is uncomfortable and may result in constipation. If you’re embarrassed about the smell, carry a travel-sized container of Poo-Pourri. If it’s the sound that makes you anxious, run the water or flush as you go. When your body tells you it’s time to go, listen!
4. Treat yourself to a monthly subscription box
I love getting mystery packages in the mail! It’s akin to receiving a care package when you’re a kid at summer camp. And when it comes to subscription boxes, there are many to choose from. Currently, I subscribe to four: Ispy (5 makeup samples in a cute makeup bag for $10), PLAY! by Sephora (5-6 makeup samples for $10), Trendsend (5-8 clothing items and no styling fee!), and StitchFix (a mix of 5 clothing items, shoes, and accessories with a $20 styling fee – fee is deducted from total).
Subscription boxes are fun and a great way for me to build a professional wardrobe and to try new makeup products. (Disclaimer: I receive a referral bonus if you sign up for a subscription service via one of my links.)
5. Sort through childhood toys or photos
Allow yourself time to reminisce. My sister and I recently went through a box of old dolls and stuffed animals; it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. It released a flood of happy memories and it felt great to laugh. (We chuckled over my Barbie dolls, which all had short, spiky hair; I was a very literal child, so when my sister declared “Barbie haircut day,” I took it to heart. My sister, on the other hand, only pretended to snip her Barbies’ hair. I cried rivers that day.)
I also enjoy looking at old family photos. See below for a pic from the year my mom went on a mission to create the perfect Christmas photo letter (the kind moms send out to impress relatives and old friends). “Fred the Christmas Goose” didn’t make the cut.
6. Create something
Practicing holistic self-care means stretching your mind; you benefit from the challenge. Avoid stagnation by stepping outside your comfort zone. Feed your creative side by building a chair, writing a song, painting a picture, knitting a scarf, or putting together a model.
Personally, I enjoy creating art; while not entirely lacking in talent, I’m no Picasso. Most of my projects are equivalent to the work one would accredit to a moderately talented 8-year old. Every once in awhile, I’m pleasantly surprised. (See below for a sketch I posted on Instagram.) Drawing or painting elicits a sense of accomplishment; it’s something I feel good about. Acknowledging your contributions builds self-esteem and confidence.
7. Engage with a stranger, an acquaintance, a friend, or a family member
Establishing meaningful human connection is essential for wellness. To make the most of this tip, try something you normally wouldn’t. (For example, chatting with a stranger is not my norm. To practice this tip, I’d strike up a conversation with my seatmate on a plane [providing, of course, that they’re open to friendly conversation.) Practicing self-care means building (or strengthening) connections.
8. Go exploring
As a child, nothing thrilled my soul quite like adventure; I explored by trampling through the woods behind my house, traversing streams and following hidden trails. My adventures often involved the discovery of “treasure,” an odd rock or ruins of some sort. Today, I’m just as adventurous; however, I spend less time crashing through woods and more time traveling the world.
Exploration promotes curiosity, which is essential for growth. If you’re not a fan of outdoor activities like hiking or backpacking, try exploring a city or neighborhood. Consider driving through unfamiliar developments. Explore restaurants or shops in your town. Whatever you decide, pursue it with the enthusiasm of the 6-year old adventurer you once were.
9. Redecorate your office or a room in your home to make it soothing, energizing, or inspiring
Every time you’re in the room, you’ll experience positive vibes. Paint the walls, add plants, declutter, hang a portrait, change the curtains, create a rock garden, etc. – whatever promotes positivity.
10. Change something about yourself
There’s a lot to be said for loving yourself, flaws and all. On the flip side, if there’s something you’re extremely unhappy with, consider changing it. If you’re overweight and have tried every sort of diet, but still can’t shed those pounds, talk to a doctor about weight loss surgery or schedule an appointment with a plastic surgeon. If you’re tired of feeling sluggish and lacking energy, adjust your sleep schedule, diet, and exercise routine (and make sure you see a doctor to rule out a medical issue). If you’re constantly broke, get a second job or find another way to bring in income; enroll in financial courses or schedule an appointment with a financial advisor.
Sometimes, self-care involves drastic change. If you’re deeply troubled over some aspect of your life, and it’s something you’re unable to accept, change it (while recognizing it will require work!) This is your life; take action.
