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    50 Therapy Dupes That’ll Send Your Serotonin Skyrocketing

    I’m a longtime proponent of talk therapy. But the ability to share thoughts and process experiences with an objective professional is a privilege. When the dupe trend expanded to therapy, I was intrigued, but also cautious. It felt insensitive and even harmful to propose that a candle, bubble bath, or silky sheets could provide the same mental clarity and support as speaking with a therapist.
    But since diving deeper into the trend—which currently stands at 95.4 million views on TikTok—I’ve learned to think of these “dupes” not as true replacements, but as mood-boosting strategies that can be practiced alongside traditional talk therapy. In an article for Mental, Shelby Castile, LMFT defines the difference between therapy dupes and psychotherapy: “In-depth psychotherapy helps people deal with issues related to their mental health, which in turn affects the rest of their lives long-term. Therapy dupes seem to be more focused on the short term. They can be a fun way to increase motivation and get people started on a more authentic approach to self-improvement.”
    Bottom line: Always seek out professional therapy, especially if you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, boundary setting, etc. But if you’re looking for tips to get a little mood boost, keep reading. These are my favorite “therapy dupes” for finding calm, expressing gratitude, and connecting with joy.

    50 Therapy Dupes for an Instant Mood Boost
    1. Take a mindful girl walk. Ditch the AirPods—and your phone—and connect with the sounds, sights, and scents around you. Instant grounding.
    2. Pet a pet. Whether it’s a dog, cat, or hamster, spend a few minutes with your fur baby and feed off their inherent comfort.
    3. Do your nails. You can immediately feel put together, but doing your own nails can also act as a mindfulness practice. And if you’re really going for the dopamine, opt for bright colors.
    4. Swap around your space. Situate your favorite reading chair in the spot that gets the most sun. Clean off your desktop to help clear your head. Move a side table next to your bed and stack it high with your favorite books. Let your home reflect the joy and inner peace you want to cultivate.
    5. Call a friend. Obvious, but effective. When I’m feeling down, I notice that stepping outside of myself and asking about a friend’s day is the easiest way to shift my mood for the better.
    6. Eat something colorful. Whether it’s a smoothie, a seasonal salad, or baked goods with colorful frosting (recommended), take the adage to heart and taste the rainbow.
    7. Get outside. I don’t care how you do it—whether you’re swimming, hiking, or exploring a local park—just don’t forget the SPF.
    8. Take a nap. The simple act of giving yourself a break can do wonders.
    9. Light a candle. Aromatherapy is real. Soak it up.
    10. Make your favorite comfort meal. Despite the many rom-coms that have tried to convince us otherwise, Ben & Jerry’s won’t fix all of your problems. But when I want to feel like a kid again who had a bad day at school, I mother myself and stir up a little stovetop mac & cheese.
    11. Turn off your alarm. If it’s the weekend or you have a day off, try letting your body sleep until it naturally wants to wake up. Yes, consistent sleep and wake times are important, but so is rest.
    12. Play a game. They’re the ultimate escape. Make it social and invite friends over for Monopoly, get outside and play pickleball, or go down the rabbit hole that is The New York Times “Play” section. A rousing round of Wordle, anyone?
    13. Leave your home and get a “treat.” I love calling my Starbucks runs, library finds, and thrifted gems little “treats.” It’s such a joyful mindset shift.
    14. Play with clay. I’ve recently rekindled my love of making things with air-dry and oven-dry clay. Try this minimalist trivet, these jewelry dishes, or these cute polymer clay earrings.
    15. Learn a new skill. This one can be tricky because if you’re in need of a therapy dupe that gives instant gratification, this might not be it. But long-term, learning how to sew, roller skate, or bake something pretty can bring so much meaning and fulfillment to your days.
    16. Take a day trip. Download podcasts, make a playlist, and get in the car or hop on the subway. Shaking up your routine and changing your environment is one of the most effective ways to transform your experience.
    17. Go to the library or visit a bookstore. Did anyone else love doing the summer reading challenges as a kid? There’s truly nothing quite like a fresh stack of books to make you feel inspired. Find a few faves and enjoy updating your TBR.
    18. Have a girls’ weekend. Whether it’s a sleepover chez toi or renting a cabin with your besties, plan an overnight full of food, time outside, deep conversations, and plenty of cute photo ops.
    19. Jam out. Siri, play “Lavender Haze.”
    20. Organize one thing. It can be your junk drawer, beauty cabinet, or closet. Nothing lifts my mood quite like a satisfying before and after. And if you don’t have the energy to do it yourself, there’s always HGTV.
    21. Make a friendship bracelet. Pay a visit to the craft store, press play to your favorite show, and turn your living room floor into your dedicated DIY station. I love sending bracelets to friends far away and delivering them in person to my local pals.
    22. Orient your routines toward joy. I used to think about my morning and nighttime routines simply in the context of how I could be the most productive. But now, I’m learning to see this as my time to simply be. That can mean finishing my current read, journaling, moving my body, or scrolling through my favorite accounts. Remember: what brings you joy is deeply personal and entirely unique.
    23. Find a body of water. Bathing suit, sunscreen, beach read—check.
    24. Upgrade your H2O. Romanticize hydration by mixing in an electrolyte powder, DIY ice cubes, or sliced fruit. It’s pretty, it’s tasty, and yes, absolutely necessary.
    25. Visit a craft market or fair. I just went to Renegade Craft in Chicago this past weekend and not only was the experience inspiring, but it helped me feel more connected to my local community. Research fairs in your city or stay up to date on where your favorite makers are popping up next.

