How Cooking Improves My Emotional Well Being

eggs and crescent rolls on a wooden table to show mental health benefits of cooking

As a person who has been overweight most of my life, I always sought ways to deal with feelings through eating. Whether celebratory or in a state of mourning, food is an outlet. As my relationship with food changed, I focused more on mindful eating and cooking. I realized that cooking empowered me and improved my emotional well being far more than ordering American Chinese takeout or stuffing my face with Cheez-Its and Doritos ever could.

The further I dive into cooking as an art form and challenging myself with complex dishes or repurposing leftovers creatively, the happier it makes me. Cooking gives me confidence, soothes me, and allows me to express myself while improving my personal health.

Where Is the Data?

In a study about Positive Psychological Impacts of Cooking During the COVID-19 Lockdown Period, respondents backed up my claims with some findings of their own:

“I think cooking is a stress-relieving activity, and in this process, making dishes that I had previously consumed as ready-made but never tried to cook made me happy and encouraged” (Participant 20).

“At the end of a very entertaining and dynamic period, I felt the happiness of succeeding with the emergence of those beautiful products” (Participant 22).

“Trying new things and cooking my own food made me a little bit happy during these troubled times” (Participant 30).

Being forced into learning how to cook to pass the time, residual mental health benefits emerged for participants and many of their responses reflect this positive change.

Cooking Helps Me Focus On Mundane Tasks

I have struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder my entire life. Most of it boils down to control issues. I have a compulsory need to organize things in my home exactly how they’re “supposed to be.” I plan my drives to new places meticulously, mapping out every turn and where to park. Unexpected road closures or other obstacles send me into an anxious frenzy. Luckily, one interesting and positive symptom is that repetitive and detailed tasks soothe me.

Cooking often involves many forms of prep work: cutting, peeling, mixing, measuring, timing things out, maintaining temperatures, monitoring doneness. For an OCD person, these tasks give me a sense of purpose and focus that allow my mind to escape from anxieties. In these moments of quiet diligence, I am fully at peace.

Instead of frittering around the house nervously, I can step into the kitchen and start crafting a delicious masterpiece and it has made all the difference when I’m struggling.

Cooking Is a Form of Meditation

I am a huge proponent of meditation and mindfulness in everyday life. It’s important to recognize thought or behavior patterns and meditation can be a great way to train your brain to slow down during periods of intense emotion.

In the same way that sitting still and visualizing can help relax you, cooking can do the same. Allowing yourself to be poured fully into making an awesome meal, you can let the stresses of your life melt away for a few precious moments.

Wallowing and being idle are never the best ways to deal with dark thoughts and something as simple as stirring up the perfect risotto can distract you long enough to process. When my clinical depression is creeping in, maintaining physical and mental activity helps me to cope through the roughest patches.

Cooking as Creative Expression

Just like pen and paper or a block of clay, cooking can be a medium through which to express yourself. You can tell a story. You can explain your family heritage. You can splash the colors and flavors that define your sensibilities into a dish.

Whether the meal you’re preparing is a nostalgic piece of your identity or an expression of your religious or ethical beliefs, it’s a blank canvas to paint with your personal touch.

The ingredients you choose and where they’re sourced has meaning. The way you arrange the components together on a plate has meaning. The tastes you prefer and how they balance against one another on each forkful has meaning. Every part of cooking allows you to control the message and the meaning of your food.

My dad is Italian and my mom is Hungarian, so sometimes I want my food to honor both backgrounds: the bright and spicy flavors and seafood-heavy diet of the Calabrian region of Italy or the paprika-laden meat and winter vegetable mindset of eastern Europe.

I also use food as a way to explore other cultures. I currently love Tasting History with Max Miller and, looking back, Anthony Bourdain was the person who set me on the path to socio-political understanding through food.

Food elicits so many emotions and presents a narrative that defines both individuals and communities.

Cooking as a Way to Show Love and Connect

Just like the stereotype of a grandmother feeding her family at a holiday gathering, cooking is a way that people connect. It gives everyone a reason to get together. Cooking is a way of showing love.

As a young child, I remember cooking with my mom in the kitchen. Even though she’s Hungarian, she always made amazing Italian food. She’d let me help mix and roll out the meatballs and put together a homemade Sunday sauce. When she was baking, I’d lick the spoons. It always provided a loving connection to be together in the kitchen.

At Thanksgiving, hanging out by the stove with family provided a place to swap stories, rag on each other, and share some quality time.

I’ve always loved to entertain and I get a supreme sense of fulfillment and an ego boost when people compliment my meals and ask for a recipe. Although often derided, I love sharing my dishes across social media with some instructional summaries for those who want to follow along. I pour my best efforts into cooking and I’m proud of what I produce. I love when food I’ve prepared makes someone happy.

Any way you slice, bake, saute, or boil it, cooking has provided me with a creative outlet and a productive form of stress relief. All of its benefits have improved me psychologically and I can’t imagine a life without cooking 5-6 days a week.

