Posts By: Matthew Golden

Rely on Coping Skills in Stressful Times

Dear Fellow Former Players & Friends,

It’s an honor to be old. I’m not quite there yet, but I want to live well past 90 years! For I know it will take that long, and likely even more time, to figure out what ‘LIFE’ actually is.

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Andre Collins, PAF Executive Director

Even though the world and its order seem to be crumbling around us, we still have our lives to live the best we can. It’s about understanding the ‘predictable paths’ we choose and the ‘same poor decisions’ we make repeatedly are chances to grow and mature. Owning our truths, like who we ‘really’ are is an opportunity to advance and gain peace. Finding our true self is a virtue.

With the pandemic seemingly easing, another twist comes our way as the atrocities of war rears an ugly head. Giving us yet another chance to look inward.

The Ukraine conflict has the world wondering ‘How?’, especially with the sophistication of society and technology connecting the people of the world as never before. Instagram has shown the world how similar and human we are.

Yet we still must try and go on…life happens, children are born, life is celebrated, success is revered, and humility understood.

Identifying coping skills to help us through these emotionally stressful periods is wise.

Here are 5 things I do to make sure I can function in my world even with all the difficult things happening around me.

Journal Your Prayers: It’s nice to look back on what you prayed about and prayed for.

Exercise: Exercise doesn’t make us tired. Exercise gives us energy. Physical stamina promotes mental stamina.

Stay Informed: Seeking truth and knowing what real news is versus made up stories may put your mind at ease.

Set Boundaries: Learn to say no. In the famous words of John Hanson Beadle… “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

Have compassion for others: Life is hard, and we have a responsibility to one another.

Stay focused: Your catch is as close as the other side of the boat… Coping Skills Create Resiliency and Action Creates Opportunity.

Here’s to creating your opportunity,

Andre Collins

Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

Take Care and Take Stock this Holiday Season

Dear Fellow Former Players & Friends,

Can it really be December already? Another Thanksgiving come and gone. Another holiday season in full swing with Christmas over the hills and through the woods. I insist if you don’t force yourself to stop and look around you’ll miss it. See the lights of the season that represent sharing, giving and family. Hear kids laughing and hoping out loud at the anticipation of toys and time off. Embrace the hustle of making plans that celebrate life.

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Andre Collins, PAF Executive Director

Take this opportunity to breathe in the chill of the December air. Allow yourself time to slow down just a bit, to be present with your surroundings and the people or strangers that come in and out of your life every day. Be focused on the joy they bring you and be an ‘awareness giver’ and trust that a smile or helping hand will make all the difference in the world. This holiday season recognize those moments and be present.

Mindfulness is the state of being aware, acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings and thoughts. A core principle of mindfulness thinking is being in the moment.

A wakefulness and understanding of who you are and where you stand undoubtedly will create an opportunity to be a better person. Your mental wellbeing is important and action creates opportunity. So, take inventory on self; pause and feel the energy around you.

From all of us at the PAF, wishing you a joy filled holiday season!

Andre Collins

What I Discovered amid the Pandemic

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Andre Collins, PAF Executive Director

I’m 50ish. I still think young and I’m excited to get up every day. Work from home mornings start out with lots of enthusiasm, but then I see how things go. This pandemic offers a fresh perspective on the workday, but then after a third cup of coffee and two rounds of CNN I’m looking for lunch and distractions have set in. It’s easy for my mind to wander at home. For years I’ve successfully separated work from home.

But now, I keep track of the week by trash days. And Friday is “hey where can I shove all this work junk” to get it out of my sight, so I can pretend to be home and not at work.

At the start of the pandemic, I had a million personal goals. I did buy lots of stuff on Amazon and finished my backyard landscaping. But the goal of figuring out my life has fallen a bit short. Did I really expect to figure out my life by staying up ‘til 4am and overindulging on Netflix… (by the way, the greatest invention since the wheel)

I learned the hard way, Netflix after midnight is not the curriculum for personal development.

Fast forward…

I discovered the sounds around me… sounds I wasn’t focused on before. The sounds of the streets on my long pandemic walks. Cars going by, kids playing, machinery pounding. It reminded me that life happens every day. I want to be a part of that energy. That rotation of movement. That sense of purpose and progress. It was nice to notice those things, the unassuming scenes of humanity. I’ve lived in my neighborhood for 19 years. And never have I ever seen those faces. The guy jogging by in the black sweat suit. We started to say hi. The slew footed power walker in her purple shoes at the same time everyday meant the world was in order.

I survived these times. I don’t stay up late anymore. I’m setting my alarm clock again. I won’t oversleep, and distractions are less. You can’t figure out your life, but you can LIVE life.

I will welcome and accept life’s events.

I’m human. I didn’t accomplish all my pandemic goals. But I accomplished being present with myself, realizing I have too many holey socks, that I love frozen pizza and living in the moment… letting negative energy pass through me, turning down the noise in my head …eating something delicious, and reveling in my happiness, because I’m allowed…

Action Creates an Opportunity to get to know yourself.

Hurricane Ida Assistance

We continue to closely monitor the weather events in your area due to Hurricane Ida. FEMA Emergency Assistance is now available. Affected individuals residing in the designated red counties (see map) in need of additional support may qualify for an emergency grant from the PAF. To inquire, please reach out with the following information:

To: paf@nflpa.com
Subject line: HURRICANE IDA ASSISTANCE

  • Photos of damage to home or vehicle
  • FEMA application confirmation
  • Proof of residency (lease/mortgage statement)
  • Picture of photo ID


Once received, you will be contacted by a PAF team member with next steps. As always, we encourage you to follow your state and local safety warnings and suggestions in their entirety. As conditions progress, we will provide additional information as it becomes available. 

How to Speak to a Someone at the IRS

Getting through to an IRS representative takes time, so before you call, look for answers online at irs.gov. Start with Tax Information for Individuals or try the IRS’s list of Complex Tax Topics for more complicated situations. For refund questions, search the Tax Season Refund FAQ page and use the embedded search feature. 

If the IRS website doesn’t answer your specific question, here’s what to know about speaking to a representative at the IRS.

WHICH NUMBER TO CALL AT THE IRS

The main IRS phone number is 800-829-1040, but the agency maintains different departments with their own phone numbers to help callers with specific areas. Help lines are open Monday through Friday. Here’s a list of primary departments to call:

Note: Alaska and Hawaii residents should follow Pacific time. Puerto Rico phone lines are open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time. 

  • Individuals: 800-829-1040, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time
  • Businesses: 800-829-4933, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time
  • Nonprofit taxes: 877-829-5500, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time
  • Estate and gift taxes (Form 706/709): 866-699-4083, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Eastern time
  • Excise taxes: 866-699-4096, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time
  • Overseas callers should use the International Services page
  • Callers who are hearing impaired: TTY/TDD 800-829-4059

If you have a question about something even more specific, like a missing child tax credit payment or how to order a tax transcript, the IRS has additional phone numbers for those kinds of questions. NerdWallet maintains an extensive list of lesser-known IRS phone lines. 

WHAT TO EXPECT AND BEST TIME TO CALL THE IRS

Unfortunately, it’s not easy getting a live person at the IRS on the line to talk to you—the agency received more than 100 million calls in 2020. Don’t give up, but do be strategic. 

Hold times during tax filing season (January-April) will average around 13 minutes, according to the IRS, while post-filing calls (May-December) average 19-minute wait times. But if you call at peak times, you could wait up to an hour or longer. 

Extended holds are difficult to avoid, but East Coast callers have found that calling early, before 9 a.m. local time, may reduce the wait time. On the West Coast, calling after 5 p.m. can help. 

INFORMATION TO GATHER FOR YOUR IRS CALL

Because tax information is highly confidential, you’ll need to be prepared to verify who you are once you’re speaking to an IRS representative. Gather the following documents so you can refer to them during the call. You’ll likely need to answer some highly specific questions to proceed:

  • Social Security numbers (SSN) and birth dates
  • Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) for taxpayers without a Social Security number
  • Filing status — single, head of household, married filing joint, or married filing separate
  • Prior-year tax return 
  • Tax return you’re calling about
  • Any correspondence the IRS sent you

If you’re calling about specific forms or accounts, you’ll want to have as much information on hand as possible. 

CALLING THE IRS ON BEHALF OF ANOTHER PERSON 

If you’re calling on behalf of someone else, you’ll need authorization (either verbal or written) to discuss their account. For verbal consent, that person must be on the line with you in order to authorize the discussion with the IRS representative. Verbal consent, also known as an oral disclosure, is limited to the current conversation – you’ll need verbal consent every time you start a new conversation with the IRS. 

On top of that, you’ll also need:

  • Their taxpayer name, and SSN or ITIN
  • Their tax return you’re calling about
  • Valid Form 8821, Tax Information Authorization or Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative
  • Your preparer tax identification number or personal identification number (SSN or ITIN)

If you’re calling about someone who is deceased, you’ll need a copy of that person’s death certificate and either a court approval letter or a completed copy of IRS Form 56 (Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship).

HOW TO HANDLE THE CONVERSATION WITH AN IRS REPRESENTATIVE

When you do call, keep in mind that IRS representatives handle basic questions and issues related to your tax return. They may not be able to help with particularly complex questions. And just like many other industries, the IRS is experiencing processing delays due to the pandemic. That might also affect your experience on the phone. Bring your patience. 

Taxes are stressful, but IRS representatives aren’t your enemy. They want to help you. The more prepared you are going in, the easier and more productive the conversation will be. Know what you want before the call starts.

If you’re calling to set up a repayment plan for back taxes, it’s important to understand you can’t negotiate the outcome. The IRS has very specific guidelines for how plans are constructed. The representative should be able to walk you through your options.

WHEN TO CONSULT A TAX PROFESSIONAL

If the online or phone resources don’t address your issue, you may be better off scheduling a face-to-face appointment with your local IRS office. 

Taxes can be complicated. If you have multiple sources of income, own your own business, have investments, or have accounts in foreign countries, you likely would benefit from working with a CPA or other certified tax expert.

Medical Myths: All about stroke

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke every year, and around 610,000 are first strokes.

In 2019, stroke was the second leading cause of mortality globally, accounting for 11% of deaths.

There are three main types of stroke. The first and most common, accounting for 87% of cases, is an ischemic stroke. It occurs when blood flow through the artery that supplies oxygen to the brain becomes blocked.

The second is a hemorrhagic stroke, caused by a rupture in an artery in the brain, which in turn damages surrounding tissues.

The third type of stroke is a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is sometimes called a “ministroke.” It happens when blood flow is temporarily blocked to the brain, usually for no more than 5 minutes.

While stroke is very common, it is often misunderstood. To help us dispel myths on the topic and improve our understanding, we got in touch with Dr. Rafael Alexander Ortiz, chief of Neuro-Endovascular Surgery and Interventional Neuro-Radiology at Lenox Hill Hospital.

Stroke is a problem of the heart

Although stroke risk is linked to cardiovascular risk factors, strokes happen in the brain, not the heart.

“Some people think that stroke is a problem of the heart,” Dr. Ortiz told MNT. “That is incorrect. A stroke is a problem of the brain, caused by the blockage or rupture of arteries or veins in the brain, and not the heart.”

Some people confuse stroke with a heart attack, which is caused by a blockage in blood flow to the heart, and not the brain.

Stroke is not preventable 

“The most common risk factors [for stroke] include hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, trauma to the head or neck, and cardiac arrhythmias,” said Dr. Ortiz. 

Many of these risk factors can be modified by lifestyle. Exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet can reduce risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes. 

Other risk factors include alcohol consumption and stress. Working to reduce or remove these lifestyle factors may also reduce a person’s risk of stroke.

Stroke does not run in families 

Single-gene disorders such as sickle cell disease increase a person’s risk for stroke. 

Genetic factors including a higher risk for high blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors may also indirectly increase stroke risk. 

As families are likely to share environments and lifestyles, unhealthy lifestyle factors are likely to increase stroke risk among family members, especially when coupled with genetic risk factors.

Stroke symptoms are hard to recognize 

The most common symptoms for stroke form the acronym “F.A.S.T.“: 

  • F: face dropping, when one side of the face becomes numb and produces an uneven “smile”
  • A: arm weakness, when one arm becomes weak or numb and, when raised, drifts slowly downward
  • S: speech difficulty, or slurred speech 
  • T: time to call 911 

Other symptoms of stroke include: 

  • numbness or weakness in the face, arm, leg, or one side of the body
  • confusion and trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
  • difficulty walking, including dizziness, loss of balance and coordination 
  • severe headaches without a known cause

Stroke cannot be treated 

“There is an incorrect belief that strokes are irreversible and can’t be treated,” explained Dr. Ortiz.

“Emergency treatment of a stroke with injection of a clot busting drug, minimally invasive mechanical thrombectomy for clot removal, or surgery can reverse the symptoms of a stroke in many patients, especially if they arrive to the hospital early enough for the therapy (within minutes or hours since the onset of the symptoms),” he noted. 

“The longer the symptoms last, the lower the likelihood of a good outcome. Therefore, it is critical that at the onset of stroke symptoms — ie. trouble speaking, double vision, paralysis or numbness, etc — an ambulance should be called (911) for transport to the nearest hospital,” he continued. 

Research also shows that those who arrive within 3 hours of first experiencing symptoms typically have less disability 3 months afterward than those who arrived later.

Why Starting a New Job Feels So Awkward

Starting at a new job in a new workplace is exciting, but it can also be uncomfortable. Regardless of how many jobs you’ve had before, you may suddenly feel like the new kid in class, with all eyes on you. How can you overcome the awkwardness of those first few weeks? Is there any way to feel at ease when you’re brand new? And if you’re the one welcoming a new person to your team, what can you do to smooth the way for them?

It’s helpful to know a bit about what makes these transitions so difficult so you can mitigate the awkwardness.

Your prediction engine fails.

The most significant source of awkwardness is that you just aren’t sure what to expect. The brain is a prediction engine. It wants to accurately forecast what’s going to happen, and a lack of confidence about the future creates anxiety. (That’s the same reason why foreign travel is often more fun in retrospect than it is in the moment.)

When we’re uncertain about what will happen, we default to inaction. This is for two reasons. One, our anxiety motivates us to avoid potential threats or calamities. Two, when we do experience bad outcomes, we’re more likely to blame actions we take rather than things we fail to do. So we convince ourselves that not doing anything is less likely to cause problems. As a result, when you’re not sure what’s going on, it can be difficult to start conversations with new colleagues or to speak up.

This tendency to remain silent is made worse by concerns that you’ll say the wrong thing. Even when we’re talking to people we know well, we tend to avoid saying things we think might be misinterpreted. As it turns out, in reality, people focus mostly on the intent behind what you say rather than the specific words you use to say it. So, new colleagues are unlikely to form a negative impression of you, because they rarely notice the things you were concerned would be awkward. It really is ok to chat with your new colleagues and to ask questions when you’re confused.

To help ease the way for a new colleague, try to make things feel more certain. Introduce them to others in the office. Let them know how the workday ebbs and flows. If you’re working remotely, leave yourself a note to reach out to your new colleague at least once a day so that they don’t get lost in the shuffle.

You don’t know the language.

Even if you’re ready to speak up at work, there’s a whole set of jargon you’re probably unfamiliar with. Every organization has its acronyms for particular departments or processes — not to mention its own terms for people, places, and things. Those first few weeks at a new job can feel like you’ve been dropped into a country in which you speak enough of the language to feel like you ought to understand more of what’s being said around you.

It’s uncomfortable to stop people whenever they use a new term to get them to define it. And people who are fluent in their office jargon can spit out sentences that are completely incomprehensible to the uninitiated. (“I had to get EVPP and VPR to approve a PAR before sending it to OSP.”) So, it’s useful to get a translator. See if a colleague can put together a cheat sheet for you of commonly used acronyms and phrases in the company. (Some smart organizations even include this in their onboarding materials.) Then, get their permission to email or text them when a new phrase comes up that you don’t know. It will be reassuring to know you have a lifeline when you’re not able to fully follow ongoing conversations.

If you’re working with someone new, try to wrap your head around the beginner’s mind. It can be difficult to remember how steeped you are in your organization’s way of speaking. When you find yourself using some of the local jargon, use the term (so that your new colleague gets used to hearing it) and then define it (so that you don’t confuse them completely).

You don’t have a squad — yet.

Perhaps the hardest part of starting a new job is that you don’t have a group of people you feel comfortable with yet. Research suggests that having positive social connections at work is crucial to happiness and job satisfaction. You may see groups of people spending time together and talking about shared experiences, which can make you feel like an outsider, or even isolated. And, chances are, you don’t have a lot of practice integrating yourself into a pre-existing social structure, unless you’ve relocated a lot in your life. We generally only meet a lot of new people when everyone is in the same boat and creating a new social group (such as arriving at college as a first-year student).

Remember that it takes time, and everyone else there was new at one point too. You can start out by having conversations with a few people. Get to know them, and find out how the group engages. Are there coffee breaks or shared lunches? An easy way to meet a group of people is to get someone to serve as your ambassador and to introduce you to others. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you to meet your new colleagues. People are generally happy to agree to simple favors like this for their colleagues, especially new ones.

When you have a new colleague at work, help them to get settled into the social scene. You don’t have to commit to being a close friend or to spending time with them outside of work. Just help them to meet a few other people and include them in workplace conversations. It’s particularly valuable to make these introductions when people in the organization are working remotely. Most social interactions in remote workplaces have to be explicitly arranged, so it is easy for a new person to get left out entirely. Ensuring that new hires get connected to others also helps to improve retention.

Ultimately, remember that you are more worried about the awkwardness of being new at the job than anyone else is. The rest of your new colleagues are just going about their daily routines. The best part is that in six weeks or so, most of your anxiety will fade. You will develop new habits, you’ll discover you understand at least half of the new jargon that gets thrown at you, and you’ll have a couple of people who can guide you through the social scene.

How to Be There For a Partner With Anxiety

Relationships thrive on concessions and acclimation. On the one hand, you’re human — stubborn and proud, enjoying things a certain way. On the other, you’re human —  forgetful and malleable, able to navigate new roads and think they were always the fastest route. To balance these two things is important for any relationship — and absolutely crucial if one partner suffers from anxiety. 

There are countless examples of what partners of people with anxiety experience. Maybe you drive hundreds of miles to visit family because you know your partner won’t step foot on an airplane. Or maybe you’ve accepted that food shopping is your job because they get overwhelmed in grocery stores. Maybe when that nice dude you chat with at the playground invites you and your partner to a meet-up with other local parents, you start running through the bank of unused excuses in your head, because you know your better half would never go for it. At first glance, these concessions can seem arduous and frustrating. Research suggests that when one partner has anxiety, it can cause a significant strain on relationships. But experts say that if couples learn to navigate anxiety in a healthy, collaborative way, it can make the relationship stronger.

Anxiety disorders are common, affecting 19 percent, or 40 million adults in the US, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. There are many different types: Anxiety is an umbrella term for different anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, phobias, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), says New York City clinical psychologist Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, an advisor for the Hope for Depression Research Foundation. 

Anxiety itself is not necessarily a disorder — it’s a normalemotion everyone experiences on some level, Lira de la Rosa says. We study for a test to quell nerves telling us we won’t do well, for example. Anxiety becomes a diagnosable disorder when it’s persistent and begins to interfere with someone’s social, emotional, and psychological functioning.

That interference can have a significant effect on partners, both as individuals and on their relationship as a couple. Some studies suggest that anxiety tends to rub off on partners: When wives suffered anxiety, husbands reported feeling distress as well, the authors of a 2010 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found. The anxious women in the study rated the quality of their relationships lower, and their husbands did, too.  

In a review of the literature published in 2017, the authors noted that the impact of anxiety disorders on marital and partner life isn’t well understood. They also wrote that the link between anxiety disorders and family relationships can go both ways: Psychological problems adversely affect the relationships of people with anxiety, and the attitudes of the partner towards the person with anxiety can sometimes exacerbate the anxiety. 

“Anxiety can be contagious. We may feel like we’re taking on other people’s anxiety,” Lira de la Rosa says. “Partners may begin to worry they’re going to make their significant other’s anxiety worse if they let them know that they’re feeling anxious as well. They may hide their stress and other worries out of fear they’ll exacerbate their partner’s anxiety.”

Depending on its severity, anxiety might also affect the way the partners live their lives, such as by avoiding certain situations or social gatherings, says Marisa T. Cohen, Ph.D., a relationship researcher and marriage and family therapist in New York City. The partner with anxiety may pull back at times as they try to navigate their feelings and emotional experience, she says. In a long-term relationship, there can be pressure on the partner who doesn’t have anxiety to know exactly how to handle the anxiety situation or support their partner without being told. This, per Cohen, can feed the vicious cycle.

When your partner has anxiety, neither ignoring it, getting angry about it, nor making constant concessions to help them avoid anything that makes their anxiety worse will help. What will: understanding their specific anxiety, communicating about it in the right way, supporting them properly, and drawing healthy boundaries. One finding of the 2010 study mentioned above is that good communication and support between couples dealing with one partner’s anxiety may be protective for them. Meaning? Anxiety was less likely to have a negative impact on relationship quality day to day among couples who communicate effectively. So, if your partner has anxiety, here is some expert advice to keep in mind.

1. Study Up

How your partner experiences anxiety is individual. But it can help you to empathize if you educate yourself about the type of anxiety they have.  

“It’s important that when your partner tells you they suffer from anxiety, you don’t diminish it or exaggerate it,” says Brooke Bralove, a licensed clinical social worker in Bethesda, Maryland. “Learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatments. The more basic knowledge you have, the better.”

Also important, however, is not to weaponize what you learn when talking to your partner about their anxiety. You’re looking for understanding that can help you be compassionate, not to become an expert about how your partner feels and what they need to do to “fix” their anxiety.

2. Talk Through Anxiety-Related Issues Together

When your partner has anxiety, it helps to acknowledge their feelings and make a game plan that might include compromises. Cohen says to encourage them to talk about their anxiety, such as potential triggers (if any), symptoms they experience, and ways in which they typically prefer to work through it.

It’s possible that someone with anxiety might not know what they need at the moment even if you were to ask them. You can also try asking if they need you to just listen or if there’s anything you can take off their plate to help them feel less anxious, Lira de la Rosa says. 

“Or perhaps they need you to just be present while they’re doing something that causes them to feel anxious,” he adds. 

3. Learn How to Be the Right Kind of Helpful 

It’s important to not offer solutions unless explicitly asked by the person experiencing anxiety, says Cohen. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Once you’ve talked with your partner about their triggers and what tends to be most helpful to quell their anxiety, however, then you can ask what would most help them at that moment.

“Offer specific suggestions for things they could do to ease their symptoms. You could recommend a five-minute meditation, box breathing, a brisk walk, or listening to their favorite song,” suggests Bralove. “Distraction and physical movement can be lifesavers when someone feels overwhelmed with anxiety. When in doubt, tell them to breathe, breathe, breathe.”

Many people with anxiety don’t find reassurance, such as saying, “It’ll all be OK, don’t worry,” very helpful. It can make them feel like you don’t understand them or you’re sick of hearing about their issues with anxiety. 

“If reassurance worked, no one would have anxiety,” says Bralove. “Acknowledge that you don’t fully understand their anxiety, but that you believe them and feel empathy toward them.”

4. Set Boundaries

While it’s important to be patient and compassionate with your partner if they suffer from anxiety, you also need to set boundaries for the sake of your mental health. 

Say your parents want to come visit for a week, but your partner insists she can only handle two days of them being around, Bralove says. You can say something like, “I know you get anxious when my mom visits, but we also know it’s good for our children to have a relationship with grandma. Let’s put our heads together to figure out how this can go smoothly,” she suggests. 

Resiliency Is a Philosophy: A Life Span Approach

Every time I type the word “resiliency,” spellcheck seems to prefer the word “resilience.” It made me question whether or not the word “resiliency” exists. When I searched the definition for “resiliency”, it redirected me to the definition of “resilience.” Is there a difference between the words? According to Oxford’s definition, “resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” 

What then is resiliency? I am not a linguist, but I would submit that resiliency is the practice of being resilient. Resiliency is a philosophy that believes in embracing difficulties and seeing them as opportunities for growth. Resiliency does not submit to fear. 

Resiliency is practiced by getting up every time you are knocked down. The practice of resiliency is clearly on display by the people of Ukraine, as they are being attacked by a supposedly more formidable opponent. They refuse to give up. When the United States offered President Volodymyr Zelenskyy an opportunity to escape via helicopter, he stated, “I need ammunition, not a ride.” Zelenskyy’s acts of resiliency are infectious and admired, as videos of Ukrainian citizens standing in front of Russian tanks or taking up arms to defend their country has gone viral. 

By all reports, Putin has underestimated the resiliency of the Ukrainian people. Historically, Ukraine has struggled for independence. They have been occupied by several countries including Nazi Germany and Russia. Their people have faced repeated attempts of extermination. On January 21, 1990, over 300,000 Ukrainians organized a human chain for Ukrainian independence between Kyiv and Lviv. Ukraine’s dream of independence became a reality on August 24, 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union. By practicing resiliency in the face of prior adversity, the Ukrainians are well prepared for what they are currently facing. 

How do the lessons of the Ukrainians apply to practicing resiliency within a child’s development? I am reminded of Dr. Rabbi Abraham Twerski’s story of the resilient lobster. While Dr. Twerski was waiting at the dentist’s office, he read an article about how the lobster gets a new shell. As the lobster grows, it experiences pressure and discomfort, confined by its shell, Dr. Twerski tells us. “So it goes under a rock, casts off its shell, and produces a new one.”

“The stimulus for the lobster to be able to grow is to feel uncomfortable,” Dr. Twerski points out, adding that, “if lobsters were able to go to a doctor, they would be given a Valium or Percocet and never grow.” 

Research supports Dr. Twerski’s lobster’s story of resilience. A recent study found that, contrary to the researcher’s expected findings, the more intimately exposed you were to Covid-19, the more resilient you were.

Resiliency is in our DNA. On average the male produces 100 million sperm to fertilize one egg. Of the 100 million sperm, only one survives and fertilizes the egg. Fertilization is an example of resiliency. 

If resiliency is in our DNA, then why do we have so much difficulty coping with stress? Once the fetus is formed, it becomes dependent on the mother for its nutrition via the umbilical cord. After the child is born and the umbilical cord is detached, the opportunity for the practice of resiliency becomes real. 

The child’s ability to practice resiliency is often thwarted by the best parental intentions. No parent likes to see their child suffer. The paternal impulse is to protect the child from the bully, the mean teacher, and the missing homework. However, when a parent shields a child from the natural consequences of his actions, he could be undermining his opportunity to experience some discomfort and shed his shell. 

I am not suggesting placing a 6-month-old child in the middle of traffic. To cultivate resiliency it is necessary to take a developmental approach. A scaffold is a temporary support structure that is surrounded by the construction of a building. This metaphor has been used in early education but is applicable in raising a resilient child. As a child matures, he is faced with new obstacles. Depending on his level of development, he has the necessities to face certain stressors. The scaffolding provides the necessary support. The scaffold eventually goes away and the child should be able to stand on his own.

A parent’s role is to provide a child with the necessary skill set to face his difficulties and not escape them. President Zelenskyy did not want a helicopter to escape, he wanted the support necessary to face his enemy. That is the philosophy of resiliency.

Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

Breakfast literally means “to break the fast.” It is the first meal of the day after a stretch of not eating overnight. 

Breakfast earned its title as the most important meal of the day back in the 1960s after American nutritionist Adelle Davis suggested that to keep fit and avoid obesity, one should “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”

Though around 15% of people in the United States regularly skip breakfast, many still believe it to be the most important meal of the day. Breakfast provides the body with important nutrients, to start the day feeling energized and nourished. Many also believe that it can promote weight loss.

But is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

As with most things in nutrition, the answer is complex. While some research suggests that skipping breakfast is not harmful, other research suggests otherwise.

Eating regular meals and snacks, including breakfast, allows for more opportunities throughout the day to give the body the energy and nutrients it needs to function optimally. 

However, as long as a person can fit their nutrients in during other meals, breakfast may not be the most critical meal of the day.

Here is what the science says.

Evidence in support of eating breakfast

Most of the claimed benefits of eating breakfast are primarily derived from observational studies, which cannot prove cause and effect. 

For example, one 2021 systematic review of 14 observational studies found that those who eat breakfast seven times per week have a reduced risk for:

  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • high blood pressure
  • stroke
  • abdominal obesity
  • cardiovascular-related death
  • elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

Again, this particular group of studies can only suggest that those who eat breakfast are more likely to have a reduced risk for the cardiovascular and metabolic diseases mentioned above. It cannot prove that breakfast is what is causing it.

However, an analysis of data on over 30,000 North Americans shows that people who skip breakfast may miss out on important nutrients. 

The most common nutrients those who skipped breakfast fell short on include:

  • folate
  • calcium
  • iron
  • vitamin A
  • vitamins B1, B2, B3
  • vitamin C 
  • vitamin D.

What is more, one randomized control trial published in 2017 that included 18 participants with type 2 diabetes, and 18 healthy participants found that skipping breakfast caused disrupted circadian rhythms in both groups.

Those who skipped breakfast also experienced larger spikes in blood glucose levels after eating. The authors of the study thus suggested that eating breakfast is vital for keeping our internal clock running on time.

25 Pieces of Marriage Advice From Couples Who’ve Been Together 25+ Years

So, what is some honest, real advice from couples who’ve been through the long haul? We recently asked 25 people who have been married for 25 plus years about what makes their relationship work. Cliches didn’t enter the equation. Instead, their answers reflected a simple truth: long-term relationships are both easy and hard, but made better by honesty, fun, and a shared sense of unity. They urged communication and clarity. They underscored the importance of shared meals and spicing things up with dirty jokes. They emphasized appreciation and attention to detail. Here’s what they said, and why it’s helped them stay together for the long run.

1. Accept and allow

“This is a mantra I picked up early on in our marriage, and it’s one my husband and I have come to live by. I forget where I heard it, but it’s basically a nice way of saying, ‘You knew who your partner was when you got married, and you can’t change them.’ There were many things I wished I could change about my husband after we’d been married for a little while. But I realized I loved him, and it was a waste of time to dwell on them. I needed to accept him for who he was, and allow him to be himself. That doesn’t mean we can’t get upset, or voice concerns. It just means that we’re committed unconditionally to the person we married, even when they drive us crazy.” – Lynne, 62, Florida (married 31 years)

2. Imagine life without your partner

“My wife and I talk about this all the time. We imagine what our toughest days would be like without each other. Truthfully, we always agree that we’d make it through. Realistically, we’re each independent and strong enough that we’d be fine. But, it would be terrible. That’s the takeaway: life would be possible without each other, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun, special, or full of great moments. It’s not uncommon for us to ask each other, ‘Can you imagine if I wasn’t here?’ The answer is usually some variation of, ‘Yeah. It would suck. I’m glad you are.’” – Jerry, 56, Maryland (married 30 years)

3. Crack jokes

“We got married when we were both almost 40, and our sense of humor has gotten more juvenile every year. Maybe it’s just us, but I don’t think so. We laugh at rude noises. We roll our eyes at each other’s terrible jokes. We love raunchy movies. It’s just that primitive, human sense of humor we both have. So many couples seem to lose that the longer they stay married. There’s this weird pressure to become more civilized or dignified as you get older. We never got that memo, it seems. And when it’s just the two of us, we’re usually cracking up. We’ve stayed in love so long because we’re too busy laughing to be fighting.” – David, 68, Michigan (married 30 years)

4. Choose your own adventure

My marriage has never been easy but it’s always been an adventure. Best advice I can give – getting married is like going to a theme park. Know who you are and what ride you want to go on. If you want to go on the carousel (stability and serenity) marry that. If you want to go on the roller coaster (risk and adventure) don’t marry someone who’s afraid of speed and heights. The key is to know yourself and what you want before you pledge yourself to a partnership. Then, once you’ve found your match, run your marriage like a good company. Identify each person’s strengths and weaknesses, and delegate those responsibilities accordingly..” – Kathleen, 57, Nebraska (married 31 years)

5. Don’t be so damn stubborn

“Don’t insist on always having the last word. It’s never not worth it. What you think is a fundamental, bedrock principle might actually be just a personal preference not worth having a spat or holding a grudge about. Be open to that possibility. Even if you get your way, it will take a toll. And if you agree to something, abide by the mutual decision. The loss of trust is also not worth getting your way. We’ve learned to be responsible for and take ownership of our decisions and actions, and we always try to avoid criticizing or guilting. It never helps. Instead, we try to have constructive conversations about specific behaviors that might be troubling, and we’re each willing to listen to each other’s concerns – even if they seem trivial.” – Claude, 68 (married 33 years)

6. Do the work

“Everyone has heard the phrase, ‘opposites attract’, but you don’t really hear the phrase, ‘opposites keep people together.’ They can, though, if you learn how to navigate them. Opposites can create a great deal of conflict over time if you don’t learn how to accept them. It can be a difficult process, but it’s necessary to stay happily married long term. Good marriages don’t just happen. They require a great deal of work and intention. The English language has one word for love. I love my wife and I love spicy food. There is no comparison. Since the term ‘I love you’ is so confusing and vague it makes sense to define what that means to both of you, even if you’re total opposites.” – Monte, 64, Florida (married 40 years)

7. Bite your tongue

“My rule is: bite your tongue for at least 24-48 hours after before speaking when tensions are high. If you are overly emotional and/or upset about something, doing so gives you time to cool off and then reflect on the situation with greater space, perspective, calmness, and clarity. If you still want to talk about it, schedule a mutually agreed upon time to do so. Say something like, ‘I am upset about what you just said/did, but I want to think about it before we talk.’ Mentally, you’ll be in a much better place.” – Romy, 52, California (married 26 years) 

8. You won’t always be on the same page

“And that’s okay. Patience and communication are key to any successful relationship, but especially a long-term one. It’s important to remember that you’re not always going to agree about everything. There will be times when you need to listen more than you talk, and times when you need to communicate openly and honestly. You can do this by making time for each other, even when life gets busy. Whether it’s taking a walk after dinner or spending a weekend away together, do everything you can to keep the bond strong.” – Steve, 49, Arizona (married 26 years) 

9. Keep each other guessing 

“My husband is a quiet man. Me? Not so much. I was surprised when he told me how much he loves the fact that he never knows what I’m going to do from one minute to the next. And I appreciate his willingness to try different things. As our unofficial ‘social secretary,’ I’ve planned trips where he hasn’t really known where we’re going until we get on the plane. Our secret really is just keeping our life interesting. Otherwise, life becomes stale and boring. Do something unexpected from time to time and you’ll learn how much you cherish each other’s company.” – Carol, 72, Georgia (married 49 years)

Financial Stress Leads to Symptoms of Depression, PTSD

The origins of mental illness are varied and complex. There are a nearly limitless number of reasons why mental illness happens, from biological causes to environmental influences.

One contributing factor that has the potential to impact nearly everyone at some point in their life is personal finance. Researchers have repeatedly found a clear link between mental and financial health.

In many instances, that link is cyclical – poor financial health leads to poor mental health, which leads to increasingly poor financial health, and so on. But researchers have also concluded that mental health issues – including depression, anxiety, and certain forms of psychosis – are three times more likely to occur when an individual is in debt.

Additionally, a data analysis by personal loan company Payoff found that 23 percent of respondents to a financial health survey reported experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to their personal finances. These respondents admitted to irrational or self-destructive behavior motivated primarily by a desire to avoid the reality of their financial problems.

The implication here is not simply that poor financial health may lead to poor mental health. Much more important is the logical inverse: that taking active steps to ensure our financial health is very likely to pay positive dividends on our mental health as well.

COMMON SIGNS OF DEPRESSION

Are your personal finances having a negative impact on your mental health? That may not be immediately clear.

Per the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), these are the most common symptoms of depression:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms

Regardless of whether or not your particular symptoms are rooted in financial distress, if any of this sounds like you, it’s important that you speak with as qualified mental health professional.

If you’re feeling suicidal, please call 1-800-273-8255. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is free, confidential, and available 24/7. 

STEPS FOR DEALING WITH FINANCIAL STRESS

If your finances are causing you mental harm, there are steps you can take to reduce the noise, refocus your attention, and start making positive changes.

FIGURE OUT WHAT MATTERS THE MOST TO YOU

If your finances are causing you mental distress, a good first step is actually a step backwards.

“Take the time to clearly define your financial goals and understand your values, both as an individual and as a family,” suggests Maura Attardi, MMI Director of Financial Wellness. “Defined goals help us understand if our spending habits are pushing us in the right direction, while our values help us determine if our goals are realistic and meaningful. Also, there may be conflicting values within a relationship or family, which can cause a lot of stress. Getting everything in alignment relieves stress, reduces interpersonal friction, and makes financial decision-making much easier.”

Once you’ve reached consensus on your financial priorities, you can begin to address the specific causes of your mental distress.

“Taking an honest and open look at why we spend money the way we do can also be helpful in alleviating stress and determining the steps we need to take,” says Attardi. “If the issue is overspending, try to determine what inner voids you’re trying to satisfy through spending money, and then replace your expensive coping techniques with something that might be easier on your pocketbook, like free yoga classes, reading, or exercising.”

BEGIN THE CONVERSATION WITH SOMEONE YOU TRUST

“In addition, finding someone that you can be completely honest and open with about your financial situation can help,” says Attardi. “Where we may only be able to see the bleakest possible financial future, a credit counselor, a friend, or an objective family member can help open our eyes to some of the positive options we have available.”

Simply talking about your stresses and anxieties can offer incredible relief. You’ll realize quickly that you’re not alone – many of us struggle with money in one way or another. But perhaps most importantly you’ll be released from the burden of feeling like you’re hiding something.  

MAKE A PLAN AND KEEP IT SIMPLE

A little progress can make a world of difference. Simply feeling like things are moving in a positive direction can reduce stress and create a growing sense of contentment.

Once you’ve identified your values and goals and unburdened your soul a bit, you can get to work. Create a plan to help you achieve your goals. Make the steps small, clearly defined, and reasonable. Set yourself up for success by creating a series of achievable benchmarks that will slowly but surely guide you to your destination. And don’t hesitate to celebrate your wins. Feel good about all the boxes you check!

GET PRIVATE, CONFIDENTIAL SUPPORT

If you need help finding a positive financial path, consider speaking with one of MMI’s certified credit counselors. Debt and budget counseling is always free and can go a long way toward alleviating your financial stress by providing you with expert, judgment-free advice and access to helpful resources.

Mental illness is very common and no one should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit that they need help. Once again, if you or someone you know is dealing with symptoms of depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, please seek assistance from a qualified mental health professional in your area. For helpful mental health resources, visit MentalHealth.gov (a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) and NAMI.org.

Letting Go of Being “Right” Can Allow You to Enjoy Other People More

In full disclosure, I admit that over the years, I’ve experienced a lot of my own all-or-none thinking. Even nowadays, this judgmental “rightness of view” raises its ugly head. Maybe this form of thought will never really leave, but at least I’ve learned to recognize and step back from it a little bit, instead of it becoming fused with my identity.

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) all-or-none thinking is considered a “thinking style” or “thinking error” that leads to cognitive distortions. Let me provide a couple examples of how all-or-none thinking can act like a bully that pushes you around (not to mention others).

I once worked with a client whose all-or-none thinking style made it difficult for him to be around others. His mind would tell him in no uncertain terms, “I’ll always be stuck in this job,” and, “there’s no way I can pass the training needed for a promotion.” He even had body-related thoughts, such as, “I’ll never lose this weight and get in shape.”

As a result, he avoided situations where he felt he would not measure up. Other than going to work, he avoided being around people because he feared being criticized.

Over time, this person’s world shrunk and he rarely went outside because his all-or-none thinking bullied him into thinking that he wasn’t good enough. He ended up ruminating on these thoughts and getting depressed and anxious as a result. Since he avoided going to the trainings necessary for getting promoted, his thinking style became a self-fulfilling prophecy that held him back. 

Mindfulness Produces Diversity of Thinking

Mindfulness is a tool for recognizing thoughts, and in this way, helps us notice them in a more objective way. This means we can get curious about those thinking styles instead of buying into them. This shifts our relationship to the thought and even the emotion that the thought elicits. 

A recent literature review published in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity described how mindfulness supports creativity and in educational settings “can benefit learning, creativity, and wellbeing.” The article also explores how mindfulness promotes a deliberate, or intentional, state of mind that promotes openness of thought. 

Openness of thought is almost the opposite of a fixed all-or-none thinking style. Keep in mind that all-or-none thinking might be steeped in a protective belief system, or schema. In other words, having a fixed ideology or belief may seem to protect one against the barrage of information and belief systems that we would otherwise need to consider.

With the rise of so much competing (and divisive) information on almost every topic—COVID is a good example—having a singular point of view might seem easier. But keep in mind that a singular view may be a major distortion and unhelpful. And if you stick to it, those who are stuck on the other side will seem less relatable, to say the least!

Is it really worth bullying yourself and others with all-or-none thinking? If you find that your viewpoints have others running for the exits, consider the advantages of diverse thinking. Being right might feel good, but it’s not necessarily the right thing to do. Or at least not the best option. 

3-Part Mindfulness Practice to Counter All-or-None Thinking

As with any skill, exercise, or practice, you want to start by taking small steps. You can’t run a marathon without doing a lot of training. So, to begin, pick out one of the all-or-none thoughts that dog you, that follow you around and rattle incessantly in your head. Usually, these thoughts have words like “always” or “never” attached to them. Those are clues that these are one-sided thoughts. 

  1. Do an experiment and see how many times you can notice this all-or-none thought throughout the day. You’re not trying to change anything here. You’re just trying to practice observing the thought. Do this noticing practice for a week, writing down the number of times that you caught your all-or-none thought. 
  2. For the next week, you can continue to notice the thought, but now, whenever you hear it, mentally say to yourself, “This is just a thought, it’s not who I am. It’s not a fact.” By doing this, you’re separating yourself ever so slightly from the thinking style.
  3. For the third week, you can write down a statement that is not so all-or-none that is more honest and truthful. Is there evidence, for example, that refutes your all-or-none statement? Surely, you have sometimes succeeded or followed through on something that invalidates the all-or-none thinking style.

If your thinking style is judging others in a harsh all-or-none way, look for evidence that helps you recognize that others are just people with frailties and worries who are trying their best to make their way in a challenging world! We’re all pretty much the same in that regard. See if you can soften your all-or-none statement.

Make Summer Happen Early

The problem with spring is that it isn’t summer. We’re not knocking the season — full of hope and birds and flowers and the like. But it also has its downsides. In mountainous regions, this means mud. If you’re lakeside, it usually means cold snaps and rain. Hell, much of the country is still experiencing temperatures in the 30s and 40s. There’s an easy solution: go south, find an island, or just get out and find somewhere where it’s blissfully hot. Because, let’s be honest, that’s actually what you want right now. Whether you’re craving an adventurous family getaway at a far-off locale or some rest and relaxation stateside, here are six spring break 2022 trips to consider.

1. The Florida Keys

Prefer not to pull out your passport? Play it safe and beeline it to the southernmost stretch of the continental United States. In Key West — along with any of the other Florida Keys you pass through on your way to the end of the chain — an early spring day is normally in the mid-70s.

Land at the international airport in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or even West Palm Beach and rent a car to break further south still for the 125-mile-long chain of islands linked by 42 bridges along the Overseas Highway.

Key West has all the family vacation activities you could want — from trolley rides and a treasure museum and aquarium to sunset catamaran cruises and calm beaches with shallow waters. But you might find some of the other Keys in the chain even more mellow and fun.

The ocean and bayfront campsites at Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key make for a perfect basecamp if you’re looking for a rustic and affordable stay (there are cabins for rent here, too). Or you can splurge at a spot like Isla Bella Beach Resort on Marathon (pictured), with several oceanfront pools and a private beach set on over a mile of waterfront as well as an onsite marina from which you can head out on snorkeling and fishing excursions. And while famous parks like John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park steal the spotlight, there are all kinds of other tucked-away nature spots to stop at as you road trip through the Keys, including the National Key Deer  Refuge and the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center on Tavernier.

2. Tahiti

Hear us out on why you should try here over Hawaii for your next big family vacation.

For roughly two hours longer in the air from Los Angeles than it takes to get to Honolulu, you can find yourself landing in Papeete in the Islands of Tahiti. That’s right, board an overnight flight from Los Angeles on Air Tahiti Nui and about eight hours later (and hopefully a full night’s sleep for the gang) you’ll land in French Polynesia.

And if you’re wondering if the storied destination lives up to the hype, we can confirm the 118 islands and atolls here are well and truly among the most very beautiful and welcoming tropical isles on Earth (the kids might also love that these are the islands that inspired Disney’s Moana)

Leave the honeymoon crowd to pricey Bora Bora and base in Tahiti (the main island) or Moorea, right next door and just a 30-minute ferry ride away. Lodging options run the range from affordable family-run pensions to full-on hotel chain resorts with swim-up bars and kids clubs. Introduce the kids to French fare (the islands belong to France, after all, so the influence is everywhere) like a goat cheese salad or moules frites. Be sure to try the ubiquitous French Polynesian take on ceviche called poisson cru.

If you’re feeling intrepid and want to see more of the islands, hop an Air Tahiti flight for an hour to reach the Tuamotu Archipelago, where you can head out on excursions to snorkel with baby lemon sharks and reef sharks in sheltered lagoons in Rangiroa where they’re born, learn about black pearl farming or go scuba diving at some of the most incredible atoll passages on Earth in Fakarava. Among the family-friendly, waterfront places to stay in the atolls are Havaiki Lodge, Le Tikehau by Pearl Resorts, and Hotel Maitai Rangiroa.

3. Puerto Rico

Closer to home, time spent thawing out under the Caribbean sun in Puerto Rico is a great place to shake off any lingering winter chill. Do the kids like to surf? Or maybe that’s your thing, and you want to entice them with some skimboarding or boogie boarding in the shore break. Either way, surf towns like Rincón,Aguadilla, and Playa Jobos on the island’s northwest corner have a chill vibe and plenty of vacation rentals and inexpensive hotels to make your home base. Rincon Beach Resort and Villa Montaña Beach Resort are both popular with families who come for sun and surf.

How to Protect Yourself From Credit Card Theft

Last fall, I received an email that appeared to be from my web host. The email claimed that there was a problem with my payment information and asked me to update it. I clicked on the link in the email and entered my credit card number, thinking that a recent change I’d made to my site must have caused a problem.

The next morning, I logged onto my credit card account to find two large unauthorized purchases. A scammer had successfully phished my payment information from me.

This failure of security is pretty embarrassing for a personal finance writer. I know better than to click through an email link claiming to be from my bank, credit card lender, or other financial institution. But because the email came from a source that wasn’t specifically financial (and because I was thinking about the changes I had made to my website just the day before), I let myself get played.

Thankfully, because I check my credit card balance daily, the scammers didn’t get away with it. However, it’s better to be proactive about avoiding credit card theft so you’re not stuck with the cleanup, which took me several months to complete.

Here’s how you can protect yourself from credit card theft. 

Protecting your physical credit card

Stealing your physical credit or debit card is in some respects the easiest way for a scammer to get their hands on your sweet, sweet money. With the actual card in hand, a scammer has all the information they need to make fraudulent purchases: the credit card number, expiration date, and the security code on the back.

That means keeping your physical cards safe is one of the best ways to protect yourself from credit card theft. Don’t carry more cards than you intend to use. Having every card you own in a bulging wallet makes it more likely someone could steal one when you’re not paying attention and you may not realize it’s gone if you have multiple cards.

Another common place where you might be separated from your card is at a restaurant. After you’ve paid your bill, it can be easy to forget if you’ve put away your card (especially if you’ve been enjoying adult beverages). So make it a habit to confirm that you have your card before you leave a restaurant.

If you do find yourself missing a credit or debit card, make sure you call your bank immediately to report it lost or stolen. The faster you move to lock down the card, the less likely the scammers will be able to make fraudulent charges. Make sure you have your bank’s phone number written down somewhere so you’re able to contact them quickly if your card is stolen or lost.

Recognizing card skimmers

Credit card thieves also go high-tech to get your information. Credit card skimmers are small devices placed on a legitimate spot for a card scanner, such as on a gas pump or ATM. 

When you scan your card to pay, the skimmer device captures all the information stored in your card’s magnetic stripe. In some cases, when there’s a skimmer placed on an ATM, there’s also a tiny camera set up to record you entering your PIN so the fraudster has all the info they need to access your account.

The good news is that it’s possible to detect a card skimmer in the wild. Gas stations and ATMs are the most common places where you’ll see skimmer devices. Generally, these devices will often stick out past the panel rather than sit flush with it, as the legitimate credit card scanner is supposed to. Other red flags to look for are scanners that seem to jiggle or move slightly instead of being firmly affixed, or a pin pad that appears thicker than normal. All of these can potentially indicate a skimmer is in place. 

If you find something that looks hinky, go to a different gas station or ATM. Better safe than sorry.

Protecting your credit card numbers at home

Your home is another place thieves will go searching for your sensitive information. To start, you likely receive credit card offers, the cards themselves, and your statements in the mail. While mail theft is relatively rare (it’s a federal crime, after all), it’s still a good idea to make sure you collect your mail daily and put a hold on it when you go out of town.

Once you get your card-related paperwork in the house, however, you still may be vulnerable. Because credit card scammers are not above a little dumpster diving to get their hands on your credit card number. This is why it’s a good idea to shred any paperwork with your credit card number and other identifying information on it before you throw it away.

Finally, protecting your credit cards at home also means being wary about whom you share information with over the phone. Unless you’ve initiated a phone call of your own volition — not because you’re calling someone who left a voicemail — you should never share your credit card numbers over the phone. Scammers will pose as customer service agents from your financial institution or a merchant you frequent to get your payment information. To be sure, you can hang up and call the institution yourself using the main phone number.

Keeping your cards safe online

You should never provide your credit card information via a link in an email purporting to be from your financial institution or a merchant. Scammers are able to make their fake emails and websites look legitimate, which was exactly the reason I fell victim to this fraud.

But even with my momentary lapse in judgment about being asked for my payment information from my “web host,” there were other warning signs that I could’ve heeded if I had been paying attention. 

The first is the actual email address. These fake emails will often have a legitimate looking display name, which is the only thing you might see in your email. However, if you hover over or click on the display name, you can see the actual email address that sent you the message. Illegitimate addresses do not follow the same email address format you’ll see from the legitimate company.

In addition to that, looking at the URL that showed up when I clicked the link could’ve told me something weird was going on. Any legitimate site that needs your financial information will have a secure URL to accept your payment. Secure URLs start with https:// (rather than http://) and feature a lock icon in the browser bar. If these elements are missing, then you should not enter your credit card information.

Daily practices that keep you safe

In addition to these precautions, you can also protect your credit cards with the everyday choices you make. For instance, using strong, unique passwords for all of your online financial services, from shopping to banking, can help you prevent theft. Keeping those strong passwords safe — that is, not written down on a post-it note on your laptop — will also help protect your financial information.

Regularly going over your credit card and banking statements can also help ensure that you’re the only one making purchases with your credit cards. It was this daily habit of mine that made sure my scammers didn’t actually receive the computer they tried to purchase with my credit card. The fact that I check my balance daily meant I was able to shut down the fraudulent sale before they received the goods, even though I fell down on the job of protecting my credit card information. 

Get Seven hours of consistent sleep

For middle-aged to olderpeople looking to get the best sleep possible, seven hours of consistent sleep may be the sweet spot, new research suggests.

The study, published April 28 in the scientific journal “Nature Aging,” involved 498,277 people between ages 38 and 73 from the UK Biobank, a large-scale database with genetic and health information of U.K. participants.

Participants answered questions about how long they slept, completed an online mental health questionnaire and did problem-solving and memory exercises. Brain imaging and genetic data was provided for some participants as well.

“We wanted to know what is the perfect time that you should be sleeping for most middle-aged to older-aged people,” said Barbara Sahakian, a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Cambridge who worked on the study. “How does that relate to other measures, for instance, your brain structure and your cognition, and your mental health?”

As people sleep, their brains work to consolidate memories and process things learned during the day, particularly during what’s called deep sleep, she said. Deep sleep may also allow people to purge toxins from their brains – and reduce the harmful deposits of an abnormal protein, amyloid.

But too little or too much sleep can create chronic stress. It can also cause changes in the hippocampus, a part of the brain vital to learning and memory, Sahakian said.

Researchers found participants performed better after seven hours of consistent sleep, she said. Those who got less or more had poorer cognitive performance and smaller brain volume, area and thickness.

But the study has its limitations, including the fact that participants reported only sleep duration versus sleep timing, sleep efficiency and circadian rhythm. Participants also reported their own sleep, leaving room for bias. They also recorded sleep times by the hour, not minutes.

How to Get Your Big Ideas Noticed By the Right People

When I ask my undergraduate students at Brandeis what they hope for in their future jobs, their answers typically involve making an impact. They have big, sometimes revolutionary, ideas around how to address climate change and social justice issues. They talk about ways we can improve our efficiency by updating outdated communication systems, and even pitch solutions that could help big corporations market their products to younger consumers. But most of all, they are excited to put their pitches into practice — that is, until they get their first jobs and realize they have much less power than they had imagined.

I feel for them, and for anyone making their way into the corporate world for the very first time. It’s not easy to turn an idea into a reality, especially when you are in an entry-level role with limited resources and connections. The people who do have the power to make big decisions often have their own beliefs and assumptions about how to do business based on what has, and has not, worked in the past. If those people are not on your side, they can present you with some serious roadblocks.

So, how do you work around them and get your big ideas noticed, especially as a young person in the workforce?

I’ll tell you what I tell my students: You don’t. You work with them. To make a real impact, you need to get the right people — people with decision-making power — to listen and believe in you.

Here’s how.

First, figure out who holds the power to implement your idea.

Before you pitch your idea, ask yourself: Who has the power to decide whether or not it will be implemented, and what they will base their decision on?

Sometimes this question will be easier to answer than others, depending on what kind of company you work at. Organizations with a clear, hierarchical structure are more likely to have a well-defined process around who needs to approve an idea before it is executed. But organizations with a flat structure, in which there is no real “person in charge” at each level, can be more difficult to navigate.

Take the time to study these dynamics at your own company. There are a few tools you can use to help you diagnose who holds the ultimate decision-making power. One of the most common is called a RACI matrix. The acronym “RACI” stands for the four roles people usually play on a team or project. Here’s a simple breakdown:

  • Responsible: the people who are in charge of completing tasks or reaching an objective.
  • Accountable: the person who must sign off on the work of the group mentioned above, and give final approval.
  • Consulted: the people who need to give input in order for the group in charge of completing tasks to do their work.
  • Informed: the people who need to be updated on the status of the project and the decisions that are being made.

Creating this matrix will help you clarify the roles and responsibilities at each level of your organization. Most likely, the person you identify as “accountable” is the one who will say ultimately say “yes” or “no” to your idea.

Note that it’s rare for one person to have all the deciding power. More likely, it will be broken up among different leaders who are accountable for different teams, projects, or people.

For example, let’s say you have a fresh idea around how to engage a new audience for a particular marketing campaign. It may be easiest (and fastest) to look for the person who drives your overall engagement strategy. This could be the leader of the marketing division, or someone who works closely under them. Using the RACI matrix, you may discover that this person makes the final decisions on engagement initiatives, but also relies heavily on specific members of their leadership team for input, and considers market data before making big decisions.

Whatever team, project, or division your idea falls under, get to know what leaders are involved in those areas of your company, and ask around to learn about what factors they consider when making choices.

Choose your champion.

Even after you identify the decision-maker, it’s unlikely that you will get direct access to them. Few young professionals have the social capital to get their ideas immediately noticed by the right people. That’s why you need a champion — someone to advocate for your idea in the high-level meetings and discussions that you probably won’t be invited to.

Picking the right champion will depend on the magnitude of your idea. If it’s a smaller idea, or one that won’t cause significant disruption (like experimenting with a social media post, or reaching out to a new type of client), you might be able to find a champion who has the direct power to put your idea into motion. But if your idea is more disruptive (updating an age-old business model or restructuring a team’s entire workflow), you might need to find a different kind of champion: someone who has acquired a level of informal power that allows them to exert influence over those who are formally in charge.

Take the previous example of engaging a new audience for a marketing campaign. Your champion might be the chief of staff to the head of the marketing division. While this person won’t have direct decision-making power, they still have influence over the person who does.

That said, before bringing your big idea to a champion, you first need to build a foundation of trust with them. This will take time, and it will need to be developed over a series of projects in which you prove your ability to pitch good ideas, provide evidence that give those ideas merit, and consistently follow through on your assignments or tasks. You need your champion to to respect you as a professional, and believe you are credible if you want them to be your advocate.

To fast-track your relationship, study and analyze your champion’s management style. Then adapt your ways of working to fit their style. By doing so, you will increase the odds of producing work they are aligned with and proud of. When they speak, listen with intention, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Proactively set up feedback sessions with your champion and leverage this feedback into clear goals for improvement.

Do your homework.

Once you build that foundation of trust with your champion, you may feel ready to share your big idea. But wait. It’s critical to stress-test the idea first. This process will allow you to create a more robust and thorough pitch with fewer holes and logic gaps.

Start by gathering feedback from various stakeholders. A stakeholder could be someone directly involved in the decision-making process (who you identified earlier using the RACI matrix), or someone in your organization whose work might be directly impacted by your idea.

Sticking with our previous example, a key stakeholder might be the head of sales. Although the head of sales does not influence decision-making within the marketing division, they may be able to provide you with a perspective you had not considered before, especially if your marketing and sales teams work closely together. Another stakeholder might be a trusted peer or manager on the marketing team whose responsibilities may shift should your idea be implemented. This person may raise or problem or concern you can now address.

Stakeholders often have access to critical information that can strengthen your pitch. Connecting with them can also help you develop advocates throughout the organization.

How to Successfully Shift From “Work Mode” to “Family Mode”

The added flexibility of the work-from-home movement is revolutionary for many reasons, including how it enables more working parents to be with their families. But experts agree that there are many times that it doesn’t feel great. “We’ve all had the experience where we’re not fully present as a father because we’re thinking about work and vice versa,” says executive coach Ian Sanders, author of 365 Ways To Have a Good Day. “There are no magic wands for putting boundaries around family life and work life,” says Sanders. It just takes effort and focus. Here’s how to flip the work and home switch.

1. Build Transitions into Your Day

In three different conversations with three different work-life balance experts, I heard one piece of advice three times. To prevent the whiplash that occurs when you step between work and home modes, you need to build in a transition — something that replaces the mental decompression granted by a commute. “Bookend your day with two 15-minute walks around your block, or read a chapter of a book — anything that helps you be present and get focused on what’s next, whether it’s work or home life,” says Kaylee Hackney, an employee well-being expert and Assistant Professor at the Baylor University. Whatever it is, stick to it to ensure you have some routine that lets you know that “Okay, I’m not at the office anymore.”

2. Get a Room

Some unsurprising news: Both your work and home lives will be better served if you have a dedicated workspace, whether it’s a full-on home office or even a glorified closet. And the benefits aren’t all about eliminating distractions. “When your kids see you in your workspace, they have a better sense that you’re in work mode,” says Hackney. “You’re sending a signal to your brain by being there, too, and at the end of the day, you can shut the door and not have to be reminded of work every time you walk by it.”