    26. Makeover your books. Want the Penguin Classics look for your romance novels? It’s possible! Watch this tutorial for tips.
    27. Brainstorm your biggest dreams. I love doing mind dumps—it’s a fun way to get all of your hopes and wants for the future out on the page. I find that writing my goals, no matter how lofty or seemingly impossible, helps them feel one step closer to being realized. And if you haven’t done it before, prepare for how energized and inspired you’ll feel after.
    28. Create mood lighting. My mood used to drop a little in the evenings, but when I started making my home cozier at night (lighting a few candles, turning on some jazz, making a cup of tea, and never, ever using the “big” light), it became something to look forward to and a nice way to transition to my after-work routine.
    29. Take a Target trip. If you’re a true Target girlie, then you know: you don’t even need to buy anything to experience the retail-adjacent joy.
    30. Pair your workouts with community. Brands like Outdoor Voices and FORM host regular workouts, walks, and community events in cities across the country. Do a little research and get moving!
    31. Clean out your inbox. Let tools like Unroll.Me do the hard work and clear out the clutter. Once you’re unsubscribed from the emails you don’t want, start researching and signing up for newsletters that’ll bring you weekly joy. Some of my faves? Slow Brew Sunday by Jules Acree, On the Rocks by Olivia Noceda, and Intelligent Weekly by Intelligent Change.
    32. Indulge in escapism. Y’all, I’m in my #cottagecore era and I can’t recommend taking a deep dive into the Jane Austen-esque hashtag enough.
    33. Take an “Everything Shower.” It’s luxe, it’s lengthy, and it’ll make you feel amazing when you step out. Consult this list for everything you need.
    34. Schedule a free day. Every so often, I love intentionally having a “no-spend” day. With the goal of zero dollars spent, I’m inspired to connect with simpler joys. Walks, reading, catching up with friends, making something, writing—you’ll be surprised by how expansive the experience can be.
    35. Update your wardrobe. In the spirit of the therapy dupe above, try doing this without buying new pieces. Have you ever noticed that, no matter how many clothes you have in your closet, you often gravitate toward the same couple of pieces? With the items you have available, select a new capsule wardrobe collection. You’ll rediscover dresses, find new ways to style your shorts, and maybe even uncover a few tees that’ll infuse your current style with more personality.
    36. Re-watch your favorite movies or series as a kid. Couldn’t get enough of Kim Possible? Craving the ultimate Y2K inspo à la Lizzie McGuire? See what’s available on your favorite streaming platform and cue the nostalgia.
    37. Organize your saved posts. There’s a reason you flagged them! Go through your Instagram saves and delegate them to folders that’ll make them easier to reference. By making a “workout” folder, I can easily access videos that have inspired me to switch up my gym routine, making exercise all the more enjoyable. (Yes, really!)
    38. Go on an ice cream date. There is nothing I love more in the summer than texting a friend to see if they’re up for a cone walk. I haven’t been turned down yet.
    39. Experiment with a trending food. I won’t say that I was obsessed with cottage cheese before it became cool, but… I do feel seen in its recent rise to TikTok fame. I use it to make banana bread, a quick lunch, or a protein-packed dip.
    40. Make a bouquet. With Trader Joe’s blooms, wildflowers, or whatever you can find. Nothing delights quite like bringing nature indoors.
    41. DIY art for your home. Art can be pricey, but good news: you can make colorful, joy-sparking prints yourself! Here’s all the inspo you need to unlock your inner artiste.
    42. Start a scrapbook. I’ve been keeping a scrapbook since I was 14. Not only do I like looking back on my treasured memories over the years, but I love having a space of my own that I can curate and personalize. It brings me joy just to flip through its pages.
    43. Make a mocktail. Skip the glass of wine and opt for a hangover-free sipper. Try one of our favorite zero-proof recipes.
    44. Wear your favorite outfit. Whenever I need to boost my mood, there’s only one dress that will do. She’s loose but flattering, pretty but comfy. A nap dress is my go-to for making me feel undeniably amazing—what’s yours?
    45. Change your phone/computer background. You know where to go.
    46. Use a disposable camera. I love the trend of capturing life through analog devices. If you want to spend less time on your phone but still want to document your experience, stock up.
    47. Hug someone heart-to-heart. With your partner, a friend, or anyone you feel safe with and want to express love for, try what’s called hugging “heart to heart.” It’s an intentional way of experiencing close, physical connection and truly being present with someone you love.
    48. Learn to embroider. I’ve been looking for more ways to personalize my style and make my clothing feel entirely and uniquely my own. Adding sweet details on your jeans pocket or along a sleeve is a fun way to infuse your wardrobe with personality.
    49. Write affirmations on your mirror. If saying positive affirmations out loud feels uncomfortable, write a few on a sticky note and keep it somewhere you’ll see every day. Even just reading them daily can go a long way in shifting your thought patterns.
    50. Feel your feelings. It might sound counterintuitive, but when your emotions feel heavy and overwhelming, let them flow. Cry if you need to. The experience can be uncomfortable, but it can also feel cathartic and powerful. And the more we practice leaning into our feelings, the more we can welcome them with kindness and grace.

    Experts Believe “Joy Snacking” Is the Key to Consistently Feeling Happier More

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    5 Green Flags You Have Healthy Boundaries

    For years, I thought I had healthy boundaries. I’ve always been pretty good at saying no, so I figured I had it all down (because I genuinely thought that’s all a boundary was). But recently, I started to notice a pattern of irritability throughout my day, and I realized I was spending so much time cleaning up everyone else’s messes that I didn’t have time for my own. It turns out, I wasn’t setting clear boundaries at all! And how could I, when I didn’t even have clarity around the strategies that would meet my needs for support? It got me thinking: how many of us are actually tuned into our boundaries? How many of us know what it feels like when our boundaries are set and working properly? So I decided to reach out to Elisabeth T. Lilja, a licensed therapist based in Salt Lake City who specializes in trauma, to shed some light on what healthy boundaries look like and how to know if you have them in place.

    Meet the expert
    Elisabeth T. Lilja, LCSW MSW RYT
    Lilja is a therapist and private practice owner of Salt City Therapy based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She specializes in trauma and helping people strengthen their relationship with their body and self-trust.

    What is a healthy boundary, anyway?
    Boundaries are more than just saying “no” to the things that don’t serve you (although that is a healthy component as you’ll read about soon). Lilja defined boundaries as “the needs, limits, and rules we set for ourselves.” That means you understand where your limits are, but you also understand what your needs are—and you’re able to create strategies (rules) to meet them. “Healthy boundaries within relationships are often informed by a healthy boundary relationship with ourselves,” Lilja said. “In relationships, we may look at healthy boundaries as created with connection over protection in mind.”
    Lilja reminded me that there will be times when protective boundaries in relationships are necessary, but a signal that your boundaries are serving you both is when they help build a sense of connection with one another. You are both clear on what you need, you know each other’s limits, and you respect each other’s rules.
    So now that we have a working definition of a healthy boundary down, let’s dive into the signs that you—and those you have a relationship with—are, in fact, working those boundaries the right way.
    Green Flags You Have Healthy Boundaries

    1. Your “no” is respected
    When you’re clear on what’s a “no” for you and you respect and support that “no,” that’s a healthy boundary you’ve created for yourself. And when the people in your life respect it too, that’s a healthy relationship boundary. Keep in mind, “respect” doesn’t necessarily mean no questions asked. The people in your life may still ask for clarification around your “no.” “What this means is we aren’t pushed, bullied, or manipulated into a ‘yes,’” Lilja clarified.
    When someone else has opinions surrounding your “no,” (which can often happen) it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t respect it. “How these feelings are communicated and responded to can indicate the health of our relationships,” Lilja explained. If you are able to hold space for someone else’s feelings about your “no” while still feeling grounded in clarity around your “no,” that’s a major green flag that your boundaries are in the healthy zone.

    2. You engage in conflict with curiosity
    You’re showcasing healthy boundaries when you “are able to be in respectful, healthy conflict that doesn’t move into name-calling, abuse, manipulation, or harmful actions like stonewalling,” Lilja said. And one way to avoid participating in those behaviors is by engaging in curiosity. “Curiosity is a way we can establish healthy relating,” Lilja explained. When you’re curious about the other person’s experience, you’re less likely to make assumptions about their experience that would lead to blaming or shaming. 
    Some questions Lilja offered to check in with yourself about whether or not you’re engaging with curiosity were: “Am I inviting room for clarification over conclusions, assumptions, and defensiveness? Am I asking questions to seek clarification? Am I aware and able to communicate in a respectful way what I am feeling or experiencing and may need?” When you engage with curiosity, it gives you space to feel confident about your own boundaries while respecting the boundaries of another.