Why Is It Called Toxic Positivity?

While everyone chases this amorphous and loaded term, “happiness,” the truth is that it’s okay not to be happy sometimes. It’s impossible to be upbeat and optimistic all the time. It can actually do more harm than good to try. Blacking out or avoiding any negative feelings means we’re completely disregarding an entire range of emotions and invalidating them. This kind of focused ignorance is often referred to as toxic positivity.

What Is Toxic Positivity?

Why is it called toxic positivity? What is so toxic about wanting people to feel good? Toxic positivity specifically refers to the belief that, regardless of situation or obstacle, people should maintain a positive mindset. 

There’s nothing wrong with trying to cheer yourself up or show some semblance of healing from tragedy and trauma, but toxic positivity doesn’t allow people to go through the process of dealing with complex emotions. Instead of working through difficult feelings, the shame of feeling sad or the influence of others who don’t want to hear about your sadness pushes a falsely-cheerful veneer.

The harm in false happiness is that it gets in the way of open and honest mental health processes and eventual acceptance. Toxic positivity dumbs down tangled feelings and minimizes any human moods outside of joy or contentment.

Why Is Toxic Positivity So Harmful?

Living my entire life with clinical depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, I am often dealing with feelings that are hard to work through. Sometimes, when I’d talk to friends or family about the way I’m feeling, they’d tell me to “cheer up.” They would explain all the good things in my life and what I had to be grateful for. People often implied that it was my choice what type of outlook I woke up with in the morning. That’s not how depression works.

I do not choose to wake up feeling physically pained to even exist. I do not choose to lose complete interest in objects, activities, and people I love. I do not choose to be unable to lift myself up out of bed or take care of personal hygiene. I do not choose dark and morbid thoughts and self-destructive ideation. No one would choose that. I do not wish these feelings on my worst enemies. I also do not choose to have crippling anxiety about checking door locks and arranging items by size and making sure the oven is off. These are functions of a neurodivergent brain.

That’s not to say that I cannot grow, cope, and find ways to exist peacefully, but minimizing the chemical and biological struggles in my head in favor of “oh, just be happy” is the equivalent of telling someone who lost a close loved one to “get over it.”

I know these statements and sentiments are not malicious. The person legitimately wants you to feel better. They are also selfishly not wanting to face difficult thoughts themselves, though, and looking to fast forward the conversation past whatever bad thoughts or obstacles you’re facing. It is within their boundaries to choose the energy they surround themselves with, but this still serves to invalidate you.

If anything, toxic positivity creates additional agony. Not only do you feel the existing pain, but it’s compounded with shame and guilt. It stunts personal growth and progress. It makes honest emotions feel unnatural and leads to repression. When you’re at your lowest point, being told to “think good thoughts” can seem absolutely cruel.

At its worst, toxic positivity is also a form of gaslighting. Someone is creating a false narrative and causing you to question your own reality, undermining how you think and feel.

How Do I Avoid Toxic Positivity?

If you find yourself “faking it” and putting on a happy face when it’s not how you really feel, take some steps to develop a healthy, supportive approach and treat yourself more kindly.

Be honest about how you feel. Instead of outright rejection of feelings of discouragement, anger, or sadness, be open to them and let them in. Be a supportive friend to your complicated emotions and let them speak. Trust your intuition and understand that life’s moods ebb and flow and sometimes you need to sit with bad feelings for a while to process them completely. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s realistic to face adversity, tragedy, or trauma and to be stressed, worried, afraid, sad, or angry.

Be mindful of your inner monologue. If you’re looking for ways to quickly sidestep negative feelings, try to understand why. Are you trying to put on a brave face for someone? Are you trying to prove something to someone? Are you feeling judged? Are you feeling shame or guilt? Try and understand why you’re not allowing yourself to feel things.

Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. While it can be uncomfortable for conflict-averse folks, confrontation of someone’s toxic positivity also gives them a chance to learn and grow as well. It helps people understand and evaluate their words and actions. If they respond in a horrible way, it may be time to cut them out of your life.

Use your thoughts creatively. However you feel, it can be cathartic to put those thoughts and feelings toward the creation of something. A DIY project, writing in a journal, doodling, painting, playing music, or anything where you can channel those emotions into creating can be a valuable coping mechanism when you’re feeling awful.

Human emotions are all valuable, real, valid, and necessary. They give us insights into unconscious parts of ourselves, how we mentally and physically deal with stress, and even awareness of situations or relationships that require change. Let your reactions, moods, and emotions teach you something, but don’t let them control you.

The Philosopher’s Notebook: Writing Prompt #002

philosopher's notebook book

Once again, I’m returning to the well of “The Philosopher’s Notebook: A Creative Journal for Thinkers and Philosophers.”

For those of you who didn’t read my first philosophical prompt article, this book contains several sections of guides on famous philoosphers and their popular arguments as well as a writing prompt after each section to share your own thoughts.

Just like before, I know it’s important to ponder life’s biggest questions and I love giving my personal opinions on universal themes.

