Life hacks for the psyche and emotional wellbeing
July 28, 2020 11:03 PM   Subscribe

What's a good habit that you introduced in your life and has since made all the difference?

I'm not in a good place at the moment—but I am trying to move forward, even if just in baby steps.

I read this article awhile ago about developing some good habits so you can become the best version of yourself. I think I'm going to try and do these:

- Pick 3 things to prioritise daily from my list of to-do
- Listen to one inspiring talk at the end of the week
- Try and learn something new every day
- Restart my gratitude journal which I've done a few years ago.

Do you have any similar habits that have significantly changed yourself and your life for the better?

Anything related to mental and emotional well-being is something I really need right now, but wouldn't mind learning how to deal with people, work, finances, etc. I want to be able to do and learn something that would make me feel like I have my own back. Thank you.
posted by pleasebekind to Human Relations (37 answers total) 142 users marked this as a favorite
Make a commitment to complete a specific task - with quality - before midnight the next day. Large or small, visualize it beginning to end. Then do it. Then acknowledge your completion.

All roads to enlightenment begin with a made bed (discuss).

Take a walk.

Intentionally pause and taste the first bite of every meal.

Get the right amount of good sleep.

Guitar Craft aphorism: Learn to recognize mistakes as the friends and teachers that they are. (paraphrased from memory)

Sit quietly in a chair.

When in doubt, shave.

Take it easy on any recommendations you decide to try on. Habituation occurs in tiny steps over time. Acknowledge successes, and learn from mistakes in the moment. Take what you need, let go of the rest.
posted by j_curiouser at 11:30 PM on July 28, 2020 [11 favorites]


Read Mary Oliver.

Read Kurt Vonnegut.

Read When Things Fall Apart.

Read Transformation and Healing.

Do this amazing experiment.
posted by j_curiouser at 11:54 PM on July 28, 2020 [9 favorites]

-Detoxing from/ dramatically cutting down on my social media and internet consumption (anything that makes me angry or feel lacking triaged as the priority, so twitter facebook instagram etc first on the chopping block).
-Surrounding myself (through work, volunteering and friendships) with kind, tough, and/or stoic people who encourage me to be the same and keep things in perspective.
-Letting go of the idea (Brene Brown touches on this) that busyness=meaningfulness. Saying no to being busy and stressed for busy/prestige's sake.
-Doing something with my hands/body sometimes. Knitting, woodwork, guitar, cycle commuting.
posted by hotcoroner at 1:11 AM on July 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

Since lockdown started I've been taking a cold shower every day - I'd seen it's meant to be good for anxiety and depression and figured I could do with the help now I was stuck inside. I do my normal shower, and then turn it to coldest at the end for 20-30 seconds, enough time for the cold shock endorphins to arrive. A+ would recommend to everyone. It's quick and cheap and has really helped.
posted by london explorer girl at 1:43 AM on July 29, 2020 [19 favorites]

Whenever you see a bird, say hello and give it your love. Birds love you, too.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:08 AM on July 29, 2020 [57 favorites]

I'm struggling a lot myself, but one thing I've started recently that has helped is starting a small crafting hobby. Needlepoint, in my case, but the important thing is that it's easy and also not on a screen. Probably many things would work. It is something for my hands and brain to do when otherwise I'd just doomscroll and feel sorry for myself.

Thanks for asking this. I can use these suggestions myself.

We will get through this, friend.
posted by phoenix_courage at 3:09 AM on July 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

Running. I'm the opposite of an athlete, and when I say "running" I mean trotting my fat ass around the block in an effortful jog for no more than one mile, stopping for stretches/windedness as necessary -- but still. I literally cannot feel physical anxiety for the rest of the day after I have done that sweaty mile. Takes under 15 minutes, effect lasts all day and improves nighttime sleep. (Didn't do it yesterday and bingo, am awake at 3 in the morning.)

(Caveat: can still feel fear, disgust at state of world etc, but sensation is blunted and does not translate to fight-or-flight physical reaction. Positive emotions generally heightened.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:19 AM on July 29, 2020 [24 favorites]

The things that recur and recur and cause you distress are the things that destroy the quality of your life, whatever they may be. Make a list of your ten top aggravations. They will probably be a list that involves some absurd minor things, like "badly fitting glasses keep sliding down and need to be poked back up again so I can see", "Flinching when the phone rings in case it's him, even though it very rarely is," and "Being mad at the guy who parks in my parking space" and "Obsessing about the US election."