3. Manage Your Notifications

We’re in an alert boom. There’s that text thread where the neighbors are talking about what went down on Friday night. There’s another where your buddies send the strangest memes. Not to mention, there are the non-urgent messages from your school’s PTA, your kid’s aftercare program, and their sports team, sent on apps like Konstella, GroupMe, and more. Consider silencing many of these alerts during your work hours to maintain your focus, and consider replying to texts at just a few distinct times during a day. Time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders does: “I have a strategy where I go through all the text messages from the prior day once in the morning, and if I haven’t responded yet I do. And then I don’t really answer personal texts until after work,” she says. The reverse goes for work communications, she says: “You don’t want to be giving your kid a bath while your smartwatch buzzes about some report, taking you out of the moment.”

4. Close Out Your Workday with Rituals 

Instead of simply wandering away from your screen when the workday is done, go through a checklist. Write down what you didn’t get done today and what will carry over to tomorrow. Scan your email or your Slack and quickly respond to the messages that truly need it. By tying up loose ends and doing some basic planning for the morning, you’re doing two things: giving yourself some ease of mind when heading into family time, and ensuring that you’ll hit the ground running in the morning. “It makes being present with your family a lot easier,” says Sanders, who adds one element: “The Germans have this expression called the ‘Feierabend,’ where you crack open a beer at the end of the workday. It’s a signal. If that’s not your thing, find a ritual that resonates with you.”

5. If You Have to Work at Night, Establish Guardrails

Many of us have added “night shifts” in the last few years, necessitated by daytime hours spent on parenting tasks. At night, you might steal away to the office (or couch) to do the deep work you missed during the day. Chances are, this occasionally has to happen. But experts warn to not make it a routine. “You want to set limits. One or two nights a week, maybe two hours, not messing around,” says Saunders. “Otherwise it’s a recipe for burnout.”

6. Be Realistic

If you have work to do on the weekend but don’t want to take time away from your family, you might mentally underestimate it. You’ll just find some quiet time on the fly, right? Wrong. As the weekend unfolds, time evaporates. You have other tasks to do. And once you do jump into your work, you realize that what you wanted to get done might take you six or seven hours instead. Saunders refers to this as magical thinking. “It’s common. But reality always wins.” If you don’t want to spend time away from your family working on the weekend, then you might need to start being brutally honest about your schedule and your workload, reprioritizing and weeding out tasks. “It’s doable,” says Saunders. “It just takes a lot of intention on the part of a parent.”

4 Principles to Develop Next-Level Leadership at Your Company

For a company to be successful, it must find a way to develop talent. It isn’t always possible to hire leadership from the outside. Being able to develop leaders within the ranks will help the company to grow and fill future needs that come about organically.

When I worked for a company that was growing, we knew we had to spend time with our staff to help them grow into the leaders we needed. I created a training format that we used over and over to coach up emerging leaders and prepare them to take on more responsibility.

This training was ongoing. We instilled four principles in their work. This translated the core values of the company into their daily actions. It gave them a foundation to build their individual leadership style.

It didn’t mean that everyone could take on a leadership role. Some people naturally make better leaders. Some people enjoyed keeping their technical focus and didn’t want to change. Others wanted the additional money but not the extra work.

To be able to take on more, the individual also had to show that they could handle their current responsibilities. The example I would use is that the third string punter on a football team wouldn’t be voted captain. While talent isn’t the only requirement, there had to be enough ability to do their job at a high level. If someone isn’t at the top of their game, they would not be viewed as a leader.

We were able to go from a staff that wanted the extra benefits of leadership (more money, promotions, authority to make decisions, etc.), to a staff willing to do what was necessary to improve as leaders. Instead of just showing up and checking off a box, they put in the work to get better.

But for those with leadership potential and the drive to grow their skills, we could provide them foundational knowledge they can rely on to be successful. Here are those four principles:

Principle 1: Take ownership

The first principle was to take ownership. They needed to own their tasks. They had to own the processes and procedures. They had to own the outcomes and the production output.

This is different than being in charge. If they are in charge but don’t own it, they will always find others to blame when things go wrong. They won’t step up to do the extra work necessary when something gets fouled up.

The reality is that there are always going to be outside factors to blame. It is easy to find a scapegoat, because today’s business processes are complex and interconnect with other areas. This gives us plenty of places to point the finger when mistakes happen.

Instead, leaders need to make it their job to keep pushing things forward. They don’t sit back and wait for tasks to be given out to them. They search for ways to improve the team and catch mistakes early to prevent them from turning into major problems.

We emphasized that this was the antithesis to the “us versus them” attitude. We broke down silos by having leaders willing to step beyond their area to work with other teams to solve problems and improve efficiencies.

When everyone takes ownership, people are willing to do what is needed without finding ways to skirt responsibility. By taking ownership, this also meant consistency. It was more than one-time effort. It was exemplified in the habits, routines and patterns, not just in the one-off.

3 Simple Strategies to Boost Your Brain Health Today

There’s just no way around it: our brain health is about the most valuable thing we own. When our brains are unhealthy, we can’t think straight. Our mental health is poor. We simply can’t enjoy life as well. With this in mind, finding ways to prioritize brain health every day is vital. So what are some of the most scientifically sound, easy ways to make sure you’re helping care for your brain? Here are three of the best:

1. Prioritize Good Sleep

Why it’s key: You’ve probably heard people diminish the importance of sleep by saying things like, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” But if you don’t prioritize sleep, you’re doing your body and especially your brain a great disservice. Pick just about any disease and you’ll find that it’s more prevalent or more severe in people who don’t get good sleep. For example, we now know that people with Alzheimer’s tend to have issues sleeping. Poor sleep may also increase the risk of developing dementia. When it comes to mental health, these same trends hold. Sleep issues are very common in people with mental health issues, and are also thought to increase one’s risk for developing these conditions. 

Tips for better sleep: Many are seeking quick fixes for sleep issues, especially insomnia. But while some people may benefit from short-term use of drugs, there are mounting concerns about the side effects and efficacy of prescription sleep aids. To this end, finding non-pharmaceutical methods of promoting healthy sleep are likely a better long-term solution for most people. Simple strategies to facilitate better sleep include winding down with a regular routine that minimizes blue light/screen exposure in the hours before bed. Also, consider sleeping with your room a bit cooler, as this may promote better sleep. Try cutting out caffeine after 2 p.m. (or earlier) and consider avoiding alcohol before bed, as this throws off sleep quality. Lastly, consider speaking to your physician about an evaluation for sleep apnea, especially if you are male, overweight, or someone who snores. Sleep apnea is a very common condition that majorly compromises sleep quality and is often missed. 

2. Move Your Body

Why it’s key: Study after study shows that regular exercise is linked to better brain health. People who move more tend to think better and have better mental health. In fact, a recent review in JAMA showed that exercise may act as an antidepressant. So why is exercise such a brain booster? It may lower inflammation (which damages brain function), increase molecules like BDNF (which promotes healthier brain function and growth of new brain cells), and it does great things for our blood sugar (higher blood sugar may damage brain health).

Tips for physical activity: You don’t need to train for a marathon or become a professional athlete to get the brain benefits of exercise. This is all about sustainability, and if you hate or get injured when you’re exercising, it’s unlikely you’ll stick to it. Instead, look for ways to make physical activity enjoyable. A walk with a friend, some yoga, lifting some weights, or going for a swim—it’s all great stuff. The best exercise is the one you enjoy because it’s what you’re most likely to keep doing. So, find something you can look forward to. 

3. Clean Up Your Diet

Why it’s key: The foods you eat are the literal building blocks for your brain. Food is also what turns into neurotransmitters. Your diet significantly influences your immune and endocrine (hormone) systems that play key roles in your brain health. Food is also one of the best opportunities we have to influence our health on a day-to-day basis because we absolutely have to eat, but we get to choose whether that food is a vote for a healthier or a less healthy brain.

How to Get an Emergency Loan if You Have Bad Credit

Not only is the cost a source of stress, but so is the emergency itself. It’s normal to experience a double dose of anxiety, fear, and worry in these situations. 

Other common debt triggers include medical emergencies, divorce or separation, job loss or reduction, major home repairs after a natural disaster, or stepping in to help another family member. 

Many families don’t have wiggle room in their budget to handle sudden, unexpected costs, and recent inflation has made paying bills that much harder. Nearly two-thirds of American families live paycheck-to-paycheck, according to a 2022 LendingClub report. Even folks who earn six figures are struggling to cover costs, depending on where they live, with 48% living paycheck-to-paycheck. 

If you have bad credit, it’s even tougher to find a lower-interest personal loan (also called an installment loan). Poor credit compounds the situation because it reduces your options. Here’s what to know about emergency personal loan products if you have bad credit. 

HOW DOES YOUR CREDIT SCORE AFFECT EMERGENCY LOAN TERMS? 

The lower your credit score, the more limited your options are for a favorable loan. A poor credit score may lead to a higher interest rate, higher fees, or a low loan amount—or you might not qualify for a loan at all. Traditional banks and credit unions use your credit score as one component to calculate your loan terms. 

However, these institutions typically don’t provide small personal loans ($3,000 and under). You’re probably going to be limited to payday loans, or an online lender such as Upstart, Best Egg, or Avant. 

Because some of these online lenders specialize in serving borrowers with poor credit, a low credit score may not be a barrier. These alternative lenders may weigh evidence of satisfactory income more heavily than credit score. However, you won’t have access to low interest rates with a low credit score – those are reserved for consumers with stellar scores. 

WHAT RISKS SHOULD I BE AWARE OF WITH EMERGENCY PERSONAL LOANS?

Try to avoid payday loans (or fast cash loans) whenever possible. These lenders charge high interest rates and may require you to pay back the loan in full within 14 days or by the end of the month, which can be difficult for someone facing a financial emergency. 

Beware of companies offering guaranteed loans for an upfront fee. These loans may be scams because no one can guarantee you’ll receive a loan. Legitimate lenders won’t ask for an upfront fee to guarantee a loan.

Research lenders and look for online reviews. Make sure you understand the terms being offered. Interest rates and fees on small, personal loans tend to be high, even from legitimate online lenders, especially on loans for people with poor credit. Rates will usually be higher than the lender’s advertised rate, which is almost always reserved for those with pristine credit.

LESS RISKY ALTERNATIVES TO AN EMERGENCY LOAN

Savings. If you have savings to dip into, that’s the best way to avoid the high-interest trap of an emergency loan. Of course, many people with a financial emergency don’t have adequate savings to cover it. If you don’t, consider whether you could borrow from family or friends or ask for an advance on your paycheck. 

Credit card. Believe it or not, putting an unexpected expense on a credit card, even one with a high APR, is usually a better bet than taking an emergency loan from a payday or online lender. If your card doesn’t have a sufficient credit limit or you don’t have a credit card, work on building credit and opening a card so you have a working alternative before an emergency pops up.

Retirement savings. If you have a 401(k) or IRA, you may be able to borrow against the balance in the account. The particulars of the loan or withdrawal will depend on the rules of the retirement savings account you’re trying to borrow against. If you’re making an early withdrawal from an IRA, you should expect to pay a fee (typically 10%). If you’re taking out a loan against your 401(k) you may be barred from making further contributions until the loan is repaid. Borrowing against your retirement comes with risks, so make sure you understand what’s at stake before borrowing. 

Payday alternative loan. If you belong to a credit union that offers payday alternative loans (PALs), you might be able to qualify. They’re a much more affordable option to payday loans or online lenders. If you aren’t a member of a credit union that offers these types of loans, ask about eligibility requirements for membership. PALs come in small amounts ($1,000 and below), interest rates are capped at 28%, and they allow repayment in one to six monthly installments. 

WHERE CAN I GET AN EMERGENCY PERSONAL LOAN? 

If you have no alternative but to turn to a payday or online lender, MMI recommends exploring the online lender option first. It’s a better option than risking a debt-trap cycle with a payday lender. Three online lenders that are well-reviewed are Upstart, Best Egg, and SeedFi. 

If cash is so tight that an unexpected emergency can throw your finances into total disarray, it’s time to talk to an expert. The debt and budget experts at MMI can help you evaluate your budget and create a plan to shed debt, trim your spending, and start saving for rainy days. We’re here to help with confidential counseling.

The Secret to Being More Charming (Without Being Obnoxious)

While captivating to watch, the display can induce jealously because it can seem like it’s an innate talent that a person either has or doesn’t possess.

But that’s not the case. Anyone can learn how to be charming. And when wielded well, charm is not the bastion of other people and the goal is not something other-worldly. In fact, the end result is actually pretty basic and applies to every relationship: to make someone feel good.

“You make the other person feel understood, valued, and loved,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of The How of Happiness. “It feels very obvious but it’s a very powerful idea.”

While charm is certainly a skill and might come easier to some — i.e. the extroverted — it doesn’t require being well-read or witty. True charm is about being present and interested in what another person has to say. Does it require effort? Like anything with a payoff, it does. But the good news is that there’s nothing definite that has to be done, although the following tips can help.

Take Your Listening Up a Few Notches 

Listening is about giving someone focus, but it has to be more than smiling and nodding your head. Silence can come off as a lack of interest or even create discomfort. What you want to do is respond to what’s being said and do it quickly. Research has shown that people feel more connected when that happens. Lyubomirsky adds that you can even overlap your words with the other person. Rather than being rude, it’s a kind of trading-off and friendly banter.

At the most basic level, you want to show genuine curiosity and that comes from asking them things. First, you get facts, but then you go into the more detailed stuff, like “What got you into baking?” or “What does it feel like to bulldoze a house?” The underlying message  is, “Please tell me more.”

“We’re swayed by someone paying attention,” says Zoe Chance, assistant professor of marketing at Yale School of Management and author of Influence is Your Superpower. “We like people who ask questions and we really like people who ask follow-up questions.”

Use the Person’s Name

It sounds too simple, right? But our brains get activated by it and it’s a very charming move. It’s the reason why hearing it can wake us up or how we can detect it during a loud party, Chance says. Importantly, it also shows that you’re paying attention.

Give Compliments

And all they have to be is small. Compliments convey belonging and respect. “They say, ‘I see you, and I like something about you.’ Feeling accepted like that is really important to people’s sense of self,” says Vanessa Bohns, associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, author of You Have More Influence Than You Think, and researcher on the topic. 

But people don’t usually give them, which is why it’s all the more charming that you do. People underestimate their impact and there’s the awkwardness or perceived awkwardness. We think the other person will focus on our phrasing or what we decided to compliment, and of course, we don’t want to be offensive or make anyone feel objectified, but for the most part, it’s not a worry.

“They just hear something nice about themselves and that feels really good,” she says.

But Be Ready to Adjust

Being charming requires effort but you also need to know when it’s time to quit. Not all gym days are 10s. The same goes for conversations. You might have finally gotten someone to talk by asking about their favorite vacation spot, but you still find the person boring. It’s all right to politely remove yourself, but the thing about charm is while the interaction may have done little for you, the other person walks away feeling, “Cool guy.” There’s little downside to putting in a couple of minutes, of that, because you end up bolstering relationships and becoming well-regarded, even popular. “Charming people benefit,” Lyubomirsky says.

Why Acupuncture Is Going Mainstream in Medicine

As a pain management specialist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., he didn’t anticipate leaving behind the short-term use of opioids altogether, since they work so well for post-surgical pain. But he wanted to recommend a remedy that was safer and still effective.

That turned out to be acupuncture.

“Like any treatment, acupuncture doesn’t work for everyone, but the majority of my patients who have tried it have found relief,” he says. “When I started looking into studies, I discovered how much evidence there was behind this treatment, and that made me feel comfortable suggesting it as an alternative or a complement to pain medication and other treatments.”

That blend of anecdotal success, research-backed results, and growing level of openness from the medical community are all driving the popularity of acupuncture as a therapy. According to a 2021 World Health Organization report, acupuncture is the most widely used traditional medicine practice globally, and it’s gaining traction in the U.S. In 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid services began covering acupuncture for the first time for chronic low back pain.

Although scientists don’t yet understand all the nuances of how it works, research indicates it can have a significant effect on certain conditions, and it shows promise for others.

What is acupuncture?

The goal of acupuncture is the same now as it was thousands of years ago when it was first developed in China: restoring balance to the body, says Kevin Menard, a sports medicine acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner in Sag Harbor, New York.

The practice is based on how energy, or qi, flows through the body along a series of channels called meridians—similar to the way nerves and vessels carry messages and blood throughout every system.

“According to Chinese medicine theory, each meridian is related to a specific organ, and placing thin needles at certain points along these meridians can effect certain changes in the body to restore homeostasis,” says Menard. The needles aren’t the type you’d use to draw blood; they’re very thin and flexible, almost like bits of wire.

Placement along the meridians is believed to cause reactions like sending more blood or lymphatic fluid to specific organs or allowing muscles to release in a way that reduces tension on joints and bones. The needles may also stimulate nerves and tweak nervous system regulation to result in a relaxation response, which relieves pain, Mikhael says.

Acupuncture is also thought to stimulate the immune system and control inflammation, Menard says, two effects that can bring benefits throughout the body. Depending on the condition or injury, relief might happen with just one treatment, but it usually takes a series of sessions, Menard says, especially if an issue is complex or chronic.

What the research says

Research on acupuncture has been extensive, and so far, robust evidence supports its effectiveness for some, but not all, conditions. According to one analysis published in February 2022 in the BMJ that analyzed more than 2,000 scientific reviews of acupuncture therapies, the science is strongest behind acupuncture’s efficacy for post-stroke aphasia; neck, shoulder, and muscle pain; fibromyalgia pain; lactation issues after delivery; lower back pain; vascular dementia symptoms; and allergy symptoms.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) finds that acupuncture for pain relief tends to have the most evidence, especially for conditions that have become chronic like osteoarthritis and lower back pain, as well as tension headaches. A review of 11 clinical trials also suggests that acupuncture may help with symptoms associated with cancer treatment, the NIH notes.

That’s been a booming area of interest for the field, says Sarah Weaver, an acupuncturist and massage therapist at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Minnesota, which focuses on integrative health professions, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and Traditional Chinese Medicine. For cancer patients, sessions there can focus on reducing nausea, numbness, and tingling (called neuropathy), brain fog, low appetite, acute and chronic pain, and mood challenges that come with cancer care.

“Often, people with cancer want to add complementary treatment that doesn’t affect their chemotherapy or radiation, and that’s where an option like acupuncture can be helpful,” she says. “It’s the reason more healthcare systems are bringing this treatment into their integrative care options.”

What’s next in the field

Acupuncture is far from a proven and accepted therapy for most conditions—even for the ones that show promise. That’s in part because the studies that support it are sometimes not high quality, and the field lacks standardized protocols that would better allow it to be scientifically evaluated, the recent WHO report finds.

For instance, one 2016 research review analyzed studies looking at acupuncture for substance abuse and addiction. Among the 83 research articles included in the review, the researchers found substantial variations in study quality, acupuncture frequency, how long needles were left in the body during treatment, which points along the meridians were used, and other potentially important factors. That made it difficult to evaluate how effective the acupuncture really was. The field also lacks clear terminology and universally accepted agreement about the location of acupuncture points, researchers argue.

‘Transformative’ retirement reform package passes the House and heads to the Senate

“Oftentimes in this chamber you will hear the phrase transformative,” said Ways and Means committee chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) as the bill neared passage. “Sometimes it’s hyperbolic but on this occasion, this is transformative legislation.”

Expanding on a landmark 2019 retirement bill, the bill aims to further expand Americans’ ability to save for retirement and increase their options for doing so. If it passes the Senate, SECURE 2.0 could be a boon for savers from people still paying student loans to retirees behind on their bills.

“SECURE 2.0 is fundamentally designed to make it easier for people to save,” Susan Neely, American Council of Life Insurers President and CEO, told Yahoo Finance Live on Monday. She added there’s “a lot going on in this bill that will be great for retirement savings and it has momentum, thank goodness.”

The bill unanimously cleared the House Ways and Means committee about 11 months ago. Despite the bipartisan support, it languished as lawmakers wrangled over a separate retirement proposal that Democrats had hoped to include in the now-moribund Build Back Better Act.

Now, the resurrected SECURE 2.0 — endorsed by outside groups like AARP and the Red Cross — heads to the Senate where lawmakers of both parties have expressed support for the ideas contained in it and advocates hope it could earn a vote in the upper chamber in the coming months.

“In this bill, we take serious steps to address the savings gap,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), another of the bill’s key backers, said on Tuesday. “I’m hopeful the Senate picks it up and moves it quickly.”

Here are a few ways the bill could change the way Americans save for retirement.

New options for those nearing retirement

Proponents note Secure 2.0 will give retirees — who are living longer than previous generations — more flexibility as they manage a longer retirement.

For one thing, it gives workers more options for “catch-up” contributions as they near retirement, up to $10,000 per year. Another key provision gradually raises the age for taking mandatory distributions from 401(k) plans or IRAs to 75 from 72.

Some lawmakers want to take things even further with required minimum distributions. “My goal is to get rid of it completely,” Brady said of the age restrictions on distributions during an appearance at the Bipartisan Policy Center Solutions Summit streamed on Yahoo Finance in 2020.

On Monday, Neely also highlighted provisions that will makes annuities or other lifetime income options more accessible which, she said, “can be really really helpful in rounding out your retirement.”

A recent study found that one in three adults have less than $5,000 in retirement savings and nearly half (46%) have taken no steps to prepare for the likelihood that they could outlive their savings.

Automatic enrollment and increased access

According to the latest government data, only about half of private sector workers participate in a retirement plan at work. Many don’t participate because they have no access, but many simply haven’t signed up for available benefits.

To remedy this situation, the bill would push more employers to automatically enroll new employees into their company’s retirement plan if one is offered. Studies have shown that employers with auto-enrollment retirement plans have higher rates of participation.

The bill also includes inducements to help employers, particularly small businesses and nonprofits, with the daunting start-up costs of offering new plans. Employers can also receive credits for matching workers’ contributions. Currently, only 42% of part-time workers have access to a retirement plan at work.

An idea around student loans and retirement

One part of the bill that will surely get the attention of younger people would allow people to save while paying down student loans.

The idea here is to allow businesses to contribute to employees’ retirement accounts when workers make student loan payments. In other words, if you put $100 towards your student loan, your company could “match” it with up to $100 going into a retirement plan like a 401(k).

Data from Bankrate suggests that college graduates with student loans often have to delay other priorities. Thirty-four percent report having delayed emergency savings, 23% say they have delayed buying a home, and 29% have delayed retirement savings.

In a recent webinar co-hosted by Yahoo Finance and the Bipartisan Policy Center, Rep. Fred Keller (R-PA) touted these provisions in particular as “a thing that I think everybody can get behind because it’s incentivizing people to save.”

Brady adds that the provision “really recognizes reality of newer and younger workers in the workforce and finding smart ways to begin to help them to save.”

How to Be a Better Mentor

Here’s a collection of some of our favorite insights and research from Kellogg faculty about how to do mentorship right.

Teach Skills—but Don’t Stop There

The mentors who have the biggest positive impact on the success of their mentees tend to be highly skilled and very successful themselves, according to a study by Kellogg professor Brian Uzzi and his colleagues.

An analysis of the careers of more than 37,000 scientist mentors and mentees confirmed that having a mentor who is at the top of their game improves a mentee’s odds of ultimately becoming a superstar themselves by nearly sixfold. 

But here’s something surprising. The study also suggests that the most successful mentees are those who go off to work in a different subject area, charting their own paths. 

“When a student gets this ‘special sauce’ and they apply it to being a mini-me of their mentor, they still do well. But if they apply it to an original new topic of their own, they do even better,” Uzzi says. 

This special sauce, the researchers argue, goes far beyond specific technical skills or subject-matter expertise, and includes tacit knowledge of how groundbreaking work is ideated and produced. This highlights the importance of mentors and mentees spending time and working through problems together, rather than simply ensuring that discrete skills are mastered.

Allow Mentees to “Own” the Relationship

A good mentor makes it clear that their mentee is the one in charge of their own career. Mentees should be the ones setting the agenda for any meetings.

Diane Brink, a senior fellow at Kellogg and a former Chief Marketing Officer at IBM, argues that making the mentee’s agenda a priority keeps them from being swayed towards a career path they may not be interested in following. And it takes pressure off the mentor to act as an all-knowing guru.

Being a mentor is less about telling mentees exactly what to do—only they can decide that—and more about showing up for them, listening to them, and offering nonjudgmental support. 

“As a mentor, your role is to help guide and facilitate how that individual solves a problem or tackles an opportunity,” Brink says.

“As a mentor, your role is to help guide and facilitate how that individual solves a problem or tackles an opportunity.”

— Diane Brink

“You’re asking questions and providing context for greater clarity. You’re not the person who’s going to have all the answers.”

Help Them Think Beyond the Next Job

Here’s another thing mentorship is not, according to Brink: lining up your mentee with their next gig. “That’s not your role,” she says.

It’s a common misunderstanding, and it can set the mentor–mentee relationship off on the wrong foot. Mentors should be clear about what they cannot or will not do about, say, an upcoming promotion and instead encourage mentees to view their careers with a wider lens than they might otherwise. What is their potential? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

“One of the things that I will do throughout my mentoring relationships is to encourage the individual to think about where they see themselves four or five jobs from now. I think it forces the person to think more broadly about their development plan and the types of challenges and potential assignments that they should consider so that they can get there,” she says.

Don’t Be Afraid to Have Tough Conversations

Good managers often find themselves managing an employee’s performance in their current role, while also preparing them for future roles—a task that involves a significant amount of mentorship. 

“Think of yourself as a coach who’s there to unlock the potential of the person,” says Carter Cast, a clinical professor of entrepreneurship at Kellogg. “You work with the talents and gifts of each person so they can do more of what they do well.” 

He stresses the importance of passing along negative feedback about an employee if it is constructive and will help them in the future—even if they are performing just fine in their current role. At times, he says, this can involve “several very hard, very direct conversations.”

He recalls how a senior VP at a Fortune 50 technology firm called Cast nearly a decade later to tell him that their conversations about his inability to partner well with others had been crucial to his career development.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Cast says. “Thinking back, those conversations were so uncomfortable for both of us. But I think he realized later that I wouldn’t have gone through the discomfort if I didn’t care about his development. He wasn’t a lost cause. He was just missing an ingredient—the ability to enlist the support of others effectively—and he had to go find it.”

Consider Career Development at the Organizational Level, Too

While mentoring generally takes place between individual mentors and mentees, organizations wanting to maximize the career potential of their employees—and deepen their own future pool of leaders—should consider spreading the benefits of career development widely.

Very widely. Bernard Banks, a clinical professor and associate dean of leadership, is a fan of betting on everyone. Which doesn’t mean that you can’t differentiate among whom you give which opportunities. But it does mean that nobody should be left behind to stagnate or find their own way. Providing informal training sessions, offering new on-the-job experiences, and encouraging individuals to build mentor–mentee relationships can be relatively inexpensive, but meaningful.

Banks says that this approach not only cultivates leadership across the organization but helps retain talent as well. “Many times you’ll see individuals say, ‘I left the firm because I didn’t feel like anyone was taking a marked interest in my development,’” he says. “Sometimes people construe that as, ‘They just didn’t send me to this course.’ But it’s more than that.”

How to Learn a Valuable Lifetime Skill: Self-Soothing

Most people don’t give much thought to self-soothing. Yet it is a powerful ability to have and one of the most important life skills you can learn.

Self-soothing can get you through some of the most challenging days or moments of your life by helping you manage feelings of hurt, anger, sadness, or grief. It can make you more resilient as a person. In fact, a 2019 study, (Sar and Sevda, et al.), found that shame-prone women who engaged in purposeful self-soothing were better able to get their emotional needs met.

For many, self-soothing comes naturally because they learned it organically from their parents. This happens simply and automatically when parents soothe their children.

By listening carefully to a long story about something hurtful or unfair that happened to their child that day; by sitting with calm, quiet empathy through their small daughter’s tantrum; by lying next to their child to help him fall asleep after a nightmare; by smoothing their distraught child’s forehead. These are the ways that emotionally present parents teach self-soothing to their children.

Children who receive enough self-soothing from their parents grow up having it for a lifetime. They never need to give it much thought. But this is typically not the case for those who were raised by emotionally neglectful parents.

Why Emotionally Neglectful Parents Can’t Teach Self-Soothing

There are many different types of emotionally neglectful parents. They may be so self-focused that they’re not aware of their children’s emotional needs, much less meeting them. They may be doing their best to keep the family afloat financially so that they’re too exhausted, or not present enough, to respond to their children emotionally. Or, they may seem like wonderful parents in every way, providing their kids with virtually everything they need except for one essential, powerful thing: emotional awareness and support.

Some of these parents are unaware of emotions in general, not just their children’s. They didn’t receive soothing themselves when they were growing up, so they don’t know how to give it to their kids.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter why your parent fails. What really matters is that they failed you. Now, as an adult, you can learn how to provide it for yourself.

The Good News

Fortunately, self-soothing is not complex or difficult to learn. In fact, for most people, it’s mostly a process of self-discovery, trying different ideas, and observing the outcome. As you go through the process of learning self-soothing, an added benefit is getting to know yourself better on an emotional level.

Since every human being is unique, the things that will be soothing to you will be specific to you. 

4 Steps to Learn Self-Soothing

  1. Make a list of possible activities that you think might be soothing for you. You will have this initial group of possible strategies ready to try when you need them.
  2. Watch for strong feelings of anger, hurt, sadness, or any other feeling that is too sharp or painful to manage. These are your chances to try out your list.
  3. Try different strategies at different times, since different strategies may work in different situations and with different feelings. Try one strategy and if it doesn’t work, try another.
  4. If one of your strategies isn’t good, mark it off. Add new ones as they occur to you.

It may be helpful to think back to your childhood. What comforted you as a child? How about earlier in your adult life? Perhaps you’ve already found and used some things that work for you.

Make sure any strategy you add to your list is healthy. Avoid eating, spending, drinking, or anything that is excessive. Also, keep in mind that we are not looking to avoid a feeling altogether. Avoiding just makes a feeling more powerful. We are trying to soothe the feeling enough that you can tolerate and think through what you’re feeling and why which reduces its overall power now and forever.

Exercise may protect brain health by lowering cardiovascular risk factors

A new study investigates the mechanisms involved in the relationship between exercise and brain health. 

Previous research had shown that larger gray matter volume can help protect against dementia by improving brain function.

The new study shows that insulin resistance and BMI mediate the relationship between larger and smaller brain gray matter volumes (the part of the brain involved in processing information).

The research is published in the April 2022 online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. 

The corresponding author of the study was Dr. Geraldine Poisnel, of the Inserm Regional Research Center, in Caen, Normandy, France.

Studying glucose metabolism and brain volume

The study involved 134 people with an average age of 69 who had no memory problems. The participants filled out a physical activity survey covering the past 12 months. They also had brain scans to measure glucose metabolism and brain volume.

The metabolism of glucose in the brain provides fuel for the brain by generating adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP) — a key molecule for maintaining the health of neurons and other cells. ATP is also key for generating neurotransmitters. Reduced glucose metabolism in the brain can be seen in people with dementia.

Gray matter development peaks at age 2–3 years. It begins to decrease afterward in some areas of the brain, but the density of the gray matter increases. From an evolutionary perspective, the higher processing ability of the human brain and its development are due to this increase in density.

In some studies, larger total brain volume, estimated by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), has a weak correlation with higher intelligence in men and a very weak correlation in women with the ability to do well in intelligence tests.

In contrast, brain tissue deterioration and loss of volume is a significant contributor to lower cognitive ability later in life.

In the new study, researchers included 134 people with an average age of 69 who had no memory problems. The participants filled out a physical activity survey covering the past 12 months. They also had brain scans to measure glucose metabolism and brain volume.

Body mass index and insulin levels affect brain health

In the new study, researchers gathered formation on cardiovascular risk factors including BMI and insulin levels, as well as cholesterol, blood pressure, and other factors.

The researchers examined the relationship between insulin and cardiovascular disease. The metabolic abnormalities that insulin causes raise the risk of cardiovascular complications, which in turn affect brain function.

Researchers found that insulin and BMI levels did not affect the metabolism of glucose in the brain. 

Alzheimer’s disease marker not affected

The research demonstrated that the amount of amyloid plaque in the brain that contributes to Alzheimer’s Disease was not affected by exercise.

Medical News Today contacted Dr. Raeanne Moore, associate adjunct professor of psychiatry at UCSD in La Jolla, CA. 

Dr. Moore, who was not involved in the study, was asked about the study results. She shared with MNT:

“This study adds to the growing body of research on the positive benefits of staying active on brain health, especially as we age.” 

“[T]here is an urgent need to identify markers of cognitive decline,” added Dr. Moore. “Decreasing insulin levels and losing weight are modifiable factors that can be improved with a healthy diet and exercise.”

She added, “It was not surprising that higher physical activity was not associated with how much amyloid plaque people had in their brains. There is growing evidence that vascular risk factors on cognitive function are mediated by the amount of tau pathology in the brain and not an amyloid burden

Spirit and Soul: Discovering a Personal Meaning

In late 1991, I was walking down the hallway of the hospital visiting a friend. I glanced in a room and saw a young man that I had briefly known, named Mark. He was lying quietly with his eyes closed and a tear running down his cheek.

I walked in the room and asked him if he remembered me, which he did. He explained to me that the doctors had told him that morning that he had little time left. 

Mark had moved to the city recently and hadn’t made any close friends. His parents had “disowned” him because he was gay. He was all alone.

I asked Mark if he had any thoughts about what was next on his spiritual journey. Did he believe in an afterlife? His response was profound: “I just want to die and be forgotten.”

Because of the profoundly intense sadness of that statement, he is one of the lost souls of the AIDS crisis whom I remember most. That response burned into my heart. No one should have to die alone. No one should die with that level of shame. Mark is a soul that will live with me forever.

I sat with Mark for quite a while, simply holding his hand while he cried, and hopefully giving him one small hint of connection.

Wherever Mark is today, his light still shines bright in my heart. Most of us perceive death and afterlife from different perspectives, however in my mind, the souls that have left us physically still remain in our hearts and memories. As long as we remember them, their soul is alive.

Is that a form of spirituality? Are spirit and soul connected?

What is soul? It’s easy to recognize the soul in artists and musicians. Not only do they feel compelled to release their talent and expression, but others are moved by the reflection of their soul. Many of us are not gifted to create music, but we feel the incredible connection to the soul when we hear it. The same is true for art or performance. So many statements express it: “I felt in awe.” “I can’t explain it.” “It brought tears to my eyes.” Tears are the number one symbol for feeling your soul. They are your emotions solidified.

That feeling of spirit and soul can be expressed in our everyday lives. Seeing a young child play and giggle, or watching them explore something new, or crying in fear … we are watching their souls be created. We feel animated. It is their soul that animates our spirituality.

For many, religion is the basis of spirituality. It is community. It is motivation and purpose for why we are here and where we are going. A modern definition of religion is, “The subjective experience of a sacred dimension. It is the deepest values and meanings by which to live. It is one’s own inner dimension.”

For others, spirituality is not about religion. It is connecting to an energy outside of oneself. It is about connecting to the universe. Humility. Finding meaning.

It is these beliefs that can make us strong through a challenge in life. 

Finding the purpose and discovering a personal meaning can completely change perspective when living in fear and hopelessness.

We might very well have broken our closest connections when we go through a trauma. Finding something to trust, other than ourselves, can begin a new journey when we feel like no one can help us. Hope is always waiting in our souls.

Spirituality can also be defined as acceptance. Acceptance of others can be calming and result in greater awareness. Acceptance of yourself and your life as it is at this very moment is as important as acceptance of others. Accept yourself. Be compassionate for your life. And please, more than anything else, accept and respect the beliefs and spirituality of others. It is beautiful, not competitive.

Difficulties in our lives will challenge our faith. The reality is that those difficulties can only strengthen it, but we have to truly contemplate and make every attempt to find the positive forces of our soul, or our spirituality, whatever that might be. Mark did not have time to find that last stage of acceptance. At the young age of 23, he never had the chance to find hope.

Ask yourself three questions:

  • If I could tell the entire world one message, what would it be? Pretend you just won an Oscar, you are standing in front of the microphone, and the entire world is waiting for your message. It is criminal to say something as horrible as, “I really don’t have anything planned.” Or, “I guess I just want to thank my family.” As an old entertainment writer, I can tell you that when you thank someone in an acceptance speech, you make one person very happy, and the rest of the world is bored. So what is the message that you would like to convey to everyone?
  • Secondly, what is a gift you have that you think you are meant to give to the world? I don’t mean a literal gift, but a trait, a talent, or knowledge. What is your soul?
  • The third question is what you still hope to learn from the world that it can give back to you. What is something that you still hope to experience or learn?

As Mark faded in his final hours crying, there was no question that his soul was completely filling the room, and yet he was not aware of it. He felt he had no purpose. 

His soul wrote this post.

7 Benefits of Temporary Habits

When people think of habits, they often consider any habit that’s not permanent as a failure. For example, Jack starts running every day, then stops. Jack might consider that a habit failure.

In terms of public policy, the goal is also usually for the public to develop permanent habits—for example, recycling or conserving water.

However, in ordinary life, temporary daily habits can have a lot of value. 

The value of temporary habits

Temporary habits can:

1. Help you become efficient.

Let’s say you take on a temporary habit of making a homemade lunch from scratch every day. When you force yourself to do this daily, you’ll find ways to become efficient at it. Even if you don’t keep up the daily habit forever, you’ll still have those efficiency hacks in your toolkit. Unlike hacks you read about, when you develop your own hacks, you’ll know they work for you personally. They’re not gimmicks. (I teach how to develop your own efficiency hacks, in a lot more detail, in Stress-Free Productivity.)

2. Help clarify your values.

When you do an activity every day, it’ll help you see whether it really reflects your values, likes, and priorities. When you’re actually doing the activity every day (rather than imagining doing it daily), does it seem like you’re living your best life? Or does it seem like you don’t want to spend a big swath of your life doing that activity?

Here’s an example:

  • When I write most weekdays, that feels really good to me. I feel creatively energized by it. It makes my life feel on track. That creative act seems to infuse my life generally with more creativity.
  • In contrast, when I go to the gym every day, I realize I don’t want to be spending my life inside a dark gym. It makes me realize I prefer more naturalistic exercise. 

3. Distinguish reality vs. ideals (and false social messages.)

In our minds, we often think doing an activity every day, with extreme consistency, would be ideal. Sometimes when we attempt to do that activity daily for a sustained period, we learn that it’s not sustainable to do it every day, and a frequency less than that would actually be more ideal for us.article continues after advertisement

4. Help you understand how your priorities fit together. 

Daily habits are incredibly limited in real estate. Often it’s not so much time that’s the limiting factor, but focus and energy. Many of us have too many activities we highly value in our lives to do them all every day.

For example, I homeschool my child. Sometimes, I can “phone this in.” For example, I can print a worksheet with questions and hand it to her.

On other days, I need to devote some time, energy, and attention to helping her manage an aspect of her school work she’s struggling with emotionally. For instance, she’s a really confident reader, but much less confident at writing her own stories. On days I need to help her manage her emotions, I will drop some of my personal habits to make room for this. Sure, technically I might have time to do both, but I might not have the mental energy for both.

When you attempt to do an activity every day, you’ll gain an understanding of how your priorities sometimes compete. You’ll sometimes learn that, even though a certain activity is valuable to you and you enjoy it, doing it daily crowds out other things that are important to you. There’s a science and an art to figuring out how you can swap your habits in and out to make enough room for all your priorities without jeopardizing your habits.

5. Make behavioral sequences automatic.

Habits are effective because they make behavioral sequences automatic and save us from using unnecessary brainpower and excess decision-making. Because of this, habits make behaviors easier. The more automatic a habit becomes, the less conscious self-control it requires. 

But habits don’t need to be permanent to have these benefits.

I used to live in New York City. I took the subways multiple times almost every day. Subway riding became an automatic habit. I could’ve used the ticketing machines and swiped my ticket with my eyes closed. Before entering a subway car, I’d always glance to make sure it wasn’t more empty than the other cars (as that was a sure sign there was a bad smell or the air conditioning was broken in that car.)

Subway riding is enough of an over-learned habit for me that, when I’m back in New York visiting, all my prior learning takes back over. 

Our habits are sometimes the most useful for a season. For example, I’m currently pregnant. When I switched to side sleeping, I started getting a sore shoulder. Within a few days of this happening, I reinstated the system of pillows I used the last time I was pregnant so that I stopped getting the sore shoulder. I resumed the habit of setting up the pillows upon getting into bed each night.

Many habits work best as daily habits but are most useful for specific seasons of your life, rather than a lifetime. 

What habits are like this for you? You might literally have different summer, spring, fall, and winter habits, as an example. 

It’s useful to keep up temporary habits long enough that the sequence of behaviors involved becomes automated in your long-term memory. But, you don’t necessarily need to keep doing the habit every day to maintain that benefit. 

6. Build a skill quickly.

Sometimes concentrated learning (through daily doing) is the best way to build a skill. Once you reach the level of proficiency you’re after, you might not need to do it daily to retain the skill.

Your Life’s Roadmap—Just Begin Anywhere

Many, if not most, of us live our lives by endlessly dealing with challenges and then enjoying ourselves when we can. We often don’t have the time or energy to make decisions and choices to experience what we envisioned when we graduated from high school. What happened to those dreams?

We spend a lot of time reacting to our circumstances instead of creating the life that we want. The problem is that any time you are anxious or frustrated, you are reacting to some unpleasant event from the past that was kicked up by the present. That is how every living creature survives. 

We learn what is safe versus threatening and attempt to live our lives in a range that is neutral or safe. It is also well known that avoiding danger is a stronger driving force for behaviors than seeking safety. In addition to avoiding physical danger, humans strive to avoid mental threats, which have the same impact on our nervous system and body. Research has shown that the physiological responses are the same.1 But since we cannot escape from our thoughts, all of us have some level of a constantly activated nervous system that wears us down. There nare many ways to de-energize this process, required for healing. 

The other facet of healing is moving into the part of your brain that experiences pleasure and is safe. It is a process and an acquired skill. As with becoming a virtuoso violinist, it requires repetition to make it a habit. It is the only way to affect the subconscious operations of your brain.

ReaCtive to Creative

If you move the letter “C” from the middle of the word “reactive” to the beginning, you have the word “creative.” If you can create some space between your stress and reactivity, you can substitute a more rational response, and, with repetition,, your brain physically changes (neuroplasticity). A foundational step is expressive writing, which creates space between you and your reactivity.

Creating structure to organize your life lowers stresses. You see them more clearly and make better proactive decisions. It also creates some “space” and perspective. If you can’t see all the aspects of a problem, it is harder to solve. But if you do, then you can create small behavioral changes that become habitual. 

While an important aspect of this journey out of pain is to learn and adopt an organizational system, at the same time it seems overwhelming. So, the first step is to do something—anything. You may not have the energy to figure out what you really want at this point. But just get started. 

Begin–Anywhere

Start small—very small. I presented a template of a personal “business plan” earlier in this leg of the journey. You may have felt that you don’t have the bandwidth to do this or that you just can’t do it. Don’t worry about it. Just do something (anything) to start the process. Here are some suggestions, and whatever works for you is the key:

· Take piece of paper every morning and write down one optional goal of something you want to accomplish. Just one. It may be as simple as staying out of bed for 15 minutes longer than usual.

· Then write down five things you might do to create more order in your life. 

· It might resemble your usual to-do list, but it is a more thoughtful set of actions. 

· One of the to-do items could be creating some time for your self-care. 

· What routine might you create to center yourself and connect with the day – with or without your pain?

How to Overcome Feelings of Shame about Personal Debt

They may feel like they’ve failed themselves or their families. They may avoid honest conversations with loved ones for fear of revealing just how bad their financial situation is. They may feel utterly hopeless because they can’t see a way to get out of debt.

Shame can prevent people from seeking help. They may worry about how others will think of them if they reveal how much they owe or how much they’re struggling to pay their bills. That worry creates inaction, which allows a bad situation to get worse. The fear and shame get bigger and bigger.

How do you break that cycle? By recognizing that debt can happen to anyone. It’s not a sign of failure or evidence of any weakness. 

Fortunately, expert financial guidance from someone who can also lend an empathetic ear is the best way to overcome the financial and emotional challenges of burdensome debt —and start a plan to become debt-free.

WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO STRUGGLE WITH DEBT?

Many Americans simply can’t pay what they owe. Debt doesn’t discriminate, but the challenges consumers face often change depending on demographics. For example, while people with high incomes tend to carry greater amounts of total debt, people with lower incomes hold a greater proportion of debt compared to their income. This proportionally higher debt-to-income ratio makes it all the more difficult to manage unexpected debts. 

Student loan debt also burdens some groups disproportionately—with minority groups and women bearing more impact. In addition to carrying a larger proportion of student loan debt, women tend to earn less than men (84 cents for every dollar earned by a man), once again making debt that much harder to shake. 

According to a 2018 study by Capital Group, women are also less likely to want to discuss their personal financial situation than men are. So not only do particular populations face more difficulties in paying down their debt and saving for retirement, but they also feel less comfortable discussing their finances and seeking help. This combination can cause a vicious cycle that feels inescapable.

WHY MIGHT SOMEONE HAVE FALLEN INTO DEBT?

Debt is rarely a choice. Most debt is a result of events and circumstances that are difficult – if not outright impossible – to control. Even debt that stems from poor budgeting or overspending is usually tied in some way to psychological needs or behaviors that you may not be able to control.

Some of the top triggers that push people into debt include:

  • Divorce or separation
  • Job loss
  • Medical emergency
  • Major home repairs after a natural disaster
  • Supporting another family member

For example, Debbie was retired when Hurricane Sandy severely damaged her Florida home. She lived frugally, but quickly fell into financial difficulty due to extensive repairs on her house and physical illness from invasive mold. She couldn’t cover the repairs without assistance. After some online research, Debbie found Money Management International’s (MMI) Project Porchlight. She received expert guidance from an MMI counselor who also connected her with other helpful resources to put her on the path to recovery. 

A lack of understanding of the American financial system can also be a debt trigger. Diana, a Colombian immigrant, found herself trapped paying high fees to a credit repair company while sending money home to her mother and maintaining an expensive lifestyle. Her situation caused her deep financial stress—but the thought of reducing the monthly payment she sent to her mother created a deep sense of guilt. With the help and understanding of the Hispanic Center for Financial Excellence (HCFE), a program of MMI, she was able to get back onto solid financial footing. 

Whether the debt is outside of your control or not, your feelings can be complex and difficult to navigate. Bottom line: debt is stressful, and for many, it’s embarrassing. You may feel anxious, depressed, fearful, overwhelmed, and even physically ill. When a problem seems insurmountable, people can feel demoralized. But there is hope. 

HOW TO OVERCOME DEBT SHAME AND STIGMA AND SEEK HELP

The first step in dealing with personal debt is beginning to talk about it. Getting started can be the hardest part of the process, but once you do, you’ll find it gets easier. You’ll also find that breaking down the taboo of talking about money and debt can lighten the weight of these negative emotions. MMI clients report feeling significantly less anxious after completing their first counseling session. 

Simply having a plan and being able to make progress on that plan can make a huge difference in your outlook. When working with an MMI counselor, we help you focus on small, achievable steps, building momentum as your debt starts to disappear. 

Contact MMI for a private and confidential counseling session and we’ll talk you through all your options. You don’t have to navigate this experience alone. You can complete most of your counseling online and counselors are available by phone, chat, and email.

How to Prevent Your Drive to Succeed From Making You Miserable

Many of the so-called success stories I’ve spent time with are filling a void. They work to feel worthy, they binge on Netflix or alcohol to numb pain and they obsess about achieving to distract from their existential duress. They post certain things on social media to pacify their perceived inadequacy and try to feel better about themselves by looking good on the outside. They busy themselves by getting what they want, only to realize they never wanted it in the first place. 

To start up a business, entrepreneurs have to stop working as an employee and start thinking like a boss. However, many owners fail to let go of the paradigm of thinking that their authentic happiness, freedom and fulfillment are only worthy when goals are attained. They plan their work as if how they feel at the end of the day and their life does not matter. Each day ends up feeling forced and they’re constantly facing friction by choosing between time with loved ones or making money.

It doesn’t have to be this way

A few generations ago, earning was for survival and safety. More recently, it shifted to earning and giving our family options. 

Now, entrepreneurs can earn as a natural byproduct of doing what makes them feel good. Ultimately, our fulfillment is infinitely more important than hitting targets and buying the next thing.

What stays behind is the legacy of the feeling we leave people with.

We can only make people feel as good as we feel

Well-being comes down to balancing what brings us joy while simultaneously having the discipline to execute the strategies necessary to physicalize goals. 

Many get stuck too far on one side of the pendulum and find themselves not feeling good. On one side, people work hard and don’t do anything they love. On the other side, people do what they love and live in the flow, but avoid what doesn’t feel favorable, therefore not creating the growth or results they want. Neither of these options is optimal.

It’s my job to be an active, conscious vehicle who serves other people and enjoys the life I’m blessed to experience each day. Being driven and enjoying life don’t have to be in conflict when you frame it correctly. Connecting your work to something bigger than your ego’s subconscious fears is essential to feel fulfilled. 

You’ve gotta have faith

Creating and transforming your life and business needs to come from your vision backed by belief, not your subconscious fears.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my job fulfill my potential to create an impact?
  • Is my work more superficial than what God, or the Universe, is calling me to do?
  • Where can I redirect my energy?

The ability to reflect and redirect is what makes us powerful beyond measure. You get to consciously create the life you live. Make it count. 

Cognitive impairment has more than doubled since 2009, study suggests

Dementia is characterized by a gradual deterioration in cognitive function, impacting memory, judgment, language, and other cognitive abilities. Over 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and there are around 10 million new cases per year. 

Initial concerns that point to dementia include subjective memory concerns (SMC) — when no clear impairment is found from psychometric testing, and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — when there is objective evidence of decline.Both SMC and MCI increase dementia risk. 

Until now, few studies had examined people who present symptoms of SMC and MCI to healthcare providers, and even fewer have explored their prognoses. 

Recently, researchers from University College London examined records of SMI and MCI and their progression into dementia. 

They found that at a 3-year follow-up, 45.5% of those with SMC and 51.7% of those with MCI received a dementia diagnosis. 

They also found that rates of SMC and MCI as recorded by healthcare providers are lower than those reported in community surveys, suggesting that a minority of people who experience memory loss consult their general practitioner (GP) and have it recorded. 

“Given the increased understanding of the importance of cognitive concerns over the past decade, and how this may signify incipient dementia, it is likely that the increase in recording of cognitive decline is a result of doctors’ better understanding of the need for more detailed assessment of objective cognitive function,” Yen Ying Lim, Ph.D., associate professor at Monash University, not involved in the study, told MNT

The study was published in Clinical Epidemiology

Data analysis

The researchers used the IQVIA medical research database, which collects over 18 million anonymized patient records from over 790 U.K. primary care facilities. 

They used data from 1,310,838 individuals with memory concerns and 1,348,796 individuals with cognitive decline. The people were between 65 and 99 years old and contributed data to the database between January 2009 and December 2018. 

Data included diagnostic records of SMC, MCI, and dementia, alongside covariates including age, sex, and social deprivation. 

The researchers noted that SMC reports remained stable over time and affected 4.3% of individuals. However, they increased with age from 3.66 cases per 1,000 people among those aged 65–69 to 17.89 cases per 1,000 between 80 and 99 years old. 

They also noted that females and those with higher levels of social deprivation were more likely to record SMC.

Over the study period, 1.1% of the participants reported MCI, with 38.4% of these people also reporting SMC. 

Unlike SMC, MCI reports increased over time, from 1.32 cases per 1,000 people in 2009 to 3.5 cases per 1,000 people in 2018. 

Rates of MCI also increased with age from 0.65 cases per 1,000 people aged 65–69 to 5.17 cases per 1,000 among those aged 80–99.

One Superfood to Support Your Heart

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death worldwide. However, it can be prevented through lifestyle factors like diet. 

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting 5- 6% of calories intake from saturated fatty acid (SFA), and replacing SFA and trans-fats with monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats for better heart health. 

Avocados are rich in MUFAs and polyunsaturated fats. Studies have found that their regular consumption reduces triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and total cholesterol level. 

Most studies on avocado consumption have focused on cardiovascular risk factors. Studies investigating the link between avocado consumption and cardiovascular events could improve understanding of the fruit’s health benefits. 

Recently, researchers have investigated the link between avocado consumption and cardiovascular events. 

They found that higher consumption of avocados was linked to a lower risk of CVD and coronary heart disease (CHD). 

“The […] results are significant and strengthen previous findings of avocados’ association with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease [as well as] reducing heart outcomes such as fatal and nonfatal myocardial infarction,” Bhanu Gupta, MD, cardiologist at The University of Kansas Health System, not involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

“Point to be noted: avocado consumption does not lower the risk of stroke in the study. Another point to be noted: avocado is not a replacement for healthy dietary fats such as olive oils, nuts, and other plant oils.” 

– Dr. Gupta

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA).

Data analysis

For the study, the researchers used data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS)and the Nurses’ Health Studies (NHS). Both studies are ongoing and began in 1986 and 1976 to examine the effects of health and lifestyle on the incidence of serious illness in male and female healthcare professionals. 

For the present study, the researchers included 62,225 females and 41,701 males who did not have a history of heart disease, stroke, or cancer. 

The researchers examined their medical records for incidence of myocardial infarction and stroke, dietary surveys taken once every 4 years, and risk factors such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes from self-reports and physician diagnoses. Participants were tracked for 30 years. 

By the end of the study period, the researchers noted 14,274 incident cases of CVD including 9,185 CHD events and 5,290 strokes. 

The researchers noted that males and females with higher avocado intake tended to have higher total energy intake and a healthier diet with more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. 

After adjusting for major dietary and lifestyle factors, the researchers found that having two or more servings of avocado per week was linked to a 16% lower CVD risk and 21% lower CHD risk compared to those who did not eat avocados. 

They further found that replacing half a serving per day of mayonnaise, margarine, butter, egg, yogurt, cheese, or processed meats with the same amount of avocado was linked to a 19–31% lower risk of coronary heart disease. 

They reported no significant association between stroke risk and avocado consumption. However, they noted that replacing half a serving per day of plant oils with an equivalent amount of avocado was linked to a 45% higher stroke risk.

How to Make Better Joint Decisions With Your Partner

Joint decisions are part and parcel of parenting. Hell, the journey often kicks off with the joint decision to start a family. From there, couples face a steady march of choices What should we name our baby? Should we move closer to family? Do we have another child? What color do we paint the nursery? What show do we watch in the one hour of silence we have before we both conk out? 

But making decisions together as parents can be difficult. The sheer number of choices that need to be made and the stakes involved in each can overwhelm. The turbulence of the last few years hasn’t made it any easier — doctors are sounding the horn about “decision fatigue”, where near-constant risk assessment affects people’s ability to make choices.

“Difficult decisions already put people in a vulnerable place, and they’re more difficult to make during times of stress,” says Silva Depanian, a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified anger management counselor in the Los Angeles area. “When we’re generally stressed, we’re in survival mode, so we’re more defensive and panicky.”

In survival mode, a person’s approach to problems can become more individualized, she adds.  They think, How will I survive?rather than operating as a unit and prioritizing what’s best for the relationship.

However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, changes in relationship dynamics and gender role expectations made decision-making for couples increasingly complex, concluded the authors of a European study published in 2018. As the roles of caregiver and wage earner in partnerships blur and blend, roles might be renegotiated daily, they wrote. A 2020 study noted that couples tended to revert to more traditional notions of gender expectations —which can affect perceptions of whose opinions hold more weight in decision-making — due to pandemic-related effects in the labor market.

Still, research shows that couples tend to become more traditional in their attitudes toward gender roles after becoming parents, says Nikki Lively, LCSW, certified emotionally focused therapist and clinical director of the Transitions to Parenthood program at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.

Lively noted that, in particular, gender roles involving power and influence can often become issues for parents.  “Sometimes women don’t have as much power outside the home so in the home, they want to feel heard. Or sometimes men don’t recognize how they use their power at home,” she says.

So, this is all to say that making decisions as a couple is hard. A harmonious and equitable approach to joint decision-making takes skill – but it can be learned, our experts say. Here’s how couples can make the process as smooth as possible.

1. Consider the source

Decisions tend to be based on the ideas and values people are exposed to growing up. Many people never challenge these because our brains naturally look for evidence that we’re right, not evidence that disproves our version of reality, Depanian says.

Each partner, therefore, enters a relationship with a different ability to share power and compromise.

“Those raised in homes with permissive parents are used to doing as they please, and they bring that strong will into their marriage,” says Wyatt Fisher, a psychologist and relationship coach in Boulder, Colorado. “If you were raised as an only child, you don’t have much experience having to share or compromise. [And] if you were raised with an authoritarian parent where you had no voice, you may give in too easily as an adult.”

People might feel strongly about certain aspects of parenting that relate to things they experienced (good or bad) when they were children.

“In those moments related to parenting, people can get defensive and critical because the stakes feel so high,” says Lively. “Everyone wants to be a good parent and wants what’s best for their child.”

Cultivating an awareness of how you and your partner approach joint decisions can help you make changes to unhelpful patterns.

2. Learn to listen better

When parents don’t see eye to eye on an issue, it helps to slow down, be curious, and ask questions. But poor listening skills can derail that agenda.

People typically think they’re listening to another person when what they’re really doing is hearing their partner’s words while thinking about all the reasons their own view is the correct one, as well as when it will be their turn to say so.

“People get defensive when they feel unheard,” Depanian says. “And they typically feel unheard when their emotions are brushed aside.”

A lot of people don’t understand that listening means hearing the other person out and trying to understand their perspective, says Jenny Yip, Psy.D., board-certified clinical psychologist, adjunct clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the USC Keck School of Medicine, and executive director of the Little Thinkers Center in Los Angeles.

When you’re talking about a big decision, try to slow down and pause after your partner has finished speaking. This allows both of you an opportunity to reflect on what was said, and for your partner to elaborate if they want to.

3. Start with a spitball session

If you have the time, simply sit down and talk about your feelings without feeling pressured to make a decision quickly. There’s therapeutic value in taking time to get to know where each person is coming from before you get down to brass tacks.

“Not that the things we say aren’t meaningful, but sometimes the first five things we say aren’t really what we mean,” says Lively. The therapist tactic of responding, “Tell me more,” can be helpful for laypeople, too.

“I try to get people to see it’s never a dead-end if you safely stay with an idea or feeling for long enough,” she says. “But people usually won’t do that if they feel criticized. Feeling safe and invited to open up, on the other hand, fosters growth.”

4. Put it in writing

Even though it might sound like homework, Lively says it can be enormously helpful to write the decision you’re facing at the top of a piece of paper.  Identifying the problem is an important first step that can be less obvious than couples might think. Many couples Lively sees in therapy are surprised to discover that initially, they weren’t even in agreement about what the problem was.