Note: This tip is only for things you have control over; recognize what you can and cannot change. For example, I don’t like my flabby arms; if this bothered me enough, I could lift weights to develop muscle tone. I also dislike my neck; it’s not long enough. Unfortunately, short of brass neck coils (which border on self-harm), there’s nothing I can do. It’s not worth brooding over. (That being said, when contemplating any major change, especially ones involving surgery or substantial amounts of money, ask, “Is this change for me alone or am I seeking outside approval?” The essence of self-care is the self; it’s for you and you alone.)
11. Adopt a healthy habit (or quit a bad one)
This idea embodies delayed-gratification self-care vs. instant-gratification self-care (i.e. sipping a mug of tea or gazing at the stars). And while both types of self-care are important, the rewards associated with a healthy habit are life-changing (vs. “mildly pleasant”).
Where can you find the help you need? While there are plenty of resources out there for mental health and recovery, they’re not always easy to find… or affordable. (Plus, the Internet is full of scams!) This article is a starting point for getting help when you aren’t sure where to turn. This post offers practical guidelines; all of the resources in this article are trustworthy and reliable… and will point you in the right direction.
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
This post is not comprehensive; rather, it’s a starting point for getting the help you need. There are plenty of resources out there for mental health and recovery, but they’re not always easy to find (or affordable). The resources in this post are trustworthy and reliable… and will point you in the right direction.
If you need treatment for mental health or substance use, but aren’t sure how to find it…
If you have insurance, check your insurer’s website.
For substance use and mental health disorders, you can access the SAMHSA treatment locator. You can find buprenorphine treatment (medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction) through SAMHSA as well.
Consider using Mental Health America’s interactive tool, Where to Get Help. NeedyMeds.org also has a locator to help you find low-cost mental health and substance abuse clinics.
At campus counseling centers, grad students sometimes offer free or low-cost services.
You could look into community mental health centers or local churches (pastoral counseling).
In some areas, you may be able to find pro bono counseling services. (Google “pro bono counseling” or “free therapy.”) You may also be able to connect with a peer specialist or counselor (for free) instead of seeing a licensed therapist.
As an alternative to individual counseling, you could attend a support group (self-help) or therapy group; check hospitals, churches, and community centers. The DBSA peer-lead support group locator tool will help you find local support groups. Meetup.com may also have support group options.
Additional alternatives: Consider online forums or communities. Watch or read self-help materials. Buy a workbook (such as The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression: A Step-By-Step Program) from amazon.com. Download a therapy app.
Lastly, you could attend a free workshop or class at a local church, the library, a college or university, a community agency, or a hospital.
If you’re under 18 and need help, but your parents won’t let you see a counselor (or “don’t believe in therapy”)…
Some, but not all, states require parental consent for adolescents to participate in therapy. Start by looking up the laws in your state. You may be able to see a treatment provider without consent from a legal guardian. If your state is one that mandates consent, consider scheduling an appointment with your school counselor. In many schools, school counseling is considered a regular educational service and does not require parental consent.
Alternatively, you could join an online forum or group. (Mental Health America offers an online community with over 1 million users and NAMI offers OK2Talk, an online community for adolescents and young adults.)
Lastly, consider talking with your pastor or a trusted teacher, reading self-help materials, downloading a therapy app, journaling, meditation or relaxation techniques, exercising, or therapy podcasts/videos.
If a loved one or friend says they’re going to kill themselves, but refuses help…
Call 911. If you’re with that person, stay with them until help arrives.
Explore Learn to Cope, a peer-led support network for families coping with the addiction of a loved one. Alternatively, you could attend Al-Anon or Nar-Anon.
Keep in mind that it’s almost impossible to help someone who doesn’t want it. You can’t control your loved one or force them into treatment. Instead, find a way to accept that there’s no logic to addiction; it’s a complex brain disorder and no amount of pleading, arguing, or “guilting” will change that.
If a friend or family member overdoses on heroin or other opioid…
You can receive free training to administer naloxone, which reverses an opioid overdose. Take an online training course at Get Naloxone Now. You can purchase naloxone OTC in most states at CVS or Walgreens.
In addition to talking to your doctor about medication, the patch, and/or nicotine gum, visit Smoke Free, Be Tobacco Free, or Quit.com for resources, tools, and tips.
Call a smoking cessation hotline (like 1-800-QUIT-NOW) or live chat with a specialist, such as LiveHelp (National Cancer Institute).