Here is the prompt:

“Self-knowledge is a key component of Socratic philosophy. However, the concepts of self and identity are anything but straightforward, as this philosophical fable highlights.

‘To commemorate his victory over the Minotaur in the labyrinth of Crete, Theseus’ ship was preserved for posterity. Over time, rotting planks and other parts had to be replaced, so that, eventually, the ship was composed of entirely new materials. Was it still the same ship?’

A modern variation of this ancient problem is somewhat closer to home. Human cells are continuously replaced, and much of the body is rebuilt over time. By the age of 65, you will have gone through six skeletons, four sets of muscles and guts, and your red blood cells will have been renewed almost 200 times. So can you be regarded as the same person you were 20 years ago?

Not the whole body regenerates–the lens inside your eye will be as old as you, possibly your heart-muscle cells, and, perhaps significantly, the neurons of your cerebral cortex. Given that the cerebral cortex plays a key role in perception, memory, consciousness, etc, does this have any bearing on the question?”

– “The Philosopher’s Notebook” by Mark Stephens

“Self-knowledge is a key component of Socratic philosophy. However, the concepts of self and identity are anything but straightforward, as this philosophical fable highlights.

‘To commemorate his victory over the Minotaur in the labyrinth of Crete, Theseus’ ship was preserved for posterity. Over time, rotting planks and other parts had to be replaced, so that, eventually, the ship was composed of entirely new materials. Was it still the same ship?’

A modern variation of this ancient problem is somewhat closer to home. Human cells are continuously replaced, and much of the body is rebuilt over time. By the age of 65, you will have gone through six skeletons, four sets of muscles and guts, and your red blood cells will have been renewed almost 200 times. So can you be regarded as the same person you were 20 years ago?

Not the whole body regenerates–the lens inside your eye will be as old as you, possibly your heart-muscle cells, and, perhaps significantly, the neurons of your cerebral cortex. Given that the cerebral cortex plays a key role in perception, memory, consciousness, etc, does this have any bearing on the question?”

Is it still the same ship?

The entire point of this exercise is to assert where true identity lies. Is there a basal “self” object that is always the same and never-changing? I do not believe this to be the case.

No, the ship is not the same in its physical makeup. It has replaced parts and the pieces that Theseus touched and that carried him across waterways are no longer a part of the object. Physically, no, it is not the same ship.

The point of this parable is more to explore the symbolic identity of the ship. If the purpose was to preserve the ship for posterity, then that identity still remains.

The ship as an inspiration for those who look upon it, a memorial to a victory over an insanely powerful foe against insurmountable odds, a symbol of overcoming adversity is still part of its identity regardless of the pieces that make up the whole.

Can you be regarded as the same person you were 20 years ago?

With my previous statements in mind, no, you are not the same person you were 20 years ago.

Even if you’re simply looking at a picture of yourself from childhood, that is not “you.” The “you” yesterday and the “you” tomorrow are irrelevant. They exist in the same timeline, but they do not exist simultaneously. You are not “the same person” one moment to the next let alone over the course of 20 years.

Sure, you still breathe air and your body functions for survival in similar ways, but you are not the same person.

Minds and bodies mature, your brain grows a larger relational database over time, you understand the world and other living things around you in completely different ways.

While some of your cultural convictions may remain steady throughout your life, that does not denote an overall sameness in you as a person.

Not the whole body regenerates and does this have any bearing on the question?

The last part of this line of questioning brings up other interesting points as well. Because we’re talking about neurons in your cerebral cortex, it makes me think even beyond the intention of this exercise.

I’ve read books like “An Anthropologist on Mars” over the course of my life and began to understand consciousness as more of a biological process than this sacrosanct experience that is only yours.

If you experience a traumatic brain injury or you have a neurodegenerative disease or you grow up neurodivergent in any sort of way, your consciousness is inherently different from neurotypical people.

You could have color blindness or synesthesia or you could lose your senses of taste and smell. If you went from neurotypical to neurodivergent, are you still the same person?

I’ll go back to my initial answer that a “self” object does not exist. The “you” that exists right now in this moment is the only relevant “you.”

Whether your biological consciousness changes or not, your cells regenerate, you have an organ transplant, or your limbs become robotic, the “you” you have control of still only exists in this present moment.

No, you are not the same person anymore just as the table is not the same table and the tree is not the same tree anymore. That fact is not inherently a bad thing. It means that whatever happens, whatever life you’ve led, whatever person you’ve been still has time to change, grow, improve, and experience until your dying breath. Don’t take the time and freedom you have for granted.

That is, if you truly believe in free will. That is a discussion for another day, though.

How to Move From Wanting to Do Something to Doing Something

turning desire into action dumb bells

Much of life is spent planning to, yearning to, and wanting to accomplish something. We spend so much time thinking about how amazing doing that thing would be, how it would improve our lives and give us fulfillment, but we struggle to get going.

Why does it take so long for each one of us to transition from the planning and idea stage to design and implementation?

