3 Ways to Refill Your Empty Cup

Harvard researchers recently published findings that suggest nurturing yourself in small ways can help ease burnout and exhaustion.

It’s hard to care about anything when you feel exhausted, burned out, or ragged around the edges. Your once-fiery enthusiasm may seem more like charred rubble due to overwhelming family responsibilities, a job that drains you, or financial struggles. Or maybe an illness, the uncertainty and disruptions of the age we live in, or a combination of factors has left you feeling as if you have precious little to give.

“What you’re experiencing is burnout. It’s real and it can lead to depression, anxiety, relationship damage, and an inability to function at home or at work,” says Dr. Marni Chanoff, an integrative psychiatrist with Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital.

Take heart: With time and effort, you can refill your cup, slowly adding back a bit of the energy and joie de vivre you’ve been missing. Here are three ways to start.

1. Carve out time for yourself

Taking time for yourself isn’t a luxury; it’s essential to self-care. “You need to slow down and give yourself the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate,” Dr. Chanoff says, “Schedule it if you have to, starting with 10 or 15 minutes, a couple of times a day.”

How can you reclaim precious minutes in an overly full schedule? “Look at your day, week, or month, and be discerning about how many things you say ‘yes’ to in one period of time. Give yourself permission to say ‘no thank you’ to things that deplete you or don’t serve you,” Dr. Chanoff says.

Protect yourself from the damage of chronic inflammation.

Science has proven that chronic, low-grade inflammation can turn into a silent killer that contributes to cardiovas­cular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and other conditions. Get simple tips to fight inflammation and stay healthy — from Harvard Medical School experts.LEARN MORE

View Protect yourself from the damage of chronic inflammation.

Make small moments count: choose what makes you feel at peace. For example, have a cup of tea, or simply lay a blanket or mat on the floor at home or work and lie on your back. Don’t look at your phone or email. “You want to tell your body to take a break. It helps you reset and back away when stress draws you in,” Dr. Chanoff explains.

2. Commit to better health

A strong body helps balance the stressful situations that have caused your burnout. The basic recipe for good health includes:

  • Exercise. Moderate intensity exercise, the kind that works the heart and lungs, releases important chemicals that help regulate mood, sleep, and many body systems. Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, which amounts to about 22 minutes a day. Start with just a few minutes a day if it’s all you can do. It doesn’t have to be fancy. “It can be any movement that brings you joy, like dancing, yoga, or brisk walking,” Dr. Chanoff suggests.
  • A good diet. Eating lots of junk food (typically full of sugar, salt, and unhealthy saturated fat) fuels chronic stress, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Choose more unprocessed foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins (fish or poultry), and unsaturated fats (such as avocados or olive oil). If time is an issue, Chanoff suggests batch-cooking simple, healthy foods you can have several days of the week. (Lentil or bean soup is a good one-pot meal. Throw in as many vegetables as you can.)
  • Sleep. Insufficient sleep affects overall health, concentration, and mood. Try to sleep seven to nine hours per night. “It helps to wind down an hour or two before you fall asleep. And practice good sleep hygiene: turn off your phone, keep your room cool and dark, and go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day,” Dr. Chanoff advises.

3. Surround yourself with comfort

Hygge (pronounced HOO-ga) is the Danish concept of cozy comfort that brings happiness and contentment. Folks in Denmark know a thing or two about finding sunshine in cold dark months.

To practice hygge, surround yourself with people, activities, and things that make you feel cozy, loved, happy, or content. Go simple: spend time with your favorite people, add a small vase of flowers to your space, don fuzzy slippers once home, eat a treasured comfort food, or listen to a favorite song.

More ideas to try:

  • Light a candle.
  • Get under a heated blanket.
  • Frame a photo of a happy time.
  • Have breakfast in bed.
  • Use pretty table linens.
  • Indulge in art (check out various works at museums online).
  • Stand still outside to listen to the sounds of nature.
  • Curl up in a cozy chair.
  • Window-shop in your favorite store.
  • Wear a soft sweater that feels good on your skin.
  • Use a silk or satin pillowcase on your bed pillow.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Get an oil diffuser with a scent that reminds you of a place you love, like the beach or a pine forest.

People Need People

Listen to the full story below, or read it at NPR.org.

Sending a text to a friend can bring a smile to your face. Now, research suggests it could also help bring long-term health benefits.

Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger and Psychologist Marc Schulz have spent decades studying what helps people thrive. Their research followed people through the decades, consulting with their parents and now their children, who are mostly of the baby boomer generation. They identified different kinds of happiness.