    3. You can express your needs and boundaries clearly
    “Needs, or boundary expression, indicates that we are able to advocate for ourselves, that we value our worth and getting [our] needs met in a relational space,” Lilja said. In other words, you know your boundaries are in a healthy zone when you feel safe expressing what you need. When you’re grounded in what you need because you know it’s what’s best for you, it’s a lot easier to feel confident in the ask, even when it can’t be met in the moment.
    “Again, this doesn’t mean that understanding and clarification can’t be wanted around the need or boundary expressed, or that the boundary or need will always be able to be met,” Lilja stated. “Rather, there is space for you to have and express your boundaries. And for persons you are in a relationship with to have the same.”

    4. Repair is important to you
    Even in the most well-meaning relationships, boundaries get crossed. “Ruptures happen in relationships—yes, even healthy ones,” Lilja said. When you prioritize repair after one of those ruptures, you’re setting yourself up for healthy boundaries in the future. Think of it as healthy boundary maintenance.
    According to Lilja, repair looks like learning how to extend an apology (this isn’t just saying the words, “I’m sorry”), taking accountability for how you might have harmed someone, and acknowledging what you will try to do differently in the future. “Repair is a critical part of a secure relationship and healthy relating,” she said. “It’s a good sign if you and someone else can seek repair in a relationship.”

    5. You’re consistent in your follow-through
    Something that’s always stuck with me is the concept that healing requires time and evidence. When you receive consistent proof that something is serving you over a period of time, you begin to believe in it. You start to feel safer in your experience. In the context of boundaries, Lilja noted that consistency is when we do what we say we are going to do. And if something needs to shift, we communicate.
    Having the experience of predictable follow-through builds and maintains a sense of trust that our boundaries will be consistently respected. “While it may not seem like it, follow-through is us upholding a boundary with ourselves,” she said. “Practicing boundaries with ourselves can lead to establishing, upholding, and maintaining boundaries with others.”

    Expert Tips To Help Strengthen Your Boundary Skills

    1. Notice when you are saying “yes” when you mean “no” 
    “Part of learning to find our ‘no’ is understanding why we might be saying ‘yes’ to something we want to say no to,” Lilja said. Getting to the bottom of what’s stopping you can help you shift out of this pattern. “A practice for this is to notice what belief may be coming up for you when you aren’t honoring a ‘no.’” For example, ask yourself what would happen if you said no. Are you worried the other person would feel let down, disappointed in you, hurt, or like you less? Maybe you feel unworthy to set that boundary?
    Then ask yourself if the outcome you anticipate is the outcome that would actually happen IRL. “While [your] feeling or belief is real, is it true?” Lilja asked. “Are there times you have said no and what you fear might not have happened? It can be scary to gather different information, and this is something the body needs to start to make changes.”

    2. Learn how to apologize and repair
    Having healthy boundaries is not just about setting our own boundaries, but respecting the boundaries of the other person. And a key piece of respecting others’ boundaries is apologizing when we (inevitably) cross a boundary. “This can be incredibly challenging for many reasons,” Lilja empathized. “Repairing is also something that can get easier with practice.” Also, apologizing is always important, even if you didn’t have bad intentions or didn’t mean to hurt someone. An apology invites empathy, or acknowledgment that the other person’s experience is real. 
    If you’re curious what an actual apology looks like, Lilja offered phrases you can use below, which she calls the anatomy of an apology. Each one is important when you’re genuinely apologizing and attempting to repair.

    I am sorry for…: The “for” is important here. Name what you are repairing or apologizing for. Think of this as the why. Why are you apologizing? This is how you take accountability for your actions.
    I could have done things differently by… or Moving forward I will…: This shows that you not only understand what you’re apologizing for, but you know how to change your actions moving forward. This is critical for repairing the relationship in the future.
    How are you feeling? or What do you need to feel better about this?: Checking in allows the other person the space to communicate with you what they need, and what you both can do to truly repair.

    3. Practice follow-through
    Following through with your boundaries is as simple as sticking to your promises. Do what you say you are going to do, and communicate when something needs to change. When you show up consistently for yourself, you build trust and a better understanding of which commitments are and are not serving you. Lilja suggested starting small, like making one promise to yourself that you can follow through with on a daily basis. This might look like a morning or nightly ritual (think: journaling or meditating) or setting a time to finish something on your to-do list. Notice how you feel when it’s time to follow through with something, and how it feels to actually do it. “Keeping track of your follow-through can be helpful,” Lilja said. “If you don’t follow through on what you have selected, what happened? What is this telling you? Are you noticing a pattern?” All of this information can help guide you to shift your habits toward more consistent follow-through.

    4. Seek therapy
    If you’re looking for extra support as you flex these skills, therapy is an excellent way to practice with a third party. “Therapy can be a wonderful way to learn how to strengthen boundaries with ourselves and others—creating the space to be curious about what we learned about being in a relationship with ourselves and others,” Lilja confirmed. It can also be a safe place for you and a partner to practice engaging in healthy boundaries with each other to ensure you’re setting up a framework that will support you for years to come.

    6 Green Flags You’re Becoming Your Best Self More

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    Experts Believe “Joy Snacking” Is the Key to Consistently Feeling Happier