“Stressed people might see their partners as the problem, but the problem is the problem,” she says. “It’s important to clearly identify the end goal you’re both trying to work toward.”

Another tactic recommended by Yip: Writing out why decisions might be valuable and meaningful to you. This can also help pinpoint the issues at hand. Each partner should write a list of pros and cons about how to target the problem, she says, and then compare their lists.

Involuntary Memories and Depression

Have you ever been for a walk or a cycle and suddenly had memories of your past popping up in your mind? Tried to get some work done but found yourself constantly distracted by unintentional memories of past events? Or suddenly been flooded by memories while doing the dishes? These spontaneous memories that seem to arise from the blue are often referred to as involuntary memories, and most people experience them quite often in everyday life. Because these memories can have quite an impact on mood, they have also become an increasingly hot topic among researchers studying depression. So let’s have a close look at what exactly involuntary memories are, and the role they play in depression.

1. Involuntary Memories Seem to Arise Out of the Blue

Involuntary memories pop up in our minds spontaneously and without any deliberate effort to think about a personal past event. In that way, they differ from memories that we think about voluntarily or intentionally, such as when we reminisce about a holiday with a friend or try to remember what we did for our birthday last year. Unlike voluntary memories, which are typically experienced as deliberate and effortful, involuntary memories are normally experienced as sudden and unexpected.

Because of this sudden and unexpected nature, it can often feel like involuntary memories arise out of the blue. However, if we take a closer look at their content, we might realize that they relate to cues in our environment or to our own thoughts or feelings in some way. For example, on a summer day, we might spontaneously start thinking about a sunny day in the past when we went to the beach with friends. Or, if we are feeling happy or sad, this might evoke memories of past events when we felt happy or sad. So, although involuntary memories feel like they arise out of nowhere, they are, in fact, evoked by cues in our current situation or environment.

2. Involuntary Memories Often Refer to Specific Events

Involuntary memories also differ from voluntary memories in that they more often refer to specific events, such as a lunch date you had last week, as opposed to more general descriptions of repeated events, such going to yoga class on Monday mornings, or events that stretch over an extended period of time, such as traveling by train through Europe last summer. In addition, some research suggests that involuntary memories are higher on characteristics such as clarity, vividness, relevance to current life situation, and personal importance. Researchers believe that this may be because past events that provide a distinctive match with our current environment, thoughts, or feelings, or grab our attention due to factors such as vividness or importance are more likely to spontaneously come to mind than memories that are less attention-grabbing or do not provide a distinctive match with our current situation or surroundings.

3. Involuntary Memories Can Have a Large Impact on Mood

Involuntary memories also differ from voluntary memories in the way they impact our mood and emotions. Compared to voluntary memories, involuntary memories more often cause physical reactions such as smiling or crying. They also more often have an impact on mood, especially negative mood. Researchers believe that one possible reason for this may be that involuntary memories arise so suddenly that it may be difficult to prepare for and engage in effective emotion regulation when they come to mind. Emotion regulation refers to different strategies that people use to manage their emotional experiences, some of which are more effective than others in reducing negative emotions and mood.

What Does the Navient Student Loan Settlement Mean for Borrowers?

In January 2022, Navient, one of the country’s largest student loan servicers, reached a $1.85 billion settlement over allegations it defrauded students with deceptive and predatory loan practices. The settlement resolves a lawsuit brought against Navient by 39 state attorneys general, and it provides some borrowers with student loan relief. 

The allegations: Navient directed struggling borrowers toward costly forbearance plans rather than into more appropriate income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. As a result, borrowers accrued unnecessary interest that bloated their loan balances and pushed them further into debt. Had borrowers received appropriate guidance, they could have been placed in an IDR plan with reduced payments, in some cases as low as $0 per month, depending on income. 

WHAT KIND OF STUDENT LOAN RELIEF DOES THE SETTLEMENT PROVIDE? 

The settlement provides two kinds of relief. Keep in mind, it’s limited and doesn’t apply to many borrowers. 

Private student loan cancellation. Borrowers who took out private student loans with Sallie Mae to attend for-profit colleges between 2002 and 2014 may be eligible for loan cancellation (aka discharge). The balance or a portion of the balance you owe could be canceled, and any payments made after June 30, 2021, could be refunded. 

Eligible borrowers may include those who were issued a subprime loan (made to borrowers with low credit scores) or those who attended a specific non-profit school. Check the settlement information for a list of schools. 

Restitution. Borrowers with federal student loans who were steered into long-term (2+ years) forbearance periods—periods of no payment—rather than receiving counseling on income-driven repayment plans may receive a “restitution” payment of $260. Loan forgiveness isn’t being offered to these borrowers. 

WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT ELIGIBILITY?

To be eligible for federal loan restitution—the $260 payment—you must be a resident of one of the 39 states that sued Navient. The restitution-participating states are: AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OR, PA, TN, VA, WA, and WI. 

To qualify for cancellation on certain private subprime loans, borrowers must reside in any of the above restitution-participating states, or Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, or West Virginia. A military address postal code also qualifies. 

Review the information at navientagsettlement.com for more details on eligibility. 

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I THINK I QUALIFY? 

You don’t need to take any action to receive benefits, so if you’re not sure you qualify, don’t worry. Navient will notify all borrowers (in writing) who receive private loan cancellation or restitution payments.

Right now, the best thing is to make sure your contact information is up to date with the U.S. Department of Education and Navient. Go online to studentaid.gov to review and update your information and then call or go online to Navient to review or update your information for any private loans. 

If your loans are canceled due to the settlement, you may owe taxes on the forgiven amount. It’s worth checking with a qualified tax professional about the tax implications. 

HOW THE PUBLIC SERVICE LOAN FORGIVENESS (PSLF) WAIVER FACTORS IN

As part of the settlement, Navient must reform its counseling practices. The servicer is required to explain forbearance, deferment, and income-driven repayment plans to borrowers, as well as help them determine the best repayment option for them. 

Navient is also required to educate borrowers about Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PLSF) for federal loans and notify them about the PSLF limited waiver available through October 31, 2022. 

If you work in qualified public service (a 501c3 or a government job), you might benefit from the waiver, whether your loans are held by Navient or another servicer. PSLF still requires that you be working for a qualifying public service employer, but it has eased other requirements. 

You might qualify for forgiveness if you have any of the following: 

  • Direct Loans not in repayment through a qualifying income-driven repayment plan 
  • FFEL, Perkins, or other federal student loans not consolidated into a Direct Loan
  • Payments that were disqualified because they were late or partial payments

Make sure to apply before October 31, 2022.

WHAT ELSE TO KNOW ABOUT STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS

The Department of Education offers several federal forgiveness programs besides PSLF. There’s also the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, or you might be eligible for forgiveness in your state if you work in a particular profession. It’s worth researching. 

Forgiveness is also offered through Income-Driven Repayment Plans. In one of these plans, you make qualifying income-based payments for 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan, after which the balance is forgiven. Private student loans aren’t typically eligible for forgiveness. Keep an eye on studentaid.gov for updates on student loan forgiveness, who qualifies, and where to learn more. 

IF YOU WON’T BENEFIT FROM THE NAVIENT SETTLEMENT, WHAT CAN YOU DO? 

Even if you aren’t included in the Navient settlement, your federal student loans may qualify for discharge if you believe you were defrauded or deliberately misled by false promises or misrepresented information. The primary reasons someone might qualify for discharge: 

  • False certification. Discharge for false certification applies to borrowers who think their school falsely certified their eligibility to receive loans. For example, if the institution falsely certified your ability to benefit from the program, falsely certified your eligibility for the program, or signed your name to the application or promissory note without your authorization. 
  • Unpaid refund discharge. If you withdrew from the school, and it didn’t properly refund the loan when you withdrew, you could be eligible for the portion of the loan not refunded to be discharged. 
  • Borrower defense against repayment discharge. Finally, if you believe the school misled you, engaged in misconduct, or violated state law, you may be eligible for discharge. Examples include misrepresenting graduates’ job placement rates, employment prospects, accreditation status of programs, ability to transfer credits, and program completion claims.

Start by submitting your complaint through the Federal Student Aid Feedback Center or by calling 877-557-2575 for the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group. The ombudsman group can help you understand your rights, assist in identifying and evaluating your options for resolving specific concerns, and refer you to the appropriate resources.

The discharge application forms can be found on the StudentAid.gov website. Review the information before applying: unpaid refund discharge, false certification discharge, or borrower defense discharge. 

How Teams Are Retaining Employees Right Now

Why are so many people quitting their jobs? According to a recent McKinsey report, employers believe that it is a problem with compensation or work-life balance. But the employees who are quitting tell a different story. Their main reasons for quitting are 1) not feeling valued and 2) not feeling a sense of belonging. And yet during the pandemic, the most productive companies actually broke this trend and improved employee job satisfaction by 48%. What do these successful organizations have in common? They practice five principles that help their teams connect and thrive.

To illustrate these principles, we’ll use the example of Michelle Taite, a CMO who was appointed to help accelerate the integration of two companies after an acquisition. As we reimagine work in the post-pandemic era, consider how these principles can help you create a sense of belonging on your team and show team members that they are indeed valued.

Put People First

When the conditions are right, people can accomplish more together than anyone could alone. In an ideal world, the more people give, the more they get. A win for one is a win for all. Achievement is a positive sum game. In this state, people feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Enjoyment heightens and productivity is elevated in turn. When a team does not achieve this, they enter a zero sum game, a state where everyone is motivated by their own self-interests, and the team as a whole suffers. Insight Center Collection Reimagining WorkBeyond a return to “normal.” 

Foster a positive sum game by creating an environment where team members join together, rather than protecting themselves from the zero sum game. This happens when team members relax into a trusting relationship that they feel is not just transactional but based in genuine care. When that relationship is achieved, team members trust each other to have their backs and respect each other as individuals with needs, aspirations, and joys. Referred to as shared empathy, this state is a leading indicator of effective teams. Leaders and teams cultivate shared empathy when they learn and care about each other’s deeper experience and take interest in each other’s lives — celebrating birthdays and inquiring about people’s children, spouses, and hobbies.

When Michelle stepped into her new role, she introduced herself to her team first and foremost as a person. She shared pictures of her family, her interests, and her heritage. Michelle’s team created a Slack channel devoted to fun and people, letting their personalities shine. She posted snippets from her own life, like a weekend family photo or her child’s meltdown with the caption “sometimes mornings are interesting here.” Make time for humor and create room for personal connection. Open meetings with ice breakers like, “What made you laugh this weekend?”, “What’s your favorite candy?”, or “What was a highlight and lowlight of your week?”

Rally Around Shared Goals

Anyone who has ever been a part of a sports team knows that achieving together can be a bonding experience. Tapping into the desire for greatness, team members strive together and challenge each other to bring their best. The joy of learning and ultimately winning is magnified tenfold when shared with others. Challenges bond teams — but only if they share a belief that striving to win unites them.

Michelle and her team use the hashtag #BeatOurBest to galvanize themselves around bold goals as they strive to build on their greatest achievements. When defining their marketing goals, the team framed the conversation around two questions: “What must we do to truly serve the needs of our customers and fuel growth?” and “How might we #BeatOurBest?” The how encouraged teammates to learn, experiment, and push the boundaries in service of the greater goal. And they specifically use the hashtag to unify. Michelle signs off in her weekly email with “Let’s #BeatOurBest together.” The hashtag helps orient them to the shared experience of reaching into the unknown and discovering just how big their wins can be.

Model Humility and Curiosity

People bond when they share a set of values that make them feel like there is something special about their group. Humility and curiosity are two values that can supercharge bonding. Humility is the recognition of our limits. When a leader models humility, it opens up space for others to contribute. The leader is recognizing gaps that others can fill and also creating an environment where it is psychologically safe to give bold ideas and risk being wrong. Curiosity is the recognition that there is always more to learn. This fuels the excitement of experimentation and growth.

Recognize opportunities to show humility by responding to feedback with openness and curiosity instead of defensiveness. Lead with inquiry and be clear that your proposals are a starting point. This encourages divergent opinions and creativity. Michelle demonstrated humility and curiosity when she told her team, “I am going to ask a lot of questions. They might be stupid, but that’s okay. I’d really love to learn.” To encourage curiosity, show delight in moments of discovery directly and indirectly related to the work. In her weekly newsletter, Michelle shares insights and inspiration she gathers from her own reading, podcasts, and TED videos. These serve as thought starters for the team.

Links Between Low salt diet and heart failure

Doctors have long recommended decreased salt intake for heart failure or other cardiac problems. However, research is still ongoing about how effective low sodium intake is in reducing events of hospitalization or emergency room visits. 

A recent study published in The Lancet found that while low sodium diets might help improve the quality of life for people with heart failure, they did not reduce clinical events like hospitalization or emergency room visits. 

Heart failure and low salt diet recommendations

Heart failure is when the heart cannot effectively pump blood to meet the body’s demands. As a result, the body cannot get the nutrients and oxygen it needs. Heart failure is chronic. 

People with heart failure can experience a variety of symptoms, including the following:

  • Shortness of breath, persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Swelling because of the buildup of excess fluid
  • Feeling tired or fatigued
  • Increased heart rate, feeling heart palpitations

The New York Heart Association (NYHA) Functional Classification is one standard used to classify heart failure. This system places people in one of four categories based on how much their heart failure interferes with their ability to do things and their symptoms brought on by activity. 

Many organizations and doctors encourage people who have heart failure to reduce the amount of salt in their diets. In theory, reducing the amount of sodium helps to prevent fluid overload in people with heart failure. 

Dr. Edo Paz, cardiologist and vice president of Medical at K Health, who wasn’t involved in the study, explained to Medical News Today:

“We have long instructed patients with congestive heart failure to limit consumption of sodium, as sodium can lead to fluid retention, which can result in heart failure exacerbations.”

Researchers in the current study found that reducing sodium intake can benefit people with heart failure. 

However, they found it might not help prevent hospitalizations and other adverse clinical outcomes. Their findings offer more insight into the recommendation for sodium intake for people with heart failure.

Improved quality of life

The study in question was a randomized trial that included over 800 participants in six different countries. Participants were adults that met a specific definition of chronic heart failure (NYHA class 2-3). 

Researchers placed participants randomly into one of two groups. The intervention group went on a low sodium diet where they consumed less than 1,500 mg of sodium daily. The control group received the standard of care for the region where they were located.

Researchers specifically looked at the incidence of three main events over 12 months:

  • Hospitalization related to cardiovascular problems
  • Emergency room visits related to cardiovascular problems
  • Death from all causes

They also looked at a few other outcomes, including if following a low sodium diet improved the quality of life and NYHA classification among participants. 

The researchers saw that the hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and all causes of death were not reduced for participants in the low sodium diet group compared to the control group. 

However, they did discover a moderate benefit on quality of life and in the NYHA scale classification in the group that had reduced sodium intake. 

Dr. Paz offered the following summary of the study’s results:

“[F]ollowing a low salt diet did not reduce death or trips to the hospital in people with congestive heart failure. Despite this fact, there still was a signal for benefit in some key endpoints favoring a low salt diet, including functional assessments.”

Study limitations and continued research

Study author Professor Justin A. Ezekowitz explained to MNT that this was “the largest trial of its type testing whether or not dietary sodium reduction for patients with heart failure alters the risk for future clinical events.” 

However, he pointed out that they did not have “the opportunity to test this strategy before in a large pragmatic trial that is driven by clinical events.”

The study had several other limitations. First, the study authors note that they only followed up with participants over 12 months. Therefore, it is possible that reducing sodium in the diet could have long-term impacts that the researchers did not observe. 

Due to the nature of the study, there was potential bias because researchers knew who was in the control and intervention groups. 

The researchers also acknowledge that participants in the control group might have reduced their sodium intake independently. 

As the trial was ended early, results might also overestimate the risks and efficiency related to the interventions. Finally, the study may have included patients with varying health risks because of how participants were selected. 

These results indicate that reduced sodium intake doesn’t significantly impact clinical events. So, researchers recommend that medical professionals look at it like other medical treatments and weigh the benefits based on each patient’s unique needs.

Are Fast Cash Loans Legitimate?

Also known as “payday loans,” these short-term loans are marketed as a helpful stopgap to consumers who have no savings. They’re meant to be a short-term loan fix that you pay back as soon as your paycheck arrives. That sounds enticing, but is it too good to be true?

Fast cash loans are legitimate, and they’re legal in 37 states. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good idea. In practice, people who are already struggling to make ends meet struggle even more to repay these kinds of loans. According to a recent Consumer Finance Protection Bureau report, nearly half of those who took a payday loan rolled it over at least one payday, accruing fees along the way.

Taking out a fast cash loan can create a vicious cycle of repeat borrowing and exorbitant fees that cost much more than the original financial shortfall itself. Here’s what else you should know about them.

HOW A FAST CASH LOAN WORKS

FAST CASH LOANS ARE TYPICALLY SMALL

Many states have set limits on the allowable limit, typically around $500, though some states allow a higher limit. This interactive map by Experian shows each state’s limit. The National Conference of State Legislatures also provides details on allowed limits and fees by state.

INTEREST RATES TEND TO BE HIGH 

Fast cash loan rates are typically higher than the rate offered by a traditional lender. Some payday lenders charge a transaction or finance fee instead, which can be costly. Fees may range from $10-$30 per $100 borrowed, according to the CFPB. On a two-week borrowing period, a $15 fee per $100 equals a nearly 400% annual percentage rate. By comparison, a traditional credit card’s APR typically runs 12-30%.

Let’s say you borrowed $500—that’s a $75 fee. Even a $20 fee on a $200 loan can create difficulties if things are so tight that you had to borrow to get to next Friday.

THE REPAYMENT PERIOD IS SHORT 

Usually, repayment is required within 14 days, or possibly within the month. It’s guaranteed through an automated withdrawal from your bank account or a post-dated check, and the lender pulls the owed amount as soon as your paycheck is deposited.

PAYDAY LENDERS AREN’T TRADITIONAL BANKS OR CREDIT UNIONS 

Quick cash loans are offered through payday loan stores or stores that offer financial services, such as pawn shops, rent-to-own stores, or stores with check-cashing services.

NO CREDIT CHECK IS REQUIRED 

Unlike traditional financial institutions, fast cash lenders aren’t really concerned about your past credit history. Your credit score is almost never considered, nor is your employment history or debt-to-income ratio. According to the CFPB, all you need is a bank account in decent standing, identification, and a steady source of income.

It’s important to note that your credit score isn’t affected (positively or negatively) by a fast cash or payday loan. That’s because these lenders don’t tend to report the loan, or the payments, to any credit reporting bureaus. So, unless you default on a loan and it gets sold to a collection agency, it’s unlikely to ever show up on your credit report or impact your credit score.

ALTERNATIVES TO A FAST CASH LOAN

Coming up with an alternative may not be easy if you and your extended family are already on financial thin ice. But, if possible, you’d be better off dipping into your savings if you have it, or using your credit card, which has preferable fees compared to payday loans. You might consider borrowing from friends or family or asking for an advance on your paycheck. All of these options are typically preferable to taking a fast cash loan. 

If you do decide to take a fast cash loan, you should always read reviews and check with the Better Business Bureau first. Also, double-check the fine print and make sure the fees don’t exceed the maximum in your state.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ALREADY HAVE A FAST CASH LOAN

We recommend prioritizing paying off the fast cash loan as soon as possible, no matter what your other financial commitments are. Make it your top priority to get out from under the fees, even if those fees feel manageable now. 

If you’re able, cut your spending in other areas to come up with the cash to pay off the loan. Or take temporary, extra work to bring in additional money. If you’re juggling multiple debts, you may be able to roll these debts into a consolidation loan through a traditional lender with more reasonable fees. 

For military families, be aware that the Military Lending Act provides protections to members of the military. Perhaps most relevant, lenders cannot charge more than 36% interest (including fees), which protects members from exorbitant payday loan fees.

How to Regain Trust

Though most of us strive to be honest, we sometimes fall short of that goal. We find ourselves lying or otherwise behaving deceptively. It turns out that in a given week, over 90 percent of people report telling at least one lie. When lies are discovered, they can damage or destroy people’s trust in each other. Regaining that trust is a challenging process. 

What Is Trust?

Trust is our intention to make ourselves vulnerable based upon the belief that others will treat us well. It is a confidence that others will foster positive outcomes for us. When we trust people, we rely on them in important matters. We share our deepest secrets with them. We make ourselves materially vulnerable with them. We place our fates in their hands. Trust is the glue that binds people together. For us to maintain cooperative relationships with each other, we must be able to count on one another. 

We trust people when we sense that they are competent, benevolent, and honest. A competent person has the ability to produce good outcomes for us. A benevolent person intends to make good things happen for us. An honest person has the integrity to let us know how they are going to treat us. Having trust in others makes dealing with them more predictable. It lets us know that they will be there for us, and it allows us to efficiently work with them in collaborative ways. 

Most people are somewhat trusting by default. When a stranger speaks to us, we typically assume that they are speaking truthfully. However, if a stranger on the street asks for $1000 and promises to return it tomorrow, your trust may rightly be lower. In high-stakes situations, we only trust people if they have proven that they are trustworthy.

People prove that they are trustworthy through their actions. They show us evidence of their honesty and dependability. People incrementally gain our trust by repeatedly demonstrating their honesty and dependability over time. 

Breaking Trust

Trust is particularly fragile. It is a precious commodity that can take years to cultivate but can be squandered in an instant. When someone violates our trust, usually through dishonesty, neglect, or disloyalty, we usually feel upset, hurt, angry, sad, and foolish. We come to distrust that person because they violated our faith and confidence in them.

Oftentimes, when people violate our trust, we withdraw from them if we can. We don’t risk placing ourselves in a vulnerable position with them again. We also become vigilant, looking for any evidence that they might undermine us or let us down again. 

Rebuilding Trust

If we violate someone’s trust and we want to try to rebuild that relationship, recovering the lost trust can take considerable time and effort. If the violation of trust is severe enough, restoring trust may be impossible. Rebuilding trust comes down to three processes: admission, atonement, and restoration. We must own up to our failings.

Not only do we need to admit where we think we have fallen short, but we also must also understand and accept where the other person believes we have failed them. Apologies, remorse, and contrition are necessities when rebuilding trust, but they may not be enough. We may also need to accept punishments and penance for our failings.

When people feel wronged by trust violations, they may feel that some proportional form of retributive justice is needed to rebalance the relationship. Trust can also be helped by putting in place rules that constrain future trust violations. Perhaps changes can be made that remove the temptations or secrecy that led to the original trust violation.

Finally, actively signaling and promoting a culture and intention toward integrity, trust, and transparency can strengthen trust. Regularly discussing trust, honesty, and integrity with the aggrieved person can reassure them that being a trustworthy person is your central goal. If we do violate someone’s trust, it is often a long journey back to a trusting bond, but the destination is worth it.

Awake at 3 AM and Ruminating on the Day’s Mistakes

Next month, I’ll be 64 years old and I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

What am I doing wrong?

Short answer: Nothing. 

Long answer: Everything. And also nothing.

I’m not really doing anything wrong. I pack my days with obligations that include work, taking care of my multi-generational family, taking care of myself, and every now and then I dabble in the thing that I feel impassioned about, inspiring others to engage in their art.

Through it all, I remain positive.

How I can turn the lens of self-help on My-self. One way to achieve this goal is through disassociation. Basically, it’s the golden rule in reverse. Do to yourself what you would do unto others. Or more simply, treat yourself with the same love and care that you would a good friend, colleague, family member, or anyone other than yourself.

It’s not easy though. Especially when you wake at 3 AM and begin to run down the laundry list of shortcomings from the day.

“You didn’t finish writing that chapter. You still haven’t called about that appointment. You forgot that credit card bill. Again.”

The more that you think of what you didn’t do, the more disappointed you are in yourself. And that disappointment opens the floodgate for more berating.

Believe me. I’ve wasted many pre-dawn hours admonishing myself not only for the shortcomings of that day, but also for the past week, month, years, and more.

All the while, I tell myself, “You can’t change the past.” Even though I really wish that I could. (Don’t you sometimes?)

But then, another doom dart stabs me in the heart. I recoil. I tense. I am filled with remorse.

Dissociation gives you permission to step out of yourself and see yourself as others see you.

“Via an active process of valuation, self-reflection, and self-dialogue, and by creatively embodying and empowering the other, the self promotes innovative versions of itself to overcome distorted self-narratives” (Barani, 2019, p. 391).

I began to see myself through a kinder gentler lens.

  • When coaching a client, would I ever admonish them for their mistakes of the past?
  • Would I pick at that wound?
  • Would I bring up those shortcomings over and over again?

The answer is simple. No. I would never do that. What good would it do?

Focusing on the errors of the past, no matter how recent or not, does no good except to keep the errant trespasser suffering from their own transgressions. The downward spiral of this self-degradation keeps that person pushed down, continuing to feel bad.

The only time that we can take any action is now. We cannot change that past. The time machine exists only in science fiction.

We can plan for the future. And we can dream of what could be, but without taking action, there is no action, no forward movement.

Avoid the mentality of one strike and you’re out

  • Zero tolerance never allows for growth. It is unforgiving and stagnant.
  • Rehabilitation can work, even for the most horrific of criminals.
  • Forgive yourself of your past. You know better today than you did yesterday.

Scramble your memories

  • Replay that recording over and over and over until the memory becomes warped and even comical.
  • Memories are faulty. They tend to fixate on the negative.
  • Use today’s brushes to paint over the most embarrassing scenes with a vibrant, rosy tone.

See yourself and others as caricatures

  • What positive features can be exaggerated?
  • What negative aspects can be obscured?
  • Make the portrait so comically ridiculous that you cannot help but smile at the artifice of the scene.

Take a baby step forward toward your new, kinder future.

Again, what would you tell your client? Make a small plan. What’s one thing that you can do right now to progress toward that future goal that you envision?

Here’s my pledge: The next time that I wake in the idle of the night and start to list out my shortcomings, I will forgive my mistakes, I will not replay the tape but scramble the video until it breaks. I will see the cartoon of myself and smile. 

Sixty-four is going to be amazing!

3 Reasons You Should Argue With Your Partner

A new study by Hinnekens et al (2022) looked at couples’ ability to mindread each other during conflict. They found that partners are only moderately successful at mindreading.

Another study by Simpson et al. (2021) showed that highly avoidant individuals were less empathically accurate with their partners. Clearly, mindreading and avoidance are not effective tools to deal with marital issues and problems.

When it comes to mind reading and conflict avoidance, nobody does it better than people who were raised in emotionally neglectful families. Having missed the opportunity to observe emotionally healthy arguing between their parents or to participate in resolving family issues in a direct and emotionally aware way, these individuals typically rely on the primary skill available to them: avoid conflict altogether.

Avoidance may seem fairly effective for a while. That is, until the suppressed feelings of frustration, annoyance, anger, or hurt build up enough to cause a major eruption or lie under the surface for decades, driving a couple farther and farther apart.

As a couples therapist who specializes in childhood emotional neglect, I often observe the great lengths that couples will go to avoid fighting. But the truth is, just like lightning crystallizes the electric charge and clears it from the air during a storm, fights can calm relationships by crystallizing and clearing the negative emotion between the partners.

There is a three-part cycle that characterizes all healthy, lasting relationships: Harmony/Rupture/Repair. It’s a common pattern that is both the way healthy couples naturally function and part of what enriches and sustains a relationship.

Harmony

Harmony is the phase most relationships experience episodically when there is no particular conflict dividing them. When you are in harmony, you go about your daily life acting and feeling like a team. You can do your own thing all day and look forward to seeing each other at night. There might be some times of irritation or mild friction, but overall, you feel generally good together.

But this phase cannot last forever. Something almost always gets in the way. Life throws a wrench into the works. It may be an issue about parenting, finances, sex, or anything large or small, but something intervenes to throw off the harmony. Someone is hurt, angry, or upset. This starts phase two.

Rupture

The rupture is the difficult and challenging part. It’s the phase that many couples, especially the ones who experienced childhood emotional neglect, try their best to avoid. But it’s a requirement for having a happy marriage. You absolutely must be able to allow yourselves to rupture. Then, you begin the repair process, which is the path that gets you back to harmony.

Repair

During the repair process, no matter how strong your feelings or how painful the interaction, you must both be committed to sticking together through it, as long as there is no abuse or harmful behavior going on.

During a rupture, if it’s a large one, you may feel extreme anger, even rage. You may feel hurt, judged, hopeless, helpless, or even hateful. All of these feelings are okay, have value, and matter. And what you do with your feelings before and during rupture matters very, very much.

The Goal of Repair: A Meeting of the Minds

If you can use and express your feelings in a healthy way and talk through a problem, you do not need to come to a clear answer or solution in order to come out the other side intact and in harmony. You only need to get the problem clarified and your feelings aired. This is the “meeting of the minds.”

The meeting of the minds happens when you understand your partner’s feelings and why they have them. You don’t have to agree that they’re right; you only need to see your partner’s perspective and also let your partner know that you see. You also need to receive the same understanding in return.

Sometimes it takes many ruptures, over time, to resolve a problem. In the meantime, a meeting of the minds allows you to remain a team and continue to grow and evolve together.

Knowing Your “Why” Will Get You Through Just About Any “How”

What are you living for? Why do you invest your time, talent, and treasure in the things you invest them in? Are you working just to earn a paycheck, or does your work mean something more to you? Do you volunteer somewhere? Why there?

I am not asking these questions to be nosey or make idle chit-chat, but to make you think about your life and how you choose to spend your time. Not to seem grandiose, but your responses go straight to the heart of what it means to be human. They also reveal how you manage to carry on in spite of the setbacks and suffering life doles out to you—as it does to each of us in the wavering balance of joy and sorrow on which our lives pivot.

How you answer my questions reveals whether or not you have a sense of purpose and the vital role that purpose plays in giving life a sense of meaning and helping to make and keep you resilient.

Having a “why” is the key to powerful resilience.

In his profound book about how he survived the horrors of four different Nazi concentration camps, including the notorious Auschwitz, the late German psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “He who has a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how.’”

Frankl described how the people in the camp who fared best, who managed to hold onto their sense of personal dignity and humanity amidst the most degrading circumstances imaginable, were those who had rich interior lives. Even during the back-breaking toil and deprivation that they were subjected to, they were able to focus their minds on happy memories of wonderful meals and concerts and loved ones who represented life’s blessings. The memory of those blessings was their “why,” the vision that kept them from surrendering to despair.

Our purpose, or vision, is what helps keep us going even after being knocked down by one of the punches that are as much a part of existence as the sweet moments that will become memories we savor for the rest of our lives.

Having a purpose is how we find meaning. It involves having a goal or ideal, something bigger than ourselves toward which we aim and aspire. It’s what we consider important enough to devote our energy and time to, the ultimate prize for running the race, the thing that keeps us going even if the race is not finished within our lifetime.

Discovering my own purpose

In the Jewish concept of “Tikkun Olam,” each of us is called to practice actions that contribute toward repairing and healing the world, restoring it to the harmonious state for which it was created. Tikkun Olam is frequently related to social justice and environmental awareness, though even ordinary acts of kindness and everyday relationships offer opportunities to manifest it.

Although I am not Jewish, discovering the concept of Tikkun Olam helped me understand the purpose I first sensed for myself as a young journalist reporting on the HIV-AIDS epidemic beginning in the mid-1980s. Chronicling and publishing stories of the extraordinary acts of heroism and love I witnessed in LGBTQ communities around the United States gave me a sense of contributing my time and talent to something bigger than myself.

When I found my “why,” I had a brand-new master’s degree in journalism. I was full of the youthful energy that let me bang out feature-length articles in record time. I was heartbroken at the suffering I witnessed and experienced from my own losses. And, maybe most importantly, I choose to live out my sense of “gay pride” by writing stories about the lives of LGBTQ people as being equally important, instructive, and valuable as anyone else’s—the reason I write mostly for “mainstream” publications and take particular pride that recorded interviews and notes from my HIV-AIDS reporting have been collected by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., where they not only document some of LGBTQ history but comprise part of the nation’s own history.

Over the years I reported on HIV-AIDS and worked on-staff for national and global organizations addressing the challenges of the pandemic, we spoke of the “AIDS movement” to describe the massive effort to move society toward a compassionate, generous, and just response to the deadly plague that was killing our friends, coworkers, neighbors, and children. The movement offered a vision of a better world where all were equal and equally deserving of loving-kindness and respect. I was—and still am—deeply gratefulto contribute to and be a part of it. It has given me a deep sense of purpose and, in some of my own dark and painful times, helped to keep me going.

Nutrition and Sleep: The Best and Worst Foods for Quality Rest

t’s common knowledge that eating a balanced diet is key to living a healthy lifestyle. It reduces the risk of diseases such as stroke, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, helps you maintain a more positive mood and promotes more energy. Among other things, good nutrition essentially helps us look and feel like our best selves. Funny enough, a full night’s sleep also offers a lot of the same benefits. 

Good sleep and conscious eating go hand in hand, and each has the ability the other. Eating the wrong foods at the wrong time can be harmful to your sleep quality, which plays an important role in maintaining your physical and mental health. Below, learn how you can tweak your eating habits to get higher-quality rest, including the best foods for sleep and the foods you want to avoid.

How poor sleep affects your health

The recommended amount of sleep for adults is seven to nine hours each night. During that time, your brain cycles through the four stages of sleep: three stages of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and one stage of REM (rapid eye movement). 

  • NREM sleep: The quiet sleep stages where your brain is working to retain memories and knowledge, in addition to repair, refresh, and restore your body. 
  • REM sleep: The active sleep stage where your body is working to repair cells and muscle tissue, promote bone and muscle growth and helps strengthen the immune system. 

If you’re waking up often in the middle of the night or have trouble getting a full night’s sleep, you prevent your body from running through its necessary processes that keep you healthy and productive. Continuous poor sleep puts you at risk for:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Bad memory
  • Weakened immune system

Unbalanced nutrition tends to be a common culprit for poor sleep, especially if you’re eating certain foods too close to bedtime. 

Nutrition for quality sleep

There seems to be a clear link between nutrition and your quality of sleep. To find out more, I spoke to Stephanie Nelson, a registered dietitian who works as a nutrition expert at the tracking app MyFitnessPal. Nelson explained, “The relationship between sleep and nutrition is very complex and we don’t know everything about all the associations between sleep and food. However, a good general summary is that any biological process, including sleep, is influenced by getting the right amount of nutrients. “

“For example, having high blood sugar impacts your energy in the moment, which can prevent you from sleep,” Nelson continued. “Other nutrients impact neurotransmitters that make it easier to relax and turn your brain off for sleep.” 

While food affects sleep, the amount of quality sleep you get can also impact your eating habits. Nelson said, “Interestingly, the relationship goes both ways. There’s research showing that poor sleep can negatively impact hormone balances that affect your hunger, and people who sleep less tend to eat more overall.”

Making more conscious choices about food and when you’re eating it can make a big difference in your sleep quality.

The do’s and don’ts on eating for better sleep

Here are Nelson’s tips on how to eat for better sleep. 

Do’s

1. Eat a balanced dinner 

“The building blocks of a balanced dinner are a protein source, high-fiber carbohydrate source, and a vegetable. This might look like a grilled marinated chicken breast, some quinoa, and roasted veggies,” said Nelson. “You could also get more creative with it, like a coconut curry made with tofu and sauteed veggies, served over brown rice, or tacos made with the protein of your choice, some beans, and cabbage and onions (and all your other favorite toppings).” 

Eat foods that promote serotonin production

Serotonin is required for your body to make melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep. But Nelson also warns that too much serotonin is associated with poor sleep. 

“In order for your body to produce the right amount of serotonin, you need to consume tryptophan, an amino acid you can find in most animal-based foods, oats, nuts, and seeds,” Nelson explained. “You also need to have a carbohydrate source, which allows for tryptophan to be used for serotonin rather than other processes. Other nutrients like vitamin B6, present in sweet potatoes among other foods, are also needed for the right amount of serotonin production.”

3. Eat around three hours before bedtime

You might have heard that you shouldn’t eat right before bedtime if you want a good night’s rest. But how soon, exactly, should you stop eating? “It’s different for everyone,” said Nelson. “Most experts recommend to eat three hours before bedtime for best sleep results, so start there, but definitely play with it. Some people can eat closer to bedtime and still have a good night’s sleep,” she said.

Don’ts

1. Avoid caffeine, sugary drinks and alcohol before bed

You probably know that caffeine isn’t the best nighttime beverage, but what about alcohol or juices? Nelson says you should try to avoid those in the hours right before bed too.

“Being hydrated is key to a good night’s sleep,” she said. “Alcohol dehydrates you, so for the first step, reduce alcohol consumption near bedtime. High sugar drinks also can interfere with sleep, and anything with caffeine.” 

“If you’re having trouble sleeping, definitely check when your most recent caffeinated beverages are consumed before bed,” she noted.

2. Don’t eat dessert close to bedtime

For individuals with a sweet tooth, don’t eat foods like ice cream, cookies or chocolate before bedtime. Nelson explains that “low-fiber, high-sugar snacks before bed can cause a spike and then a drop in blood sugar.” These irregular blood sugar levels can disrupt your sleep in multiple ways, making it hard for you get deep rest.

Improve Your Well-Being With A Gratitude Journal

According to researchers, there is a solid link between practicing gratitude and your social, emotional, and physical wellbeing. As we age, it’s more critical than ever to adopt routines that improve our health, and starting a gratitude journal is one of the more straightforward steps to take. Here’s everything you need to know about gratitude journaling.

What Is a Gratitude Journal?

Gratitude is the practice of recalling and expressing your appreciation for the good things in your life. Thus, a gratitude journal is a continuous document where you write and store these observations day after day. Having a daily record of what you appreciate in your life is a wonderful way to purposefully focus on the positives in a world where it’s easy to get bogged down in the negatives. Many people who keep a gratitude journal like to incorporate the writing into a daily meditation or relaxation routine, while others prefer to take a mid-day gratitude break to refocus for the afternoon ahead.

Mental Health Benefits

The practice of noting and acknowledging what we’re grateful for each day can quickly transform our mental health. Shifting your focus away from negative emotions, like envy or fear, to focus on gratitude means you’re spending less time ruminating over ideas that could generate toxic energy. Researchers at Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine noted that (based on brain scans of various groups in a gratitude-related study) “simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain.” The more you actively process gratitude, the more your brain includes that emotion in its decision-making processes. Gratitude begets gratitude!

Overall Wellness Improvements

Gratitude isn’t only about mental health. The link between gratitude and physical health is becoming more apparent with research from experts like Glenn Fox at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. His years of work have led to the finding that “benefits associated with gratitude include better sleep, more exercise, reduced symptoms of physical pain, lower levels of inflammation, lower blood pressure, and a host of other things we associate with better health.” Psychology Today reported on a 2012 study that found that “grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people.” Other studies have found that writing in a gratitude journal can fortify resilience in overcoming trauma and stress.

Journaling for a Sharper Brain

Beyond general wellness improvements associated with practicing gratitude, the act of journaling itself has many mental benefits. The process of recalling and writing specific events can improve memory and focus. In addition, the routine of daily journaling helps many seniors stick to other essential practices (like sleep, meals, and exercise). Trying new activities, including journaling, can also bolster mental fitness as it activates pathways in the brain that aren’t used for ingrained habits or old skills.

Where to Start

It’s never too late to start incorporating a daily gratitude journal into your routine, and beginning the process is easy!

Start with a goal to write three things you’re grateful for each day. It’s important to choose a physical journal that is aesthetically pleasing as well as accessible. If you have fine motor or vision challenges, select something with wide lines (or no lines at all!) that can open and lie flat to minimize your physical discomfort while writing.

Make sure that you have plenty of light in your journaling space, too. If physically writing isn’t an option for you, don’t shy away from technology! You can type in a special document on your computer or even dictate to your phone.

The best time to write your notes of gratitude for many is in the evening before bed. Focusing on the positives in your life will help calm your mind and body as you ease into sleep. If you find that you don’t have anything to write on a given day, flip back through your journal and re-read past entries for inspiration. Revisiting a past moment of gratitude isn’t cheating! In fact, the repetition will only strengthen that memory and feeling.

Start your gratitude practice today to start reaping the benefits. “Finding a new wellness practice” can even be one of your three items on day one!

A financial shock could wreck retirees’ or pre-retirees’ finances

According to a recent Society of Actuaries survey, about half of the pre-retirees report experiencing some type of unexpected financial shock, as well as more than 4 in 10 retirees. And, 1 in 5 pre-retirees report that these shocks have reduced their assets by 25% or more and reduced their spending by 10% or more.

The good news is that far fewer retirees report these reductions, according to the 2021 Retirement Risk Survey Report of Findings. For example, just 1 in 10 retirees (11%) report that shocks reduced their assets by more than 25%.

Pre-retirees least prepared for a crisis

Other key findings: When asked what they could afford to spend out of pocket on an emergency without jeopardizing their retirement security, half of pre-retirees report that they could only afford to spend $10,000 or less and more than half of retirees could afford no more than $25,000. Black/African American pre-retirees (61%) are more likely than pre-retirees in general (40%) to be impacted by an unexpected expense of up to $10,000.

Among retirees, Black/African American respondents (58%) and Hispanic/Latino (52%) said they are not able to spend $10,000 without it affecting their retirement security. This was much greater than the general retiree response (32%), according to the Society of Actuaries survey.

So, what to make of all this? How might you, be you a pre-retiree or retiree, better prepare for unexpected financial shocks?

Build an emergency fund

Most financial planners recommend that you have at least three to six months of living expenses set aside for, well, emergencies or financial shocks, such as a new roof or dental work.

“Early in my career, I had a 90-plus-year-old client say to me regarding financial assets, ‘You never know what it will take to get you out of this world,’” said Bill Harris, a certified financial planner with WH Cornerstone Investments. “Her life wisdom was spot on. I use that quote to tell pre-retirees with ‘constrained’ or under-funded retirement assets that life has its unexpected turns. We also tell pre-retirees, ‘You can never ever save enough for retirement. An emergency fund is always needed.’”

Build a reserve fund too

Unexpected spending shocks are a reality at any age, said Roger Whitney, host of the “Retirement Answer Man” podcast. “When they happen in retirement – after income from work ends – they aren’t as easily absorbed or worked through,” he said. “To be better prepared, create options for your future self to deal with a shock. Building cash reserves above a normal emergency fund, eliminating debt to lower fixed monthly payments, or working part time can help create financial slack to help you be agile as your retirement life unfolds.”

5 Ways Managers Sabotage the Hiring Process

When building a team at a startup earlier in my career, our investors, advisors, and I crafted what looked like a bullet-proof recruiting strategy. Our advisory group collectively had more than 100 years of experience operating companies. But despite the wealth of expertise behind our hiring process, I learned an important lesson the hard way: Even the most rigorous recruiting strategy is only as strong as the decision-maker’s biggest blind spot.

“Elliot,” a media professional I interviewed, was articulate, energetic, and showed a natural affinity for our product. His credentials were solid, and — crucially — he was willing to take an equity position in lieu of a large salary. For a startup, this was a big factor. We hired him.*

But in recommending this decision, I overlooked a few red flags. Notably, Elliot admitted to leaving a trail of burned bridges with former employers and was convinced he’d been repeatedly victimized by unappreciative bosses and bad environments. He didn’t make a good impression on our lead investor, and his own references spoke about him in neutral tones. But he had what I thought counted: passion and potential. I believed I could fix the rest.

Elliot ultimately stirred up numerous problems for the company. We believe that he stole information, lied, and destroyed intellectual property. While we couldn’t have foreseen the extent of this behavior, we dismissedwarning signs right from the start. Our problem wasn’t a lack of knowledge about hiring best practices — it was my own blind spot. I downplayed the risk, thinking we could rehabilitate this troubled candidate and bring out his potential. So, despite the warning signs and a major investor’s concerns, I made the recommendation to bring him on board.

Having now worked with and mentored dozens of leaders and founders, I know I’m not alone. Nearly every hiring manager has a blind spot that, if left unidentified, can lead to devastating consequences even within well-planned systems. Over time, I’ve identified five of the most common blind spots that compromise recruitment outcomes.

Fixing and rescuing

This was my blind spot with Elliot, and one that is common among founders and other entrepreneurial leaders. Entrepreneurs are by nature more likely than average to believe they can affect massive change. This can extend to an overconfidence in their ability to “develop” employees, even in light of evidence that a person is lacking the requisite character traits for growth, like accountability and openness to feedback. A superstar sports coach rehabilitating a talented but self-destructive athlete makes for good television, but the reality is that most hiring managers don’t have the resources, skills, or time to reform troubled hires.

Beyond overconfidence in their problem-solving skills, entrepreneurs are also vulnerable to this pattern because of their tight budgets. They’re often looking for a deal, and a candidate willing to take a sizeable portion of their salary in equity represents just that. Leaders with pride in their organization will assume that the individual’s motivation is their passion for the business. They’ll overlook the possibility that other reasons may drive someone to take a step down financially — including a lack of options.

If you recognize this blind spot in yourself, one of the best ways to mitigate the danger is obvious but underused: Don’t make hiring decisions alone. Seek out a second opinion. If you already have a second opinion, don’t make my mistake — listen to it.

Validation seeking

“Emily,” a tech startup CEO, found her business in jeopardy when her product experienced a massive feature failure in beta testing. No one on her team had voiced any criticisms pre-launch. She didn’t understand how this was possible. But Emily admitted that she only hired people who showed unbounded enthusiasm in interviews. She deemed candidates who under-praised the product “not passionate enough.”

As a result, she overlooked contrarian candidates, the exact people who call out problems even when doing so is unpopular. A study out of Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management warns that leaders who develop “heightened overconfidence from high levels of such ingratiatory behavior” will be less likely to “initiate needed strategic change.” Emily, who conflated validation with passion, was a case in point.

If you have a validation-seeking blind spot, also known as “affect-based” decision making, realize that pointing out flaws does take passion. It requires attention, analysis, and the courage to speak up. Praise is easy. Don’t overlook the candidates who offer thought-provoking criticism of your business, even if your knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss them.

Boundary breaching

“Anna,” a marketing executive, believed a selling point for job candidates was that her team was “like a family” — at least until a colleague confessed that the team resented how much time Anna spent helping “Jill,” one of her direct reports, navigate her divorce. With Jill, something was always wrong — with her partner, her parents, her social life, her car — and Anna felt it was her duty to indulge these “emergencies,” often at the expense of the rest of the team, who picked up the slack.

Anna remembered how drawn Jill was to the idea of a tight-knit team during the interview process. What Anna didn’t understand is that there is a time and place for empathy. Empathy can turn a good leader into a great leader, but it can also be misapplied.

In describing her team as a family, Anna thought she was signaling an empathetic culture to job candidates. But language like “we’re a family” or “we’re always there for each other no matter what,” actually signals a lack of professional boundaries.

If you find yourself attracting high-drama candidates who monopolize everyone’s time, make a note of any overly personalized language you might be using. Also be wary of oversharing by candidates, particularly when they present personal stories as mitigating factors for recurring problems at work.

Micromanaging

Most people accept, at least in theory, that micromanagement is an undesirable practice rooted in self-doubt and uncertainty. Nevertheless, many leaders still signal a micromanaged culture to candidates while recruiting them. Self-determination, autonomy, and a strong internal locus of control inspire the creative impulse. Enterprising people require the freedom to take risks, make mistakes, and challenge engrained suppositions.

Thus, a hiring manager who hints at heavy oversight during recruitment will likely attract candidates who tolerate inflexible environments well — individuals who lack passion, are not highly engaged, prefer linear work, and are not highly driven.

If you find yourself struggling to attract and hire self-managing, creative people, it’s worth considering the signals you’re sending. Think about whether you may be placing too much emphasis on rules and procedures, glamorizing the hierarchy or org chart, or suggesting that all conflict (some of which can be productive) is unwelcome.

Study finds fitness may reduce dementia risk by 33%

Leveraging the vast breadth of people receiving care in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), first author Dr. Edward Zamrini and his colleagues studied 649,605 military veterans ages 30–95 years. 

These individuals had not received a diagnosis with ADRD and had performed an Exercise Treadmill Test (ETT) as part of their routine care. 

The scientists analyzed these individuals’ charts for the diagnosis of ADRD over an average of 8.8 years.

Dr. Zamrini, principal author Prof. Qing Zeng-Teitler, and their colleagues compared ETT results and the incidence at which ADRD developed in these individuals. 

Metabolic equivalence

Exercise tolerance tests help quantify fitness levels using a standard of measure called METs, or metabolic equivalence of task. 

In this study, the authors divided participants into five groups based on the METs they could achieve from lowest to highest fitness: on average, about 3.8 to 11.7 METs. 

For comparison, 1 MET is equivalent to sitting quietly, yoga requires 3.2 METs, and backpacking at 3.63 miles per hour would demand 11.6 METs.

The scientists found that less fit individuals were at the highest risk of experiencing ADRD. Conversely, highly fit people were the least likely to develop ADRD.

Dr. Zamrini, director of neurology at Irvine Clinical Research, adjunct professor of clinical research and leadership at George Washington University, and adjunct professor of neurology at the University of Utah, explained to Medical News Today:

“Our study found a strong, graded inverse association between cardiorespiratory fitness and reduction of risk of [Alzheimer’s Disease]. This means that the more fit a person is, the more likely that if they were to develop AD, they would develop it later.”

Specifically, the researchers found that, compared with the least fit participants, the fittest were 33% less likely to develop ADRD. Similarly, the second most fit group was 26% less likely to develop ADRD, the third most fit group was 20% less likely, and the fourth most fit was 13% less likely.

“There are two main factors that influence cardiorespiratory fitness: genetics and exercise. We cannot change our genetics,” he continued, “but we can improve our cardiorespiratory fitness through a sensible exercise program. Our study also demonstrates that we don’t have to become marathon runners to reduce our risk. Even small increases in cardiorespiratory fitness can help!”

Dr. Scott Kaiser, MD, a board certified geriatrician and Director of Geriatric Cognitive Health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, elaborated for MNT:

“You cannot prove that it was the low fitness that caused dementia. But, that said, the association was so clear, not just in the strength of the association but in the nature of the association. The way it so neatly correlated with rising fitness levels lowering dementia risk. It’s a very convincing association.”

“There are many other studies that have looked prospectively to affirm this link between physical fitness and risk of dementia and confirm that regular and recommended exercise can reduce [a person’s] risk of developing dementia,” continued Dr. Kaiser.

“So, studies like the [worldwide] FINGER study, out of Finland, where they are actually looking prospectively at populations over time — there is just mounting evidence […] that if you want to reduce your risk of dementia and maintain a healthy brain, you should exercise regularly and pursue other activities to improve your cardiorespiratory fitness.”

American Parents Are Ridiculously Stressed Out, Survey Shows

The organization’s annual “Stress in America” poll, released Thursday, found that the pandemic and record-high inflation already stressed Americans, and when the Ukraine invasion began, our collective stress levels spiked. The original survey of 3,012 adult Americans was conducted in February and found that 87% of respondents were troubled by the continually rising costs of necessities like food and gas, the highest “proportion of adults seen across all stressors asked about in the history of the Stress in America™ survey.” A similarly high percentage said they felt their mental health was negatively impacted by a “constant stream of crises without a break over the last two years.”

While it seems all Americans are heavily stressed, parents are having a hell of a hard time. Over 70% of parents said they feared the pandemic had negatively affected their children’s social development, academic development, and emotional health or development. Sixty-eight percent said they were concerned about their children’s cognitive and physical development after two years of Covid protocols. Parents, compared to non-parents, were more likely to name money (80% vs. 58%), the economy (77% vs. 59%), and housing costs (72% vs. 39%) as “significant sources of stress.”

Researchers were shocked to find so many Americans stressed over the same things. “We don’t usually see 80 percent of people telling us that a particular stressor is stressful for that many individuals,” clinical psychologist Lynn Bufka, the APA’s associate chief for practice transformation, told CBS News.’

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, researchers completed a second poll with questions related to Russia and Ukraine. Eighty percent of the over 2,000 respondents said they were concerned that Russia would retaliate with nuclear threats or cyber-attacks and that the invasion has been “terrifying to watch.” Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed said they felt the invasion could mark the start of World War III and lead to nuclear war.

“The number of people who say they’re significantly stressed about these most recent events is stunning relative to what we’ve seen since we began the survey in 2007,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., APA’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “Americans have been doing their best to persevere over these past two tumultuous years, but these data suggest that we’re now reaching unprecedented levels of stress that will challenge our ability to cope.”

8 Effective Strategies to Calm Your Nervous System

It may seem counterintuitive and even impossible to remain calm amidst chaos and uncertainty. Exposure to news media is disturbing, and it would be reasonable to feel anxious, worried, helpless, and hopeless. Thoughts of fear can activate the threat and danger response in the brain. The amygdala, located in the middle brain, sends out signals to the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal systems, mobilizing oneself for protection. This is commonly called the fight-or-flight response. But without actively engaging in a fight or fleeing from a situation, the response is experienced as anxiety. Anxiety includes rapid heart rate, excessive nervous energy, tension in the body, and impaired mental functioning. It can also lead to disrupted sleep, and panic attacks. If one has a history of trauma, anxiety about current issues can trigger old traumas in the form of flashbacks and nightmares, intensifying the experience of anxiety and lack of safety.

If exposure to the news media is causing you increased anxiety and agitation, consider a reduction of media or even planned media fasts. Maybe limit your exposure to 30 minutes a day, or to once every other day, or even consider a fast of several days in a row? A reduced diet of news media may help you reset and calm your mind.

Nonetheless, we have to continue to live our daily lives and continue to be productive. Being anxious does not help. Anxiety interferes with problem-solving, concentration, and focus. Anxiety does not help the world, and it does not help you either. Call upon your inner strength and resources, focus on a productive goal, and free your mind so you can be proactive. Avoid substances that will intensify a negative mood or disrupt your sleep. It is very natural to reach for food or drink when you are anxious. Most commonly this includes having a drink of alcohol, eating crunchy salty foods, or eating sugary treats, chocolate, or ice cream. Caffeinated soda, coffee, and marijuana are particularly linked to increased irritability, agitation, and anxiety. Do you have a favorite stress food or drink? These may be momentarily satisfying and can temporarily mask uneasy feelings, but in the long run, may work against your stated goal to reduce anxiety. Can you find a satisfying substitute?

Consider these eight strategies to stay grounded and calm the nervous system.

1. Shift your diet. Choose whole (not processed) foods, sufficient protein, and a balance of nutritious fruits and vegetables. Some vitamins can help restore balance in times of stress, such as B vitamins, Omega’s, Ashwagandha, potassium, and magnesium, and/or a good multivitamin may help.

2. Drink water. Dehydration disrupts sleep, can cause headaches, and overall poor mental and physical functioning. Drinking water helps flush the system of toxins, restores Ph balance, helps with cognitive functioning, the digestive and elimination systems, temperature, sleep, and can reduce pain.

3. Engage your senses. When anxious, it helps to get grounded by engaging your senses. For smell: aromatherapy helps improve mood as the olfactory nerve is located in the limbic system, which is the control center for the emotional part of the brain. Touch: hold a smooth rock, soft blanket, or press your feet into the ground. Attention to the feet is a natural anxiolytic and a way to feel grounded. Sight: slowly look around from left to right, scanning your environment. Sound: Listen, what do you hear? Birds, or other sounds? Taste: let an ice chip melt in your mouth or savor a single bite of food. These strategies will help you feel more present in your body.

A Brain Changer: How Stress Shapes Cognition and Memory

Some of us have visceral responses to stress—we struggle to focus; our recall is… not great; we feel disorganised, overwhelmed, and exhausted; we can’t sleep; our head hurts, our neck aches; we’re tearful; and we may even feel like we’re on the brink of a meltdown. What does this stress do to the brain, or beneath the skin? Here, we explore the neural mechanisms that underlie how stress and strain shape the brain and its impact on our memory.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Stress triggers an evolutionary-based, psychobiological response to the precarious environment we find ourselves in on a day-to-day basis. But that is not to say that we cannot experience eustress (more commonly known as “good stress”).

Good stress can elicit excitement—it can be motivating, even performance-enhancing. It can propel us to greater heights during exams, interviews, and speeches. Our pulse hastens, our heart races, our hormones surge—in other words, we feel alive.

Alas, eustress tends to be short-lived. Without it, we can feel listless, rudderless, or just plain unhappy. Good stress is, thus, key to vitality.

But bad stress often creeps up on you like a stranger in the night. It can be chronic in nature or acute and intense. While the healthy brain processes good stress adaptively, bad stress can lead to maladaptive processing with lasting effects on brain structure, function, and plasticity, with changes seen also to neuron shape, connectivity, and cell count. Together, these changes impede cognitive processing (Bremner, 1999).

More Than a Side Effect

Whether on a social or occupational basis, stress can overwhelm cognitive load and evoke aversive neural reactions that disrupt our physiological equilibrium—with knock-on effects seen to our mental well-being and overall health. Stress increases our vulnerability to a range of well-known (and more obscure) physical and mental health conditions—including systemic lupus erythematosus (Morand, 2018), Cushing’s disease (Orsini et al., 2021), cardiovascular disease (Kivimäki & Steptoe, 2018), depression (Hamilton et al., 2021), and psychosis (Dykxhoorn et al., 2020), to name a few.

But what of memory? Deficits in declarative and non-declarative memory (i.e., recall of events and facts vs. conditioning and skill learning), in addition to cognitive difficulty and issues with overall executive function (e.g., flexible thinking and self-control) often coincide with conditions such as these. While they are typically passed off as inconvenient side-effects, there is much more to it than that.

Where Memories Are Made

The hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex are crucial components of brain circuitry involved in learning and memory. The hippocampus, however, is the anatomic basis for memory, responsible for memory encoding, consolidation, and retrieval (Lindau et al., 2016).

Although it does not operate in isolation, the hippocampus is the temporal lobe brain structure most sensitive to stress (Calcia et al., 2016). Hippocampal vulnerability stems from the incitement of glucocorticoids and neurotransmitters that are elevated in the stress response (McEwen, 2007). Even in fit and healthy people, stress can elevate glucocorticoids. Soldiers tested at wartime, for example, had excessive levels of urinary cortisol, but notable reductions in cortisol were detected when they were no longer in immediate threat (Howard et al., 1955).

Stress Shrinks the Brain

Stress-induced hippocampal atrophy (aka shrinkage) has been associated with spatial and working memory deficits in both humans and animals (Conrad, 2008). This type of shrinkage occurs through inhibitory effects of prolonged stress exposure on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which causes glucocorticoid hypersecretion and the modulation of excitatory neurotransmitters (McEwenn, 2007).

Chronically elevated glucocorticoids and excitatory amino acid neurotransmitters can permanently alter brain architecture. This level of exposure can cause a number of neuronal changes, from reduced dendritic branching, synaptic terminal structural alterations, neuron death, and neuronal regeneration inhibition in the hippocampus (Bremner, 1999).

DEI Leadership Lessons from Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court Nomination

And while many leaders are unapologetic about having no intention to drive even a modicum of meaningful change, there are countless others who truly support DEI in their heads and hearts but are sheepishly paralyzed in practice—leaders who deeply struggle with making the transition from well-intentioned believer to high-impact builder.

