Posts By: Matthew Golden

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 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. Depending on how long you’re unemployed, you may find that a debt management plan or debt settlement make sense for your situation. Or it might be that bankruptcy makes sense for you. 

“It’s not often that we advise bankruptcy, but the laws exist for a reason,” says Tuck. It can be a difficult process to navigate and it will likely damage your credit deeply, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right for you. “Sometimes it is the only viable option,” says Tuck.

DON’T LOSE HOPE

Debt and unemployment can be a difficult combination, especially when you’re confused about what steps to take. As you navigate the nuances of debt and unemployment, don’t lose hope. Even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment, you’ll make it through.

How to Handle Employee Conflict on Your Team

“There is no such thing as a conflict-free team, and you don’t want a conflict-free team,” explained Amy Gallo, author of the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict (Harvard Business Review Press, 2017). “Disagreements over how the work should be done, what the goal of the work is or how we measure success” help lead to innovative ideas and even bonding between team members, she said.

However, personality conflict is different. When team members can’t seem to get along, that’s a whole different ball game. But as a manager, you should expect that this conflict will happen. 

And once you’ve helped the team figure out how to work well together, be ready to start the process over again when new members come on board. “The reality is that many managers are managing teams that are fluid, given the way teams work now,” Gallo noted. “It’s rare that a manager will have five people on their team and that’s it. New people are staffed for projects, or managers are [put in charge of] a peer for a while because of the nature of special projects.” 

As the team’s leader, it’s up to you to ensure that conflict on your team is dealt with. But that doesn’t mean you’re the one who should be squashing it. 

Avoid Playing Referee

“It’s best for conflict to be handled between the two people having it as much as possible,” Gallo advised. “As a manager, you have to be firm about when you step in. Oftentimes people will expect you to do that over and over if you start playing referee instead of manager.”

To avoid becoming a referee, encourage your team members to work out their differences on their own. But be ready to get involved. One instance where you might have to step in is if conflict has become noticeable to you or other team members, but the involved parties don’t recognize there’s an issue or won’t take the initiative to solve it on their own. “Often, the first step is simply informing them, separately and privately, that their conflict is noticeable and affects the workplace,” explained Andrey Doichev, founder of Inc and Go, a company that streamlines the legal process of setting up a business. 

Next, whether you’ve initiated the conversation or one or both conflicting team members have come to you, consider exactly how involved you want to get. For Gallo, it’s about being a supportive and available coaching resource for employees as they work to squash the beef on their own.

If you use a coaching approach, consider helping the involved parties develop empathy for each other. Ask what they think might be going on with the other person, what they might want out of the situation and to try putting themselves in the other person’s shoes. Then you can help them brainstorm potential solutions.

Some conflicts demand a manager’s involvement. If you find out that something inappropriate has happened—anything from harassment to a team member lying about work—”you have to call those behaviors out,” Gallo said. It’s best to do this privately.

Preventing Conflict in the First Place

Overall, though, the best way that managers can handle conflict on their team is to prevent it.

It can be tempting to hire people who are similar. It might seem like a homogenous approach can help prevent conflict. But the lack of diversity can itself be problematic.

Instead, “consider how someone has resolved conflict in the past. One interview question could be, ‘Describe a conflict you’ve had with a co-worker. How did you resolve it?’ ” Gallo said. “It should give insight into how they think about conflict and getting past it.”

Next, tell your team that conflict is natural and expected, but so is a professional resolution of it. This is a great time to set boundaries around how you will and won’t get involved with conflict. Explain that you expect the team to resolve it among themselves but be clear that you’re available to help coach them through it.

The Healing Power of Nature

A craving for contact with nature slipped into my consciousness almost as soon as the pandemic began. I found myself itching with enthusiasm for my long daily walks along the ghostly avenues of NYC in the environs of my neighborhood. I would venture into Central Park, where I sought out empty pockets that offered me the privacy to conduct a phone session with a patient while being enveloped by the eerie and deserted beauty of the urban nature preserve of Central Park during the pandemic. I began to need these walks in a visceral way. They, along with the five pieces of candy I allotted to myself each day, became my daily treat. I felt calmed, soothed, and exhilarated by my walks.

Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer and creator of Central Park, wrote that “beautiful natural scenery, employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and re-invigoration to the whole system.”

Escape to Nature

After I escaped to the suburbs to wait out the rest of the worst part of the pandemic, I eagerly embraced the quiet green and flowered spaces that had caused me impatience in an earlier part of my life. There too I reveled in my long walks. I began to enjoy such outdoor activities as sitting around my outdoor fire pit well into the January cold, with friends, enjoying food, drink, and conversation while throwing logs on the fire. I no longer shrank from the cold as I had throughout my life. Instead, I greeted it energetically and readied myself with layers of warm clothes and brisk movement. My daily bike rides stretched well into winter when precipitation permitted.

What happened to me? I’m the woman who preferred to walk on a hard city block rather than a grassy turf and to be surrounded by crowds of sleek and polished New Yorkers over Duck shoe-clad suburban and rural dwellers. I thought the quiet of the suburbs was hugely overrated and the bustle of NYC was poorly understood by its detractors.

I began to examine exactly what I was getting out of this intense need for interaction with nature and the outdoors.

How Nature Benefits Us

After being sequestered first in my city apartment and later in a suburban house, being outdoors in nature felt freeing. Since we were not allowed to be indoors with other people, we essentially became locked indoors either alone or with a small pod of people. The outdoors represented freedomfrom the constraints of the pandemic. It was the only place where we could openly interact with people who were not in our pod. That was most people.

As I deepened my forays into nature and the outdoors, starting to hike more than ever before and venturing beyond the suburbs into the beach and the country, I noticed that the smell of the earth and foliage, the feel of the air on my skin and nostrils, and the sight of the beauty of the earth’s offerings gave me a sense of hope and comfort. A sense that life goes on no matter what and keeps renewing itself. If COVID brought disease and death, nature brought renewal and a connection to life without the demands that human relationships bring with them. If everyday life during COVID (and a destructive political environment) brought about turbulence, nature endowed us with a sense of peace and calm. If our COVID existence is angst-filled, nature comforts us.

The wonder of 21st-century technology gave us a way to connect to people virtually even if we couldn’t connect with them in person. I write extensively about that phenomenon in my recently published book How Are You? Connection in a Virtual Age; A Therapist, a Pandemic and Stories About Coping with Life. Yet, most of us found that we developed Zoom or screen fatigue. Living life online, as I call it, Has an alienating effect on our human senses and sensibilities. Nature with its gentle appeal to the basic components of all that is life-giving and sustaining is the balm for over-exposure to technology. Immersion in nature offered freedom not only from our pandemic isolation and imprisonment but from technology.

Outline of Benefits

  1. Sense of freedom
  2. Sense of renewal
  3. Hope
  4. Comfort, peace, and calm
  5. A connection to life without the demands that human relationships bring with them
  6. Freedom from technology

The Well-Gardened Mind

As I was contemplating my amazement over my love affair with nature, the outdoors, and what they stand for, a book called The Well Gardened Mind; The Restorative Power of Nature by Sue Stuart-Smith came out that addressed these phenomena. In it, Stuart-Smith cites ample research that has taken place over the last decades, showing that gardening and immersion in nature boosts mood and self-esteem and may help alleviate depression and anxiety. I am making a connection between gardening (which is a part of my infatuation with nature) and my experiences of making fires, hiking, biking, and just plain being in nature. Paraphrasing the 12th-century theologian and composer St. Hildegard Von Bingen, Stuart-Smith says that “our nervous systems are primed to function best in response to aspects of the natural world … When we work with the nature outside we work with nature inside us”

The Next Generation of You: Wendell Davis

by Jim Gehman

And later, after coaching wide receivers for the San Francisco 49ers and at Columbia University in New York City, Chicago became home again.

“I fell in love with Chicago during my playing days, playing in Soldier Field, and really enjoying the fans here, how much of a sports town Chicago is,” Davis said. “On top of that, you have the inspiring architecture that’s here, the great food, and all the great events that go on in Chicago. And then after saying all of that, I met the love of my life, my wife, Trish, in the Chicago area. That’s kept me here.”

In 2017, being an active member of the Chicago Chapter of the NFLPA Former Players, led Davis to a non-football related career with National Material, a steel processing company.

“I was brought in by Jim Osborne, who played with the Bears for 13 years. I met him through the PA years ago and he became a mentor of mine,” Davis said. “He had been with National Material for over 20 years and was getting ready to retire. They asked him to find a replacement, and he reached out to me. The next thing you know, I was hired.

“We are one of the oldest minority-owned steel companies in North America. We used to be in the steel manufacturing business, but now we buy steel from steel manufacturers and we add value to it for our customers.

“(The pandemic affected the business) momentarily, but the ownership prepared well for it. We were able to not totally bounce back yet, but hit the ground running.”

Davis is National Material’s Manager of Minority Development.

“I wear a couple of hats,” Davis said. “One of my hats is, I am charged with increasing higher diversity within our supply chain. So I basically help develop minority-owned companies to come in and compete for business with our suppliers. And then the other hat that I wear is, I go out and do business development. I help our sales team.

“(I enjoy) making a difference, having an impact. Especially in minority communities. It’s just not something that you’re doing to help minorities spin, but it’s making that spin count in the community, have an impact, and creating jobs.”

Davis, who is President of Chicago’s NFLPA Former Players Chapter, is also trying to create jobs for perspective pro football players as the wide receivers coach for HUB Football, which provides a link between players and teams.

“I just got involved with that this year. There’s a professional combine that’s put on in San Diego that I’ve been a part of,” Davis said. “It’s for kids that have just come out of college, kids that don’t get invited to the (NFL) combine (in Indianapolis). This came up especially during COVID. When the (NFL) combine was cancelled, this kind of took the place of it. We try to get guys a little recognition, give them an opportunity. (Showcase them for) not just the NFL, but the CFL and the Arena Leagues.”

Depression Explained

Depression is a frequently used word, but what exactly does it mean? Since October 7 is National Depression Screening Day and October 10 is National Mental Health Day (see NAMI learn more about Mental Illness Awareness Week that Congress initiated in 1990), I thought I would take this opportunity to delve deeper into the diagnoses and symptoms of depression and some of the most compelling research to treat depression and enhance mental (and physical) health.

Depression affects more than 264 million people worldwide. Of those impacted, 76-85% of people with mental health disorders in the middle to lower-income countries lack access to treatment. While depression is decreased with higher incomes, it is essential to recognize that the leading cause of death among non-Hispanic white, middle-aged adults in the U.S. was due to poisoning, with the third leading cause of suicide. This reveals the gravity of depression and its associated costs even among people in a higher-income country with broader access to care. Unfortunately, it also highlights one of the biggest challenges in treating depression, as one of the main symptoms of depression is the tendency to withdraw and isolate. It’s also a biological norm because the body naturally withdraws to conserve energy and heal when it feels sick. However, untreated depression is less likely to recover in a state of isolation and depression-driven behaviors.

What are the depression diagnoses?

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), depression has various physical and non-physical symptoms, with depressed mood and anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) being primary symptoms. That is why you cannot coax someone into looking at the bright side, trying to get them to laugh, or telling them to get over it. (All bad ideas that only serve to reinforce the depressed person’s emotional and physical isolation from you.)

Physical symptoms of depression may include sleep difficulties, weight changes (gain or loss), trouble concentrating, fatigue, and accelerated or decreased psychomotor activity. In contrast, non-somatic symptoms can be depressed mood, lack of pleasure, hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, and suicidal thoughts.

Not all of the listed depression symptoms have to be met to attain a depression diagnosis, yet having a cluster of the described symptoms combined with onset, length of time, and accounting for other existing medical conditions can result in the diagnosis of depression (based on the severity of mild, moderate, or severe). Some depression diagnoses are disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, major depression disorder (MDD) (with episodes and features), persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), premenstrual dysphoric disorder, postpartum depression, and depressive disorder due to another medical condition.

Systemic Consequences of Depression

Depression can lead to trouble concentrating, making one withdraw from social and physical activities (including work and/or school), and can have the reinforcing isolating impacts of being socially rejected, losing essential relationships, and/or getting let go from a job. Social isolation increases depression, so it’s a vicious, mutually reinforcing cycle.

Depression can also have devastating effects on a newborn when their mother is unavailable and disinterested. Ahmed et al. (2021) found mothers who had poor mental and physical health during the pregnancy and up to 15 months after the baby’s birth resulted in their infants having significantly poorer health scores and decreased functioning.

Unfortunately, numerous studies reveal that neglect and mistreatment in childhood have long-lasting harmful effects on health and often result in depression. Duprey et al. (2021) found neglect and childhood maltreatment to result in internalized shame, cognitive distortions. They blunted cortisol production (like in Addison’s Disease, where the body cannot produce cortisol and features a flat effect). Liebermann et al. (2018) showed that women with childhood maltreatment had higher depression, pelvic pain, and endometriosis rates. Zarse et al. (2019) identified a long list of early-onset health conditions and mental disorders among people with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including high rates of depression, substance abuse, and reduced lifespans.

Depression becomes reinforced through the generations as depressive parenting creates depressed adults combined with a depressive culture that often employs unhealthy habits for coping (like poor sleeping habits, excess nervousness and anxiety, alcohol and substance abuse, junk food preferences, lack of exercise, and poor self-care). Additionally, the inability to concentrate in school can lead to higher school drop-out rates, job instability, difficult relationships, trouble maintaining household chores and bills, reduced income, and reduced use of medical check-ups and healthcare. Consequently, it is not surprising that many studies have shown increased inflammation and diseases in chronically stressed and depressed people.

Recommendations for Treatment

One of the consistently researched and recognized interventions for treating depression (and chronic pain) is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This may help because it reduces distorted thinking patterns that pervade depression. Depression is akin to wearing blurry glasses, and one’s perceptions about the world and other people are not always correct. CBT helps to regain more accurate perceptions and overcome rumination, catastrophic thinking, fear, and self-abuse. It should be noted that CBT works best when it is with a trusted therapist. As so many studies and theories echo, good therapy outcomes result from a good therapeutic relationship. People often report improved relationships in other areas of their lives due to therapy, which aids in overcoming depression and sustaining mental health.

Rethinking What it Means to Recover from Addiction


My addiction was so extreme that by the end, I was injecting dozens of times a day. So I grabbed the lifeline I was thrown and attended the traditional 12-step rehab program recommended by the hospital where I underwent withdrawal.

But once I began to study the scientific data on addiction, I learned that these claims were not accurate. In fact, research shows that most people who meet full diagnostic criteria for having an addiction to alcohol or other drugs recover without any treatment or self-help groups—and many do so not by quitting entirely, but by moderating their use so that it no longer interferes with their productivity or relationships.

There is no “one true way” to end addiction—and the idea that “one size fits all” can be harmful and even deadly in some cases. Until we recognize this and celebrate the variety of recovery experiences, September’s National Recovery Month and similar efforts to promote healing will fail to reach millions of people who could benefit. During an overdose crisis that killed more than 90,000 people in 2020 alone, a better understanding of how people really do overcome addiction is essential.

Unfortunately, rehab hasn’t improved much since I attended in the late 20th century. At least two-thirds of American addiction treatment programs still focus on teaching the 12 steps and promoting lifelong abstinence and meeting attendance as the only way to recover. (The steps themselves include admitting powerlessness over the problem, finding a higher power, making amends for wrongs done, trying to improve “character defects” and prayer—a moral program unlike anything else in medicine.)

Moreover, despite the fact that the only treatment that is proven to cut the death rate from opioid addiction by 50% or more is long-term use of either methadone or buprenorphine, only about one-third of residential programs even permit these effective medicines, and around half of outpatient facilities use them, typically short-term.

Worse: when they do allow medication, most treatment centers also push people with opioid use disorder to attend the 12-step program, Narcotics Anonymous. That creates what can be deadly pressure to stop the meds. The group’s official literature says that people on methadone or buprenorphine are not “clean” and have only substituted one addiction for another.

I have been contacted by more than one family who lost a loved one to overdose because their relative had rejected or prematurely ended medication based on this view. If we don’t start to view recovery more inclusively, we are denying hope and healing to those who benefit from approaches other than the steps.

So, what does a more accurate and expansive view of recovery look like? To me, one of the most helpful definitions was devised by a group known as the Chicago Recovery Alliance (CRA), which founded the Windy City’s first needle exchange. CRA was also the first organization in the world to widely distribute the overdose reversal drug naloxone—and train drug users to save each other’s lives by using it. Naloxone (also known as Narcan) is a pure antidote to opioids: it restores the drive to breathe in overdose victims but must be given rapidly to be effective. (If used in error, it is safe: it won’t hurt people with other medical problems and typically works even if opioids have been combined with other drugs.)

Why Servant Leadership is Becoming the Leadership Style of the Future

However, servant leadership is a style of leadership that has been gaining popularity because it sees people’s needs as the end in itself. Servant leadership does not expect any outcome other than simply fulling the needs of people. It is implied that serving them will only do well for them.

Servant leadership today

Servant leadership is not only found in theory anymore. Researchers have shifted their studies to empirically verifiable research findings. Many researchers have also been successful in almost accurately predicting the impact and benefits of the servant leadership approach when applied. It is easier to observe and evaluate how effective servant leadership leads to specific outcomes with such findings.

Organizations around the world are directing their focus towards helping people grow and focus. Furthermore, the motivation of those in leadership positions is aligned to serve others, not just to lead, as almost every stakeholder in an institution has access to all information with the click of a button. The days when leadership and data were preserved for the few elites are bygone.

In the organizational sense, servant leadership empowers the subordinates to become leaders in their units. The competitive future belongs to those leaders and organizations, which will have everyone on board empowered to identify and resolve the organization’s problems. It awards organizational citizenship through servant leadership — this means that for employees to show altruism and go beyond their call of duty, the servant leader must empower each of them to feel like a significant member. This is only achievable when the leadership of an organization is concerned with the holistic well-being and growth of everyone.

Job performance is the aggregate of the contribution of all the individuals to the organizational goal over time. It could be task performance or contextual performance. Task performance contributes to goods and services, and it is relatively easy to measure and monitor. On the other hand, contextual performance involves interpersonal and voluntary activities, which help an organization achieve its core goals in a broader context. Contextual organizational goals can only be achieved with a united team of empowered staff and an environment that focuses on the staff members’ holistic welfare.

Globalization has shrunk the world into one village. Different cultures and norms now influence one another across continents. Multinationals are exporting best practices while at the same time learning from their host communities. The vibrant human rights movements across the world have shifted the focus to human needs. In this competitive 21st century, the institutions that will survive are those willing to embrace change and have servant leadership at the core of their organizational structure. However, labor unions, past management and leadership styles based on command, prestige and authority will cease to survive.

How servant leadership will change the world

Promoters and practitioners of servant leadership suggest that once servant leadership is internalized and lived to its tenets, the fruits of successful servant leadership will manifest in every aspect of society through most of the various attributes enumerated by scholars. Everyone will listen and be listened to; hence there will be little or no misunderstandings. This will help in the pursuit of building a united, cohesive community that confronts common challenges in unison. As such, society will be more empathetic, resulting in a more committed society to the growth of every member.