How can we accomplish this task more efficiently and consciously instead of wasting so much time daydreaming?

Here are some examples of things I’ve wanted to accomplish for a long time:

  • I’ve wanted to start my own business for years. I know working for other people is not in my best interest and I’m much better suited to controlling my own destiny, but I keep putting it off. The idea of jumping headfirst into an unfamiliar realm without the backbone of a constant salary and benefits makes me uneasy. However, the only thing keeping me from starting my own business and navigating those waters is my own fear.
  • I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I have ideas for both nonfiction and fiction novels. I know that I have the ability to write these novels. However, when I have the free time to get them done or get started, I don’t. I think about all the obstacles and naysayers and negativity standing in my way and I just stop dead in my tracks. Maybe I’m too afraid of judgment or feel like I lack the focus necessary to accomplish a novel.
  • I’ve wanted to go back to school and get at least a master’s degree. I’ve always been a person who enjoyed learning and achieving and I feel that I should start down that path sooner than later. The doubts about incurring student loan debt and it not being a worthy pursuit always prevent me from taking the dive.

In every example above, it’s fear, uncertainty, assumptions, procrastination that keep me shackled to my comfort zone.

It is these thought patterns that keep all of us from becoming the best versions of ourselves and giving new things a try even though these new things could change our lives significantly for the better.

How exactly can we go about solving this problem and motoring ourselves into active resolve?

  1. Purpose: Clearly write one sentence that lays out your purpose in completing this task.
  2. Head-on: Recognize your fears and doubts and journal about them. Don’t run away from the doubts, but embrace them and do the thing anyway.
  3. Be realistic: Truly consider if this objective is something that is meaningful to you. Is this something that you truly want?
  4. Lay one brick at a time: The smallest wins can empower you to take bigger steps and if you can accomplish something minor every day, every week, every month, then you can keep that momentum flowing more easily with the existing inertia.
  5. Reflect and appreciate: If this goal makes you feel joy deep inside, then chase that feeling. Does it make you feel alive? Are you taking the time to reflect on your small wins and how they contribute to the larger action?

The more we take the time to actively write about, think about, and take actions toward our goals, the better we get at accomplishing this more often. The residual benefits that true purpose contributes to your mood and self-confidence are important to recognize.

Don’t feel trapped in your life. Instead, pivot and do something different. Do something new.

What Is Minimalism and Is It a Fit for My Lifestyle?

Minimalism is a lifestyle and philosophy that encourages people to live with less, focusing on simplicity and intentionality in all aspects of their lives. At its core, minimalism is about stripping away the excess and focusing on what truly matters. From fashion to home decor to personal relationships, minimalism is a mindset that can be applied to all areas of life.

At its most basic level, minimalism is about getting rid of the unnecessary. In a world that often values excess and consumption, minimalism is a refreshing change of pace. Instead of constantly accumulating more and more possessions, minimalists focus on only owning what they truly need and use on a regular basis. This can mean purging your closet of clothes you haven’t worn in years, or decluttering your home of items that no longer serve a purpose.

Minimalism can be a powerful tool for reducing stress and anxiety in our daily lives. When we’re surrounded by clutter and chaos, it can be difficult to focus on what’s truly important. By simplifying our lives and removing distractions, we can free up mental and emotional space to focus on our goals and priorities.

One of the key benefits of minimalism is the financial freedom it can provide. By living with less, minimalists are able to save money on unnecessary purchases and focus on investing in experiences and activities that truly bring them joy. This can mean spending more time with loved ones, traveling to new places, or pursuing a creative passion.

Minimalism can also have a positive impact on the environment. By consuming less and recycling more, minimalists are able to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future. Additionally, by focusing on quality over quantity, minimalists can support ethical and sustainable brands that prioritize environmental and social responsibility.

While minimalism may seem like a radical lifestyle choice to some, it’s important to remember that there are no hard and fast rules. Minimalism is a highly personal and individualized philosophy that can be adapted to fit anyone’s needs and preferences. Whether you’re interested in downsizing your possessions, simplifying your daily routine, or adopting a more intentional mindset, there are many different ways to incorporate minimalism into your life.

At its core, minimalism is about making intentional choices and focusing on what truly matters. By removing the distractions and excess in our lives, we can create more space and freedom to pursue our goals and passions. Whether you’re looking to simplify your home, streamline your wardrobe, or reduce your environmental impact, minimalism can provide a powerful framework for living a more intentional and fulfilling life.

Why Time Is Your Most Valuable Asset and Why Its Worth It to Pay to Gain Some Back

There is a fundamental part of linear existence that you’re granted a limited supply of: time. It is your most valuable asset and the amount you’ve been given slips away with every passing day, so it’s important to use it with planning and direction.

From the day you became conscious, the countdown has begun. No one knows how much time they’ll have in their life, but the only assurance is that it’s finite.

As you grow, it becomes increasingly apparent that there’s less time to spare than when you’re a carefree youth. People around you begin to get sick, die, and you’re faced with the preciousness of each tick of the clock. Between work, love, experience, family, and all of your other responsibilities, time spent on one pursuit inevitably steals time away from another one.