For such leaders—and for all of us—President Biden’s historic nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to become the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court is particularly instructive. If confirmed, Jackson would be only the eighth person to sit on the Supreme Court bench who was not a white man since the Court’s establishment in 1789. Biden, who has consistently signaled his commitment to use his presidential power to advance DEI, promised to nominate a Black woman to the Court in the event of a vacancy—and, to his credit, he followed through. Biden’s handling of Jackson’s groundbreaking nomination offers three practical lessons that can help leaders to get unstuck and, ultimately, better connect their creeds and their deeds. 

Be precise with what “diversity” means in your context 

One aspect of Biden’s approach to this Supreme Court nomination process that was as courageous as it was controversial is the precision with which he declared what “diversity” would look like in this case – namely, that he intended to diversify the Court by adding a Black woman. Without any context, the word “diversity” simply refers to our human differences, whether based on race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, religion, ideology, age/generation, or other factors; it does not expressly refer to particular types of people or assume a particular status hierarchy of haves and have-nots. But in the context of corporate DEI, “diversity” is most often used as an imprecise, catch-all category referring to all of the have-nots who are most often underrepresented in the executive ranks – individuals from a wide array of stigmatized, marginalized, and historically disadvantaged groups. Though politically correct, this imprecision often forestalls meaningful action because progress requires strategic acuity and tactical specificity. If Black and Hispanic women, for example, are not represented in senior management, leaders should say as much in addition to espousing a general commitment to “diversity.” 

When committing to increase “diversity,” there can be wisdom in explicitly naming what “diversity” means in a particular context because it can force a sober analysis of which groups have been underrepresented, why, and what can be done to solve for the exclusion. After all, you cannot fix what you are unwilling to face. Ambiguous executive commitments to “diversity” may make for great soundbites, but alone, they rarely fuel measurable progress. To be sure, adopting a generic pro-diversity stance may be easier for leaders than articulating a specific vision of what diversifying their organizations will look like in clear, observable terms. And yet, summoning the clarity and courage to speak with precision can be key in helping leaders gain the traction to accelerate their DEI impact. The road to lasting change begins with a willingness to commit to a vivid picture of the organization’s current state and precisely what “diversity” progress will look like in practice. 

Be Prepared to Combat the “Diversity Equals Deficiency” Myth

Upon the announcement of Justice Breyer’s retirement, President Biden promised to nominate a Black woman with “extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity” to the High Court. While these qualifiers should have been able to go unspoken, people of color, women, and others from historically underrepresented groups are chronically assumed to be incompetent until proven otherwise. Consequently, efforts to diversify organizations are routinely beset by a single question: whether the organization should hire the “best” available candidate or the “diverse” candidate. This cringeworthy “question” subtly suggests that underrepresented candidates will be inherently deficient because diversity and excellence are somehow opposites. Anyone who’s ever advanced underrepresented talent knows that the presumption of incompetence for “diverse candidates”—not to mention double-minorities like Jackson (who is both Black and a woman)—will be the proverbial elephant in the boardroom. Such thinking is nothing more than a paper-thin façade for a polished prejudice that believes that obstructing DEI progress is in the best interest of ensuring strong organizational performance.

Inaction is a decisive vote cast in favor of preserving the very status quo that DEI efforts are designed to transform.

— Nicholas Pearce

Do I Need to Pay Taxes on Unemployment?

That’s a big change from last year when you filed your 2021 tax return on 2020 income. For 2020 federal tax returns, the American Rescue Plan of 2021 allowed an exclusion of up to $10,200 per individual, but that tax break wasn’t extended for 2021. 

As the April 15 income tax filing deadline approaches, you need to be prepared to pay federal taxes on unemployment compensation you collected in 2021. You could be hit with some sticker shock. Here’s what to know. 

WHY UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS ARE TAXABLE

Unemployment benefits are treated like regular income. Your benefits get reported to the IRS and are subject to federal income tax. The amount you received during the year gets added to your overall taxable income. Although the benefits aren’t specifically taxed (nothing is withheld unless you opt in), it’s that total amount of income that shapes your tax bill. 

Most states with a state income tax also collect taxes on unemployment benefits, but some do not. Check the table at the end of this article to see if your state taxes unemployment benefits and what the rate is. You can find more details about each state’s approach in this guide.

The main difference between unemployment and regular wage income is that you don’t pay Social Security or Medicare taxes on unemployment benefits (listed as FICA taxes). Also, the percentage you pay on your benefits is determined by your income bracket. For example, if you’re a single filer and you earned between $9,951 and $40,525, you fall in the 12% federal tax bracket for 2021-2022. 

HOW TO HANDLE A TAX BILL IF YOU’RE STILL UNEMPLOYED 

You may be feeling the financial pinch if you’re still unemployed. If you can’t afford to pay your tax bill, the IRS offers a few options. 

First, contact the IRS right away to explain your situation and find out if you’re eligible for an alternative payment plan. They can discuss your options with you and set you up on a repayment plan, such as a short-term repayment plan within 180 days or a long-term installment plan over 72 months. It’s peak tax season right now, so it may not be easy to get through right away. Try to be patient. 

If you’re not able to pay anything at all, the IRS may decide your account is “currently not collectible.” That designation temporarily delays their collection process. 

Keep in mind, your tax debt doesn’t go away. Penalties and interest may accrue on the unpaid amount during this “not collectible” period. You’ll also be expected to pay fees and interest on any installment plan as well. Going forward, if you can afford to pay a little bit toward next year’s tax bill, that’s advisable to avoid a lump sum in April. 

HOW TO AVOID A HEFTY TAX BILL ON UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

To avoid being socked with a large bill come tax time, you can voluntarily choose to withhold a portion from your unemployment benefits so you don’t get stuck with a tax bill or lose out on a refund you were expecting. 

Unless you absolutely can’t manage to pay throughout the year, it’s highly recommended you opt in to withholding a certain amount. The agency that pays your unemployment benefits will withhold a flat 10% to cover all or a portion of your tax bill. 

Once you’ve returned to work, it’s worth making sure you have the correct amount withheld to avoid a surprise bill. Use the IRS tax withholding calculator to see how much you should withhold. 

WHAT ELSE TO KNOW ABOUT UNEMPLOYMENT TAX WITHHOLDING 

Even though the IRS recommends you withhold a certain amount from your unemployment benefits to cover taxes, your wellbeing comes first. Of course, avoiding a big tax bill is preferable, but if money is extra tight, it’s more important to pay your utility bills and keep food in your pantry. You can always work out a way to repay your bill with the IRS later. Better that than letting your fridge go unstocked. 

Are you still unemployed? Take a look at our unemployment resource. We are here to help. If you’re back to work but dealing with a hefty tax debt because of your time away from work, talk to an MMI credit counselor. We may be able to help you address your other debts and bring some balance to your budget.

Chart: States that tax your unemployment benefits

StateTaxes unemployment benefits?If so, how much?
AlabamaNo 
AlaskaNo 
ArizonaYes  Same guidelines as federal
ArkansasYesAK has made an exemption for 2020 and 2021 tax years; income tax range is 2% to 5.5% depending on income
CaliforniaNo 
ColoradoYesFlat income tax rate of 4.5% for 2021, 4.55% in 2022
ConnecticutYesSame guidelines as federal
DelawareYesDE has made an exemption for 2020 and 2021 tax years; income tax range is 2.2% to 6.6% depending on income
DCNo 
FloridaNo 
GeorgiaYesSame guidelines as federal
HawaiiYesIncome tax range is 1.4% to 11%
IdahoYesSame guidelines as federal
IllinoisYesFlat income tax rate of 4.95%
IndianaYesFlat income tax rate of 3.23%; some unemployment benefits may also be tax deductible
IowaYesIncome tax range is 0.33% to 8.53% depending on income
KansasYesSame guidelines as federal
KentuckyYesFlat income tax rate of 5%
LouisianaYesSame guidelines as federal
MaineYesIncome tax range is 5.8% to 7.15%
MarylandYesSame guidelines as federal; 2020 and 2021 tax year exemptions for those with gross adjusted income at or below $75,000 (single) or $100,000 (married filing jointly)
MassachusettsYesFlat income tax rate of 5%; 2020 and 2021 exemptions for up to $10,200 of unemployment benefits if household income is below 200% of federal poverty level
MichiganYesFlat state income tax is 4.25%
MinnesotaYesIncome tax range 5.35% to 9.85%
MississippiYesIncome tax range is 3% to 5%
MissouriYesSame guidelines as federal
MontanaNoUnemployment benefits will be taxed beginning in 2024
NebraskaYesSame guidelines as federal
NevadaNo 
New HampshireNo 
New JerseyNo 
New MexicoYesSame guidelines as federal
New YorkYesSame guidelines as federal
North CarolinaYesFlat state income tax rate of 5.25%; drops to 4.99% in 2022 and continues to drop each year until it reaches 3.99% in 2027
North DakotaYesSame guidelines as federal
OhioYesSame guidelines as federal
OklahomaYesSame guidelines as federal
OregonYesIncome tax range is 4.75% to 9.9%
PennsylvaniaNo 
Rhode IslandYesIncome tax range is 3.75% to 5.99%
South CarolinaYesSame guidelines as federal
South DakotaNo 
TennesseeNo 
TexasNo 
UtahYesSame guidelines as federal
VermontYesIncome tax range is 3.35% to 8.75%
VirginiaNo 
WashingtonNo 
West VirginiaYesSame guidelines as federal
WisconsinYesIncome tax range is 3.54% to 7.65%; a portion of unemployment benefits may be exempt
WyomingNo 

Six Key Benefits of Good Credit

But if you’re new to credit you may not be entirely sure what the fuss is all about. Why exactly do you need good credit? Here are the biggest reasons why you should care about your credit score, and why building good credit is worth the effort.

GOOD CREDIT SAVES YOU MONEY

If you ever plan to buy a house, own a car, and use a credit card to buy anything, you’re going to want to want a high credit score. 

Simply put, your credit score goes a long way toward determining what kind of interest rate you’re going to get from lenders. The higher your credit score, the more faith lenders will have in your ability to pay them back. When lenders feel confident in your ability to pay them back, they’re more willing to offer low interest rates. And the lower the interest rate, the less that loan or line of credit is going to cost you.

Fool.com has a nice breakdown on how your credit score can change your interest rates and what those changes mean in terms of monthly payment and total interest paid over the life of the debt. Someone with excellent credit can expect to pay hundreds less per month and tens of thousands less in total for a mortgage as compared to someone with average or below average credit. If you carry any amount of credit card debt, a high interest rate can be extremely costly. 

GOOD CREDIT CAN HELP YOU LAND A JOB

A recent nationwide survey of hiring professionals found that 25% used credit checks as part of the hiring process. Why? It’s not that they’re looking for your credit score (they aren’t able to see that). Instead, they’re looking for potential red flags.

While you may not think your credit history says much about your ability to do a particular job, if your credit report shows signs of an inability to successfully manage your finances that might be disqualifying for some positions. Ultimately, it may just be another data point to consider when weighing your application against other, similarly qualified applicants.

GOOD CREDIT CAN REDUCE YOUR CAR INSURANCE BILL

Over 90% of car insurance companies review your credit when determining what insurance premiums to charge. Insurance companies, like employers, aren’t interested in your score, but they are interested in the positive behaviors that make up your score. A spotless payment history, for example, makes you seem more likely to pay your auto insurance bill on time every month.

Basically, if you do a good job managing your credit and debt obligations then insurance companies will assume that you’ll also manage your insurance obligations just as well. 

GOOD CREDIT MAKES IT EASIER TO OPEN UTILITY ACCOUNTS

When it come time to open an account for a utility service, your credit report is crucial. You may not think of electricity as a form of lending, but functionally it’s not much different from a credit card: you spend as little or as much electricity as you like each month and at the end of the cycle you get a bill for what you’ve spent.

Utility companies prefer seeing that you’re someone who pays their other bills on time and doesn’t become overextended. The kind of good behavior that raises your credit score also makes you more trustworthy in the eyes of the gas company.

Poor credit doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be denied service, but it will be harder, and you may have to pay a deposit before you can establish an account.

GOOD CREDIT MAKES FINANCIAL RECOVERY EASIER

Whether you’re unemployed for a lengthy period of time or simply coming up short for the month, good credit makes it easier to stay afloat and manage your recovery once things are back to normal. Most importantly, having good credit makes it easier to borrow money at an affordable rate, which makes any debt you accumulate during a setback that much easier to repay when your income has returned.

GOOD CREDIT GIVES YOU PEACE OF MIND

Having good credit doesn’t shield you from every possible problem, but it does take a little bit of that burden away. Which is important, because over half of all Americans report feeling anxious about their finances, with the majority citing debt as their biggest reason for feeling anxious.

So, while good credit isn’t everything, it is a big part of your overall financial health. Good credit can help turn around a difficult situation and make a good situation even better.

How Creating a Sense of Purpose Can Impact Your Mental Health

What is your purpose or your meaning in life?

A sense of purpose is generally thought of as the most important thing for an individual to guide their behaviors, make decisions and attain their goals. For some, it is raising a family, commitment to their community, their passions, and for others, it may be their careers. Purpose can be as simple as bringing happiness to someone you love or taking care of your child. A fundamental misconception about purpose is that purpose is not fixed. It is not uncommon for individuals to change their sense of purpose, especially after a significant life event such as a death in the family, grown children leaving home, retirement, or entering or leaving a meaningful relationship. Regardless of what brings you meaning and purpose, it is essential to have a sense of purpose. 

The positive mental health benefits of purpose

Research shows that individuals who have a strong sense of purpose and meaning in life tend to have better mental health, overall well-being, and cognitive functioning compared to those who lack a sense of purpose. Individuals with a sense of life purpose are less likely to have heart attacks, strokes, and dementia. Several studies also show that individuals with a strong sense of purpose tend to engage in healthier behaviors and lifestyle choices such as practicing regular physical exercise and participating in preventative health services. A study in 2013 found that individuals with a strong sense of purpose in life were better at stress management and had better sleep than individuals without a strong sense of purpose. 

Having a positive and meaningful aspect in life may improve brain function, including overall cognition and memory. Additionally, individuals with purpose tend to have lower instances of depression. However, just because it is healthy to have a sense of purpose or meaning does not mean that a sense of purpose is easy to find.

Purpose anxiety

Purpose anxiety is a relatively new term that relates to the anxiety and negative feelings such as stress, worry, and frustration that arise when seeking a sense of life fulfillment. This type of anxiety often occurs during times of significant transitions, when people start to look for their purpose in life or find a new purpose to correlate with a new chapter in their life, or times when people are actively trying to fulfill their sense of purpose.

Signs of purpose anxiety include the following:

  • Constantly switching jobs hoping that one will be more fulfilling than the next.
  • Constantly comparing yourself to others. 
  • Recognizing your failures instead of your accomplishments
  • Jumping from one relationship to another, hoping you find “the one.”

How to create a sense of purpose

Creating a sense of purpose means that you seek meaning greater than yourself. Approximately 25% of American adults say they have a clear sense of purpose about what makes their lives meaningful, while 40% either claim neutrality on the subject or say they don’t have a sense of purpose.

Purpose comes from a sense of self-knowledge and must be created, not found, meaning that you may need to put in some work to create your purpose. Creating your sense of purpose may take time and require a lot of tough questions and deep conversations. You may even consider talking to a life coach or therapist. Below are a few key points when searching for your sense of purpose:

  • Donate your time, money, or talent 
  • Explore different interests to find out what you love to do
  • Reflect on what type of injustices bother you the most
  • Meet new people
  • Ask for feedback from others 
  • Surround yourself with positive people
  • Ask yourself the “why’s”: “why do you live where you live”?, “why do you do what you do”?, “why are you happy in certain moments”?, “Why are you bothered by certain things”? “why do you buy the things you buy”?

Green Mediterranean diet could be a ‘win-win’ for health and the planet

Climate scientists believe that one of the most impactful things that people can do for the environment is to reduce their consumption of meat and dairy products. 

Research notes that global production of animal-based foods — including livestock feed — accounts for 57% of total greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, whereas production of plant-based foods accounts for only 29%.

Another study estimates that if everyone became vegan, this would reduce the amount of land worldwide that farmers need to grow food by 3.1 billion hectares or 76%.

In addition to cutting emissions from food production, say the authors, rewilding the freed-up land would remove around 8.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year for the next 100 years. 

Of course, the idea that billions of people worldwide would voluntarily give up their steaks, sausages, and cheeseburgers simply to curb climate change may seem far-fetched. 

But perhaps they would think twice if they knew how much it would benefit their own health.

Recent research suggests that people who eat little or no meat tend to have a lower risk of cancer, in particular colorectal cancer and prostate cancer in men. 

Diets that combine a reduction in meat and dairy consumption with increased intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, bring further health benefits.

People who eat a typical Mediterranean diet, for example, have a lower overall mortality rate and a lower risk not only of cancer but also cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

A series of clinical trials now suggests that eating a “green” Mediterranean diet, or green Med diet, may provide additional benefits on top of those provided by the regular Mediterranean diet. 

The diet, which adds extra plant foods rich in polyphenols and aims to avoid meat completely, is also better for the planet.

“[E]liminating meat intake — beef, pork, lamb — is by far the most important single way to reduce the carbon footprint from diet,” said Dr. Meir Stampfer, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, and one of the authors of the green Med studies. 

“The contribution of meat to greenhouse gas emissions is enormous compared with other foods,” he told Medical News Today.

Biodiversity and human health

Dr. Stampfer pointed out that the total area needed for meat production includes a lot of land for growing crops to feed livestock. 

So by reducing the amount of land around the world that is devoted to producing meat, the green Med diet could play a major role in the preservation of biodiversity.

In its 2020 report “Biodiversity for Nutrition and Health”, the World Health Organization (WHO) describes a virtuous circle that links varied, plant-based diets, human health, biodiversity, and sustainability. 

“The significance of pressures generated by human activity on both climate change and biodiversity loss, and their impacts on nutrition and health outcomes, cannot be overstated,” the authors conclude.

What is the classic Mediterranean diet?

A traditional Mediterranean diet contains the following elements:

  • vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • sources of healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, and olive oil
  • moderate amounts of dairy and fish
  • less red meat than a traditional western diet
  • fewer eggs
  • red wine in moderation

The diet provides an abundance of polyphenols, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and plant fiber.

Importantly, the classic Med diet also avoids refined grains, highly processed foods, and products with added sugars.

Scientists believe that, in combination, these features help lower levels of bad cholesterol, reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, and improve insulin sensitivity.

Green Mediterranean or ‘green Med’ diet

Scientists in Israel, Germany, and the United States reasoned that replacing all the remaining meat in the diet with plant-based proteins could supercharge these health effects.

Over the past few years, they have conducted three clinical trials of their green Med diet on a cohort of 294 people with abdominal obesity. Participants’ average age at the start of the trials was 51 years. 

Over the course of their studies, they were all given free gym membership and advice about physical activity. 

The researchers randomly assigned them to three diets: 

  • Healthy dietary guidance — basic advice on how to achieve a healthy diet.
  • A calorie-restricted traditional Med diet, with advice to reduce red meat consumption, plus 28 grams (g) of walnuts each day.
  • A calorie-restricted green Med diet, which incorporated 28 g of walnuts per day, plus 3–4 cups of green tea, and 100 g of Mankai duckweed in a shake. They were asked to avoid red and processed meats completely and discouraged from consuming poultry. 

People in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries eat Mankai as a “vegetable meatball.” Previous research by the same scientists showed that Mankai provides all the essential amino acids plus vitamin B12, making it an ideal meat substitute. 

Cardiovascular benefits

In the first study, the researchers examined possible extra heart health benefits of eating a green Med diet.

They report that after 6 months, both Med diets led to greater weight loss and metabolic benefits than standard dietary advice.

However, the green Med diet led to a greater reduction in waist circumference and several other measures of cardiovascular risk. 

For example, participants who ate this diet had improved insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, lower levels of bad cholesterol, and less inflammation compared with those on a standard Med diet.

Fat storage in the liver

For their next study, the researchers compared the amount of fat in the liver of subjects after 18 months on the three different diets.

They discovered that people who ate the green Med diet lost more fat in their liver than those on the regular med diet.

This may reduce their risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which affects around 25% of people worldwide and can lead to potentially fatal cirrhosis and liver failure.

How to Calculate Debt to Income Ratio and Why it’s Important to Know

It’s useful for you to know your DTI, too, because it can help you identify whether you need to make changes to your budgeting and spending. The higher your DTI is, the less money you have for other household expenses outside of debt. It’s also a sign that you might have trouble with an unexpected expense and could fall behind on your debt obligations. 

HOW TO CALCULATE YOUR DEBT-TO-INCOME RATIO

Calculating your DTI isn’t hard. It just involves a bit of math and a debt-ratio formula. You can use our Debt-to-Income Ratio Calculator to find yours. 

First, add up your monthly debt payments, such as a mortgage, car loan, student loans, and credit cards. These are formal debt agreements that are different from variable expenses like, say, childcare, groceries, or utility bills. While your mortgage is a debt, rent is not and shouldn’t be included in your DTI ratio.

Divide your total debt figure by your gross monthly income to get the ratio (percentage) of debt to income. To find your gross monthly income, divide your gross annual salary by 12. 

Here’s how the math works for someone with monthly payments for a car loan, student loan, and credit cards, with an annual gross income of $45,000: 

Monthly debts:

  • Car: $250/month
  • Student loan: $500/month
  • Credit cards: $450/month.
    • Total: $1,200/month

Annual gross income: $45,000 ÷ 12 = $3,750 gross monthly income

Monthly debt payment ($1,200) ÷ gross monthly income ($3,750) = 32% DTI 

Keep in mind, lenders calculate your DTI using your minimum monthly credit card payment, not the total you owe on the card

THE IDEAL DEBT-TO-INCOME RATIO 

As a rule, the lower your DTI, the better for you. However, there is no set ideal ratio because if you own a home — a significant debt — your DTI is going to be much higher than if you rent.

However, if you don’t own a home, and you’d like to qualify for a mortgage, it’s a good idea to get your DTI under 40% because anything above 40% could disqualify you from certain mortgage programs (more in a minute). 

HOW YOUR DEBIT-TO-INCOME RATIO AFFECTS YOUR CREDIT SCORE

In short, your DTI doesn’t impact your credit score. Your credit utilization ratio might seem related to your DTI, but it’s a different animal. Credit utilization measures how much of your credit limit you’re using. For example, if you spend $6,000 of your $12,000 card limit, you’re using 50% of your credit (the optimum percentage is 30% or less). That’s credit utilization. It’s a factor in your credit score, but it doesn’t affect your DTI, and the two aren’t directly related. 

The main reason a high DTI matters is that it indicates you could struggle to meet your debt payments consistently. If you start missing payments, then your credit score will almost certainly take a hit. 

HOW TO REDUCE YOUR DEBT-TO-INCOME RATIO IF IT’S HIGH

Really, there are only two ways to reduce your debt-to-income ratio: increase your income or reduce your debt. 

If your day job makes for a full schedule, it might be tricky to increase your income, but people do pick up side hustles for additional income.

Reducing debt might be a better option for bringing down your DTI, particularly if you carry a lot of credit card debt. That means reviewing your spending and cutting back where you can. 

A third option is to downsize — either your house or your car — to a less expensive choice. Moving house isn’t easy, but it might be worth exploring. 

Consolidating your unsecured debts (such as credit cards) can be a way to reduce your monthly payments without having to qualify for a loan. Following a debt management plan, such as MMI’s option, is one way to bring down your monthly payment. 

WHAT TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT DEBT-TO-INCOME RATIO FOR SEEKING A MORTGAGE 

Lenders know, from historical trends, that borrowers with a high DTI tend to struggle to make their payments and are more likely to default on their loans. That’s why lenders often won’t agree to lend to someone with a high DTI — the borrower is too risky to the lender. 

If you’re planning on buying a home, assess whether you’d qualify for a mortgage. These loan programs, for example, require specific limits (2022):

  • FHA loans allow a maximum DTI of 43%
  • USDA loans allow up to 41%
  • Conventional loans allow a maximum of 45% but can be as high as 50% under certain circumstances

It’s important to understand the DTI calculation includes the new mortgage payment. For example, to qualify for an FHA loan, your existing debt and your new mortgage payment must not exceed 43% of your gross monthly income. 

FHA has another ratio, which is called mortgage payment expense to effective income. It’s a simple calculation: new housing payment (principal, interest, taxes, insurance, mortgage insurance, etc.) divided by gross monthly income. This number cannot exceed 31% to qualify for an FHA loan. 

If your DTI is higher than or close to these ratios, you’ll need to make some changes before you can qualify for a mortgage. Reduce your debt, increase your income, or buy a lower-cost house. 

WHAT ELSE TO KNOW

Your DTI is most important when you’re trying to qualify for a loan. It’s not something people necessarily track regularly like their credit score. But it’s still a good idea to periodically review your DTI’s general direction. If it’s increasing over time, that might be a sign that you’re spending more than your income can accommodate, which can quickly become a major problem if unaddressed. 

If your DTI is too high to qualify for a loan or has been steadily growing over time, your best bet is reducing your debt ASAP. A debt management plan is one way, but nonprofit experts can help you review all your options. Begin your free analysis online and receive personalized recommendations today.

What I Wish I Knew About Friendships When I Was Younger, According to 12 Men

You call each other’s bullshit. Often, friendships are taken for granted. They’re easy to make when we’re younger. Then, as we age and are yoked with the responsibilities of work and family, friendships fade away and new ones become difficult to find and even more difficult to maintain. Friendships can be complicated. Some end because they need to. Others because life got in the way. Even so, the relationships are a crucial part of life. 

Men in particular have a hard time with friendships. It’s common for men to lose contact with once-cherished friends and to not seek out new ones as they grow older. But it’s also common to learn from their mistakes. To that end, we spoke to a dozen men who all reminisced about their experiences with friends. They did so in search of lessons they wished they’d learned sooner, so that maintaining, valuing, and even sometimes ending their friendships would make a little more sense. From the silly to the sincere, here’s what they had to say regarding what they wish they knew about friendships. 

1. They Should Feel like a Team Sport

When my friends are successful and accomplish something really incredible, I feel like I’ve accomplished something great too. A victory for one is a victory for all. Great teams don’t try to outdo each other in competition. Instead, they compliment each other while encouraging each other to be great at the same time. For the good of the team. Showing up to celebrate those wins and encouraging your friends is a way to strengthen and maintain those friendships. Friends like that consistently show up and contribute to your growth as an individual, which makes them ideal teammates. Over time the players may change, but the sentiment should still remain the same.” – Cedric, 40, Philadelphia

2. Friendships Come and Go, And That’s Okay

“Your friends also update and change based on the season you’re in. Friendships are formative in our younger years, especially from high school to college. However, as we step on to adulthood and focus on our own lives and careers, most friendships take a back seat. Many would feel sad about it and find that they are no longer close to the friends they used to be close to. However, the reality is that your friends also change depending on where you are in your life. Once you become a dad, you will have a greater affinity with those who are in the same season as you. Nothing is wrong with that.” – Ian, 38, California 

3. It’s Okay to Be Vulnerable

“I come from a generation of men whose closest approximation to friendship was whoever you didn’t mind sitting in silence next to in a bar every week. It’s something that I’ve noticed has changed dramatically in recent times. My son was talking about the kinds of things that he and his friends talk about and how they support each other, and I actually got a little jealous when I realized that I don’t even think I’ve had a conversation with my best friend in years that wasn’t about sports or our wives. 

I wish that I knew it was allowed and acceptable to actually share your feelings with your friends and seek support from them. That your friends shouldn’t just be people you can tolerate, but people that you genuinely enjoy spending time with. In the weeks following that conversation with my son, I have made much more of an effort to meet my best friend in situations that aren’t centered around drinking. It still feels strange to discuss things openly and honestly but I’m very much looking forward to this next form of communication, and I only wish that my eyes had been opened to it earlier.” – Jonathan, 52, Georgia

4. Sometimes, They Have to End

“I had a friend who cheated on his wife. The keyword there is ‘had’. He brought it up as if he was bragging about it, and it just felt wrong and icky. It was like he was still in college, talking about all the girls he hooked up with that weekend. As he was telling me, I realized that I was disgusted and disappointed in someone who I had considered a close friend. That broke my heart. I didn’t say anything but have gradually cut off contact with him to the point that we haven’t spoken in a few years. That moment was definitely a ‘nexus event’ for me. I realized my priorities were that of a husband, father, and good person. I’m not a frat guy anymore, and I don’t want to be around anyone who still thinks they are.” – Ted, 43, Iowa 

5. You Can Pick Things Up Again With Close Friends

“You won’t always be able to spend as much time with your friends as you might want to, because life throws more and more curveballs as you get older. Especially when you least expect it. But with some friends, it won’t matter. However much time passes without you being able to hang out doesn’t affect true friendships. As soon as you do get the chance to get together, you’ll pick up almost exactly where you left off and it’ll be like no time has passed at all. Not all of your friends will end up becoming your best friends, and some of them will disappear without a reason and you’ll never see them again. But the good ones will be there time and time again, despite all of the things that are out of your control.” – Jimmy, 37, UK

6. It’s Difficult to Make New Ones as an Adult

“As an adult, I’ve made exactly one ‘new’ friend in the past five or six years. I’m talking about an actual confidant who I’ve grown to genuinely love. It made me realize that making friends in my youth was so easy, probably because my standards for friendship were different. Adult friendships are likely between co-workers, or people we simply run into on a regular basis at the gym, or out to eat, or whatever. And those people are great. But, they leave. I’ve had work ‘friends’ get new jobs and I never heard from them again. In adulthood, it’s so difficult to maintain a lasting friendship that’s actually based on being friends, rather than convenience. But I guess that makes the one true friend I’ve made most recently pretty special.” – Aaron, 42, Indiana 

Be an Innovative Leader or Risk Your Company’s Longevity

As a leader, it’s up to you to set a creative standard that helps your business stand out and safeguards its future success. Time is of the essence, but if you’re still wondering whether you should prioritize thinking outside of the box in your leadership strategy, read on to discover why innovative leaders win the day. 

Change is good — and exciting 

Innovation is change, and that can look like simplified processes for your team and customers. For example, if you change the way you gather information about your target market, you may be newly able to anticipate customers’ needs and proactively address them — resulting in more happy clients and sales. In this way, change has the potential to be an overwhelming positive, and your ability to adapt continuously translates to direct successes for your company. 

What’s more, doing the same thing over and over for a long period of time doesn’t only get boring for your customers, but also for you and your team. Innovation cures boredom because it makes work exciting again. The monotony of the day-to-day could discourage your team and lower its productivity; you may even start to lose employees who crave more challenges. Constant innovation, growth and creation ensure your team — and, by extension, your customers — remains invested in your company. Innovation should happen at every level of your company, and all feedback should be taken seriously for maximum results.

Technology evolves; so do consumer needs 

Technology keeps advancing, and it waits for no one. For example, new social-media platforms are created constantly, and they translate to new ways of marketing your product and business. Leaders must keep up with these innovations. Choosing to ignore them will leave your company stagnant and in the past while your competitors rise to the top and push their companies forward. 

Moreover, consumer’s needs are what drive your company, and you need to keep up with them. Consumers may accept what you’re offering today, but tomorrow they might want it faster, bigger, smaller or delivered. Stay in touch with your consumers. Constantly ask for their feedback, but more importantly, as previously mentioned, meet their needs before they even think to ask. Continuously creating new and exciting experiences for them will keep them happy and you ahead of the curve. 

Innovation spurs success after success 

Falling behind is never good for business. If you begin to see sales lag, take a good look at what your competitors are doing because you probably need to step your innovation game up. Customers are always looking for new and exciting things from a business, and if you are not providing that for them, they will find it elsewhere.  Again, it’s worth emphasizing that you don’t want to be a follower, struggling to remain a profitable contender in the market. Instead, set the bar for other companies; be their example of success. 

At the end of the day, it’s simple, really: Innovation is important for a business’s success, and as leaders, we should spearhead our companies’ creative efforts. We don’t want our companies to be left in the past; we want to be pioneers in the development of our respective markets, keeping up with technological advances and our customers’ ever-evolving needs. Innovate today and never stop growing. 

Excess weight may accelerate brain aging

It is widely known that excess body weight is associated with many health conditions. Now, researchers have found an association between adiposity — having too much fatty tissue in the body — and cognitive impairment. 

At the start of a new study, which appears in JAMA Network Open, Canadian researchers determined the adiposity of more than 9,000 participants. They measured both total body fat and visceral adipose tissue (VAT) — the fat that predominantly sits around organs in the abdominal cavity. 

Previous studies have associated VAT, or visceral fat, with increased morbidity and a higher mortality risk. Visceral fat increases the risk of many conditions, such as:

  • heart disease, including heart attacks
  • type 2 diabetes
  • raised blood pressure
  • stroke
  • breast and colorectal cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease

This latest study suggests that excess fat may have mental as well as physical effects.

Cognitive tests

All participants undertook two cognitive tests — the Digital Symbol Substitution Test (DSST) and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) — to assess a range of cognitive functions. 

The researchers adjusted the scores for cardiovascular risk factors, educational level, and MRI-detected vascular brain injury, which is known to be associated with cognitive impairment.

The researchers found that higher total body fat and higher VAT were both significantly associated with lower DSST and MoCA scores. The association was greater on the DSST, which assesses processing speed, than on the MoCA, which is a multidimensional cognitive test. 

Compared with those in the lowest quartile (25%) of adiposity, the performance of those in the highest quartile was equivalent to an additional 3 years of cognitive aging.

These results are not unexpected, as Dr. Anton Porsteinsson, professor and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Care, Research and Education Program (AD-CARE) at the University of Rochester Medical Center, told Medical News Today:

“It is well-known that greater adiposity and body fat are associated with increased cardiovascular risk factors and that those are associated with increased risk of cognitive decline. This cross-sectional study found that excess adiposity was a risk factor for reduced cognitive scores, independent of cardiovascular risk factors, educational level, and MRI-detected vascular brain injury.”

This study reinforces findings from a previous study of older adults in Dublin, which found an association between adiposity, particularly central adiposity, and reduced cognitive function.

How Mental Stress Can Affect Physical Health

A recent Cleveland Clinic survey indicated that 41 percent of Americans have experienced at least one heart-related issue since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most common symptoms cited by the survey of 1,000 American adults included shortness of breath (18 percent), dizziness (15 percent), increased blood pressure (15 percent), and chest pain (13 percent). 

The survey documented that, during the COVID pandemic, frequent sitting throughout the day increased by 5 percent, while frequent walking throughout the day decreased by 4 percent. 

Alternative Conclusions

While it is true that patients with heart disease can develop shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, and elevated blood pressure, these symptoms can occur because of many physical and mental health problems other than heart disease. Therefore, it is misleading to suggest these are all heart-related. 

It is also important to note that shortness of breath, dizziness, and chest pain do not cause heart disease. Elevated blood pressure, if sustained for a long time, can cause increased heart strain.

The Cleveland Clinic survey also documented that 65 percent of Americans experienced increased stress because of the pandemic. The top reasons cited for this increase included fearing that a loved one might become ill and feeling disconnected from their loved ones.

Thus, increased stress may actually the likeliest cause of the symptoms reported in the survey. Stress is well recognized as causing shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, and elevated blood pressure (Searight, 2007).

Additional Essential Advice

Dr. Samir Kapadia, chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic was quoted as saying the survey was conducted because “We wanted to see what kind of effect the ongoing pandemic is having on Americans’ heart health and in particular their healthy habits.” He advised that “We know 90 percent of heart disease is preventable through a healthier diet, regular exercise, and not smoking, so now is the time to refocus on our heart health.”

The American medical establishment often fails to advise patients on how emotions can affect physical symptoms, and how the self-management of emotions can help improve their symptoms.

Given the known connection between stress and the development of heart disease (Levine, 2021), best practices for heart health would be to also recommend Americans employ more stress-reduction techniques. Such techniques include biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, meditation, and yoga (Anbar, 2014).

In addition, patients should be educated about the benefits of a positive psychological state for heart health. For example, many studies have shown that optimism, having a sense of purpose, happiness, mindfulness, higher emotional vitality, and a feeling of psychological well-being are associated with better heart health (Levine, 2021).

Takeaway

Stress can aggravate many medical conditions including heart, lung, stomach, and brain disorders. Therefore, a recommendation for enhanced stress management should be offered early in the course of treating the majority of medical disorders.

20 Best Valentine’s Day Gifts for Women of All Ages

Instead, you may want to get her something a little more personal—something she’ll love and appreciate, but might also be useful in her day-to-day routine.

Maybe she’s looking for a new winter coat to brave the frigid temperatures on her way to work, or perhaps she’s in need of a new wine chiller to keep her favorite whites and rosés cold. Whatever her interests may be, we have you covered. We’ve compiled 20 great Valentine’s day gifts for women that your BFF, girlfriend, spouse, or even your mom or sister would love to receive this V-Day!

Click Read More for Direct Links to Plenty of Gift Ideas.

When and How to Ask For a Raise at Work

SELF-EVALUATION: DO YOU DESERVE A RAISE?

Of course, we all want to make more money. The question is whether or not you deserve to make more money. And while that may seem like a cold way to look at things, your ability to plead your case with actual facts and figures will go a long way. So, do you have a good case?

Before you make your request, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you meet and exceed the expectations of your job description?
  • Are you known as a person who gets things done?
  • Do you take on additional responsibility outside the realm of your job description?
  • Do others look to you for advice and leadership?
  • Are you constantly increasing your knowledge of your industry?
  • Would at least one person at work describe you as indispensable to the company?
  • Do you deliver consistent or exceptional results?

If you can convince your boss that many or all of those statements are true about you and your work, you’ll be that much closer to getting your raise. 

TIPS ON ASKING FOR A RAISE

Even if you feel confident about the quality of the work you do, asking for a raise can be intimidating. Following are some tips to help the process go smoothly.

KNOW YOUR WORTH

When asking for a raise, it’s important to know what you bring to the table. Make a list of your accomplishments and contributions to help strengthen your case.

  • Show quantifiable success (for example, the percentage you have helped increase sales or the amount of money you have helped the company save by implementing a certain procedure). Consider the success of projects you’ve supported. Provide clear numbers if possible.
  • Highlight your unique skills and experience. What can you do that no one else can?
  • Provide positive peer feedback. Emails from coworkers and clients praising your work can serve as social proof that you are worthy of a raise. Did you get a great work review last year? Use it to help show your established history of quality work.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

Consult with others in your industry and conduct research online to find out what the going rate is for your position. Be sure to consider your level of experience, education, and city of residence as all of these factors will have some bearing on salary.

PICK THE RIGHT TIME TO ASK

Before asking for a raise, consider your organization’s finances. It’s often less expensive for a company to pay slightly more for an employee who already knows the job than it is to hire and train a new employee. 

That being said, there are certain times when your company’s finances are tighter than others, and there are times when the budget is more receptive to change. Be sure to take into consideration your employer’s financial outlook when planning to ask for a raise.

LEAVE YOUR NEEDS OUT OF IT

You may have extremely valid personal reasons for why you want or even need to get a pay increase, but those reasons should rarely be part of the negotiation process. Raises are primarily rewarded based on merit and past success. No matter how much your boss may want to help support you, they’ll have a hard time justifying a potential raise if you haven’t earned it in some quantifiable way.

HAVE YOUR ANSWERS READY

Expect follow-up questions. Your boss may want to ask questions about the numbers you provide, the projects you cite, the salary comparisons you use, and anything else that may come up as part of your pitch. Be familiar with any claims you make so that you’re prepared in the even that your boss wants a deeper discussion on those items.

THINK WIN/WIN

The relationship between employee and employer should be based on mutual benefit. When you discuss your salary with your employer, try to keep this balance in mind. Be assertive in asking for what you think you deserve, but leave ultimatums like “give me a raise or I quit” out of the discussion unless you are really ready to move on to a new job. 

Remember that if your company cannot grant your request for a raise right now, increased benefits and vacation time are other “wins” that your employer may be willing to discuss in lieu of a higher salary.

EXAMPLE SCRIPT OF ASKING FOR A RAISE

You should feel free to speak in your own manner, but it may be helpful to practice your pitch ahead of time. You may even want to write it down if that helps (although I wouldn’t recommended reading a prepared statement as part of your pitch).

Here’s a basic template to help you get started:

I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me. I wanted to discuss my recent performance and the possibility of a salary adjustment.

In the past year, I’ve worked on a number of major initiatives that have increased revenue and improved efficiency. My work on [project name] helped us [achievement], and my contributions to [project name] resulted in [achievement].

Considering my expertise, skills, and years with the company, as well as comparable salaries in this region, a salary increase of [desired increase] is fair. Can we make that work?

WHAT IF YOUR EMPLOYER SAYS NO TO A PAY RAISE?

Your employer may decline a salary increase for a number of reasons, which is why keeping the relationship amicable when you are discussing a pay raise is important. A “no” now is not necessarily a “no” forever. Strive to enhance your worth at the company by increasing your knowledge of your industry and broadening your work responsibilities.

What Business Leaders Can Offer to Keep and Develop Employees

Here are some specific steps that employers can take to build their leadership pipeline while offering opportunities shown to increase employee engagement, productivity and longevity.

A look at the research

According to Gartner research, more than half of employees indicate that it’s important for their employers to offer real opportunities for personal growth. 

Employers benefit as well. The Association for Talent Development (ATD) indicates that when organizations offer comprehensive training, they experience a profit margin 24% higher than those that spend less time on training and development activities.

These efforts can also help in building the kind of diversity in leadership ranks that so many companies — and their customers and employees — value today.

Positive impact on diversity

Being proactive in coming up with ways to lay the foundation for employee development and growth can go a long way toward addressing the lack of diversity in senior leadership positions. This is true all the way to board seats.

It’s well-known that the leadership pipeline can be a rate-limiting factor for upward growth if that pipeline is populated primarily by traditional stereotypes. And yet, at many organizations, that continues to be the case. It’s not necessarily because of anything these organizations have willfully done to keep persons of a diverse background out of the pipeline, but more because of what many have not done — proactively taken steps to ensure that typically underrepresented groups of employees are getting the training, development and coaching support to move into higher-level roles.

Here are some ways organizations can invest in making the corporate ladder climbable while paving the way for greater leadership diversity.

Help managers develop coaching skills

Don’t assume that your managers are all adept at and comfortable with coaching employees and helping them grow and develop to move into higher-level positions. Many aren’t. But you can help to provide the tools, training and resources to help them serve in this very important role.

As part of this training, teach managers how to work with employees to develop personal development plans (PDPs) as part of the performance management process.

Encourage both upskilling and reskilling

Not every employee will be interested in moving up the proverbial ladder. And, let’s face it, most organizations have very limited opportunities for employees who may be interested to move into higher-level roles. That doesn’t mean, though, that they can’t or shouldn’t pursue opportunities to learn new skills that might prepare them for other lateral, or even lower-level, positions within your organization.

In today’s fast-paced and continually changing environment, the need for new skills is apparent in organizations of all kinds. Upskilling can provide as much value for meeting employee development needs for some employees as preparing them to move into other roles. 

Nearly Half of Biden’s 500 Million Free COVID-19 Tests Still Unclaimed

Wild demand swings have been a subplot in the pandemic, from vaccines to hand sanitizer, along with tests. On the first day of the White House test giveaway in January, COVIDtests.gov received over 45 million orders. Now officials say fewer than 100,000 orders a day are coming in for the packages of four free rapid tests per household, delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.

Still, the White House sees the program as a step toward a deeper, yet more elastic, testing infrastructure that will accommodate demand surges and remain on standby when cases wane. “We totally intend to sustain this market,” Dr. Tom Inglesby, testing adviser to the COVID-19 response team, told The Associated Press. “We know the market is volatile and will come up and down with surges in variants.”

The White House says Americans have placed 68 million orders for packages of tests, which leaves about 46% of the stock of tests still available to be ordered.

Testing will become more important with mask requirements now easing, say some independent experts. “If infection control is still our priority, testing is central,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner and commentator on the pandemic. “Four tests per household for one family will only last you one time. There should be enough tests for families to test twice a week.”

Inglesby maintains that the pieces are falling into place to accommodate that.

Private insurers are now required to cover eight free rapid tests per person, per month. Medicare coverage will start in the spring. The administration has also been making free at-home tests available through libraries, clinics and other community venues. Capacity for the more accurate PCR tests performed by labs has been built up. The White House recently put out a request to industry for ideas on how to sustain and expand domestic testing for the rest of this year.

Wen says people still need a guide for when to test and how often. “Right now it is still unclear,” she said.

President Joe Biden’s pivot to testing came under duress as the omicron variant gained force just before Christmas. Tests were frustratingly hard to come by, and expensive. The White House is sensitive to criticism that help may have come too late.

“There is no question some people found out they were positive from taking one of these tests and were able to keep other people from getting infected,” said Tim Manning, supply coordinator for the COVID-19 response team.

Around mid-December, with omicron projections grimmer by the day, White House officials began discussing how to make free tests available for anyone who wanted one. But if the government started siphoning up tests on the market, that would just make the shortage worse.

Burnt-Out and Struggling to Prioritize Tasks?

It’s been a while between blog posts. Sometimes life occurs and other tasks are paramount.

One of the key psychological competencies in our hyper-connected and busy lives involves understanding how to prioritise tasks and how to manage time. These sound like simple skills, but they require some complex executive functioning abilities, including the capacity to forecast the future, evaluate various options, consider the consequences of actions (or inactions) and plan the use of our resources. Psychologically, a few things stop us from engaging in appropriate task prioritisation—an incapacity or discomfort with saying no, the sunk costs fallacy (i.e., a tendency to follow through on an endeavour if we have already invested resources into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits), a lack of understanding of opportunity costs (the opportunities we give up once we decide to commit to a course of action) and internal or societal pressure.

In my psychotherapy practice, I have noticed that clients are increasingly struggling with burnout and difficulties with task prioritization. Some of this is an inevitable result of two years of pandemic-living and utter exhaustion at the demands life has placed on us all, with a concurrently reduced capacity to engage in pleasurable activities, such as socialising or vacations. Many people have struggled to adjust their commitments to account for the tiredness they are feeling, or reduced energy levels. Strong emotions, such as the fear, anger and worry we have felt over the pandemic also utilise cognitive resources and thus impact our capacity to bring full attention to tasks. There has been a sense that life must continue as usual—though of course, nothing has been as usual. When working with clients who are experiencing burnout, I encourage them to consider carefully the tasks and commitments they have and to determine whether any of these can be reduced or temporarily amended, to allow themselves more time to invest in themselves and in rest. This process has a few steps.

1. List the tasks and the different roles you inhabit


Sometimes we might feel like we do not do much, but writing down our various commitments can help us notice the smaller tasks (such as walking the dog, or taking the children to school) which might add up to a substantial amount of time. It is important to notice roles and tasks within the personal and professional realms, as well as those we might choose to do for ourselves (e.g., exercise).

2. Notice the costs of each task

Opportunity costs involve recognition of the range of resources tasks might absorb, including finances, time, energy and social capital. Each task, no matter how small, has a cost.

3. Determine which tasks are essential

It is important to be pragmatic and to notice that there are a range of tasks which must be completed, including fulfilling the basic requirements of our work roles and primary caregiving tasks, such as feeding our children or walking our dogs. There are other tasks which might however be optional, including extra projects or promotions at work, or optional extras such as extra-curricular activities for children.

3 Tensions Leaders Need to Manage in the Hybrid Workplace

As hybrid work transitions from a temporary pandemic-era band-aid to the normal way of working, many leaders are wondering how they build an inclusive hybrid culture. The pandemic laid bare existing inequalities at work — around caregiving, race and even age — and while there is an opportunity to “build back better,” the path to “better” is unclear, even for leaders committed to inclusive organizations. This is in large part because not all working arrangements work the same for all employees. A policy or “perk” that benefits some people and makes them feel included, can make others feel like they do not belong or cannot thrive.

When it comes to designing an inclusive hybrid work culture, there are three main tensions that organizations and teams need to manage:

  • First, the tension between allowing employees to work when they want and expecting them to be available all the time;
  • Second, the tension between employees feeling isolated when not working from an office and feeling invaded by communication technologies;
  • Finally, the tension between what practices are possible in a hybrid workplace and what is preferred and rewarded.

The right balance for each organization will vary based on organizational priorities, and on its employees and their interests. But identifying — and naming — these tensions will offer leaders a place from which they can start strategizing.

Tension #1: Working Anytime vs. Working All the Time

The first tension leaders and organizations need to manage is between giving individuals the chance to work when they choose and imposing — intentionally or not — an expectation that they be available all the time. Research has documented the “ideal worker” is expected to be available at any hour of the day, any day of the year, throughout all the years of their careers. During the pandemic, the burden of ideal worker expectations fell especially hard on the shoulders of women, who often not only did their day jobs but were also primarily caregivers for family members.

One way to counter the expectation of constant availability is to offer your team the flexibility to choose when they work, while also making clear that there should be times when they’re offline. There is robust evidence that control over one’s schedule helps employees maintain engagement at work and protect their well-being. However, organizations need to ensure that in offering flexibility, they’re not sending the message that employees should always be on or available. Indeed, during the pandemic, average working hours increased, and people were more likely to send emails after traditional work hours. Even beyond the pandemic, when people do not have boundaries between work and home and are not able to “shut off” work, they are more likely to experience burnout.

One practice that some organizations have used to manage this tension is limiting communication during typical after-hours. Leaders can model this by scheduling calls and emails to send the next business day rather than at 10:00 pm, for example. Also, for anyone who doesn’t work standard hours, they can set an email signature acknowledging “My working hours may not be your working hours. Please do not feel the need to respond outside of your working hours,” which will reinforce the norm.

Another approach is to have company-wide no work times. For example, when the Boston Consulting Group implemented a formal mechanism that required employees to take pre-planned days and nights off, employees reported higher job satisfaction, greater likelihood that they could imagine a long-term career at the firm, and higher satisfaction with their work-life balance.

Tension #2: Isolation vs. Invasion

The second tension organizations have to manage is between employees feeling isolated and feeling invaded. The pandemic has reminded us that part of what brings many employees to the office is connection with others. The chance to interact with others, even briefly, fosters a sense of deep belonging to a team and organizational identity. However, as leaders seek to give employees the opportunity to connect virtually, they also have to be careful that individuals don’t feel invaded. For example, many Black employees have experienced virtual work as particularly invasive. While home was once a private space for authentic cultural expression, videoconferencing transformed this formerly safe space into focal points of public gaze.

To battle feelings of isolation, organizations can reshape social connections by strengthening friendship ties. We’ve heard about companies instituting weekly social time, such as a 20-minute window to discuss a different, light-hearted but personal prompt, like sharing your favorite movie or best birthday memory. Even brief connections with colleagues can decrease the emotional exhaustion caused by loneliness, and help prevent burnout.

To make these prompts feel less invasive, encourage employees to use their discretion in terms of what they feel comfortable sharing, and let them know it’s okay to maintain privacy when they need or prefer it. For example, leaders may invite people to attend certain meetings without video. This would have the added benefit of reducing video-conferencing fatigue. For highly interactive and conversational meetings when seeing one another matters, an organization might create team or organization-based Zoom backgrounds to level the playing field. This has the advantage of proactively embracing an organizational or team culture, and not making employees feel like they are hiding their home space.

Tension #3: Possible vs. Preferred

A final tension that organizations have to manage is between what is possible and what is preferred. One great promise of hybrid work is that individuals will be able to work from home. Indeed, multiple studies show that flexibility allows individuals, especially mothers, to maintain their working hours after having children and even stay in relatively demanding and well-paid occupations through times of high family demand.

The Challenge and Importance of Consistent Parenting

It’s the middle of February, which, if you’re like most people, is right about the time those New Year’s resolutions taper off, and we tell ourselves something along the lines of “I’ll get back to it later.” Whether that was a healthier eating routine, exercise, reading, or waking earlier to start the day, what you’re experiencing is one of the great challenges of mankind—consistency.

As humans, we have a hard time sticking to something long-term. The reason? It’s hard to delay gratification when something else can grab our attention or be easier for us right now.

We can’t argue with the logic that consistency, in some things, is the best path, though. If we consistently eat better, we’ll consistently feel better. If we consistently improve our communication with a loved one, our relationships get better. If we consistently avoid drinking, our health gets better.

Consistency in Parenting

In no sphere of life is the power of consistency more valuable than in parenting. Parents have the particularly sticky job of raising little humans—little humans who have never experienced the world before. Every single day is a lesson in “how to be a person.” Along the way, they make many mistakes and push many boundaries—that is, after all, how we learn.

But to parents, those pushing boundaries and making mistakes is a call to action. Parents, the good ones, know that they can’t allow their children to go without redirection when they stray off course.

It would be easy if all it took was a parent applying a rule one time, and the child understood it immediately, obeyed immediately, questioned nothing, and internalized that desire for obedience. But who are we kidding?

What is more likely to happen is that the child will listen… a little… then get bored, or think that the parents forgot and go right back to pushing and testing the limits. They’re trying to learn, yes—but how do you help kids learn effectively without pulling your hair out?

Where It Goes Wrong

The instinct in these rebellious moments is to argue, lose your temper, and go to an all-out war with your child. Alternatively, if your child is the one who chooses war, sometimes it’s easier to just give in. You decide to skip the war altogether and just say, “Fine, do what you want,” and you figure it’s better to lose the battle than fight the war.

Enter delayed gratification. You know in your heart that you need to be consistent with what you said, but you really want to avoid this meltdown in the grocery store, so you’re just going to give her the candy bar. Or you know that he hasn’t gotten home by curfew the past three nights, but taking away his car like you threatened would really make it difficult for him to bring his brother to soccer practice, so maybe you’ll just let it go this time. Etc. Etc.

But we have to be aware of what we are communicating in these moments of inconsistent parenting.

In effect, we’re saying: “Hey kid, while you’re learning to test limits and trying to figure things out, I see that you’re outright pushing the boundaries, and I know you know that what you’re doing is against the rules—but I’m not going to punish you every time, so good luck knowing which parent you’re going to get, and good luck knowing which rule really matters. It’s up to you to read my mind to get what you want and for us to avoid fighting.”

Spelled out like this—we can see the error of our ways. Spelled out like this, we see that this is not the message we want to send. So what do we do?

Get On the Same Page

One of the first things I stress to the parents I work with is that you must agree on how and when you discipline. Your child doesn’t have the capacity and shouldn’t be responsible for switching between parenting modes that the two of you dance around.

Second, get on the same page with your kid. Have a sit-down with them to explain the rules clearly and concisely, as well as the consequences for when the rules are violated. Make this developmentally appropriate for your child’s age. Depending on your child’s age and temperament, I recommend regular family check-ins where you discuss what went well and what was hard each week and a refresher on what is expected.

Third, stick to what you say. Even if you have to delay punishment for a few hours to get your head straight, simply let your child know that you’ll have a discussion later about what the consequence will be for their actions so that you can stick to your consistent plan.

COVID-19 Can Increase Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Up to a Year Later—Even After Mild Illness

The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, is the first comprehensive look at the cardiovascular outcomes that can occur following a COVID-19 diagnosis, regardless of severity.

“Until now we had data that COVID infection could affect the heart in the short term,” Saurabh Rajpal, MBBS, a cardiologist and assistant professor in the Division of Cardiology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Health. Dr. Raipal, who was unaffiliated with the new research points to issues like heart inflammation or blood clots in the acute stage of the disease. “However, this research shows that COVID can have lingering effects on the heart,” he says.

And the effects of COVID-19 on long-term heart health aren’t insignificant. “Consequently, COVID-19 infections have, thus far, contributed to 15 million new cases of heart disease worldwide,” Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, one of the study’s co-authors, and chief of research and development service at the VA Saint Louis Health Care System said in a press release. “This is quite significant. For anyone who has had an infection, it is essential that heart health be an integral part of post-acute COVID care.”

How COVID-19 affects long-term heart health

To investigate the potential long-term cardiovascular effects of having COVID-19, researchers looked at data from national health care databases curated by the US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). The information was split into three separate groups: people who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 (153,760 individuals), people who did not catch the virus (5,637,647 individuals), and people whose data was collected pre-pandemic (5,859,411 individuals).

Across the board, COVID-19 survivors were at an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases across several categories, including cerebral vascular disorders, dysrhythmia, inflammatory heart disease, ischemic heart disease, thrombotic disorders, and other cardiac disorders. More specifically, being diagnosed with COVID-19 increased a person’s risk of heart attack by 63%, stroke by 52%, and heart failure by 72% in a 12-month period, compared to those without the illness.

The findings did not discriminate against age, race, gender, or pre-existing conditions—according to study authors, even people without a history of cardiovascular disease before a COVID-19 diagnosis were at a higher risk after having the illness. Researchers also found that people were affected despite severity of their COVID-19 infection, and cardiovascular risks were evident even in people who weren’t hospitalized during the acute phase of their illness, which reflects the majority of people who have COVID-19.

Still, researchers say the study has its limitations: In using data from the VA—which was from mainly white men—the demographics of the study weren’t necessarily representative of the US population. It’s also possible that those who were part of the control group actually had COVID-19 but didn’t know or weren’t officially diagnosed with the illness, which could throw off results. And as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, new variants and greater vaccine adherence could lead to a change in these cardiovascular issues.

Worrying more may raise heart disease risk in men

Anxiety is linked to several cardiometabolic conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and hypertension. The reasons behind these links and how they develop, however, remain unclear. 

Some studies have shown that people who are anxious develop increased cardiometabolic risk factors, such as a steeper rise in body mass index (BMI), as they age. 

Other research suggests that deterioration in cardiometabolic health occurs relatively early in the life of anxious individuals and that this lasts into older age. 

Establishing how exactly this link works is difficult, as few cohort studies have recorded longitudinal data on anxiety alongside a broad range of cardiometabolic outcomes. 

In a recent study, researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine led a team of scientists investigating the link between cardiometabolic outcomes and indicators of anxiety. 

“Our findings indicate [that] higher levels of anxiousness or worry among men are linked to biological processes that may give rise to heart disease and metabolic conditions, and these associations may be present much earlier in life than is commonly appreciated — potentially during childhood or young adulthood,” said Lewina Lee, Ph.D., lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. 

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA)

Data analysis

The researchers obtained data from the Normative Aging Study, which the Department of Veterans Affairs established in the 1960s. 

They selected a sample of 1,561 individuals from an ongoing adult male cohort. Each person had submitted assessments of seven cardiometabolic biomarkers every 3–5 years since 1975. These included: 

  • systolic and diastolic blood pressure as indicators of hypertension
  • fasting triglycerides as an indicator of dyslipidemia, meaning unhealthy levels of fat in the blood
  • fasting total cholesterol as an indicator of high cholesterol 
  • BMI as an indicator of obesity 
  • fasting glucose as an indicator of high blood glucose 
  • erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) as an indicator of inflammation

Alongside cardiometabolic biomarkers, all participants completed a nine-item questionnaire based on the Eysenck Personality Inventory at the start of the study alongside a 20-item questionnaire asking how much they worry about various issues on a scale of 0 to 4.