    We’ve all felt that mood boost that comes after seemingly mundane moments: feeling the sun on your skin, taking the first sip of freshly-brewed coffee, or snuggling with your dog. It turns out the phenomenon has a name: “joy snacking.” Coined by Dr. Richard Sima, PhD, a neuroscientist and columnist at The Washington Post, joy snacking is the idea that finding and savoring everyday routine experiences is a way to sustainably cultivate a more meaningful, happier life. Could it be the secret to consistently feeling more content? Ahead, psychologists weigh in and explain what joy snacking is, the science behind joy, and how to add joy snacking to your routine. 
    What is “joy snacking?”
    It’s safe to say we’ve all got the snacking part down—but instead of your bag of popcorn, chips, or pretzels, it’s what Sima calls “joy snacks” or “nuggets of joy.” Whether it’s the smell (and taste, of course) of chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven, laughing over an inside joke with your best friend, or playing “Flowers” on repeat (or whatever your favorite song is ATM), finding and savoring little “bites of joy” in your day can do your life a major solid (read: bring major pleasure and happiness). 
    “Joy snacking is exactly what it sounds [like]—grabbing a quick ‘happy’ snack to bring you a dose of joy to keep you going throughout the day,” explained Veronica Hlivnenko, a psychologist and holistic health counselor at InPulse. “Joy snacking is not about big joyous events that usually require prepping, specific timing, or financial investments. It means finding the sources for little bursts of joy in daily life and pausing to soak them in and savor positive emotional responses and pleasant sensations they bring.” Joy snacking isn’t just about experiencing the small moments of bliss, but also recognizing their meaningfulness and appreciating the positive changes they stimulate in you. “When you bring a sense of purpose to it, joy snacking can help you develop a more sustainable presence of joy, promote a greater sense of calm and happiness, and pave your way to a more fulfilled and flourishing life,” Hlivnenko shared.
    A study published in Nature Human Behavior found that experiential appreciation is a powerful way of making life feel more meaningful. When participants were asked to recount their most meaningful experience that occurred in the past week, what stood out for the majority wasn’t a grand gesture, occasion, or accomplishment (think: going on a trip or getting a promotion), but rather, something simpler and more mundane, such as having an enjoyable conversation or being surrounded by nature.
    What’s the science behind it?
    When you experience pleasure (AKA joy snacks), your brain releases dopamine in large amounts, creating oh-so-good feelings not only in the moment, but also continuously as it motivates you to repeat the pleasurable behavior or activity. “The idea behind joy snacking is to intentionally engage in these activities regularly to increase these moments of happiness and the associated dopamine release,” affirmed Ryan Sultan, MD, a board-certified mental health physician, Clinical Director of Integrative Psych, and Research Professor at Columbia University. 
    “The science behind joy snacking is rooted in positive psychology, which emphasizes the cultivation of positive emotions and experiences,” conveyed Dr. Carly Claney, a licensed psychologist and Owner of Relational Psych. “Regularly experiencing small, positive moments can boost our overall mood and well-being, contribute to resilience, and even counteract the physiological effects of negative events.”
    Hlivnenko cited that joy is one of the most powerful emotions, resonating with humans’ core identity and pursuit of happiness. “It makes life worth living and greatly impacts our mental well-being, physical health, and longevity,” she stated. She likened joy snacks to healthy, nutritional eats as they help balance your blood sugar levels, and a positive emotional state enables you to maintain stress levels, lowering blood sugar levels and, thus, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, or hypertonicity. 
    How to find joy snacks in your life
    Finding joy starts with mindfulness and self-awareness. So look inward, tune into your feelings, and take the time to notice what genuinely brings you a sense of happiness and satisfaction. Is it biting into a peanut butter chocolate cup (or is that just me?)? Or perhaps it’s the tulips you stumbled upon on your afternoon walk? When you start pinpointing what your joy snacks are, you become more aware of them and are able to fully immerse yourself and appreciate them. And by intentionally practicing joy snacking by incorporating it into your daily routine, you’ll gradually encounter joy snacks more easily and regularly.
    “Joy is a mindset, so if you orient yourself towards it, you become more aware, and being on the lookout for it makes it easier to joy snack,” Dr. Holly Schiff, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist. “Practice an attitude of gratitude since joy and gratitude feed off each other. It can definitely take practice to get better at identifying joy snacks, but slowing down and being mindfully present and in the moment can help you better pay attention and appreciate these experiences.” Whether you put pen to paper in your gratitude journal, take a mindful walk, or engage in meditation, you’ll help shift your focus on the joy snacks in your life. 
    Other ways to find joy? “Contemplating nature is a proven and affordable joy releaser, rejuvenating your mind and senses,” Hlivnenko said. “It does not necessarily require traveling somewhere and may come in smaller, more casual forms, such as morning sunlight, a flowerbed or a lawn, a tree, a dog, a butterfly, and more—whatever comes along your way.”

    20 Science-Backed Ways To Hack Your Happiness Hormones for Better Mood More

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    20 Science-Backed Ways To Hack Your Happiness Hormones for Better Mood

    When you think of being happy, you probably have a list of special memories, certain people (including four-legged BFFs), or simple pleasures (think: sipping on a good cup of coffee, cozying up to a page-turner) that comes to mind. But news flash: The state of your happiness and the emotions that come along with it is actually biological. The feeling of happiness is the result of four neurochemicals and hormones in your brain: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. In other words, you can hack your happy brain chemicals for a better mood. Read on to learn the role each of the four happiness hormones plays in our fulfillment and how to (naturally) give them a leg up on their mood-boosting power. This way to happiness…
    Originated from the words “endogenous,” AKA within the body, and “morphine,” an opioid pain reliever, think of endorphins as your body’s innate aspirin or painkiller. As chemical messengers in the body, endorphins are produced to help relieve pain and reduce stress on the body, allowing it to experience pleasure.
    How to increase endorphin levels:
    1. Exercise: One surefire way to get those endorphins going is getting your heart pumping. The best part? You don’t have to get after a grueling workout to get the most bang for your buck from endorphins. Hit the streets or tread for a brisk walk, try a lazy girl workout, or do a quick Tabata sesh.
    2. Have a bite of dark chocolate: If you ever needed a good excuse to give into your sweet treat craving, consider this it. Some studies have shown that nibbling on chocolate causes the brain to release endorphins. 
    3. LOL: No joke—laughing does your mind and body good. From a chuckle to laughing so hard you cry, laughter really is the best medicine. Start a folder of funny videos to have handy on your phone (dog ones are the best, IMO), cue up your favorite comedy or TV show, prioritize time with loved ones who deliver on the pick-me-ups. 
    4. Try aromatherapy: Essential oils have been touted for helping everything from anxiety to sleep to headaches. It turns out they can contribute to our contentment, too. According to a 2012 study, lavender aromatherapy seems to help relieve anxiety by releasing endorphins, and a 2017 study suggests euphoric essential oil aromas (think: lavender and vanilla) can lead to endorphin release.
    5. Get busy: The euphoric high you feel from reaching the big “O?” You have endorphins to thank for it (FYI, they’re released when you have sex). So whether you engage in self-pleasure or sex with a partner, say hello to an improved mood and relaxation (but you already knew that). 
    Both a hormone and neurotransmitter that relays messages between nerve cells in the brain and throughout your body, serotonin has a hand in body functions such as mood, sleep, digestion, and sexual desire. Lack of enough serotonin is believed to be linked to  depression, anxiety, and other health conditions.

    How to increase serotonin levels:
    6. Get more sunlight: It turns out the sun does more for you than just leave your skin with a sun-kissed glow. Exposure to sunlight cues areas in the retina to trigger the brain’s release of serotonin. The result? Enhanced mood, better focus, and a feeling of calmness. Whether you head outdoors for a workout, lay out in the sun, or spend time in nature, you can expect to reap the happiness benefits. 
    7. Reach for tryptophan-heavy foods: While there aren’t any direct food sources of serotonin (if only), there’s tryptophan, an amino acid that’s converted to serotonin in your brain and found primarily in high-protein foods, including turkey and salmon. Hot tip: Pair your tryptophan-rich foods with carbohydrates to help more tryptophan make it to your brain.
    8. Take supplements: Speaking of tryptophan, adding some high-quality dietary supplements to your regimen may help stimulate the production and release of serotonin by increasing the amino acid. Think: tryptophan, St. John’s wort, or probiotics. But before you consume any supplement, check with your doctor. 
    9. Partake in activities that reduce stress: There’s no sugar-coating it: Chronic stress can cause low serotonin levels. So rely on your stress-relieving go-tos—be it journaling, yoga, therapy—even before the tension strikes. Bottom line: Chill vibes only. 
    10. Try massage therapy: PSA: A one-hour massage lowers cortisol in your body while also releasing serotonin (consider it an hour-long hug). By lowering cortisol and increasing serotonin, you’re fostering your body’s ability to repel pain, anxiety, and feelings of sadness. As if you needed convincing to be treated to a massage, you can’t go wrong with getting a professional treatment or DIY-ing a lymphatic drainage massage at home. 
    Dopamine, a neurotransmitter made in your brain, stars as the “reward center” and orchestrates memory, movement, motivation, mood, attention, and more. When you experience pleasure—food, sex, check off a to-do—your brain releases dopamine in large amounts, creating oh-so-good feelings, which motivate you to repeat a specific behavior.