The One Skill All Modern Couples Need to Master

What’s the one skill that will benefit couples the most right now? That is, what’s most important to helping you and your partner feel happier, more resilient, less resentful, and better able to endure the many stresses of marriage and raising kids? The answer, according to Dr. John Gottman, is simple: listening. That is, you must know how to listen to your partner with empathy, interest, and, importantly, without offering solutions. Whether your relationship is strong or struggling, he says mastering this communication skill is critical to success.

“Research has shown that if people stay away from problem-solving and are able to listen empathetically and support their partner as they go through this very stressful period, they don’t feel so alone with what they’re experiencing,” says Dr. Gottman. “One of the most powerful things you can do is be a great listener and just be there without trying to be helpful.”

Dr. Gottman is in many ways the father of modern marriage research. For more than 40 years, he and his wife, psychologist Dr. Julie Gottman, have studied thousands of relationships (heterosexual and same-sex) to understand what makes a marriage stable, what behaviors are predictive of divorce, and what couples can do to ensure their partnership is kind, happy, and fulfilling. Through the Gottman Institute and their breakthrough research at the “Love Lab” at the University of Washington, they’ve shaped much of modern marriage therapy, and are responsible for such findings as the magic formula for a happy marriage and “bids for connection,” among many other insights. Because of them, countless couples understand themselves and their relationships better.

The Drs. Gottman are also authors or co-authors of more than 40 books about relationships, the latest of which is Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. In it, they offer eight topics — from money and adventure to spirituality and sex — and outline a variety of fun, interesting questions for couples to ask about each on a date. The conversations are not about confrontation, but rather curious exploration to help couples of all ages and stages learn more about one another.

Fatherly spoke to Dr. John Gottman about the pandemic’s impact on modern marriages, the conversations couples should be having, and how to truly listen to and validate your partner’s feelings.

COVID and the changes it brought were tough on a lot of marriages. Couples were forced to really rethink and retool their relationships. I’m curious, what are your thoughts on what relationships have had to endure over this past year and a half?

Well, it seems like couples have gone in two different directions. Those who were distressed before the pandemic hit have gotten a lot worse. The relationships have included a lot more dysfunctional conflict, and we’ve seen a big increase in domestic violence.

And then other couples whose marriages were stronger before the pandemic have gotten stronger through it. They’ve had more time with each other. They’ve had more of a chance to get closer and really rethink their values as a couple and as individuals. And so, we’ve seen this split between relationships that were strong initially and relationships that were challenged initially.

Warning Signs Someone is in Debt

“Obviously I want to believe him when he says he doesn’t owe debt right now,” the writer goes on to say, “but it’s pretty obvious I have my doubts because I am asking you for advice. Why do those letters come? Is he in debt right now? How much debt does one accumulate and for how long before those letters start coming?”

WHAT DO CREDIT CARD DEBT RELIEF LETTERS MEAN?

It’s understandable to be concerned about a loved one who’s previously struggled with debt – especially if they’ve been inclined to try and hide their problems in the past. However, letters simply promoting some form of debt repayment program are not a clear indication of a current problem.

“Credit card relief” is often (but not always) another way to say debt settlement. Companies offering debt settlement or credit card relief to consumers who have struggled with debt in the past are essentially just advertising their services to the population most likely to need those services. It has nothing to do with someone’s actual current circumstances. Keep in mind, a debt settlement company does not have the right to pull someone’s credit report, so there’s no way for them to know who is in debt and who isn’t.

It is possible, though, that the debt settlement company sent these letters as the result of a direct inquiry from the consumer. The family member in question may have contacted the settlement company looking for information about the solutions they offer and received the letters as a result. If this were the case, obviously it would be an indication that they are at least concerned about their debt.

CLEAR WARNING SIGNS OF DEBT PROBLEMS

Everyone’s experience with debt (and shame, for that matter) looks a little different, so the signs of a growing problem with debt will differ from person to person. That said, there are a few common signs that someone you care about is struggling with debt.

RECEIVING COLLECTION LETTERS OR PHONE CALLS

Here’s the part of the article where I remind everyone that you really shouldn’t be going through someone else’s mail. Stealing mail and tampering with mail are both felony offenses. And while there’s no law against taking a good long look at the unopened envelope of a letter addressed to someone else living in your house, you should always strive to do your best to respect the privacy of others.

That said, if you notice a loved one has started receiving letters from companies you can identify as collection agencies, that’s an indication they may be struggling with debt. If they begin receiving multiple phone calls a day that they either ignore or hang up on immediately, that could be a sign that someone is attempting to collect on an unpaid debt.

SPENDING DOESN’T MATCH INCOME

Assuming you have some sense of a loved one’s financial situation, you can probably tell (without knowing all the details) when their spending seems out of line with their means. If you they make lavish purchases that seem well beyond what they can normally afford, or if you know for a fact that their income has dropped (or stopped outright) but they continue to spend as normal, those can both be warning signs that they’re leaning on credit and creating debt.

BECOMING EVASIVE ABOUT FINANCES

Personal finance can be a very personal subject. Quite a few people don’t like to discuss the coming and going of their money. If you’re concerned about someone’s debt situation, what you’re really looking for is a change in how they talk (or don’t talk) about money. If they seem overly defensive about purchases or more closed off than usual, that may be a sign that something is wrong.

CONTINUALLY ASKING TO BORROW MONEY

We all hit hard times and there’s nothing particularly odd or worrisome about a trusted loved one asking to borrow money to help them through a difficult time. Routinely asking to borrow money, however, is a major red flag. At the very least, continually asking for money suggests a major problem that needs to be investigated. 

If you have reason to believe that someone you care about may be struggling with debt, your best bet is to simply let them know that you’re there, that no one is judging them, and that help is available should they need it.

How to Rollover a Retirement Account

If you’ve transferred jobs more than once, you may find yourself with several retirement accounts at various employers. So what do you do about all these old retirement accounts?

DECIDE WHAT OPTION BEST SUITS YOUR NEEDS

You usually have four options when it comes to managing old retirement accounts. You can leave the accounts alone (assuming that’s allowed by your old plan); you can move the accumulated assets into your new account (assuming that’s allowed by your current plan); you can cash out the old account (understanding there will likely be penalties involved); or you can roll it all into an IRA.

Rolling over your retirement accounts into an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) is often the best bet. Not only does this consolidate your assets into one place, making them easier to keep track of, but IRAs usually offer more investment options and flexibility than a 401(k). Rolling over to a 401(k) can be a bit tricky, and if you do it incorrectly, you may find yourself paying a penalty.

Make sure you understand your options and the consequences of each before making your decision. Consider speaking with a retirement specialist if you need additional guidance.

FIND A BROKERAGE FIRM

You’ll want to select a brokerage firm, so be sure to do some research before deciding which firm you’d like to use. 

If you already have retail accounts, you may want to open your account with the same firm. In some instances, you might even be eligible to receive discounts if your assets are over a set minimum amount. Ask about fees, including low balance fees and annual fees, and choose an account with features that best serve your needs.

CONTACT THE PLAN ADMINISTRATOR TO INITIATE THE ROLLOVER

Once you’ve chosen a brokerage company and opened the account, contact the plan administrator for the plan in question and ask for a direct rollover. With a direct rollover, the proceeds of your 401(k) account will be sent directly to the IRA trustee rather than you. This saves you some money, because if the funds were sent to you, tax withholdings would be kept, and you may be subject to a penalty.

PICK YOUR INVESTMENTS

Once the money arrives in your new account, you may want to meet with your brokerage firm to decide how to invest your money. With an IRA, you usually have a good deal of flexibility with your investment options, so you’ll want to develop an investment strategy that supports your goals.

When you rollover your account, you may be tempted to use the assets to pay current debts. Keep in mind that by using retirement assets for current spending, you’ll not only jeopardize your retirement security, you’ll also be subject to tax withholding and (often very steep) penalties.

With So Many People Quitting, Don’t Overlook Those Who Stay

For anyone who doubted, the data is in. The Great Resignation is real and it’s happening. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that during the months of April, May, and June 2021 a total of 11.5 million workers quit their jobs. And it’s not over. According to Gallup research, 48 percent of employees are actively looking to make a change, and according to Personio research, nearly 1:4 will do so in the next six months. Those looking for new opportunities will find ripe opportunities; in June the U.S. hit an all-time high of 10.1 million job openings.

What does this all mean to your organization? You are likely juggling two pressing needs: hiring to backfill people who have left and hiring new people to support business growth. The scarcity is real — too few people for too many jobs. The imbalance of this supply-demand highlights more than ever that productivity is about people.

The best way to stabilize your business is to stem the tsunami of attrition and increase your retention. In the frantic need to hire more people, the group we often forget to attend to are the folks who stay — those showing up day-in and day-out shouldering the work that needs to get done. Think about what these people — the ones who are here, working for and with you — need now. The short answer is they need to be seen for who they are and what they are contributing. It’s your job as the leader to make sure they’re getting the recognition they deserve.

And we get it: As employers, leaders, managers, and HR professionals, you’ve been dealing with a lot of uncertainty and change. You have a lot on your plate. Not having the right people in the right quantities in the right seats to get the work done creates a hamster-wheel effect — you keep running, faster and faster, exhausted with forces outside your control. So let’s control what you can control, and that is you. If you want to stem the rate of turnover in your organization or team, you must look inside yourself and decide what is possible. So, let’s stick our finger in that proverbial hamster wheel and make it stop for a minute. Let’s pause and see what is possible, what you can do to make a difference.

Here are four steps leaders can take now to best navigate the Great Resignation:

1. Be aware of your impact.

As leaders, people are watching you all the time whether you realize it or not. So, pause and consider how you are showing up in both your words and your actions. Let’s say your company is experiencing record YTD turnover of 25% and hiring is falling 60% below target (real scenarios in far too many companies). Your people are worried and stressed. How do you message the realities of these pain points to your people? Are you aware of how your own concerns and frustrations are experienced by others? Are you unintentionally adding to their fear and uncertainty? When you become aware of your impact, you can control it and steer it in the right direction.

2. Focus on potential and possibility.  

On the flip side, let’s say your organization has 75% retention and you have attracted and welcomed a large number of new people to the organization. Consider what outcome you want to create out of this uniquely disruptive time. This is a time to be grounded in pragmatism blended with possibility, gratitude, and recognition of what your people, old and new, are going through. Get curious and ask:

  • What do you envision as the best possible outcome for this situation?
  • What excites you about that?
  • What does that give you/the team/the organization?

When you communicate to your people in this way, the impact is one of potential and possibility instead of fear and uncertainty.

3. Make it okay to leave.

Speaking about communication, let’s look at one other area where you may be creating an unintended impact — how you and others in the organization treat people when they leave.

In far too many companies, when an employee gives notice the reaction is akin to an emotional breakup — you’ve been left and you feel rejected. This triggers some not great behavior like a tendency to make the person leaving “wrong” and doubt their trustworthiness or integrity — even though that was not the case before they gave notice. There is a penchant to dismiss their presence and devalue their contribution. Think deeply about what this type of behavior signals to the departing employee and remember, those that remain and are watching.

An alternative is to approach these transitions with gratitude. It’s helpful to realize the era of lifelong employment is over and with rare exception, your employees are with your organization as a pit stop on their career journey. They’ve contributed and hopefully, they’ve learned some new things. They are not the same person they were when they joined and the same goes for you and for the organization. What would it be like to pause when a resignation occurs and give voice to these things from both sides of the relationship? What would be created if you paused to acknowledge how both sides of the relationship have grown and evolved? Rather than viewing a resignation as a rejection of the relationship, what could be possible if you began to view it as an inflection point in its evolution?

The talent pool is tight, and careers are long. End this phase of your time together with appreciation.

4. Give your employees the respect and attention they deserve

The marketplace for talent has shifted. You need to think of your employees like customers and put thoughtful attention into retaining them. This is the first step to slow attrition and regain your growth curve. And this does not happen when they feel ignored in the fever to hire new people or underappreciated for the effort they make to keep business moving forward. You cannot take your people for granted and expect them to stay — healthy relationships do not work that way. Here are three steps:

Re-recruit them. 

Consider what conversations would be like if you were recruiting them to your company.

  • Spend time to understand their motivations and ambitions. With so much new hiring happening, identify where opportunities might exist inside the organization (even if it is outside of your team) to help them fulfill unrealized dreams and ambitions.
  • Help them see and claim the positive impact they are making in the organization. Acknowledge not just what they are doing, but why it matters. Let them know what you appreciate about how they are showing up during difficult times. People want to know they are making a difference.
  • Don’t stop. These are not one-time conversations. You can’t just wade in, have a talk, and think all is good. This should be the primary focus of each manager and leader in your company.

Reward them.

This may ignite the need for a systemic look at how and what is recognized and rewarded in your organization. Now may be the time to challenge the status quo if what you are seeing from your people and hearing from the talent marketplace is misaligned to your company’s current reality. This is not just about paying people more — research tells us the motivational effect of pay raises is short-lived. Just as important is how you recognize and value the contributions and impact of your people.

  • Think about the DNA of your organization. If the old ways of doing things no longer serve the organization and its people, figure out what does.
  • Be willing to let go of the past … it’s gone.
  • Play the long game here. Be sure your company’s compensation philosophy is clear and understood by all. (That starts with you.) Make sure accountability is in place so that those current employees are not shorted when new people are hired.

Equity starts in how you value contribution. You may not be the only one in your organization to fix the myriad of issues linked to recognition and rewarding your people, but you can lead. You can give voice to the issues and advocate for accountability.

Engage them. 

Businesses are hurting and at the root of that pain for many today is a shortage of people to do the work. Your existing people feel that pain as they extend themselves to pick-up extra shifts to provide coverage, listen to customer complaints when they are helpless to fix the real issue, or witness one more colleague call it “quits” when their tipping point is reached. So, be bold and engage your people in helping you solve problems.

  • Ask for their help. This requires courage because admitting that you do not know all the answers is vulnerable work. It takes strength and confidence to appreciate that outcomes are better when more ideas are included, when fuller representation is present and diverse perspectives are heard.
  • Give them agency to help mitigate the day-to-day concerns they are faced with. Create space for them to step up, participate and inform the way forward. This sends the crucial message that they are trusted and valued.
  • Focus on the desired outcome. Actively seek the insights of diverse voices and points of view into what will help achieve it, especially insights and ideas different than your own. Remain open to being surprised and delighted.

How To Get Kids To Tell You About Their Day

He’ll spend hours talking to me about Pokemon or strange animal facts, but when it comes to opening up about his days, he typically maxes out at “good,” “fine,” or some version thereof. He seems pretty happy and well-settled, so I’m not especially worried about whether he’s actually struggling. Still, I’d like to know what happens in his life for seven hours a day.

So HuffPost Parents pulled together some strategies to help kids open up about their day, especially if they’re as quiet as my son.

Feed them first

It’s important for parents to recognize that it really does take more energy and effort for children to think back on their day and put that experience into words, according to Rebecca Jackson, vice president of programs and outcomes and a cognitive specialist at Brain Balance Achievement Center. The kids aren’t necessarily being obstinate or cagey on purpose. They might just be genuinely fried.

“Make sure they’ve had a snack with protein 20 to 30 minutes before you try and get them communicate so they have the fuel to do what maybe doesn’t come as naturally to them,” Jackson said.

Yes, sometimes it really is that simple.

Experiment with timing

Asking kids how they’re doing — and getting an actual, robust answer — often comes down to timing, Jackson said. When you pick them up, you’re probably really eager to hear all about their day because you missed them, but they might want nothing more than to just decompress. Is your child more likely to open up at bedtime? Is it better to save updates for the weekend?

Many parents find that it helps to use time in the car, whether that’s en route to school or to various activities, or when you’re out running errands together to catch up. It has a clear beginning and end — plus, kids don’t have to make direct eye contact with you when they’re opening up, which can be helpful.

Pair your questions with an activity

“When I want my son to open up, we go play catch,” Jackson said. “Then I can ask him questions and he’ll be super chatty.” Her daughter, on the other hand, is more inclined to talk about her day if they head to Starbucks or take a walk together.

Some evidence shows that changing up where you are and what you’re doing can have an impact on communication. Research suggests that having meetings while walking can be useful for adults because they make people feel more creative and can reduce mental fatigue. It’s not unreasonable to assume the same might be true of parents and children walking and talking together. 

Use information you already have about their classroom, teacher, etc.

Like kids, parents also need to do their homework, former teacher Christopher Persley wrote in a 2017 article for Lifehacker about getting kids to open up. That means learning as much as you can about your child’s teacher, their classmates, and their day-to-day schedule — and then using that information to help get conversations going.

“Take detailed notes at curriculum evenings and at parent-teacher conferences. I’ll even check out the school menu to see what the kids are having for lunch each day,” Persley said. “Having this information at your disposal makes it easier to formulate questions for your child.”

The curriculum night trick has been a lifesaver in my own home, and I’ve been using bits of information his teacher shared about the daily schedule and classroom structure to get my son to open up. (Bonus: He’s continually dazzled by my seemingly magical ability to know about things like circle time and the classroom helper.)

7 Rules All Divorced Dads Need to Follow

With 36% of all marriages ending in with that outcome, the United States has the third-highest divorce rate in the world. Perhaps a more heart-breaking statistic is that 50% of all American children will witness the end of their parents’ marriage. The impact can be life-changing. 

As a father, the way you manage the process of divorce, to get the best from a bad situation while ensuring your actions have little if any harmful impact upon your children, is vital. But what should you keep in mind? To offer some advice and hard-fought wisdom on the subject, we spoke to a variety of fathers-who’ve-been-there as well as divorce experts. Here is the divorce advice for men all dads should keep in mind. 

1. Don’t Go It Alone

“Do not attempt to manage a divorce without professional legal help,” insists Roy Smith, not his real name, a divorced father of two from Pennsylvania. “Although you might be tempted to ‘work things out’ you can soon find that co-parenting issues emerge, or something else like money gets in the way. It is best to consult with professionals and to use a mediator if possible.” 

Even if the initial separation runs relatively smoothly, be prepared for complications further down the line. “People tend to come to us when things have gone wrong – and our data shows that’s around three years after separation,” explains Adam Colthorpe, Chair of Trustees for Dadsunlimited.org, a UK-based advice and support service for parents, grandparents, and guardians. 

What tends to happen, per Colthorpe, is this: Things go fine for a while. But sooner or later one of the parents gets a new partner, or something else emerges that renews conflict. “These can be geographic changes – one parent moving home – or the children progressing from one age group to another, or a health issue occurring in a child,’ he says. 

2. Avoid Dishing Dirt

It’s crucial for both parties to either not discuss their ex or only mention them to the kids in a positive light, suggests Mediator Dori sSwirtz of DivorceHarmony. “It can only hurt the children if you speak negatively to them about their other parent,” she says. “ It’s best for Dads to focus on their own relationship with the kids and really tune in to their wants and needs.” 

In Shwirtz’s experience many dads actually grow closer to their kids with divorce. “Since they may have limited time together, they use that time to connect and appreciate their special relationship.” 

Roy Smith concurs. He advises dads to keep a level head and remember that your children need both parents. It’s important, he adds,  to not disparage the other parent in front of the children and not be passive-aggressive either — your kids can pick up on it. 

“One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about children is that on some level they understand that they are a split of their parents and when you disparage one, you are disparaging your child,” says Smith. 

