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Winifred Lender: Summer a Time for Enhancing Emotional Well-Being

With the official start of summer less than two weeks away, it is an opportune time to consider ways to enhance your emotional well-being this season.

Summer's long days and more relaxed pace allow time to focus on developing new habits. While there are many potential areas in which you can effect change over the summer, certain habits will afford greater generalized feelings of well-being. Research shows that establishing the habits listed below can pay big dividends when it comes to overall well-being. These habits are attainable areas of focus for the summer months.

Habits to incorporate into your daily routine to enhance overall well-being this summer:

» 1. Get more sleep. The literature on sleep is replete with its benefits for physical and emotional health. Obtaining a little more sleep each night (start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier), maintaining a relatively consistent bed time and wake-up time every day (weekends included) can have a profound impact on your overall well-being. Even the habit of getting an additional 15 minutes of sleep a night can make an impact over time.

» 2. Increase physical activity. Studies show clearly that physical activity is not only good for our bodies but also good for our emotional and brain health. This type of activity can decrease cortisol levels, increase feelings of well-being, and decrease anxiety and depression symptoms. Focus on physical activity you enjoy to engage in on an ongoing basis. Even 20 to 30 minutes three times a week can make a huge difference in your overall well-being.

» 3. Better balance between your digital and real-world lives. Researchers report that too much use of digital devices can lead to trouble sleeping, anxiety and social withdrawal. Be aware of your digital-real-life balance. Push yourself to put down your cell phone more often, charge your device out of the bedroom and engage with others as opposed to your devices. Challenge yourself to partake in a digital free evening activity at least once a week.

» 4. Eat more mindfully. Research reveals that when we eat mindfully (without digital devices or other distractions present), seated, and really focus on our food and the processing of eating, we enjoy our food more, make better food choices and tend to eat less. Consider savoring each bite more often and slowing down as you eat.

» 5. Nurture friendships. The link between friendships and emotional and physical health is strong. Focus on reigniting or developing a base of friends who are supportive and whose company you enjoy.

After deciding on a behavior area for focus over the summer, it is worthwhile to consider how incorporate change into your life. Here are a few tips to consider:

» 1. While it is common to set goals to achieve when we think about growth, focusing on the process of change is more important. Research has shown that we are more likely to stick with a habit when we view it as a process (eating more healthfully) as opposed to an end goal (losing 10 pounds).

» 2. Be realistic and set yourself up for success. Research reveals that if we choose habits that are realistic given our circumstances and ability, we are more likely to succeed. A parent of a newborn should not try to develop the habit of getting more sleep right now. Likewise, someone who has just had major surgery might not opt to pursue a physical activity focus for the summer.

» 3. Focus on one to two areas of change this summer. Studies show that when we try to achieve too much change, we may feel overwhelmed and not be able to impact any change. Choose one or two areas of change to really commit yourself to.

» 4. Commit to the area of change you have selected verbally or in writing to improve the likelihood of progress. Telling others about your work toward developing a new habit, stating your focus to yourself daily and journaling about it are linked with greater success.

» 5. Invite others to join you in your march toward change. Research supports that having others unite with you toward a behavior change can lead to greater success.

Wishing you a relaxing summer ahead filled with happy times and some new behavior routines!

— Winifred Lender, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Santa Barbara and can be contacted at [email protected]. She is the author of A Practical Guide to Parenting in the Digital Age: How to Nurture Safe, Balanced and Connected Children and Teens available at Chaucer’s and Amazon. Dr. Lender completed her undergraduate work at Cornell University and received her master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed a fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia/The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and is a past president of the Santa Barbara County Psychological Association. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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