Is Time’s Importance Always the Same?

It’s puzzling, but time can have a value that is amorphous. As a child, you see time as extremely slow. Summers seem to last forever, the school day will never end, and even 30 minute car rides seem like an eternity. As an adult in working life, though, years blow past you like leaves in the wind.

Time seems to get more valuable as you get older, but that also could be because your awareness is growing. Time and place resonate more when you stop and think about them. The busier you are, the faster the days go by.

How to Trade Your Money for More Time

To deal with so many competing obligations and an endless string of repeating chores, I tend to offload as much of it as I can to third parties

I’ve been a bit more lax about lawn care and have decided to let some patches grow freely to save the bees and create a more diverse ecosystem, but also to save me time.

I pay contractors or electricians or painters or automotive companies to service parts, change bulbs, paint rooms, put up decorations, or fix my mailbox. I Instacart from time to time when my Sunday is full of activities.

All of these little expenses are worth every penny to put some time back in my pocket.

Passive Income

With enough passive income, you can become less dependent on working a 40+ hour week in your career. Money that is made while you sleep and go about your day can subsidize your lifestyle and grant you more time so that you’re working 20-30 hours a week instead of 40.

This frees up time to travel, spend time with your family, volunteer, relax, or do things that leave a positive and lasting impact beyond just a paid day job.

Some Examples of Passive Income:

  1. Writing an ebook or creating a course that you sell
  2. Renting out a room in your home, a guest room, or an income property
  3. Renting out a parking space at your home
  4. Sponsored blog posts or social media posts
  5. Creating a blog or YouTube channel that you monetize through advertising/sponsorships

The above are just some random ideas, but there are many more if you take the time to do some quick online research and find ways to use your existing skills, assets, or possessions to make a side hustle in unconventional or creative ways.

What Are Some Practical Tips to Get Time Back in Your Day?

Once it’s gone, it’s gone, so making an active effort every day to maximize your productivity and enjoyment of your down time is vital. Here are a few tips:

  1. Draft Out Your Day: At night, take some time to write out the tasks you want to complete the following day. Of course, unforeseen things will arise, but knowing the absolute minimum you intend to accomplish every day gives you a realistic expectation of how much of yourself you have to spread around to different activities. It is extremely rewarding to be able to cross things off your to-do list.
  2. Weed Out Distractions: I turn my phone off or hide it in a different room during the day to ensure my focus is entirely on what I’m trying to accomplish. I do the same when I’m spending quality time with a person or group of people. I will give myself a lunch break and certain times during the day where I can catch up on what I missed, but having that distraction limited has a profound effect on what I get done in a day.
  3. Figure Out What Eats up Your Time: If you log the start and end time of anything you’re working on, you can start to see patterns emerge. You’ll be able to better understand what takes the most time. If the juice is not worth the squeeze, limit the time you spend on anything non-essential.
  4. Leave When You Plan To: Whether it’s a night out or a meeting at work, try your best to stick to the time you’ve allotted for these events. If you’re having a good time and want to stay later at a party, do it, but be the owner of your own calendar.

Value What Makes You Feel Good

As I’ve said ad infinitum, make time for things that make you feel good and cut off things that don’t.

Read a book that moves you instead of forcing yourself to binge watch a TV show to keep up with the gossip. Don’t respond to text messages or calls from people who don’t make you feel good to interact with. Set up boundaries around your time. Make the most of your time. You don’t owe a second of your most valuable asset to anyone except yourself and who you choose to care about.

Don’t help others build themselves up, build their dreams, or attain happiness by ignoring your own. Time is fleeting, time is fluid, and time is precious. Whether it’s relaxing on the couch or writing the next great novel, whatever makes you happy is an effective use of your time. Time enjoyed is not time wasted.

Tips on How to Defeat Negative Thought Patterns When They Emerge

Sometimes motivation is lacking, you’re feeling out of sorts, your energy is low, and your focus is waning.

It’s not abnormal to go through these mental phases from time to time and it’s just as equally likely to climb out of these ruts with some regularity.

Typically, negative thought patterns surface in two kinds of scenarios:

Physical: You’re not sleeping enough. You’re spreading yourself too thin at work or in your personal life and you’re mentally exhausted. You’re exercising more than what could be considered healthy and productive. You can barely keep your eyes open.

Mental: You allow your thoughts to spiral and reel into dark places. Your self-doubt, uncertainty, insecurity, anxiety, and impostor syndrome run wild. You lose focus and allow thoughts to run away with themselves and you lose any sense of self-esteem.

When I’m overly tired, overly worried, starting a new job, going through an interpersonal conflict, or I’m not sleeping enough, these two factors can often times work in tandem.

It’s important to to take a step back mentally, in times like these, and learn to filter out the noise.

As a clinical depression sufferer, I understand times like these more than I’d wish on my worst enemy. My most potent ally when I’m feeling this way is to try and not listen to my own thoughts.