    How to increase dopamine levels:
    11. Carry out acts of kindness: When you volunteer your time or do something good for others, there’s no denying the feel-good sensation you get (hi there, dopamine boost!). So sign up for a shift at your local food bank, pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor, or pay a compliment to a stranger. 
    12. Load up on protein: Dopamine is produced from the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine, and studies show that increasing their amounts in your diet can increase dopamine levels in the brain. Lucky for us, they’re both found in protein-rich foods, like chicken, turkey, beef, eggs, and beans.
    13. Get enough Zzzs: We all can attest to the consequences of a night of tossing and turning (irritability, anxiety, and difficulty focusing, just to name a few). On the flip side, prioritizing consistent, high-quality sleep may help regulate your body’s natural dopamine rhythms and provide alertness during the day. The formula for a sound slumber? Establish a wind-down routine, follow a consistent sleep schedule, incorporate movement in your day, and keep your sleeping environment cool.
    14. Meditate: New research has found that the improved mental and physical health benefits that meditation brings may be thanks to increased dopamine levels in the brain. One study in particular found a 65% increase in dopamine production in its participants after meditating for one hour, compared with resting quietly.
    15. Try something new: Novel experiences prompt the rush of dopamine, which in turn leads to the creation of new neurons and new neural connections (read: the process of learning). It can be as simple as taking a new route on your daily walk or picking up a new hobby (join a book club, anyone?)

    Known as the love, cuddle, or bonding hormone, oxytocin plays an important part in human bonding. It’s released during childbirth and breastfeeding, forging a bond between mama and baby. When we fall in love, cuddle, kiss, or have sex, we encourage oxytocin production, thereby positively impacting our mood and emotions.
    How to increase oxytocin levels:
    16. Prioritize social connection: Can you feel the love? Your answer should be an astounding “yes” if you get a daily dose of fostering positive relationships. Spending time with loved ones fills your oxytocin cup as it can help you feel more connected and socially supported, not to mention less alone in the world. 
    17. Play tunes: We listen to music to lift our spirits, improve our focus, and motivate us through a workout, so it should come as no surprise that the act also releases oxytocin. One study inferred that 20 open-heart surgery patients who listened to music while on bed rest had higher levels of oxytocin and felt more relaxed compared to patients who didn’t listen to music.
    18. Pet a dog: Dogs are a “man’s best friend,” and for good reason. Research suggests that when dogs and humans interact with each other in a positive way (i.e. cuddling), both parties experience a surge in oxytocin. Enter: all the warm fuzzies.
    19. Hug it out: If you’re not a hugger, FOMO applies. Embrace hugging, hand-holding, and cuddling to give your oxytocin levels some love. Not convinced? A study found that the perks of oxytocin were strongest in women who had better relationships and more frequent hugs with their romantic partner. Just how many hugs do we need daily to reap the benefits? According to family therapist Virginia Satir, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
    20. Share food: From your childhood days splitting your PB&J sandwich with a classmate to cooking dinner with your besties as an adult, you’re creating bonds and spurring on oxytocin release. Be the hostess with the mostest and put on dinner parties, set cooking date nights with your S.O., and make your work lunch outings family-style.

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    14 Affirmations That Will Make You Tap Into Your Best Self, and When To Use Them

    What do you do when you’re in a stressful moment? When you’re anxious about giving a presentation, or your friends hang out without inviting you, or you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see? What about when bad things happen, or you make a mistake, or you doubt whether or not you’re good enough to have all that you want? Some people cope with stress and anxiety by doing a yoga flow, binging a Netflix show, or eating a sleeve of Oreos. While I still resort back to all those coping mechanisms here and there (healthy or not), the one thing I always have with me is an affirmation.
    Technically, everyone uses affirmations, whether they’re aware of it or not—it’s that one phrase you hear in your head over and over or tell yourself repeatedly. Some lucky people have great affirmations: I’m awesome. What a beautiful day outside. I love my life. And then there are the affirmations that many of us are plagued by: I’m not as pretty. I’m not good enough. What if something goes wrong?  Many of us hear these phrases in our heads so often that we believe them like they’re facts. So what if we could replace these thoughts with phrases that are not only better for us, but can help us be confident, feel less stressed, and live our best lives?

    What is an “affirmation?”
    I first learning about the idea of an affirmation from learning about mantras. The term “mantra” is an ancient Sanskrit term, used in Hindusim and Buddhism to mean a phrase that was repeated frequently in meditation. Neurologically, mantra training can reduce distractions and calm the mind. It’s also been proven to reduce stress because repetition and focus regulate chemicals in the brain, releasing endorphins and blocking stress hormones like cortisol. Nowadays, everyone from yogis to modern psychologists are relaying back to the ancient technique of repeating one word or phrase as a powerful therapy tool in the form. 
    Beyond just the physical benefits, an affirmation puts you in a more positive mindset, and the repetitive nature trains your brain overtime. Affirmations can be repeated as a tool for focus during meditation like mantras, used as a tiny, consistent reminder throughout the day, or looked to when you’re in a moment of anxiety, stress, or lack of confidence. The goal is to find the affirmation that clicks for you; the one that just makes sense. It’s the phrase you need to hear, and the repetition to allow you to actually hear it.
    Here are the affirmations that have changed my mindset, confidence, and life. Memorize the one that clicks with you, write them down and tape them to your wall, or copy them in your phone notes to look to whenever you need it.  Get ready for your most powerful, confident, passionate, and best self, yet.

    14 affirmations to use to achieve your best self
    1. “I am enough.”
    This is the reminder we all could probably use every now and then. It’s human nature to think we could be better, or there’s always someone better than us—it’s what drives competition and keeps us pushing ourselves to be better. But sometimes, that pushing becomes a lack of appreciation for who we are now, causing insecurity and self-doubt. Use this affirmation when you’re worried about being liked, struggling with insecurity, meeting new people, or entering a new job. Remind yourself that you are pretty great, just the way you are.

    2. “I am ready to be healed.”
    Use this affirmation when you’ve been having a particularly hard time and you’re ready to move on, or need help moving on. It’s so easy to get into a funk because we’re going through a hard time—maybe we lost our job, went through a breakup, or have just been feeling sad with winter blues. While grieving and downtime is important, and emotions should never be ignored, this funk can turn into a vicious cycle of self-pity and wallowing. The first step of moving on and feeling better is to acknowledge that it’s time to be healed and it’s OK to be healed. You’ll start to subconsciously seek out your own healing.

    3. “I am discovering my inner superstar.”
    There is an inner “superstar” in all of us, even when we don’t think there is. If the word “superstar” makes you cringe, you might call it your highest version of you, your true self, or your own hero. Use this affirmation when you need some extra motivation and inspiration to achieve your goals and to believe in yourself. The wording of this affirmation is particularly nonjudgmental. Rather than expecting yourself to achieve greater things (and the possibility of feeling disappointed or unconfident if you don’t achieve them), you’re acknowledging that you’re in the process of discovering your best self, without expectation or judgment.