Download a free app (like QuitNow! or Smoke Free) or sign up for a free texting program, like SmokefreeTXT, for extra support.
Attend an online workshop or participate in a smoking cessation course; your insurance provider may offer one or you may find classes at a local hospital or community center. You could also contact your EAP for additional resources.
If your therapist is making unwanted sexual remarks/advances…
Contact the licensing board to file a complaint. Each state has a different licensing board. Additionally, contact the therapist’s professional association (i.e. American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association, etc.) Provide your name, address, and telephone number (unless filing anonymously). Identify the practitioner you are reporting by his or her full name and license type. Provide a detailed summary of your concerns. Attach copies (not originals) of documents relating to your concerns, if applicable.
“We only get one body in life, so it makes sense to treat it well by fueling it with nutritious foods.” An interview with Dr. Lisal Folsom, who discusses optimal health, nutrition, and sustainable weight loss.
Interviewer: Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC
An Endocrinologist’s Thoughts On Health and Sustainable Weight Loss
On a typical day, what are your patients’ complaints and how do you resolve them?
As an endocrinologist, I care for patients with all types of gland and hormone disorders. The most common reasons patients come to see me include diabetes (both type 1 and type 2), concerns about growth and puberty, thyroid dysfunction, hirsutism (unwanted hair growth), polycystic ovarian syndrome, and adrenal disorders. I also provide gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender individuals. Depending on the patient’s symptoms and diagnosis, I may order lab tests and/or radiology studies such as thyroid ultrasounds or bone age xrays as part of my evaluation. Once we have a diagnosis, I work with the patient to create a personalized plan for treatment and follow up.
What about common questions or concerns?
Regardless of the reason they’ve come to see me, many patients are concerned about fatigue and weight gain. Everyone loves to blame these symptoms on the thyroid gland, but there are many other possible contributors to both fatigue and weight gain, including lack of quality sleep, sleep apnea, suboptimal eating habits, and infrequent exercise.
How does diet impact health?
A balanced diet and good nutrition are essential for optimal health. The only way to nourish and fuel our bodies is through food, and multiple studies have shown the benefits of good nutrition on health. People who eat a diet composed of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins have lower blood pressure, better cholesterol, and decreased risk of obesity than those who follow a typical Western diet. There is a lot of research going on right now investigating the health effects of switching to a whole foods plant-based diet. A study comparing gut bacteria found that individuals following vegan and vegetarian diets had a more diverse selection of microbes in the intestines, which can lead to better health. Another study published in Clinical Nutrition this year found that people with high cholesterol had improvement in their cholesterol numbers when they followed a whole foods plant-based diet. Their cholesterol worsened when they switched back to a diet containing animal products and refined carbohydrates. We only get one body in life, so it makes sense to treat it well by fueling it with the healthiest, most nutritious foods.
What are the main risk factors for diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is an acquired metabolic disease associated with insulin resistance and high blood sugars. Until relatively recently this was a disease of adults, but in the past few years more and more children have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as well, partly because of the increase in obesity. Risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include being overweight or obese, carrying extra weight in the abdominal area, lack of regular physical activity, a family history of type 2 diabetes, and being diagnosed with prediabetes. Gestational diabetes during pregnancy is also a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes later on. A person will not necessarily develop type 2 diabetes just by eating a lot of sugar, but a long-standing pattern of unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, and weight gain will certainly increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes down the road.
Can diabetes be treated with lifestyle changes?
Lifestyle changes are vital in diabetes treatment! Medicines can help to lower blood sugar, but the underlying cause of type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance, which is exacerbated by weight and lack of regular activity. We know that people who exercise on a regular basis tend to have lower blood pressure, better cholesterol, and are more likely to be at a weight considered to be healthy, than people who don’t exercise often. Part of the reason for this is that exercise improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin. When we exercise, our bodies don’t have to work as hard to turn the food we eat into energy and fuel for our cells. Studies have shown that people with type 2 diabetes who exercise after a meal have lower blood sugar levels than those who don’t. Exercise and a healthy diet are important for everyone, but these elements are especially crucial for people who are looking to improve their health.
Which is worse: Fat or sugar?