“We do like that sugar rush high, that ‘I’m having fun right now at this party’ kind of high. And then there’s the happiness that comes from feeling like, ‘I’m having a good life, a decent life, a meaningful life,” Waldinger explained. “We all want some of both, but some of us really prioritize one kind over the other kind.”

Their conclusion? Long term health and wellbeing comes down to one thing: investing in relationships with other people.

Waldinger emphasizes the importance of putting effort into friendships, saying that many valuable relationships can wither away from neglect. And even if you find yourself realizing that you may not have the connections you seek, today’s as good a day as any to start forming those bonds.

So if you’ve been prioritizing your well-being lately, and perhaps meaning to reach out to a friend, family member or loved one, it’s never too late to send a quick message and catch up.

A Happiness Challenge

For over 80 years, researchers at Harvard have studied what makes for a good life. They found one surefire, scientifically proven predictor of happiness: developing warmer relationships. A team of reporters on The Times’s health and wellness desk, Well, developed a self-paced challenge to help you do just that. Ready to start the new year right? Start below!

How Strong Are Your Relationships?

Relationships with friends, family, coworkers and even casual acquaintances play a crucial role in your well-being. Find out how robust your social ties are.

Day 1: Take Stock of Your Relationships

Today, you will identify the areas of your life in which you would like to be more connected.

Jan. 1, 2023

Day 2: The Secret Power of the 8-Minute Phone Call

Even a brief chat has measurable effects on our well-being.

Jan. 2, 2023

Day 3: Small Talk Has Big Benefits

Regular exchanges with your “weak ties” will bring you more happiness.

Jan. 3, 2023

Day 4: Why You Should Write a ‘Living Eulogy’

Happy people express their gratitude for others.

Jan. 4, 2023

Day 5: The Importance of Work Friends

People who are close to their colleagues are happier and more productive.

Jan. 5, 2023

Your Best Intentions

Psychologist Angelica Attard has the following thoughts on resolutions headed into the new year: “The end of December represents a transition point. It is a time when people share their reflections on how the last year has gone, their joys and sorrows, and set resolutions in the hope that they will fare better in the new year. We hold on to a vision of a better year, a better us, a better future. New year, new start, new resolutions. The concept and implementation of resolutions can be hard for many to grapple with. If New Year’s resolutions do not work for you, I invite you to consider the idea of setting intentions and starting now.”

She suggests that, rather than resolutions, we consider setting intentions. Dr. Attard shares “Intentions are about who we want to be in the present moment and how we want to show up in our lives. Intentions are based on what our values are, i.e., what is important to us in different areas of our life, such as our physical health, mental health, career, hobbies, relationships with family, friends, partners, education. Intentions are different from goals because goals are about what we do. However, they are related because intentions give us a direction and will that empower us to set and achieve goals; to act and take decisions that honor the person we want to be based on what matters to us. This can enable us to live a meaningful life and have fulfilling relationships with others and ourselves in the present. Here are a few other points to consider regarding the traps that come with resolutions and how intentions can step in to help.”

You can read her full article at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/human-beings-being-human/202011/set-new-years-resolutions-or-live-intention-now. Below are some steps she outlines to begin the process of setting our intentions.

  1. Set your intention at the start of the day (whilst you are still in bed and before the rush of the day begins).
  2. Take a moment, slow down, and take a few deep breaths.
  3. Check in with yourself. (How are you feeling? What thoughts are going through your mind?)
  4. Check what you have planned for your day ahead.
  5. Based on your state of mind and the plans for the day, think about what matters to you in how you face the day, what you need, what is going to help you. (Remember to think about this based on your values and what kind of person you want to be as you approach this day.)
  6. Set your intention for the day using the language that works for you. Today I commit myself to… My intention is to approach the day with…
  7. Write down your intention on paper or your phone or share it with another person(This can make it feel more real.)
  8. Set your mind, focus, and approach throughout the day towards this intention. (It is OK if you forget about your intention during the day. It is not really forgotten because your intentions are linked to your values and your values are always part of you.)
  9. Find a moment to come back to your intention to reflect on how you lived by this. (The aim is not to judge yourself as good or bad or as having succeeded or failed. Rather, it is to acknowledge where you are at and learn about what you may want to carry forward to the next moment or to tomorrow.)