    4. “I return my body to optimal health by giving it what it needs on every level.”
    Use this affirmation when you know your body needs to be (and deserves to be) healthier. Rather than forcing yourself to eat healthy or exercise for vanity reasons, this sentence allows you to reflect on what your body actually wants and needs, whether that means having that piece of chocolate or adding in some leafy greens, or sleeping in and taking a rest day versus getting up before work to go to the gym. Remind yourself to listen to your body and act for the sake of nourishing it.

    5. “I am open and receptive to all good.”
    When you seek the good, you won’t notice as much bad. The issues you run into in your everyday life, like your train being late or your internet running slow, won’t feel so bad. Use this affirmation when you need an extra boost of optimism. Train yourself to be a glass-half-full kinda girl by repeating this sentence whenever you start to complain or notice a negative thought. There’s so much good, whether it’s in a situation, a setting, or in a person. We just have to allow ourselves to be open to it.

    6. “Today is about pleasure. I am living this day for the sole purpose of enjoying it.”
    What if you lived as if the purpose was to enjoy, not to check items off your to-do list or just get through the work day until 5 p.m.? Use this affirmation when you notice you’ve just been going through the motions instead of living. Notice and value indulgences that truly make you happy: a new candle, a long hot bath, a bouquet of flowers you picked up on the way home from work. Fit small pleasurable activities into your day, and when something stresses you out like a tough deadline or a boss in a bad mood, remember that this day is for you to enjoy, and don’t let little problems bother you.

    7. “Stop making people wrong.”
    You know the times when you’re in a fight and you just feel so annoyed, sad, or angry? Maybe your roommate is annoying you about doing the dishes, or your kids are making you mad by not picking up their toys? Use this affirmation when you’re in one of those times. If your mom missed an important event, your best friend has been too busy for you, or your significant other said something you don’t agree with, remind yourself to think about the other’s perspective. Be compassionate to their point of view and voice your feelings with the understanding that your loved ones don’t mean to make you feel bad. Remember that how the incident affects your relationship is not based on their actions, but the way you take them. Seek the right in the people you love instead of making them wrong.

    8. “Be the person who feels like sunshine.”
    Use this affirmation when you’re in a social setting you don’t feel confident in. It might be tempting to be the girl that acts too-cool-for-school, or make jokes to get laughs (even if it’s at the expense of others). When we’re not feeling confident, these are easy defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from being disliked. But this affirmation reminds me that what people actually like to be around is someone who exudes kindness, and is warm and happy; someone who feels like sunshine. Besides, what if your main purpose was to lift others up? Give them compliments, make them laugh, help out when you see they need it—how much happier would you be?

    9. “I give myself permission to be OK where I am. I know that I am doing my best.”
    We’re always thinking about the next goal, always feeling behind or focused on the future so much that we don’t feel good about the present. We don’t really let ourselves be OK with where we are in our lives, knowing that it is exactly where we are meant to be and all good things will come. Use this affirmation when you’re feeling anxious about the future.

    10. “I am seeking contentment, not perfection.”
    Use this affirmation if you have perfectionist tendencies. I probably don’t seem like a perfectionist: I can be messy, my right brain is way more dominant than my left, and I’m a Libra. And yet, I find myself rewriting articles because they never feel good enough, obsessing over my hair when it’s not curling the way I’d hoped, or feeling anxious and stressed when something didn’t go the way I pictured. Sound familiar? Remind yourself that the goal in life is not for everything to be, look, and seem perfect. The goal is to be happy. That’s it. The reminder makes all the little things I worry about seem insignificant.

    11. “I trust that I, and only I, know what’s best for me.”
    We’re so often plagued by self-doubt, especially when we’re making huge choices like college decisions, getting into a relationship, moving cities, or which job to take. Often, we want validation because we don’t listen to the gut instinct, or maybe can’t hear it at all. Use this affirmation when you’re making big life decisions. Listen for your gut reaction, and trust that you don’t need to listen to or seek out anyone else’s opinion because the answers to your biggest life questions is something only you can know.

    12. “Don’t go in your mind where your body is not”
    Are you a worrier, or, like me, a constant worrier? Do you overthink whether or not your friends took your joke the wrong way, if your boss won’t like the work you did, or how a (perfectly normal) doctors appointment will go? Me too. Many of us torture ourselves by thinking about what might happen, we often forget to focus on what is actually happening. This saying helps me remember I’m making up the worry in my mind, and I need to be present to what’s happening in the here and now. Use this affirmation when you’re worrying about something.

    13. “All is well.”
    Though simple, this powerful affirmation serves as a constant reminder that everything is OK and will be OK. Repeat this sentence to yourself when you’re feeling anxious. Anxiety happens because you’re constantly telling yourself that something negative is happening, and your mind starts to believe it. Counteract that anxious voice by giving yourself peace of mind.

    14. “I surround myself with those who make me better.”
    We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with; when you spend a lot of time with someone, you can adopt their mannerisms, their habits, and even their morals. Do you want to be like the five people you currently spend the most time with? Or is it time for a change? Use this affirmation when you’re dealing with a toxic friendship or jealous coworker, and to remind yourself you have control over who you let affect you. 

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    I Ate Like the World’s Happiest Population for a Week, and I Actually Felt Happier

    The World Happiness Report recently released its list of the world’s happiest countries, with Finland claiming the top spot for the sixth year in a row. As someone who is always striving to live a healthier and happier life, I was curious about what the Finnish are doing that Americans aren’t (the United States ranked 15th on the list), so I decided to do a little digging into Finland’s wellness approach and eat like the world’s happiest women for a week. Read on to learn about the Nordic diet and what happened when I tried it for a week, as well as the other rituals that are supposedly responsible for Finland’s spot as the world’s happiest country. 

    The link between diet and mental health 
    Although diet isn’t one of the factors explored in the report, experts agree that what and how you eat dramatically impacts your mental wellbeing. “The gut contains 95% of the body’s serotonin, so nourishing ourselves with whole, natural foods that support digestion is integral to our mental health,” explained author and founder of wellness brand Bonberi, Nicole Berrie. “When the gut and digestive systems work optimally, the body can access serotonin.”
    Numerous studies have also highlighted the role diet plays on mental health. In fact, an entire emerging field (called nutritional psychiatry) is dedicated to the relationship between mood and food. Research shows healthy eating patterns that focus on whole foods are associated with better mental health than the standard American diet. Furthermore, one study found that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have the power to improve and prevent depression because of their anti-inflammatory effects on the brain. 

    The Nordic diet
    The Nordic diet originated from the traditional eating patterns of Nordic countries like Finland. This eating style emphasizes locally-sourced, nutrient-dense whole foods, such as fruits (mainly berries), vegetables (especially root vegetables like beets, turnips, and carrots), whole grains (particularly rye, barley and oats), legumes, nuts, and seeds. The main pillars that distinguish the Nordic diet is that it’s rich in fermented foods, like pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, and yogurt, providing your body with a healthy dose of probiotics. While similar to the Mediterranean diet, the Nordic diet includes more cold-water fish high in omega-3, like salmon and herring. I couldn’t find a study linking the Nordic diet to their place as the world’s happiest country, but it’s no surprise their diet is full of probiotics and omega-3s, knowing how much these factors have been shown to support mood.
    The Nordic diet is relatively unrestrictive. You don’t have to count calories or track macros, but you probably won’t find a lot of heavily processed foods, added sugars, and high-fat red meat. 