3. Consider Mediation

“Mediation is a crucial piece of the puzzle for the majority of divorcing couples,” insists Shwirtz. Mediation empowers both parties to make the decisions for themselves. “When it comes to their mutual priority — the children — nobody knows what to do better than the parents.”

In most cases, Shwirtz adds, it’s in the best interest of the children if mom and dad are making the decisions via mediation and not a judge who knows nothing about them. “They are also more likely to carry out their agreement since it was made by them,” she says. 

Addressing and agreeing on issues via mediation at the earliest stage is vital, according to Roy Smith, who insists that it’s important to  avoid seeing divorce as a ‘closure’. 

“Certainly, there was a part of me that believed once we were divorced that parenting would be easier but this is not usually the case,” he says,  “I found that whatever issues are causing you to get divorced in the first place will most likely be present during the remainder of your co-parenting.”

4. Please Don’t Use Your Kids As Pawns

Children can easily become weapons in a battle between parents, witnessing raw emotions, and often being manipulated by one or both parents if things turn toxic. 

“I always tell both parties you can only control your own behavior when it comes to interactions with your children,” warns Shwirtz. “It can be frustrating sometimes if you don’t like what your ex is doing with the kids but as long as they’re not putting them in danger, you really don’t have a say anymore.”

Abide by any agreements, disentangle your children from arguments where possible, and don’t attempt to distort the reality of what they’re witnessing. 

“I was the victim of that in my situation,” explains Jonathan, not his real name, a separated father of two from New Jersey. “My ex would say things about me to our children whenever they were staying with her during our separation. Just lies in order to make me sound like it was all my fault. I tried to just stay the course, to make everything as stable as I could for them. I’d say things like ‘Mom’s just saying stuff because she’s not dealing with this very well. But inside I was angry and upset.”

15 natural ways to lower your blood pressure

If left uncontrolled, high blood pressure raises your risk of heart disease and stroke.

But there’s good news. There are a number of things you can do to lower your blood pressure naturally, even without medication.

Here are 15 natural ways to combat high blood pressure.

1. Walk and exercise regularly

Exercise is one of the best things you can do to lower high blood pressure.

Regular exercise helps make your heart stronger and more efficient at pumping blood, which lowers the pressure in your arteries.

In fact, 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as running, per week, can help lower blood pressure and improve your heart health.

What’s more, doing even more exercise than this reduces your blood pressure even further, according to the National Walkers’ Health Study.

Bottom line: Walking just 30 minutes a day can help lower your blood pressure. More exercise helps reduce it even further.

2. Reduce your sodium intake

Salt intake is high around the world. In large part, this is due to processed and prepared foods.

For this reason, many public health efforts are aimed at lowering salt in the food industry.

Many studies have linked high salt intake with high blood pressure and heart events, including stroke.

However, more recent research indicates that the relationship between sodium and high blood pressure is less clear.

One reason for this may be genetic differences in how people process sodium. About half of people with high blood pressure and a quarter of people with normal levels seem to have a sensitivity to salt.

If you already have high blood pressure, it’s worth cutting back your sodium intake to see if it makes a difference. Swap out processed foods with fresh ones and try seasoning with herbs and spices rather than salt.

Bottom line: Most guidelines for lowering blood pressure recommend reducing sodium intake. However, that recommendation might make the most sense for people who are salt-sensitive.

3. Drink less alcohol

Drinking alcohol can raise blood pressure. In fact, alcohol is linked to 16% of high blood pressure cases around the world (12Trusted Source).

While some research has suggested that low-to-moderate amounts of alcohol may protect the heart, those benefits may be offset by adverse effects (12Trusted Source).

In the U.S., moderate alcohol consumption is defined as no more than one drink a day for women and two for men. If you drink more than that, cut back.

Bottom line: Drinking alcohol in any quantity may raise your blood pressure. Limit your drinking in line with the recommendations.

4. Eat more potassium-rich foods

Potassium is an important mineral.

It helps your body get rid of sodium and eases pressure on your blood vessels.

Modern diets have increased most people’s sodium intake while decreasing potassium intake.

To get a better balance of potassium to sodium in your diet, focus on eating fewer processed foods and more fresh, whole foods.

Foods that are particularly high in potassium include:

  • vegetables, especially leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes
  • fruit, including melons, bananas, avocados, oranges, and apricots
  • dairy, such as milk and yogurt
  • tuna and salmon
  • nuts and seeds
  • beans

Bottom line: Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which are rich in potassium, can help lower blood pressure.

The 3 Phases of Making a Major Life Change

Many of us believe that unexpected events or shocks create fertile conditions for major life and career changes by sparking us to reflect about our desires and priorities. That holds true for the coronavirus pandemic. A bit over a year ago, when I asked people in an online poll to tell me how the pandemic had affected their plans for career change, 49% chose this response: “It has given me downtime to rest and/or think.”

That’s a good start. But if there is one thing I have learned from decades of studying successful career change, it’s that thinking on its own is far from sufficient. We rarely think our way into a new way of acting. Rather, we act our way into new ways of thinking — and being.

Yes, events that disrupt our habitual routines have the potential to catalyze real change. They give us a chance to experiment with new activities and to create and renew connections. Even in the seemingly “unproductive” time we spend away from our everyday work lives, we conduct important inner business — asking the big existential questions, remembering what makes us happy, shoring up the strength to make difficult choices, consolidating our sense of self, and more.

Enough has happened during this past year to make many of us keenly aware of what we no longer want. But the problem is this: More appealing, feasible alternatives have yet to materialize. So we’re stuck in limbo between old and new. And now, with most Covid restrictions at last falling away and a return to the office imminent, we confront a real danger: getting sucked back into our former jobs and ways of working.

How can those of us who want to make a career transition avoid that? How can we make progress toward our goals by building on what we’ve learned this past year?

Research on the transformative potential of a catalyzing event like the coronavirus pandemic suggests that we are more likely to make lasting change when we actively engage in a three-part cycle of transition — one that gets us to focus on separationliminality, and reintegration. Let’s consider each of those parts of the cycle in detail.

The Benefits of Separation

“I spent lockdown in this idyllic, secluded environment,” I was told by John, a businessman whose last executive role came to an end around the onset of the pandemic, enabling him to move out into the country. “I got to see the spring come and go,” he said. “I got to see a lot of nature. It was just an amazingly peaceful backdrop. I got married last year, so my wife and I had an enormous amount of time together. My son, from whom I’d been estranged, came to stay with us. So I got to know him again, which was a great experience. This was a very blessed period.”

John’s experience wasn’t unique. Research on how moving can facilitate behavior change suggests that people who found a new and different place to live during the pandemic may now have better chances of making life changes that stick. Why? Because of what’s known as “habit discontinuity.” We are all more malleable when separated from the people and places that trigger old habits and old selves.

Change always starts with separation. Even in some of the ultimate forms of identity change — brainwashing, de-indoctrinating terrorists, or rehabilitating substance abusers — the standard operating practice is to separate subjects from everybody who knew them previously, and to deprive them of a grounding in their old identities. This separation dynamic explains why young adults change when they go away to college.

My recent research has shown how much our work networks are prone to the “narcissistic and lazy” bias. The idea is this: We are drawn spontaneously to, and maintain contact with, people who are similar to us (we’re narcissistic), and we get to know and like people whose proximity makes it easy for use to get to know and like them (we’re lazy).

The pandemic disrupted at least physical proximity for most of us. But that might not be enough — particularly as we rush back into our offices, travel schedules and social lives — to mitigate the powerful similarities that the narcissistic and lazy bias create for us at work. That’s why maintaining some degree of separation from the network of relationships that defined our former professional lives can be vital to our reinvention.

Tammy English, of Washington University, and Laura Carstensen, of Stanford University, found that the size of people’s networks shrank after the age of 60, not because these people had fewer opportunities to connect but because, increasingly, they perceived time as being limited, which made them more selective. Quite possibly many of our experiences of the pandemic, like John’s, will foster our reinvention by encouraging greater selectivity in how and with whom we spend our limited time.

Liminal Learnings

When the pandemic hit, Sophie, a former lawyer, was transitioning out of a two-decade career and found herself wanting to explore a range of new work possibilities, among them documentary filmmaking, journalism, non-executive board roles, and sustainability consulting. Lockdown created a liminal time and space, a “betwixt and between” zone, in which the normal rules that governed Sophie’s professional life were temporarily lifted, and she felt able to experiment with all sorts of work and leisure pursuits without committing to any of them. She made the most of that period — taking several courses, working on start-up ideas, doing freelance consulting, joining a nonprofit board, and producing two of her first short films.

Taking advantage of liminal interludes allows us to experiment — to do new and different things with new and different people. In turn, that affords us rare opportunities to learn about ourselves and to cultivate new knowledge, skills, resources and relationships. But these interludes don’t last forever. At some point, we have to cull learning from our experiments and use it to take some informed next steps in our plans for career change. What is worth pursuing further? What new interest has cropped up that’s worth a look? What will you drop having learned that it’s not so appealing after all? What do you keep, but only as a hobby?

When Sophie took stock, she was surprised to realize that she hadn’t grown in her board role as much as she had expected, whereas she had very quickly started to build meaningful connections linked to the film industry. These were vital recognitions for her to make before she committed herself to next steps in her transition plan.

Reintegration: A Time for New Beginnings

Most of the executives and professionals with whom I have exchanged pandemic experiences tell me that they do not want to return to hectic travel schedules or long hours that sacrifice time with their families — but are nonetheless worried that they will.

They are right to be worried, because external shocks rarely produce lasting change. The more typical pattern after we receive some kind of wake-up call is simply to revert back to form once things return to “normal.” That’s what the Wharton professor Alexandra Michel found in 2016, when she investigated the physical consequences of overwork for four cohorts of investment bankers over a 12-year period.For these people, avoiding unsustainable work habits required more than changing jobs or even occupations. Many of them had physical breakdowns even after moving into organizations that were supposedly less work-intensive. Why? Because they had actually moved into similarly demanding positions, but without taking sufficient time in between roles to convalesce and gain psychological distance from their hard-driving selves.

Our ability to take advantage of habit discontinuity depends on what we do in the narrow window of opportunity that opens up after routine-busting changes. One study has found, for example, that the window of opportunity for engaging in more environmentally sustainable behaviors lasts up to three months after people move house. Similarly, research on the “fresh start” effect shows that while people experience heightened goal-oriented motivation upon after returning to work from a holiday, this motivation peaks on the first day back and declines rapidly thereafter.

The hybrid working environments with which many organizations are currently experimenting represent a possible new window of opportunity for many people hoping to make a career change, one in which the absence of old cues and the need to make conscious choices provides an opportunity to implement new goals and intentions. If you’re one of these people, it’s now up to you to decide whether you will use this period to effect real career change — or whether, instead, you’ll drift back into your old job and patterns as if nothing ever happened.

How Spending Time Outside Can Improve Your Mental Health

Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, went on a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike while grieving the loss of her mother. Many millennials have left a traditional lifestyle to travel in a camper van to experience natural wonders. Our national parks have been at capacity from visitors throughout the pandemic. There are a lot of examples of people seeking nature for the benefits it has.

Here are some reasons spending time in nature can improve physical and mental health:

  • Exercise. A lot of activities in nature at minimum involve walking in order to get there, which boosts serotonin, lowers blood pressure, strengthens your heart, and keeps you fit.
  • It can boost your energy
  • Fresh air (free aromatherapy)
  • A break from screen time, which is good for your eyes
  • Scenery. Who doesn’t love looking at pretty things?
  • Quietness and the sounds of nature.
  • Getting Vitamin D, an essential vitamin the lack of which can sometimes lead to depression
  • It can lower your adrenaline from stress build-up

How much time do we need to be outdoors to get the benefits? You may see many benefits from increments of just 15 minutes. Taking time for extended vacations and trips during the year are special occasions, but we can incorporate time outside daily.

Here are some ideas of things to do outside regularly:

  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood
  • Visit a local park
  • Go to the beach, lake, or river
  • Ride your bike or skate
  • Do some yard work
  • Take your pet outside
  • Sit outside and listen to music
  • Eat out on a restaurant’s patio
  • Have a picnic with a friend
  • Park your car farther away in a parking lot
  • Play an outdoor game or sport with your children
  • Enjoy your coffee or tea on your porch in the morning
  • Go camping
  • Take a hike
  • Go kayaking or canoeing
  • Go out on a boat
  • Join a sports league
  • Go to a farmers’ market

A great way to incorporate more time outside is just to set a goal or intention for the day or week. If you feel short on time, just turn something you already do into an outdoor experience. Also, note if you are the type of person who doesn’t feel as comfortable in nature. That is perfectly fine; getting some sunlight however possible can still have added health benefits, though, and exercise can always be done indoors. Try to do some new things outdoors that feel comfortable for you and see how you feel.

The FDA Authorized a Booster Shot

“After considering the totality of the available scientific evidence and the deliberations of our advisory committee of independent, external experts, the FDA amended the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to allow for a booster dose in certain populations such as health care workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, among others,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner in a statement announcing the FDA’s decision. “As we learn more about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including the use of a booster dose, we will continue to evaluate the rapidly changing science and keep the public informed.”

The agency’s decision follows the advice of its advisory committee, which met on Sept. 17 to review data on Pfizer-BioNTech’s booster, and voted unanimously to authorize an additional dose for certain populations. The FDA’s decision now goes to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to provide details on how long people who have already been vaccinated must wait before getting a booster, and whether the booster should only be given to people who were originally vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, which is likely.

The data that Pfizer-BioNTech presented to the FDA showed the booster dose was both safe and efficacious in increasing waning immune responses to the vaccine. In the companies’ studies involving several hundred people who received the recommended two doses of the vaccine, antibody levels against the COVID-19 virus started to fall after several months. But boosting with third dose of the vaccine about six months after the second shot brought antibody counts back up, in some cases to levels even higher than those generated after the second dose. The FDA also reviewed data from Israeli health agencies, which showed early evidence that booster doses reduced infection rates among people over 60 years by 10-fold compared to those who received only the two original doses, and that the additional dose brought antibody levels up to where they were just after the second dose.

There are less robust data on people in younger age groups, since anyone in that category who has been vaccinated received their shots more recently than the elderly, who the FDA prioritized to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine first, after the agency authorized the two-dose shot in Dec. 2020. That’s why the advisory committee voted against recommending a booster for all vaccinated people, as Pfizer-BioNTech originally requested, and limited its recommendation to high-risk populations.

Studies looking at people who were originally vaccinated with Moderna or Johnson&Johnson-Janssen’s shot and received a different booster dose are expected soon, but were not available for health officials at FDA or CDC to review yet.

“This first FDA authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine booster is a critical milestone in the ongoing fight against this disease,” said Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, in a statement. “Today’s FDA action is an important step in helping the most vulnerable among us remain protected from COVID-19.”

Here’s how Social Security’s looming shortfall could affect your retirement plans

Social Security’s surplus reserves are expected to run out in 2033, one year earlier than previously estimated, according to the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. That means the entitlement program will only be able to pay out 76% of scheduled benefits at that time if nothing is done to boost the fund.

“People who are looking to retire in their early 50s or in the next 10 or 15 years can probably expect less than 80% of that benefit,” Kristen Carlisle, general manager of Betterment for Business, told Yahoo Money.

The economic fallout brought on by the pandemic changed Social Security’s funding outlook. Employment, earnings, interest rates, and GDP dropped significantly last year and will recover gradually over the next two years. The pandemic also elevated the mortality rate, slowed the birth rate, and reduced, all of which affected the shortfall projections, the report said.

hat’s only exacerbated the already hamstrung agency.

“Social Security has been paying out more than they’ve been taking in,” Scott Thoma, retirement strategist at Edward Jones, told Yahoo Money. “At some point in time, there won’t be any reserves left for them to pull from.”

Thoma said the government can enact the same levers it pulled four decades ago like increasing the full age of Social Security eligibility and payroll taxes, but it’s a matter of prioritization and the country’s other pressing problems.

“There’s a lot of things that they see that are higher near-term priorities,” he said. “It’s not like it’s not an issue. It’s just a 2033 issue versus a 2021 issue.

Assess your retirement savings

Americans should factor the potential reduction into their retirement plans. Financial experts encourage a retirement plan stress test for multiple outcomes relating to health, employment, and living expenses, and when to file for Social Security benefits, which should be treated as a supplement to savings.

“[Social Security isn’t] going to be the sole cushion for you after you stop working,” Carlisle said. The program was conceived to provide for only 30% to 40% of your pre-retirement income and not fully support retirement, Carlisle said.

Considering the average individual Social Security benefit is around $1,500 monthly — or $18,500 annually — the average per year would equal $14,060 after the 24% benefit reduction. That’s a loss of nearly $90,000 over the course of a 20-year retirement.

To calculate what your benefits will look like after the estimated reduction, use your Social Security statement. Take the estimated monthly benefits based on the different filing ages and then reduce it by a quarter, Thoma suggested. That figure is what you can expect per month.

If that’s not enough — in addition to your own savings — savers over 50 can contribute more than the annual maximum to their retirement accounts, known as catch-up contributions. Younger savers should take regularly contribute as much as they can to employer-sponsored plans or IRAs or Roth IRAs that can be set up independently.

“You want to make sure that you’re taking advantage of retirement programming as it exists before you turn 50,” she said.

To Sell Your Innovative Ideas, You Must Overcome These 4 “Frictions”

Kellogg professors Loran Nordgren and David Schonthal, see this as the perfect analogy for how innovations do, or do not, hit their targets. There’s the fuel of the new product or idea—the compelling features meant to draw people in—but there are also frictions to be considered—the sticking points that make people less likely to adopt something new.

Yet, they say, most innovators think only about fuel and ignore friction.

“We instinctively believe that the way to get people to say yes to our ideas is to add value, to use fuel,” explains Nordgren, a professor of management and organizations. “We often neglect the other side of the equation: the friction that opposes change. Ignoring frictions when pursuing ideas would be like building an airplane and caring only about engines and not aerodynamics.”

Nordgren and Schonthal are authors of the forthcoming book The Human Element, which lays out a framework for how to identify and then tackle the frictions that may be hindering adoption of your innovations. They discussed their framework in a recent The Insightful Leader Live webinar.

There are four basic dimensions to a new idea—each of which has a corresponding friction. Innovators should consider all four of these frictions when launching something new. To explain them, the professors offered a case study of a home-building company.

The company built 1,000 homes for empty nesters who wanted to downsize. Lots of people came to tour the homes, with large percentages of visitors putting down five percent earnest money.

Great news, right? It sure seemed like a good idea with a compelling value proposition.

“And then something really weird happened,” explains Schonthal, a clinical professor of innovation and entrepreneurship. A large portion of the people who put money down “walked away from the deal, in some cases leaving their earnest money on the table.”

Why? Here’s where those four types of frictions come in.

  • Inertia: Does the idea represent a major change?
    For these older customers, this new home definitely represented a major change. For example, they wouldn’t know their new neighbors or neighborhood well.
  • Effort: What is the cost of implementation?
    The cost is likely pretty high. Customers need to spiff up their old home to get it ready to sell, hire movers, and maybe store some of their furniture that won’t fit in the new place.
  • Reactance: Does the audience feel pressured to change?
    Maybe the potential buyers’ adult children are encouraging them to move, or they’ve had some medical problems that are making them consider leaving their long-time home earlier than expected.
  • Emotion: What negative feelings might the idea produce?
    There are, of course, lots of emotions tied up in a home and in the realities of aging. Indeed, once the home builder started talking to potential customers, they realized just how emotional some aspects of the move really were.

