Ten resources for better living in 2022

Expert tips in mental health, tech and personal wellness to help you meet your goals this year

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1

Break your doom-scrolling habit

By Sunny Fitzgerald

You don’t need to break up with technology altogether to break free from the doom-scrolling cycle; in fact, you can harness the positive powers of technology to combat it. The key is to take a more conscious, active role in your consumption. A simple trick recommended by psychiatrist Nina Vasan, founder and executive director of Brainstorm: the Stanford Lab for Mental Health Innovation at the Stanford School of Medicine, can make an immediate impact: Change your screen display to grayscale to reduce the visual allure.

Other steps: Retrain algorithms by clicking on content that covers a variety of topics you’re interested in. Choose your news from a range of sources. Install an app that limits screen time (or turn on the feature if it already exists in your settings). Or set a timer or other “external cue,” as Anne McLaughlin, a human factors psychologist and professor at North Carolina State University, recommends, “to bring you out of the automatic state”; Vasan suggests you set the alarm to a favorite song.

Read more tips on how to break free from ‘doom-scrolling’

2

Get a better night’s sleep

By Allyson Chiu

Raj Dasgupta, a pulmonary and sleep specialist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, recommends having a sleep schedule with consistent bedtimes and wake times, including on holidays and weekends. Beyond creating a dark, quiet and cool environment conducive to sleep, give yourself time to prepare for bed. That means unplugging from screens and using the time to wind down with relaxing activities, such as taking a warm bath or shower, reading (preferably a boring book) or practicing meditation and mindfulness.

Read more on why it is hard to fall asleep and tips for making it easier

3

Forgive yourself for past decisions

By Jelena Kecmanovic

A prominent feature of regret, especially the kind that sticks around, is rumination about all the different ways you could have made a better decision or action. This obsessing can turn guilt (an emotion that stems from believing you did something wrong) into shame (the belief that you are wrong or defective).

Although guilt can motivate rectifying action, shame invites wallowing in self-reproach and self-criticism. “Unfortunately, many believe that punishing yourself will lead to positive change. But nothing can be further from the truth,” says Christopher K. Germer, clinical psychologist and author of “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions.”

Research shows that self-compassion is related to the pursuit of important goals, lower procrastination and less fear of failure.

“Self-blame shuts down learning centers in the brain,” says Tara Brach, a Washington-area meditation teacher, clinical psychologist and author of “Radical Acceptance.” It hardens your heart and isolates you. It doesn’t make what happened okay, nor does it improve your future.”

Instead, remember that to be human is to make mistakes. “Actively offer yourself forgiveness by, for example, whispering ‘forgiven’ or putting a hand on your heart. If that seems like a tall order, having an intention to forgive can be a start,” Brach says.

Read more advice on how to deal with regret

4

Seek out joy with your friends

By Juli Fraga

Spending time with friends can help us weather rough patches. Along with companionship, research shows that supportive friendships are good for physical health, emotional well-being and longevity.

To reap these benefits, Geoff Greif, a social work professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, recommends “dwelling in affection.”

“Embrace the tiny, joyful moments,” he says. This might mean appreciating a moment of laughter with your friend or embracing the happiness that spending time together brings. Empathy researchers call this “positive empathy,” and studies have found that observing positive emotions and sharing them with others can improve well-being and make human bonds stronger.

Read more on small steps to rekindle friendships in the new year

5

Update your privacy settings

By Heather Kelly and Geoffrey A. Fowler

We all know it’s important to protect our privacy online to prevent things as simple as our birth date or as detailed as our search history from being used by companies, strangers and even governments.

Here’s an easy place to start: disabling ad tracking on your iPhone.

Go to Settings → Privacy → Tracking and turn off “Allow Apps to Request to Track” so the toggle is gray, not green. If you see apps listed below, they requested permission to track you in the past. Turn them off to revoke access.