Once you have your list look at them and figure out what you can do to control the number of times they recur, and really think outside of the box to come up with solutions. If your glasses make you unhappy sixty times a day it is worth getting a dorky looking strap for them, or investing in new ones, or taking them to an optician to see if they can be adjusted. It's so hard to be happy while some little thing keeps causing you misery like a sparrow pecking you to death.

Try things like when you see his number on the phone you don't pick up but instead give yourself some nice little reward to comfort yourself for having to put up with his number appearing on your phone and for not picking up when he called. Then either set a time/location/situation where you will answer the phone when it is his number but only then, such as never answering when he calls in the morning, or choose a time when you call him back at your convenience and find out what it is this time. But change how you respond to him calling so you have a sense of being in control.

If someone keeps taking your parking spot look into finding a different one because being mad every time you come home is bad for you, whereas walking an extra block feeling happily, " don't have to be mad any more!" will be good for you and a little bit of healthy extra exercise. Better to concede some small things that stay mad defending them, especially if the person on the other side is not actually out to destroy your life. The guy parking in your spot probably doesn't know you exist and only things of you for an instant, where you could be upset for hours every day. It's totally not worth it to be in a pissing contest when it does this to you, if there is anyway to just let the selfish jerk run away ahead of you so you can stroll and listen to the birds.

If obsessing about anything and recurring thoughts are bothering you work on strategies like having fixed times of day when you are allowed to worry - not at bedtime, but say when you check the morning news, and substitute thoughts to fill you mind with that make you happy. You won't lose anything or cause the collapse of the US by not being constantly anxious about the election. There is an anxiety loop going on where your anxiety is making you check if it is still dangerous, and checking in provides you with a brief surge of reassurance - oh good, Trump hasn't launched any nukes yet - but ensures that you have Trump in the forefront of your memory, making it harder to think of anything else. So work on your obsessive thoughts with tangible strategies.

If you can fix anything to remove it from your list of ten top aggravations you will have measurably improved your all over well being. Of course other things will come to replace them and they may still be in your top twenty and wander back up to the top ten again, but you will have still given yourself breathing room.

Life is like one of those little Chinese puzzles where you have to slide eight square tiles around in a frame with nine spaces in it to get them in order. You need room to maneuver and to think in order to solve life-problems. The first step is to get room to work. If you can take an extra tile out even temporarily things that were impossible to solve become manageable and sometimes even become easy.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:40 AM on July 29, 2020 [53 favorites]

Getting a decent bike and riding 5-10 miles every few days has been a game changer for me.
posted by gnutron at 5:05 AM on July 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

Meditating (almost) every day has been a game changer for me.
posted by spindrifter at 5:23 AM on July 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Ditto, Gnutron. Although due to the bike shortage, I'm actually using a hire bike. I now cycle to work, to the shops, and just for fun and it has significantly improved my sleep and anxiety. Before this I had tried long walks, running and gym time, and they never helped my mood the way cycling does, I am not exaggerating. I find it both meditative and freeing.
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:43 AM on July 29, 2020

I can't say this has definitely impacted my life positively over the long term, as I have just started it, but I am struggling lately too and my doctor recommended the app Woebot. It's an interactive app where you "text" with the app robot (it's pre-scripted/AI, no one is reading them, so not used for emergencies, etc.). I didn't have high hopes for it, but honestly it's been good so far, a lot less cheesy and more intelligent than I expected! :) It has a built-in gratitude journal, among other things. I am pretty smart (I think) on mental health strategies, but over only a few days it has already given me a lot to think about and taught me some things. For me it also just makes it easier - it sends you a notification once a day, and has multiple strategies built into it. So, I don't have to remember to do a gratitude journal AND x AND y every day - it will gently prompt me to do one of those things each day, teaching me something in the process.

n-thing meditating. Even 5 minutes a day for me is great.