Although the Eysenck Personality Inventory is not a standard test for anxiety, it assesses for neuroticism, which refers to sensitivity to negative emotion. Experts consider neuroticism a causal factor for anxiety disorders and see worry as a major facet of anxiety and a coping method to prepare for future threats. 

The researchers also obtained demographic information from the participants, including: 

  • age 
  • race 
  • socioeconomic status based on father’s profession
  • marital status
  • family history of congenital heart defects (CHD)
  • current smoking status
  • exercise levels 
  • alcohol consumption 

At the beginning of the study, the average age of the participants was 53 years. Between 1975 and 2015, they underwent an average of 6.6 cardiometabolic examinations. In the same period, 1,067 individuals died. 

The researchers noted that higher neuroticism levels were linked to fewer years of education, a higher degree of CHD family history, lower socioeconomic status, and higher levels of smoking and drinking. 

After analyzing the data, they found that the participants who scored higher in neuroticism had a greater number of high risk cardiometabolic risk factors at all ages. 

After adjusting for demographic factors, the scientists found that higher neuroticism was linked to a 13% higher chance of having six or more cardiometabolic disease risk factors. 

They also found an association between higher worry levels and a 10% higher risk of having six or more cardiometabolic disease risk factors. 

Altogether, they say that the effects of neuroticism and worry on cardiometabolic health are similar to those of long-term heavy drinking.

Two big hurdles keep many Americans from saving for retirement

There are two big reasons for the lack of savings — and one of them is not easily solvable. Many workers don’t have employer-provided retirement accounts, while others simply don’t have anything to save.

“Access to a retirement plan is an important driver — roughly half of American workers don’t have that,” said Craig Copeland,EBRIsenior research associate. “Many workers are low-wage workers throughout their careers and really don’t have enough money to save in a retirement plan. They are trying to pay off debts to just make ends meet.”

No access to an employer’s retirement plan

Traditional employer-based retirement plans are typically not available for contractors, freelancers, gig economy workers, and part-time workers. And only 42% of small businesses with less than 100 employees offer retirement benefits, according to a LIMRA 2019 study.

“Why small businesses don’t offer retirement benefits to their employees is pretty straightforward,” said David Deeds, the Schulze Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. “They didn’t need to in order to hire and retain employees in the previous labor market, weren’t required to by state or federal governments, and the perceived costs and complexity (real or imagined) of managing retirement benefits kept at least half of small business from offering retirement benefits.”

Even without a workplace retirement savings plan, those with earned income can still contribute to an IRA, said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

“You can open an IRA with a brokerage, mutual fund company, your bank or credit union in many cases,” he said. “Have an automatic monthly transfer from your checking account into your IRA to automate retirement savings.”

A handful of states – Oregon, California, and Illinois – now offer auto-IRA state-sponsored retirement savings plans to workers without employer-sponsored plans. Other states are considering crafting similar offerings. These state-facilitated programs automatically enroll workers in moderate risk, low-cost retirement savings accounts called auto-IRAs.

Three-quarters of Americans say they would participate in state-supported retirement programs if offered one in their state, according to a survey by the National Institute on Retirement Security, a nonprofit, non-partisan research and education organization.

“State-sponsored retirement savings plans offer the best chance in the near term to increase the number of Americans with access to payroll deduction retirement savings plans,” wrote David John, deputy director of the Retirement Security Project at the Brookings Institution think tank, Mark Iwry, senior fellow in Economic Studies, and William Gale, director of Brookings’ Retirement Security Project, in “Wealth After Work,” which explores solutions to help all Americans gain access to retirement savings accounts.

It’s not a foolproof way to get workers to save. For instance, for the Oregon plan that began in 2017, about one-third of eligible workers opt out.

Is Buying a House a Good Investment?

A 2021 Lending Tree survey found that 88 percent of Americans would rather own a home than rent. It’s easy to see why: owning your own home represents both freedom and wealth. Owning a space means you can do whatever you want with that space, without needing to run it past a landlord first. And homeownership is a foundational way to build wealth, as most homes increase in value over time.

But buying a home is a massive and expensive undertaking. And with that freedom comes a ton of new responsibilities and potential costs.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF HOMEOWNERSHIP IS RIGHT FOR YOU? 

The idea of homeownership may be enticing, but when is buying a home a good idea for you? There are a few areas to consider.

WILL YOU NEED TO MOVE AGAIN IN THE NEAR FUTURE?

Buying a home isn’t a lifetime commitment, but unless you’re flipping a property, it may not be in your best financial interest to buy and sell a home in short order. There are the costs associated with closing on a mortgage. So unless the value of your home has already increased (and it may have, depending on the market), you may need to stay in your house for a while in order to avoid losing money on the transaction. 

Additionally, it’s important to note that markets are volatile. During some periods it may be very easy to find a buyer, and during others it may take months or even years to sell your property. Which is why buying a home can be tricky if you aren’t settled, at least for the near future.

CAN YOU HANDLE BEING RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYTHING THAT GOES WRONG?

Things happen when you own a home. Plumbing problems. Issues with heating, electricity, wildlife, and more. You don’t necessarily have to have the skills to fix all of these problems on your own, but they’re your responsibility. You have to find someone who can fix it and then pay them, because there isn’t a landlord to handle that for you.

DO YOU FEEL CONFIDENT IN YOUR ABILITY TO PAY?

Buying a house is an investment and a commitment. No one plans on defaulting on a home loan, but a large factor in the collapse of 2008 was the thousands (if not millions) of consumers who had been talked into purchasing homes they couldn’t afford. Your financial situation should be the primary consideration when buying a house – not how “good” the market is at that moment.

WHEN IS A HOUSE A GOOD INVESTMENT?

Generally speaking, a house is almost always a good investment simply because home values usually go up over time. That’s not a guarantee, of course, and it’s not the only factor to consider when trying to decide if buying a specific house will be a good investment for you. When weighing your housing options, be sure to examine these key points.

YOU CAN REASONABLY EXPECT THE PROPERTY’S VALUE TO ADEQUATELY INCREASE OVER TIME

While it’s fair to say that most houses will increase in value over time, those numbers rarely move in a straight line. Values fluctuate constantly for a variety of reasons. Prices may suddenly skyrocket due to temporary scarcity in the market. And those same prices may plummet during periods of major economic upheaval. There’s no way to know exactly how much your house will be worth in ten years.

There are, however, trends that develop over time. Home values in particular neighborhoods may rise faster than those in other neighborhoods. Certain styles or sizes of home may be gaining (or losing) popularity.

If you’re thinking of your home as an investment and not simply the place where you keep your stuff (which is a perfectly valid way to look at your home, by the way), then you’ll want to consider all aspects of your home’s potential value. Are there major public works projects on the horizon that may make the neighborhood more or less appealing? Are climate changes making an area more disaster-prone? Consider all of these angles and more before making your purchase.

THE COST OF REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE MUST BE LOWER THAN THE PROJECTED INCREASE IN VALUE

You will inevitably need to sink money into your new home. The amount will vary, depending on the age and condition of the home at the time of purchase. There’s also the possibility that the house will simply be lacking certain features that you desire. 

All of that work will add value to your home. But will it add enough value to become a net positive investment? That’s what you need to figure out. A fixer-upper can be a good, low cost investment or it can be a money trap if you’re not careful. If you’re thinking of your new home as an investment, you need to be mindful of what you spend on upgrades and monthly maintenance. If you put more into a home than you can reasonably expect to get back out once it’s time to sell, then that house may not be a good investment for you.

THE EQUITY YOU CREATE SHOULD BE GREATER THAN THE AMOUNT YOU MAY HAVE SAVED BY RENTING

Few people actually own their homes outright. It’s much more common to take out a mortgage and use the proceeds to buy your home. Over time, you build equity by making payments, narrowing the gap between what your house is worth and how much you still owe the lender.

That equity is key, because even if you never pay off your mortgage in full, it represents a sort of return on your investment. When you sell the house, that equity comes back to you. It’s why so many people favor owning a home to paying rent. You don’t build equity while paying rent.

That said, if renting were cheaper than paying a mortgage (plus the other costs associated with owning a home), you’ll want to verify that the difference isn’t greater than the amount of equity you’re creating each month. It’s probably unlikely that this would be the case, but if there’s chance that the money you save from renting were greater than the equity you earn through owning, that’s something you should consider.

WHEN IS A HOUSE NOT A GOOD INVESTMENT?

If a house costs you more than it earns you, by definition it’s not a good investment. 

More importantly, though, a house is a bad investment when you can’t afford it. Even if the value of the property increases, if the cost of the house puts your monthly finances in jeopardy, then it’s a bad investment. If the cost of the house has you worried that someday you may lose your home, that’s a bad investment. A house should never be a burden.

38 Small, Nice Ways to Help Your Partner Feel Desired

But there’s a sentiment that sex therapists often stress: Foreplay begins days before you have sex. In other words, while keeping things fresh in the bedroom is worthwhile and a part of a healthy relationship, it’s the listening, the laughing, the cuddling, the confiding, the complimenting, the connecting that precede sex that lay the groundwork.

“I call it ‘anticipatory eroticism.’ It’s made of time, attention, affection, and then sex” says Dr. Tammy Nelson, Ph.D., director of the Integrative Sex Therapy Institute and author of several books on sexuality and relationships, including When You’re the One Who Cheats and the recent Open Monogamy: A Guide to Co-Creating Your Ideal Relationship Agreement. “Those are the four things you put into the build-up towards connecting to your partner that are going to make the difference to how you’re actually going to end up in bed together.”

Dr. Nelson points out that there’s an important distinction to be made about arousal versus desire. Arousal is something that happens in your body, while desire is something that happens in your head. “I think that’s a misunderstanding about how attraction works and how desire works and that many times arousal can come before desire,” she says. “And if you want to have sex with someone on Saturday, I always joke that you probably have to start on Wednesday.” 

While we all tend to differ in terms of our need for sex, research confirms that an important factor for both men and women is the desire to, well, feel desired. A 2019 study published in the journal Sex and Marital Therapy, for instance, surveyed 662 straight women to determine what makes them feel sexual desire. The researchers landed on a trio of traits: intimacy (moments of closeness and affection), celebrated otherness (being seen — and celebrated for — being different from their partner), and object-of-desire affirmation (simply enough, wanting to be wanted). While research has been slow to look into men’s need for desire, a smaller 2021 survey published in the same journal reported that 95 percent of men said feeling desired was an important part of sex, with 88 percent noting that their partners could do more to help them feel this way.  

It’s always important to show affection toward and spend time with your partner. But Dr. Nelson stresses that couples can also set aside designated times to really prioritize those elements, which can make up for stretches when you’ve been unable to connect.  “Like if you said, ‘On Wednesday night, we’re going to have a date where we’re going to spend some time paying attention, being affectionate’ — those can often make up the difference,” she says.

So, study up on your foreplay techniques. Get excited about trying new toys and positions. That’s all well and good. But remember to also prioritize the little things that foster eroticism, emotional intimacy, confidence, and closeness. They’re the connective tissue of every relationship, and especially vital when you’re a parent and it can be difficult to find the time to feel sexy. Having a partner who helps remind you that you are is crucial. 

To that end, here, in no particular order, are 37 small, nice things you can do to help create some closeness and intimacy. Will all of these work for you? Nah. But they’re good to remember and go a long way in building desire. 

  1.  Make out. Like you did when you were first dating, and the anticipation could make you burst. Reminding yourselves of who you were then and how much you looked forward to putting your mouth on their mouth is a magic kind of time travel. Plus, the experience triggers the release of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, all of which make you feel more connected and attracted to your partner.
  2. Say “Thank you.” And be specific. As in, “Thanks for so calmly helping the kids get their jackets on this morning. I was about to lose it.” True appreciation is saying “I noticed this, and I don’t want to keep it to myself.” And genuine showings of it help foster feelings of emotional closeness.
  3. React to their little victories. Did they make some great art with the kids? Have a small breakthrough at work? Stay calm at the playground when dealing with another parent? No, you don’t have to overdo it. But be excited for them. 
  4. Prioritize eye contact. It’s been proven to foster intimacy and trust among couples.
  5. Listen as your partner talks about something they’re super passionate about. Even better, encourage them to talk about their passions. Knowing your partner wants to be a part of what you love is incredibly validating, and validation is an enormous part of building emotional safety and intimacy.
  6. Give them a hug. For at least 10 seconds, which is the ideal length of time to release the feel-good hormone oxytocin, according to research from Goldsmiths University in London. 
  7. Cook together. Play good music. Have a glass of wine. Feed one another bites if that’s your thing. Get into a rhythm. Goof around. Studies show that the sensory experience of cooking fosters teamwork and can eliminate stress, so long as you work as a team and don’t get all territorial. 
  8. Flirt. Find ways to touch them softly when they’re speaking. Raise your eyebrows when you see them. Make lingering eye contact. Say, “Going my way?” when you pull into the driveway and see them. Whatever it is that makes them know that they still got it and you still want it.
  9. Give them a massage. And make it a sex-free one. You don’t have to go all-in on lotions and supplies. Just rub their neck while you’re watching TV or their back while you’re cuddling. It’s stress-relieving and sensual. 
  10. Make them laugh. Tell them a joke. Or a funny story. Say, “I can’t wait to tell you what happened to Dave…” Knowing someone’s sense of humor and making a point to appeal to it says a lot.  
  11. Tell them what they do that you think is sexy.Maybe it’s the way they wrinkle their nose when they laugh. Maybe it’s the confident way they handle their work calls. Don’t beat around the bush. Tell them. And tell them often. Say, “It’s so sexy when…”
  12. Make plans. For date night. For dinner. For a long weekend six months down the road. Anticipation and variety are key components of a healthy relationship.    
  13. Ask them about their dreams for the future. Talk about ways to make it happen. It’s encouraging, and therapists often stress the importance of bringing up a positive future. 
  14.  Sext. Have some fun with it. Send more than just a string of eggplant emojis. They’re exciting to send and receive, and a great break from the string of normal “Can you grab more diapers on your way home?” conversations. Plus, it gives you space to feel like a sexual being. 
  15. Do the activity your partner loves but you don’t care for. Watch that show or do the yoga without grumbling. Spend time together doing their thing. Find time for yours, too. 
  16. Listen to them vent about whatever is bothering them. Set aside 15 minutes a day for them to unleash, or whatever kind of agreement works for you. Don’t offer solutions. Just listen and validate. Besides the fact that it’s nearly impossible to feel sexy when you’re stressed, being able to vent without worry helps develop emotional safety.
  17. Keep them motivated. However and whenever you can, be their biggest supporter. In fact, studies have shown that encouragement from a partner makes achieving a goal more likely. Besides, who doesn’t want to be rooted for?  
  18.  Give one another space. Carve it out. Put it on the schedule. Do a you-have-the-kids-for-an-hour now, I-have-the-kids-for-an-hour here tradeoff or whatever system works for you. Time alone to feel like yourself is vital to feeling sexy.
  19. Plan a fancy date night. Pull out all the stops. Dress up. Wear something you know they love. (Yup, even that shirt.) Have cocktails. Order the dessert in advance. Can’t go to a restaurant? Dress up in your house. Just do your best to make them feel worthy of special treatment.
  20. Was someone checking them out at the store?Tell them. It’s nice to know that you’re turning heads.
  21. Remind them of past wild times. “Remember when we did it in the back of that bar?” Walking someone down erotic memory lane (at the right time) helps us reacquaint with our wilder sides and makes it clear to your partner that you still find them sexy.
  22. Compliment them. About their intellect. About their sense of humor. About their patience. About how dewy their skin looks. Make it specific and organic. And not just about their body. It’s about making it known that you see and appreciate all side of them.
  23. Don’t care about who’s watching. That is, embrace your version of PDA. Put an arm around them. Passionately kiss them. Do so with no care about who is around you. 
  24. Gush about them around their — and your — friends and family. Say something specific and sweet about how thoughtful they are or what a good parent they are.
  25. Take their side. Not all the time, but when it’s necessary. Issues with the in-laws? Argument with another parent on the playground? Have their back. To know that you are a united front is simply a wonderful feeling. 
  26. Touch them. In a nonsexual way. A hand on the lower back. A hug from behind. A squeeze of the knee in the car. 

Can Creditors Freeze My Bank Account?

The simple answer is “yes” they can do that. But before you panic, know that if they do so legally, you’ll have plenty of notice.

REAL PROPERTY VERSUS UNSECURED DEBT

If you have secured debt, like a vehicle or home, you’ll receive notices demanding payment or you’ll be in default. If that happens, they’ll repossess your car or foreclose on your home. But in most cases, they won’t come after your bank account.

Unsecured debts though, like personal loans and credit cards, don’t have that option. There’s nothing for them to repossess so they have to find another way to get their money. And there are a few avenues they can choose to take.

For instance, if you owe money to the IRS, there’s a very good chance they will eventually freeze your accounts and garnish your wages until you’ve paid up. But they will send you plenty of notices to warn you this will happen if you don’t pay. 

If this is your situation, the best option is to contact them and work out a payment plan. As long as you are meeting your payment obligations, they will not go after your bank accounts or wages. If you owe a significant amount, it may be beneficial to get a tax professional to handle negotiations with the IRS; they can often be successful in reducing the penalties and interest that has been added on to your tax obligation.

CAN A CREDITOR FREEZE MY BANK ACCOUNT WITHOUT TELLING ME?

No matter who you owe, there will always be some amount of warning before they take an action as extreme as having your accounts frozen. If you owe money to a credit card company, for example, they must first receive a judgment against you in court before they can freeze your bank account.

This means that they have to serve you with papers notifying you that they are suing you. You will also receive notification from the court as to the date of your scheduled court appearance. You can skip it, but if you do the case will most likely be decided against you. If you attend, you’ll at least have the opportunity to argue your case and maybe reduce the amount you owe or set up a payment plan.

If the creditor receives a judgement against you, they will then have permission to seize your bank account. Depending on the state you live in, your bank may or may not notify you in advance.

HOW LONG CAN A CREDITOR FREEZE MY BANK ACCOUNT?

Once your account is frozen, it goes into a holding period for about two to three weeks. During this time, the money is still in your account, but you are not able to access it. This gives you time to take action of your own, either settling with the creditor or counter-suing them.

Keep in mind; they can only freeze the amount you owe. If your account balance is $5,000 and you owe your creditor $3,000 in debt and court costs, you’ll still have access to $2,000. The frozen funds will remain frozen until the debt is repaid to the satisfaction of court order, the judgment is overturned, or an alternative arrangement is reached.

YOUR OPTIONS

If this happens to you, you have a couple of options. You can contest their lawsuit, especially if you were not properly served. By law, they have to notify you in writing of the court proceedings. If you were not notified, you have grounds to contest. 

Alternately, you can immediately file for bankruptcy. By doing so you can recoup some or all of the money that was frozen if you can have your bank account labeled as “exempt” in your filing. If this is the case, it’s best to hire a bankruptcy attorney.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid these actions altogether is to work with your creditors to come up with a payment plan you can both agree to. It’s not in either side’s best interest to sink money into court fees, so start the conversation as soon as possible.

How to Nail Every Type of Outreach

Here’s how you can improve each area of outreach.

Sales

Reaching out to the person who makes the decisions is important. An insane amount of time can be wasted pitching a person without decision-making power. There are so many partnerships where a person might want final approval on the large decisions that are made.

Identifying the pain points of a potential customer can be done by email. Closing a sale is far easier when pitching only what a client or customer needs rather than pitching services or products that they do not. Upselling is one thing, but pushing additional spending can backfire.

Sales emails including a questionnaire might seem presumptuous, so keep that email for when you have established contact. The questionnaire can help hone a pitch as this can make a potential customer feel valued. Generic pitches are something that any person can see is happening — which doesn’t instill confidence in a sales prospect.

Social media outreach 

Facebook pages for businesses are great for sales outreach, but using the platform to message someone on a personal account can be a huge overstep. Use the platform to generate sales through ads and promote content, but not for direct outreach. Asking for contact information is even too much, as most top sales professionals can find the contact information of nearly anyone.

Twitter is a platform to build rapport that can lead to comfort in sending an outreach email or message. Building this rapport here will generate far better results than simply doing a random pitch. 

Instagram can also be a way to build rapport with other customers and businesses. Sending out alerts of sales can drive a few sales but can also lead to being unfollowed as some people loathe being spammed.

Avoid automated LinkedIn messages, as this can put a potential client off immediately. These outreach messages are so generic that it is easy to sift through legitimate messages and sales/partnership opportunities. 

LinkedIn can be an amazing way to handle and generate many sales. Being able to directly reach out to a person allows you to make sure an email you send is not buried in a spam folder. Finding former colleagues is always a good idea as they might need services that a company provides. People would rather work with those who understand their quality of work than a person/company they have very little knowledge about. 

Marketing

Influencer outreach can be tough depending on the level of influencer you are trying to reach. Most influencers are going to be quite selective about the brands they work with due to their image and other brands or company partnerships. Looking at social media accounts can allow a company to get in touch with the influencer or their representation.

The right influencers are getting outreach emails all the time so standing out matters. Building rapport over email should be done by researching the target so something personable can be included. Medium-sized influencers have been shown to convert more in terms of ROI for companies. Larger influencers might not have the true trust of their followers for a variety of reasons.

Outreach emails that build rapport can even lead to a discounted marketing campaign. Influencers might not have set prices and want to work with cool brands or people they might like. Building this rapport can take time and a flurry of emails but it will be worth it. Note that ego being stroked during this can work wonders especially if the flattering comment required being a fan or extensive research. 

Potential dangers of increased melatonin use for sleep

In the recent study, researchers obtained data from ten cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)Trusted Source, covering the years 1999 through 2018. This study included 55,021 adults, 52% of whom were women. The participants had a mean age of 47.5 years. 

The results showed that in 2018, adults in the United States took more than twice the amount of this sleep aid than they did a decade earlier, which may pose a health risk in some individuals. 

The study revealed that melatonin use increased from 0.4% in 1999–2000 to 2.1% in 2017–2018, with the increase beginning in 2009–2010. 

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and the lead author is Dr. Jingen Li, Ph.D., of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. 

The study

The study evaluated adults who took melatonin at the recommended dosage of 5 milligrams per day (mg/d), as well as those who exceeded that dosage. Before 2005–2006, the authors found that users did not report taking more than 5 mg/d, but the prevalence of taking more than 5 mg/d went from 0.08% in 2005–2006 to 0.28% in 2017–2018.

Although the overall use of melatonin in the U.S. is still relatively low, the study does “document a significant many-fold increase in melatonin use in the past few years,” according to sleep specialist Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., who is an instructor in the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School and was not involved in this study.

Dr. Robbins told Medical News Today:

“Taking sleep aids has been linked to prospective studies with the development of dementia and early mortality Melatonin is one such sleep aid.”

Vital regulatory functions and rhythms

The body’s biological clock regulates hormonal fluctuations, which evolve over a person’s lifespan. As a result, aging often affects activities such as sleep and wake patterns, which, in some cases, become increasingly disrupted and fragmented.

Melatonin is a key hormone that governs the body’s circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms play an influential role in certain aspects of our bodily functions and behaviors. They also play a significant part in sleep regulation and overall good health in humans, and their disruption can have numerous consequences. 

The negative consequences of sleep deprivation can include lower vigor, a less positive mood, and feeling stressed, cold, or sleepy. These effects can occur in people of any age.

MNT spoke with Dr. Richard Castriotta, a sleep medicine specialist at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles who was not involved in the study. When we asked what the real-world implications of this study are, he stated:

“Not much, except that the increasing use of melatonin, like any non-FDA-approved medication sold as a ‘nutritional supplement,’ increases the risk of untoward side effects from a ‘bad batch’ of unsupervised manufacture or extraction (e.g., L-tryptophan). In reality, low dose (1–3 mg) melatonin is safe and effective in certain circumstances in managing circadian rhythm disorders but is not a very good hypnotic.”

“In higher doses (6–12 mg),” Dr. Castriotta continued, it may be useful in REM behavior disorder and may play a role in cancer prevention/treatment.” 

Untoward effects 

Several unpleasant side effects may occur with regular melatonin use, including dizziness, stomach cramps, headaches, nausea, confusion or disorientation, depression, irritability, anxiety, low blood pressure, and tremors. 

An older study that also appeared in JAMA suggested a link between mutations in the melatonin receptor sites and both insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes development. The study found that lower melatonin levels in the study participants may have been a precursor for type 2 diabetes. However, it could not establish direct causality. 

MNT spoke with Dr. Christopher Schmickl, Ph.D., a sleep medicine specialist at UC San Diego Health in California and an assistant professor of medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Dr. Schmickl stated:

“Patients may use it to self-treat ‘poor sleep’ and thus delay or forego evaluation and thus proper/proven treatments of the underlying cause — e.g., obstructive sleep apnea may cause insomnia-like symptoms and if left untreated may lead to serious long-term health problems. Even for actual insomnia, the first-line therapy is in general (nonpharmacological) cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), which is similarly effective as sleep medications short term and more effective long term.”

Unreliable standards and measures 

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the manufacture of melatonin supplements. There is concern that the quantities of melatonin in OTC preparations may exceed what the label displays by up to 478%.

According to Prof. Schmickl: 

“This raises concerns about ‘overdoses’ — i.e., flooding the body with levels that interfere with melatonin’s many important biological functions — and makes it hard to assess melatonin’s effect on sleep in a given patient, since the actual dose may vary substantially from tablet to tablet or at least bottle to bottle.” 

“OTC melatonin products may also contain varying levels of other substances like serotonin (a precursor of melatonin, which, in excess, can cause even life threatening side effects), which may further contribute to varying effects/side effects.”

He continues, “[b]ased on my clinical practice, many patients consider melatonin ‘natural’ since it is a supplement and thus don’t worry much about taking even very high doses (>5 mg), which are concerning from a medical perspective. Similarly, many people have a low threshold to give OTC melatonin products to their children, who may be even more vulnerable to adverse consequences.”

“Of note, melatonin-receptor agonists, e.g., ramelteon, have been developed and require a prescription, which, in theory, could overcome some of these problems. However, these patented drugs are very costly, which means that few insurances cover these medications. Thus, in clinical practice, these medications are rarely being used.”

On the bright side

Evidence shows that melatonin has beneficial anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may have other therapeutic potential. It is currently under investigation for its value in treating medical conditions unrelated to sleep. 

It is also important to note that there were several limitations to the study. These include: 

  • self-reporting of use
  • heterogeneity of preparations
  • the small number of melatonin users in some subgroups
  • no reliable estimates of trends across diverse ethnic and racial groups 
  • scarce data on the long-term and high-dosage use of melatonin

What I Would Tell My Younger Self About Being a Dad

One of the unspoken qualifications of fatherhood goes something like this: Must be able to question everything you do, every decision you make, and every choice related to your child’s upbringing on a daily basis. But, instead of a “no experience required” caveat at the end of the job description, it reads: “experience will be your only real teacher.” 

Unfortunately, we don’t have the tech to travel back in time and whisper wisdom to our younger, less confident, selves about being a parent. But, as we grow as men and fathers, we learn that shaping our own personal philosophies about parenting (and life, in general) is a process through which we can learn from others’ mistakes and triumphs. And it’s important to share that been-there-learned-that wisdom with others

To that end, we asked 13 dads of all ages and from across the world What would you tell your younger self about being a dad? Some shared regrets, others shared joys and realizations they could only understand in hindsight. All of their words contain potent truths for parents of all ages. 

1. Make the effort

“When my son was younger, I would spend a lot of time outside the house with my friends to destress from work. My wife would always tell me to spend my time the same way I spend my money — carefully and mindfully. But, I dismissed her. When my son grew older, I noticed that he was hesitant to tell me personal details about his life, while he wouldn’t hesitate to share them with my wife. That was completely my fault. I realized that my son didn’t feel as safe with me because I didn’t make the time and effort to form a strong bond with him when he was younger. It’s been one of the greatest regrets of my life.” – Matt, 32, Australia 

2. Get Into Shape

“Staying fit and in shape is a lot easier than starting from scratch. I would tell my younger self not to wait to try and get back into shape. It may seem like kids don’t move around much at first. But once they start moving, they never stop. You don’t want to be the dad that can’t keep up with them at the park or miss out because you’re tired.” — Scott, 36, Washington  

3. It only gets better

“When you’re young you think about partying and late nights. They’re the most important things in life until you become a father. I wasn’t ready for my prior life to end until I held my baby on the first day, and it only got better. There’s a place for having fun while you’re young, but don’t think that’s meant to be it. Life really starts to get good when you feel your children enjoying your presence and loving every minute they spend with you. Whether your jokes are good or not, you always have a fan and it’s precious.” – Robert, 39, Vancouve

4. Allow your kids to make mistakes.

“I would tell myself that being impulsive and emotional doesn’t work out when nurturing a child. A child does so many things that will irritate you, but you need to look at the situation from a child’s perspective. Sometimes you need to bend down to their irrational demands or nod your head to their illogical questions. A rational adult is a byproduct of the mistakes made in their childhood, so allowing your child to make mistakes is one of the responsibilities of a good father.” – Isaac, 35, Indiana

5. Apologize when you screw up.

“My dad never apologized to anyone. So that’s how I was raised — thinking he was always right, even if I knew he wasn’t. When I became a father, that was all I knew how to do. I never wanted to admit mistakes. Not to my wife, not to my kids, and not to myself. As my kids got older, the tension grew and I realized that I was wrong for having that mindset. The first time I apologized to my daughter — like a genuine apology, for making an incorrect assumption when she was a teenager — it was revelatory. That vulnerability started building trust, and improved my relationship with my whole family. I wish I would’ve done it a lot sooner.” – John, 55, South Carolina

6. Remember that your children are different from each other

“For parents who have more than one kid, there’s this subconscious expectation that they can’t be that different since they came from the same parents. Wrong. They can and will be very different even if they’re both girls or boys. Don’t compare one to another, especially if you happen to prefer the one child’s character or attitude. Not only will you subconsciously build in them the need to compete, but you’ll also cause one to be ashamed of something that they shouldn’t be ashamed of.” – Ian, 38, California

7. Stop comparing yourself

“I’m a father of five, and one thing I would tell my younger self is not to worry about what everyone else is doing. Don’t compare yourself to other dads out there. Instead, ask yourself: Are you having a better day today than you were yesterday? If the answer is ‘no’, then you need to figure out why, and work on it. If the answer is ‘yes’, that’s reason to celebrate while still knowing you can always improve. Never compete with your parenting. Just work on being a better you every chance you get.” – Greg, 45, Kentucky 

8. The most important thing your children need is wisdom.

“I always thought I would be fine if I committed to bringing in the money, and supporting my family that way. It was only after my divorce that I realized what a huge mistake that was. As a single parent, I started sharing with them stories of my experiences and lessons I learned the hard way. These were lessons about responsibility, about life getting tough, and about teaching myself to see challenges as opportunities. Those talks brought us closer, and my kids began telling me about the significant events in their lives while asking for advice. None of that would have happened if the only thing they had gotten from me was money.”  – Elliott, 56, Toronto

How to Use Charity Care Programs to Reduce Your Hospital Bills

For patients with no health insurance, limited coverage, or insufficient savings, a stay in the hospital can be financially devastating.

If you’re staring at an unexpectedly huge hospital bill there may be some relief available to you in the form of “charity care.”

WHAT IS CHARITY CARE IN HEALTHCARE?

Charity care is another term for financial assistance and relief programs offered by hospitals to their patients. These charity care programs are intended to help reduce costs for patients by providing discounts or waiving some fees outright.

DO ALL HOSPITALS OFFER CHARITY CARE?

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all nonprofit hospitals must offer some form of financial assistance or charity care to their patients. Failure to provide this assistance could result in the loss of their nonprofit status.

According to the most recent data available, approximately 57% of hospitals in the United States are nonprofit, so there’s a better than 50/50 chance that your hospital has a federally-mandated charity care program. And if your hospital isn’t a nonprofit? You may not be out of luck. Many for-profit hospitals also offer financial assistance programs.

DO I QUALIFY FOR HOSPITAL CHARITY CARE?

While the ACA mandates that nonprofit hospitals offer financial assistance programs, it leaves the parameters for those programs up to the individual hospitals. This means that you’ll need to consult with your local hospital and review their policy to know whether or not you might qualify for relief.

That said, most programs are based on income and your household’s relationship to the federal poverty level (FPL). Once you know the requirements for your hospital, you can use this FPL calculator to see if your income is within the necessary threshold to be eligible for aid.

HOW DO I APPLY FOR CHARITY CARE FROM MY HOSPITAL?

It’s important to begin the application process as soon as possible. While aid may still be available even after your bill has gone to collections, you’ll make your life easier by beginning the process as soon as you’re able (which may mean starting before you’ve even left the hospital).

FIND YOUR HOSPITAL’S CHARITY CARE POLICY

The ACA requires that nonprofit hospitals not only offer financial assistance, but also that they post information about this program online. Unfortunately, the requirements don’t go much further than that.

Some hospitals will be more transparent than others when it comes to their charity care policies. You may be presented with information as soon as you check in. You may have to dig through their website. If you don’t receive information upfront, your best bet may be to use your search engine of choice and enter the name of the hospital and “financial assistance” or “charity care.”

If you prefer, you can call the hospital directly and ask for information. Many hospitals have dedicated team members available to discuss your bill and talk you through your options, including any available charitable care programs.

PREPARE AND SUBMIT YOUR CHARITY CARE APPLICATION

The requirements will be different for every hospital, but you should expect to complete an application and submit some supporting documents. These documents will be used to verify for your need and may include pay stubs, previous tax returns, unemployment benefits statements, and more.

Be sure to follow the directions and provide all the required information. Failing to submit required documents may delay your application or get your request denied outright.

You may also have to submit the completed application via fax or mail, depending on the hospital. It’s an inconvenience, but hospitals are rarely set up to handle these kinds of requests entirely online.

One last tip: include a letter, even if it’s not required. Charity care programs tend to be much more flexible than loan applications. Even if you’re slightly outside of the normal requirements, you may still be able to successfully argue your case. Provide any necessary details that may not be included in your application. If nothing else, it always helps to remind the people reviewing these cases that you’re a real human and what this help would mean to you and your family.

IF REJECTED YOU CAN STILL APPEAL

It may take a few weeks (or months if your hospital is backlogged), but eventually you’ll get a decision. If your application is denied, you’ll receive information about why you didn’t qualify. In most cases, you should also receive information on appealing the decision. Be sure to appeal – it may mean more work, but it’s worth it if the payoff is cutting thousands off your hospital bill.

WHAT IF MY CHARITY CARE APPLICATION WAS REJECTED?

If your appeal is also denied, you may want to look elsewhere for assistance. There are many organizations out there that specialize in connecting patients to financial resources. Here are just a few:

  • DollarFor.org is an organization dedicated to advocating for patients with overwhelming medical debt. If you’re not having much luck on your own, they may be able to help.
  • Good Days supports patients with certain chronic and life-altering diseases. Review this list to see if they’re accepting new enrollments for your specific condition.
  • HealthWell Foundation provides funds to offset the cost of copays, policy premiums, and other out-of-pocket costs.
  • PAN Foundation is another organization that connects patients to funding for specific conditions and may be a good resource if your hospitalization was connected to one of these conditions.

If you’ve exhausted all of your options on the medical side, you may want to look for ways to reduce other debts or increase your income. If you’re feeling unsure about where to turn, consider speaking with a nonprofit credit counselor to discuss your options.

Honoring MLK Jr. With Service

Dr. King was the central voice for the movement in the quest for equality.  Today, we continue to strive for equality, looking to community leaders to lend their voices, time and action to help those who struggle with adversity, poverty, oppression and unfair treatment.

With so many great former NFL players doing charitable work in their communities, we encourage all former players to meet up with their local NFLPA Chapters, get involved with or start an effort in their community, and to let us know so we can continue to champion your great work in 2022 and beyond.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

What You’re Getting Wrong in Relationships

What if everything you think you know about relationships is wrong? 

Ok, maybe not everything, but relationships are complicated and your training is limited. Just think, how did you learn about relationships? Perhaps you picked up some tips from your parents, watching TV, chatting with friends, or good old-fashioned trial and error. Unfortunately, these sources can’t guarantee true expertise about having a healthy relationship. The result? It’s impossible to know if you’re relying on well-established fact, or well-intentioned fiction. 

To set the record straight, I reached out to an all-star group of top relationship experts to get their insights. Specifically, I asked them what couples most commonly get wrong. In other words, the myths, mistakes, and blind spots that unknowingly undermine relationships. Plus, they gave some tips for how to get it right. 

The Experts

Dr. Helen Fisher: Biological Anthropologist, Senior Research Fellow The Kinsey Institute, and Chief Science Advisor to Match.com; Author of Anatomy of Love.

Men are Misunderstood—The pandemic produced an historic change in courtship—toward post-traumatic growth. Prior to Covid, 58 perent of singles wanted to settle down; today 76 percent want a committed relationship. And, men are leading the way. People misunderstand men. In my Match.com studies on over 55,000 single Americans (not Match members), men fall in love faster and more often; they want to move in together faster, and they are more likely to believe that a ‘hook up’ can lead to love. Today, men are far more likely to want a committed relationship within the next year. Commitment is the new sexy. 

Dr. Gary Lewandowski: Author of Stronger Than You Think: The 10 Blind Spots That Undermine Your Relationship…and How to See Past Them

What is Love?—It’s easy to fall in love because of intense physical attraction and passion. But, making that deep passion the foundation of your relationship can be problematic because it quickly fades. For a stronger relationship, focus more on companionate love, or the ways in which your partner is your best friend, such as shared interests, the time you enjoy spending together, and mutual respect. Those are the true key to lasting love.

Damona Hoffman: Certified Dating Coach and Host of The Dates & Mates Podcast

The Soulmate Myth—Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe in soulmates: the idea that there is one single person who is your perfect match. While it’s a charming idea for a rom-com or fairytale, in practice it leads people who are single to be constantly on the quest for perfection among those they date in search of this magical soulmate feeling that is ultimately unattainable. In relationships, the belief in soulmates keeps us from being willing to accept our partner’s flaws and see them as imperfect humans who are learning and growing alongside us. The reality is that there are many possible matches out there for you and it’s really about finding someone who aligns with your values and goals for the future to partner with for this wild ride we call life. 

Jaime Bronstein, LCSW: Licensed Relationship Therapist and host of “Love Talk Live” on LA Talk Radio.

Always Happy?—It’s easy to think that you have to be happy in your relationship all the time, but the truth is, we are all human, and no one is happy all the time. If there is a blip in the relationship, so long as both people are willing to work through it, things can get better, and you can restore your level of happiness. Relationships ebb and flow and are forever changing, so it’s essential to be flexible and roll with the changes. As long as you grow together and do not grow apart, your relationship is in great shape! 

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Host of the Dr. Wendy Walsh Show on iHeart Radio and the podcast, Mating Matters.

Different Ways to Love—People think that all humans feel the same when they are in love. That misconception prompts a bunch of “shoulds,” as in, “If they really loved me then they should…” But, the truth is that there are probably as many versions of love as there are people. You’ve got people with a secure attachment style where love may feel pleasurable, peaceful, and safe. Or, you’ve got people with an insecure attachment style, where the excitement of love may combine with feelings of fear and anxiety. And these people may be in a relationship together! Knowing and having compassion for each other’s attachment styles is the key to love. There’s more than one right way to be human, and there are many ways to feel love. 

Susan Winter: Bestselling Author of Breakup Triage and Allowing Magnificence.

Love Equals Intuition—“If my partner loves me, they should know what’s wrong.” Not so. Love doesn’t grant our partner telepathy. Clearly communicating our feelings is what aids our mate in understanding how to support us and our emotional needs.

Giving Up? Challenging the Desire to Mentally Check Out

Zhuang Zhou, a Chinese Philosopher from the late 4th century BC, espoused the following thought:

“Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.”

In many ways, I believe the philosopher was illustrating the potential of letting go of our will and desire to react to events emotionally, and to simply accept and flow through them. 

The continuity of stressful experiences from something like the pandemic can leave some individuals with an overwhelming desire to “check out” mentally or respond defensively in a robot-like, emotionally numb way. Such stressful situations engaged routinely can lead to fatigue. In fact, “pandemic fatigue” has become something therapists are seeing more of these days.

Whether it is the enduring aspects of a phenomenon like the pandemic or any other major impacts to our life, such as the prolonged effects of grief, substandard economic conditions, persistent health issues, or other negative experiences, the eventual costs can add up.

When People Give Up

During any persistent, adverse experience, life still marches on for many. Being caught up in anything negative and persistent also comes with the daily tasks of simply living alongside it. This requires a sense of control and mental effort to maintain. Herein, the extensive subjective experience of mental fatigue can set in and eclipse our motivation to fight the good fight. The outcome of fatigue is currently observed in health care as burnout. Researcher Christina Maslach sees the artifacts of fatigue showing up as cynicism, sarcasm, compassion fatigue, and a lack of efficacy—not doing a good job or doubting one’s ability to sustain.

Motivation and Cognitive Control

Humans have the potential to plan and execute on things they have never encountered before. For instance: wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer, social distancing, and so forth. Further examples include the care-taking of a family member, or working through a major life transition. Experiences like these initiate a sequence of thought processes like envisioning a flurry of outcomes, examining actionable paths, and weighing one’s ability to execute on them. According to Dr. David Badre, professor at Brown University, what we call cognitive control is motivated by our control system in the brain, which evaluates the value of engaging something, the cost of doing it, and our mental efficacy (mental investment required) for enduring it (Badre, 2021).

In fact, researchers have found that acute and lasting stressors tend to impact the lateral habenula (LHb) area of the brain, which has been implicated in depression but is also activated during stress. This area can transform reward responses into punishment-like neural signals. This is further likely transformed into anhedonic behaviors where activities begin to feel pointless, useless, etc. (Shabel et al., 2019).

As such, confronting a persistent negative experience involves some heavy mental investment and for some, this may be viewed at a great cost with no value return for the day-to-day expended effort. 

Perception Rules Our Internal Kingdom

In the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her companions eventually encounter the great Oz as a larger-than-life, disembodied face with a commanding voice. However, later they discover that Oz is simply an ordinary man behind a curtain with all his gadgetry designed to manage others’ perceptions of him. Dorothy and her friends see that not everything is exactly what it appears to be.

Our minds, similarly, may read situations like words on a page at face value, without any deeper attenuation to context. And as we tire of day-to-day challenges, it becomes easier to slowly devolve into more exaggerated contextual evaluations of our situations (Barrett et al., 2011). Perception, as it relates to what we do, what we engage in daily, and how we see the world, requires daily care-taking, psychological calibration, and fine-tuning.

One Vitamin that could impact Diabetes

Diabetes, both types 1 and 2, are potentially life threatening and certainly life changing conditions that affect people worldwide. Case numbers increased nearly fourfold between 1980 and 2014 according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with associated increases in mortality and disability caused by the disease. 

The majority of those cases are type 2 diabetes, caused by excess visceral fat, though the interaction between genetic susceptibility, environment, obesity, and sedentary lifestyle is complex. It is not uncommon for people to have a moderate body mass index (BMI) and type 2 diabetes, though they still respond to weight loss.

Case numbers of type 1 diabetes are also growing. The reasons for this are not well understood, but some have compared the increase in type 1 diabetes cases to those of other autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Both are more common in the northern hemisphere, as is vitamin D deficiency.

In fact, estimates suggest that as many as 40% of Europeans are vitamin D deficient, and 13% may be severely so — and the situation is worse still for individuals with dark skin. It is also difficult to ascertain how many people are deficient, as debate rages over the definition of deficiency. 

Dr. Victoria Salem, a consultant endocrinologist and clinical scientist based at Imperial College London, told Medical News Today in an interview: “We know that type 1 diabetes is much more prevalent in the northern hemisphere and that’s usually put down to the fact that we get less sunlight and therefore have less vitamin D levels. That’s true also for multiple sclerosis. But it’s essential that that’s an association.”

While it is just an association, the links do not stop there. “[There is] quite good data showing that vitamin D deficiency, frank deficiencies — so children who’ve got rickets — are much more likely later in life to develop type 1 diabetes. But equally, people who are given a high dose of vitamin D […] are also less likely to get type 1 later on,” she explained.

Of course, suggesting vitamin D, or lack of it, is responsible for disease or susceptibility to it, is rife with controversy. Particularly with the heavily racialised discussion over the role of vitamin D deficiency in susceptibility to COVID-19. 

The controversy over the role of vitamin D in diabetes is most likely due to poorly designed trials that have failed to adequately measure the impact of vitamin D supplementation on groups that can be generalized, a recent update in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition argued. 

Vitamin D and the pancreas

Type 2 diabetes is typically diagnosed when high blood glucose levels are detected. This is ultimately caused by low insulin sensitivity in the tissues which makes it hard for the body to take glucose out of the blood.

To compensate for this lack of sensitivity, the body creates a larger amount of insulin until eventually the beta cells in the pancreas give up, and the affected individual cannot produce enough insulin to transport glucose into their cells, resulting in high blood sugar. It is often at this point that people receive the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. 

Dr. James Brown from Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing, Aston University in Birmingham, United Kingdom, studies type 2 diabetes and metabolism and explained the theory to MNT in an interview:

“If you look at the basic biology of vitamin D and what happens in diabetes, there is evidence that vitamin D improves what we call insulin sensitivity, which is a key part of type 2 diabetes. And also evidence that vitamin D increases insulin secretion, and those two things are what effectively go wrong in type 2 diabetes as you become insulin resistant and your insulin doesn’t work as well […] So there is, if you like, a theoretical basis for these studies being done.”

Dr. James Brown

Vitamin D supplements

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which improves bone strength. Among other roles, it also contributes to the functioning of muscles, nerves, and the immune system.

Many scientists have set out to understand how vitamin D deficiency and supplementation may influence disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is some evidence that vitamin D may help protect against respiratory tract infections, for example.

Over the past 2 years, researchers have also explored whether vitamin D reduces the risks associated with COVID-19. Although investigations are ongoing, there seems to be some evidence that these supplements might improve intensive care unit admission rates.

Two other areas of particular interest are vitamin D’s potential effects on cardiovascular disease and cancer risk. However, few RCTs have looked into this. These types of studies are the gold standard for identifying causal relationships in scientific research.

A recent study, which appears in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, goes some way toward addressing this knowledge gap.

Cancer and heart disease

Speaking with Medical News Today, Vimal Karani, a professor of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics at the University of Reading, in the United Kingdom, confirmed that there has been a gap between the initial research and findings from clinical trials. 

Prof. Karani was not involved in the recent study but has worked with some of its authors.

He explained that past large epidemiological studies “have established a link between vitamin D deficiency and the risk of [cardiovascular disease] traits in various ethnic groups.” This, he said, suggests that vitamin D supplements might lower cardiovascular risk.

“However,” he continued, “clinical trials have not provided convincing evidence of the blood pressure-lowering effect of vitamin D supplementation.”

Prof. Karani said that there could be a wide range of reasons for this, including “differences in the sample size, duration of supplementation, dose of the supplementation, age of the participants, geographical location, sun exposure, and the outcome measures. Further research is required to replicate the findings in multiple ethnic groups.”

9 Signs Your Partner Needs Help Staying Focused

Mindfulness is a state, but it can also be seen as an ability, one that’s important to promote health and well-being. Perhaps you’ve practiced your own mindfulness skills to help you take advantage of these benefits. You are pretty good now at being able to focus your attention on what you’re doing, are able to label your emotions, and can handle stressful situations without becoming panicky.

As good as your mindfulness might be, though, how does your partner measure up? Do you find that their attention seems to drift elsewhere while you’re having a conversation, that they seem unable to put their feelings into words, and often get lost in the middle of a task? How do these behaviors make you feel? It can be hurtful to have a partner who doesn’t seem “present” when you’re having an important conversation or just trying to enjoy a pleasant moment as a couple.

Is Mindfulness a Noticeable Quality?

Being mindful means that you are actually engaged in your interactions with another person, so when someone isn’t mindful, it can detract from the quality of those interactions. The question then becomes, can you accurately gauge just how focused your partner is at any given time?

According to a newly-published study headed by the University of Tasmania’s Larissa Barden and colleagues (2021), the answer is yes. The Australian authors note that mindfulness is a valuable tool in “cultivating both the will and skill to navigate social situations and relationships” and, as such, can be seen “as a noticeable quality that is instrumental in supporting prosocial behaviours” (p. 2).

There are several reasons, Barden et al. maintain, that mindfulness promotes good relationships, including “sacrifice, forgiveness, partner acceptance and limiting stress spill-over” (p. 2). You may be perfectly capable of adopting this mindset, but if your partner is not, this can create a potential chasm in your ability to feel close and connected to them.

Quantifying another person’s mindfulness is yet another matter. The available mindfulness instruments, according to the U. Tasmania research team, are based on a self-report of your own inner state. These self-report mindfulness measures do link up to observable behaviors that other people can rate about you, suggesting that mindfulness is noticeable, but they only indirectly provide evidence of the extent to which someone brings this mental state into their relationships.

There’s another problem with self-reports of mindfulness in that they are subject to the kind of bias that makes people want to be perceived positively by others. There’s also the matter of whether people actually can have the insight needed to provide accurate self-reports.

Awareness of similar problems with self-report in the realm of personality measures provided researchers with the impetus to develop so-called “other” ratings of traits that could be compared with “self.”

Based on the assumption that mindfulness can be noticed in others and that, furthermore, not everyone can accurately describe their own abilities in this quality, Bartlett and her team set about to convert existing self-report measures to one that could be used in the ratings of others. The key test of their measure’s success was whether it would relate in predictable ways to other qualities in the “nomological net” (i.e., related features) of mindfulness, including emotional intelligence, empathy, and “non-attachment,” or the tendency to avoid awareness of your own emotions (indicating lack of mindfulness).

The 9-Item Observed Mindfulness Measure (OMM)

Using three separate adult samples, Bartlett and her colleagues worked through the series of steps needed to establish whether their new measure reached appropriate levels of statistical acceptability. Having developed a tentative list of items from their first, community sample who provided self-ratings only, the authors then went on to compare participants with people who knew them well, feeding the scores into a statistical analysis intended to identify the best items from the initial pool. Participants in the third sample, also consisting of self-other dyads, completed the final version of the OMM to provide validation of the results from the second sample.

Key to understanding the OMM is its fundamental assumption that it taps not “the internal experiences of the subject being observed,” or inner state, but “the degree to which the subject noticeably acts or responds mindfully in social contexts” (p. 6). You can’t jump into someone’s head to find out how tuned in they are to a situation, but you can provide your own evaluation of whether the person behaves as if they are. In the case of your partner, you don’t literally know what they are thinking but you can infer from their behavior that they’re trying their best to be aware of the situation.

Starting with an initial pool of 30 potential items, the Australian authors then narrowed the list of those that met acceptable standards to the following nine. Rate your partner (or another person you’d like to apply these to) on a 1 (not at all) to 5 (all the time) scale:

  1. The person has difficulty staying focused on what is happening to/around them as it occurs (reverse-coded).
  2. The person seems to ‘run on automatic’ without much awareness of what he or she is doing (reverse-coded).
  3. The person doesn’t pay attention to what he or she is doing, because of daydreaming, worrying or other distractions (reverse-coded).
  4. The person seems aware of how emotions affect his or her thoughts and behavior.
  5. When asked how he or she is feeling, the person can identify their emotions easily.
  6. The person seems aware of his or her own emotions when interacting with others.
  7. The person seems to recover well from unpleasant or stressful experiences.
  8. The person can pause before reacting to difficult situations.
  9. The person remains calm, even when things get hectic and stressful.

Simply thinking about your partner on the basis of these items may have been informative enough, as the statements themselves can lead you to new insights.

You might also find it helpful to divide these items into the three factors into which they statistically grouped: attentiveness (items 1-3), awareness (items 4-6) and acceptance (items 7-9). Unfortunately, the authors didn’t provide the mean scores on these scales, but you can use a rough guide of the mid-point of the 1-5 scale to indicate how tuned in you think your partner is to the three key components of mindfulness.

How to Prepare for the End of COVID Student Loan Forbearance

That pause on payments has been extended several times, most recently in late December 2021 with student loan forbearance now scheduled to end on May 1, 2022. That gives borrowers time to prepare before they need to resume making loan payments sometime after May 1. Here’s what to know — along with some tips if you’re still struggling financially.

CREATE A NEW BUDGET WITH YOUR STUDENT LOAN PAYMENT 

Start by logging into your loan servicer’s portal to review your payment due date, payment amount, and interest rate. If you don’t recall who your servicer is, you can find out by logging into your account at studentaid.gov. 

Next, review your income and monthly expenses. You may need to make adjustments in other expense categories to account for your loan payment and bring your expenses in line with your income. 

READ ALL CORRESPONDENCE FROM YOUR LOAN SERVICER! 

Watch for paper statements and emails in the next couple of months and be sure to respond if it’s required. If you moved or changed your email or phone number during the student loan pause, be sure to update your contact information in your loan servicer’s portal and the studentaid.gov portal. 

RE-AUTHORIZE AUTO-DEBIT

If your loan payment was auto-debited, it may not start again automatically. If you haven’t made any payments during the student loan forbearance period, you’ll need to re-authorize your loan servicer to resume auto-debit payments. Some servicers may allow you to set it up and authorize online — check your servicer portal to see what’s allowed.

DETERMINE IF YOU NEED A REDUCED PAYMENT

If your income is lower than it was before the pandemic, the first step is to explore options for adjusting your student loan payment for your lower income level. You may qualify for a reduced payment through an Income-Driven Repayment Plan (IDR).

Log into your studentaid.gov account and find the loan simulator. Run the simulator to see what your loan payment would be on different IDR plans and which ones you’re eligible to use. If you find a plan that offers a more affordable payment, you can apply through studentaid.gov or contact your loan servicer. 

If you were already on an IDR plan before the pandemic but your income has decreased further, you don’t have to wait for your annual recertification date to recertify to a lower payment. You can ask your servicer to review your current income for a new payment. There’s an IDR application process at studentaid.gov. 

AN INCOME-DRIVEN PLAN CAN HELP EVEN IF YOU’RE UNEMPLOYED 

Even if you’re unemployed (or have a very low income), IDR plans offer relief. Some plans offer payments as low as $0 and still count as a payment. Also, on some IDR plans, the U.S. Department of Education subsidizes (pays for) the interest for the first three years — or even indefinitely, depending on whether you have subsidized or unsubsidized loans. Income-driven plans are worth exploring as a first option. Use the loan simulator at studentaid.gov or contact your loan servicer for help. 

CONSIDER ANOTHER TYPE OF POSTPONEMENT

If an IDR plan does not work for your situation, the next option to explore is deferment. That’s a temporary postponement of payments. There’s also forbearance, a temporary reduction or postponement of payments. Your eligibility for either will depend on the type of hardship you’re experiencing. 

Generally, deferment is available to borrowers coping with economic hardship, unemployment, cancer treatment, or being called to active-duty military service. Forbearance is available for financial difficulties, medical expenses, change in employment, or other reasons your loan servicer will consider. 

For borrowers with subsidized loans, deferment is preferable to forbearance because interest doesn’t accrue on subsidized loans. It does accrue on unsubsidized loans, however, and on all loans in forbearance status. To qualify for either, you’ll need to determine the eligibility criteria and consider if the temporary postponement helps more than an IDR plan. 

Review eligibility criteria at “Get Temporary Relief” on studentaid.gov or contact your servicer to discuss. It’s best to reach out before May 1, 2022, to ensure any changes are determined before payments are due. 

STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS ELIGIBILITY

You might be eligible for federal student loan forgiveness or discharge under a few different programs or circumstances, but it’s all in the details. Usually, forgiveness is tied to working for a certain kind of employer, like an eligible 501c3 nonprofit, or working in a public service job. 

One program is Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The PSLF program forgives the remaining balance on certain federal loans after borrowers make 120 on-time payments in a qualified IDR plan. As part of the CARES Act, the federal government gave borrowers credit for each month of loan forbearance as if they were making payments toward both the PSLF program and the IDR plans. In other words, all those months of no payments since March 2020 count as payments for PSLF. 

Another program is Teacher Loan Forgiveness. If you’re working toward that, the CARES Act waived the requirement that your teaching service be consecutive years of service if your service was temporarily interrupted because of the pandemic. 

Finally, if you were permanently and totally disabled during the suspension, you may complete a Total and Permanent Disability Discharge application via DisabilityDischarge.com. 

MORE BUDGET IMPACT: CHILD TAX CREDIT EXPIRATION

The expanded Child Tax Credit under the American Rescue Plan expired on Dec. 31, 2021. This means if you’re a borrower with children at home, you won’t continue to receive $250-$300 per child per month — unless there’s additional action from Congress. That loss may impact your budget significantly. It’s important to create a budget that accounts for your student loan payment’s added expense as well as the possible loss of child tax credit payments if they end.

TACKLE NON-STUDENT LOAN DEBT

Finally, if credit card debt is taking up a significant portion of your monthly budget, consider focusing on repaying this debt – particularly if you have limited options for your student loans. A debt management plan can help accelerate your repayment and create significant savings in the process.

Whichever path you choose, be sure to act quickly and not wait until you’ve begun to feel overwhelmed by your debt payments.

Why We Struggle with Living in the Moment

After the holidays, it is easy to feel as though time flew by before you got the chance to stop and soak it all up. You might blame a brutal work schedule that dominated your holiday season or an insurmountable pile of stressors that stole away any chance of feeling truly present for the festivities. In reality, however, being present is something that is easier said than done, regardless of your schedule or stress level.

So why is something that sounds easy to do actually so difficult? Isn’t living in the moment supposed to happen organically? The truth is, not exactly.

Feeling present during daily life is something that many would consider synonymous with being mindful. Wherever You Go, There You Are, a book authored by Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” This definition of mindfulness is widely used in research, and it highlights exactly what makes being present so difficult. Being present requires a purposeful, yet unforced, recognition of the moment for what it is, not for what we wish it were or what we think it can be. And, quite frankly, that’s a difficult balance to strike.

There are endless reasons why this perfect blend of mindfulness and mindlessness is so hard to find, but you can likely relate to at least one of these reasons:

  • You’re not used to slowing down and allowing your mind a break from productivity or planning ahead
  • You let small things feel bigger than they are and allow them to consume more mental energy than they deserve
  • You anticipate the end of a “good” moment before it is over and are letting the anticipation of the end interfere with your appreciation for the present moment.

Controlling the emotions that lead to any or all of the reasons listed above is where the purposeful part of being mindful comes in. Contrary to popular belief, being purposeful about mindfulness doesn’t equate to clearing your schedule or only doing things you enjoy; in fact, a study found that increased stress can actually boost mindfulness because of the level of awareness that stressful events require (Nezlek et al., 2016).

Rather, being purposefully present is a not matter of seeking out the perfect time to appreciate the current moment, such as during a holiday or on a vacation, but instead seeking out the imperfect times and acknowledging those too. It takes practice, but any good habit does.

There are many ways to help yourself feel more present through practices that boost mindfulness. Research shows that activities such as meditation, journaling, exercise, and talking with a psychologist can help you feel more mindful and learn to feel present in the moment (Xia et al., 2019), regardless of whether it is exciting or ordinary.