“They just couldn’t figure out what to do with all their old stuff; in particular, what were they going to do with the dining room table?” Schonthal explains. “The dining-room table is a talisman. It is an artifact that embodies all of these good family memories.”

After identifying all of these frictions, the home builder made some changes. They offered help staging customers’ homes for sale, they included moving and storage services, and, to address the all-important issue of the dining-room table, they moved a wall to create a bigger room.

This increased the cost of the condos, but customers were happy to pay extra. The enlarged dining room alone increased sales by a significant amount.

The lesson: “Removing friction is often more powerful than increasing fuel,” Schonthal says.

The professors’ book offers techniques for digging into these four frictions to get beneath the surface and truly understand why your audience might be resistant.

“You’re like a detective,” Nordgren says. “You’re analyzing the circumstances to understand the specific frictions operating against you. And once you identify those frictions, in many cases the solutions become self-evident.”

This approach works across cultures, they say. And it works for innovators of all types—whether you’re advocating for a new product, a departmental restructuring, or a social movement.

“The ideas here apply to change of really any form,” Schonthal says, “anyone who’s trying to bring something new into the world.”

13 Ways Yoga May Improve Mind-Body Function

Yoga (from Sanskrit “yoke” or “union”) is a darśana (from Sanskrit “to see”), it’s traditionally been a path toward enlightenment or freedom from karma or the illusions of suffering. Yoga originated more than 5,000 years ago in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization1.

Yoga, in sickness and health

In their recent review in the journal Mindfulness, Pascoe and colleagues (2021) note research showing different forms of yoga increase mindfulness and spiritual well-being, alleviate symptoms of anxiety, stress, pain, and depression in clinical populations, and decrease stress and improve well-being in non-clinical groups. There are many different types of yoga, each integrating different practices and approaches, complicating research.

The researchers included 22 studies culled from multiple databases to identify a broad array of articles. They did not assess the methodology of studies, as the goal of this narrative review was to capture the state of the current literature in the field. From these studies, they identified common proposed mechanisms for yoga’s physiological effects.

13 areas where yoga may affect psychobiological functions

  1. Interoception: Our ability to perceive the internal state of our bodies is a key factor in health, and for having a healthy relationship with our own bodies, especially in trauma. Mindful interoceptive awareness has been associated with better pain control, along with other benefits. Yoga practice trains people to build interoceptive awareness, as shown in smaller studies. However, more research is needed to better understand how yoga, interception, and health are related.
  2. Self-compassion: When we are suffering, being self-critical, experiencing feelings of failure and insecurity, self-compassion allows people to respond with kindness to one’s own state of mind, helping to ground us and foster soothing, positive self-parenting, helpful for well-being. This review found several studies connecting different forms of yoga with increased self-compassion. Research suggests that facing fears of compassion may help people make progress.
  3. Emotional regulation: Smoothly managing challenging emotional states is considered a core self-regulatory skill, and part of overall good personality functioning, working with reflective function (mentalization) and executive skills to help us best deploy our resources in times of stress and repose. Authors found no large studies of emotional regulation and yoga, but noted two smaller studies showing improvements in this area in adolescents and yoga practitioners.
  4. Avoidance/Exposure: Avoidance is a cardinal feature of maladaptive responses to trauma, which, while preventing triggering, leaves people vulnerable to distress when triggers cannot be avoided, and preventing adaptation, or desensitization, to traumatic reminders. Given that many reminders are out of one’s control, internal or in the world, learning to attend to distressing cues without being overwhelmed or needed to steer clear is important for recovery2.
  5. Rumination: Excessive attention to unpleasant thoughts, memories, experiences or sensations is associated with less robust coping with trauma and distress. To an extent, the ability to mull over thoughts, to make sense of them, cope with emotions as noted above, and move on, is helpful and associated with resilience. Self-compassion has been shown to decrease excessive rumination. The literature on yoga and excessive rumination is inconclusive but a small, controlled study suggests there are benefits for women with depression.
  6. Meta-cognition: Related to emotion regulation, executive function and, mentalization—the ability to accurately sense others’ inner states—meta-cognition refers to being able to partially detach from thoughts and feelings, to “let go” of distress and hold suffering more lightly, as well as to reflect upon such experiences mentally, make sense of them, and keep them in context. Yoga has been shown to increase meta-cognition around physical sensations, notably pain. There is no specific research on meta-cognition with yoga, but one study of MSBR which included hatha yoga found increased meta-cognition in depressed patients.
  7. Attention and Memory: Improving cognitive capacity can help to facilitate positive changes, contributing to good executive function in the deployment of resources. Being able to focus on and remember plans and goals helps in changing habits, making better choices when one is unwell, and sustaining healthy routines. Authors report that multiple studies show improvements in working memory, attention, and inhibitory control with yoga. Less robust findings suggest that yoga may improve some aspects of memory, due to factors which may include improvements in sleep, neural connectivity, and mood.
  8. Blood Pressure: Elevated blood pressure, when more severe, results in hypertension and requires medical treatment. Less severe elevated blood pressure is associated with high stress, and reductions in blood pressure with relaxation response and better health outcomes. Different forms of yoga have been shown in numerous studies to have a limited impact in reducing blood pressure through different mechanisms, including mindfulness practice and importantly, aerobic exercise. 
  9. Heart Rate: As with high blood pressure, increased heart rate is associated with acute and chronic stress reactions, and also positive excitement and arousal. Similarly, several studies have found that yoga modestly decreases heart rate.
  10. Heart Rate Variability: Perhaps more than blood pressure or heart rate per se, heart rate variability (HRV) has been shown to be a marker of health and illness3. Numerous studies of yoga and HRV have found beneficial effects on measures of HRV associated with increased parasympathetic activity via vagal effects and improvements in cardiac parameters as reflected in detailed HRV analysis (i.e. increases in low-frequency HRV are thought to connect with greater parasympathetic response), and with benefits over and above exercise alone.

What We Really Talk about When We Talk about Self-Help

Our appetite for self-help has never been greater: The self-help market is valued at $11 billion worldwide and is forecast to grow rapidly over the next few decades. We consume self-help literature voraciously, ever hungry for the latest guidance. The personal-development sector, too, is booming. We spend large sums on therapists, life coaches, and wellness experts, while our employers invest heavily in developing our soft skills. But a rapidly growing number of people see the cultural imperative of constantly having to improve ourselves critically. 

The self-help industry is based on the assumption that we have many serious and debilitating shortcomings that need fixing. It hooks into our dissatisfaction with who and what we are, often promising unrealistic quick-fix cures for our deeper existential ailments. The self-improvement diktat, moreover, implies that we alone are responsible for our own happiness, that it is our personal responsibility, and indeed obligation, constantly to work on our character, interpersonal skills, health, and the adequate management of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Many self-help regimes do not acknowledge the structural and political causes of some of our predicaments, nor the differences in our ability to self-improve that may be related to our upbringing, life experiences, and character traits.

The very idea of self-help implies that the self can be helped and that it is in all our powers to do so. Many self-help regimes assume that we have infinite agency to shape our own fate, and that we must be lacking in willpower if we don’t succeed in doing so. The perhaps most extreme form of that kind of thinking is at work in texts like The Secret (2006), which suggest that everything that happens to us is our own doing, because our thoughts are “magnetic” and attract matching psycho-spiritual energies to us. If we fail to think happy thoughts, the “law of attraction” ensures that bad stuff will happen to us. According to that logic, assaults, illnesses, accidents, and even genocide are ultimately all the victim’s fault.

When we talk about self-help we can therefore not just discuss whether specific psycho-technologies are effective or not. Self-help is also a political topic with wide-ranging ethical implications. Self-help regimes always rest on very specific concepts of the self, as well as on assumptions about agency, personal responsibility, and our wider place in the systems of which we are a part. These assumptions are rarely made explicit, but substantially shape the suggested improvement regimes. To what extent are we able to shape ourselves and our lives? If we believe in the infinite possibility to transform ourselves, we may blame or look down on those who do not manage to take positive action. If we believe that our potential is predetermined, we may feel helpless and depressed.

Do we conceive of ourselves as solitary, autonomous agents, out there to secure personal advantages in hostile territories? Or do we think of ourselves as relational and interdependent, embedded parts of a much larger whole? Do we believe in fixed qualities and potentials, or in more fluid and context-dependent notions of selfhood? These conceptions change throughout history and across cultures. The Stoic philosopher Seneca, for example, writes: “Our relations with one another are like a stone arch, which would collapse if the stones did not mutually support each other, and which is upheld in this very way.”

What Kids Heading Back-to-School Need

School districts and parents across the country are focused on keeping children safe as they head back to school. These conversations are essential as we do everything to protect our kids’ health and learning through the pandemic. While evident and politically divisive measures like masks or distancing dominate the headlines, there are additional essential protections that kids need as we embark on another uncertain school year. 

Whether they have a mask in their backpack or not, every child brings harder-to-see strengths and vulnerabilities that will shape their learning and well-being. Let’s name and prioritize the protective measures that can buffer kids from the worst impacts of toxic stress and prepare them to navigate the challenges ahead. Perhaps most importantly, let’s create and sustain systems that don’t leave these protections up to chance.

The Power of Relationships

We only studied what was faulty in kids’ lives who were known to experience adversity for a long time. Over the recent decades, we’ve started asking what goes right in the lives of those same kids. A clear factor emerged when we looked for the positive childhood experiences that protect kids from poor outcomes: connectedness. According to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, the single most common factor for developing resilience is at least one warm and committed relationship with an adult. 

Strong relationships alone will not solve all problems, nor are they substitutes for building equitable systems that support kids and families. But relationships are the active ingredient that potential solutions can’t do without.

What does that mean for us this fall? This might ensure that students are treated with unconditional positive regard at school and that their strengths and capacities are the anchors of connection. 

At home, this means staying connected with our kids through stressful times. Let’s be clear that connection with our kids doesn’t mean Instagram-ready perfection or forced positivity. Fun and happiness are parts of connection but aren’t the sum of it. Instead, a connection is communicating that we are on the same team in the face of a challenge. It’s avoiding power struggles and battles when we are setting boundaries. It’s communicating to kids that our relationships can handle their big feelings, even when messy and overwhelming.

A Need to Belong

We’ve spent nearly eighteen months figuring out creative ways to be physically distanced yet socially connected. But our social needs are not met by just being in proximity to others, and our fundamental need is to belong.

A sense of belonging in our schools, families, communities, and groups has been linked to better stress management, stronger relationships, higher levels of motivation and achievement, and greater feelings of happiness and optimism. The opposite feeling of not belonging puts people at higher risk of mental illness, poor physical health, and hopelessness.

The challenge is that belonging isn’t measured by simply participating in activities like eating dinner together as a family, showing up to school, or signing up for a group. Belonging is measured by how we feel about ourselves and others once we get there. 

While many often think about belonging in early adolescence, even very young children start to ask questions like, “Who am I?” and “Where do I fit?” Just take it from Mister Rogers, who knew how important it was for children to know that “I like you just the way you are.” 

We don’t do kids any favors by ignoring what makes them who they are. Kids deserve to feel included and valued because of, not despite, their identities, histories, and experiences. From early childhood through adolescence, kids need us to consistently communicate through policy and practice (“Your whole self is welcome here”).

Coping With Uncertainty

There are plenty of feelings and worries–large and small–that present themselves for kids, parents, and educators alike that can obstruct the ability to connect and problem-solve together. 

It can be tempting to respond to kids’ concerns with either heavy reassurance or by taking over completely. Psychotherapist and anxiety expert Lynne Lyons argues that when it comes to worrying, we would be much better off helping our kids “roll around with the uncertainty and go with the mights and maybes” than trying to persuade kids that everything will always be great and one hundred percent predictable. For example, distinguishing between things that are good to know, like basic routines, teacher assignments, or safety measures, and things that we can’t know or need to learn about as we go.

Acknowledging uncertainty doesn’t mean promoting chaos or ignoring sources of toxic stress, far from it. It is about acknowledging and naming emotions, breaking big and overwhelming tasks into more manageable parts, and learning and practicing skills to move through them. As Lyons reminds us, “The opposite of anxiety isn’t a certainty [it] is tolerating uncertainty.” Learning to tolerate (appropriate levels of) uncertainty involves everything from externalizing worry to practicing stress recovery skills to participating in collective solutions to our concerns.

Recovering from sleep deprivation takes longer than expected

It is common knowledge that sleep is essential for health. This is true for virtually all living creatures. However, new research suggests that the ability to readily “catch up” on lost sleep later is more myth than fact. 

Investigators at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, carefully examined changes in functioning associated with sleep loss among adults. Their results appear in the journal PLOS ONE.

Participants spent 10 days experiencing partial sleep deprivation, getting about one-third less sleep than usual. This was followed by a full week of recovery. 

The researchers’ findings suggest that sleep deprivation takes a lingering toll on functionality. Deficits in people’s ability to think clearly tended to accumulate as “partial sleep restriction” progressed.

Catching up is hard to do

The participants did not easily recover from these sleep deficits — not even after extra “make-up” sleep on subsequent days. 

The amount of sleep that people need varies widely. On average, however, adults require at least 7 hours every day to maintain peak functionality.

Dr. Stephanie M. Stahl is an assistant professor of clinical medicine and clinical neurology at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. 

Dr. Stahl, who was not involved in the research, specializes in sleep medicine. In an interview with Medical News Today, she commented on the importance of this and similar studies.

“This study adds to a large body of evidence that insufficient sleep has detrimental effects on our daytime functioning,” she said. “This study in particular highlights that even a short duration of obtaining only 1–2 hours below our goal of 7-plus hours of sleep caused persistence of impairment, even after 1 week of obtaining sufficient sleep.”

A weary world

In today’s busy world, it is exceedingly common for adults to sacrifice sleep for work, entertainment, and other reasons. 

Many people underestimate the effects of this low-level, chronic sleep deprivation on their mental and physical health. A lot of people believe that they can “make up” for lost sleep by sleeping longer on the weekends, for example. However, the new research suggests that we may be greatly overestimating this ability.

In their paper, the researchers note that disrupted sleep has always been common in certain professions and industries, such as healthcare, entertainment, and transportation. However, many dayshift workers are now working from home, resulting in a “blurring of the boundaries between work and private life.”

Although the ability to work remotely has been a boon for many during the global pandemic, all is not well. “The disruption of the rest-activity rhythm is one of the common side effects of remote work,” the investigators note.

Obesity and weight loss

There is significant consensus in the scientific community that environmental factors, especially the easy availability of highly processed foods and sedentary lifestyles, have contributed to increasing obesity rates.

However, there is much disagreement about how these environmental factors contribute to weight gain.

According to the predominant energy balance model (EBM), consuming more calories than those burned results in a positive energy balance and weight gain.

The increased caloric intake due to the easy accessibility of highly palatable and inexpensive processed food and lower energy expenditure due to reduced physical activity levels have contributed to the global increase in obesity. 

In other words, the EBM suggests that successful weight loss requires reducing total calorie intake. This involves consuming fewer calories and increasing physical activity levels.

Unlike the EBM, the carbohydrate-insulin model (CIM) posits that the quality of food consumed plays a critical role in body weight management rather than total calorie intake. 

Specifically, consumption of processed and starchy carbohydrates that cause a rapid increase in blood glucose levels results in their storage as fat. Increased fat accumulation sets off a feedback loop resulting in increased hunger and possible consumption of calorie-rich foods.

The CIM states that it is the increase in fat storage due to the consumption of processed carbohydrates and not increased calorie intake that leads to weight gain and is primarily responsible for elevated obesity rates.

A recent article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition provides a comprehensive description of the CIM, along with testable hypotheses that may help clarify the precise changes in nutrition necessary to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. 

The article’s first author Dr. David Ludwig, told Medical News Today, “If the CIM is right, then the conventional approach to weight loss, the low-calorie diet, is likely to fail for most people over the long term. We argue that people have more control over what they eat than how much. A focus on reducing processed carbohydrates, rather than calorie restriction, may be more effective by lowering the biological drive to store excessive fat.”

Flaws of the EBM

According to the EBM, a positive energy balance where a person takes in more calories than they burn is primarily responsible for weight gain. In other words, the EBM regards all calories in the same way, regardless of their dietary source. 

The proponents of the CIM acknowledge that a positive energy balance is associated with weight gain, but this does not establish causation. 

They argue that metabolic and hormonal changes that occur in response to the consumption of specific foods are the root cause of weight gain, with excessive calorie intake being the outcome. 

Although calorie intake tends to increase during puberty, some experts think that it is the biological changes rather than positive energy balance that is responsible for the growth spurt. 

Therefore, while the EBM focuses on the overall consumption of calories, it ignores the role of food quality and the subsequent metabolic processes and hormonal changes in mediating weight gain. 

Moreover, reducing caloric intake tends to be successful as a weight-loss strategy only in the short term. This is due to the body adapting to the lower calorie intake, resulting in lower metabolic rate and increased hunger.

Easy Side Hustles With Low Startup Costs

If you’re looking for an easy side hustle to start earning extra money, the first question you may ask yourself is, “What kind of side hustle can I afford to start?” After all, most freelance work is going to require some form of investment on your part.

Fortunately, there are quite a few side gigs out there that don’t require a lot of money, materials, or equipment upfront. Here are a handful of side hustles that require very little investment to start:

DOG WALKING

If you love pups, why not consider taking up being a professional dog walker? All you need is some experience with dogs, dog leashes, doggy poop bags, and a sturdy pair of sneakers. Since you’ll be walking (it’s right there in the name), you’ll also want to be in relatively good shape. Dog walking platforms such as Wag! and Rover make it easy to open an account and set up a profile.

Once you land your first few reviews, you’ll have an easier time landing more gigs. You can get a dog walking certification if you’d like to boost your credit, but it’s not necessary to get started. According to Glassdoor, the average hourly wage for a dog walker on Wag! Is $16 and $17 if you’re a dog walker for Rover.

HOUSE SITTING

Want a change of scenery and get paid for it? Sites such as Nomador and Trusted Housesitters have listings of homeowners that are looking for a solid, reliable people to watch over their homes while they’re away on vacation or business trips. All you need is a clean record, strong communication skills, and a pleasant demeanor. Of course, any prior experience house sitting or watching over pets is a bonus.

FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANT

Want to get paid for voicing your political views, or for test-tasting a new brand of chewing gum? The eligibility requirements depend on the study, but if you fall within a certain age, gender, or ethnicity, you could make some easy money for being part of a focus group.

Depending on the type and length of the study, you could be raking in anywhere between $50 to $200 a study. Check out opportunities to participate either online or in person on Focus Group or 20|20 Panel.

ONLINE PAID SURVEY

Similar to being part of a focus group, you can side hustle by taking paid surveys. You can earn either cash or gift cards, and can rake in anywhere from $5.00 to $30.00 a survey. Fair warning: They can get tedious pretty fast. And you can either sit for a stretch of time or break up surveys into smaller chunks.