I am not good at keeping up exercising when I'm struggling, but I do try to at least go on walks. If you can do more, great, but for anything during a hard period in your life, just do what you can and go easy on yourself.
posted by sillysally at 6:26 AM on July 29, 2020 [6 favorites]

Definitely some sort of exercise every day. Also, especially these days, some sort of recurring activity to look forward to at the end of the day: episode of a TV show, or 10 pages of a long book you've been meaning to tackle but never seem to get to. Actually take a lunch break at work if you can--step away from the desk (even if it's in your living room), step outside if you can.
posted by ferret branca at 6:37 AM on July 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

When I catch myself ruminating about my numerous past failures, I remind myself that I did the best that I could at the time and that I can't un-think anything that happened.
posted by thelonius at 6:49 AM on July 29, 2020 [13 favorites]

I agree with others here (meditation, exercise, saying no to busy) - and it is especially important to come up with habits at which you will succeed, because it's counterproductive to have this giant list of ways you could improve your life and then fail at doing them. When that happens, it's not because you lack willpower, it's because you have not defined or designed the habits well.

To that end, I highly recommend the book Tiny Habits! It's great to think about all these habits that will improve your life, but this book really nails how to design a habit that will stick. The author also has some free content on his website, but I loved the book because it's very actionable and has assignments at the end of every chapter.
posted by beyond_pink at 7:04 AM on July 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Morning pages. It’s 30 minutes of stream-of-consciousness writing in the morning (or whenever) to specifically vomit up all whatever is on your mind and get it out of your way. It is explicitly not a gratitude journal. The internet abounds with people who have very specific ideas about how morning pages should be done—with a pen, in a journal you love, in total silence, the moment you wake up—but do it your way. I type mine (horrors!!) and just don’t save the file when I’m done and that’s what’s best for me. Having no record of all my petty grievances and whining keeps me from censoring myself.

It will seem like forever at first but you’ll be surprised at the issues that pop up around the 20 minute mark. Just keep writing for the full 30 minutes. Throw in song lyrics or a description of what’s in front of you if you find yourself short on things to say. It’s kind of a pain to do at first, but I have better days when I have some kind of repository for my anxieties and miseries and don’t have to carry them all myself. And it does get much easier in a short time.

Acknowledging your sadness or fear or grief is a good thing. In the U.S. at least, there is this terrible cultural pressure to not allow yourself to feel emotions like sadness or fear or anger because they’re “not positive.” That way lies madness. It’s ok to feel what you’re feeling. Morning pages allow me to do that in a way that feels like I am unburdening myself to the page.
posted by corey flood at 8:10 AM on July 29, 2020 [10 favorites]

Meditating every day. The 7AM Pacific Time sit and talk from the Insight Meditation Center with Gil Fronsdal has made it a delight.
posted by matildaben at 8:12 AM on July 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

I recommend the book Atomic Habits. I listened to it on audiobook and it has helped me with some stuff.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:43 AM on July 29, 2020

Echoing the bike folks, I live in an area that it's not super safe or easy to bike long distances without driving somewhere first, but I dragged my cruiser out of storage and started biking almost every day around my neighborhood/apartment complex, and it has had a VERY marked effect on my overall outlook and mood. I skipped a week once and felt much more miserable generally. I've also started doing pretty simple workouts on days I can't bike (jumping jacks, bicycle crunches, pushups) for about 20-30 minutes, if that.

I also have started eating steel cut oatmeal with frozen berries and cinnamon every morning, generally eating better, and between these two things I'm feeling healthier than I have in a long time.

I have always loved drawing and I've also started up a daily drawing habit in the morning before work, and it makes me immensely happy.
posted by caitcadieux at 8:43 AM on July 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

I will nth everybody who said exercise and meditation. I will also emphasize that with both those things, sustainability is more important than ambition. A 15-minute walk that you can repeat every day this month will do you more good than a single two-hour run that is so exhausting and time-consuming, you never do it again.

Other things I've done that have improved my life:

• I deleted Twitter and Facebook from my phone. I kept Instagram but I very carefully curated my feed so that it's photos of cute dogs, beautiful artwork, and other things that make my happy rather than stressed.

• I downloaded a flashbook app and with the time I saved by not scrolling endlessly through Twitter, I've learned a whole bunch of stuff, from the flags and capitals of the world to new vocabulary. Every once in a while, this proves useful for solving a crossword puzzle or something, but the real utility is the feeling that, even at 48, I am still learning new things. (Note: sometimes I fall behind on my flashcards and they pile up. When that happens, I am kind to myself and remember that this is an optional, fun thing, and I slowly catch up without judgment.)