Design an Office that People Want to Come Back to

And they do so at a time when the views and priorities of their employees have shifted. A recent McKinsey study showed that well-being, flexibility, and work-life balance are top of mind. A survey Microsoft conducted  last year indicated that 41% of the global workforce would consider switching jobs in the next year, with 55% noting that work environment would play a role in their decisions.

Our firm was put in a unusual position in 2020: we were hired to design the headquarters of the Korean fintech company Hana Bank during the very period when the pandemic was forcing business leaders to rethink the purpose of the office. But the process — and the resulting building — wasn’t a reaction to Covid. Rather, the crisis highlighted and accelerated trends that had been bubbling under the surface for years, including an increased focus on employee mental and physical health, the needs of a multi-generational workforce, greater emphasis on corporate purpose, and the shift to remote work.

The pandemic raised the stakes for companies looking to retain top-tier employees and build thriving cultures. Here are some of the principles we employed and lessons we took away from the Hana Bank project as well as our recommendations for how organizations can implement both small and large-scale changes in enticing people to return to in-person work,.

Ask what the space is for — and name it accordingly

It might sound simple, but nomenclature matters. For knowledge workers, the office shouldn’t be a place to tackle a to-do list. It’s a place for collaboration, creativity, and learning, where an employee feels nurtured and a sense of belonging. Names of buildings, floors, areas, or rooms should reflect this intent. Terms like “learning center” or “innovation space” communicate the new perspective, shape design changes, attract talent, and influence behavior.

Hana Bank calls its new HQ “Mindmark” to acknowledge the creative work happening inside. Cutting-edge tech companies like Facebook and Google have “campuses” for the same reason; they want their engineers to experiment just as they did when they were students. Even UPS recently renamed its corporate headquarters building — from the Plaza to Casey Hall — as CEO Carol Tome recounts in this HBR article to emphasize a more warm, inviting, collaborative environment.

Listen to what your employees want and need

Think of Covid as a catalyst to talk about what the best employees want from their workplaces, even if you can’t execute on every idea. For most organizations, reverting to the status quo won’t be an option. People will expect more flexibility, better technology, and incentives to come to the office, and companies must heed that call.

Salesforce, for example, reduced its desk space by 40% and embraced a floor plan that features more team-focused spaces that encourage a balance of individual and collaborative work. The Hana Bank HQ caters to various modes of working, including the kind of heads-down individual work that happens at a desk, flexible seating for when people need a break from their desks, collaborative spaces that encourage focused team interaction, and lounges for socializing. This combination of experiences encourages worker agency while still providing structure.

Experiment within your own organization

Some companies will create a new headquarters post-pandemic. But most can design a more thoughtful office environment. To start exploring ideas for your own organization, our recommendation is to start small. Repurpose conference rooms, invest in a new teaming table, or refurbish a floor instead of an entire building. You might also incorporate multimedia technology to bring people together and breathe new life into your office.

WarnerMedia’s new headquarters features an immersive media experience that incorporates content from the company’s vast universe of networks to create a sense of brand identity and community. Many companies have invested in smart hybrid meeting technology as well. Look also for multi-use opportunities. For example, the circuitous indoor/outdoor ramps that stretch from the bottom to the top of the Hana Bank building can be used for one-on-one walking meetings, individual exercise, or social breaks in nature and fresh air. Finally, be sure to focus on safety and sustainability by following healthy building guidelines.

Activate partnerships based on insights

For younger knowledge workers, the office is as much a place to learn and socialize as it is a place to meet deadlines. Nearly 60% of Millennials report that opportunities to discover new insights are extremely important to them when applying for a job, and they may also stay longer at a company if they get involved in social causes. Smart companies make this happen by partnering with outside organizations to provide such programming.

Activities like yoga or meditation, community service, or continuing education are a good place to start. Even small initiatives like a hanging work from local or student artists in rotation, canned food drives in the lobby, or pop-up food trucks outside can fuel employees’ sense of purpose. Gravity — a mixed-use development in Columbus, Ohio, that houses a large-scale creative office building in addition to residences — employs a full-time amenities curator to seek out partners and programs that feed curiosity and build community.

In conclusion

The workplace trends that accelerated and employee preferences that crystallized during the pandemic aren’t going away. We urge corporations to use this moment to think about how they can improve work environments in a way that boosts employee engagement and well-being, thereby encouraging attendance, increasing retention, and attracting new talent. Now is the time to act.

How Entrepreneurship Can Revitalize Local Communities

Unfortunately, these efforts have had decidedly mixed results. Research has shown that entrepreneurship training for underprivileged founders has little impact on firm profitability. Entrepreneurial initiatives often fail to address urgent local issues, and high-tech growth in poor regions tends to enlarge income gaps rather than creating much-anticipated trickle-down effects. A recent review of more than 200 articles on entrepreneurship and poverty alleviation found that entrepreneurial initiatives aiming to address poverty through venture investment have been generally ineffective. A study that analyzed the impact of entrepreneurship across 44 countries similarly concluded that growth-oriented entrepreneurship did not generate as much impact in emerging economies as it did in developed economies, and that regions generally only benefit from high-growth entrepreneurship after reaching a certain threshold level of development.

Why are these entrepreneurship-driven efforts to boost regional prosperity — strategies that have been extremely effective in hubs such as Silicon Valley — so difficult to replicate in impoverished places? And are there any alternative approaches to entrepreneurship that could be more successful in revitalizing local communities?

To explore these questions, we conducted an eight-year investigation of two organizations dedicated to revitalizing Detroit through entrepreneurship. While the two pursued the same goal, they adopted very different approaches. The first organization, which we’ll call ACCEL, was a traditional business accelerator. ACCEL identified ventures with high-growth potential that were likely to attract venture capital investment. It provided mentorship and resources to help them grow as quickly as possible. The second, which we’ll call GREEN, was an alternative incubator. GREEN was founded on a philosophy that business should “grow like a living organism,” and thus encouraged its startups to leverage resources that already existed in the local community to nurture their growth.

To understand the impacts of these two approaches, we took a deep dive into the founding and early-stage development processes of two representative ventures from each organization. We sat in on all of their idea development meetings (a total of 148 meetings) as well as regularly interviewing both founders and mentors for these companies (a total of 67 in-depth interviews). In addition, we traced the subsequent development of all 27 ventures that emerged from the two organizations during our study, analyzing more than 600 news articles about the companies alongside other data sources such as follow-up interviews, company updates, and social media posts.

These detailed analyses helped us identify a key factor that contributes to the limited effectiveness of the Silicon Valley model in impoverished communities: its focus on scaling up, rather than scaling deep. In our study, we borrowed the ecological concept of “scale,” which refers to how an organism grows in both time and space, to understand how different types of entrepreneurial ventures grow. ACCEL, like many entrepreneurship programs designed to maximize financial growth, focused on helping its companies to secure venture capital investment. Because venture capital investors seek maximum returns at minimum costs (that is, in as short a timeframe as possible), these venture-capital-backed companies were strongly incentivized to expand as quickly and as widely as possible. As a result, the founders’ ideas consistently morphed into ventures optimized to grow broadly and quickly — that is, ventures that would scale up.

For example, one of the founders we shadowed originally intended to empower Detroit’s brick-and-mortar fashion retailers by building an online portal for local boutiques. Over the course of her participation in ACCEL, the idea transformed into an e-commerce platform that sold products from nationwide fashion boutiques to nationwide customers. ACCEL mentors would ask her questions such as, “How likely is it that you’ll ever be able to do this with stores nationwide?” In response to pressures like these, the founder dropped some of her venture’s original features, including its online inventory system for Detroit retailers and strategy of collaborating with retailers to host local fashion events. These elements would have helped Detroit’s disadvantaged retailers, but they couldn’t be quickly replicated across the country, and so they were abandoned in favor of a business model that enabled faster, broader growth. Although the move made her company more appealing to investors, the founder felt conflicted, lamenting, “I came here with a big vision. And then it was broken down to pieces and I built something for just one piece.”

Most of the ACCEL ventures went through similar transformations. Their local impact was explosive, but relatively short-lived. While many created substantial local employment opportunities at first, they ultimately tended to leave Detroit for greater access to the capital, talent, and industry-specific knowledge necessary to secure larger rounds of funding. Importantly, this suggests that the problem with the Silicon Valley model isn’t that high-growth entrepreneurship can’t emerge from poor places. Startups that were successful in a traditional sense did emerge from ACCEL, but they failed at making a lasting impact on their local communities because their approach to scaling focused on rapid expansion at all costs — eventually decoupling their success from that of their home regions.

In contrast, GREEN took a markedly different approach to scaling. In our research, we found that GREEN encouraged its founders to develop their ventures through entrepreneurial bricolage — that is, a model where entrepreneurs repurpose and recombine resources that are already available, rather than seeking out funding from external sources. These founders built rich relationships with local partners, and they sought out creative ways to leverage the resources available in their local environments to address urgent, local problems. This meant that their venture ideas became embedded in the Detroit ecosystem, growing deeply and slowly rather than broadly and quickly. We call this scaling deep.

For example, one venture we followed had developed a tool to help seniors manage their medications. Although they initially received an offer from a major pharmacy that would enable them to scale up nationwide, they instead transformed into a design-services firm, applying their core capabilities in eldercare product design to address Detroit-specific issues in collaboration with local hospitals, senior living communities, and insurance companies. Reflecting on this decision, the founder expressed his commitment to a philosophy he called “growth in depth”: “We are not going to be flying all over the country anytime soon,” he explained, “because community work is very localized.” Similarly, another founder joined GREEN hoping to build a plant to recycle waste tires, but ultimately ended up creating a platform that mobilized local residents to collect waste tires in their neighborhoods and worked with local design schools to upcycle the tires into art projects.

These ventures never expanded beyond Detroit, but they successfully implemented customized, location-specific solutions to address location-specific problems. One company alleviated local unemployment by providing more than 200 disadvantaged culinary entrepreneurs with access to licensed kitchen spaces in local churches, fresh ingredients from urban farmers, and local customers through a local farmers’ market. Another addressed the city’s food desert problem by turning corner stores, community centers, local schools, and gas stations into fresh food distribution hubs. As one GREEN founder eloquently described his company’s growth philosophy, “I want us to be like an oak tree that takes all of its energy for the first 20 to 50 years to set deep, deep roots, [and then] produces a lot of deep, rich offspring [and becomes] the anchor of the ecosystem.”

To be clear, founders from both GREEN and ACCEL were motivated by a shared mission of reviving Detroit. But their differing approaches to growth led them to make vastly different impacts. While the ventures that focused on scaling up expanded beyond Detroit to raise investment in their next fundraising rounds, those that scaled deep instead invested in fostering lasting, local relationships, leveraging local resources and solving local problems.

This suggests that it may be time to rethink how we understand entrepreneurship-driven local development. Academics and practitioners alike rightly emphasize the fact that alleviating local poverty requires nurturing ventures that grow. However, a strong focus on how much ventures grow can often obscure critical differences in howventures grow. Our research illustrates that venture-capital-backed, rapid expansion is not the only way to grow — ventures can also grow by deepening local embeddedness, simultaneously feeding on and cultivating local resources.

Synthetic Alcohol Promises to Make Drinking Safer

If companies tried to bring it to market for the first time today, however, U.S. regulators would almost certainly forbid it. More than 200 health conditions—from cancer to dementia to cirrhosis— are linked to alcohol; it contributes to 3 million deaths globally each year, many via auto accidents and suicides; and in the U.S. alone, more than 14 million people struggle with alcohol-use disorder. It’s dangerous stuff, even though billions of people ingest it with hardly a second thought.

But what if you could get the buzz of a good drink without the buzz-killing side effects? That’s the marketing hype bubbling up from startups around the world making beverages that promise to make you feel tipsy using the magic of plant extracts, not alcohol. These companies claim that after a botanical beverage, you’ll feel more sociable and relaxed without getting drunk, eliminating the hangover (and bad decisions) that sometimes follow a boozy night.

One such startup, the U.K.-based GABA Labs, launched its first product, an “active botanical spirit” called Sentia, earlier this year in Europe. Sentia is made from plant extracts that can mimic the effects of alcohol, and is meant to top out around the feeling of having a glass or two of wine. But its founders want to go even further: They have also created a (not-yet-for-sale) synthetic alcohol molecule that they say can be used to create dupes of any booze on the market, from beer to rum to champagne. The company’s founders don’t yet have enough evidence to legally make claims about their products’ health effects, but the implication is clear: synthetic alcohol could capture the good parts of drinking while ditching the death and disease associated with it.

But experts aren’t convinced. Things that sound too good to be true usually are, says Dr. Anna Lembke, medical director of addiction medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine and author of Dopamine Nation. “There’s always the promise of some new molecule that’s going to do exactly what the old molecule did but not have the harmful effects,” she says. “Every single time, that has not panned out.” Heroin, for example, was intended to be a safer form of morphine. E-cigarettes were pitched as a less dangerous way to smoke. Neither has worked out as planned.

Can alcohol really be faked in a healthy way, or would a synthetic version introduce new risks? Is it possible to create a product that imitates alcohol without introducing the possibility of addiction or dependence? And could fake alcohol make people already struggling with alcohol-use disorder more likely to relapse? “Given the significant harms caused when alcohol is misused, this is an interesting approach,” says Patricia Powell, deputy director of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “However, it raises a series of questions that we don’t have the answers to yet.”

What Courageous Leaders Do Differently

Fred Keller, the founder of Cascade Engineering, wanted to show that a for-profit business could also help address society’s social ills. So he accepted an employee’s suggestion that they hire unemployed locals. They rented a van, went to a low-income area of Grand Rapids, Michigan and — with the eight men they identified — started Cascade’s welfare-to-career program.

Their first attempt failed completely. Not one of the people hired remained after a few weeks: the men they hired weren’t prepared or equipped for the requirements of regular work, and Cascade wasn’t prepared to help them succeed. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” recalls one of the managers involved, so they resorted to “tough love” that just didn’t work.

For most leaders, this inauspicious beginning would likely have also been the end. It seemed to confirm the common sentiment that helping people get out of intergenerational poverty isn’t a role business can or should try to play. But not to Keller. For him, the initial outcome was simply data — the first attempt hadn’t worked, so clearly there were things to learn before taking another step.

The second attempt — which involved a partnership wherein potential Cascade employees first learned basic job skills and accountability at a local Burger King — failed, too. Cascade’s managers still didn’t really understand what it took to help this type of employee, and were frustrated with the additional effort “Fred’s program” took. Leaders of other businesses thought it proved Keller was naive to think companies could address this type of social problem.

Amidst this internal and external criticism, Keller persevered. He, and then everyone in a managerial position at Cascade, underwent focused training on intergenerational poverty. He continued to be a cheerleader, encouraging managers to embrace the broader purpose they were serving. And he stepped further outside the box and convinced the state of Michigan to — for the first time — place a public social worker onsite at a for-profit business.

With those supports in place and a never-give-up, continuous learning culture infused from the top, the program slowly found solid footing. Managers pushed through the hard times — iterating toward new processes that facilitated employee-social worker interaction without being too cumbersome, overcoming perceptions that there were two sets of standards, refusing to bow to employee threats to leave, and eventually letting go some employees whose attitude got in the way of their performance — because they believed in what they were trying to do and in Fred Keller.

If Keller had been hung up on old-fashioned notions of how to lead, none of this would have happened. He would have blamed others, given up, and tried to focus others on the company’s success on traditional business metrics. He certainly wouldn’t have been willing to be vulnerable by acknowledging that initial attempts hadn’t worked or that he didn’t know how to solve a problem. He wouldn’t have gone first in asking for help, or repeatedly publicly apologized for mistakes along the way.

Most of us know that our “tough guy” views (and yes, sadly, they are highly masculine) of “leadership,” “bravery,” and “courage”—the very ones Fred Keller repeatedly refused to embody — are outdated, sub-optimal, and sometimes downright dangerous for the organizations where most types of work get done today. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we aren’t still driven by more intuitive, comic-book-hero notions.

This is an example of what evolutionary scholars call mismatch theory— the idea that something that was once useful for survival has not evolved quickly enough to match the current environment. While it may once have been useful to think of courageous leaders as those who were physically strongest and most aggressive (when daily survival did depend on not being killed by wild animals and being able to kill them instead), those traits are no longer the critical ones in most current settings.

In that case, it’s time to consciously reconsider – and then choose to act more frequently on – a new view of courageous leadership, which I also cover in my book Choosing Courage. Below are some starting points for a view that would be much better matched to today’s environment.

Courageous leaders display openness and humility

Pretending to be fearless no matter how good the reasons to be afraid, or acting like a know-it-all no matter how obvious it is that neither you nor anyone else has all the answers, isn’t impressive. It’s dangerous — for yourself and for those who depend on you.

As Aristotle noted over 2,000 years ago there’s clearly a difference between courage and foolhardiness. It’s foolish, not courageous, to lead a hiking group toward a bear that will obviously kill you all for no good reason. Likewise, leading people in your organization into all kinds of trouble because you couldn’t acknowledge you were afraid or needed others’ expertise isn’t courageous. It’s dangerous.

Here’s the thing: Once people know you’re competent, it makes you look stronger (not weak) when you admit “I don’t know” or say “Please help with this.” Think about the myriad difficulties faced during the Covid-19 pandemic. Did you admire and feel more drawn to your leader if she came online and acted as if nothing at all was troubling her? Or, instead, when she also admitted she was facing a series of work and life challenges unlike any in the past, but was committed to getting it through it together and becoming stronger as a group as a result?

The same is true with apologies. When a leader genuinely says, “I’m sorry, I screwed that up,” we see that person as more likeable and more trustworthy. We want to help make the situation better. In contrast, we don’t think someone is a good leader or a hero because they cover up mistakes with lies or omissions. We think they’re weak or a jerk, and we try to distance ourselves as quickly as possible.

Courageous leaders put principles first

Real leadership isn’t about winning a popularity contest. It’s about doing important work on behalf of others. And because there are always going to be differences of opinion and limited resources, you’re probably not going to make much progress on that important work if you can’t stand the thought of upsetting some people some of the time.

Michael Bloomberg clearly understood this during his tenure as Mayor of New York City. “If I finish my term in office… and have high approval ratings, then I wasted my last years in office,” he said. “You always want to press, and you want to tackle the issues that are unpopular, that nobody else will go after.” If things are going pretty well, said Bloomberg, you’re skiing on what for you is a bunny hill and it’s time to move to a steeper slope.”

Leadership as a popularity contest is, in short, a high-school or Hollywood view of leadership. Good leadership is about being trusted and respected for the defensibility of the decisions you make. It’s about courageous action to defend core principles, even when it costs something significant — potentially even one’s own popularity or standing in the short run.

Courageous leaders focus on making environments safer for others

In the vast majority of organizations, entreating people to routinely stick their necks out despite legitimate fear isn’t exactly a sign of strong leadership. Yet that’s what leaders who “encourage courage” are essentially doing. They’re implicitly saying that because they aren’t courageous enough to change the conditions in their organization to make it safer for people to be honest, try new things, or take other prudent risks, everyone else should be courageous enough to do them anyway.

Sadly, that’s not going to create an environment where people routinely do more of the things that are needed for individuals or organizations to learn, change, and thrive. Even superheroes know this doesn’t work. They don’t spend their time trying to make everyone else a superhero; they spend their time trying to create safer conditions where courageous action isn’t routinely called for.

The leaders we need today surround themselves with, and promote, people who help them learn by challenging rather than flattering them. They reward rather than punish those who try new things, even when they don’t go well. They change outdated systems that exclude diverse perspectives.

The leaders we need today demonstrate, rather than demand, courageous action. They choose, like Fred Keller did, to be vulnerable — even if their position, gender, race, or other status markers mean they don’t have to.

8 Big Signs Your Marriage Isn’t in Trouble

You know what you and your partner need to work on (because you talk about it, right?) but it’s easy to get so bogged down in the whole being-better-than-yesterday thing that you lose sight of — or don’t take the time to appreciate — the areas where you succeed. It’s a natural impulse (we humans are, after all, wired to focus more on the negative) but one to actively fight. Because in focusing on what works — whether that’s discussing each other’s points of view openly, making time for fun in your relationship, or being able to enjoy a quiet silence together — we’re able to live in the moment and enjoy the small victories. That’s a big win. So, in the effort of helping you focus on just that, here are some eight signs your relationship is doing alright. 

1. You Know You’re a Work in Progress (And You’re Willing to Do the Work) 

It’s easy to look at other couples and think Why aren’t we more like them? or to list out all the ways your relationship could be better. While comparison is the thief of joy, it’s good to have goals and keep in mind some points of improvement so forward progress can be made. Healthy couples understand that they haven’t reached perfection, and that they probably never will. They do, however, have a vision of where they want their relationship to go and are committed to doing what it takes to get there. “They understand the power of yet,” says Kathryn Ford, MD, a practicing psychotherapist and couples therapist. “As in, ‘We’re not good at offering positive comments — yet!’ The most important attribute of a good relationship is the ability to learn.” 

2. You Take Risks (And You Encourage Your Spouse to As Well) 

Trying new things, and supporting your partner when they are inspired to, say, take a new class, learn a new skill, or embark on a unique adventure, helps keep the marriage fresh. Importantly, it also provides opportunities for you to learn and grow, both independently and together. Healthy couples know to prioritize risk and to stretch beyond their comfort zone. “This means that you will fumble and make mistakes,” Ford says. “In a good relationship, you encourage each other to do this – rewarding the effort even when the results aren’t yet what you hope for.” 

3. You Have Different Points of View (And You’re Open to Them) 

Healthy couples own and explore each other’s respective points of view. When you want different things, you don’t spend the discussion trying to get your way or digging in your heels on the opposite side just to spite your partner. Instead, you hear what they have to say, take it into consideration, and vice versa. Then, you compromise or relent based on whatever factors are involved. Will it be easy? No. But it’s a balance. “Treat all ideas offered as valuable,” says Ford, “and then both of you play with all points of view instead of owning one and getting into a tug of war about who’s right.”

4. You Don’t Always Talk When You’re Alone (And That’s Okay) 

Comfortable silences speak volumes. Healthy couples understand that not every moment alone together requires that the two of you have some deep and meaningful discussion. Sometimes just being together is enough. “No, you aren’t required by some command of the universe to get absolutely everything off of your chest the moment you feel it,” says Lee Wilson, a relationship coach with 20 years of experience. “That doesn’t mean that you keep everything bottled up or that you don’t have disagreements. It means that sometimes it’s a great thing after a busy day to be able to say nothing while simply resting with the one you love.”

5. You Don’t Tell Your Spouse Everything (Because It’s Unnecessary) 

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be honest with your spouse. You very much should. What healthy couples understand is that they don’t need to do is voice every concern, every flaw, and every negative trait that you see in your partner. “Your job as a spouse is not to make your spouse a better person. Your job is to love your spouse,” says Wilson. “People often become better versions of themselves when they feel loved and feeling that their spouse is overly critical often has the exact opposite impact.”

What Every Parent Needs To Know About Kids And Suicidal Thoughts

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association issued a joint statement this week to warn of “soaring rates of mental health challenges” among children, teens and their parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening a crisis that had already existed.

“Rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020 and by 2018 suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24,” the groups said. “The pandemic has intensified this crisis: Across the country we have witnessed dramatic increases in Emergency Department visits for all mental health emergencies including suspected suicide attempts.”

Of course, no parent wants to contemplate the possibility that their child is actively thinking of harming themselves or having more passive suicidal ideation. But as the recent crisis declaration lays bare, many children are. And prior research suggests that roughly half of parents whose children consider suicide have no idea.

With that in mind, here are some basics every parent needs to know. 

Suicidal ideation occurs on a spectrum

“Suicidal ideation refers to thoughts about committing suicide. It varies along a continuum,” Steven Meyers, a professor of psychology at Roosevelt University in Illinois, told HuffPost. “Passive ideation is when someone thinks that others would be better if they weren’t alive. Active ideation means that the person is developing a plan to harm themselves.”

Meyers noted that brief moments of suicidal ideation are “fairly common among children and teenagers” as well as adults, and most won’t self-harm. But it can be difficult to determine how dire a person’s thoughts are.

That’s just one reason why it is so challenging for mental health professionals to get an accurate sense of how many children grapple with suicidal ideation — compounded by the fact that many children don’t open up about their feelings, and when they do, they’re sometimes brushed off. 

Still, anecdotal evidence suggests that suicidal ideation is on the rise. And while not all children who have suicidal thoughts go on to harm themselves, suicide remains a leading cause of death among children age 10 and up in this country, and suicide attempts among adolescents have increased significantly during the pandemic.

This information is difficult to hear. But it’s not meant to unnecessarily frighten parents. Rather, it simply helps illustrate how widespread this issue is. As Clark Flatt, president of the Jason Foundation ― a nonprofit that he and his family began after his younger son, Jason, died by suicide ― previously told HuffPost, this is something every parent should be aware of. “I see it all the time — parents will read about suicide or hear about a study like this and say, ‘Gee, that’s a terrible thing. How sad for those families.’ But they have what I call not-my-kid syndrome.”

Even very young kids can have suicidal thoughts

Youth suicide, as an issue, is often associated with adolescents and teenagers, but recent studies suggest that anywhere between 2 and 10% of children as young as 9 and 10 have thought about suicide. Research has also shown that children as young as 5 may be at risk of suicide.

That’s why parents need to take it seriously if a young child talks about suicide ― or perhaps even writes or draws about it ― and need to know what signs to look for, including (but not limited to) problems eating and sleeping, becoming withdrawn or isolated, and talking about feeling hopeless.

Don’t wait for these conversations to feel easy

“The majority of parents will find these conversations really hard, and it is painful to think that your own child could be feeling this level of desperation,” Meyers said. Still, it’s important for parents to talk to children about their thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. If you lay that groundwork early, you’re better able to spot more serious problems as they arise.

It’s important to tailor conversations to a child’s age, Meyers said, and to ease into such talks. Mental health professionals use a “tiered approach,” he explained.

“It begins with a less threatening talk about negative feelings, frustrations, and mood. When there are problems that are evident, the wording becomes more specific, but does not necessarily feature the term ‘killing yourself,’” he said. “Most therapists will focus on passive suicidal ideation by asking questions like, ‘Have you ever felt like just giving up?’”

Can intermittent fasting help treat or even reverse type 2 diabetes?

In recent years, intermittent fasting has gained popularity as a way to lose weight, improve health, and enhance performance.

Some studies suggest that this dietary approach may even extend healthy lifespan without the need for the severe caloric restriction that classic anti-aging diets entail.

People who practice intermittent fasting eat few or no calories for anything from 12 hours a day to 1 or more days every week. The former technique is known as time-restricted feeding, whereas the latter is known as periodic fasting.

A recent review of the evidence suggests that this type of diet may help people with type 2 diabetes safely reduce or even remove their need for medication.

However, people should seek the advice of a diabetes professional before embarking on such a diet. 

The review, by Dr. Michael Albosta and Jesse Bakke, Ph.D., of Central Michigan University College of Medicine in Mount Pleasant, appears in Clinical Diabetes and Endocrinology.

Insulin resistance

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes affects 34.2 million people in the United States, which equates to about 1 in every 10 people. In 2017, it was the seventh leading cause of death in the country.

People with type 2 diabetes have abnormally high concentrations of glucose in their blood, known as hyperglycemia.

Several factors may contribute to hyperglycemia in type 2 diabetes. These include reduced secretion of the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels, and reduced sensitivity of the body’s tissues to the hormone. Doctors refer to this reduced sensitivity as insulin resistance.

The condition can cause a range of severe complications, including kidney failure and blindness.

The goal of treatment for type 2 diabetes is to prevent or delay these complications and maintain the person’s quality of life.

Healthcare professionals encourage people with type 2 diabetes to exercise regularly, reach a moderate weight, and eat a well-balanced diet. However, most individuals also need to take drugs to lower their blood glucose levels.

Most of these drugs raise insulin levels, which the authors of the review say can have an unintended negative consequence.

“While this works to reduce hyperglycemia in these patients, the idea of treating a disease of insulin resistance by increasing insulin may be counterproductive, leading to the requirement of increasing amounts of medication over a long period of time,” they write.

People who take the drugs can gain weight and develop increased insulin resistance. 

In addition, they can have raised levels of a hormone called leptin, which normally reduces appetite. This may suggest that they become increasingly resistant to this hormone, too.

They also have lower levels of a third hormone, called adiponectin, which usually counters diabetes and inflammation.

Struggles with calorie restriction

Some people with diabetes could minimize their need for diabetes medication by continually restricting their calorie intake, which scientists know reduces body weight and improves metabolic health.

However, the authors of the review note that people can struggle to sustain daily calorie restriction for extended periods.

Some people may find it easier to practice intermittent fasting, which shows promise as a way to improve metabolic risk factors, reduce body fat, and promote weight loss in obesity.

To assess the evidence, the authors searched databases for review articles, clinical trials, and case series related to type 2 diabetes and intermittent fasting published between 1990 and 2020.

They concluded that this type of diet may improve several key features of the disease. The improvements include:

  • reduced body weight
  • decreased insulin resistance
  • lower levels of leptin
  • increased levels of adiponectin

“Some studies found that patients were able to reverse their need for insulin therapy during therapeutic intermittent fasting protocols with supervision by their physician,” they write.

For example, a case study followed three people with type 2 diabetes for several months after they started an intermittent fasting diet, which involved three 24-hour fasts per week.

Over the course of the study, all participants had significantly reduced levels of HbA1c, which is a measure of the average amount of glucose in the blood.

All three individuals lost weight and were able to stop their insulin therapy within 1 month of the start of the diet.

Crucially, they reported that they found the diet easy to tolerate, and none of them chose to stop the diet at any point.

“Within less than a month, they had significantly reversed their type 2 diabetes,” says one of the authors of the case series, Dr. Jason Fung, a kidney specialist who is an advocate for intermittent fasting. 

“Even a year later, I think two of them are off all meds […], so doing ridiculously well for an intervention that is actually free, available to anybody, and has been used for thousands of years,” Dr. Fung tells the Weight Loss Motivation podcast.

The review authors also cited a clinical trial that randomly assigned 137 people with type 2 diabetes to either a continuous calorie-restricted diet or an intermittent fasting diet.

After 12 months, the two groups had similar reductions in their HbA1c levels. However, those in the intermittent fasting group lost more weight on average.

Yearning to travel in 2022?

“We have five trips for this year in the planning phase,” says Brill. “We’ve basically decided there is no budget constraint.”

Brill is lucky. He’s a retired pharmacist who lives in Finksburg, Maryland, and he’s been saving his pennies for travel. The pandemic and the surprise delta variant helped him save even more.

“My wife and I desperately want to get back to traveling,” he says.

He’s not alone. Allianz’s latest Vacation Confidence Index showed that summer vacation spending hit $150 billion in 2021, a new high. “And 2022 should be even bigger,” predicts Daniel Durazo, an Allianz spokesman.

Households earning over $100,000 a year have about $1.4 trillion to spend on discretionary items such as remodeling homes, local trips, and now more long-haul destinations, according to AAA’s research.

“Americans have more discretionary funds since they did not spend much in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic,” explains Paula Twidale, senior vice president of travel for AAA.

But how do you figure out your travel budget for this year? And what are some of the expert strategies for building a better vacation budget? Just as the pandemic changed travel, so also has the conventional wisdom on travel budgeting.

How to calculate your 2022 travel budget

Not everyone has an unlimited travel budget. This year, Thomas Mustac is planning a weekend trip to see one of his favorite bands, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s a quick weekend trip to Hungary from where he lives in Croatia, so he’s allocated $300 for it, not including the tickets.

“I think one of the biggest budgeting mistakes is bringing exactly how much money you need,” says Mustac, who works remotely for a communications firm in Orlando. “You are risking that worst-case scenario.”

Laurel Barton is watching her budget, too. She’s making plans to travel to Europe next fall and is already looking for inexpensive plane tickets. So far, she’s had no luck. She likes to fly business class on long-haul flights, but prices keep rising.

“So the budget is blown from the start,” says Barton, a guidebook author from Forest Grove, Oregon.

That’s not stopping her from going, though.

“Our mantra is, ‘Postpone nothing,'” she says.

There are ways to figure out what you can afford. The personal finance company Quicken offers a free Vacation Budget Calculator on its site. Add your travel expenses and the number of people, and it comes up with a total and per-day vacation cost. The calculator is useful for remembering items that are easy to overlook, like ground transportation and travel insurance.

But experts and travelers tell me the best way to determine how much to budget for your 2022 vacation is to look at past trips. How much did you budget for those? How much did you actually spend?

Expert advice for travel budgeting next year

“The first thing you need to consider with your 2022 travel budget is the potential increase in fares and hotel rates,” says Baruch Silvermann, a financial expert and CEO of The Smart Investor newsletter. “As domestic travelers returned to air travel, fares increased.” In 2022, that could also happen with hotels and international fares. Silvermann recommends booking early, when prices are relatively low, to avoid going over budget.

Another tip: Add some padding to your travel budget. Jeffrey Zhou, an experienced traveler who runs a financial services company, says having a little extra in the vacation budget can keep you out of trouble when things go wrong.

“Plan for the worst-case scenario,” he advises. “Put enough money aside so that you could easily buy an extra plane ticket for each person you’re traveling with. For most domestic budgets, this would be about $300 per person.”

Actually, it’s better to overestimate your expenses for 2022, according to Silvana Frappier, owner of North Star Destinations, a full-service travel agency in Boston. Most travelers don’t think about the law of supply and demand.

“Travel has changed, and with more demand for safety and restrictions, prices will be higher,” she says.

But whatever you do, make sure you have a budget. Even open-ended trips should have some kind of plan, according to experienced travelers.

Ahmed Mir, the managing editor of a beverage website, is planning a tour of Southeast Asia this year but hasn’t decided where to go yet.

“I’m budgeting about $5,000 for the travel, not including the airfares,” he says. “I think this is a pretty reasonable amount, given that exchange rates against the dollar are generally favorable, so my budget will probably allow me to travel in comfort.”

Creating Meaningful Resolutions for 2022

When you read this statistic, you may be tempted to save yourself the time by not setting any resolutions for the year ahead. But before you abandon the process altogether, consider reevaluating your usual method. Try following these five simple steps to create more meaningful resolutions.

Create a comfortable, safe space to let your mind and heart explore.

In order to create meaningful aspirations for the year ahead, you have to be able to delve into the depths of who you are. It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of your world and avoid reflection. However, if you do not set aside the time to understand what is meaningful to you, it will not be possible to create meaningful resolutions. You know yourself best: What is the best environment for you? Is it in the comfort of your bedroom? On your favorite bench at the local park? Try to minimize distractions. Gather materials that will help you to relax and explore. Examples may include candles, aromatherapy, music, colored pens, cozy blankets, or a warm beverage.

Set aside adequate time to reflect.

Resist the urge to pack all your reflection into one session. One condensed session is insufficient to reflect thoroughly. This can be an intimidating experience. This overwhelmed feeling can become associated with the process and can cause a sense of dread when you think about your dreams for the new year. Try to explore this process over multiple sessions.

If you feel comfortable, you can jump right in with open-ended reflections. If you prefer prompts, consider asking yourself these 3 questions:

Who am I?

What matters most to me?

Where am I (in reference to the past, especially the year behind me)?

If you are intimidated by the process, seek resources for your reflection. That may include incorporating a guide such as my Self-Love Workbook, addressing this topic with a therapist, and gathering close loved ones for encouragement and mutual support. If you do opt to incorporate others into the process, try to set aside at least one session that allows you to explore independently.

Time for reflection should be prioritized throughout the resolution process. It is important as a foundation for setting your hopes for the year ahead, however, it is also essential to carve time to revisit in the days ahead.

Consider key concepts that you wish to infuse into the year ahead.

After you have established a more meaningful foundation, remain connected to that depth as you move into considering your wishes for the next year. If possible, start this step in one setting. You can refine your intentions over time, however, what comes to mind at first is often what genuinely means most to you.

Find a medium that works for you. If you have gathered with others, this may be done in conversation. Perhaps you choose to explore through journaling. Some find it helpful to use visual aids, such as through a vision board. To broaden your perspective, it can be helpful to brainstorm and refine later by using methods such as voice recording or mind mapping.

A word, phrase, or image may come to mind. These key concepts serve as a framework for your intentions in the year ahead. It is natural that examples will pop up, especially if you already have events on your calendar or have been deeply influenced by lessons of the year past. Be mindful of your self-talk. Don’t allow space for judgment or criticism.

Familiarize yourself with the steps associated with each intention.

The beauty of intentionality versus specific goal setting is that it allows for the reality that change is inevitable. It is possible that what you wish for today will remain exactly the same in the months to come, but more often than not, things shift. For one, you change as you learn and grow, so a resolution made in January may no longer fit you in August. Stubbornly attaching yourself to that wish can cause you to be disconnected from your true self. Beyond yourself, the world around you changes. Utilizing intentionality allows you to reassess and re-calibrate to match your surrounding context.

As you consider each concept from Step 3, reflect on what it would look like to take steps towards those intentions at this current time. It is also beneficial to reflect on what it would look like to take steps away from that intention at present. Come up with as many examples as you can. These lists will create a guide for you to notice signs of when you are aligned, and when you need to reroute your journey.

Create a habit of checking in

New year’s resolutions shouldn’t be a “set it and forget it” process. As noted earlier, the best intentions are often formed when you allow yourself time to reflect, reassess, and refine. Once the year begins, it is important to create a habit of checking in on your resolutions. Come up with a rate that fits your lifestyle, but consider doing so monthly at a minimum. 

Utilize the steps you clarified to help you discern if you are centered or veering off your path. These checkpoints are also helpful points for you to incorporate new information you have learned, consider any changes in context, edit your steps, and, of course, celebrate the moments you find yourself in alignment with your intentions. 

There are a variety of reasons as to why your New Year’s resolutions may have failed in the past. Here we explored how to foster intentional resolutions to help you live a more meaningful year.

7 breakfast ideas to catapult your brain

We have always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, since, in addition to giving us enough energy to start our day, it helps our brain to function better.

Dr. Randall Wright, a neurologist at Houston Methodist Hospital , explains that breakfast is the time of day when we have the opportunity to fill our bodies with foods that give us a high-octane boost, providing energy, cognition and clarity to the brain for hours.

“Eating a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds for breakfast, and all the nutrition these foods offer, gives your brain the fuel it needs for the day. The brain is the organ that uses the most energy in our body, so if we feed it correctly, we will really be doing it a great favor, ”explained the specialist in a statement.

However, according to the doctor, waiting to eat is also correct. Dr. Wright points out that intermittent fasting, meaning skipping midnight snacks and going 12 to 14 hours without eating allows glucose levels in the body to drop, giving a “break” from eating and allowing brain transmitters are cleared and reset. However, this type of practice should be supervised by a nutritionist or a doctor specialized in nutrition, since uncontrolled fasting can lead to other metabolic problems.

Dr. Wright stated that it is fine to drink coffee and water in those early hours of the morning before hunger begins, but be careful not to be tempted to eat anything, as this will lead us to try bread of sweet or cereals whose caloric content is higher than recommended.

The brain is not designed to handle too much sugar

The brain is not designed to handle large volumes of glucose as glucose can start a vicious cycle of cravings and tempt people to eat a couple of donuts, then quickly feel hungry again. Glucose levels in the brain rise, then fall, and then rise again.

Dr. Wright also warned about staying well hydrated, since “sometimes we confuse hunger with thirst and we only need 180 to 250 milliliters of water to resume any activity. Our brains are made mostly of water, so even a little dehydration can affect our thinking. “

Plus, the best breakfast for your brain needs two key ingredients that only you control: exercise and sleep. Both are critical to brain health.

7 perfect breakfasts for the brain

  • Monday: Toast or wholemeal bread with avocado and egg, accompanied by a plate of red fruits.
  • Tuesday: Oatmeal prepared with blueberries and walnuts.
  • Wednesday: Salmon with diced fruit on the side.
  • Thursday: Cottage cheese or cottage cheese with peaches, seeds, and nuts.
  • Friday: Two or three slices of panela cheese, grapes, almonds, accompanied by whole wheat crackers and hard-boiled egg.
  • Saturday: A two-egg omelette with a rainbow of vegetables including red, green, orange and yellow bell peppers, onions and tomatoes.
  • Sunday: Natural Greek yogurt accompanied by your three favorite fruits and topped with walnuts.

Understanding Credit Card Interest Rates

Not so fast.

Before you sign up for a credit card, be sure you carefully review the fine print, especially if you have poor credit and are working to improve your credit score. The credit card agreement’s terms will become part of a legal agreement between you and the creditor. You’ll want to know those details, including: 

  • What annual percentage rate is being offered and if it expires after a promotional period.
  • How the lender calculates the interest.
  • Any fees you’ll owe due to balance transfers, late and/or missed payments, or other violations of the credit card agreement. 

The first step is understanding the APR and how it works.

WHAT IS APR?

The APR is the rate of interest that a credit card company charges you in exchange for lending you money. APR is important because it’s used to calculate how much your credit card debt is going to cost you above and beyond the account balance itself. The higher the APR, the more interest you will pay on balances you carry month to month.

In its most basic form, your APR determines how much interest will accrue after one year. For example, let’s suppose the APR on your credit card is 25 percent. If you have $1,000 in credit card debt, a 25 percent APR would end up costing you $250 in interest over one year. 

In reality, calculating credit card interest is rarely that simple.

HOW DOES APR WORK? 

Credit card companies usually calculate interest daily, making your daily periodic rate a more realistic number for determining how much you’ll pay in interest. To calculate your daily periodic rate, divide the APR by 365 (the number of days in a calendar year). As an example, the daily period rate on a credit card with a 25 percent APR would be 25 ÷ 365 = 0.068 percent (or 0.00068 in decimal form). Some lenders use 360 instead of 365, and the math changes accordingly. 

When credit card companies calculate interest daily, here’s how the arithmetic works on a credit card with an APR of 25 percent (daily periodic rate of 0.00068) with the following balances and a 30-day billing cycle:

  • Balance of $10 for 29 days
  • •alance increases to $800 on day 30
  • Calculate the average daily balance:
    • $10 x 29 days = $290; add $800 x 1 day; $290 + $800 = $1,090; 
    • Divide $1,090 ÷ by 30 (the number of days in the billing cycle) = $36.33 average daily balance
  • Multiply the average daily balance of $36.33 by the daily periodic rate of 0.00068; $36.33 x 0.00068 = $0.025 
  • Multiply $0.025 x the 30 days in the billing cycle; 0.025 x 30 = $0.75 in interest

HOW TO SHOP FOR A GOOD APR ON A CREDIT CARD WHEN REBUILDING CREDIT

If you’re looking for a new card but you have poor credit, you’ll need to shop around, then compare and evaluate the credit card offers available to you. In general, the lower the interest rate you can get, the better.

Start by checking the current average credit card interest rate, which as of late November 2021, was just over 16 percent.

With a low credit score, you may not qualify for the lowest APR offers because lenders will consider you a higher risk. If you’re trying to improve your credit to get better interest rates in the future, you may want to consider a secured credit card, which is backed by a cash deposit that acts as collateral should you miss a payment.

Whatever type of credit card account you open, a key step to rebuilding your credit is to avoid missing any future payments and do your best to stay in good standing by paying on time. As your credit score improves, so will the credit card offers that you receive.

WHY CREDIT CARD APR CAN INCREASE

Some credit cards come with low/no interest introductory periods. These rates are temporary by design and your APR will increase once the promotional period is over.

Your APR may also increase if you fail to follow the terms of your credit card agreement, most commonly by missing a payment. Each lender sets its own rules and guidelines. The agreement will list the APR for your account and the reasons why a credit card issuer can change the APR and/or charge fees. 

If your APR increases, look at what your agreement says about violating the terms, such as making a late payment or not making a payment at all. Some lenders may reinstate your previous APR if you get your account current by making the minimum payment (or more) by the monthly due date for a certain period of time. With other lenders, the inflated APR may be permanent. If you’re not sure after reviewing your agreement, contact your credit company and ask.

HOW TO MANAGE A HIGHER APR

If the increase in your APR is permanent, you have a few options:

  • Transfer the balance to a different account. If you have another credit card with a lower interest rate, you may be able to transfer the balance (for a fee). Read the agreement or call the credit company to ask what they can offer. 
  • Open a new credit card that accepts balance transfers. Carefully review the agreement for the new credit card to be sure it offers a lower interest rate and that you understand the terms for the APR, fees, etc. 
  • Pay off the balance and stop using the card. If you can’t bring down the APR, work to pay off the balance as expediently as you can. After that, just don’t use that card anymore. Canceling a credit card is one way to prevent future use, but keep in mind that closing an account, especially one you’ve had for a long time, may cause your credit score to drop because the age of your accounts is part of the calculation in most credit scoring models.

HOW TO PAY OFF MULTIPLE CREDIT CARDS WITH DIFFERENT APRS

If you carry over balances every month or have hit your credit limit on more than one credit card, you’ll want to develop a strategy for paying off the cards and improving your credit.

Two popular strategies are known as “snowball” and “avalanche.”

To use the snowball strategy, begin by identifying the credit card with the smallest balance. Then follow these steps:

  • Pay the minimum amount due on your other credit card accounts.
  • Put anything extra toward repaying the smallest account.
  • Once the smallest account is paid in full, move to the next smallest account.
  • Use whatever extra you were paying on the first account toward the next one.
  • Continue working from smallest to largest until your biggest credit card debt is paid off.

The avalanche strategy takes a different approach by focusing on the credit card accounts with the highest APRs, which cost you more on a per dollar basis.

To use the avalanche strategy, start by identifying which of your credit cards has this highest APR. Then, follow similar steps as the snowball strategy: 

  • Pay the minimum amount due on your other credit card accounts.
  • Put anything extra toward repaying the account with the highest APR.
  • Once the highest APR account is paid in full, move on to the account with the next highest APR. 
  • Use whatever extra you were paying on the first account toward the next one.
  • Continue working from highest APR to lowest until all your credit card debt is paid off.

Many people working to get out of credit card debt find the snowball strategy to be more satisfying, in part because it creates more budget flexibility as each debt is repaid and those payments are no longer necessary. However, targeting high interest debts will save you money in the long run. You’ll need to evaluate your options and pick the approach that works best for your situation.

IF YOUR CREDIT CARD BILLS ARE TOO MUCH TO HANDLE

Unfortunately, the people whose APR increases due to a missed payment are often those who can least afford to have their rates go up. If your credit card payments are too much to handle, talk with an MMI credit counselor to see if a debt management plan (DMP) could help to get you out of credit card debt. 

DMPs offer a structured repayment program in which you make a single payment to a nonprofit credit counseling agency (such as MMI) which disburses funds to your creditors on your behalf. Your creditors are often willing to work with a DMP and reduce your interest rate as you work to pay your debts. The average APR for accounts included on a DMP with MMI is less than 7 percent.

Is Mental Health Stigma Decreasing? It’s Complicated

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stigma as “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something… a mark of shame or discredit.” Borrowed from Latin, it ultimately comes from the Greek “stizein” meaning, “to tattoo,” and refers to marks used on slaves and criminals in Ancient Greece.

Throughout history, people with mental and behavioral disorders were routinely blamed, ostracized, isolated, imprisoned, tortured, or killed. And while our treatment of—and attitudes about—mental illness have improved dramatically in the 20th and 21st centuries, mental health stigma has not disappeared. A 2016 review of the research by Zurich University psychologist Wulf Rössler concluded: “There is no country, society or culture where people with mental illness have the same societal value as people without a mental illness.”

When mental health problems are stigmatized, those who cope with them are consigned to wrestle not just with the disorder, but also with the attendant social prejudice and rejection. The effects of stigma are profound both personally and socially, as they may compel people to hide or deny their issues, refrain from seeking help, and engage in self-blame (AKA self-stigma).

A 2010 systematic review of the literature by Jessica Sharac of King’s College London and colleagues looked at 27 studies of stigma and its effects, concluding, “Mental illness stigma/discrimination was found to impact negatively on employment, income, public views about resource allocation and healthcare costs.”

Columbia University stigma researchers Bruce Link and Jo Phelan concur: “Stigmatization probably has a dramatic bearing on the distribution of life chances in such areas as earnings, housing, criminal involvement, health, and life itself.”

Laypersons may intuit that stigma is one thing—a negative, prejudiced attitude about something. Yet research suggests that stigma, like most everything else in life, is a complex construct. 

Contemporary research has tended to divide the construct of stigma into three separate elements. As Graham Thornicroft of King’s College London and colleagues explain, those are “a lack of knowledge (ignorance), negative attitudes (prejudice) and people behaving in ways that disadvantage the stigmatised person (discrimination)”

In other words, stigma involves a cognitive component (ignorant beliefs), an emotional component (negative feelings of dislike, loathing, fear), and a behavioral component (acting to ostracize and oppress the stigmatized person or group).

Bruce Link and Jo Phelan (2001) proposed a model in which a stigma is defined by the process of convergence among five distinctive components:

The first component involves distinguishing and labeling human differences. The second involves the process by which “dominant cultural beliefs link labeled persons to undesirable characteristics-to negative stereotypes.” The third component occurs when “labeled persons are placed in distinct categories so as to accomplish some degree of separation of “us” from “them.” The fourth component has labeled persons “experience status loss and discrimination that lead to unequal outcomes.”

Finally, the fifth component is access to social, economic, and political power, which allows “the separation of labeled persons into distinct categories, and the full execution of disapproval, rejection, exclusion, and discrimination.” In other words, “when people have an interest in keeping other people down, in or away, stigma is a resource that allows them to obtain ends they desire.”

The multi-dimensional structure of stigma makes plausible the prediction that different aspects of stigma may operate quite independently of one another. For example, we may come to fear depressed people less, but still believe ignorantly that their depression is their fault. Likewise, a stigmatized group may simultaneously gain in social status and incur increased prejudice and hostility. If this is so, then addressing one component of stigma successfully may prove insufficient in reducing its overall ill-effects. 

A recent (2021) study by sociologist Bernice Pescosolido of Indiana University and colleagues provides an illustration of this complexity. The authors used data from face-to-face interviews conducted three times between 1996 and 2018 with a representative sample of over 4,000 U.S. adults.

Participants were asked to respond to one of three vignettes showing people who met DSM diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia, depression, and alcohol dependence or a control case (showing a person dealing with mere daily troubles). Participants then answered questions about the underlying causes (attributions) as well as the likelihood of violence (danger to others), and rejection (desire for social distance) regarding the person in the vignette.

Results showed a mixed pattern. The period between 1996-2006 saw an increase in the endorsement of genetic attributions for schizophrenia, depression, and alcohol dependence. In the later period (2006-2018), the desire for social distance decreased for depression across domains such as work, socializing, friendship, and marriage. At the same time, regressive changes were also observed. In 2018, participants saw people with schizophrenia as more dangerous and were more likely to attribute alcoholism to bad character than did 1996 participants.

The researchers found that demographic factors such as race and ethnicity, sex, and educational attainment failed to predict significant differences in the overall time trends. The one demographic factor that appears to have the most influence on stigma is age. “Older individuals in each period were significantly more unwilling to have the vignette person marry into the family.” 

The researchers identified five robust patterns in the data:

First, they concluded that the turn of the century (1996-2006) “saw a substantial increase in the public acceptance of biomedical causes of mental illness.” This shift toward a greater acceptance of scientific data did not, however, translate into a reduction in social rejection (desire for distance). 

Second, they concluded that the recent survey period (2006-2018) documented the first significant, substantial decrease in stigma for major depression, although like decreases were not found for schizophrenia or alcohol dependence.

Third, the researchers found that participants’ demographic characteristics “offered little insight into stigma, generally, or into observed decreases for depression.” Thinking and attitudes about depression appear to have changed across the board.

Fourth, age matters to stigma in a predictable way. The authors note: “change over time may be associated with age as a conservatizing factor, a cohort process in which older, more conservative individuals are replaced by younger, more liberal US residents.”

Fifth, while findings for depression were encouraging, other results disappointed. “For schizophrenia, there has been a slow shift toward greater belief of dangerousness… the increase was substantial and relatively large over the entire period (approximately 13 percent).” With regard to alcohol dependence, the results came up similarly mixed. “Although there was an increase in the selection of alcohol dependence as a mental illness with chemical and genetic roots, the problem was also trivialized as ups and downs. Moreover, we observed a return to a moral attribution of bad character in the first period that remain stable into the second period.”

Can You Safely Enjoy the Holidays?

The delta and omicron variants of the coronavirus are trying to spoil the holiday spirit, but there still are ways to enjoy the festivities.

The explosive spread of the omicron variant is causing many to wonder if they should cancel their holiday plans. The omicron mutation is expected to overtake the delta variant in the United States within weeks.

Health experts know that people need to spend time together, so they are offering advice. Above all, getting vaccinated remains the best defense and getting a booster shot further increases protection.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, skipped gathering for the holidays last year with his three adult daughters. But this year, Fauci, his wife and his daughters are all vaccinated with boosters, and they plan to spend the holidays together, even seeing a few friends who also are vaccinated and boosted.

“We can feel safe,” Fauci said this week on NBC’s “Nightly News.” “Nothing is 100% risk-free.”

A look at strategies to enjoy the holidays as safely as possible.

IS IT SAFE TO ATTEND A HOLIDAY PARTY?

It depends. Large parties aren’t as safe as small ones. Indoor parties aren’t as safe as outdoor gatherings.

At a large, indoor party, one person without a mask can result in many people infected, said Dr. Celine Gounder of the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

“Some of these are turning into superspreader events,” Gounder said.

Even if everyone is vaccinated and boosted, breakthrough infections can happen, including with omicron, which has shown the ability to sidestep the protection of vaccination in lab tests.

And don’t count on symptoms to tell you who’s carrying the virus, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer in Seattle and King County.

“Half or more of infections are spread from people before they have symptoms, so symptom screening remains important, but doesn’t identify everyone who can spread COVID-19,” Duchin said.

Masks, opening windows, running an air purifier with a HEPA filter are strategies recommended by health experts for gatherings during the holidays.

WHAT ABOUT HOME TEST KITS?

Home test kits can add a layer of safety by providing on-the-spot results. The tests are not as accurate as the PCR tests done in hospitals and at testing sites. But they have the advantage of giving results within minutes instead of days.

In some places, testing demand is high, rapid tests are hard to find and waits at testing centers are long.

If you’re searching for a home test kit, check online and at drugstores. A box with two tests typically costs about $25. If you have health insurance, save your receipt. You may be able to get reimbursed for the cost next year, although it’s unclear whether new rules about that will be retroactive.

Residents of some parts of the U.S. can receive free home test kits through a public health effort called Say Yes! COVID Test.

“It’s been a phenomenal program,” said Matt Schanz, administrator of the Northeast Tri County Health District in northeastern Washington state, where households can get up to eight tests delivered.

“We’re social people. We want to gather together and have joyous times during the holiday,” Schanz said.

Some health experts are recommending testing twice: Take a test three days before and on the day of a holiday gathering.

“So if you’re gathering Christmas Eve, test a few days before and on Christmas Eve as well,” said Dr. Kiran Joshi, senior medical officer at the Cook County Department of Public Health in Illinois.

WHAT ABOUT TRAVEL?

Check the rules of your destination country if you’re planning to travel abroad. Nations are adding new rules in response to omicron.

People traveling by air should be extra careful about wearing masks in crowded airports, Fauci said.

“Wear your mask all the time,” Fauci told a Wall Street Journal podcast. “It will be required to wear a mask when you’re on the plane, but don’t get careless in the airport with all the crowds that are in the airport and take your mask off.”

IS THERE ANY GOOD NEWS?

Kids often catch viruses at school and there’s some evidence with flu that school breaks can slow the spread. So it might be lucky that omicron is emerging during the holidays, said virus expert Elodie Ghedin of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Going into the holidays where kids are staying home from school is actually a good thing,” Ghedin said. “If this had occurred in the fall, it probably would have been worse with transmission. That’s the one silver lining going into the holidays.”

4 Trends that Will Reshape the Small Business Landscape in 2022 and Beyond

Thousands of businesses changed their business model at the onset of the pandemic, introducing new products or services and embracing new channels to reach their customers. Thousands more launched new businesses altogether, spotting untapped opportunities in our collective “new normal.” 

Now, as we head into 2022, we see the impacts of the past two years crystallizing and new trends emerging, like the beginnings of the metaverse to changing how we define small businesses and how small businesses operate — online, offline and in-between. 

A few weeks ago, I sat down with my colleague Pooja Piyaratna who leads Meta’s Business Product Marketing Group for small businesses. Together, we identified four trends that will reshape the small business landscape in 2022 and beyond.

The evolution of entrepreneurship

One fortunate byproduct of the pandemic was an outpouring of creativity. Around the world, people reexamined previously held assumptions — like the need to conduct some business exclusively in-person — and new, exciting ideas and businesses were born. This effectively redefined what it means to be an entrepreneur, adding more diversity to the small business space. In 2022, this trend will accelerate further as a record number of businesses are forecasted to be started. One of the most interesting evolutions is the increasing frequency we’re seeing creators turn their passion into a living. For example, Emily Delaney, the Cheese Board Queen, started with a humble Instagram showcasing her love of cheese and charcuterie boards in 2019. Now, just three years later, she hosts virtual classes and workshops, partners with brands regularly and has a book coming out with Penguin’s DK Books in the Spring. Her story of sharing a passion online and turning it into a bonafide business is not unique, and one we’ll only see more of in the future.

The art and science of creativity

Over the last two years, small business owners have had no choice but to become increasingly creative with their digital presence. And for many, this opened new doors for driving sales and building their brand in the process. Live Shopping is a great example of a digital technology that has helped businesses showcase their offerings while also infusing their brand’s unique personality into an online experience. And for many, the beauty of fun live video combined with the convenience of online shopping has opened up new revenue streams that will persist beyond the pandemic. 

Consider Illinois boutique owner Kelley Cawley, who credits regular streams on Facebook Live with making her customers more engaged than ever, driving more online and in-person traffic to her store. To make Live Shopping a success, Kelley mixes the art of a fun Live experience with the science of digital tools and insights that help her understand what keeps her customers engaged. In fact, Crawley knows her sales have jumped 88% since she’s implemented the Live Shopping strategy. Combining the art of creativity and the understanding digital tools provide of what drives the most success enables businesses like Crawley’s to experiment, innovate and make strategic decisions based on real data. In 2022, we can expect businesses that have found a home online to experiment further  — combining the art of creativity with data science tools — ultimately discovering the strategies that work best for them.

Messaging paves the way for the next era of communication

Another interesting development is how businesses are using messaging to infuse personalization into their customer communications. People’s preferences for how they want to talk with companies are evolving. In this digital era, 75% of adults globally say they want to communicate with businesses via messaging, in the same way they communicate with friends and family. As we transition from the mobile Internet to the Metaverse, we know we’ll see businesses large and small working with more immersive formats to forge personal connections online. While this may sound far off, the groundwork is already underway. For example, small businesses can now conduct video calls via Messenger, allowing them to speak and see their customer, helping them to answer questions faster, provide better customer service, and of course, truly connect person-to-person.

How to Organize Your Personal Household Finances

BUILD YOUR FILING SYSTEM

Start out with your household filing system. And yes, you may end up with two filing systems: one for physical paperwork and one for digital documents. Of course, you can bring everything together by either printing or scanning documents as needed, but that’s ultimately up to you. The important thing is that you create a system to hold and categorize your important pieces of paperwork.