The childish, negative, repeating, thoughts that swirl through my head about my incompetence, my faults, my failures, and even the existential pointlessness of human life all play ad nauseam. Anger, selfishness, pettiness, hatred are common symptoms.

Projecting these energies internally as well as on others, this is not the best version of me. This state of being is symptomatic of suffering. These feelings are understandable, but that doesn’t mean we have to give them power.

While these thoughts are weighing you down, though, letting them wash past you and focusing on your actual needs should be the goal.

Take care of yourself. Stop responding to emails and text messages. Take some time away from the computer. Hug a pet. Go for a walk. Remember that you have an innate right to your own sense of agency. Aside from bodily needs like air, water, and sustenance, you can comfort and care for your body and mind how you see fit.

Don’t believe in the person your panicked, fearful, desperate mind tells you that you are. This mind is an unreliable narrator and it’s speaking out of extreme discomfort and pain rather than truth. Your true self comes from what energizes you and brings you focus and fulfillment.

Notice these dark thoughts, though, and acknowledge them. Ignoring and stuffing emotions down deep doesn’t lead to happiness either. Give yourself the time to process and walk through these thoughts without judgment.

It can also help to talk to a third party about this. Don’t be too proud to reach out for help. Professional help, friends, spouses, coworkers, leaders in your community groups can all be tapped in times of need.

After you’ve taken care of the mental inventory, consider doing something physical or productive. Mow the lawn. Take a walk. Build something. Draw something. Write in a notebook. It feels good to cross things off of your to-do list and it can provide precious moments of distraction when your brain isn’t feeling just right.

Truly, it’s okay to feel like this sometimes. Depending on your situation, there are varying degrees of longevity and regularity of these thoughts, but don’t judge yourself for them. Instead, recognize them and take the steps to care for yourself in a way that allows the shortest runway of these phases.

It’s challenging to be self-aware both mentally and physically, but caring for yourself takes introspection, coping mechanisms, and personally-tailored self-care methods that make you feel safe and supported.

How Do I Overcome My Cynicism and Embrace Happiness?

Does mistrust of others hold you back in life and prevent you from being happy, showing love, being transparent about your feelings, or accepting love yourself?

Cynicism is the inherent distrust of other people’s perceived selfish motivations. Especially in our current world, cynicism is in no short supply. You believe that there’s nothing waiting for you in other people beyond betrayal and manipulation.

While being skeptical is an important life skill, cynicism shouldn’t be its default setting.

What Does It Matter if I’m Cynical?

While boundaries are an essential part of life, unwillingness to place any trust in others makes collaboration impossible.

The driving force in your life should not be the fear of other people. Some people are worthy of your trust. Some people are worthy of your love.

You can’t live your entire life alone and you should not build such high walls that people who could be beneficial to your life, mentors, lovers, and colleagues have no way of connecting with you.

Both mentally and physically, this cynicism will harm you and hold you back.

What Are Some Meaningful Steps I Can Take to Quell My Cynicism?

  1. Create Boundaries: This one in particular may seem antithetical to the idea of fighting cynicism, but it’s an incredibly important step.

    You cannot begin to lay the foundational layer of building trust with others without defining your hard no’s in interpersonal relationships.

  2. Follow the Path of Nature: Going all the way back to the Greek Cynics and their philosophical tenets, nature provides us with the correct way to live.

    Be flexible and flowing to life’s challenges, but hard and steadfast when push comes to shove.

    Also, walking around nature itself is a great way to remind yourself that not all is wrong or bad in the world.

  3. Take Inventory and Practice Gratitude: What can you eliminate from your life and what can you donate? These can be as simple as inanimate objects that give you stress or unhappiness or people in your life that take too much of your energy.

    If you take inventory of the things and people that make you happy and energize you, you’ll find a wealth of gratitude.

    Finding the objects and people you appreciate most goes a long way in redefining your worldview and accepting that positivity and trustworthiness is possible from others.

  4. Embrace Happiness: Don’t always assume you’re going to have a bad time or someone else is out to get you.

    Try to be interested in conversations with people, accept their invites sometimes, and don’t be blind to things other people can teach you.

    Write down positive experiences, make an active effort to remember them. It’s easier to recall negative thoughts, so it’s time to find new ways to remember the good times.

  5. Focus On Mindfulness: You don’t realize when you’re on autopilot. Be conscious, be aware, and be present in every moment of your life.

    When you’re sitting on a park bench admiring the scenery or enjoying a delicious meal, remember where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing and savor it.

    The minute details and beauty of existence are so important to take stock of with regularity.

  6. Laugh Every Day: You should find something to smile about or laugh at every single day. Even if it’s small or absurd like your dog squealing when he yawns, focus on those moments.

  7. Disconnect: You know it’s hard to disconnect, especially if your job revolves around a computer, but you should find ways to be happy and content when the devices are away.

    Take a bubble bath or go for a walk or eat a meal with your partner and agree that the phones stay away. Those moments of connection with nature, yourself, other people, or your pets are priceless.