Earning a decent chunk of change is definitely a matter of volume — the more you do, the more you earn. The best part of online surveys is that you can do them in the comfort of your home, relaxing in a pair of sweats, and on your own time. Popular online survey sites include Swagbucks, Survey Junkie, and CashKarma.

FOOD DELIVERY

You don’t need a car to deliver food from restaurants to businesses and people’s homes. While having your own set of wheels could certainly come in handy, many popular food delivery services, such as DoorDash, Postmates, and Grubhub, allow you to deliver food via scooter or bike. You’ll just need a method of carrying the food around.

What’s nice about food delivery is that if you like staying busy, you can also stagger with other “easy” side hustles, such as being a rideshare driver.

BABYSIT

Do you go “ga-ga” for babies? Then consider taking up babysitting. You can scour local listings on sites such as Care.com or Urbansitter. You’ll need to be reliable, responsible, and have a way with children. If you have a certification in CPR or disaster training, it could make you a more attractive kid-sitter. But besides having some experience caring for children under your belt, you probably don’t need a lot of equipment or supplies to get started.

Taking up a side hustle with relatively little investment upfront makes it easier to get the ball rolling. What’s more, you can test out the waters. If you don’t want to continue pursuing a particular side hustle, you won’t have to worry about having put in a lot of resources and time upfront. You can try out a bunch of side hustles to see which ones are most profitable or jive best with you.

How to Keep Nurturing Connection

If these past 18 months have forced us to evaluate anything, it’s the importance of connection. Be it through new technologies, outdoor activities, or the little pods we’ve packed into to stay safe, we’ve all had to find creative ways to make connection work in a world of social distancing. Nurturing our relationships is one of the most fulfilling pursuits in life. Here’s why it’s so important, and here are some suggestions for how to do it.

Research has linked people with strong social relationships to many aspects of health, from stronger immune responses to a cold to longevity itself. “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression… higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them,” according to a summation by Stanford Medicine. “Social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”

There is no magic number when it comes to connection. We don’t need to have a million friends or be an extrovert. Rather, it’s the closeness of the connections we have and our ways of maintaining those connections that make such a difference to the quality of our lives. To foster more enriching and enlivening relationships, we also have to get to know the barriers within ourselves that limit us or keep us from getting too close to others. Here are some things we can work on to help build and maintain stronger connections.

1. Consider Your Attachment Patterns

Attachment theory shows how, from a very young age, having a secure attachment is like having a safe platform from which we can venture out and explore the world. A secure attachment teaches us that we can trust and depend on others, while feeling secure within ourselves. It also creates a model of how we expect others to behave throughout our lives.

Human beings have a natural yearning to connect. We are born seeking what Dr. Daniel Siegel has called the four S’s of attachment: to feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure. Yet, in childhood when we were first developing our patterns of attachment, hurtful events in which we didn’t experience one or more of these four elements may have led to insecure attachment patterns. In turn, we likely developed adaptations and defenses within us that left us more guarded when it comes to getting close to someone else. In order to remain in a vulnerable and open state, we have to stay alert to when these defenses are operating and actively work to stay connected. Understanding our early attachment patterns and adaptations can have a huge impact on how we feel and behave in our relationships.

2. Notice an Inner Critic Luring You to Be Alone

Think about all the times we isolate ourselves. Sometimes, it’s because we need rest, respite, or time to reflect. Other times, a more destructive force is at play. Most of us have a “critical inner voice” that coaches us and lures us into self-limiting behavior. This “voice” is often its loudest when we’re alone, so that’s where it likes us to be.

It can sound like a sadistic bully, chiming in with thoughts like, “Just keep to yourself. That person doesn’t really want to see you.” Other times, it may even sound soothing, feeding us thoughts like, “Why don’t you just be alone? You can have a drink and relax. You don’t need anyone anyway.” The problem is, once our inner critic has us alone, it can once again, become cruel, putting us down and keeping us from our feeling connected to others.

3. Be Generous With Yourself

To counter the directives of our inner critic, we can try to take actions that are in our best interest. This includes stepping outside ourselves and being generous with our time. Reaching out to friends, especially during this difficult period in all of our lives, asking questions, and showing an active interest in what someone’s going through are not just offerings to the other person but to ourselves. This helps us create deeper, more trusting bonds as well as to step outside ourselves and gain perspective on things going on in our own lives.

4. Give Connections the Time and Attention They Need

It’s easy to get lost in everything from our jobs and immediate responsibilities to our devices and endless streams of online entertainment. These things can certainly take up part of our days, but it’s important to carve out actual space for the people who matter to us. Any effort we make to be fully present for any amount of time is rich with rewards, whether it’s with our partner, our child, an old friend, or a new one. Being present brings out parts of us from which we can easily disconnect, or even feel as if we’ve lost, if they aren’t ignited by spending time with specific people. We should make the act of connecting a priority rather than regarding it as unimportant or a chore.

5. Repair Ruptures

Things inevitably happen in every relationship that cause ruptures. Miscommunications with our partner, arguments with our kids, times we “lose it” with a friend, all of these things will ultimately occur, because we are human. We come to any relationship armed with a tough inner critic and a complex attachment history, so there are bound to be ways we act in moments that we regret. The best thing we can do in these cases is to repair. This means owning our behavior, being open and direct, acknowledging what happened, and validating the other person’s experience (not necessarily by agreeing with everything they say, but by regarding their feelings and hearing them out with empathy). The reverse is true as well; when we have felt hurt by someone we are connected to, we can also attempt repair by reaching out, acknowledging our hurt, and trying to reach a shared understanding of what occurred between us.

The Minor Change That Made My Marriage So Much Better

While, yes, sometimes we must cinch up our khakis and really address major problems, it’s often the smaller changes — like scheduling time together, or learning one another’s love languages — that pay the most dividends. To that end, we spoke to eleven dads about the minor change they made that improved the level of communication and understanding as well as the overall quality of their marriages. Here’s what they did to nudge things in the right direction. 

1. I Began Scheduling Time with My Wife

“Not necessarily spending time together, but being aware of her day as well as my own. If she has a doctor’s appointment or is going to lunch with friends, I include a note in my schedule to take time to call and see how the visit went. I even set aside some time to remind myself to text her, just to see how she is doing. My wife has gone through some issues and I work in a very hectic workplace, but when I set aside time for her, my staff respects the fact that those times are for my wife and our marriage. Those little blocks of time haven’t just helped our marriage -— they’ve also helped ground me during times of stress.” – Brian, 51, Delaware.

2. We Started Saying “I Love You” Before Hanging Up

“My wife and I went through a rough period about a year ago where our conversations were very short and terse. It was like we were business associates, going over plans and responsibilities for the day, instead of enjoying talking to each other. It was awkward at first, but I started making sure I ended every phone conversation with ‘I love you.’ It took my wife by surprise, I think, but she would reflexively respond, ‘I love you, too.’ And that was sort of like our entry point into making our conversations less formal, and more personal. Now, we don’t hang up the phone or leave the house without saying it. Even if it’s quick, it’s a habit we can’t break, and it’s helped us start to reconnect little-by-little.” – Michael, 41, Ireland  

3. We pray together.

“When we put God at the center of our marriage, our marriage took off like never before.

I have heard it described like a triangle, with God at the top, the husband at the bottom right, and the wife at the bottom left. As both spouses move toward God together, they also grow closer to each other. Life is going to throw things your way that are going to cause you guys to drift apart, and without something to focus on together, it will be easy to drift away from each other. By praying together we became deliberate in our relationship to each other, keeping God at the center and both working together to grow closer.” – Harland, 60, Pennsylvania

4. I Started Tidying Up More Often

“During the initial lockdown of 2020, my marriage was put under severe strain. My wife and I both work online full-time, which was an economic blessing, but a marital curse. Without our nanny to help look after our 18 month old son, our lives dived into a messy chaos, with me being the sloth, and my wife operating as the borderline OCD clean freak. The trouble started off with a few expected martial tiffs, but after several months, it escalated toward animosity. 

Eventually, it became fundamentally obvious that I needed to drastically up my cleanliness as a man, father and husband. My days of throwing clothes on the floor and leaving the kitchen in a foul state came to an abrupt end. In essence, I experienced the marriage saving magic of tidying up. In addition to keeping my wife happy, it has also had a surprisingly powerful benefit on my mental health.” – Richard, 34, Connecticut   

5. I Began Waking Up Earlier Than My Wife

“My wife is a stay-at-home mom. She left her thriving career once she got pregnant and decided to focus on our children. After our second child was born, she had postpartum depression. I felt as though she was slipping away from me, so I decided to wake up earlier than she did to help her. I cooked breakfast for everyone, made coffee, and watered the plants. At first, she insisted that it was her responsibility, but I was hard-headed and just continued with it. After a few weeks, I saw that she seemed happier, calmer, and slowly recovered. She had more time for herself, and I realized that my responsibility wasn’t just to provide for my family — it was to prioritize her as well.”Scott, 41, California 

6. I Started Daily Journaling

“Last year in the middle of the pandemic, my wife and I were going through the challenges that everyone was facing: anxiety, isolation, and being around each other all the time. Basically, we were getting on each other’s nerves. In early May 2020, I began daily journaling of all the reasons that I loved her. Each day I was inspired to write something new. They were simple things, like going for a walk, or noticing the way her hair rested on her face. Whatever it was, I wrote it down and kept the list in my phone. This was challenging as we went through the ups and downs that all relationships go through, but I made sure never to miss a day. I journaled for an entire year, then took all the statements and added them to a custom book I made called 365 Ways I Love You. I included pictures we had taken throughout the year to correspond with many of the statements. She was extremely touched and, since then, we have been closer than ever.” – Rick, 50, Texas

7. I Started Doodling.

“I’m a very high-stress guy. It’s just who I am. I was formally diagnosed with anxiety about six years ago, and I’ve been through all kinds of therapy, tried medication, and done everything I can to try and manage it in a healthier way. My anxiety can be a huge strain on my family —  especially my wife, and I hated that. One day at work, I found myself doodling during a meeting. It probably wasn’t the best for my job performance, but something about it really chilled me out. So I decided to get a cheap sketchbook and a black marker to keep with me during the day. When I feel anxious, I doodle. Sometimes it’s at work. Sometimes it’s at home. Sometimes it’s for a few minutes. Sometimes it’s for an hour. It’s very therapeutic, and it helps me unravel what’s in my brain and make sense of it. That technique has been incredibly helpful for my marriage, not just because it helps relax me, but my wife really enjoys when I share my art with her.” – Jordan, 41, New York 

Do some cognitive functions improve with age?

For years, most research indicated that older adults experience a decline in brain functioning across the board. However, a new observational study, which appears in Nature Human Behaviour, suggests that may not be true. 

The study’s authors found that rather than seeing a decline in all cognitive functions, older adults instead demonstrated improvements in some domains. 

Cognitive functioning

According to the American Psychological Association, cognitive functioning refers to “performance of the mental processes of perception, learning, memory, understanding, awareness, reasoning, judgment, intuition, and language.”

Cognitive functioning includes executive functions, such as flexible thinking, working memory, and self-control. People with neurological conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can experience deficits in these functions. 

The study authors described executive function as:

“The critical set of processes that allow us to focus on selective aspects of information in a goal-directed manner while ignoring irrelevant information. This set of functions is crucial for everyday life and supports numerous higher-level cognitive capacities.”

Researchers have long thought that there is a point where people stop making cognitive functioning progress and begin experiencing a decline. 

In particular, some experts consider memory to be one of the most affected brain functions in older adults. For instance, the author of a review paperTrusted Source on the impact of age on cognition writes:

“The most noticeable changes in attention that occur with age are declines in performance on complex attentional tasks, such as selective or divided attention.”

Study on functioning skills 

The latest study paints a less negative picture than other studies. The new research shows that older adults may improve in some areas. 

“People have widely assumed that attention and executive functions decline with age, despite intriguing hints from some smaller-scale studies that raised questions about these assumptions,” says senior study author Dr. Michael T. Ullman. 

Dr. Ullman is a professor in the Department of Neuroscience and director of Georgetown University Medical Center’s Brain and Language Lab in Washington, D.C.

The researchers studied 702 participants who were aged 58–98. They tested the participants for the following three cognitive functions: 

  • alerting
  • orienting
  • executive inhibition

First study author Dr. João Veríssimo, an assistant professor at the University of Lisbon, Portugal, describes how these three processes work.

“We use all three processes constantly,” Dr. Veríssimo explains. “For example, when you are driving a car, alerting is your increased preparedness when you approach an intersection. Orienting occurs when you shift your attention to an unexpected movement, such as a pedestrian. And executive function allows you to inhibit distractions, such as birds or billboards, so you can stay focused on driving.”

The researchers tested the functioning of the participants using the computer-based Attention Network Test (ANT). The ANT tests how well participants can respond to the target stimulus shown on the computer screen.

The study authors say the ANT “simultaneously measures the efficiency of all three networks.”

While previous studies thought all three processes declined with age, the researchers found that only alerting abilities declined. The other two processes — orienting and executive inhibition— improved. 

“These results are amazing and have important consequences for how we should view aging,” says Dr. Ullman. “But the results from our large study indicate that critical elements of these abilities actually improve during aging, likely because we simply practice these skills throughout our life.”

Let’s Redefine “Productivity” for the Hybrid Era

The boundary between work and home has never been a clear line. Even when I’m in the office, for example, I’m on call if any of my four kids needs me. I remember how hard it was to get things done in my early days at Microsoft when they were babies — I had a lot of free time while they napped or played, but I couldn’t use that time productively because I might have to drop everything to attend to them at any moment.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and as a mother and researcher, trying to manage the boundary between work and home brought a lot of invention into my life. For example, while most productivity research tends to focus on eliminating distractions, I began to imagine what we could do if we used the micro-moments we have each day productively. This led me to develop approaches to algorithmically break tasks down into microtasks that fit more easily into the fragmented way we actually work. The resulting concept, which we call microproductivity, expanded the way we think about productivity at Microsoft.

Fast forward to March 4, 2020, when the boundary between work and home truly came down and Microsoft sent its Seattle-area employees home to work. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were at the start of one of the greatest disruptions to work in generations, and it created an opportunity for us to expand our understanding of productivity yet again. Hundreds of researchers from Microsoft, LinkedIn, and GitHub came together to form the largest research initiative in Microsoft’s history, now called the “New Future of Work.” Together, while figuring out how to work from home and struggling with childcare ourselves, we’ve conducted more than 50 research projects on remote work.

Despite a year and a half of research, it’s almost impossible to predict what work will look like months from now, let alone years. We see, for example, that while people miss many things about working from the office, the idea of losing the flexibility of remote work is scary; CEO Satya Nadella calls this the “hybrid paradox.” But the research points to a clear need for managers to create a new definition of productivity that considers the hybrid paradox — one that not only factors in how much people get done, but how they actually work when the boundary between work and home no longer exists.

A New Definition of Productivity

Information worker productivity is hard to define and measure, but researchers use two key types of data to approximate it: 1) self-reported worker data, or asking people if they feel productive, and 2) worker activity data, or counting the number of emails sent or lines of code written. When companies first went remote, many were surprised to see that these standard metrics of productivity remained high. For instance, one year into the pandemic, Microsoft’s Work Trend Index survey showed that self-assessed productivity of more than 30,000 global workers external to Microsoft remained the same or higher. Microsoft’s annual employee survey showed similar results.

Looking at activity data, a study in one division of Microsoft showed that the number of features checked in by developers per hour increased by 1.5% while focus time increased by 6%. Repositories in GitHub also saw flat or increasing activity.

But when we look at the research more closely, it’s clear these metrics don’t tell the whole story. As work pushed into our homes, helpful boundaries began to blur. Almost half (49%) of Microsoft employees in one study reported working longer hours, and only 9% reported working fewer. In a global study of workers external to Microsoft one year into the pandemic, 54% said they felt overworked and 39% reported feeling exhausted.

We also lost a lot of the benefits of working together in the office. Participants in our studies reported that creative work like group brainstorming was more difficult while remote. There’s also mounting evidence of lost connection to coworkers. A recent paper we published in Nature Human Behavior found that our networks at work are becoming more siloed, presenting risks to innovation, knowledge transfer, and ultimately, productivity.

Study after study has shown that it’s not enough to be guided by simple measures of productivity as we figure out how to move to hybrid work. While it may be tempting to equate high levels of employee activity with success, doing so misses the factors that drive long-term, sustainable innovation. We must expand the way we think about productivity to focus on well-being, social connections, and collaboration and the innovation they bring to drive business success.

Working with This New Definition

Based on what we’re seeing in the research, here are some ways managers can embrace a more expansive view of productivity in a hybrid world — one that promotes well-being, collaboration, and innovation for you and your team.

Well-being

Despite the burnout so many of us feel, the hybrid environment offers an opportunity to create a more sustainable approach to work. Remote and in-person work both have distinct advantages and disadvantages, and rather than expecting the same outcomes from each, we can build on what makes them unique.

When in the office, prioritize relationships and collaborative work like brainstorming around a whiteboard. When working from home, encourage people to design their days to include other priorities such as family, fitness, or hobbies. They should take a nap if they need one and step outside between meetings. Brain studies show that even five-minute breaks between remote meetings help people think more clearly and reduce stress.

Likewise, watch out for the risks each type of work carries with it. People can avoid the long commutes they used to have by staggering their schedules to avoid traffic. Encourage them to set boundaries at home so they don’t work every hour of the day just because they can.

The trick is finding what works for each individual. A key theme in our research is that there are enormous individual differences in whether and how remote work can be effective. People have different experiences depending on their tenure at a company, where they live, and their gender, race, or role. Even individuals with similar contexts have idiosyncratically different experiences. For instance, some Microsoft employees cite work-life balance and focus time as reasons to go into the office, while others cite those exact things as reasons to work from home.

Over the next few months, ask people to take the time to reflect on when and where they feel the most or least productive. Have them ask themselves: Do I seem to work better in the morning or evening? When I work from a certain location, are there fewer interruptions? Do I feel more focused?

Collaboration

At Microsoft, the biggest reasons employees want to go back to the office are collaboration and social connections. But if someone goes into the office on a day the rest of their team works from home, they won’t get those in-person interactions. A key aspect of making hybrid work productive is finding a compromise between individual workstyles and team needs.

One way to do this is by making team agreements. At Microsoft, we’re asking each team to create a set of team norms that define how they’d like to work together in our hybrid workplace. Individuals can share how they work best. Teams can establish meeting-free days or plan regular in-person team meetings. To avoid one person’s flexible working hours becoming another person’s after-hours messaging, managers can set norms around the times of day responses are expected.

It’s also important to ensure hybrid meetings are as inclusive and intentional as possible. Use a hand-raise feature to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak and, if you’re using meeting chat, assign a moderator who’s separate from the person running the meeting to follow the chat and bring key subjects into the conversation. These things are particularly important if the remote people are more junior than those in the room. Other things we’re experimenting with include asking in-person attendees to join meetings as soon as they arrive to the meeting room so remote participants are included in the pre-meeting chat. In-person attendees may also want to join on their individual laptops so remote participants have a better view of them.

Under the old definition of productivity, coordinating team collaboration around individual workstyles and thinking hard about whether your team should change its meeting practices might have seemed unnecessary, high maintenance, or even awkward. With the new definition of productivity in mind, these activities are essential.