It’s helpful to have folders set up for each major category—some examples include: health, job, banking, credit cards, taxes, investments, home, automobiles, insurance, major purchases, and other loans. On a weekly basis, review all of the documents that have arrived in the mail or landed in your inbox and sort everything into these folders. While some items can be thrown out (after being shredded), you’ll want to save insurance papers, receipts for major purchases, account statements, pay stubs, health forms, and anything related to your taxes. 

Also: create a folder for the current year taxes. Having everything in one place will make things easier come tax time.

SEPARATE YOUR BILLS

Household bills—anything that’s waiting to be paid—should be filed using a separate system. Sort your bills by due date and add them to the folder of the month they are due. You can also track bills in a personal finance program, spreadsheet, or with a money management app.

It’s best to pay household bills on a weekly basis, although if you only have a few bills, you can pay them bi-weekly or monthly. Online bill pay systems are a great way to stay organized, save money on stamps, and get your payments cleared quickly. Otherwise, you’ll need to make sure that you write and mail your checks well in advance of the due date so that you aren’t charged a late fee.

CLEAN YOUR FOLDERS REGULARLY

On a regular basis, either semi-annually or annually, go through each of your folders and clear out anything that’s no longer needed. If any of the folders are getting too full, separate them out by year, and store newer information in the front of your file drawer, so that it’s more accessible.

How long should you keep your documents? Depends on the document. Most tax documents should be kept for at least seven years. Receipts for major purchases and title information should be kept for as long as you have the corresponding item. Statements and other documents that are received on a monthly basis can be tossed after a year (or less).

While organizing can take some time in the beginning, having all of your financial information sorted appropriately will make day to day bill paying and home financial management easier for you.

Happy New Year

From all of us here at the Professional Athletes Foundation, we hope you are optimistic about the coming year. There is plenty to be concerned about; however, the PAF is here for you and your loved ones with resources and events to help you realize happy and healthy lives. Whether you need small advice or meaningful programs, our entire team will continue to work hard to support your needs with physical health and mental wellness, financial stability, professional growth and connection with your former player community.

To health, to happiness and to our fraternity of former players!

5 Ways to Communicate as a Transformative, Resilient Leader

Recently, the phrase, “your job will be posted before your obituary,” went viral. And the sad reality is, it went viral because so many people can relate to the sentiment. 

After more than a year and a half of the coronavirus pandemic, burnout among workers is surging. There are many suggestions for how individuals can cope—from practicing self-care, to using mental health resources provided by employers, to taking the extra vacation time some companies gave their workers this past summer. 

But the truth is, research shows individual actions cannot mitigate organizational factors that lead to burnout and employee loss. The call is coming from inside the house. 

If you’re in a position of leadership, you can seize this time and find ways to make your team feel valued for who they are, not just what they do. Transformative, resilient leaders understand that adversity can provide a rationale to take risks that would otherwise seem unjustifiable—and change a culture in previously unimagined ways.

My mentor, Dr. George S. Everly, has written about what every leader should know regarding crisis and growth. Here, I want to hone in on one of our five pillars of transformative, resilient leadership: building supportive relationships.

Here are the five elements of supportive relationships that transformative leaders should strive to enact in their workplaces:

1. Equanimity

Worker shortages. Childcare issues. Supply chain breakdowns. The list of crises leaders have dealt with in the past few years is overwhelming, yet one of the top things a leader can do for their team is to model composure, calm, and an even temper.

Easier said than done, we know. But demonstrating equanimity reassures your team that you have an objective perspective, and they can trust you with their concerns and problems. Strive to create time in your schedule for your own processing and mental reframing, so you’re not reactive in discussions with your team.

2. Reliability/Trustworthiness

To quote from our book: “Think of reliability as consistency. Consistency yields predictability. Predictability engenders trust. Trust is a key characteristic of high-performing organizations, especially those enduring a crisis.” 

We can boil this down to a few simple, yet powerful, actions:

  • Do what you say you’re going to do.
  • If you must break a promise, clearly and promptly explain why.
  • Show genuine kindness to your team members, both to their faces and behind their backs.

These small actions, over time, foster a workplace that feels reliable and trustworthy, and that has a big effect. According to Paul Zak (2017), people who work in “high trust” organizations have 74 percent less stress, 106 percent more energy, 50 percent higher productivity, 13 percent fewer sick days, 76 percent more interpersonal connectedness, and 29 percent more life satisfaction.

Happy Holidays from the PAF

No matter what you celebrate, this time of year is the perfect time to put your family first, solidifying the relationships that matter most, and begin to prioritize for the new year.

Here at the PAF, we wish you the best over the next few weeks, including love and happiness.

We are committed to continue to find and provide you the information you need to navigate your post-football life in the most successful way possible.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza…Happy Holidays and may you have a memorable New Year.

-Your family at the Professional Athletes Foundation.

Freezing Your Credit Can Protect You Against Identity Theft

The biggest reason consumers reported for not freezing their credit was because they didn’t think it was necessary. To a lesser degree, some respondents (11%) avoided putting their credit on ice because they mistakenly believed it will impact their credit score or that they’ll have to pay to freeze or thaw their credit.

Of the 73% of consumers who believed their personal information had been impacted by a data breach, only 3% froze their credit after receiving a data breach notice, the survey found.

“A credit freeze is generally considered the most effective tool to prevent new accounts from being opened in your name,” Eva Velasquez, President and CEO of the ITRC, said in a press release announcing the survey results. The online survey took place last summer and covered 1,050 U.S. adult consumers.

Here’s what to know about freezing your credit:

What is a credit freeze?

Putting a freeze on your credit halts access to your credit report, so bad actors won’t be able to open a new credit account in your name. They’re completely free.

The process also blocks you from opening up new accounts. But don’t worry if you want to apply for a new rewards credit card or other type of credit — you can lift the freeze temporarily to do so, the Federal Trade Commission explains.

When should you freeze your credit?

Hackers just won’t quit. By the end of September, the number of publicly reported data compromises in the U.S. had already surpassed the total number of compromises in 2020 by 17%, according to the ITRC.

By now, you may be familiar with the notifications companies send out when they’ve been breached, like the note the popular trading app Robinhood sent to users last month when millions of people had their emails or full names exposed, and around 310 had their birthday and zip codes exposed in a data breach.

If you are notified that your data has been compromised — or if you lose your wallet — it’s a good idea to protect your information by freezing your credit so that criminals can’t use the stolen information to open a new account in your name.

Why 1,320 Therapists Are Worried About Mental Health in America Right Now

Social workers, psychologists and counselors from every state say they can’t keep up with an unrelenting demand for their services, and many must turn away patients — including children — who are desperate for support.

“All the therapists I know have experienced a demand for therapy that is like nothing they have experienced before,” said Tom Lachiusa, a licensed clinical social worker in Longmeadow, Mass. “Every available time slot I can offer is filled.”

The New York Times asked 1,320 mental health professionals to tell us how their patients were coping as pandemic restrictions eased. General anxiety and depression are the most common reasons patients seek support, but family and relationship issues also dominate therapy conversations. One in four providers said suicidal thoughts were among the top reasons clients were seeking therapy.

“I regularly wished aloud for a mental health version of Dr. Fauci to give daily briefings,” said Lakeasha Sullivan, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta. “I tried to normalize the wide range of intense emotions people felt; some thought they were truly going crazy.”

The responses to our survey, sent by Psychology Today to its professional members, offer insights into what frontline mental health workers around the country are hearing from their clients. We heard from mental health providers in all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. (You can learn more about how we conducted our survey at the end of this article.)

While there were moments of optimism about telemedicine and reduced stigma around therapy, the responses painted a mostly grim picture of a growing crisis, which several therapists described as a “second pandemic” of mental health problems.

“There is so much grief and loss,” said Anne Compagna-Doll, a clinical psychologist in Burbank, Calif. “One of my clients, who is usually patient, is experiencing road rage. Another client, who is a mom of two teens, is fearful and doesn’t want them to leave the house. My highly work-motivated client is considering leaving her career. There is an overwhelming sense of malaise and fatigue.”

Here are some of the findings from the survey.

Demand has surged.

Nine out of 10 therapists say the number of clients seeking care is on the rise, and most are experiencing a significant surge in calls for appointments, longer waiting lists and difficulty meeting patient demand.

“I live in a rural town, but I still get approximately seven to 10 inquiries a week that I have to turn away,” said Amy Wagner, a marriage and family therapist in Carrollton, Ga. “I know the other therapists in my area are also full and have been since the pandemic started.”

“Every single day there are new inquiries,” said Jacent Wamala, a marriage and family therapist in Las Vegas. “People are having to deal with the aftershock, emotionally and mentally, of what has happened.”

Respondents said the higher demand was coming from both former patients who had returned for care and from new clients seeking therapy for the first time for anxiety, financial stress, substance use, job worries and other issues that have surfaced during the upheaval of the past 18 months. Many therapists say they are counseling health care workers who have been traumatized by caring for Covid-19 patients.

“The pandemic has functioned like a magnifying glass for vulnerabilities,” said Gabriela Sehinkman, a licensed clinical social worker in Shaker Heights, Ohio, who specializes in serving the Latino community.

And while the pandemic has been polarizing, our analysis found that the higher demands for therapy are happening in every region, and at similar rates in red and blue states.

“Even if some clients don’t recognize certain scientific aspects of the pandemic, they’re still feeling the isolation and separation,” said Nathan Staley, a licensed professional counselor in Kansas City, Mo. “Political disagreements are increasingly a source of distress.”

4 Keys to Making a Relationship Work

John and Julie Gottman have studied, with unusual rigor and for 40-plus years now, what makes relationships work. Their findings are summarized in the book Eight Dates.

“Eight dates” refers to regularly scheduled meetings in which the couple talks respectfully about big issues: trust, conflict, sex, money, family, adventure, spirituality, and dreams. A few of my clients, as well as my wife and I, have done some variant of the eight dates, and we all feel it’s been worthwhile.

More Gottman Nuggets

Here’s other core advice from the Gottmans, plus my yes-ands and yes-buts.

1. Never stop being curious about your partner. That may seem pie-in-the-sky but it can be realistic. The Gottmans urge us to ask our partner open-ended questions. The following are those I’ve recommended to clients and that my wife and I have discussed to advantage:

  • Tell me a story about you, now or in your past.
  • Do you have any dreams, not necessarily when sleeping but about your future?
  • Do you ever wonder if that’s all there is, I mean career-wise, relationship-wise, otherwise?
  • Your parents don’t display much emotion, and you’re kind of that way. Has that served you well?
  • You want to have kids more than I do. What, deep down, do you think is the main driver of that?
  • I know you’re a Democrat, but why are you a Democrat?
  • You believe in God. In the face of evidence to the contrary, what makes you have faith in God?
  • How are you feeling about your substance use?

Or you could ask something quite general, for example,

  • How are you feeling?

2. Conflict is inevitable. Key is accepting the immutable and attempting to resolve the others in a statesman-like way.

The Gottmans’ research found that 69% of conflicts never get resolved and the key is how to deal with the 31%. Of course, that begs the question of how to figure out whether a conflict is likely to be resolved. Well, here’s an example of how you might constructively have such a discussion:

You: We argue a lot about your spending, my rushing in sex, and my being less enthusiastic than you are about spending time with your parents. Do you think those issues are in the 69% of the 31%?

Your partner: Maybe it’s easiest if we start with the issue of visiting my parents.

You: I think we can agree that your parents think I’m a know-it-all and I think they’re, well, lackluster. Without a personality transplant, do you think either is likely to change?

Your partner: No. So, it sounds like you’re making me mainly go see them by myself.

You: If I had my druthers, yes. But might the statesman-like thing to do be for me to join you when it’s particularly important to you and/or them and, other times, you do go without me? And of course, you can supplement the visits with phone and FaceTime calls. Does that seem reasonable?

Your partner: It depends on how often you think it’s important for you to go. I’m afraid you’ll want to go just once or twice a year. I like visiting them every two weeks.

You: What if we, as an initial benchmark, aim for my going half the time, say once a month. Can you live with that?

Your partner: Well, we can try it. But, in a month, let’s agree to revisit the plan.

You: Fair enough. (If it feels right, give your partner a hug.)

Declutter Your Habits Heading into the Holidays (and Beyond)

“Building a real perpetual motion machine is impossible since it would violate the laws of thermodynamics. But when it comes to human motivation, we can have perpetual energy as long as we invest in a sense of connection, meaning, ownership and long-term thinking.” —Dan Ariely, psychologist and author of Payoff

You have likely set, reset, or outright dropped many habit change goals over the years. 

I know I have.

Heading into this week, and into the new year just around the corner, it can be tempting to start what I call “nexting”—overthinking, anticipating, and trying to control some Grand Canyon change result into being.

Losing 30 pounds by summer. Going and staying vegan. Making a million dollars in a side hustle. World domination.

And yet the science is clear that habit change (particularly when facing the nastier changes of dropping long-standing bad habits for less “sexy” healthy alternatives) is much less likely to succeed if people fixate on goals of a big result. For example, research findings described in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology show that peoples’ habits and performance are influenced much more by the environmental contexts they are in than the goals they set for themselves. 

Though goals seem important, the short-sighted, needy human brain loses steam quickly when the dopamine drip is slow going, and when your daily contexts are filled with triggering cues toward competing, “bad” habits, and the Grand Canyon result you desire is a mirage on the horizon. 

David Neal and his colleagues showed in these studies that only when people self-perceive that their habits are guided by goals do these goals seem to have much impact on their performance on memory tasks. 

It’s clear then that you need to focus more on your daily habits than on lofty results we crave. What are the unskillful habits cluttering up your day that are blocking you from the new, higher habits of creating, leading, connecting, and making a lasting impact? You will benefit from careful examination and effort to declutter certain key habits and build new ones into your daily life.

Planning and scheduling small, daily actions in the direction of (versus fixation on) a change goal is the way of a habit change warrior. 

Eat using a smaller plate each day… Eliminate one high-calorie snack item each day this week… Drink 8 glasses of water daily… Reach out to three potential network leads today… Write out, schedule, and track habit change efforts daily.

Specific, small, and daily doings. 

The Grand Canyon itself was forged by the daily flow of water over many years. A habit change goal won’t take millennia, and yet it is daily action that breaks unskillful, career-blocking, or relationship-stalling habits. It is daily change effort that builds new, higher, effective habits. It is daily action that builds our character, the identity radiating out to others in the world.

And speaking of water, I view mindfulness practice as the core habit that, like water, creates the flexibility and flow needed for changing and building habits. Like water, mindfulness is the universal “solvent” that melts the unskillful habits you have cluttering up your professional and personal life. Mindfulness is the awareness that sees clearly—that feels the discomfort of change with patient, kind abiding. Mindfulness sees the goal and, consistent with research, sees the step to take now. Mindfulness moves without the nexting our fixated, over-anticipating minds incline us toward.

So, as you head deeper into the holidays, consider your Grand Canyon hopes and see about (mindfully) making them into daily footsteps on a daily change path. 2022 will arrive. Decisions in the here and now, mindfully made, determine much of what those first intrepid steps into the new year will look like.

Hurry Up and Sit There

Your “nexting” mind-habit will have you react on impulse, often unskillfully. This only reinforces and adds to your habit clutter. When feeling a strong impulse, instead:

  1. Pause and close your eyes, bringing attention to the sensations in your body. 
  2. When the impulse to rush into action returns, wait a bit more, sit and notice more sensations, even thoughts showing up. 
  3. Listen to your body and mind and wonder whether the rush serves or takes from you.

Blood pressure increased during the pandemic

In a new study, researchers have found that blood pressure increased in adults in the United States during the pandemic compared with previous, non-pandemic years.

The research, published in the journal Circulation, makes clear that the health effects of the pandemic include not just the COVID-19 disease but also other, indirect health issues.

Blood pressure

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), blood pressure describes the pressure blood exerts against a person’s arterial walls.

Doctors measure blood pressure at two points: when a person’s heart is pumping, known as systolic blood pressure, and when a person’s heart is resting between beats, known as diastolic blood pressure.

If a person has high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, they are at a greater risk of stroke or heart disease. Hypertension can also damage a person’s liver, eyes, and brain.

The CDC state that 47% of U.S. adults have hypertension, and in 2019 hypertension was the primary or contributing cause of more than 500,000 deaths.

A person can help maintain healthy blood pressure levels by eating a diet low in salt and high in fruit and vegetables, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking, and limiting alcohol intake.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted people’s behavior and access to regular medical care.

Researchers are interested to see if this disruption had an effect on people’s blood pressure levels.

Almost half a million participants

To look at blood pressure levels during the pandemic relative to previous years, a group of scientists studied data from an employee wellness program in the U.S covering 2018–2020.

This involved 464,585 participants, 53.5% of whom were women, with an average age of 45.7 years in 2018. The paper offered no information regarding the racial or ethnic makeup of the participants.

The scientists compared blood pressure levels before the pandemic in 2018, 2019, and until March of 2020, when most U.S. states gave stay-at-home orders. They then compared these levels with those recorded from April–December 2020 during the pandemic.

Blood pressure levels increased

The researchers found that before the pandemic, there was no significant change in blood pressure between years.

However, each month during the pandemic, blood pressure increased by an average of 1.1 to 2.5 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) for systolic blood pressure and 0.14 to 0.53 mmHg for diastolic blood pressure. This was the case for both women and men of different ages.

Women, on average, had greater increases for both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Older participants had greater systolic blood pressure increases, whereas younger participants had greater diastolic blood pressure increases.

Cause?

Speaking to Medical News Today, Dr. Luke Laffin, co-director of the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and the study’s lead author, said that “[d]ietary indiscretion, lack of exercise, central obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and not taking prescribed blood pressure medications can all drive high blood pressure.”

“Other research demonstrates that lifestyle habits like excessive alcohol intake worsened during the pandemic, so it is not surprising that a blood pressure elevation followed.”

“We also know that patients hesitated to see their doctor, particularly in the early part of the pandemic, and that may have contributed to increased blood pressures,” said Dr. Laffin.

Prof. Matthew Bailey, who leads hypertension and renal research at the Centre for Cardiovascular Science at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and was not involved in the study, told MNT that the findings were significant and had global implications.

“This paper has examined almost half a million people and clearly shows that the societal changes [and] restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic have increased blood pressure. The effect is particularly large in women, and there is also an unanticipated increase in young people.”

“A rise in blood pressure of this size increases the risk of debilitating heart attack or stroke. For individuals and their families, cardiovascular disease can be devastating. [F]or governments, these conditions are costly to treat and manage. Health budgets are already overstretched.”

“This study is based in the U.S. but is relevant globally. It provides an early warning signal that poor cardiovascular health might be a big problem a few years down the line,” said Prof. Bailey

Who Qualifies for Student Loan Forgiveness?

As of late 2021, more than 43 million Americans owe an average of $39,351 in student loans. If you are one of them and struggling to make your loan payments, you’ll want to understand what options are available for student loan forgiveness and how to find out if you qualify.

WHAT IS STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS?

The term “loan forgiveness” means the borrower is no longer required to repay some or all of their loan. Eligibility is usually determined by the type of job the borrower holds and the type of student loan they have.

Student loan forgiveness is generally a component of an assistance plan for borrowers who cannot make payments on the standard, 10-year repayment plan that’s part of their loan agreement. Typically, a borrower will pay the least in interest — and repay their loan the fastest — by following their 10-year standard plan. You can save money and pay off the loan even faster by putting more money, such as a tax refund, toward your student loan. 

If you cannot make your loan payments and want to explore repayment options, visit studentaid.gov and use the loan simulator to input your situation and see loan repayment options. The loan simulator will calculate estimated payments for all the federal repayment plans for which you are eligible. Once you have considered the pros and cons of each option, you can determine the best fit and enroll if you would like to proceed.

HOW TO GET FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS FORGIVEN

The U.S. government offers several student loan forgiveness programs for federal student loans, and each program has different eligibility requirements. These programs are not automatic. It’s up to you as the borrower to identify what program you may be eligible for, then work through enrollment requirements.

TEACHER LOAN FORGIVENESS PROGRAM

This program forgives principal up to $17,500 on certain federal loans after borrowers have taught for five complete and consecutive years in low-income schools. Loan forgiveness amounts are either $5,000 or $17,500 depending on the teaching field and other criteria. Teacher Loan Forgiveness is not taxable in the year forgiven under current IRS rules. 

  • Learn more about the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, including eligibility requirements and how to apply.

PUBLIC SERVICE LOAN FORGIVENESS PROGRAM

This program is designed to help borrowers who have large student loans but earn less working in the public service or for 501c3 nonprofits than they could earn in other sectors. For those who qualify, the PSLF program forgives the remaining balance on certain federal loans after borrowers have made 120 on-time payments on a qualified repayment plan. However, whether a borrower will have a loan balance after making 120 payments depends on many factors, including their income and the size of their loan debt; some borrowers may not have a balance left to forgive. 

The PSLF program has many variables, including the types of federal student loans you have, the repayment plan you selected, and the type of job you hold. PSLF forgiveness is not taxable in the year forgiven under current IRS rules.

  • Learn more about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, including eligibility requirements and whether you qualify.
  • Use the loan simulator on studentaid.gov to determine whether PSLF may be a good option for your circumstances.
  • If you are considering applying for PSLF or wonder if you qualify and you have been making payments on your student loan for some time, take time to review the PSLF waiver information. The U.S. Department of Education recently announced changes that could help more borrowers qualify for PSLF. The waiver program is only available through Oct. 31, 2022, so applying now is a good strategy, even if you aren’t sure if you will complete the PSLF process. 

PERKINS LOAN CANCELLATION

Prior to 2018, universities extended Perkins Loans to students with exceptional financial need. Perkins Loans are no longer offered, but borrowers continue to make payments on their balance. These borrowers may qualify for Perkins Loan cancellation based on their profession and a formula that forgives a certain percentage of the loan balance for each year of service. Cancellation of a Perkins Loan typically forgives up to 100 percent of the loan balance over 4-5 years of employment or volunteer service in fields including teaching, medicine, and law enforcement. 

  • Learn more about Perkins Loan cancellation.
  • Contact your university for more information on Perkins Loan cancellation.

INCOME-DRIVEN REPAYMENT FORGIVENESS PROGRAMS

The federal government offers several income-driven repayment plans for various types of federal student loans. These programs are designed for borrowers who have low salaries relative to their student loan balances and don’t earn enough to make payments under a standard repayment plan. 

Under an income-driven repayment forgiveness plan, a borrower makes lower payments for 20 or 25 years (depending on the plan and types of loans). At that point, any remaining loan balance will be forgiven. However, making payments for 20 or 25 years may mean that the total amount you repaid is significantly more than what you would have paid on the standard plan. In addition, the amount forgiven is generally taxable income under current IRS regulations, although the American Rescue Plan provisions make discharge of remaining balances exempt from taxation through 2025.

  • Learn more about income-driven repayment plans and how to submit a request.
  • Use the loan simulator on studentaid.gov to determine whether what loan forgiveness options may work for your circumstances.

FORGIVENESS PLANS FOR CERTAIN PROFESSIONS

There are state and federal plans that assist in repaying or forgiving student loan debt for certain professions. Several programs provide loan repayment or forgiveness for military service for those in medical and legal professions. In addition, some state programs provide partial repayment of federal and/or private loans for borrowers in medical, legal, and teaching professions. 

ARE FORGIVENESS PROGRAMS AVAILABLE FOR PRIVATE STUDENT LOANS? 

Private loans are a contract between the lender, such as a bank, and the borrower. In general, private student loan servicers have not offered loan forgiveness. Some may offer loan short-term forbearance – a temporary postponement or reduction in your payments – but may charge you a fee. To explore what’s possible, contact your private student loan servicer to discuss options. 

Some employers or state grants or programs may provide repayment assistance for private loans. To find out, check with your employer and the student financial aid agency in your state.

WHAT STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS PROPOSALS ARE UNDER CONSIDERATION?

Given the size and scope of student loan debt in the U.S., public officials are continuing to review options for providing relief. For example, on Oct. 6, 2021, the federal government announced a temporary expansion of the PSLF program to allow borrowers to receive credit for payments that previously did not qualify for the program. 

On Nov. 11, 2021, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona noted that recent reforms to the forgiveness process would result in over 30,000 veterans and service members seeing an estimated $2 billion in student loans forgiven in the immediate future. These reforms include automatically crediting service members for their years of service (removing the need to complete and submit paperwork) and expanding the credit to include the time when loans were in deferment or forbearance due to active military service. 

For income-driven repayment options, the U.S. Department of Education is reviewing the implementation of the Expanded Income Contingent Repayment Plan, but details are not yet available.

WHERE CAN I CHECK FOR UPDATES ON STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS?

Always check studentaid.gov, run by the Office of Federal Student Aid within the U.S. Department of Education, as the most accurate and authoritative source of information and updates about federal student loan forgiveness. Many private websites provide information, but their details may not be correct or up-to-date, and those organizations may be selling services related to student loans. 

For information and updates about state programs for student loan forgiveness, check the student financial aid information website for your state.

3 Mental Health Strategies to Defeat Stress and Anxiety in the Workplace

Since the pandemic, business leaders have expanded their mental health benefit offerings to make their teams feel more comfortable and capable. Still, in many cases, employees are not taking advantage of them. Instead, more people than ever are choosing to voluntarily leave a company to take their chances somewhere else, driving unprecedented levels of disengagement and turnover.

According to a new study from Lighthouse Research & Advisory and LifeSpeak, there’s a significant gap between employers and employees concerning the perceived value of existing mental health support in the workplace. And the data shows a clear correlation between this misalignment and the recruiting and retention challenges most companies currently face.

Employers Receive an ‘F’

The 2021 Employer Mental Health Report Card surveyed more than 1,000 large employers and more than 1,000 employees across all industries in the United States. As part of these surveys, each cohort was asked to assess their company’s workplace mental health support on a scale of 1 to 10. The results reveal substantial disparities between employers and employees when it comes to their perception of company-provided mental health support. This was clearly demonstrated in some of the study’s most significant data points:

  • 4.4 – The average score employees gave their organization when asked to rate the mental health support they receive.
  • 7.6 – The average rating employers gave themselves when asked to rate the mental health support they provide.

“In the 10 years I’ve been doing research on employer priorities, this is the first time I’ve seen this big of a gap between the reality that workers and employers perceive,” said Ben Eubanks, chief research officer at Lighthouse Research & Advisory, and primary author of the study.

Despite receiving an extremely low grade from the workforce and giving a relatively modest grade to themselves – an “F” and a “C” using academic grading scales – the research shows that employers are making an effort to address mental health challenges. Among employers surveyed, 58% said they made significant positive changes to their mental health and wellbeing support over the past 18 months.

Eubanks says looking at these datapoints in their entirety indicates that “employers are trying to implement solutions to support mental health needs for the workforce, but the reality is these efforts aren’t being seen, felt, and received by many of the workers they are meant to support.”

3 Strategies to Addressing Gaps in Workplace Care

Nearly half of the surveyed workforce indicated the presence of a relevant mental health program would make them more inclined to remain at their current job and recommend one to a friend.

“Senior leaders are realizing the enormous business value in doing right by their workforce and ensuring they have the mental health support they need,” said Michael Held, CEO and founder of LifeSpeak.

It is more important than ever that business leaders align with their employees on what mental health benefits they desire most. When probing for the best methods to support mental health, the research found consensus on three strategies:

1. Access to qualified experts

Despite being part of their job description, most HR, training and benefits leaders are not certified mental health professionals. Workers have expressed that a critical component of perceived support is making experts available for education, guidance and advice on the topics they care about.

2. Leaders openly supporting mental health conversations

Fostering a strong culture of mental health support starts at the top. The most successful business leaders exhibit openness, honesty and authenticity, and the discussion surrounding mental health should be no exception.

Click Read More to read the full article on Inc.

Are Debt Collectors Allowed to Text Me?

Text messages, along with emailing and direct messages on social media, are allowed as part of an update to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The rule changes were drafted and implemented by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to modernize the guidelines first issued more than 40 years ago, well before text, email and social media existed.

THE NEW RULES REQUIRE A WAY TO OPT OUT

To contact you by text, debt collectors must follow two basic requirements (which also apply to phone calls, email, and social media DMs):

  • They can only get in touch during reasonable hours, 8am to 9pm.
  • Every message must include instructions for a simple, easy-to-use way you can opt out of receiving future communication through that method.

Beyond those two rules, there’s no limit on the number of texts a debt collector can send you. To be prepared, it’s important to know your rights and your options, including ways to make sure the message is really from a debt collector and not a scam artist.

IF YOU GET A TEXT ABOUT A DEBT, VERIFY IT’S LEGITIMATE

Like every other form of communication, texting has become a tool of choice for scammers looking to fool recipients into sharing personal and financial information. 

If you receive a text purporting to be from a debt collector, do not share personal or sensitive information via text message, especially if it’s from someone you do not know. Instead, ask for validating details so you can confirm the debt and the person texting you are legitimate.

Under the CFPB rules, debt collectors must provide details that validate a debt, either at the first point of contact or within five days after the first conversation. The validation information they send you must include:

  • The name of the current creditor
  • Instructions on how to obtain contact information for the original creditor if the debt has been sold
  • The amount of money owed

In addition, you should request the name and contact information for the collection agency in case that’s different from the current creditor.

If the debt information is not familiar, the next step is to get a copy of your credit report, which will list any current debts that you owe. Every consumer is entitled to receive a free copy of their credit report each year from each of the major credit reporting bureaus. Visit annualcreditreport.com to request your free copy.

Once you get your credit report, check to see if the debt cited in the text message is on the list. If it’s there, look for the name of the collection agency that contacted you. If that agency is listed, it’s very likely the debt and the debt collector is legitimate. 

But what if the collection agency isn’t listed in the credit report, or something about it seems off? In that case, contact the original creditor to ask if the debt was sold or for the name of the firm contracted to collect on the debt. If your debt was sold multiple times, you may need to trace back each change of hands to make sure you end up speaking with the right collection agency.

HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH DEBT COLLECTORS

If you’ve validated the debt and confirmed the debt collector who texted you is legitimate, you can decide if and how to respond. Options include:

  • Continuing the conversation via text message
  • Calling the debt collector directly 
  • For larger debt collection agencies, using their website chat tool to communicate with representatives

Most debt collectors will allow you to set up a repayment plan. If you’re able to make a lump sum payment, you may want to negotiate a debt settlement for less than the full balance, which the debt collector may be willing to accept depending on your type of debt.

An important step to take before a conversation is understanding your state’s statutes of limitations on debt. Each state has its own laws detailing how long you are legally responsible for old, unpaid debts, and it’s worth your time to do a bit of research to be informed about your situation. 

Whatever way you choose to communicate, be sure to take notes about each exchange, including who said what and any agreement you reach. If you agree to a settlement or repayment plan, ask for the full details in writing so you have confirmation of it.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: WHAT TO DO IF DEBT COLLECTORS DON’T FOLLOW THE RULES

If a debt collector continues to text after you have opted out, keep a record of your interactions with that person – the dates, times, and messages exchanged. That record will support your case if you decide to file a complaint, which you can do at the federal or state level: 

  • The Federal Trade Commission, at reportfraud.ftc.gov
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, at consumerfinance.gov/complaint
  • Your state’s attorney general at consumerresources.org/file-a-complaint (click the map for your state)

TO MAKE YOUR CASE, BE SURE TO SUBMIT THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION:

  • Your record of interactions with the debt collector 
  • The date and time of when you opted out of text message, ideally with screenshots showing the request submission

Lastly, keep in mind that conversations with debt collectors can be challenging. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied or pushed around. 

Remember that you have rights, and debt collectors must follow the law. While it’s perfectly normal to feel guilty or downhearted about having debt in the collection process, your situation is more common than you may realize – and no one deserves to be treated poorly as a result.

The Guilt of Living with Chronic Pain

A recent study by Danijela Serbic and colleagues, in press in the British Journal of Health Psychology, suggests guilt in chronic pain is associated with “pain and pain interference, functional impairment, and poorer psychological and social functioning.”

But why should chronic pain patients feel guilty? How does guilt affect pain symptoms? And how can we help pain patients avoid guilty feelings?

Before we consider some answers provided by the study, let’s first define chronic pain.

Chronic Pain

Pain is an aversive experience, usually involving unpleasant sensations (e.g., tight, sharp, burning, tender, or throbbing sensations) and negative emotions (e.g., fear, anger, sadness, distress).

In the case of acute pain or short-term pain, these experiences are typically related to tissue damage (e.g., stubbing one’s toe). However, in chronic painor long-term pain—pain lasting three months or more—clear tissue damage is not always present.

Examples of chronic pain conditions, or illnesses sometimes associated with long-term pain, include fibromyalgia, chronic low back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, post-surgical pain, neuropathic pain (e.g., related to diabetes), cancer pain, arthritis pain, and headaches and migraines.

As noted, the link between chronic pain and tissue damage is weak. This may be one reason some physicians seem unwilling to accept that patients complaining of chronic pain are suffering from real pain. And why many chronic pain patients research their symptoms to convince their health providers of the genuineness of their pain—to legitimize their suffering and pain-related behaviors.

But chronic pain is real. It affects one in five people around the world and is linked with depressed mood, negative changes in identity and social roles, and disability. It is also highly costly—in terms of medical costs, informal care provided by the family, absenteeism or reduced productivity at work, etc.

Chronic Pain and Guilt

Many people living with chronic pain experience pain-related guilt. Why? Let us look at the research.

To synthesize the available evidence on the role of guilt in pain, Serbic et al. searched multiple databases and selected a final list of 12 investigations for the qualitative synthesis (410 participants) and six for the quantitative synthesis (2,316 participants).

Synthesis of the qualitative evidence revealed these guilt-related themes:

  1. Others assuming the patient’s pain condition is not legitimate. Patients who had not received a diagnosis yet or were exposed to opinions questioning the legitimacy of their condition reported feeling guilty or feeling like a fraud (i.e. as if they were faking their symptoms). Example: The pain “made me feel kind of guilty… You know, there’s not real proof with back pain, anybody can say my back hurts.”
  2. Others assuming the person is not managing the condition well enough. Some people living with chronic pain felt guilty for not complying (or being able to comply) with the treatment. Example: “You feel like you’re letting the doctor down.”
  3. Assumptions regarding how one’s actions affect others in terms of the person’s inability to work or fulfill social roles (e.g., parental duties or duties as a coworker). Example: “As your children grow up with you in pain, you are likely to feel guilty because they have to face issues and shoulder burdens that other kids don’t.”

The results of the quantitative synthesis were grouped into the following categories:

  1. Pain and pain interference: Pain-related guilt was positively associated with pain behaviors and with pain interference with relationships, sleep, work, etc.
  2. Functional impairment: Guilt correlated with worse physical functioning and greater fatigue and disability.
  3. Psychological functioning and coping strategies: Pain-related guilt was linked with diagnostic uncertainty, lower pain acceptance, and greater pain catastrophizing (more magnification, rumination, and helplessness).
  4. Psychological functioning and emotions: People who experienced pain-related guilt tended to feel anxious, depressed, and angry.
  5. Social functioning: Guilt correlated with social isolation and perceived criticism (e.g., by treatment providers).
  6. Demographics: Here, the results were inconsistent. While one investigation found women felt more pain-related worry and guilt, another investigation found no gender differences.

This Was My Proudest Moment As a Dad (So Far)

The little victories here, the little mess-ups there can make it feel as though you’re barely scraping by. But then one day your child does something that takes you by surprise. No, not making an epic fart noise or nailing a great top-rope move onto you from the arm of the couch (but those are still awesome). We’re talking about moments of kindness, empathy, fearlessness, or creativity that stop you in your tracks, fill you with pride, and make you think “Huh, I guess we’re doing alright.” It’s essential to think back on these moments and give yourself permission to feel good about them. That’s coal for the engine. To that end, we asked 14 dads to think on and share their proudest moment. Here’s what they said.

1. When My Toddler “Opened Her Own Business”

“One of the proudest moments I’ve ever had was when my daughter was four. I’ve been a business owner for years now, and I burst with pride when she told me she wanted to open her own business. She wanted to open her own organic fruit flavored bubbles business because, ‘There are no bubbles you can eat that taste good.’ It was adorable and I had to laugh at her delegation skills, because she was the ‘idea person’ and I was ‘the worker’ to make all the bubbles she needed to create. As silly as it was, I was proud of her for her entrepreneurial spirit.” – Glen, 32, Texas

2. When My Son Earned His Black Belt

My proudest moment was when my son earned his black belt in tae kwon do. My wife was also going for her black belt at the same time, so there was a little friendly competition between them. The week following the test, we waited for the phone call from their instructor and, when it finally came, we learned that my son had passed but my wife hadn’t. She was disappointed, but so proud of our son. She passed after two more attempts, which proved how difficult the test actually was, and reminded us both how proud we were of our son and our family.” – Chris, 46, England

3. When My Son Donated His Savings.

“I’m a parent of two boys — six and two — so I’ve experienced tons of moments where I’ve felt proud of them. But the proudest moment in my life, as a father, was when my six year old learned about Hurricane Ida. After hearing about its impact, he asked to donate the money he had saved for a trip to Disneyland. I took him to the American Red Cross the next day, and he brought his piggy bank.” – Bill, 41, Wyoming 

4. When My Son Stopped a Friend from Getting Bullied.

“Spoiler alert: my son got beat up. But I was told he did it because he stood up to a kid who was bullying another kid. He doesn’t even know the kid that well – the one being bullied – which I think is what made me so proud. Like he was just doing the right thing. He saw someone being picked on, and he got involved. That shows courage and selflessness in a way I’m not sure I had when I was his age. Like I said, he took a beating. But he wasn’t even upset. He almost didn’t get that what he did was the ‘right thing’. It was more like, ‘Someone was being bullied. What else was I supposed to do? Just let it happen?’ As a dad, that’s a huge reason to be proud.” – Michael, 40, Texas

5. When My Daughter Went Zip-lining.

“Growing up, I didn’t have a very close relationship with my father. Now that I have kids of my own, I have put in a tremendous amount of time since they were born to ensure that I am there when they need me. One of the proudest moments I had with my daughter was when we visited Guatemala. We had planned to go zip-lining but, since she’s so scared of heights, I wasn’t sure if she would. She made us so proud when she didn’t show any hesitation the moment they harnessed her up. And, even better, she didn’t have any regrets after, and overcame her fear of heights.” – Alex, California 

6. When My Son Assisted an Elderly Woman

“I’m the father of two toddlers, and we do our best to raise them as good, respectful boys. One time, while we were with them in preschool, an older woman who was there for her grandchild, was sitting in the waiting area. Once it was time to fetch the kid, she stood up, ready to get him as he came out. My son was also running towards me, but then when he saw the old lady, she began walking slowly, took her hand and said ‘Are you okay? Be careful!’ The woman appreciated the gesture, and allowed him to walk her to the door. I was so proud to see my son growing into such a kind-hearted, responsible person.” – Ian, 38, California

7. When My Son Helped Me Shovel the Driveway

“He’s 7, and one winter day we got completely snowed in. I was out working for about an hour when I turned around and saw my son standing there with his little toy shovel ready to help. I asked him what he was doing, and he said that he didn’t want me to have to do it all by myself. I was actually close to being finished by the time he came out, but he was able to scrape up some of the little patches at the end of the driveway. The snow stayed for a while, but the gesture melted my heart as a very proud father.” — Robert, 42, Maryland 

8. When My Daughter Comforted a Girl at the Dentist

“My daughter is pretty brave when it comes to just about everything. So, in this situation, it wasn’t her bravery I was super proud of, it was her compassion. We were walking out of her dentist appointment, at which she’d had her first cavity taken care of. There was another girl in the waiting room with her mother, obviously very scared. My daughter walked over to her and asked if she was afraid and, when she said she was, my daughter told her the dentist was really nice, and she didn’t need to be scared. The girl smiled, which hit me in the feels, and my daughter said the whole thing with a numb mouth and extra drool, which made it super cute.” – Darrell, 37, Ohio 

5 Tips to Be Happier Today

It’s gloomy outside of my window as I type. Everything is gray. The days are getting shorter. And at mid-life, there are all kinds of stressors! If you’re at all like me and could use a pick-me-up on this, the Monday after Thanksgiving (or, as my friend Becky Burch writes, The Monday-est of All Mondays), here are five Darwininian-inspired tips. 

The evolutionary perspective on human emotions holds that our emotions, including happiness, evolved as they did to serve important evolutionary functions for our ancestors during the bulk of human evolutionary history.1Under these conditions, largely when ancestrally modern humans lived in the African savanna in small, tight-knit groups, people experienced happiness when they encountered outcomes that would have been associated with survival and/or reproductive success. Such outcomes would have included, for instance:

  • Finding a great new food source
  • Creating something that is admired by others
  • Natural phenomena such as a fresh water stream during drought conditions
  • Sharing laughter and stories with family members
  • Experiencing mutual love with a partner who is adoring, trustful, and attractive

As we experience the time of year associated with waning sunlight in North America, here are five ways to harness happiness based on this evolutionarily informed approach.2

1. Eat something healthy and yummy.

Under ancestral conditions, humans evolved to prefer foods that put fat on one’s bones, anticipating drought and famine. For this reason, we evolved to prefer foods that are high in things like carbohydrates and salt. Ironically, the modern food industry has hijacked these food preferences. And this is why places like Burger King are so good at making money but also at distributing food that is obnoxiously unhealthy.

For these reasons, eating something that is simply tasty does not always have happiness-inducing effects in the modern world. Tasty foods, such as chocolate chip cookies that are fresh from the oven, come with a price. And such foods might come with guilt from not being able to control one’s impulses.

Natural foods, which map onto the kinds of foods that our ancestors would have eaten before the advent of agriculture, can be tasty but they are also generally guilt-free. Find your favorite tasty natural treat today. It may be grapes, clementines, salmon, sweet potatoes, etc. Eat something tasty and natural today, and do it with a guilt-free smile.

2. Create and share something today.

The creative spirit is a basic part of our evolved psychology. We admire creative others and we tend to take joy in the creative process. Under ancestral conditions, creativity was widely respected, likely as it had all kinds of benefits when it came to surviving and reproducing.3 Further, creativity is an inherently social endeavor. And sharing with others is a critical piece of happiness in a species such as ours with sociality being so foundational.

When it comes to forms of creativity, the options are nearly endless. Write a quick story or joke to share with a friend. Or a poem that captures your spirit today. Or maybe draw something. Perhaps a doodle during that department meeting will emerge into something that makes you really smile. Whether it is big or small, I say try to create something every day. And share it with someone who will appreciate it. And maybe see if they will share back. Sharing creative products, no matter how small, provides a simple route to joy on a daily basis. 

3. Get out into nature. 

Sure, it’s harder to get out into nature when it’s cold and gloomy outside. Add a saturated schedule to this and you’ve got a recipe for staying indoors and doing not much of anything. But remember, for the lion’s share of human evolutionary history, our ancestors were outside constantly. We evolved to be surrounded by fresh air as well as both plant and animal life. Natural water features, sky, and sun were all regular players in the daily lives of our ancestors. As such, we evolved a strong love for nature that goes deep into our evolved psychology.4

It might be a two-mile run before work. Or a quick walk in a park near the office. Or maybe, if time allows, an intensive hike deep into the woods. But whatever your schedule allows, make sure to get some outside time with some elements of nature in it. Nature experiences famously go hand-in-hand with happiness.

4. Share and communicate with family members today. 

As is true in many species, kin matter quite a bit in the human experience. From an evolutionary perspective, kin are those special people in the world who disproportionately share specific genetic combinations with ourselves. As a consequence, kin have an inherent evolutionary interest in our successes. This is why “blood is thicker than water.”

Think of a family member whom you get along with well and send them a text or give them a call. No agenda is needed. Just make sure that there are some laughs involved. 

5. Make time for love. 

In the human experience, love and happiness go hand-in-hand.5 For this reason, finding and cultivating loving relationships is a critical part of being human. And love has a way of facilitating happiness that truly cannot be matched.

Study links sleep breathing disorders to severe COVID-19 outcomes

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and the disease remains highly variable from patient to patient, it is critical to improve our ability to predict who will have more severe illness so that we can appropriately allocate resources,” says Dr. Reena Mehra. 

Dr. Mehra is the senior investigator of the new Cleveland Clinic study, which has identified certain sleep disorders as factors that may result in more severe COVID-19 outcomes.

The study finds that people with COVID-19 who experience sleep disordered breathing have a 31% higher likelihood of hospitalization and death.

The study authors write, “Chronic exposure to sleep-related hypoxia may serve as a priming mechanism to the untoward consequences of COVID-19 illness.”

The study’s lead author, Dr. Cinthya Peña Orbea, explained to Medical News Today:

“It is possible that increased hypoxia caused by disordered breathing during sleep leads to increased inflammation in different organs in our body, including the brain, lungs, and heart, resulting in more severe COVID-19.”

The research found no evidence that any of the breathing disorders makes a person more likely to acquire SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Sleep medicine specialist Dr. Atul Malhotra, who was not involved in the study, told MNT that there is likely a much simpler reason that many people contract the infection:

“I think the risk of who gets [the infection] is probably related to wearing a mask and getting vaccinated and also social distancing, those kinds of things.”

The Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit academic medical center in Cleveland, OH. The new study has been published in JAMA Network Open.

What is sleep disordered breathing?

Sleep disordered breathing is a common syndrome, characterized by an abnormal respiratory pattern during sleep. It includes snoring, upper airway resistance syndrome, and obstructive sleep apnea. Recent data suggests that it affects 1 billion people globally.

The syndrome is known to cause hypoxia, an insufficient supply of oxygen. “Hypoxia” is also used as shorthand for “hypoxemia,” which refers to an inadequate amount of oxygen in the blood.

Snoring

“Between a third and half of people snore,” said Dr. Malhotra. “Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.”

“So,” he continued, “when we worry about snoring is if it’s habitual, like they snore all night every night, or if it’s very loud, where the spouse is in a different room. The other time you worry about it is if somebody has daytime sleepiness. Then we take it more seriously.”

“But what I usually say is just, ‘If you’re concerned about it, talk to your doctor.’ There are different questionnaires that have been validated, but basically, the history and physical exam can be quite helpful.”

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the perfect day to let your family and friends know how important they are to you.  As a former player, your closest friends and your family have likely been a part of your journey on the field and transitioning to life after football.  Make sure they know how thankful you are to have them in your corner.

We wish you all a happy and safe Thanksgiving and want to thank each and every one of you for coming to yourPAF.com and being a part of our family.

Why Chemistry Is Mistaken for Compatibility

My tenth-grade chemistry teacher warned, be careful with these substances because some don’t mix well together. 

Since then, I have learned the same is true about relationships. Just because there is an initial explosive reaction, it doesn’t mean a Fourth of July parade will follow. We mistakenly convince ourselves if the fireworks are present, it is validation that a compatible match is knocking on our door. If the rockets of euphoria do not launch, we tell ourselves to close that door.

A former client who described himself as a confirmed, unhappy bachelor sat across from me, calmly describing a recent second date he had, “We laughed and talked about our crazy interest in quirky books and off-peak travel. She is different from what I am used to. I was so relaxed.”

Before he could finish his next thought, I said, “It sounds like some great chemistry is brewing.”

He laughed and commented, ” I was just going to say, it’s a shame I didn’t feel any chemistry with her.”

I encouraged him to give it at least five dates since he enjoyed her company. They were married 18 months later. He shared that their second child was on the way during the last update I received, and he was living in bliss.

As a mental health educator focused on helping people navigate the nuances of relationships, one of the classic mistakes I have seen over the years is individuals tricking themselves into falling for a partner based on a fleeting chemical reaction.

A woman told me,

Sheila when I met him, there was so much heat between us. We rarely went out. We just wanted to be alone together all the time- we could not keep our hands off each other. Today we are struggling and have nothing in common. I hang on because we once really had something.

Herein lies the moment of self-deception.

Did she really have something? A more appropriate statement would have been that we once had something based on a fleeting physical attraction.

The infamous Mount Fuji Volcano last erupted in 1707 – no doubt, a remarkable sight. Can you imagine standing at the base of this volcano for 400 years, waiting for the next combustible reaction? Of course not. Those cataclysmic burst are not built to last- it’s a mistake to insist that they do. 

Chemistry can signal the mix is compatible, yet compatibility goes the distance in relationships. Compatibility allows couples to enjoy the warmth of a consistently cozy- sometimes roaring fire- without falling into chilly relationship states, desperate for a bit of heat.

Three key questions to ask yourself on the quest to secure a suitable mate are:

  1. Based on who I am, what main characteristics do I require from a mate to enjoy a harmonious relationship?
  2. Beyond a physical attraction, what am I seeing and experiencing with this person that leads me to believe we are compatible?
  3. Do this person’s core values, standards, and communication style mirror my own?

The time to gain clarity around compatibility factors is when you’re on the shore enjoying the sun and sand, not in the middle of the ocean sailing.

The primary reasons relationships fail are cheating and high conflict. These issues are far less likely to rear their ugly heads in compatible pairings.

The Power of a “We”

Pronouns have long been at the crux of heated debate and social reform—not only in terms of how we express gender, but also how our usage reveals how we relate to one another. 

In looking at pronoun choice in a variety of high-stakes contexts, psychologists and linguists have discovered that our pronoun patterns reveal a lot about how we express power and social status. 

The Pronouns of a Leader

Looking at the way pronouns pattern in the speech of higher status vs. lower status participants in interactions, particularly those in an employment context, psychologist James Pennebaker and his colleagues found that those who took on leadership roles used fewer first-person singular words (I, me, my) and more plural words (we, our, they), while those in subordinate roles used I-words more.

This may at first seem surprising, as using “I” might seem to be the ultimate power word—as in “I expect” or “I need.” But as anyone trying to effectively parent or supervise has learned, telling someone what they need to do by couching in it terms of what you want rarely works. Instead, to build a team, to motivate people, you have to convince people you are in it together and that it benefits them as well as you. So, welcome to the world of “we” and “us,” rather than “I.”

Political Pronouns

Since using “we” more than “I” seems to carry with it a sense of collective experience and a correlation with leadership, politicians have, not surprisingly, jumped quickly on that rhetorical bandwagon. 

A study that examined campaign speeches of Australian Prime Ministerial candidates found that the candidates who were victorious used more inclusive “we” and “us” pronouns than those who lost in 80 percent of all elections. What’s more, a series of data analyses for the “Language Log” blog run by the University of Pennsylvania Professor Mark Liberman found that there has been a clear increase in second person plural pronoun usage across presidential State of the Union addresses since World War II.

This research suggests that we prefer leaders whose linguistic behavior indicates that they see themselves as “one of us” and socially identify as part of a collective rather than those who set themselves apart through the use of self-referring pronouns. However, this bent toward preferring political leaders who prioritize social connectedness rather than exceptionality and unique experience does not seem to have always been the case, with this increasing preference for use of inclusive “we” and “us” found only in presidential speeches over the last century.

So the “I”s Don’t Have It?

Of course, first-person pronoun use (e.g., I or me) is not negative; it may simply reflect a status difference or an awareness of the language that is appropriate to get things done in different contexts. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of how our use of pronouns comes across.

Understanding Your Credit Score

he higher your credit score, the lower the risk you represent to the lender. That’s important because the best terms and interest rates will be offered to applicants with scores in the higher ranges.

While two people with very different credit scores might both be offered a loan, for example an auto loan, the person with the low score might be required to have a substantial down payment and be offered a much higher interest rate than the individual with the high score. The person with the lower credit score is going to pay more for the use of credit than an individual with a high score.

WHAT IS A GOOD CREDIT SCORE?

FICO, the company that created the most widely used credit score, has a score range of 300-850. FICO provides the following ranges as a guide:

Credit Score RangesRating
<580Poor
580-669Fair
670-739Good
740-799Very Good
800+Exceptional

Lenders usually have internal lending guidelines and set their own ranges for what they consider to be “poor,” “good,” or “excellent” credit scores. Their ranges may, or may not, match FICO’s guide.

HOW IS A CREDIT SCORE CALCULATED?

While the exact formula that FICO uses to calculate a credit score is proprietary, they have identified the five key factors, in order of how they are weighted:

  • Payment history: 35%
  • Amounts owed: 30%
  • Length of credit history: 15%
  • New credit: 10%
  • Types of credit used: 10%

Bear in mind that your credit score is a snapshot in time and may fluctuate from month to month depending on your circumstances. Don’t focus on the exact score from month to month, but rather where your number falls within the ranges. 

HOW TO CHECK YOUR CREDIT SCORE

If you don’t have a recent credit score, it’s a good idea to get your current number – especially if you’re about to make a major purchase and don’t want any surprises. You have several options for getting your score.

Check first with financial institutions, creditors, and commercial companies where you have accounts. They often provide credit scores to customers for free, sometimes with a requirement that you sign up for certain services like identity monitoring. If you don’t have access to a free credit score, you can purchase your credit score from FICO at myfico.com.

HOW TO GET YOUR CREDIT REPORT

FICO and other organizations that issue credit scores calculate your number using information from your credit report, which is handled by three national credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. To better understand your credit score, you’ll need to review your credit report.

You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus once per year by submitting a request through AnnualCreditReport.com. Typically, you can only get a copy of each credit report for free one time per year, but there are exceptions:

  • If you are denied credit, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that credit bureaus provide you with a free copy of the credit report used in the decision.
  • Due to the COVID pandemic, the three credit bureaus are making free credit reports available weekly through AnnualCreditReport.com until April 20, 2022. This access has been very helpful for making sure creditors are reporting accurately based on various COVID pandemic relief requirements of the federal CARES Act and American Rescue Plan.

HOW TO REVIEW YOUR CREDIT REPORT

Once you get your credit reports, review the information for each credit entry carefully to check it for accuracy. If any information is inaccurate, you can dispute it through the credit bureau’s website. If you see items on your report that you believe are fraudulent, you could be a victim of identity theft. If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, visit the  Federal Trade Commission website to learn how to recover.

HOW TO HANDLE NEGATIVE ITEMS IN YOUR CREDIT REPORT

If you have some negative items in your credit report, those items will most likely not be removed for at least seven years from the date the negative activity occurred. Making payments on time going forward will continue to improve your score, and lenders typically give greater weight to more recent history. 

It might be tempting to close some of your credit accounts, but in most cases, keeping credit accounts open is likely to help you, not hurt you. While potential creditors do look at the amount of outstanding credit you have available, they also look at the length of your credit history, as well as your credit utilization. Closing older, lesser-used accounts actually can impact your score in two ways:

  1. by decreasing the length of credit history and 
  2. by increasing the percentage of your total credit you are using. 

New credit, which is one of the factors used in calculating the score, includes the number of recent account inquiries as well as the number of new accounts opened.

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR CREDIT SCORE 

If your credit score isn’t in the range you’d like, there are no shortcuts to improving the number immediately. However, applying good credit practices over time can help bring up your score. Here’s are key steps to take:

  • Make payments to creditors on time and in full. This is the most impactful way to improve or maintain your credit score. Make at least the minimum payment, if not more. Be sure to make payment by the due date because payment history is 35% of your credit score calculation.
  • Take care of any delinquent payments. If you have missed payments that are considered delinquent, it is important to make up those payments as soon as you can and stop the reporting of delinquent status. While not all creditors report on time payments, they do report payments that are delinquent. They also consider the length and severity of delinquencies.
  • Make sure that you aren’t using the full credit limit available to you. The amount of money you owe relative to your credit limits on revolving debt is called your credit utilization. It makes up 30% of your credit score calculation. A high level of credit utilization can push your credit score down, even if you are paying off your balances in full each month. If you have high balances compared to your credit limit, focus on paying them down to improve your credit score over time.
  • Report different types of financial data. For a fee, alternative credit-building services can provide the credit bureaus with your payment history for expenses including rent and utilities, and that can make a positive impact on your credit score. Be sure to review pricing to ensure these services are worth the cost within your circumstances. 

HOW CAN A DEBT MANAGEMENT PLAN HELP IMPROVE MY CREDIT SCORE?

For consumers who are struggling with credit card debt and have a low credit score, a debt management plan can help you rebuild credit and contribute to improving your credit score over time. 

While there is no immediate way to get a higher credit score, MMI has found that consumers who enroll in a debt management plan and follow it see improvement within the first year, then see continuing gains as their payment history improves and their credit utilization goes down.

To determine how a debt management plan might impact your credit score, MMI reviewed multiple years of anonymized data for clients we have worked with. Here’s what we found:

  • Clients who enrolled in a DMP – and stayed enrolled – had a 43-point average increase in their credit score over the first year.
  • Those clients saw a cumulative 62-point average increase in their credit score over two years.
  • Clients who completed a debt management plan saw their credit score increase an average of 88 points

MMI clients who received one-time debt counseling, but who didn’t do a debt management plan, also saw improvements, although not as much:

  • An average 23-point increase over the next year.
  • An average 37-point increase over two years.

HOW TO GET HELP REBUILDING CREDIT AND YOUR CREDIT SCORE

If you’re struggling with credit card debt and looking for a way to improve your credit score, we can help. A debt management plan sets up a strategy for you to make consistent monthly payments to your creditors. Some creditors may choose to bring accounts enrolled in a debt management plan to “current” status despite previous missed payments, and that change is shared with the three credit bureaus. 

Making consistent payments, stopping delinquent status, and paying down credit cards will all make a positive impact on your credit report and your credit score over time.

How Self-Determination Theory Can Help Parents Raise Independent Kids

After all, control in the form of harsh discipline, ultimatums, yelling or coercion often feels like the best way to protect children and teach them to be good people. But a child who is forced to behave isn’t an independent and self-determined child. So how do you raise a kid who will be autonomous and make life easier by reducing caregiving burdens? That’s a puzzle that might best be solved by self-determination theory.

What is Self-Determination Theory

Introduced to psychology in the 1980s by Edward L. Deci and Richard Ryan, self-determination theory (or SDT) suggests that people perform best when three fundamental needs are satisfied: They feel a sense of autonomy, experience mastery and competence and feel a genuine connection to others. And research seems to suggest that’s as true for adults as it is for kids.

“SDT proposes that when children understand why something is important they feel autonomous,” explains Dr. Genevieve Mageau, a researcher and psychology professor at University of Montreal. “They can act in a structured environment and feel completely autonomous if they agree with the rules and the structure.”

Importantly, SDT says parents are being counterproductive when they attempt to force a child into understanding through controlling methods like punishment, awards, yelling or coercion. “The controlling behaviors simply do not work for the internalization of values,” Mageau says. “When they feel controlled, children either resist or submit themselves. But they don’t necessarily take the time to reflect about whether what they’re doing is important.”

The Science of Parenting with Autonomy Support

There is research to show that when parents take the time to support their child’s autonomy, those children perform better. In 2007, for instance, a collaborative study between researchers from Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Illinois looked at psychological and academic outcomes in relation to autonomy supporting parenting. Researchers followed 806 Chinese and American seventh graders for 6 months, measuring self-reported levels of autonomy support or control from parents, along with the children’s own sense of emotional health and academic achievement. Grades were also measured.

