8 things you might be doing wrong for your mental health AND how you can do better

8 things you might be doing wrong for your mental health AND how you can do better

via Forbes by Alice Walton

If you stop and think about the daily routines a lot of us are carrying out these days, it seems like we’re doing a lot wrong. In fact, in many ways, it seems like we’re doing exactly the opposite of what we should be doing for our mental health. If we were doing everything right, depression wouldn’t have overtaken every other chronic illness as the number one cause of disability across the globe.

And beyond depression, millions of people are dealing with addiction, anxiety, tech overuse, and a general feeling of disconnect. In many ways, these things are the natural fallout of modern life and of getting away from the things that we evolved to do, like being truly social, having a “village,” spending time in nature, and even being spiritual. All of this has become clearer and clearer over the years, as results from studies on long-term happiness and happiness across the globe have come in.

Here are a few habits that are strongly linked to well-being, and which we’ve gotten away from over the years. And a few suggestions for getting back to them.

Sitting in our own company (without staring at a screen)

One thing we’ve lost these days is the ability to sit with our own thoughts, without any distractions. Because we all carry smartphones, we have instant entertainment, and most people choose that over the simple alone times we used to have—riding in an elevator, sitting in the park, walking the dog, and so on.

A famous study from the University of Virginia a few years ago found that people would rather do just about anything, including administer themselves electric shocks, than be alone with their thoughts. The researchers either gave people prompts to think about or plan certain events, or to just think about whatever they wanted. People disliked both setups, and gave below average ratings to the pleasantness of both pastimes. But what happened in the next part was really revealing: The researchers gave people the opportunity to give themselves mild electric shocks while alone—and the majority of the time, people did it. And these were people who, in an earlier part of the experiment, said they’d pay money to avoid getting shocked, among other unpleasant things. So this was not what the researchers were expecting to find.

“We went into this thinking it wouldn’t be that hard for people to entertain themselves,” Timothy Wilson said in a Science magazine interview when the study came out. “We have this huge brain and it’s stuffed full of pleasant memories, and we have the ability to construct fantasies and stories. We really thought this [thinking time] was something people would like.”

They didn’t. The authors suggest that the results explain why practices like meditation, which aims to control the wandering/unhappy mind, are so popular. And this is definitely true (more on this later). If you feel like you have a hard time being alone with yourself, go out in nature and just observe; or in a city or town, people watching is fun, too. In any case, just starting to pay attention to how it feels to need to reach for a distraction is a good first step.

Having real, offline relationships

As bad as we’ve become at sitting with ourselves, we’re also losing the critical social connections we need. We’re deeply social creatures, and evolved to live in groups—living such isolated lives as we do nowadays goes counter to our innate needs. But it’s happening all over the place. Americans who say they don’t have a confidant has tripled in the last few decades. Countries like the U.S. and England are reporting record levels of social isolation and loneliness, particularly as people age, prompting some to coin the term “loneliness epidemic.” The U.K just appointed a Minister for Loneliness to combat what Theresa May calls the “sad reality of modern life.”

Lacking social connections is a well known to be depressogenic. On the flipside, having strong social connections is linked not only to happiness, but to long-term health. In fact, Harvard’s famous 80-year longevity study, found that social connection is perhaps the key variable that’s linked to greater health, happiness, and a longer life.

Set weekly hangout date with a friend, whether you feel like it or not. Talk to someone on the subway—research has shown that chatting up a stranger boosts happiness. As Gretchen Rubin has said, “be slightly inappropriate”—make it a practice to ask people questions that go below the surface and/or reveal something slightly embarrassing about yourself. Call people instead of text or email. And foster your kids’ relationships in every way possible…

…keep reading the full & original article HERE