Innovation

In the simplest sense, innovation often requires people getting together to exchange and prototype ideas and brainstorm solutions, balanced with time for individual focus and reflection. If done right, hybrid work can create exactly those conditions. If done wrong, those important social connections can erode and impact innovation. Thinking of productivity more expansively — by optimizing for the conditions that spur innovation — can help hedge against those risks.

The 9 Silver Linings of the COVID-19 Pandemic

A new study forthcoming in Frontiers in Psychology sheds light on some of the pandemic’s unforeseen positive consequences—such as a newfound appreciation for working from home, finding solace in a slower pace of life, and working closely with community members to achieve a common goal.

“We identified positive aspects, or silver linings, that people experienced during the COVID-19 crisis using computational natural language processing methods,” said the authors of the research led by Stanford University’s Juan Antonio Lossio-Ventura. “These silver linings revealed sources of strength that included finding a sense of community, closeness, gratitude and a belief that the pandemic may spur positive social change.”

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers fielded a large-scale online survey on three social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, and NextDoor) in which they asked participants to respond to the question, “Although this is a challenging time, can you tell us about any positive effects or ‘silver linings’ you have experienced during this crisis?”

They used a combination of computational and qualitative natural language processing methods to identify themes in participants’ text responses. (For readers unfamiliar with natural language processing, it is a technique used by researchers to extract meaning from large quantities of text such as millions of Facebook comments or Tweets.) They then assigned each of these themes a “sentiment” score, based on how positive or negative their algorithm rated the theme.

As expected, they found that the average sentiment of participants’ responses was positive when describing the pandemic’s silver linings. Moreover, women’s responses were slightly more positive than men’s responses.

The researchers grouped participants’ comments into nine categories listed below and ranked from most to least common.

  1. Spending quality time with loved ones. Example comment: “I’m in touch with my family who [lives] faraway a lot more. Kids are starting to help more in the house with cleaning and cooking. I’m getting two walks a day with my husband, therefore, having more quality time together!”
  2. Life slowing down. Example comment: “Having real-time to do nothing, guilt- and FOMO-free, and the headspace to take up low-stakes hobbies just for fun, as in caring more about enjoyment than talent.”
  3. Community coming together. Example comment: “People reaching out to friends and family to make sure they are okay, physically and emotionally. People helping neighbors who can’t go to the store on their own. People saying hello (at a safe distance) on the trails, respecting the rules, and the importance of staying friendly/civil. People ordering from local restaurants and other ways to keep local businesses solvent.”
  4. Feeling gratitude for what people have. Example comment: “Appreciating the small things in life that have disappeared.”
  5. Benefits of technology use. Example comment: “Friends and family members are getting much better at technology and joining me on Facebook and Instagram where I’ve always done a lot of my socialization. So my physical contact with the world is a lot smaller, but my community also feels a lot bigger and closer now.”
  6. Benefits of working from home. Example comment: “I don’t have to drive 1.5 hours to and from work daily.”
  7. Improved health and health literacy. Example comment: “Trying to prioritize sleep and my physical and mental well-being. Doing all my cooking at home and not buying take-out/restaurant/convenience food.”
  8. The impetus for positive social change. Example comment: “My therapy and psychiatry firm previously refused to make appointments via telehealth. Given the pandemic, they have been forced to adopt telehealth practices. I’m hopeful that they will continue this practice afterward.”
  9. Positive environmental impact. Example comment: “Greenhouse gas emissions are down.”

“In a time of limited resources, understanding the silver linings that have given people hope, strength, and solace can inform efforts to support individual and collective recovery from the psychological and emotional challenges of the pandemic,” said the authors. “As a result, we may be better able to heal from this crisis and better prepared to respond to potential future crises.”

How Dads Can Build a Network of Parenting Allies at Work

We have all heard the truism that it takes a village to raise a child, and of course we all know that if you want to get ahead at work and in your career, you need to be an effective teammate and successful networker. But most fathers have not yet put two and two together and realized the importance of building a network of parenting allies at work.

Our research on modern working dads shows that while fathers still want (and need) successful careers, they also want to be present and involved as parents and partners. They want to share the workload and the joys. They want to soothe a crying baby at night and be home in time for baths and story time. They want fulfilling weekends with their family and meaningful time with their children throughout the week.

Unfortunately, workplace policy and tradition are still holding them back. The notion of fatherhood being segregated from work life, as well as a culture of presenteeism and face time, have been the norm since the advent of the office. Rather than confronting this culture, many dads succumb to it, particularly if their finances are fragile.

Nurturing a network of parenting allies can help fathers on two levels: support and advocacy. On the support level, your parenting allies are the colleagues who will have your back when you have to rush home to look after a sick child or offer a sympathetic ear when you’re overwhelmed. This type of support is interpersonal, unofficial, and can be fostered in any corporate culture. If a colleague can support you emotionally or practically in your goal of succeeding in your career and as a parent—and you do the same for them—then they’re a worthy ally.

The advocacy level of your parenting ally network has a higher goal: changing company culture for the better. If you’re hoping to mold your organization into a friendlier place for working parents, going it alone is a recipe for failure. Parenting allies can help you widen the discussion and take it in different directions. They have conversations with a wider range of people. They normalize the ideas and leadership starts to take notice. Slowly, they change minds.

Think about advocating for a more progressive paternity leave policy. One dad can’t fight for change by himself—he needs allies to help spread the word. A preponderance of conversations are needed about how better leave means happier, more productive dads. Fathers, and those who intend to become fathers, stay with the company longer, and new talent is easier to recruit. What a business loses in long hours, it gains in loyalty. Mothers benefit when fathers take longer paternity leave. These messages need to spread across the shop floor, in HR, marketing, and finance, and in the CEO’s office.

Building your parenting ally network

More people than you might think can be your parenting allies. Many will be mothers—moms have been fighting for parental work rights for decades, and they’ll appreciate the vigor a new generation of involved dads can bring. Your allies are likely to include parents who are older than you, those who remember the challenges they faced combining their family and career. An ally can have any job title, though if they have a direct influence on parental policy at work they can be more effective. They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be sounding boards for your own thoughts or ideas, or they can be in a position to spread those ideas widely. Here are a few steps to start the conversation.

Share your life as a dad, in all its messy, wonderful glory. We often hear of dads who are successful and popular at work and who keep the fatherhood side of their identities entirely hidden from colleagues and clients. This reticence has the tendency to be contagious. To overcome it, simply start talking. Talk about your weekend and include the family outing. Mention the fact that you’re leaving on time today to get home for story time. Joke about that diaper change that went horribly wrong.

Normalize your parenting life and your colleagues will see you don’t treat it as a taboo subject either. Maybe a parent with younger children will want to ask you for advice or a parent of older kids will have some for you. Either way, you’ve created a space for discussion. If you’re a manager, you’ve also provided an example for other dads to talk about their lives as parents. Don’t forget to mention the pressure of your dual responsibilities. Free others to admit that being a good worker and a good dad is sometimes a tough balancing act.

Fly your dad flag virtually. If you work remotely, you won’t bump into other parents in the kitchen, but the principle remains the same, even if you’re chatting over Zoom or Teams. Hang your children’s artwork in your background. Make your profile photo a family photo. Take an occasional meeting with a toddler on your lap. Start a Slack group for parents and parenting issues, invite a few people, and watch word of mouth take over. Create a virtual discussion around parenting.

Join existing conversations. There may already be formal parents’ groups in your organization. These are a brilliant way for moms and dads to start talking about the issues at work that affect them as parents. We’ve led a number of parent networking sessions where we’ve been asked to talk about the challenges we’ve faced as working dads. Workplace parenting groups are more likely to be mom-focused, often because moms are more likely to set them up. You and your allies can help change that dynamic.

Create a dads’ network. If there are no ready-made parent networks at your workplace, start your own. Make it a dads’ network, at least to start with, to coax reluctant fathers out into the open. Some men might be put off by the idea of a general parenting club and more comfortable discussing issues with other dads. You can change the policy, if that feels right, later. We’ve seen more and more work-based dad clubs starting to emerge, not least through our own Dad Connect program, which aims to help dads forge connections within and across organizations.

Ask other dads at your workplace if they’d like to meet informally to talk about issues around parenthood and work that are important to them. It shouldn’t require too much time or energy, so once a month at lunchtime might be enough to begin. Ask HR if you can advertise the group in the staff newsletter or put a poster on the notice board. Keep an email list or Slack group of interested individuals and contact them before each meeting.

As the group becomes more established, widen its responsibilities. Invite a member of the senior management team to talk about what the business is doing to promote family-friendly working practices. Invite moms to meetings or create ties with mom groups in the business. Compile a document of innovations the group would like to see implemented, alongside examples of best practices. Keep the group engaged between meetings through regular messaging and encourage members to discuss practical, everyday questions, like recommendations for family-friendly restaurants or the best things to do with a four-year-old this weekend.

What Happens When You Get Evicted?

As a result, tenants who are behind on their rent could soon be facing off with their landlords to prevent being kicked out of their homes.

As of the first week of July, nearly 6.4 million households were behind on rent. That’s about 15% of all renter households and represents an estimated total back rent of $21.346 billion, according to the National Equity Atlas. That works out to an average of $3,300 per household.

At the height of the pandemic, 19% of all rental households were behind on rent. The original eviction moratorium plus all its extensions have prevented an estimated 2.45 million eviction filings since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Eviction Lab.

What the eviction process is like

At risk renters can take a small bit of comfort from the fact that evictions don’t happen overnight. There is a lengthy legal process that varies depending on the state, and sometimes the county or city, you live in.

While the timeline and certain details will differ by location, the general process looks like this:

For renters facing eviction due to lack of payment, the legal process to remove you from the home begins with a Pay or Quit Notice, more commonly known as an Eviction Notice. You should receive the notice by certified mail, as well as having a copy of the notice placed on the entry to the rental unit in question.

Once you’ve received the notice, you’ll usually have 30 days to either pay the back rent due or vacate the property. If you move out before the landlord files a legal complaint, you could still be sued in civil court for any back rent due. If you do neither, then the landlord can file an eviction complaint with the courts. You’ll be notified of the court date and have the opportunity to present your case as to why the eviction should not proceed.

If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, you’ll be given a number of days to leave the property. If you don’t vacate within the prescribed time period, the landlord can then bring in law enforcement and have you forcibly removed.

Someone Took Out a Loan in Your Name. Now What?

If this happens to you, getting the situation fixed can be difficult and time-consuming. But you can set things right.

If someone took out a loan in your name, it’s important to take action right away to prevent further damage to your credit. Follow these steps to protect yourself and get rid of the fraudulent accounts.

1. File a police report

The first thing you should do is file a police report with your local police department. You might be able to do this online. In many cases, you will be required to submit a police report documenting the theft in order for lenders to remove the fraudulent loans from your account.

2. Contact the lender

If someone took out a loan or opened a credit card in your name, contact the lender or credit card company directly to notify them of the fraudulent account and to have it removed from your credit report. For credit cards and even personal loans, the problem can usually be resolved quickly.

When it comes to student loans, identity theft can have huge consequences for the victim. Failure to pay a student loan can result in wage garnishment, a suspended license, or the government seizing your tax refund — so it’s critical that you cut any fraudulent activity off at the pass and get the loans discharged quickly.

In general, you’ll need to contact the lender who issued the student loan and provide them with a police report. The lender will also ask you to complete an identity theft report. While your application for discharge is under review, you aren’t held responsible for payments.

If you have private student loans, the process is similar. Each lender has their own process for handling student loan identity theft. However, you typically will be asked to submit a police report as proof, and the lender will do an investigation.

3. Notify the school, if necessary

If someone took out student loans in your name, contact the school the thief used to take out the loans. Call their financial aid or registrar’s office and explain that a student there took out loans under your name. They can flag the account in their system and prevent someone from taking out any more loans with your information.

4. Dispute the errors with the credit bureaus

When you find evidence of fraudulent activity, you need to dispute the errors with each of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You should contact each one and submit evidence, such as your police report or a letter from the lender acknowledging the occurrence of identity theft. Once the credit reporting bureau has that information, they can remove the accounts from your credit history.

If your credit score took a hit due to thieves defaulting on your loans, getting them removed can help improve your score. It can take weeks or even months for your score to fully recover, but it will eventually be restored to its previous level.

5. Place a fraud alert or freeze on your credit report

How to Manage Unexpected Medical Bills

While unpaid medical bills can harm your credit and cause potential legal issue if left unaddressed, there is often some flexibility when it comes to repayment. And unlike most credit card and loan debt, medical debt rarely accrues any sort of interest charges or penalties. If you’re stuck with a large medical bill, take the following steps to help bring down the cost and create a repayment plan that fits your budget.  

REVIEW MEDICAL BILLS FOR ACCURACY

If you are facing significant medical debt, the first thing you should do is to review all of the medical bills to make sure they are completely accurate. Check dates of service, as well as the services performed and the doctors performing them. Don’t be afraid to ask your provider to walk you through the bill and explain all the charges. Healthcare often involves a lot of moving parts and personnel, so there’s always a chance that items have been entered incorrectly.

If you find anything that’s incorrect, ask that the charge be investigated and, if not valid, removed from your bill.

REVIEW YOUR INSURANCE POLICY TO SEE WHAT’S COVERED

Next, you should verify which charges were (or were not) covered by your insurance. Were any of your claims denied? Does your policy have an out-of-pocket cap and have you met it yet?

To ensure that you’re getting the most out of your insurance, you’ll really need to understand the terms of your policy. If something doesn’t seem to add up, contact your insurance provider for more information. If you believe that a claim was denied incorrectly, you have a right to appeal the denial. There are some simple errors, such as incorrect billing codes, that can cause your insurance to reject the claim. There’s a good amount of legwork involved, but ensuring that you’re getting the maximum insurance coverage possible is an important way to keep your medical bills in check.

CONTACT YOUR MEDICAL PROVIDERS TO SEE IF YOU ARE ELIGIBLE FOR AN ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

Once you know exactly what your true financial obligation is, contact your medical providers to see if there is any assistance available. Many hospitals offer assistance programs to can help reduce your bills. Unfortunately, you usually have to ask to find out if you are eligible. 

You should also ask about available payment options – you may be able to negotiate a long term payment plan that works better for your budget.

AVOID BORROWING MONEY TO PAY MEDICAL DEBTS

It may be tempting to put your medical debt on a credit card, but that’s not usually a good idea. As noted before, medical debt is usually interest-free, so the debt itself isn’t costing you additional money. Once you move the debt onto a credit card or loan, however, you’ll almost always start accruing interest charges, meaning you’ll be paying both the debt and the new interest charges on the debt. 

Perhaps worse, though, you may also no longer be eligible for financial assistance or payment options from your medical billing company once you’ve already “paid” the debt by putting it on your credit card. If you have to borrow money to pay a medical debt, it’s likely better to wait and see what you can work out with the provider first before paying anything.

Leaders, Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About Your Fears and Anxieties

“I realize my boundaries are blurred, but I don’t know how to handle everything on my plate. There is a lot to do and a lot to take care of … The team looks for so much in terms of guidance, direction, energy, ideas, structure … I feel like I am carrying the weight of it all.” 

We all struggle with stress, anxiety, and other difficult emotions. But it can be tough to figure out what to do with these feelings, especially if we’re the ones who are supposed to be leading and supporting others. What’s the best way for a leader to handle their own emotional struggles at work?

To explore this question, we invited 30 leaders from the US and UK to keep journals for four weeks in May and June of 2020. The leaders were from a variety of global corporations, national and international charities, and startups, and we asked them to write weekly entries in response to three different prompts: 1. What is emerging for you? 2. What are you finding you need? and 3. What are you letting go of? Without exception, every leader in our study described major emotional turmoil. One leader wrote, “Just the stress of lockdown has made me wonder if this is all worth it. I’m struggling to keep my emotions in check, and the people closest to me are getting the brunt of it.” Another shared that on some days, they felt like they had lost their will to live and sense of purpose. Yet another described feeling “a sense of dread. I feel I have little grasp on how to navigate the future, much less to lead others.”

Despite their common emotional experiences, however, the leaders diverged significantly in how they responded to these challenges. Specifically, our analysis identified three distinct types of leaders, each of whom took a different approach to managing their negative emotions:

  1. Heroes: Leaders who focused on the positive, doing their best to convince their teams that they would get through the crisis no matter what.
  2. Technocrats: Leaders who ignored emotions altogether and focused on tactical solutions.
  3. Sharers: Leaders who openly acknowledged their fears, stresses, and other negative emotions.

While there are pros and cons to every leadership style, we found that Sharers were particularly successful in building cohesive, high-performing teams that were resilient in the face of the myriad challenges posed by the pandemic. Why might this be? Both our own work and a vast body of existing research suggests several reasons why Sharers are likely to outperform Heroes and Technocrats.

Technocrats and Heroes Aren’t as Heroic as They Seem

First, while positivity can improve performance, research suggests that trying to ignore a negative emotion actually makes you feel worse. As one leader put it, “I’m sick of reading, self-motivating, learning, staying upbeat, etc. when all I can feel is tiredness from overwork and fear.” Another expressed a similar sentiment: “My positivity, resilience, and outwardly strong mindset … are pillars for those around me — I find that people are gravitating around this, but I have to protect my space and keep looking after myself when I’m tired etc., because I can give others the impression it’s all under control and ‘in good hands’ and that isn’t always true.”

In addition, a Hero leadership style can make team members feel more distant from their leader, since if the leader appears not to be struggling at all, it can put pressure on others to suppress their own challenges. A façade of positivity can decrease the well-being of both team members and leaders, undermine leaders’ relationships with employees, and ultimately reduce self-confidence and performance at work.

Similarly, while there’s certainly a time and a place for focusing on results, many of the Technocrats in our study found that ignoring emotions simply didn’t work. For one, it undermined leaders’ own mental health. As one leader noted, “At the start of the pandemic, I managed the stress and the uncertainty by looking after my own mental space a lot. Now, I am still locked in but I am a lot less kind to myself. My old ‘business as usual’ pushing has come back … I am feeling more and more out of sync and not giving myself any more of the ‘self-nurturing’ space I had at the beginning of the pandemic.”

This approach can also take a toll on leaders’ relationships with their teams. One Technocrat wrote that they were “letting go of some of the niceties and ‘fluff.’ I just don’t have enough time right now and it’s the softer sides that are being sacrificed.” And of course, letting negative emotions go unaddressed inevitably ends up impacting productivity. Another participant noted that despite (or perhaps because of) his results-focused leadership style, “there are people (and I include some senior people) who seem to be doing the very minimum that is required of them … People are hitting walls, and there are lots of frustrations.”

While emotions may seem frivolous to some, they in fact drive everything leaders care about, from job performance to turnover to customer satisfaction. By ignoring emotions, Technocrats fail both to harness the positive emotions that spur performance and to address the negative emotions that undermine it.

The Best Leaders Are Sharers

In contrast, sharing negative emotions can lessen their impact on the leader, build empathy between leaders and employees, encourage others to open up about their own negative emotions, and help others recontextualize and overcome those struggles — ultimately boosting morale and performance throughout the organization. For example, one leader found that when they opened up about emotions with their team, it allowed them “to get beyond small talk and connect more deeply… it opened up a different and richer conversation, a very ‘data rich’ discussion in a way that can be lacking from video calls.” These “more human conversations” helped teams to weather the days that still felt “very much like a roller coaster — exciting, energetic, and optimistic in one moment and deflated, down, and lethargic the next.”