• At the end of each day, I choose one pleasant moment or image that I want to remember, and I write it down.

• I started wearing earplugs and an eyemask when I sleep.
posted by yankeefog at 8:50 AM on July 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Meditating before I get out of bed has helped me "Set an intention" for the day which is helpful. I also have a "no screen time" rule for 45 minutes in the morning and in the evening before bed. I usually use this time to read (paper books or from a Kindle without a light/internet) and it really helps with me "What is going on in the world??" anxieties. Trying to get outside, preferably exercise or if not at least some sunshine on my skin any day. Staying hydrated.
posted by jessamyn at 8:51 AM on July 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

I just remembered a useful thing my shrink advised. A goal *range* has been terrific for habituating new practices. For example,

No: walk 7 days a week.

Yes: walk 3-7 days a week.

Combine the practical with the aspirational; they're not mutually exclusive.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:45 AM on July 29, 2020 [19 favorites]

Making my bed daily


As I suck at meditation, floating in sensory deprivation tank at least once a month

Making a conscious effort on a regular basis to see what is beautiful and good around me and feel grateful. Particularly effective at the moment when crankiness/self pity is just starting to set in.

Telling someone, close in time, about whatever bad thing just happened, and aiming to do it in a way that helps me see the humor. Even the worst things in life have a humorous side, and seeing it helps draw the sting.

Healthy eating. The two sub habits that help me do that are actually planning what I will eat for the day, and logging it all.

Walking/running/yoga/biking -- any exercise that floats your boat.

Routinely tell the negative voice in your mind to SHUT UP. Eventually it will.
posted by bearwife at 10:17 AM on July 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Make your bed. I never bothered in my life, but I married a bed-maker and now my office is in the bedroom so it can't be avoided. It's so little, petty really, but it makes such a difference! A hotel-level super neat bed helps me feel more profesh in my work space, and is way more inviting when I come back to it at night, which helps with nighttime anxiety and insomnia. #LAMOB4LIFE
posted by Freyja at 12:45 PM on July 29, 2020 [8 favorites]

Running. Every day, 5k. it's a life-saver lemme tell ya.
posted by The_Auditor at 3:17 PM on July 29, 2020

Notice the world around you. Remember that what you pay attention to, you give power to. Your attention is one of the most valuable things you can bestow, so consider where you are using it. For more on this, I recommend reading How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell.

Ways to pay attention include:
* Using social media less
* Pick one thing to notice every time you go for a walk. For instance, try to notice every outside cat, every bird, everything red that you see.
* Draw something that you want to remember or pay attention to.
* At the end of the day, write down three things you saw, three things you did, and one thing you heard. (This is an exercise from Lynda Barry. Her book syllabus has a lot of other good exercises.)
* Pay more attention than usual to what you are eating. Think about how you are plating it, for instance. Look at your food before you dive in.
* Pick one plant or other natural feature and make a point of looking at it every time you leave the house. How has it changed since the last time you saw it?

I'm saying "you should do this" but these are all things that I've actually done that made an effect on me.
posted by tofu_crouton at 3:20 PM on July 29, 2020 [11 favorites]

Volitional attention +1
posted by j_curiouser at 5:51 PM on July 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

When I'm not in a good place it helps to keep things very simple, so when I'm struggling I try to turn my mind to this mantra: one day at a time, look for the good, don't force solutions.
posted by a fish out of water at 8:18 PM on July 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

Dance fit videos on YouTube; even a 3 minute boogie along to The Fitness Marshall doing some pop song I'm too old to have heard of before does wonders for my overall wellbeing. Kukuwa Fitness have these 15 minute "Mood Boost" videos which do exactly that.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 1:49 AM on July 30, 2020 [8 favorites]

Doing a media fast: avoiding all social media and news for a couple of days. Feels like a mental spa!
posted by far flung at 2:03 AM on July 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

1) I recently took a significant step in improving my well being by disabling my Facebook account. More than any other site or social media platform, it has caused me life-disrupting levels of anxiety, upset, and anger. Quitting briefly in times past has been helpful, but I’ve repeatedly gone back for personal and professional reasons. I realized this summer that—whatever good it has done me, whomever I like to see on it, and whoever guilts/begs me for not being there—it was once again causing me significant distress... and that I was the one keeping it going. Since I left, I have been happier and so has my whole household, because I’m not constantly wound up.