Researchers found that reports of less control and more support of autonomy from parents were highly correlated with better academic achievement. But not only that, those children experienced increased levels of emotional and mental well being.

A more recent meta-analysis published in 2015 by researchers from the University of Texas Austin looked at 36 studies related to children and self-determination theory. The researchers wrote that they did, in fact, find a correlation between autonomy support and positive outcomes in academic achievement. But they also noted positive outcomes were seen in related areas including “autonomous motivation, psychological health, perceived competence, perceived control, engagement and effort, attitudes toward school, self-regulation, and executive functioning.”

Mageau notes that while these studies show the promise of SDT, there is also plenty of research that shows typical methods of parental discipline and behavior modification are counter productive. “Threatening children, punishment, guilt inducement. All those behaviors have been related to negative outcomes, repeatedly,” she explains. “What SDT does is show that any human being that feels controlled will not result in positive outcomes compared to when we support their autonomy.”

How to Raise Autonomous Kids via Self-Determination Theory

The main lesson that SDT offers parents is to give up a bit of control. But that doesn’t mean complete, hands-off, free-range parenting. Relinquishing control is more about finding new strategies that help a child understand why it’s important to act in a way parents want them to act.

2021 Holiday Gift Guide

What should you get for all the beloved but quirky, picky, fancy, practical or eccentric people in your life? Let our experts help. We’ve curated the best gifts to help you check everyone off your list. 

A note: Given supply chain issues this year, it’s especially important to check availability and delivery times.

(Click Read More for the full list of Guides)

How to Increase Your Motivation and Change Bad Habits

These reward centres secrete a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which creates a feeling of pleasure and motivation in an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). Other centres of the brain such as the rational prefrontal cortex (PFC), the memory-holding hippocampus and the emotional amygdala are also connected to the NAcc and can increase or decrease the levels of pleasure we experience with the judgments they make.

Imagine you are eating a delicious dinner and loads of dopamine molecules are ‘tickling’ your NAcc as you bite into an amazing Florentine steak. Suddenly, you get a call to tell you that somebody in your family is ill, or your boss calls to give you some bad news on the project you were working on. How is your dinner now? The PFC has made a calculation about what this news means, using some facts taken from the hippocampus’s library of memories and triggering relevant emotions in the amygdala. Anxiety, fear, stress, and shock can completely block the satisfaction of even the greatest pleasures.

The opposite can happen too, the PFC’s positive expectations can boost the sensation of pleasure. Imagine that you are in a Michelin-starred restaurant. You have been waiting for this day. Finally, it is here. And what is this? Waiters dressed in white tuxedos bring huge plates with small blobs of red mash. You have no idea what the food is, but you take a bite of it on the end of the spoon and you expect nothing but total deliciousness. And it is indeed delicious, partly because of all the amazing combinations of flavours, and partly because your PFC has been expecting it and has amplified the pleasure even more.

Emotional pain and fear centres are another part of the story. The main area for these is the amygdala, which keeps track of all the things that might have caused you damage in the past. However, the amygdala, being part of the mammal brain, is relatively primitive and often looks at immediate consequences rather than long-term effects. The same applies to the reward centres of the brain, namely the areas called nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which create a feeling of pleasure.

For example, the delicious creamy pastry you might have for afternoon tea today will definitely give you a big dopamine kick, causing pleasure and a desire to have it again. A few hours later you might feel sluggish and have difficulty focusing on the task at hand, but the mammal brain centres might not have linked it to the coffee and sugary snack you had before. As a daily habit, long term this can cause weight gain, loss of productivity and type II diabetes, with the gruesome possibility of losing your toes, as well as brain and body inflammation – loads of unpleasant, health-threatening consequences. Doesn’t sound good, does it? But does your mammal brain want to think about that? Of course not. And that’s why we need to use our powerful rational PFC.

First, we have to come up with a list of as many benefits of changing that habit as we can and another list of negative consequences now and in the long term if we don’t change it. Let’s take replacing sugary snacks with healthier options as a desired change. We are aiming to write down around 50 benefits of the new behaviour and 50 drawbacks of being stuck in the old pattern to reinforce our motivation to change. To come up with such a large number of benefits and drawbacks for the new and the old behaviour, think of eight main areas of your life such as work, family, romantic relationship, social life, hobbies, physical health, mental health, and personal growth or spiritual practices. Now go through each of these areas one by one and come up with as many benefits of the new behaviours and as many drawbacks of the old as you can for each of them. It might be helpful to take an A4 piece of paper, draw one vertical line in the middle and three equally spaced horizontal lines crossing it. That would divide the paper into eight equal squares. Dedicate each square to a different area of your life and label the squares. Draw a ‘+’ on the left of each square and write as many benefits as you can think of for replacing sugary snacks with healthier options.

America’s Going to the Gym Again.

lison Phillips, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, grew so, so tired of using the elliptical machine in her home, day after day, for over a year during the pandemic. First off, the repetition was aching her feet. But even worse, it hurt her mind. “It’s boring,” says Phillips. “Same thing, all the time.” So two weeks to the day after Phillips received her second COVID-19 vaccine shot, she returned to her local gym. “I needed the variety of activities,” says Phillips. “For not just my feet, but for interest sake.”

After going back to the gym, Phillips noticed that she was much more outgoing than she had been during her pre-pandemic workouts. “Seeing people was really important to me,” she says. “This was funny to me.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic, says Phillips, “I didn’t go to the gym for social ties, because I had small children and a full-time job. I was there to be efficient. I would avoid people so I didn’t have to talk.” Now, Phillips found herself budgeting ten minutes or so of extra time at her gym in Ames, Iowa for chit-chat. “I started talking to people that I had seen for years before the pandemic, and I had never talked them,” she says. “But I got back and I said, ‘I’m so happy to see you.’ I was motivated to chat with people. That was nice, to see people and be recognized by others. We had this shared sense of, we want to be here. And we’ve made it through this pandemic. It was just a breath of fresh air socially. And I changed as a person.”

Plus, socializing at the gym has improved her workouts. “My mood has been better,” says Phillips. “And when your mood is better, you have more energy to put into exercise.”

Many Americans, it seems, share Williams’ newfound affinity for the gym. Visits have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels; gym visits were down just 8% in early October compared the same period 2019, according to data cited by CNBC. On Nov. 4, Planet Fitness, the gym chain with more than 2,000 locations, reported a solid rebound in the third quarter: revenue increased 46% to $154.3 million compared to the same period a year ago. Net income increased to $21.9 million, versus a $3.3 million net loss in the third quarter of 2020. Planet Fitness CEO Chris Rondeau said during an earnings call that membership was at 97% of pre-pandemic totals, at more than 15 million. Planet Fitness’ stock price rose 16% over the next two days.

Meanwhile, shares of Peloton, the web-connected home exercise bike and treadmill that grew in popularity as Americans were cooped up in their living rooms during the pandemic shutdowns, have fallen more than 40% since the company announced worse than expected earnings on the same day as Planet Fitness’s results. Peloton posted lower-than-expected revenue and a higher-than-expected net loss of $376 million, or $1.25 per share, for its most recent quarter.

During the height of the pandemic, such a reversal of fortunes for Planet Fitness and Peloton seemed almost unimaginable. Home exercise proved convenient, while crowded gyms seemed ripe for the spread of the virus. Phillips—who has studied the benefits of group exercise, which include lower stress levels and significant improvements in mental, physical, and emotional quality of life—worried that gyms would go under. “People were working out at home and became good at it,” she says.

But it turns out that people missed their old routines. And this news doesn’t just bode well for Planet Fitness. The comeback of gym workouts mark a return to pre-pandemic normalcy. And assuming countless people like Williams are embracing lost human connectivity at the gym, the success of chains like Planet Fitness could make America a happier place.

How to Get Your Big Ideas Noticed By the Right People

When I ask my undergraduate students at Brandeis what they hope for in their future jobs, their answers typically involve making an impact. They have big, sometimes revolutionary, ideas around how to address climate change and social justice issues. They talk about ways we can improve our efficiency by updating outdated communication systems, and even pitch solutions that could help big corporations market their products to younger consumers. But most of all, they are excited to put their pitches into practice — that is, until they get their first jobs and realize they have much less power than they had imagined.

I feel for them, and for anyone making their way into the corporate world for the very first time. It’s not easy to turn an idea into a reality, especially when you are in an entry-level role with limited resources and connections. The people who do have the power to make big decisions often have their own beliefs and assumptions about how to do business based on what has, and has not, worked in the past. If those people are not on your side, they can present you with some serious roadblocks.

So, how do you work around them and get your big ideas noticed, especially as a young person in the workforce?

I’ll tell you what I tell my students: You don’t. You work with them. To make a real impact, you need to get the right people — people with decision-making power — to listen and believe in you.

Here’s how.

First, figure out who holds the power to implement your idea.

Before you pitch your idea, ask yourself: Who has the power to decide whether or not it will be implemented, and what they will base their decision on?

Sometimes this question will be easier to answer than others, depending on what kind of company you work at. Organizations with a clear, hierarchical structure are more likely to have a well-defined process around who needs to approve an idea before it is executed. But organizations with a flat structure, in which there is no real “person in charge” at each level, can be more difficult to navigate.

Take the time to study these dynamics at your own company. There are a few tools you can use to help you diagnose who holds the ultimate decision-making power. One of the most common is called a RACI matrix. The acronym “RACI” stands for the four roles people usually play on a team or project. Here’s a simple breakdown:

  • Responsible: the people who are in charge of completing tasks or reaching an objective.
  • Accountable: the person who must sign off on the work of the group mentioned above, and give final approval.
  • Consulted: the people who need to give input in order for the group in charge of completing tasks to do their work.
  • Informed: the people who need to be updated on the status of the project and the decisions that are being made.

Creating this matrix will help you clarify the roles and responsibilities at each level of your organization. Most likely, the person you identify as “accountable” is the one who will say ultimately say “yes” or “no” to your idea.

Note that it’s rare for one person to have all the deciding power. More likely, it will be broken up among different leaders who are accountable for different teams, projects, or people.

For example, let’s say you have a fresh idea around how to engage a new audience for a particular marketing campaign. It may be easiest (and fastest) to look for the person who drives your overall engagement strategy. This could be the leader of the marketing division, or someone who works closely under them. Using the RACI matrix, you may discover that this person makes the final decisions on engagement initiatives, but also relies heavily on specific members of their leadership team for input, and considers market data before making big decisions.

Whatever team, project, or division your idea falls under, get to know what leaders are involved in those areas of your company, and ask around to learn about what factors they consider when making choices.

Choose your champion.

Even after you identify the decision-maker, it’s unlikely that you will get direct access to them. Few young professionals have the social capital to get their ideas immediately noticed by the right people. That’s why you need a champion — someone to advocate for your idea in the high-level meetings and discussions that you probably won’t be invited to.

Picking the right champion will depend on the magnitude of your idea. If it’s a smaller idea, or one that won’t cause significant disruption (like experimenting with a social media post, or reaching out to a new type of client), you might be able to find a champion who has the direct power to put your idea into motion. But if your idea is more disruptive (updating an age-old business model or restructuring a team’s entire workflow), you might need to find a different kind of champion: someone who has acquired a level of informal power that allows them to exert influence over those who are formally in charge.

Take the previous example of engaging a new audience for a marketing campaign. Your champion might be the chief of staff to the head of the marketing division. While this person won’t have direct decision-making power, they still have influence over the person who does.

That said, before bringing your big idea to a champion, you first need to build a foundation of trust with them. This will take time, and it will need to be developed over a series of projects in which you prove your ability to pitch good ideas, provide evidence that give those ideas merit, and consistently follow through on your assignments or tasks. You need your champion to to respect you as a professional, and believe you are credible if you want them to be your advocate.

To fast-track your relationship, study and analyze your champion’s management style. Then adapt your ways of working to fit their style. By doing so, you will increase the odds of producing work they are aligned with and proud of. When they speak, listen with intention, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Proactively set up feedback sessions with your champion and leverage this feedback into clear goals for improvement.

Do your homework.

Once you build that foundation of trust with your champion, you may feel ready to share your big idea. But wait. It’s critical to stress-test the idea first. This process will allow you to create a more robust and thorough pitch with fewer holes and logic gaps.

Start by gathering feedback from various stakeholders. A stakeholder could be someone directly involved in the decision-making process (who you identified earlier using the RACI matrix), or someone in your organization whose work might be directly impacted by your idea.

Sticking with our previous example, a key stakeholder might be the head of sales. Although the head of sales does not influence decision-making within the marketing division, they may be able to provide you with a perspective you had not considered before, especially if your marketing and sales teams work closely together. Another stakeholder might be a trusted peer or manager on the marketing team whose responsibilities may shift should your idea be implemented. This person may raise or problem or concern you can now address.

Stakeholders often have access to critical information that can strengthen your pitch. Connecting with them can also help you develop advocates throughout the organization.

A Step-by-Step Thanksgiving Checklist

But here’s the thing: Thanksgiving can be a real pain. Whether you’re keeping it simple or bringing in allthe out of state relatives, there’s plenty to do and the work starts days ahead of the actual event. 

To help keep you on track and reduce your headache (note we didn’t say “prevent” – we’re not that powerful), use this Thanksgiving checklist. It’ll help you plan and execute a Thanksgiving Day feast that is sure to impress your guests.

ONE WEEK BEFORE

You’ve got plenty of time…but not that much time. The week before is all about making sure everyone is on the same page, and that your house is in good working order.

  • Clean out your refrigerator to make room for the meal and leftovers 
  • Tidy up the house 
  • Confirm the number of guests who will be attending the dinner 
  • Determine if you have enough serving platters and place settings 
  • Borrow needed supplies or shop the thrift stores 

MONDAY

It’s too early to worry about most of the food items, but if you’re going the traditional route, you may need to start considering your turkey.

  • Defrost the turkey, allowing one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey 
  • Iron table linens

TUESDAY

Two days out from the big day, and it’s all about making sure you’ve got all the right ingredients and supplies in the house. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to run any errands past Tuesday.

  • Do your final shopping 
  • Write out a cooking schedule and timetable 
  • Clear out the coat closet for guests’ coats 
  • Clean the guest bathroom 
  • Clean entertainment areas including the living room and kitchen 
  • Plan time for any religious services or volunteer events before the dinner 

WEDNESDAY

The day before Thanksgiving is for every last thing that can be done ahead of time, clearing the way for a Thanksgiving day that’s 100% focused on those core food items. For maximum Turkey Day ease, you can even roast the turkey on Wednesday and re-warm ahead of your big gathering.

  • Set the table 
  • Set out Thanksgiving decorations 
  • Decide on a table centerpiece 
  • Prepare and refrigerate appropriate side dishes and desserts 
  • Prepare and refrigerate moist ingredients for the stuffing 
  • Decide what to wear and mentally take yourself through Thanksgiving Day 

THURSDAY

It’s the big day! If all goes well and you’ve followed your checklist, today should be pretty straightforward (and fun, don’t forget that part).

  • Eat breakfast 
  • Make the stuffing in the morning and stuff the turkey right before it’s ready to go in the oven 
  • Roast the turkey until a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh of the turkey indicates the internal temperature is 180°F and a thermometer inserted into the breast reads 165°-170°F
  • With the turkey resting, make the gravy
  • Within two hours after roasting, remove stuffing from turkey and carve meat off bones 
  • Enlist helpers to prepare the house for guests’ arrival 
  • Remove prepared side dishes from the refrigerator and bake 
  • Before guests arrive, delegate assignments to each family member 
  • Have a great Thanksgiving! 
  • Once guests leave, freeze or refrigerate any leftovers 

FRIDAY

If you’re off work on the day after Thanksgiving, now’s a great time to relax, clean, and reset your home and your head for the next holiday on the docket.

  • Remove any decorations 
  • Enlist family members to help re-tidy house 
  • Send thank you cards to people who helped with dinner 
  • Check out great Black Friday deals and specials 
  • Rest!

The Next Generation of You: Will Blackmon

by Jim Gehman

“Well, I went from a guy who enjoyed wine to a guy who wanted to learn and study more about wine, to become a guy who eventually wanted to start his own wine label,” said Blackmon, who started the business in the fall of 2019. “And so me doing my homework and research to start my own wine label, I learned a bunch of hurdles, and I was like, ‘You know what? I could be the middleman for people. I have such an extensive network of athletes and people in the wine industry, why don’t I just be the person who connects the dots?’”

Included in Wine Enthusiasts Top 40 Under 40 in 2020, Blackmon, a certified sommelier and dot connector, has been featured in several other wine publications.

The Wine MVP [www.thewinemvp.com] offers a subscription service.

“I partnered with a fine wine retailer, the Wine Exchange (in Santa Ana, CA), and basically, we pick two bottles that we think would fit in the subscription box, that has a cool story, and share it with our consumers,” Blackmon said. “The biggest thing is, I emphasize wine education versus actual lifestyle. Which is what inspired me.

“I want to be able to kind of take away the pretentious of wine and really teach it. Especially to a younger demographic like millennials. They’re getting more and more disconnected in the wine world because they associate it with rich and stuffy. And that is the case in some areas, but it doesn’t have to be like that. That’s kind of where I come in.”

The Wine MVP also offers a concierge service.

“Outside of providing wine education, I also want to be able to provide and curate experiences for people,” Blackmon said. “So those who want to travel to different wineries, I can help set that up. Or for people who want to have events or who want me to host tastings for them.”

What does Blackmon, who makes his home with his family in Southern California, enjoy most about what he’s doing?

“I just like having fun and making people happy. That’s the biggest thing. I’m in this industry with zero ego. I just like helping people,” Blackmon said. “Obviously we’re still dealing with COVID, but Napa Valley dealt with tons of fires, and I was more than happy to help out any way I could.

“So the fact that I’m selling someone else’s wine, I’m helping them. The fact that I’m getting people to come to their region, I’m helping that region. That’s my whole motive.

“And then also, too, those who want to learn about wine, but they’re intimidated or they’re afraid, they don’t know where to start, when they see someone like me talking about it and sharing it, it makes it more approachable. That’s my whole thing. It’s never about me. I’m just trying to be helpful.”

9 Tips to Having a Healthy Thanksgiving

From turkey—or tofurkey—to Thanksgiving side dishes like mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce, bread, drinks, and a bakery-worthy array of pies, the Thanksgiving meal is one marked by rich food and more frequently than not, overindulgence.

While it’s important to enjoy the holiday and the time and special meal with your loved ones if you’re on a diet or working hard on specific weight and health goals, navigating Thanksgiving without completely sabotaging your progress can feel impossible. However, with a little careful planning and mindful decisions about what you’re going to eat—and skip—it is completely possible to enjoy Thanksgiving without derailing your diet and weight loss goals. Keep reading for our top tips for having a happy and healthy Thanksgiving this year.

Don’t Skip Meals

One common fallacy whenever it comes to dieting is trying to bank calories for later by skipping meals. However, this usually ends up backfiring because it can lead to overeating. By skipping breakfast on Thanksgiving, your blood sugar levels will drop, which can cause an urge to binge or overeat once you finally allow yourself to dig in. Eat a healthy, protein-rich breakfast like Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit or a protein shake, and a light lunch with plenty of fiber and fresh vegetables. Be sure to have filling, nutritious snacks on hand like hummus and fresh vegetables or cottage cheese.

Make Time to Exercise

Start your Thanksgiving off right with some exercise. Consider walking or running in a Turkey Trot or getting in a workout before you host or hit the road to head to Thanksgiving dinner. If your gym is closed for Thanksgiving, try an at-home workout instead.

Plan Your “Spending”

Imagine your Thanksgiving meal like visiting the candy store as a kid. You have a certain amount of “money” (calories) to spend on Thanksgiving. Before sitting down at the table, look around at all the various dishes available and consider how you want to budget your calories and partition them accordingly. Choose the foods you really want, avoid the ones you can do without, and plan one or two special “indulgences” like your favorite slice of pie or sweet potato casserole.

How to stay safe while having fun this Halloween

Halloween is the time of the year when many fall enthusiasts drink pumpkin spice lattes, watch favorite horror flicks, and go trick-or-treating.

Every year, people around the U.S. and the world throw costume parties to celebrate this holiday, taking the opportunity to spend some quality time with friends and family.

This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has made celebrating Halloween more complicated, as social gatherings can facilitate the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease.

Despite this, some data suggest that many people in the U.S. have not let the pandemic deter them from their yearly Halloween preparations.

According to a Statista projection from September 2021, planned nationwide expenses for Halloween costumes amount to $3.3 billion. Estimates also indicate another $3.2 billion on Halloween decorations and $3 billion on candy.

So how can people stay safe while still enjoying this favorite fall holiday? In this Special Feature, we look at some best practices and offer tips for health, safety, and fun.

We have based our suggestions on official guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Handling and offering treats

Trick-or-treating and costume parties may be the best-loved Halloween activities, but they typically involve close contact with many people from different households. This can facilitate the transmission of the coronavirus.

For example, if someone who has unknowingly contracted SARS-CoV and has not experienced any symptoms engages in regular social activities, they might be putting others at risk.

The first and most important step to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 is by getting vaccinated, and the CDC advises everyone who is able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to do so.

The best way to stay safe this Halloween is to avoid contact with people from other households, which might mean avoiding trick-or-treating and attending parties with individuals you do not share a living space with.

However, there are some ways people who want to make the most of this fall festivity can mitigate the risks.

If children go treat-or-tricking, they must avoid coming into direct contact with other treat-or-trickers or with any adults offering them treats.

They must also try to keep at least 6 feet away from other children and adults who do not live with them and carry hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content to use frequently.

Adults may want to supervise children as they use hand sanitizer and use it frequently themselves.

Families Are Reuniting for Their First Post-Vax Thanksgiving.

Tensions over the 2016 presidential election led some families to shorten Thanksgiving dinner that year to avoid conflict; others cut ties altogether with relatives whose politics differed. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll from 2016 found that one-third of respondents said they had gotten into a “heated” argument with family or friends in the wake of the presidential election.

The pandemic has created only more divides. Now that most American adults have been vaccinated against Covid, many families are having their first winter holiday gatherings in two years. It should be a joyous occasion. But some people are not inviting unvaccinated family members to Thanksgiving; others are scoffing at relatives who insist on masks.

“Now it’s no longer whether you just disagree about the long-term effects of climate change,” said Jill Suitor, a sociologist at Purdue University, where she leads a project investigating family conflict in 550 multigenerational families, “but whether you believe that having certain family members present poses a serious danger to other family members.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Americans believe the country has become more polarized since the pandemic — which is saying something, given that before the pandemic, 40 percent of people on both sides of the political aisle considered the other side “downright evil.”

The good news is that it’s possible to navigate this year’s unique holiday conflicts gracefully. Doing so requires understanding what’s really driving family tension this year, both political and personal. In many cases, according to psychologists, those classic fights about politics or where to spend Christmas are really about something much deeper, especially in 2021: a yearning for love, connection and, above all, belonging.

Psychologists have been studying belonging for decades. In a seminal paper published in 1995, the social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary argued that human beings have a powerful need to belong that largely stems from our evolutionary origins.

People feel a sense of belonging, according to Dr. Baumeister and Dr. Leary, when they have frequent positive interactions with others that are based on mutual care. With true belonging, you are valued for who you are intrinsically, and you value the other person in turn.

During the holidays, the yearning for belonging is supercharged. Jeanne Safer, a psychoanalyst in New York who specializes in family conflict, told me that many of her patients romanticize the holidays. They have a fantasy about what family life should be at this time of year — loving, happy, accepting and warm. When loved ones gather, they desperately want the fantasy to play out, hoping that old childhood wounds and unresolved issues will be healed. “Maybe this time, my parents will understand me. Maybe this time, my in-laws will accept me.” That fantasy is especially potent this year after so much time apart.

But such high hopes and expectations are usually dashed. There are so many opportunities to feel rejected during the holidays — and every encounter can become a referendum on how loved you are (or aren’t).

How to demonstrate ‘past experience’ on your resume

Over the years, Insider has spoken to current and former Googlers about how to land a role. They say being a good collaborator and being curious are some of the traits the company values.

But you also need to make sure your resume stands out. Ahead of the deadline for the new internships, two recruiters from Google’s university programs team — Katarzyna Kamińska, university programs specialist, and Emily Salkey, program manager for talent outreach — hosted a panel at the recent Black Tech Fest on October 19, which was run by the non-profit Colorintech.

They shared tips on how graduates should structure their resumes.

Past experience is a “must have” 

Keep in mind that recruiters are looking for specific information, most notably your past experience, Kamińska said.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have lots of internships or formal work experience.

“Experience can come in many forms and we are absolutely aware of that,” she said. 

If you’re applying for tech positions, for example, recruiters need to see your knowledge of programming languages. Relevant computer science projects, student activities, research you’ve participated in, hackathons, or class projects could all count, she said.  

You should also include your education, and date of graduation.

“If you’re still studying and don’t yet have a date, you can include the ‘expected date’ of graduation,” she said.

There is no perfect format

A recruiter has around 30 to 40 seconds to look at your resume, so make sure that it is clear and concise, Kamińska said. She recommended a PDF of no more than two pages.

As for the exact format, “there is no one template that Google would encourage applicants to use,” she said. Use whatever template you’re comfortable with, as long as it can convey the key information quickly. 

Showcase your transferable skills

It’s good to show what type of person you are, Kamińska said — so include volunteering experience, awards, or transferable skills you’re particularly proud of. 

Transferable skills can be ones from past jobs, volunteering hobbies, or elsewhere, Kamińska said.

“As an example, if you are working in retail, you can basically think about what you have learned and how you can utilize this in your role at Google,” she said.

Click Read More for the full Article on Business Insider.

Why Success Makes No Sense Until You Embrace Your Failures

Yes, there are life or death situations where there is tremendous pressure to succeed. Think about a surgeon performing emergency surgery. But even then, you mustn’t believe that there is no room for failure in your life. There is a danger that this mindset could stop you from making sense of success.

Success becomes less enjoyable when you are constantly looking over your shoulder and trying to avoid failure. You stop appreciating the grind since all you care about is the end goal.

While this all-or-nothing mindset may seem inspiring from the outside, the reality is that it can take a real toll on you and hold back your potential. Let’s explore its potential impact and how embracing your failures can help you deal with them.

1. Perfectionism

It is natural to obsess over every minute detail when you keep telling yourself that there is no room for failure. You become worried that even the slightest mistake could cost you. This often leads to micromanaging, decision paralysis, unhealthy work culture, lengthy approval cycles and cost pile-ups.

When you are prepared to embrace failure, you are less likely to obsess over every detail or intervene in matters beyond your station. As a leader, you start trusting others more. And decision-making becomes more decentralized, thus enabling your team to be much more proactive and responsive. 

2. Experimentation 

There is very little room for experimentation when you are not ready to accept the possibility of it failing. Spending time and resources on something new may not be viewed as viable. You would instead stick to the tried and tested ways since they are almost guaranteed to succeed. This kind of short-termism can stunt your growth, see you lose your first-mover advantage and cause market failure.

If you can set aside your fear of failure and conduct well-thought-out experiments, you stand to gain valuable new insights that none of your competitors might have. More importantly, it can help you make data-driven decisions and forecasts, and stop you from making investment decisions that are not in sync with the market conditions.

3. Blame culture

Blame culture is a by-product of a lack of failure tolerance. You start believing mistakes and errors are unforgivable and that there is nothing more shameful than failing. Your focus tends to be on finding out who is to be blamed for the mistake, rather than what caused it. More often than not, the corrective action will see the blame being apportioned to someone, but the underlying problem stays unresolved. This sort of half-baked approach will hamper productivity and also adversely affect morale.

Examining failure is a tough job, whether it is yours or your team’s. Apart from dealing with personal insecurities and jilted egos, you will have to call into question the effectiveness of long-followed processes and procedures. This is only possible when you are failure tolerant. It allows you to confront the problem scientifically and transparently. And only then would you be able to quickly identify the root causes and work towards fixing them.

The Museum of You

We may think about our most memorable experiences but less often about memorable objects. Those can illuminate who we were and perhaps are.

What would the Museum of You include? It may help to think of any old things you still have or that your parents are keeping for you.

Start with the first object of emotional significance that you can recall. Recent research finds that most people’s first recollections start in toddlerhood, earlier than previously thought. Do your first-recalled objects say anything about what mattered or still matters to you? For example, if an early memory is of hugging a teddy bear, that could foreshadow that affection is primary to that person. If a person’s earliest memory is of sneaking into the cookie jar after the parent said, “No more cookies!” that might hint of an incipient rebellious or even dishonest nature.

Now move on to your school years. Maybe you recall a friendship note from a classmate. Or the AAA TripTik from the family driving vacation to Niagara Falls. My favorite possession was a big hi-fi speaker. It was the first big thing I bought from saving up from my allowance. It signified how important music was to me and still is. It also presaged that I’m comfortable in delaying gratification. 

Here are some examples from adulthood that might help evoke important items from your life.

From young adulthood: that dyed T-shirt, basketball uniform, your only A+ on a paper, a picture of or love letter from your college sweetheart, your college transcript, the trophy from finishing second in a road rally, a memento from that study-abroad program.

Later on: Your wedding ring even if you divorced, your first offer letter of employment, your best performance review or worst one—a wake-up call, a meaningful thank-you letter, the book you choose to reread. One of my favorites is the tiny toy rat that sits at the base of my computer monitor. I had an actual rat that was scurrying around at night in my attic and told a client about it. When she returned from a business trip to Beijing, she brought me that toy rat. I keep it not just because it was funny, although it was, but because the client liked me enough to search it out for me on her business trip.

So, as you look at your Museum of You, do you find any common threads, perhaps that say something about your essence? Or your aspirations?

Now think about what common things you excluded from your Museum of You: Those pertaining to travel? Family? Work? Romance? Recreation? Materialistic items? What does that say about you?

Finally, do you want to assemble those items in one place, an actual Museum of You?

Ways to Manage Your Everyday Stress

To a certain degree, stress is inevitable. Still, it should be manageable, and if you feel like you’ve been spread too thin, there are ways to fight back. 

There’s no magic, fix-it-all solution to stress—rather, there are a bunch of different things you can do to handle it. And that’s only logical, seeing as stress doesn’t come from a single source. Your finances, relationship troubles, work, family life, and many other situations can all contribute to your stress levels and cause everything from depression and anxiety to premature aging, chronic migraines, heart disease, and a bunch of other things you really don’t want. 

So, what can you do about it? Don’t worry, here are a few tips help you find your inner calm. 

KEEP A JOURNAL 

Pop culture would have you believe that only sullen teenagers keep journals, but it really is an excellent tool for stress management. It helps you with the first step of battling stress, which is recognizing that it exists and where it comes from.

Taking the time to think about your stressors long enough to put them “on paper” is often all you need to realize the root of your problems. Plus, the act of writing has long been one of the most effective emotional releases.  

FIND A FRESH PERSPECTIVE 

Sometimes, it’s important to take a step back from your thoughts and feelings and try to view them objectively. By nature, nothing is stressful on its own, it’s simply a mental state that shows how you perceive certain events and/or emotions.  

Of course, this doesn’t mean your stress isn’t real or valid—just looking at its source from a new point of view or “cognitive reframing” can be enough to lower your stress levels. 

GET BETTER SLEEP  

Cortisol is the primary “stress” hormone and levels are increased when your sleep is disrupted. Ensuring you’re getting enough sleep, and ensuring it’s good-quality sleep, is a relatively simple way to allow your body to recover from stress. 

EAT MORE OATMEAL 

There’s a reason why breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it’s a good practice to eat something filling and hot before you start a day that you expect to be stressful. 

Oatmeal is great for this because it takes just a couple of minutes to make, and it’s jam-packed with the complex carbohydrates that you need for sustained energy throughout your morning. Additionally, slow-burning carbs help with serotonin release, bringing you a sense of calmness and lowering stress. 

REMOVE SIMPLE SUGARS 

Of course, people who are into fitness know that all types of carbohydrates aren’t that great for your diet—but did you know they also influenced your stress levels? Simple carbs are the worst offenders here. Refined sugar, white flour, and processed drinks and food trigger a blood glucose spike—soon followed by an inevitable crash. This always leaves you with a considerable energy low, making it harder to make it through your day and raising your stress levels.  

PERFORM DEEP BREATHING EXERCISES 

One of the most common symptoms of stress is shallow, rapid breathing—which is precisely what you don’t need to alleviate stress. Considering that, you should practice more controlled, deeper breathing for the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress.  

A minute of deep breathing will allow more oxygen to enter your brain and body, resulting in a calm sensation—one that puts you in the right state to overcome your current emotions.  

TAKE A WALK 

You’ve probably realized this already, but regular exercise is an excellent (and productive) stress remedy. Don’t be intimidated by exhausting, intense workout sessions if you’re not used to them. Start small. Even a brisk, 10-minute walk will be enough to get you into a more relaxed state of mind.

How to Find the Best Nutrition Help

If these images are motivating you to action and you’re looking for someone to be your nutrition adviser, how do you find the person that best suits your needs? Are you interested in someone to help you with meal planning, guidance for particular nutrition-related health concerns, weight management, recipe ideas, smart shopping guidance or advice on how to eat well on a budget? A registered dietitian/nutritionist can help with all of the above and more.

Certification and Specialization

As you begin your search, do look for individuals with the RDN – registered dietitian/nutritionist – credential. A registered dietitian/nutritionist (formerly known as RD for registered dietitian) is a board certified food and nutrition expert. This individual has successfully completed an accredited nutrition and dietetics program and internship. Although there are some nutritionists who are board certified and credentialed and are also registered dietitians, not all who use the term “nutritionists” are qualified to provide nutrition advice. In addition, you’ll want to find out if that individual has additional expertise in areas of interest to you such as diabetes management, eating disorders, digestive diseases or performance nutrition.

Philosophy and Audience

Before you contact a nutrition expert, do your homework. Look at websites to get an idea of the person’s nutrition philosophy. Does it seem inclusive or exclusive? Do they tend to talk more about what to exclude or include? Does their social media platform prioritize foods that are affordable and readily available or foods that are more expensive? 

Read their blogs and watch their interviews to get an idea of where they stand and what they recommend when it comes to eating guidelines and food choices. Ideally, talk to other clients/patients to get their feedback. You’re making this investment in yourself but you want to work with someone who will meet you where you are. Look beyond the visuals to the verbal to see if what they say resonates well or rubs you the wrong way.

Qualifications

It’s important that you work with someone who’s an expert in food and nutrition, but also presents their expertise in a way that is approachable, engaging and appealing to you. Does this person listen to your concerns, show empathy and compassion and customize their recommendations to meet your needs? Do they ask about your food beliefs, food preferences, relationship with food and your body, food traditions, body goals, eating habits, culinary ability, proximity to grocery stores and your finances? The questions asked and the guidelines they provide need to respect what is important to you and reflect practical application.

One Common Finance Question:

You’d probably assume that once a debt is charged off and handed over to a debt collector, the balance won’t change. In fact, quite a few people intentionally allow accounts to land in collections in the hopes that they can settle the whole thing for less than what’s owed. So it’s pretty upsetting to learn that yes, in certain circumstances debt collectors are within their rights to continue adding fees to your debt after they’ve purchased it.  

HOW TO DETERMINE WHAT YOU ACTUALLY OWE TO A DEBT COLLECTOR

While it’s possible that the debt collector has been within their rights to add fees to your debt, you shouldn’t just take their word for it. The first thing you need to establish is the details of where the debt came from, how much it was originally, and how it got to be the amount it is now. 

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) requires that all debt collectors provide written validation of the debt they’re attempting to collect. This means they need to give you all of that information within five days of making first contact with you.

If you don’t think the amount of debt is correct, you can send a written dispute to the collection agency. All collection activities should stop until they’ve responded to your dispute. 

However, once they’ve provided you with a document outlining all of the fees and interest charges that caused your debt to continue swelling, post-charge-off, the ball is back in your court. Which leads to the next question: are those fees and interest charges legal? 

Unfortunately, yes, they are.

COLLECTION AGENCY FEES – WHAT ARE LEGAL?

Debt collectors can charge you interest, up to the maximum amount outlined in the original contract. It’s generally listed as the “penalty rate” in credit card contracts and it can soar past 30 percent, depending on the creditor. 

Often states will cap the amount of interest a debt collector can charge, but those caps are for accounts that do not explicitly state a maximum interest rate (like a medical debt). 

If the collector has validated the debt and shown you that the increased charges are legitimate, your next best step is to either work out a repayment plan or ask about the possibility of removing the extra fees in exchange for a full, one-time payoff of the original debt. You need to remember that debt collectors purchase old debts for pennies on the dollar. If the debt was $190, they likely purchased it for 60 percent of that. If the debt’s been sold multiple times, this collector likely paid even less. They may say no, but often they’ll be happy to collect what they can and be done with your account.

How Much House Can I Afford?

Before you begin the home buying process, however, it’s vitally important that you understand exactly how much money you can afford to spend on a house. While it can be a bit heartbreaking to find the home of your dreams, only to discover that’s out of your price range, it’s considerably worse to actually buy a house and then find out that you can’t actually afford to live there.

So how to go about setting your homebuyer price range?

DETERMINE HOW MUCH MORTGAGE YOU QUALIFY FOR

To determine how much you can realistically afford, you’ll want to determine how much you will have for a down payment. In general, you will need to have at least 10 percent of the home’s price for a down payment. If you want the best loan terms, you should aim to have at least 20 percent for a down payment. 

When making lending decisions, banks also consider the cost of housing in comparison to your income. Your monthly housing expenses, including your mortgage, taxes, and insurance should be no more than 28 percent of your monthly income. Of course, your other debts also play a factor. In general, lenders want your total debt-to-income ratio – which includes things like credit card debt, child support payments, and student loans – to be no more than 36 percent.

On top of all of that is your credit history. The better your credit score, the higher the likelihood that you’ll qualify for a mortgage with reasonable terms. If your credit is average or poor, you may be able to overcome that with a long employment history and strong source of income, but the mortgage will likely be much, much more expensive. This may mean bring down the total loan value that you can qualify for.

If you’re ready to start house-hunting, you may want to begin by mortgage shopping first to see if you can get pre-approved and up to what amount. 

UNDERSTAND THE NON-MORTGAGE COSTS OF OWNING A HOME

One of the many reasons why some people prefer to own a home instead of rent an apartment is that the money you spend on your mortgage payment each month goes toward creating equity in your home. It’s a form of investment and should you someday sell your home, you’ll get some of that money back. You might even make money in the process. Money spent on rent, however, doesn’t earn you any equity.

But what rent often does get you, however, is maintenance. It gets you repairs for normal wear and tear. If a pipe bursts and the ceiling in your apartment needs to be replaced, it’s going to cost a lot of money – but it won’t cost you a lot of money. 

So while your mortgage will almost certainly be your biggest expense as a homeowner, it won’t be your only expense. You’ll have new taxes to worry about. You’ll have water and trash bills you may not have paid before. You’ll need to hire your own plumbers and HVAC specialists. You’ll need to buy lawnmower or hire someone else to take care of your lawn or trim your trees. You may want to install a security system. Oh, and homeowners’ insurance is going to be more expensive than renters’ insurance.  

Those costs will all be different depending on where you live and various aspects of the house you ultimately buy, but it’s important that you consider those costs and how they’ll all fit into your budget before you start house-hunting.

HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU SPEND ON A HOUSE?

Ultimately, the final selling price of the house isn’t the issue; it’s how much the house costs you each month. There’s no firm number that everyone has to follow, but based on averages, it’s usually in your best interests to never dedicate any more than 35% of your total budget to housing expenses

Again, your personal circumstances may be different, but once you’re spending more than a third of your available money on housing, you run the risk of becoming “house poor.” This means that you may no be able to balance the costs of maintaining your home with all of your other needs.

Owning a home is a great joy for many people, but it can be a terrible challenge when the cost of living in a house is more than you can afford. Do your research and happy house-hunting!

Moderate alcohol consumption ‘should not be recommended for health reasons’

Some recent studies have linked moderate alcohol consumption to health benefits, such as lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Other studies tout potential health benefits of drinking wine and tequila.

However, results of a new study from the University of Greifswald in Germany contradict the idea of drinking alcohol to protect health.

Earlier studies have shown an increased mortality risk in people who abstain from alcohol, compared with individuals who consume low to moderate alcohol amounts. However, the authors of the recent study chalk this up to risky behaviors that people abstaining from alcohol engaged in earlier in their lives.

The study appears in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Alcohol and health

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in 2019, 85.6% of individuals in the United States aged 18 years or older reported that they had consumed an alcoholic beverage at one time in their life.

The NIAAA also reports that 14.5 million people in the U.S. aged 12 years or older are living with alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to the NIAAA, AUD is “characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”

The NIAAA also notes that about 95,000 people in the U.S. die each year from alcohol-related causes. This makes alcohol the third largest preventable cause of death in the country.

Previous research suggests that people drinking alcohol in moderation live longer than those who do not consume it. Another, older study concludes that men who drink moderate amounts of alcohol have a higher life expectancy than individuals who drink alcohol occasionally or heavily.

Prof. Dr. Ulrich John and his team believe their research shows that the lower life expectancy for those who do not drink alcohol compared with those who do can be due to other high risk factors.

This contradicts the idea that consuming low to moderate amounts of alcohol confers health benefits.

“It is a problem […] that medical students and patients are given the advice that it might [improve] health if they drink low to moderate amounts of alcohol,” Dr. John told Medical News Today.

“For many years, epidemiological data seemed to reveal that low to moderate alcohol consumers live longer than alcohol abstainers. This was the scientific base for the attitude in medical care that alcohol consumption might support health, in particular cardiovascular health.”

“In the last few years, more and more shortcomings of the former research became known,” Dr. John continued. “So, we tried to prove what kind of subgroups are among the abstainers, subgroups perhaps with risk factors that might explain the seemingly higher likelihood to die early compared with low to moderate drinkers.”

How to Negotiate Your Debt

Now, when it comes time to repay your debts, your first thought may be, “Do I really have to pay all of this back?” 

The answer to that is, “Well…it depends.” 

It is possible to negotiate down certain debts, but there are a lot of conditions to consider. Here’s what you should know:

ACCOUNTS IN GOOD STANDING ARE DIFFICULT TO NEGOTIATE

Your credit card company is very unlikely to offer to forgive any amount of your debt, especially if your accounts are current. Same goes for most lenders, especially when the loan is secured with real property (like a house or a car). There’s really no incentive to let you pay less than what you owe.

If you’re struggling with your payments, some creditors may be able to offer some form of short-term hardship program, and some may even be able to reduce your interest rate if you make the request, but if you’re hoping to get your debt reduced or completely absolved, there’s not much chance of that happening. 

YOU MAY HAVE MORE LUCK NEGOTIATING ONCE A DEBT HAS BEEN CHARGED OFF

Once a debt has become severely delinquent, the creditor will likely charge off the debt for their own tax purposes. It’s important to note that you’re still responsible for the debt. After the charge off, the original creditor may sell the debt to a third party, which will begin making efforts to get you to pay them for the debt. 

Because they purchased your debt for less than what’s owed, a debt collector is much more likely to be willing to discuss a reduced payoff of your debt. This is called a settlement.

THE MORE YOU CAN PAY AT ONCE, THE LESS YOU’LL HAVE TO PAY IN TOTAL

The goal for debt collectors is to maximize the profit on any given debt. But they’re also trying to earn that profit as quickly as possible. Time is money, after all. While many will let you make monthly payments, they’ll almost always accept less in total if you can make a large enough one-time payment.

So while they’d prefer to get the full amount, as long as they can exceed their investment most debt collectors are very willing to talk. Keep this in mind when attempting to negotiate with a debt collector. They probably won’t agree to a settlement that results in a loss for them, but if the choice is between making a small profit or nothing at all, they’ll probably be able to work with you.

NEGOTIATE SERVICE COSTS UPFRONT IF POSSIBLE

Medical and service-related debts usually have more leeway for negotiation. That doesn’t mean private practices or large hospitals will definitely forgive portions of your debt. It just means that there’s a general recognition that medical debts are often overwhelming and many patients need assistance repaying those debts. 

The best time to talk about pricing and repayment options is actually before any procedure has been performed, but that’s often not possible, especially in an emergency situation. 

Once you’ve received a bill and verified with your insurance that the amount you owe is accurate, contact the applicable billing department and discuss the situation. Many hospitals have hardship programs to help defray the cost of medical expenses, in which case you may need to provide certain documents and complete the required paperwork. 

Whatever caused the debt in the first place, if you don’t feel like you’ve got the financial ability to repay everything that you owe, take the time to speak with a certified financial counselor. There may be a solution available that you hadn’t considered. At the very least, a trained counselor can help you understand your options and walk you through the steps you need to take to reach your goals.

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

Finding the answer just takes a little time to get organized and crunch a few numbers. Here are the steps to help you determine which debts should be getting your attention right now.

FOCUS ON “BAD” DEBTS FIRST

Debt has different categories, and yes, there is such a thing as good debt. A mortgage or loans for education are generally considered “good debt” because they’re investments of a sort. Your home has value (and may gain value over time), and an education helps increase your earning potential. In addition, some of this debt is tax-deductible, which creates less of a tax burden. As long as the rates on these types of debt are reasonable and you’re able to continue to pay on time, these debts don’t need to be at the top of your pay off list.

Bad debt isn’t so much debt that’s evil, as it’s just debt with some character flaws. This is the kind of debt you’ll likely want to pay off first. These debts include credit cards, unsecured personal loans, medical debts, and more. These debts cost you money without representing a clear, continued benefit. They also usually come with higher interest rates than mortgages and student loans.

EXPLORE REFINANCE AND CONSOLIDATION OPTIONS

Mortgages and student loans are usually not the debts you’ll want to prioritize, because they’re investments, and perhaps more importantly, because the interest rates on these loans are usually much, much lower than other kinds of debt.

But while you may not want to focus on either, it’s important to keep in mind that both come with variety of refinance and consolidation options. If debt is a problem, and you can’t balance your monthly expenses because your debt repayments are too high, you may want to consider refinancing or consolidating debts where possible. Refinancing your home or your student loans may not accelerate your repayment, but there’s a good chance it may help make your month-to-month budgeting a little easier. 

USE MATH TO DETERMINE WHICH DEBT WILL BENEFIT YOU THE MOST TO PAY OFF

Paying off debt with a high interest rate before anything with a low interest rate will allow you to save money in the long-run. Paying $500 towards a loan with an 18 percent interest rate will be far more beneficial than paying $500 towards a loan with a 5 percent interest rate.

Paying off a debt with a higher interest rate first may not be the best priority every time, though. You may want to consider targeting debts with lower balances. This can serve two purposes – first, it frees up money to direct towards other debts, and second, it feels pretty great to pay off an account. Don’t discount the mental boost you can get from clearing a few of your smaller debts away before focusing on the big ones.

When determining which of these debts to pay off first, consider all factors. What is your interest rate? How much will you end up paying if you take longer to pay it? And can it be paid fairly quickly if you focus on that debt above others?

CONSIDER YOUR CREDIT SCORE

Another consideration in deciding what to pay off first is how it will affect your credit score. If you have a large purchase coming up (home or car) that you’ll need a good credit score for, paying down credit cards that are near their limit will likely improve your overall score. Improving your debt ratio can not only improve your credit score, it can help to lower the interest rate on any new loans.

CONSIDER CREDIT COUNSELING

Whatever debt you decide to pay off first, create a plan and budget for the extra payments. Staying focused and sticking with your payoff plan will help you get all of those bad debts paid off sooner.

If you’re feeling stuck or just need a second opinion, don’t hesitate to connect with a certified credit counselor. Nonprofit credit counseling is free and provides direct advice and crucial education to help you make the best decision about your debts.

The Next Generation of You: Jake Ballard

by Jim Gehman

“I never took a redshirt year in college, but it’s almost is like what that was,” Ballard said. “I got used to the speed of the game and the offense and everybody in the organization. And once I was there, it helped me. I just kept building a bond every day and knew I could play with those guys. I just needed the right opportunity.”

That opportunity came the following season when Ballard became a starter and caught 38 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns. He helped the Giants go from making it into the playoffs as a Wild Card team to Super Bowl XLVI Champions.

Unfortunately, after catching two passes for 10 yards on Super Sunday, Ballard tore the ACL in his left knee in the second half of the game.

Spending the 2012 season on New England’s Injured Reserve, and playing in just eight games the following year for Arizona, Ballard realized that his injury was too much and he announced his retirement.

“It was definitely short and sweet, but I think I’m most proud that I actually started for a full year for the Giants,” Ballard said. “The year we won the Super Bowl, I was the third leading receiver on the team. And if I didn’t get hurt, I’m pretty sure I could have had a pretty long, successful, career.

“It’s hard to argue against it, but I’m proud I got the opportunity. I kind of ran with it and made it my own and helped a great team with great coaches and great players.”

Unlike his first career on the gridiron, Ballard’s second career in real estate is going as planned and as well as he would have hoped.

“I worked construction jobs in college in the summer, and always had an interest in that,” Ballard said. “And so once I got done with football, I thought I’d give the house thing a try and got my license so I could sell my flips. Then I decided I’d help people buy and sell, and dabble in flips and land development. I think it just started from having an interest in it early on.

“I wanted to play ball for 10-plus years like everyone else. I never thought I’d actually get into doing the flips, and a lot of the work, or being a real estate agent. It just kind of all panned out the way it did.”

Certified since 2014, Ballard is with the Howard Hanna Group in Columbus, Ohio.

“No house or no person’s the same and that keeps it interesting. I really enjoy just working with people. I’m not in the office, I’m out and about. And I can kind of control my destiny with it,” Ballard said.

“Playing football here and having a successful Ohio State career, I definitely made a name for myself. It doesn’t always get me deals, but a lot of times it does help me get my foot in the door and at least have meetings. I try to win them over from there.”

What advice would Ballard offer others, whether they’re still playing or have recently left the game?

“I would definitely encourage guys who are still playing to be actively thinking about what they’re going to do if football’s taken away from them tomorrow. It’s a violent game and you can’t control all the aspects. I think if guys thought more about that now, they’d be more prepared,” he said.

“You’re always going to have that kind of downtime after you’re done playing where you’re trying to find yourself and find what you want to do. But as long as you have an idea or a base to make that transition easier, because the whole world’s different once you’re done playing football, you have to hit the workforce like you’re an everyday Joe.”    

Solopreneur Success: 5 Tips for Growing a One-Person Business

t’s one thing to start a business as a solopreneur. Having a couple clients here and there is great, but it’s something different to grow that business into a revenue-generating machine that allows you to do what you love and earn the kind of money you need on a full-time basis.

Being a successful solopreneur requires planning, follow through, and having reliable partners and services like VSP® Individual Vision Plans on your side. Here are five tips that growth-focused solopreneurs should keep in mind to set themselves up for long-term success.

1. Stay organized.

To go from part-time to full-time solopreneur, you’re going to have to put in a lot of extra hours. But you want to be working smarter, not just longer.

You’re in charge of your time and how many clients you take on in that time. Therefore, staying organized will be a top priority. You’ll want to avoid downtime and double booking as much as possible.

There are plenty of scheduling apps to help keep business owners organized and on time. You might even consider adding an online calendar or scheduling tool to your business’s website so clients easily know your availability. Staying organized will help you avoid burnout which can be crucial when starting out on your own.

2. Know how much money you need to get by.

Going full-time with your solo venture means it will likely be your sole source of income. You can’t just quit your nine-to-five job and “wing it” with your startup. That’s how ambitious solopreneurs wind up becoming saddled with debt.

You’ll want to map out every business expense you have now and can foresee in the future from the start. First, consider how much money you’ll need to start your business. This includes upfront costs like purchasing equipment or tools as well as ongoing expenses like renting a space or buying supplies.

Then it’s time to map that budget for your life expenses. How much do you need for rent/mortgage payments? Utilities? Food? Entertainment? You get the idea. Once you have a sense of your personal expense budget, you’ll need to balance it against your projected business income. How much should a typical client/project pay? This should help give you an idea about how many clients you’ll need to safely cover all your expenses plus profit.

3. Have a financial safety net.

Now that you’ve determined where you want to be financially, don’t forget to plan for the unexpected. People get sick. Cars and equipment break down. Things like the economy and weather can impact demand for your services or the ability of your clients to pay on time.

Since you’re the nexus of your business, having extra money on-hand for emergencies will help ensure your long-term success. One way is to put a certain percent of your profits every month into a separate account. That specific amount is up to you. It’s often wise to have enough money in that account for you to get by for six months to a year or more, depending on the circumstances that arise.

4. Know the risks.

There are additional ways a solopreneur can protect themselves against certain unforeseen events. What happens if you damage a client’s property while on the job? What happens when a client claims negligence on your part? As a solopreneur, you’re open to a wide array of risks.

This is where liability insurance comes in. A general liability policy can help cover expenses related to physical incidents such as bodily injuries or property damage. Professional liability insurance typically covers risks like errors or omissions in your work. You’ll be relieved to have this type of insurance should you ever need it.

5. Don’t forget to protect yourself.

Since we’re on the topic of insurance, solopreneurs need to protect their most valuable asset: themselves.

Yoga and Meditation Are Not Enough

Studies are recording rates of mental illness during the pandemic never before seen, with 21 percent of us experiencing clinical levels of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. Of those who report mental health problems, 68 percent say their condition is worsening, with the greatest burden falling on young people who are four times as likely as seniors to show signs of mental illness. Add to this the problem of loneliness which was already skyrocketing before the pandemic, and there doesn’t appear to be much hope without some serious attention to the services people need to cope. Even worse, recent studies show that among those suffering from mental illness, addictions are four times as likely to occur.

There are solutions, but they may be arriving too late for many, especially minorities, people who are gender diverse, and anyone with precarious housing or work. For these individuals, the mental health challenges that confront them are becoming far too common.

The solutions, though, have to be more than individual changes to thoughts and feelings. Looking globally, as Vikram Patel from Harvard and others have, we know it’s time to think about our community’s mental health instead of just our own. Indeed, a healthy, vibrant community that inspires trust and social justice is one where fewer people will experience the social isolation or unwanted stress that pushes people into depression and anxiety.

In practice, this means cushioning the impact of the pandemic by promoting fair housing policies and opportunities for employment and training. That requires government initiatives aimed at helping those whose lives have been disrupted.

Even more, we will need to address the anxiety which has accompanied our collective feelings of unpredictability. The more people feel the rules changing around them, and the less they trust science, the press, and government, the more ill at ease they become and the more at risk they are for both mental health problems or social disruption.

The way out of this situation is not just a little more yoga or offering meditation courses to leaders. I was recently attending a global conversation hosted by the Templeton Foundation, and while inspiring, it felt like the panelists were far too focused on asking people to transform their character, to hold better values, and become more empathetic than they were on changing the conditions around people that put mental health at risk. Of course, individual change is an admirable goal, but naïve at best and potentially harmful at worse. Such a focus ignores the fact that individual transformation is going to take decades, if it occurs at all, while collectively rates of mental illness continue to rise. Instead of individual change, what if we convinced our leaders that it was in their own selfish best interest to:

  • Encourage everyone to draw meaning from our collective sacrifice and remind us that our individual recovery from the pandemic relies on our neighbor’s right action (that means vaccinations, tolerance of differences, and some reasonableness when it comes to hearing out the facts, whether about diverse communities being healthier and more economically vibrant places to live, or the need for social benefits like paid sick leave that increases both productivity and health).
  • Our successful recovery from the psychological dumpster we’re in also requires new opportunities for individuals to use their talents, to retrain when our economy decarbonizes and green energy replaces industries that were formally powerful economic engines.
  • Help people turn to their families, turn off their social media (sometimes), and find more human ways of being in close proximity to one another. That will mean ensuring that we get past social distancing and masking once it’s safe to do so, and ensure those who are vulnerable (like the elderly) are given safe spaces in their communities. It will also mean making it easier for people to advance their education, something we know people are keen to do (my own university has seen a steady increase in enrolments during the pandemic). And we will need to remember that people need the chance to grow emotionally and through their careers.

If these collectivist solutions to individual mental health seem odd given our focus on pharmacological solutions, consider that despite all the medical interventions and psychological self-help tools available, the statistics on mental disorders are only rising. Alone, person-centred solutions will fail. Together, however, we stand a chance.

How to Manage and Pay Off Debt When You’re Unemployed

But there’s probably one big question on your mind: How do I manage my debt? 

There are several steps to take if you are dealing with debt and unemployment:

APPLY FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

While you may earnestly want to keep up with your bills, if you don’t have the necessary income, it’s almost impossible to keep making payments on your debts. When your paychecks are paused, reduced, or cut off entirely, it’s important to consider your cash flow and how you can keep at least some money coming in.

Chris Tuck, a CFP® and wealth advisor at SJK Wealth Management, explains, “Claiming unemployment benefits is a great way to make sure that you are able to pay your current bills.”

The rules for unemployment vary by state, but you’ll want to file for unemployment as soon as possible. Even though the benefit amounts are based on a percentage of your previous salary, every dollar counts when you’re dealing with debt payments and other monthly expenses.

The first step is to file with your state and contact the State Unemployment Insurance agency.

CREATE TEMPORARY INCOME IF POSSIBLE

It may be difficult to immediately replace your primary source of income. While you work on getting back into a fulltime position, you may want to consider temporary or part-time positions to help create at least some income.

A good place to start would be flexible side hustles with low start-up costs. If you have a car, you can sign up for a rideshare program or work part time as a delivery driver. Whatever you can do to safely bring in income will help increase your options and make managing your debts a little easier.

ASK ABOUT STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS FOR THE UNEMPLOYED

If you have student loans and you’re temporarily out of work, you may have options. Most federal student loans are eligible for some period of forbearance or deferment

As soon as you know that your income will be reduced, connect with your loan servicer to discuss available options and begin the application process. While deferment may add additional interest costs and both options will increase the length of time spent repaying your loans, both options will provide immediate financial relief and prevent your loans from falling into delinquency.

ASK ABOUT CREDIT CARD HARDSHIP OR DEFERMENT PROGRAMS

The more you can do to pause your debts during unemployment, the better. While the overall goal is to eventually pay everything off, once you start missing payments and becoming delinquent, paying off a debt gets harder and harder. 

That’s why you should reach out to your creditors before you start missing payments. They may be able to place you on a hardship program or a temporary deferment. They also may not be able to help at all. You won’t know until you reach out for help, though, so check in with your creditors as soon as possible.

UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD

Whether or not you can continue to make payments on your debts will depend largely on what your budget says. If you have adequate savings and at least some amount of income thanks to either unemployment benefits or a temporary position, you may be able to safely continue making your payments. 

It’s important that you set your priorities and spend accordingly. If you have no income and minimal savings, for instance, you probably can’t afford to spend money on anything other than the essentials. Remember that the safety and wellbeing of you and your family comes first. That means shelter, food, and good health come well before credit card payments. 

If you need help understanding what you can afford, consider speaking with a certified credit counselor. Counseling is free and designed to help you understand the best ways to reach your financial goals. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, a confidential, judgment-free session with a credit counselor is a great first step. 

EXPLORE ALL OF YOUR OPTIONS

The ideal option is usually to keep making payments in full every month until your debts are all gone. Unfortunately, when your income is compromised this option may be impossible.