  8. Be Yourself: Just like setting up boundaries takes examination, self-examination is important. Who are you? What are your principles and objectives in life? What interests you? What drives you? How do you spend your free time? What do you do for self-care and to relax?

    Knowing yourself is the majority of the battle because you’re the best architect of your self-care and journey.

  9. Examine Your Echo Chamber: What types of people do you surround yourself with? Who do you follow on social media? What groups do you consider yourself a part of? What kind of news and blogs do you consume?

    All aspects of influence from the people in your life to the ideas and perspectives you subscribe to should be examined to see if they are contributing to your negative thought loops.

    It’s important to take a look at the way you think and what effects your media consumption has on your state of mind from time to time.

  10. Note Best Qualities and Find New People With Those Attributes: After taking inventory of your friends, family, and loved ones and the positive values they bring to your life, note all the qualities in them that you hold most dear. Write them down, think about them when you’re talking to new people.

    As new people exhibit those same qualities that bring you joy and make you feel comfortable with being vulnerable with them, embrace that trusting them may come easier.

    Finding new people to allow into your circle that have earned the right to be trusted is the whole goal of reducing your cynical outlook and will help to enhance your life and teach you new things.

Now, What?

Tackle the steps above in whatever order you choose and implement these changes. Hold yourself accountable. The only way to make life changes stick is to be honest about them and your progress. Lay a single brick each day.

Whether you let 100 new people or 1 new person into your life and make yourself vulnerable, the trip was worth it.

Personal growth and happiness go hand in hand with recognizing your negative patterns and taking active steps to change them.

How You Can Make Important Changes and Maintain Them Permanently

“I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” – Stephen Hawking

Change is hard. Everyone has things about themselves, their environment, or their lives that they want to change, but find it difficult or impossible to pivot and keep momentum after the initial sprint.

New Year’s resolutions are the perfect example of change we want for ourselves, but often allow ourselves to forget about. We go into the new year with a whole idea in our head of all the things we want to improve, but by February that resolve is long gone.

There are paths to change, however, and ways to improve the chances of sustaining those changes long-term. Nothing good comes easily. Failure is inevitable at some point in human life, but each failure is another step toward success.
Consider the anatomy of lifestyle changes below and try to be mindful of these facets with each and every change you try to implement in your life.

1. Overcoming Languor: You enjoy the quiet times and often feel tired, but how can you find motivation? Be deliberate, set goals, and track your progress against those goals without judgment. The more intentional your goal-setting becomes, the more likely you are to actually measure your success. Each measure of success is a tick in the “motivation” column. The more small changes you propose, the more you can complete.

2. Ignoring Outside Influence: With so many lost, stressed, or overall miserable people you encounter in life, it’s important to resist being dragged down yourself. To deal with the whirlwind of influence, it’s best to create inside influence. Create influence from your own dreams, wishes, feelings, and emotions and spread that positive energy into the world around you. There is also an added benefit of positively influencing those you interact with and helping them find their own reasons to make changes too. If there is someone that truly cannot be reached without professional help or they’re entirely resistance to your needed changes, you may have to weigh the pros and cons of cutting them out of your life.

3. Finding Happiness: Doing things you don’t enjoy is certainly possible and sometimes necessary, but not over an infinite timeline. Sustainability comes from activities that make you feel energized and happy. Choose a positive change activity in your life that you absolutely adore. Cling to the happiness.

4. Celebrating Milestones: You often hear the phrase “celebrate the wins” in your daily or corporate life and it’s true. Just like goal-setting, focus on small wins and aspects of your plan for change that have made you happy. Take the time to be grateful for being alive, having a bed to sleep in, and eating 3 meals a day. Don’t forget about all the small things in life that make you smile. Even if you’ve only accomplished 1% of your end goal, that progress and that laid brick are what make the wall’s completion possible.

5. Integrating into your Life: Making your changes and progress part of your everyday life so much so that you crave their completion is how you keep changes permanent. Do it at a regular time, consistently. Surrounding the change with events that coincide (i.e. you wake up, walk your dog, then do your exercise routine, then have a cup of coffee), you’re creating catalysts on either end to make sure the change sticks. These touchstones will help remind you every day of the change you’re making and help it feel more natural rather than a tack-on activity.

On that note, for my personal accountability’s sake, here are some changes that I’m trying to implement over the next year:

My Planned Changes

Write More: Writing is my passion and I’ve made a trackable vow to write at least 500 words a day on any subject.

Lose Weight: My goal is to lose 30 lbs by the end of 2021 through diet, exercise, and calorie tracking.

Spend More Time Speaking Positively About Life: Writing articles like these helps, but I want to find one thing every day that I’m grateful for and keep note of it.

Read More: I want to read at least 100 pages a week of books I have not read before.

Stop Ordering Out So Much: I am pledging to cook all but 2 meals a week.

Exercise More: My goal is to ride the Peloton for at least 20 minutes every single day.