    My experience
    I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed eating like the Finnish for a week. Following the Nordic diet challenged me to be more inventive with my cooking and spend more time shopping at my local farmer’s market. By ditching takeout for home-cooked meals made with locally-grown ingredients, I felt more connected with what I was eating. This helped me stay present during mealtime and enjoy each bite of food. 
    I also love how this eating style didn’t force me to track what I ate, allowing me to take an intuitive approach to my meals. This made it easy to follow and enjoy the eating approach because I could simply eat foods I loved that were Nordic diet-approved (think: plant-foods, fermented veggies/yogurt, and omega-3 rich fish) rather than doing mental gymnastics and pulling up MyFitnessPal every time I wanted a snack. Some of my favorite meals from the week included smoked salmon toast with goat cheese, lentil vegetable soup with rice, and berries with yogurt and honey. 

    Other habits I incorporated throughout the week
    Obviously there are a lot of other factors Finland attributes to its happiness ranking than diet. Many experts point to its low levels of crime and good public services, or social support and income equality. But as for habits I could replicate in a week, I found three key habits Finnish citizens do regularly that I tried to emulate as well. 

    I moved more 
    Because I physically felt more energized from all the nourishing veggies, protein, and carbs I was eating, I incorporated more movement, hitting the trail with my dog daily. Research shows that regular exercise has a positive impact on mental health by reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, improving mood, and enhancing cognitive function. So it’s no surprise that the world’s happiest people are also some of the most fit. 56% of Finnish adults get at least one hour of moderately intense activity a day.

    I spent more time outside
    The Finns also prioritize time spent outdoors, which is one of the reasons why experts believe Finland consistently ranks high on the list of the world’s happiest countries. In fact, 87% of Finns report that nature is important to them because of its mental health benefits. Since I started walking more, I also naturally spent more time outdoors. This resulted in a huge mood boost each day that I didn’t always notice from my indoor workouts. Research shows that spending time in nature helps reduce stress and anxiety by promoting relaxation and lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

    I focused on quality time with the people I love 
    My husband and I often get stuck in the cycle of ordering takeout and parking it on the couch for a good Netflix binge. So although we’re in the same room together, we’re not actually spending quality time together. But while I was following the Nordic diet, I took time to carefully select ingredients and cooked our meals with love. This made us more inclined to enjoy dinner at the table rather than on the couch with the TV on. By doing this, we were able to better connect at the end of the day, which also gave me a significant happiness boost. 
    Experts agree that feeling connected with others has the power to improve mental health. Having a strong sense of community provides people with social support, a sense of belonging, and opportunities for meaningful engagement. Finland is known for its strong sense of community, with a culture that values social support, cooperation, and equality, which contributes to the country’s high levels of mental wellbeing.  

    The Final Verdict 
    So, did eating like the world’s happiest women actually make me feel happier? Honestly, yes. Creating meals based around whole foods I enjoyed gave me more energy throughout the day, which led to a domino effect of healthy decisions that improved my mood. My digestion also felt amazing with all of the gut-friendly foods (fiber and probiotics offer the optimal combination), and my life felt so much simpler to focus on the whole, fresh ingredients I had. 
    While I genuinely enjoyed following the Nordic diet for a week, it’s not the magic pill for happiness. Food can have a huge impact on our mental wellbeing, but it’s only one facet of what brings us joy. Instead, take a holistic approach to happiness that emphasizes nourishing the body with wholesome foods, moving more, and fostering meaningful connections with others.

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    Here’s How To Actually Do A Digital Detox, According To Experts

    It’s 7 am. Your phone alarm goes off and, after snoozing for twenty minutes, you grab your phone. Inevitably, you’re littered with notifications: Uber Eats, that workout app you never open, WhatsApps from while you were asleep and some viral tweets are all demanding your attention. Of course, you open one and before you know it, it’s 8:30 am and you’ve got 30 minutes to be at your desk.  

    Like it or not, we’re humans enslaved to our digital devices. Come evening, mindlessly scrolling TikTok on mute while simultaneously watching Netflix is the norm. It feels impossible to just ignore every ping and vibration. It stands to reason, then, that our interests pique when someone says they’re taking on a digital detox. The international practice, used by celebrities, CEOs and regular people alike, allow us some distance from our devices.

    “It’s a period of time where you intentionally disconnect from technology, including phones, laptops, tablets, and social media, yes, that means even a quick WhatsApp,” says Melissa Lain, health coach.  

    But there’s more to it than that. Every time you open your phone, your brain is flooded with dopamine, the body’s innate reward hormone. It’s the same thing that makes you feel so satisfied after eating chocolate or winning an arm wrestle. But being exposed to it 24/7? That’s flooding our brains with the stuff, making us addicted to our tech. And, per a new survey, South Africans are spending upwards of three hours a day on social media alone. A digital detox, also called a dopamine detox, can help. “The idea is to take a break from the constant stream of information and stimulation that comes with being connected all the time,” says Lainn.

    How to tell when it’s time for a digital detox

    There are various signs that it’s time to shut down those reward centres for a while. First, if you’re spending excessive periods of time in a scroll hole, it’s time to put the phone down. Zahraa Surtee, counselling psychologist, notes that sleep disruptions – and checking your phone in the middle of the night – is also a tell-tale sign.

    Also, pay attention to how you’re feeling when you’re not on your devices, notes Melissa. “If you feel like you can never switch off, are constantly checking your phone or emails, even when there aren’t notifications buzzing, and feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you are consuming, it might be time for a digital detox,” she says. Zahraa agrees. Are you feeling anxiety when your phone’s not within reach? You’re likely in a dopamine rut. You might even find a feeling of disconnect with the real world, says Melissa. “If you find yourself spending more time online or watching other people live life rather than creating and experiencing your own, it’s a sign that you need to intentionally disconnect for a while and re-engage with the present moment.”

    Then there’s the physical ramifications: “Spending long periods of time in front of a screen can cause eye strain, tension headaches, neck and back pain, and other physical symptoms,” says Melissa.

    How to detox, digitally

    Zahraa sees digital detoxes as a way to carefully curate what you’re exposed to. “It’s not about giving up screen time completely,” she says. “Rather, it’s firstly about recognising that the media we consume DOES affect our mental health and the way we choose to show up in the world.” Spend some time curating your phone. Go through your apps and disable those notifications that annoy you, or that cause you to scroll endlessly. Do you really need a notification every time someone likes your Reel? “Just as we get to choose the type of foods we ideally want to nourish our bodies with, so we do get to choose the type of content we’d like to nourish our minds with,” says Zahraa. “Digital detoxes are ideally about spending screen time more mindfully and in moderation.”