Ooh – tough question. I would say both and neither. Both fats and sugars come in healthy and unhealthy forms. Omega-3, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fatty acids help lower cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease. These healthy fats are found in nuts, peanut butter, avocados, flaxseed, and olive, canola, and soybean oils. Some eggs contain omega-3 fatty acids as well, depending on whether the chickens that laid them were given supplementation. Unhealthy fats include saturated and trans fats. These types of fats are found in fatty cuts of meat, poultry skin, fried foods, high fat dairy products, processed and prepackaged foods, and solid oils such as shortening and lard.
Healthy sugars include those occurring naturally in fruits and vegetables. A good rule of thumb is to try to choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. For example, when you eat an apple, rather than drinking apple juice, you get the added benefits of the fiber from the apple, and vitamins from the skin. These added health benefits of eating whole fruits and vegetables allow the sugars to be absorbed more gradually by your body, and are lost when foods are processed.
What is one food you’d never eat and why?
Cracklins. This southern delicacy consists of fried pieces of pork fat and skin, flavored with Cajun spices. Although I’m sure they’re very tasty, they’re also oozing with saturated and trans fats, contain almost 500 calories per serving, and are high in sodium. You could eat an entire avocado and two slices of whole wheat toast for fewer calories. This alternative snack is not only delicious, it also comes with the added benefits of healthy fats, whole grains, and fiber.
If given the opportunity, is there anything you’d change about the current dietary recommendations?
The current dietary guidelines are a good place to start. They recommend eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, making at least half of our grains whole, and limiting saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium. I wish they went a little further though, by emphasizing the health benefits of whole rather than processed foods, and offering alternative options for people looking to follow a plant-based diet. There are some really great dairy alternatives out there, including nut milks (almond, cashew, macadamia), soymilk, plant protein products, and tofu. Many of these are made without added sugar, and are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, so the nutritional content is quite similar to the animal-based versions.
What are your thoughts on the obesity epidemic in America?
Obesity is a growing problem in our country, and it’s going to keep getting worse unless we as a society make some major changes. Obesity is a multifactorial disease, with many different levels of influence. Personal dietary choices have a role of course, but so does the environment in which people live. If a family lives in a food desert, and the only place to buy groceries is the convenience store where one banana and a 6-pack of ramen noodles each cost $1, parents are veritably forced to choose the less healthy, but inexpensive and filling options to feed their children. Many children in the U.S. eat both breakfast and lunch at school through the federally subsidized National School Lunch Program. This program is underfunded, and as such is unable to provide the highest quality, most nutritious food for the children who need it most. There are so many barriers to optimal health that exist at societal and cultural levels; it’s going to take a lot of work to tackle obesity. It’s possible, but change will need to happen from the top down.
What advice do you give to patients who are trying to lose weight?
At the end of the day it’s all about math: Energy in = energy out. If we put more calories into our bodies than we burn, our weight will go up. Alternatively, if we burn more calories than we eat, our weight will go down. Metabolism plays a role, certainly, and we all know people who can eat a dozen donuts without gaining a pound, which is just not fair, but overall consistent, purposeful, portion control is the key to sustainable weight loss. Exercise helps, but it’s really hard to burn enough calories by exercising to offset what we eat. A typical adult woman walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes burns around 150 calories. As a comparison, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Money contains 1,160 calories. You would need to spend nearly 4 hours on the treadmill to burn off that pint of deliciousness, and nobody has time for that. It makes more sense to limit your total calorie intake through portion control and careful meal planning. Everyone should have a treat now and then, just plan for them ahead of time and pay attention to the nutrition label including serving size.
What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about hormones?
It’s probably not your thyroid. Seriously though, endocrinology is an amazing branch of medicine. Since our glands make hormones that then flow into the bloodstream, they have effects on so many different parts of the body. Endocrinologists have to consider the entire person when making a diagnosis, and this makes the field both challenging and exciting.
As an endocrinologist, what are the most useful things you’ve learned?
Weight loss is hard, but possible. Diabetes sucks, but you are strong, so don’t let it take over your life. Everybody loves to talk about food. Patients and physicians work best as a team. Good health is priceless.
Dr. Lisal Folsom is a board-certified physician who specializes in endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism. She also provides gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender individuals. Dr. Folsom’s medical research has been published in the academic journals Endocrine Practice, The Journal of the South Carolina Medical Association,Current Osteoporosis Reports, Journal of Adolescent Health, and Endocrinology & Metabolism Clinics. She has been practicing for nine years.