Change Careers: I know I’m not happy in my current career path, and I want to make a serious career change by the end of 2021.

Travel More: I intend to go on 2 more trips to cities I have not visited before by the end of 2021.

Love More: This one is harder to quantify, but I want to openly show people I love how much I love them through kind words and acts of service.

You can change and you will change over and over again. Failure is a part of that process, but no work of art is truly complete. Believe in yourself and hold yourself accountable. 

The Beautiful, Beneficial Relationship Between Baths and Mental Health

baths and mental health

Life can be hard sometimes. There are the daily stresses of work, family, friends, rambunctious pets, a commute, and simply days where you wake up feeling off-balance. How do you go about finding a release for all of these pent-up feelings and anxious thoughts?

Something you can do to treat yourself is to find time for a relaxing daily bath.

Since even before the pandemic forced us all into quarantine for our own safety, I’ve been a staunch proponent of taking daily baths.

As someone who has struggled with clinical depression for his entire life, I’ve noticed a clear link between my long baths and an improved mood, mindset, and relaxed demeanor going into the late evening.

My mental health has vastly improved since taking this type of time for myself every day to let the day’s and world’s problems escape my skin and my muscles and my brain and just allowing myself to be present in a single, comfortable moment.

There is an obvious relationship between mental health and baths and the various reasons for this connection span multiple layers of experience.

Warm Temperatures Help You Relax

Your body is always looking to maintain a constant, comfortable temperature in order to regulate body functions. Because of this regulation, any sharp spikes up or down in temperature to your body cause a physiological reaction to correct these spikes. Whether it’s shivering to warm up or sweating to evaporate heat away from your body, this process can be useful in building toward relaxation.

Sitting in a warm bath is an excellent option for rapidly heating your body. A nice, steamy bath feels absolutely incredible as you lower your body into it slowly. Feeling the warm water wrap your limbs and body is a wonderful release.

When you’re finally ready to emerge from the bath and wrap yourself in a big comfy towel, your body is focused entirely on cooling your body temperature down rapidly. This process uses a lot of energy. Expending all of that energy helps your body relax.

Adding Essential Oils

While I’m not advocating that essential oils cure terminal illnesses or act as a replacement for modern medicine, I am a huge champion for them in everyday usage.

Adding a drop or two of certain essential oils like lavender, chamomile, eucalyptus, Lemongrass, and many others help clear your sinuses, promote relaxation, soothe your skin, and help you sleep better.

The only caution about adding essential oils to bath water is that you should be careful about which oils and how much of them you add. Essential oils are extremely potent, so please reference research or packaging to understand if a carrier oil is needed. If you feel your skin start to itch/burn, maybe drain the tub and refill.

Typically, I stick to chamomile and lavender in my baths and it has helped my skin greatly. I can be prone to prickly heat and eczema, so the moisturizing and skin healing properties of these two oils has definitely helped maintain a better complexion and assisted with my sometimes dry skin.

Time To Yourself

Finding time out in your busy day to focus on yourself is easier said than done. In this modern world, we all have responsibilities. Whether it’s caring for your children, your loved ones, your friends, your pets, your plans, doing a good job at work, or keeping the house clean, there’s always more work to be done.

However, it’s vastly important to take time away from your daily stressors to be alone with your thoughts. It’s super beneficial to lay back into some hot, soapy bath water and let your mind drift to more serene places. 

Be present and be aware of yourself, your place, and your surroundings in these moments. Too often we’re distracted by everything we don’t have or everything we don’t do or haven’t done or need to do. 

How often do you find time to really appreciate where you are and the preciousness of life?

To me, lying back in hot water surrounded by bubbles is a perfect place to express some gratitude for the beauty of life.

Pain Reduction

Just like hot compresses bringing relief to soreness, a hot bath can do the same thing.

With the addition of some epsom salts to create a hypertonic solution in your bath water, the tub can be converted into a great place for healing sore joints and muscles.

If you’re older or prone to aches and pains, maybe consider some long baths with epsom salts to try and ease your body and your pain level before attempting to sleep or after strenuous physical activity.

Boosting circulation, depressurizing joints, reducing swelling and inflammation, and promoting immune system function are just some of the benefits of epsom salt bath soaks.

The nice part is that, with some stretching after the bath, you can even prolong this pain relief and looseness when you’re out of the water itself.

It’s a great, natural way to help your body heal and ease tension. This reduction in pain and tension improves both your quality of life as well as your mental state.

Helping You Sleep

Sleep is vitally important to maintaining balance in your brain and helping you wake up fresh to start the day, in light of challenges.

Many people do not get enough sleep and baths are a great way to help induce sleep more easily.

As noted above with the effects of rapid temperature changes as well as the use of essential oils, sleep can be greatly influenced by a daily bath. Even the relatively short amount of time you spend in the water relaxing has a noted benefit on the way you’ll sleep at night.

By soothing, warming, and relaxing your mind and body for a defined period of time to help unwind, you’re creating a situation where sleep can come quickly.