4 Mindful Tips to De-Stress This Holiday Season

Not feeling particularly cheery this time of year? You’re not alone. Many find that the holidays bring as much stress as they do joy. But there are ways to ease through the season. To help make the most of your festivities, Neda Gould, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Mindfulness Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, shares some mindful tips. Those tips are below, and you can read the full article at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/4-mindful-tips-to-destress-this-holiday-season

  1. Accept Imperfection – Can good be good enough? “As we gear up for the holidays, we often set the bar impossibly high for ourselves and then feel upset when our celebrations don’t live up to expectations,” says Gould. Before you start preparing, acknowledge that things may not go exactly as planned. “It’s OK if it’s not perfect. Imperfection is healthy and normal. For some of us, it might just take a little practice,” reminds Gould.
  2. Don’t Lose Sight of What Really Counts – With long lines and nasty traffic, the holidays can get hectic. When overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle, ask yourself: Where does this fit in the grand scheme of things? If you’re frustrated by the long grocery line you’re standing in, remember that it is just a long grocery line — nothing more. Don’t let it spoil your afternoon. Can I use this moment of frustration as an opportunity to reflect? While the cashier rings up the customers ahead of you, take inventory of the good things that have happened today or the things you are grateful for. Even if this moment seems stressful, can I find a way to make it pleasant? Connect with someone else in line with a compliment or kind gesture, or notice what’s around you with fresh eyes and an open mind.
  3. Respond with Kindness You can’t change how others act during the stresses of the holiday season, but you can change how you respond to situations: “Whenever I encounter a difficult person, I tell myself, ‘this person is suffering, and that’s why they’re acting this way.’ It softens my frustration, helps me be more compassionate and reminds me that it’s not personal,” says Gould. Keep in mind that the holidays are especially difficult for those who are alone. See if you can extend an act of kindness to those you know are without family and friends during this time of year. If things do get tense with someone, take a few deep breaths. “Those few breaths can shift things and give you new perspective,” says Gould.
  4. Rethink Your Resolutions “Typical New Year’s resolutions set you up for failure,” warns Gould. If you want to better yourself in the New Year, follow these tips for success: Start small. Break your goal into tinier steps over the course of the year. If weight loss is your goal, it doesn’t have to be drastic. Try to eat more veggies during your first month and gradually cut back on sweets throughout the next, suggests Gould. Be kind to yourself. If you didn’t achieve last year’s resolution or stray from the path this time around, let it go. “We often contrive these stories (‘I’m never going to quit smoking!’) that only add to our distress,” says Gould. “With practice, we can notice this self-critic, let go of that negativity and pick our goals back up without the guilt or shame.”

Reading with Mr. Herman

Part of any good wellness initiative is finding ways to remind each other that there is still goodness in the world, even amongst all the difficult things. While coming into contact with these reminders does not fix the underlying bigger problems, the hope is that it gives us a little extra wherewithal to continue to work toward their resolution. To that end, today we share the story of Mr. Herman and his kids.

New Jersey school bus driver Herman Cruse noticed that a kindergartner seemed a little sad and out of sorts during one morning ride to Middle Township Elementary #1. “Bus drivers are the eyes and ears of students when they’re away from home,” said Cruse, 55, who drives students of all ages for Middle Township Public Schools in Cape May Court House, N.J. “We have an uncanny gift to discern what kids are feeling,” he said.

When Cruse asked the kindergartner what was wrong, he said the boy explained that he wasn’t able to complete his reading assignment because his parents were busy with his four siblings at home. It was hard to find one-on-one time to practice reading with his mom or dad, he told Cruse. Cruse said an idea popped into his mind. “I told him, ‘Listen, I have some free time, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to come to the school and read with you,’” he said.

Cruse received permission from the 6-year-old’s teacher, Alex Bakley, to show up at her kindergarten classroom the following week. When he walked in, he said the boy shouted, “Hey, that’s my bus driver!” Herman Cruse has driven a school bus for more than 30 years. He has spent the last nine years driving for Middle Township Public Schools. (Alex Bakley) “We went into a quiet corner and began reading together,” Cruse said. “It was a book called ‘I Like Lunch,’ about a boy who likes sandwiches, a boy who likes apples, a boy who likes cookies and a boy who likes milk. Put it all together and you have lunch.” “So he read to me, I read to him and we read together, and from there, it took on a life of its own,”

Cruse continued. “A second student wanted to read to me, then a third. All these kids were going to the teacher asking, ‘Can I read with Mr. Herman?’” A stranger called. He had photos of her family from the Holocaust era. Almost two years later, Cruse now volunteers to help Bakley’s 18 kindergarten students and another kindergarten class with reading two days a week, and on a third day, he tutors the school’s first- and second-graders. After dropping the kids off at school, of course