Another leader wrote about how acknowledging their own emotional turbulence helped them to understand the mental state of their employees and to interact with them more effectively and empathetically. Throughout our study, we found that being open about their own inner turmoil helped Sharers’ teams to feel more comfortable doing the same, which in turn both helped everyone to cope more effectively with their negative emotions and created greater psychological closeness between teammates despite their physical separation.

Becoming a Sharer Is Difficult — But Not Impossible

Of course, becoming a Sharer is often easier said than done. In the journal entries, we found that many leaders had strong biases towards the Hero and Technocrat styles, driven by a widespread assumption that true leaders must always be aspirational and results-oriented, and that admitting negative emotions is a sign of weakness. One Hero-type leader described feeling like they “had to lead others with positivity while fighting fires on a daily basis,” and others even apologized for the negativity of their entries — as if they were ashamed not to focus on the positive, even in a private journaling exercise. Similarly, Technocrat leaders often prioritized “immediate challenges around how to work going forward,” writing that they needed “organization and focus so I don’t get distracted.”

The Five Pillars of Great Credit

Because there’s money involved (and often a great deal of money) it makes sense that lenders want a credit score they can trust. That’s why credit score providers, like FICO and Experian, keep the formula used to create your score a secret. If borrowers can manipulate their scores, then those scores are no longer an accurate gauge of risk, and if that’s the case, then the scores become meaningless. 

Fortunately, just because we don’t know the whole formula doesn’t mean we’re completely in the dark when it comes to building strong credit. In fact, we have a pretty good idea what really matters when it comes to good credit. 

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO ACHIEVE A GREAT CREDIT SCORE?

All credit scoring models take into consideration the following five categories: payment history, amount currently owed to creditors, length of personal credit history, amount of new credit recently acquired, and types of credit currently in use.

Each category says something distinctive about you and your risk as a potential borrower. In order to maximize your credit history and reduce your risk in the eyes of lenders, you should strive for the following:

A CLEAN PAYMENT HISTORY

The most important category is also the simplest to master. A positive payment history includes no missed payments. Borrowers who do not fulfill their obligations are considered riskier than those who do. The circumstances behind a missed payment, unfortunately, do not matter. Make consistent, on-time (and in-full) payments and you will be on your way to an exemplary credit history. 

A LOT OF AVAILABLE CREDIT

An overextended borrower is a risky borrower. This is a complex category, but the standard rule of thumb has long been to avoid using more than 40 percent of the credit available to you. The closer you come to maxing out your available lines of credit, the riskier you appear in the eyes of lenders. Keep an eye on your debt levels, especially if you plan on applying for additional credit in the near future.

You can use this calculator to figure out how much of your credit line is still available.

A LONG (AND POSITIVE) PERSONAL CREDIT HISTORY

Lenders are most apt to feel comfortable lending money to a borrower who has been using credit successfully for many years. That’s why it’s important to begin using credit responsibly at a young age. A long history of smart credit usage will have a very positive impact on your credit score.

This is usually measured by the age of your current credit accounts. The older, the better. That’s why you should be wary of closing old accounts in favor of newer ones – there may be a hit to your credit (at least temporarily).

A REASONABLE AMOUNT OF NEWLY ESTABLISHED CREDIT

As noted in the previous category, lenders like to see that you’ve been successfully managing your credit and loan accounts over long periods of time. When you’ve recently taken on new debt, it makes you riskier, because there’s no established history of success managing that account. This is why you may find that your credit score dips a bit after opening a new account. You need to prove all over again that you can handle the new debt. 

This is a relatively minor category, but it’s important to keep in mind, especially if you intend to acquire multiple new loans or sources of credit within a short span of time. 

A VARIED MIX OF CREDIT TYPES

Building good credit is essentially a cycle of using today’s credit to prove to tomorrow’s lenders that you can be trusted with their money. In order to maximize your credit score and minimize your perceived risk as a borrower, you need to prove that you can handle many different types of credit. A borrower who has used credit cards responsibly, but has never shown that they can handle a loan, is simply riskier than a borrower who has successfully handled all types of credit. 

A COMPASS, NOT A ROADMAP

So even though we don’t have a map to a particular score, we know what direction we must travel in order to build a strong credit history. Focus on being the kind of borrower you would lend to, if the tables were turned. If you borrow wisely and fulfill your obligations, your credit score will reflect your true creditworthiness in due time.

The Delta Variant: Everything Parents Need to Know About the COVID Mutation

Add this to the fact that kids under 12 are still unable to get the COVID vaccine and, yes, you have our attention.

But is it time to panic? In a word, no. While it is more transmissible, vaccines protect against the variant, and it does not seem to have changed the way COVID impacts children — which is to say, usually mildly. That’s a lot to unpack, so let’s get into it. Here’s everything parents need to know about the Delta variant. 

What is the Delta variant?

Delta is the coronavirus variant that was first identified in India, where it wreaked havoc before spreading to the UK and the rest of the world. It’s contributing to rising COVID rates in the U.S., where it’s now the cause of the vast majority of new cases.

Delta is driving an exponential increase in cases in the U.S., particularly in undervaccinated areas. In Florida in late July, more people were hospitalized with COVID than they were at at any other point in the pandemic, according to the COVID Data Dispatch. In late July, hospitalizations in Texas were up 300 percent compared to late June. But the impact of Delta is much less severe in well-vaccinated areas.

Does the Delta variant spread faster or differently?

The Delta variant is highly contagious. Some experts think that it’s twice as transmissible as the coronavirus that started the pandemic and 40 to 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant. It’s likely the most transmissible variant yet. When indoors and without a mask, it only takes a second for one person to infect another with Delta, experts say. Note that being outdoors is much safer, though it’s unclear at this point how much when it comes to this variant. Leaked CDC documents recently revealed that Delta is as contagious as the chickenpox, although outside experts have been skeptical about this comparison.

What does this mean in real-world terms? Here’s one (terrifying) example: A CCTV camera in Australia documented two people passing each other briefly in a mall. One of the people infected the other despite only sharing airspace for a few seconds, genetic analysis confirmed. This situation is probably unusual, but it highlights just how transmissible Delta can be.

Is the Delta variant deadlier?

There’s not enough evidence yet to know whether the Delta variant kills more people. However, a large study in Scotland found that Delta leads to hospitalization at twice the rate of the Alpha variant. This suggests that it may cause more severe disease, but researchers can’t be certain yet.

However, some experts are ready to make the call. “The evidence seems to be tipping that [Delta’s] certainly causing more severe illness in children, due to the numbers of kids being hospitalized, more so than we’d ever seen previously during the pandemic,” Stanley Spinner, MD, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care, told Fatherly.

But even if Delta turns out not to be more deadly, it can still cause issues because it will get more people sick, possibly leading to overcrowded hospitals, which can lead to more deaths.

Do the COVID vaccines stop Delta?

Vaccinated adults are becoming more and more concerned about breakthrough infections as the Delta variant spreads. But the available evidence supports that the vaccines are effective at stopping infection and severe disease from Delta, but not as effective as they were at protecting against other coronavirus variants. 

This Is Why You Need to Become the Face of Your Business

Do you know who started McDonalds? Nike? What about Chevrolet? While some may know a name, they wouldn’t be able to match a face to that name. Today, many of the largest brands in the world can be matched with a face.

Elon Musk is synonymous with Tesla. It’s becoming increasingly popular for large brands to have a face associated with them, whether it’s a high-ranking C-level executive or the founder. There are several reasons why this is advantageous and something you should consider.

Consumers connect more strongly with a personality than with a faceless brand 

A lot has changed over the years, especially how brands interact with consumers. Thirty years ago, there were very limited ways to advertise  TV, radio and print were the main delivery vehicles for advertisements.

Messaging was very direct. “This is our product, and this is what it does.” Brands had to be consistent with their messaging, driving brand familiarity through the use of a logo and tagline, hoping it translated to sales the next time the consumer was shopping in a retail environment.

Today, a logo isn’t even an afterthought. Many successful brands use a simple text-based logo with nothing more than font matching their vibe. The branding and advertising can be very direct and go for the conversion immediately because of online shopping.

With the goal of making that connection quickly, many brands began using a familiar face to establish a strong brand-consumer relationship. Consumers connect with and trust a brand with a face more than they do a faceless brand. Then, when that face has a distinctive and unforgettable personality, the results can be amplified tenfold.

You can tell your story better than anyone else

Would Tesla have a similar success story if it used a random celebrity spokesperson rather than Elon Musk? No, because nobody can tell the brand’s story better than Elon. While he didn’t originally start the company, he invested, took control and quickly made sure to brand the company with his image and likeness.

He eats, breathes and sleeps Tesla. He is the leading authority on all things Tesla-related because he is in the trenches daily. Who else could relay breaking news, exciting developments and explain the direction of the company the same way? Nobody, and the same applies to you and your business.

Every business has a story, and the brands that figure out how to tell it authentically benefit greatly. Consumers love to hear the “why” behind brands. There are so many companies out there with amazing stories that never get heard because they never get told.

Put your story out there and be the delivery mechanism for sharing your story. It’s much more effective when it’s told by you.

Believing in your own product or service is the strongest statement you can make

Become the modern-day entrepreneur, an entrepreneur influencer. It is the strongest statement an entrepreneur can make  to be the face of the business you founded means putting yourself out there,  not just calling the shots behind a desk. It means that you’re all-in on your brand and will be there for the ups and downs alike, committed to bringing the best product or service to market. No amount of fancy advertisements or paid celebrity endorsements can match that level of trust or commitment.

It’s easy to hide behind a name and company, or even staff members and executives, but those that step out in front of everyone ready to face the music head-on are making a bold statement. Consumers know that brands will face challenges and not everything will be smooth sailing, which is another reason they respect the move and will patronize brands with a face over one with no personal connection. 

Other People Are Really Not Your Problem

Have you ever thought how curious it is that when you are having a bad day, don’t feel well, might be rushing or otherwise distracted, and you do or say something to someone else, you want them to be understanding; however, when the converse is true, you have no ability to cut some slack and give someone else the benefit of the doubt? 

“If he wasn’t like he is, I wouldn’t respond this way.” “I try so hard, but she doesn’t reciprocate.” “His approach sets off something in me, and I just have to respond negatively.” The list of excuses offered as to why you are not the person in the wrong is endless; it’s the other person who is causing the angst and upset. If they would get themselves right, all would be well with the world.

If you have ever had children, teenagers, a significant other, family members, or friends who rub you the wrong way, you know the so-called pain of a difficult relationship. People you care about just don’t do what you want and need them to do! It is eternally frustrating that they can’t understand how good you are to them, and they don’t reciprocate in kind. Much of people’s lives are spent looking at others and lamenting how they should or shouldn’t do something differently. People truly believe if they could fix the other person and get them to behave in ways they dictate as necessary and appropriate, all would be well.

The most important lesson you can learn in life is that you can’t fix others.

You can’t dictate their behavior, and you can’t change them to suit your needs. As a parent, you can guide your child; you can nurture them and provide a role model to show positive behaviors. In any relationship, you can address something that is amiss; you can bring up issues that are troubling and might need to be examined or corrected.

You don’t have to hide your viewpoint. You don’t have to ignore what’s meaningful to you. You don’t have to take abuse and say nothing, but you do need to recognize that your way is not always the only way or the right way. 

Other people are not your problem. Yes, they can be mean, they can do things that hurt, they can behave in ways that are not mature and appropriate, but they aren’t your problem. Figuring out what triggers you and why, and understanding how to modify your approach and your behavior, is going to serve you much better—both in the short and the long run.

What to do when others are difficult:

Try the following instead of working to be “right” and convince them of the error of their ways:

1. See your triggers in action.

Everyone has something that triggers them. Ever considered why there is no one single definition of the “difficult” ones? Some people love forceful people; others find them intimidating. Some parents love children at certain ages, while others loathe those ages and stages. Some people enjoy quiet, unassuming people, while others think they are conceited and disengaged.

If there was one definition, everyone would agree, but there is not—because each person is triggered by different things. Try and see what triggers you, what you want to control, and what you “can’t stand” about others. Once you see it, you can start to recognize the triggers in action.

2. Consider the “why?”

Why does this behavior or approach trigger you? Again, assuming it is not someone physically abusing you or stealing from you, why does someone speaking in a sharp tone set you off, for example? Why does someone who gets upset about something you might have done irk you? Why do you want to chew out that person who doesn’t agree with your point of view? Is it because they are wrong, or because you have some background or prior experience or belief that you should be treated a certain way? Consider the why, and often you will find a connection between what you consider acceptable behavior and what is crossing your (imaginary) line.

3. Focus on what you want out of the relationship.

Sleep apnea may almost double the risk of sudden death

Obstructive sleep apnea has become a globally prevalent health concern. Recent literature estimates that more than 1 billion individuals experience this chronic sleep disorder.

A study by Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, which appears in BMJ Open Respiratory Research, found that those who receive a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea are at a significantly greater risk of dying suddenly than those who do not have the condition.

The word apnea means “without breath.” During obstructive sleep apnea, there is a reduction or complete blockage of airflow during sleep. This sleep disturbance manifests itself in various ways, including excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, heavy snoring, and non-refreshing sleep.

Serious consequences of sleep apnea

While these symptoms can potentially affect a person’s quality of life, they can also have even more serious consequences.

Researchers at Penn State performed a systematic review of the literature and identified 22 studies focusing on obstructive sleep apnea, cardiac death, and sudden death. The team analyzed the combined data of these studies by meta-analysis. 

The quantitative analysis included a combined total of over 42,000 individuals across the world. The mean age of participants was 62 years old, and 64% were men.

The meta-analysis showed that individuals with obstructive sleep apnea were approximatelytwice as likely to experience sudden death than those who did not have the sleep condition. The study also identified that obstructive sleep apnea resulted in a nearly twofold risk of cardiovascular death that increased with age.

According to Dr. John S. Oh, assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and one of the study authors, many patients do not realize the seriousness of an apnea diagnosis.

“Obstructive sleep apnea is a common condition that can have fatal consequences,” stresses Dr. Oh.

Timely diagnosis and treatment

In an interview with Medical News Today, Dr. Ryan Soose, director of the UPMC Sleep Division, said: “We’ve known for a long time that untreated sleep apnea patients are more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart disease, and a number of other health conditions. But the risk of sudden death reported in this study is eye-opening and makes a timely diagnosis and treatment even more pressing.”

The effects of the nervous system on the human sleep cycle may explain the association between sleep apnea and the increased rate of sudden death.

Because of the intermittent lack of oxygen that people with sleep apnea experience, the central nervous system may be over-aroused to increase airflow. In turn, this can cause increases in both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure of an individual.

In addition, someone with sleep apnea will experience oxidative stress, which can contribute to an imbalance of antioxidants in the body. This imbalance can damage cells and speed up the aging process, causing numerous health problems over time.

In a podcast, Dale Coller, DO, from Holland Hospital Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine in Michigan, OH, has commented on the serious stressors resulting from obstructive sleep apnea. 

“Every time [the throat] closes off, it’s very similar to if someone is being choked,” Coller explains. “This can happen hundreds of times in one night, causing the person stress and fragmentation of their sleep.”

5 Ways to Adjust Your Credit Card Strategy

As summer quickly approaches and things re-open in the U.S., it is prime time for enjoying many of life’s most fun activities — travel, dining out, sports, and more — or maybe even some big life changes like moving or a new job. Especially if you expect spending shifts as a result, it’s a great time for taking stock of where you stand financially and re-setting your credit card strategy to help you meet your money goals for the rest of the year. Think of it as an opportunity to focus on what’s working, take advantage of new opportunities, and recalibrate your spending patterns. Here are five simple ways to do so.

Check Your Credit Report

It’s always a good time to check your credit report, but doing so mid-year can be especially useful if you’re planning for any big, upcoming purchases (such as home buying, which can often occur during the summer, and which I’m considering at the moment). Staying abreast of any changes on your credit report can help you address any issues, but can also alert you to opportunities. If you credit score has increased recently, for example, you may qualify for higher credit limits or lower interest rates on loans or credit cards. You can get a full credit report for free once per year at freecreditreport.com. For more frequent credit monitoring, some credit cards even provide free monthly FICO credit scores.

Plan Ahead for Big Purchases

One of the best aspects of responsible card use is enjoying rewards for your purchases. The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Card is an especially useful tool, because it allows you to change your 3% cash back category every month. So, since I know I’ll be traveling to see family in August, I can change my category to “travel” that month from my usual choice of “dining.” Plus, with an introductory 0% APR offer lasting more than a year, you can plan for big purchases — such as home remodeling, or new furniture. You can even set your monthly cash back category to your intended purchase category to layer your rewards. Combine this with a banking loyalty program, and you can layer your rewards together. As an added bonus, because I am a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, I’m able to boost my cash back earnings even higher.

Review Your Rewards

The summer is also the perfect time to review card rewards earned to date. Mid-year can be a useful time to review the rewards you’re receiving, how much you’ve earned in rewards, and reset your rewards strategy, if needed. You can also plan for ways to use your card in order to maximize your earnings in the remainder of the year. Plus, loyalty programs often add or change their offerings, making card use even more rewarding in various ways, so check in with your credit cards to determine whether you’re enjoying the full range of benefits available.

Monitor Card Changes

Has your card’s APR changed since last year? If your credit has improved, do you now qualify for zero APR card offers, lower interest rates, or premium cards? Have there been other changes to your card program, such as terms of service, offerings, or card benefits like concierge services or purchase protections? Mid-year is a good time to refresh your understanding of your card’s features, and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Review Your Spending & Budget

Many credit cards allow you to see your spending history by category, so that you can track your monthly spend and expenses against your budget. Summer is an ideal time to review your spending to date, assess whether you’re meeting your budget goals, and re-formulate intentions for the rest of the year. As many businesses re-open, and new spending opportunities are again available, your habits or spending may change to reflect the post-pandemic economy. Think about how you want your spending habits and budget to look. For example: If you’re ready to travel again (which the majority of Americans are, according to a Bank of America survey), should that be re-added into your budget? If your work commute is back, are you incorporating that into your monthly expenses? Your credit card can be an excellent tool for tracking your spending, ensuring you stay within budget. And your rewards can even be another way of ensuring you stay within budget — especially if you get cash back.

How often to work out for health, strength, and weight loss

Exercise has a range of important benefits. It enhances overall health, helps a person maintain a moderate weight, relieves stress, and can promote restful sleep. 

Due to this, what people wish to achieve through exercise differs among individuals. Some people may use exercise as a weight loss technique, whereas others may want to build their strength.

This article addresses how often a person should work out based on their particular goals. 

It is advisable to consult a doctor before starting any workout or strength training program, as they can offer advice on how to work out safely and minimize the risk of injury.

How often to work out for weight loss

At its most basic level, weight loss is about solving a math problem. 

A person must burn off more calories than they take in on a daily basis. Some of the ways a person can accomplish this include:

  • eating fewer calories each day than they burn off 
  • increasing their physical activity to burn off more calories 
  • increasing their muscle mass so that they burn more calories at rest 

There is controversy surrounding whether exercise alone is enough to achieve weight loss. 