    To Melissa, the digital detox you embark on can be individualised to you. “It can be as short as a few hours or as long as a week, or even more,” she says. “During this time, you commit to disconnecting from digital devices and focusing on other activities that promote stillness and well-being. Don’t overcomplicate it, an hour or two a day is a perfect way to start, especially when there’s load shedding.”

    Keen to try? Instead of using the time to stare into space, itching to check your phone or Netflix, try scheduling a tech-free activity. Maybe that’s a bubble bath, some colouring in time or just some tea and time with your thoughts. More

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    I Went on a 7-Day Complaint Cleanse, and It Kinda Changed Everything

    You know that amazing feeling when you get a break to b*tch to your coworkers around the water cooler about that irritating thing your boss just did? What about when you call up your mom when your roommate leaves to vent about the dirty dishes she leaves in the sink? Or when you’re tired and your coffee maker isn’t working, so you text your best friend, “omg worst Monday everrrrrr?” What about the thrill of commenting something negative on an Instagram post of a celebrity you don’t like or an Instagram post that you don’t agree with? I, dear readers, have had my fair share of being seduced by the coping mechanism and daily habit that is complaining.
    On bad, stressful days, it’s easy to complain about anything that inconveniences me–the traffic, the weather, a friend getting on my nerves. Whether it’s out loud to whoever is nearby or just thinking it in my head, complaining comes as naturally to many of us as breathing. I often get swept up in both of the major and minor frustrations we encounter every day, and I have a flair for drama so daily frustrations become omg, the world is out to get me! While some venting is healthy to prevent bottling up feelings and a fresh perspective can help solve a situation, too much complaining can cause chronic stress, affect our relationships, and even affect our health. So what’s a girl to do? Here is how I went on a complaint cleanse and why you should too:

    Why do we complain?
    According to Psychology, we complain because we find a gap between expectation and reality, but it can also be a subconscious bonding technique. Venting over shared negative experiences can build a sense of camaraderie, since you’re disliking the same thing and feeling the same emotion. Complaining is actually contagious, meaning you can start complaining more if the people you’re around are complainers, and vice versa.
    But talking about that annoying person who budges you in the Trader Joe’s line or how bad your hair looks creates a feedback loop, making us experience the negative emotion over and over again. Focusing on dissatisfactions that we do not have the power to control (or try to change) can leave us feeling victimized, hopeless, and even depressed. Of course, the occasional dissatisfaction every now and then can’t have that much affect on our minds, but let’s be honest with ourselves. Think about how many things you complain about a day–the weather outside, the crowded public transportation this morning, the TV show you didn’t like, the coffee shop that got your order wrong, the meeting that ran long—and how the immediate reaction of frustration and helplessness accumulates overtime and can rewire our brains to find the negative in any situation. It’s a constant cycle;  complaining actually leads to even more complaining.
    If you’re unsure if you complain too much, look back through your texts, emails, and DMs to see if they have a more negative tone than positive, or if there are as many negative comments as there are positive. You can also keep a thought journal and write down every time you think a negative thought or voice a complaint. If all of your conversations and thoughts are negative 20% of the time, that’s average, but if they’re any more than that, it could be seriously affecting your mental and physical health.

    Why complaining too much can be harmful
    A 2016 study by Standford found that complaining actually shrinks neurons in certain areas of the brain. In other words: it decreases your brain’s ability to problem solve. Complaining also releases cortisol, the stress hormone, which raises blood pressure and affects blood sugar. Now I’ve got your attention, huh? Besides the serious physical effects, complaining also affects our relationships. Psychologically speaking, negative thoughts stand out in the brain more so than positive things (just think of how you’d likely forget a compliment but always remember an insult, or how you’d obsess over losing a $20 bill more than finding a $20 bill). This means that your negativity or negative comments are more likely to stand out in people’s minds than the positive things about you or the positive things you say. Likewise, if you’re complaining about your relationships, you are likely to start seeing more negativity in loved ones. 
    Now let’s switch to the flip side: gratitude, or as I call it for the purpose of this article, the opposite of complaining. Gratitude in general has an extreme amount of benefits, including improved sleep, increased energy, strengthening the immune system, greater longevity, healthier relationships, and the obvious one: making you happier.

    My experience doing a complaint cleanse
    I’ve always believed strongly in the power of positive thinking, but it wasn’t until a scroll through Instagram that I realized I might need more than some meditation apps to fully achieve a grateful mindset. Author Cleo Wade posted about a complaint cleanse and I was immediately inspired:

    I mean, I am a millennial after all; cleanses come like second nature. I’ve tried a digital detox, a skin detox, and even a juice cleanse (don’t worry, only once when it was a thing back in 2016. EAT WHOLE FOODS, PEOPLE!). So a complaint cleanse seemed like the obvious thing to do. I’m also a big believer in the power of words (I dedicated my career to writing them), and feel that every word we say can make a difference in the world, for better or for worse. It’s why I choose not to argue with strangers on the internet, why I refuse to talk behind people’s backs, and why I wanted to write this article.
    These examples may not seem like they make that much immediate difference to the world, but I’ve always had this idea of words being like pennies in a jar: every word that is positive and empathetic of other people is one penny, and every word that’s intended to be negative, judgmental, or mean is a penny taken away. Cleo Wade’s post made me realize all of my complaints—even about the weather, the movie I thought was bad, or the food that arrived cold at the restaurant—were also pennies being taken out of the jar.
    At the risk of going too Mother Teresa on you, trust me when I say it feels good to complain. And this isn’t about getting rid of all negative emotions (no toxic productivity is welcomed here). Negative feelings or thoughts can help us see what to change, realize what we want out of our lives, and stay away from danger (BTW voicing opinions when you see injustice is also not a complaint, it’s a call to action). To be clear, I will always be a fan of venting to my mom and speaking out (as loudly as I can!) about issues and injustices that need to be changed. But I’ve realized the power that frivolous complaints actually have on ourselves and the people around us.
    So for one whole week, I swore off all complaining. Every time I felt myself getting angry at other drivers on the road or being annoyed that my food was taking too long at a restaurant, I noticed the negative thought and then chose to let it go. I thought two positive comments for every negative one, and I wrote down three things I was grateful for every morning and every night. I made an effort to compliment my friends and family more often and tell them good things about my day or funny stories I’d heard instead of bad things that happened to me. In other words, I filled the space I had previously reserved for complaining with only positive, supportive words and thoughts.
    The main thing I learned from going on a complaint cleanse was the difference between what’s worth it to voice and what wasn’t. If something can be fixed, like your spouse leaving dirty dishes in the sink, asking for a change or explaining what you don’t appreciate can actually make the situation better. But if traffic was bad that morning, there is absolutely no reason to complain about it to my coworkers. There’s nothing I can do to fix it, and it just takes up space where I could be thinking, “What a beautiful day it is outside,” or asking how their mornings were (oh yeah, other people have lives too!).
    In the end, I’d much rather see and create good things, without commenting on the bad. I’d much rather be the author, not the critic. As my girl Cleo says, when we do this, we let our language be part of what makes the world better, instead of worse. Juice cleanses may not be worth it, but complaint cleanses, as I voluntarily discovered, are the kind of cleanse that you’ll want to keep going long after the week is over.

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