Read Mr. Herman’s full story and see pictures of him in action at https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2022/12/07/bus-driver-reading-herman-cruse/

Everyone Is Photogenic

Occasionally this wellness blog will share information whose sole intent is to, rather motivate you to take action, just feel good. Today is such a post, and it comes to us via this Washington Post story about photographer David Suh. His goal is to elevate the everyday people through portraits. Suh has since created posing tutorial on TikTok and elsewhere. “His work and videos are built on his unshakable belief that you are camera-ready exactly as you are. ‘For me, everyone is inherently beautiful,’ he tells [the Post] over Zoom from a low-lit nook in his studio. ‘Just the fact that they exist is beautiful.’ All you need to look fantastic in photos, he insists, is some posing and picture-taking practice, plus — and he knows this is the hard part — genuine faith in your own innate beauty, as defined on your terms and no one else’s.”

Suh gives a combination of general and practical advice. He says “you build who you are, and because you feel more secure in your identity, to me, that is what is attractive.” And that, in turn, “applies to being attractive on film. When you get to express that … you get to represent yourself the way you want to.” But he has also built a library of practical guides. He posts a combination of useful how-tos and earnest affirmations. You can find him responding to a disabled trans man seeking guidance on how to pose with his walker; showing a woman how to take solo pictures (which built to an impassioned takedown of the way society tells women not to take up space); offering a posing guide that contrasts a “Shy Couple” with a “Power Couple.” He ends his practical-yet-playful lessons with a duck quack sound effect.

Want to learn more? Check Suh out at https://www.tiktok.com/@davidsuh/

Stop Hurting Your Own Feelings

Andee Tagle (she/her) is a reporter-producer for NPR’s Life Kit podcast. She recently posted an article discussing some key aspects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Specifically the role of our automatic thoughts and the language we use to describe ourselves and our experiences. You can read the full article at https://www.npr.org/2022/11/04/1133860237/stop-hurting-your-own-feelings-tips-on-quashing-negative-self-talk and below is a brief summary to consider.

Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend In our episode on how to curb negative self-talk, psychologist Joy Harden Bradford says to be aware of the harmful things we might say to ourselves. So the next time you’re tempted to disparage your looks or criticize your decision-making, ask yourself: would I talk this way to my best friend? If not, practice “using the same kind and gentle language that we use with the people we love” on yourself, says Bradford. “Because we’re also people who we hopefully love, right?” Listen to the episode here.

‘SIFT’ through what people say about you The acronym SIFT (source, impact, frequency and trends), developed by research scientist Mike Caulfield, can help you figure out whether you should listen to feedback from others or just ignore it. Say someone calls you out for poor email communication. Did that criticism come from someone you trust and value? Is it demanding a big change or a minor tweak to your behavior? Is this something you’ve heard from other people? And have you heard this from different communities in your life, or just at work? Consider these points before deciding to act. Listen to the episode here.

Don’t forget that our brains have a tendency to focus on the negative The mind is a tricky thing. It can lead us to fixate, for example, on one bad aspect of a year-end review from a manager instead of their positive feedback. This is called “negativity bias,” says Yale psychology professor Woo-kyoung Ahn, and it illustrates our propensity to weigh negative events a lot more heavily than an equal amount of positive events. This “thinking error,” she says, is dangerous because it can lead us to make the wrong choices. Find out how to counteract this bias here.

Don’t dwell on something that bothers you — talk about it If someone you love is causing you distress, don’t be afraid to communicate with them about it, says psychologist Adia Gooden. It may help clear up any assumptions you may have and offer new perspectives about the incident. For example, instead of jumping to conclusions if your partner is always on their phone at dinnertime, you might say to them: “Because you’re always on your phone, I feel like you don’t think I’m worthy of your attention,” says Gooden. “And they might say, ‘Oh, shoot, I didn’t mean to be on my phone. Or, you know, I’ve been kind of frustrated with you and I didn’t know how to bring it up. So I’ve been looking at my phone instead of making eye contact. Let’s talk.” Listen to the episode here.

Adapt a ‘growth mindset’ Instead of defining yourself by your failures or limitations, consider every loss as part of your learning process. This idea, developed by psychologist Carol Dweck, is called a “growth mindset,” and it can help bolster that internal dialogue when you’ve taken an L and can’t stop kicking yourself about it. Let’s say you lose a round of pool. Those with a fixed mindset, she says, think that talent and intelligence are static: I give up, I’ll never get good at this! Growth-minded people believe that effort can lead to mastery: Hey! I’m getting a lot better at putting some power behind the ball! It’s all about finding the right perspective. Listen to the episode here.