2) I printed out this flyer [pdf] a year or so ago, and it has repeatedly helped, and made me feel that I am taking care of myself. Not talking about when in the depths of despair (though it’s good for that), but simply when feeling crummy. Many of the tips on it are in this thread, but I have found the printed sheet to be helpful.
posted by cupcakeninja at 8:29 AM on July 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

I didn't delete FB, but I started unfriending people -- old friends, relatives, neighbors, anyone -- who puts Bad Things into my feed. Mostly now it's people who are important to me. And on Instagram allI see is pictures of the BWCA and Karin Pfeiff-Boschek's pies,and Raspberry Pi computers, and my son's guitar & trumpet videos.

Every night before bed now I read the Liturgy of the Hours (evening prayer), which only takes a few minutes. Phone gets switched off and out comes the prayer book: I am not terribly pious, but I find that I really like the rhythm of the seven-day cycle of readings. And then after that I read in my Kindle for a few minutes.

I could be better about daily exercise, but....maybe I'll add that next week.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:08 AM on July 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Jane the Brown brought up something I want to reiterate. Sol Gordon wrote a book called The Teenagers's Survival Guide (that I didn't come across till I was in my 20s-boy do I wish I had owned a copy when I was 15), and one quote has stayed with me: "A friend of mine and I were sitting at the pool talking about people in our class that we didn't like, and it occurred to me - were any of those people spending their time thinking about us?"

(Probably not the exact quote, but that is the gist.)
posted by wittgenstein at 3:47 PM on July 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you use social media, be the boss of it. Follow art, museums, poetry, or musicians so there's something in your feed to spark joy. I have done this with facebook, though I have to force the pages feed. I regularly re-post picture of art, and many fb folks have responded favorably. If a person is cranky or whatever, I do not unfriend, I unfollow, to take a break from whatever they post that gets under my skin. A friend started a 'Nice Things' page that is a respite from the usually OMG Everything Is On Fire, which is accurate, but sometimes I can't. It's good to be reminded that there is a vast treasure trove of beauty.

This helps me when I feel overwhelmed Everything Is Awful and I'm Not Okay. It's often open in my browser.

The Yale 'Science of Well-Being' course is free for now.

This book, Playing Ball on Running Water has helped me. It emphasis what you should be doing, despite your feelings.

Sing, if you can. Play music - music is processed differently than speech and written words, and music can give you more energy and raise your mood. Exercise without music, for me, is such drudgery.

There are good articles on Psychology Today. They often contain just a grain, but sometimes that's useful to me.

I liked this poster of How To Get Motivated. You know, in case I get energetic, inspired, all that.

A bit more in my profile. I have to get sufficient Vits. B-12 and D to feel okay. Being in Nature, even the scrubby park in the neighborhood, helps. Sunshine. Good nutrition. Reward yourself for what you get right or do well, forgive yourself when you are imperfect.

PandemicTime is hard. There's a shortage of resources like getting together with friends or making new friends. We are constricted at all turns, frustrated. Have as much compassion for yourself and others as you can muster up.
posted by theora55 at 2:22 PM on July 31, 2020 [6 favorites]

How to Wake Up - by Toni Bernhardt is a well-written guide to resilient living.
Stopping the Noise in Your Head - by Reid Wilson is about overcoming anxiety and worry using effective, but paradoxical mind management techniques.
posted by storybored at 9:29 PM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

I notice that on the days when I accomplish something, I feel much better about myself and my life.
This might be doing some sort of task that makes my surroundings better (taking the car to get washed, replacing a lightbulb, etc) or making something (a loaf of bread, adding pockets to a dress) or doing some kind of art (lately I have been fascinated by this cheapo macro lens I got for my phone) or practicing a skill (I'm trying to learn to juggle and I'm SO BAD it's hilarious).
On my way home from work I try to take a little time to think about how I want to spend the evening or weekend so I don't get to the end of it and feel like I wasted all my time. (not to say that I don't spend time doing nothing, or doing pointless things, I just try to be a little more intentional about it.)
posted by exceptinsects at 3:38 PM on August 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

I know I'm late to the game here, but block that person on Facebook who is living rent-free in your head with their constant drip of posts and comments. Block them now and never look back.
posted by sciencemandan at 10:22 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]

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