Read more for settings to change on iOS, Android, Facebook and more

6

Adopt a (hard-to-kill) plant

By Marissa Hermanson

Christopher Griffin, who runs the Instagram account @plantkween, wants others to see not only how accessible and fun “plant parenting” is, but also how therapeutic bringing plants into the home can be. “Plants are a wonderful way to de-stress and decrease levels of anxiety,” Griffen says. Plus, they can clean toxins from the air, much like trees do outside.

Griffin loves the snake plant’s unique leaf shape and air-purifying qualities; they have 25 of them in their Brooklyn apartment. The plant is versatile, tolerating an array of conditions, from low to bright light. Snake plants also are drought-tolerant, only needing water every two weeks in warmer months and every three to four weeks in colder ones.

Read more for 9 other low-maintenance houseplants

7

Learn a craft

By Charu Suri

The brain “is a very adaptive organ with survival mechanisms,” says Craig Sawchuk, co-chair of the Division of Integrated Behavioral Health at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “It’s hard-wired to pay attention to threats, and its fear response can be activated by triggers such as negative news.”

Crafting can calm us because it shifts our attention away from such triggers, he says. It also gives people a sense of productivity and is “an excellent way to break up the monotony of the day.”

There are many free online classes on topics that include cloth dyeing, building a bird house and making jewelry. The bottom line is that you want to create something concrete, yet something that warms the heart and creates a bit of joy.

Yarn-based crafts are often a good starting point, because many people have fond memories of loved ones knitting or crocheting.

Read more for tips on how to get started as a crafter and more reasons why you should

8

Shop sustainably by buying less

By Sarah Kaplan

Here’s the thing about sustainable shopping: There are very few things you can purchase that are actively beneficial for the climate. Unless you’re buying a tree that will suck carbon from the air, most products require land, water and fossil fuels to produce and use. New stuff — clothes, appliances, bath products, toys, etc. — inherently comes at some environmental cost.

In many situations, the “greenest” product you can buy is … nothing. Unless your purchase represents a significant upgrade from what you already own — say, swapping out your old gas-guzzling car for an electric vehicle — you are better off trying to refurbish or repurpose existing items than acquiring more stuff. Instead of buying paper towels, tear up old T-shirts to use as rags. Give your family’s discarded books and toys to younger children in your neighborhood. Build your own “circular economy” in your community and your home.

Read more for tips on how to determine whether a product is truly “green”

9

To stay inspired, mine adversity

By Matt Fuchs

Confronting challenges can lead to creative awakenings. New Yorker Tobi Zausner discovered her mature painting style only after a severe insecticide poisoning. Following a bout with cancer, she became a psychologist and wrote a book about adversity followed by creative breakthroughs, “When Walls Become Doorways.” Among the examples in the book is a study of textile artists who had experienced illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and arthritis. This increased their inspiration, they said, by sharpening their perceptions, increasing their emotional sensitivity and forcing them to confront the deeper issues of life.

People who score highly on the trait of openness to experience seem to respond more creatively to adversity, including the pandemic. Zausner believes that people have more personal growth when they use creativity to confront and process their pain and fear. “Allowing our feelings to come up lets us move forward with life,” she says.

Read more on why creativity may be key to healthy aging and how stay inspired

10

Save your skin with better showers

By Allyson Chiu

There are few things more soothing than a long, hot shower. But for some people, especially those who have drier skin or skin conditions such as eczema, prolonged exposure to hot water can often do more harm than good, dermatologists say.

For one thing, its relaxing effect can encourage people to take longer showers or baths, says Ivy Lee, a Los Angeles-based dermatologist, which “can actually draw out and dehydrate the skin.” That’s because when “you’re opening up that skin barrier and creating that permeability, it really just decreases [the skin’s] ability to hold on to water,” Lee says.

Lee and other dermatologists recommend shorter showers of no more than 10 minutes, using warm or room-temperature water — or even cold water — which is less drying to skin.

Read more on how to shower according to dermatologists


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