For example, some research suggests that exercise can cause the body to start to compensate by adjusting metabolism as a means to hold on to body fat. 

Exercise still has a role to play in weight loss, but for maximum benefits, a person should combine it with a healthful calorie-controlled diet that reduces their calorie intake. 

Researchers also note that continuing to exercise after weight loss can help stop people from regaining the weight. 

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend a combination of cardiovascular training and strength training to boost health and burn calories. 

Cardiovascular training 

The AHA recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity throughout the week. 

A person can also engage in a mix of moderate intensity and vigorous activities should they prefer.

Example of moderate intensity activities include:

  • brisk walking at a speed of at least 2.5 miles per hour (mph)
  • dancing 
  • gardening 
  • riding a bicycle slower than 10 mph 
  • tennis 
  • water aerobics 

Examples of vigorous activities include:

  • hiking, particularly uphill or while wearing a heavy pack 
  • jumping rope 
  • running 
  • swimming 
  • taking an aerobics class 
  • vigorous yard work, such as digging 

Ultimately, a person can gain the greatest health benefits by engaging in at least 5 hours of physical activity a week. 

Strength training

Strength training involves using resistance to build muscle. 

Muscle can help make the body more metabolically active, increasing the rate at which it burns calories.

Listening to Understand Instead of Respond

As a couples therapist, a problem I see with every client is communication. More specifically, listening skills. Often, we may hear our partner’s words but not really know what it is they are saying or mean. Being a good listener means listening to understand instead of listening to respond. If we aren’t really listening then most of our communication is generally one-sided and we end up each having our own conversations. This often creates a lot of conflict in relationships.

How do I know I need to improve my listening? If you find that you often interrupt your partner or get impatient when they are speaking “too long,” you could benefit from being a better listener. Things you may hear your partner say are “You don’t get it,” “You aren’t listening,” “That’s not what I said, I feel unimportant.” This can indicate a problem with deeper understanding, especially during conflict.

When we are interested and having a positive interaction, it can be easy to listen. When there has been conflict or the subject is boring, this is usually when our listening skills start to deteriorate.

How to Be a Better Listener

Here are some tips that may help:

  • Suspend our own agenda. You can’t really listen when you are focused on what you want to say.
  • Be interested. Take a genuine interest in how your partner is feeling in the situation, if what they are saying doesn’t make sense, tune in more.
  • Be a reporter. Focus enough that you would be able to write an article about it. Sometimes taking notes can help you focus.
  • Ask questions. This is part of being interested as well, when someone asks questions for understanding, you can tell they are invested in understanding.
  • Make eye contact. Don’t look at your phone, look away, or roll your eyes. Eye contact is a great way to physically show you are listening.
  • Use minimal encouragers. Instead of staying silent, add in some acknowledgment like “mmhmm, yes, ok, that makes sense” and head nodding.
  • Avoid judgment. Focus more on understanding their perspective, find out why it is they feel the way they do.
  • Avoid advice-giving. Your partner doesn’t necessarily need your help to figure it out. If they ask for advice, that is the best time to give it.
  • Avoid defensiveness. Focus on their perspective for the time being.
  • Breathe and self-soothe if you get overwhelmed or flooded. It’s ok to ask for a break if you need one.
  • Provide a summary before you respond and give them a chance to correct or add anything.
  • Find something to validate about your partner’s feelings.
  • Ask your partner if they feel understood. If not, ask what you are missing, and if so, now it is finally your turn to respond.

7 Tips for Coping When Life Is Bumpy

A task I had expected to be simple would now require two more errands, and more money. Grrr!

Often, this is how life goes. Mistakes happen, things don’t work as they should, processes are inefficient. Or, we get more bad news when we’re already feeling fragile.

Here are seven tips for learning to roll with the punches, and not feel knocked out of kilter.

1. Don’t expect life to go smoothly.

In modern, developed countries, we often expect our transactions to go very smoothly. If we reserve a hotel room, we expect it will be available when we arrive. We expect clean water to come out of the tap. We expect that if we buy a product and it’s faulty or not as described, we’ll be able to return it. We expect the product we order will be the product that arrives, and not some other random item.

We expect reliability, and we expect physical comfort (e.g., air conditioning). And this can extend to us also expecting emotional comfort. Perhaps over-expecting it. But the more you think of discomfort (of all kinds) as something to be expected periodically, the easier it can be to handle when it arises. It’s helpful to think of these experiences as universal rather than personalizing them.

2. Notice when you are personalizing events.

I haven’t seen my mother in over two years because of the pandemic. I live in the U.S, she lives in New Zealand, and their border is essentially closed. Many New Zealanders aren’t personally affected by the border restrictions, and are grateful the border closures are keeping their lives COVID-free. However, part of me thinks, “No one cares about families like ours” who are affected by it. When I think like this, I get upset about New Zealanders in my circle who are choosing not to vaccinate, because it likely means a longer wait until my family can freely see each other again. It took me a long time to realize how much I was personalizing other New Zealanders’ attitudes to the border closure. When I did realize it, it helped me to see the big picture more.

3. Use self-compassion.

We often criticize ourselves that we should be able to handle blips, frustrations, disappointments, sadness, etc., better. You might think, “Other people wouldn’t be rocked by this. Other people would take this in stride.” Self-compassion skills should help a great deal if you’re doing this type of criticism.

4. Understand what pushes your buttons.

Cars and mechanical or electrical issues feel pretty foreign to me. Therefore, anything to do with those makes me feel out of my comfort zone. I didn’t want to figure out a car problem.

Greater whole grain intake may reduce cardiovascular risk factors

Researchers have demonstrated an association between consuming more whole grains and improved measures of risk factors for CVD.

In the research, which appears in the Journal of Nutrition, the researchers also found an association between eating more refined grains and worse measures of some of these risk factors.

The findings provide further evidence that increased consumption of whole grains has health benefits.

Cardiovascular disease

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), CVDs “are the leading cause of death globally.” In 2019, almost 18 million people died due to CVDs — the vast majority by either stroke or heart attack.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that in the United States, a person dies from CVD every 36 seconds, accounting for 1 death in every 4.

To prevent CVD, the CDC advises that a person avoids smoking, avoids overweight and obesity, and stays physically active. The CDC also suggests a person should eat as healthy a diet as possible.

A 2015 review indicated that eating a healthier diet — including more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, vegetable oil, and poultry — could reduce a person’s risk of CVD by a third.

More specifically, researchers have found significant evidence for the beneficial effects of eating more whole grains. This reduces the risk of CVD and death due to cancer, respiratory disease, infectious disease, and all-cause mortality.

However, there has been less research looking at the relationship between whole grain consumption and the early warning signs of CVD.

These early signs include a person’s waist circumference, blood pressure, levels of fasting plasma high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol, plasma triglyceride, and blood glucose.

15 At-Home Date Night Ideas For Busy Parents

But carving out time for fun and connection in your marriage — time that allows you remember who you are as partners and people and not just as parents — is incredibly important to happiness. That’s why we’d urge you to keep that date night on your calendar, but simply schedule some at-home date night ideas. Yeah, yeah, we’ve all been spending a lot of time indoors. But there are still plenty of ways to connect and enjoy one another’s company and make it feel special. In terms of what makes a great date night, well, it’s all about the energy you bring and what feels right to you. Like what you ask? Well, below is a variety of simple at-home date night ideas. Hopefully one will provide some inspiration. 

At-Home Date Night Ideas

  1. Ask Some Questions
    If your spouse had $5,000 right now to spend on one thing what would they blow it on? If they could talk to their teenage self what would they tell them? If they could shrink any animal down to house-cat-size and keep it as a pet, what would they choose? A night of getting to know one another by asking probing questions is genuinely fun (so long as you pepper in some fun ones). Why? The more you open up, the deeper a bond you’ll create. Sit on the couch with a glass of wine and fire a few off.  
  2. Have a Phone-Free Dinner
    That is, power your device down and just focus on one another for the entire meal. Maybe you tend to look at your phone too often; maybe you don’t. But this is an excellent exercise for carving out real time together. The simple act of proposing this makes the intention clear: “I want to focus on you and only you for the evening.” Ain’t that sweet? 
  3. Enjoy a No-Power Evening.
    Okay, don’t, like, switch off all the breakers and reset the clocks. But turn off the lights in the room where you’ll be. Light candles. Power down all your devices. Resolve to not watch TV. Play cards or board games. If you want to cosplay like it’s the Middle Ages to add to the vibe, hey that’s up to you. 
  4. Plan a DIY Spa Night
    Relaxation, anyone? Surprise your partner with a calming night in — or agree on a night of mutual relaxation. Buy a few fat bath bombs, face masks, and scrubs. Draw a bath. Light candles. Play some chill music. Whatever works for you. The key is to sink into the moment together and be down to enjoy a face mask. (Pro tip: Heat up towels and robes you use in the drier so they’re warm when you use them) 
  5. Bake a Big-Ass Cake Together
    Baking together is a great way to remember how well you operate. Find a recipe that seems way too advanced. Buy the ingredients. Listen to music. Get too much flour everywhere. 
  6. Have a Pizza Night
    Sure, you can order pizza. But what we’re talking about is making it from scratch: prep the dough, make a good sauce, plan out your toppings. It’s a fun way to connect and feed yourselves. Toss that dough in the air. Fire it in a hot oven. Get messy. Get creative. We have some great pizza-making advice from modern dough-maestro Ken Forkish. And if you want to take it outside, here’s a great recipe for grilled pizza. 
  7. Plan a Vacation
    Planning sounds like work, and it is. But it’s the fun type of shared work that enables you to talk about the places you want to see and stay in, the activities you want to do, the general vibe you want to experience. What’s more, giving yourselves a point on the horizon to look forward to has a ripple effect that does wonders for your happiness. 
  8. Listen to Music Together
    When was the last time you sat down with your spouse and listened to music that didn’t feature, say, a pint-sized shark or ice-wielding princess? We’re guessing it’s been a while. In any case, sitting together and listening to an album in its entirety is a great way to relax and focus on a piece of work, track-by-track, the way it was intended. Try it. Decide on an album. Listen. Talk about it afterwards. Chances are, there’ll be a lot to say. 
  9. Take an Exercise Class
    There’s a vast amount of virtual classes available online, which makes it easy to schedule one together. Ease of setup aside, exercise is an excellent way to bond ( stress relief, those sweet endorphins) and, if you’re both into working out, it gives you a chance to try a class your partner loves and vice versa. 
  10. Order a Big Fancy Desert
    When was the last time you shared a fancy dessert together? And no, we’re not talking about going to town on a shared gallon of Turkey Hill while watching Netflix. We mean finding something to share and savor and look forward to on a random Thursday because why the hell not? The best part about this is the anticipation, so talk about what kind of desert you want beforehand. Maybe Tiramisu from that little Italian place you used to go to that had the great corner booth? See, you’re getting into the moment already. 
  11. Have a DIY Drinks and Art Night
    Who says crafts are only for the kids? Grab a bottle or two of wine and some cheap canvases. Set up some paints. Give yourselves a theme and a time limit (at least an hour), and enjoy the creative exercise. Quietly working side by side is a great way to relax and focus on a shared activity that’s not on a screen. 

How to Choose a Therapist

Are you looking for a new therapist? Or thinking of trying therapy for the first time?

Therapy is most effective when there is a good fit between therapist and client. The alphabet soup behind everyone’s names, the therapy jargon you might not understand, the multitude of certifications, trainings, and treatment models simply adds to your confusion. Even we therapists can experience this when trying to find therapists for ourselves or are providing referrals for family and friends. Let’s break this down into more manageable pieces.

Before you start your search:

  1. Get clear about what you want to accomplish in therapy or are needing support around.
  2. Decide if you want in-person or telehealth sessions.
  3. Know your accessibility needs and what will make it easier for you to commit to the process.
  4. Determine what values or life experiences are important for your therapist to have in common with you.

Once you have the above figured out, narrow your search based on these. Knowing what you want to accomplish or need support around allows you to search therapists’ sites and database profiles using keywords like “couples therapy” or “anxiety management.” Most therapists state clearly whether they offer in-person or virtual sessions. Many practices have both available. If you know you’re wanting one or the other be sure to add it to your search.

When considering accessibility, think about more than ADA compliance, languages spoken, and a schedule that fits with yours. You want to make sure your therapist takes your insurance, offer a sliding scale for payment, or that their session fees fit your budget. Additionally, if you’re going to do in-person sessions, is their office conveniently located? Because let’s be real, if the office is a challenge to get to, or going to therapy is going to require a three-hour time commitment, you’ll be more likely to cancel sessions and maybe quit sooner than you’d intended.

There are some who suggest a therapist’s values and life experiences should not impact the therapeutic relationship as therapists are trained to remain neutral, and to keep their personal beliefs, values, and life experiences out of the therapy. I suppose maybe if therapists weren’t also human beings that would always be true, but alas therapists are all humans first, and therapists second. Shared life experiences, dimensions of culture, and/or value systems can create a sense of safety and trust that only a “me too” connection creates.

Discovering Purpose in the Pandemic

To be sure, the return-to-office scramble is untenable for many workers because of health or other family-related reasons. But for others, the return is untenable because a newfound commitment to living on purpose won’t let them go back to be handcuffed to the habits of yesteryear.Add Insight
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The pain of this pandemic, with its death toll of nearly 4 million lives lost worldwide, has triggered many of us to go deeper to explore existential questions—from “why am I here?” to “what is true success, and what does that look like for me?” And as much as we all want to put COVID-19 behind us, the answers we seek may actually be found in our pandemic-era reflections. Where there is profound pain and loss, we can also find purpose. 

This year’s International Day of Purpose (observed annually on June 20) offers us a moment to take stock of three indispensable lessons that the pandemic has taught us for the journey ahead.

Let Your Pain Point You to Purpose 

To say that the pandemic has been painful is an understatement. And it’s only natural to want to organize our lives in such a way as to reduce, eliminate, and quickly move beyond pain in our lives. However, as I’ve seen in my work as a professor, executive coach, and pastor, the most painful experiences can often signal where our purpose lies. The pain we experience can not only produce empathy but also give us clarity regarding where we can make our best and highest contributions to alleviate human suffering.

For example, during the early months of the pandemic, the owner of a small, “nonessential” business had to close her doors. Without any income and with bills mounting, she had to turn to a local food pantry for assistance. Out of that painful experience, however, came an overwhelming sense of gratitude and a renewed desire to help others once she landed on her feet. When her business reopened, she shared her story with her customers and asked them to contribute nonperishable food items. Their response was so overwhelming that her small business actually became the biggest collection point for her local food pantry! A small act of kindness birthed out of deep personal pain allowed this small-town entrepreneur to put her purpose into action; it just might do the same for us.

Embrace the Disruption

For many of us, the pandemic upended almost every aspect of our lives. Many jobs (and cancelled family reunions) were catapulted into the unfamiliar environment of Zoom, Teams, or Webex, and many gym memberships were cancelled in favor of at-home fitness regimens. Yet out of that disruption came new routines and changed perspectives. As we look forward to a post-pandemic reality, we cannot be in such a hurry to get back to “normal” that we forget what we learned. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to examine our new ways of thinking, being, and doing. It will never be 2019 again and, in many ways, that’s probably for the best.

There may be some things that we do not or should not want to resume. For example, a workplace that is returning to mandatory, 100 percent in-person work, with zero flexibility or hybrid arrangements, might be best left behind. Flexibility during the day—to care for family or even ourselves—has become too important for many to abandon. The pandemic highlighted the folly of pursuing the myth of work–life balance and shined a bright spotlight on the value of whole-life integration—an approach that invites us to do our best each day to fully live into all of the complex dimensions of our lives with greater dexterity. During this pandemic, we have seen many workers play the roles of employee, caregiver, spouse/partner, and homeowner—all within the same hour! 

To live the purposeful lives we desire in whatever our “new normal” will be, we can’t afford to relinquish some of those pandemic-induced innovations that actually helped us flourish in all of our roles in these challenging times. 

Let Your Values Take the Lead

For many of us, the pandemic helped us to clarify what is and what is not important in our lives. Many of the things we spent so much time pursuing and concerning ourselves with before the pandemic—the garages full of cars, the walk-in closets full of clothes, or the number of garages and closets one has—just don’t register with the preoccupying importance that they once did in the face of a life-or-death global pandemic. Just the other day, I was talking with an executive who, as he was preparing for his first in-person board meeting in over a year, laughingly confessed, “I’m not sure whether my suits even fit or if I remember how to tie a tie.” The truth is, so much of what used to matter just plain doesn’t matter anymore.

8 Communication Exercises That All Couples Should Do on a Regular Basis

It’s not just about hearing their words, but understanding the meaning and intention behind them. Those who understand this and who regularly work to improve their style are all the better for it. Less confusion and more clarity make for a much happier marriage. And that’s why it’s smart to have some communication exercises for couples in your back pocket.

But what communication exercises are worthwhile, specifically for busy parents who have to get a lot across to one another? We spoke to a variety of therapists and asked them for the recommendations. The exercises they explored with us are relatively simple and don’t involve too much time. But while they’re short on commitment, their big on payout as they help you focus on such important skills as active listening, conflict resolution, and expressing gratitude. Vow to practice these exercises a bit more — or really just keep their principles in mind — and, chances are, you’ll have less missed connections and more.

8 Great Communication Exercises for Couples

  1. Listening Without Interruption
    It’s a common sight: One partner talks, the other person simply waits for their turn to speak or fully buts in. Pretty much everyone is guilty of interrupting; but we all need to be better as it takes empathy out of the conversation and communication into a game of one-upmanship.
    This simple exercise seeks to root out that bad habit. And yeah, it might seem obvious, but going into a discussion with this framework in mind helps set the tone. It works like this: One partner speaks for five-to-seven minutes and the other partner just, well, listens. When the first person is finished, the other then asks questions to help them understand what they just heard (Think: “How did you feel when you told me that?” “How can I help to make it better next time?” and “What makes it so important to you?”) Once those questions have been answered and addressed, it’s the other partner’s turn to speak.
    “The purpose of this exercise is not so that one of the partners justifies why they did something or how they did it, but to help understand each other,” says Valentina Dragomir, Psychotherapist and founder of PsihoSensus. “Defensiveness, judgement, criticism are discouraged during the exercise, and instead listening and asking questions with empathy is encouraged.”
  2. Expressing Gratitude
    Two words, two syllables. “Thank” and “you.” But it’s surprising how often these words are left out of conversations between couples, and how many things are taken for granted or deemed not important enough to warrant appreciation. Often, it’s the everyday little things that couples do for each other often get overlooked. Simply think about appreciation and taking the time to say. “Thanks for making me coffee,” or “I appreciate your filling up my car with gas yesterday.”
    “This prompts us to pay attention to how and when our partner is already showing up for us, and to verbally express appreciation,” says Saba Harouni Lurie, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the owner and founder of Take Root Therapy. “For those who respond well to words of affirmation, this exercise can also help meet that need. This exercise can also lead to a positive snowball for the relationship: the more we express gratitude for one another and feel appreciated, the more we may feel driven to show each other care.”
  3. Mirroring
    In many discussions, one person speaks, the other listens at first and then slowly tunes them out, responding ultimately with neutral phrases like, “I understand,” or just simply, “Uh-huh.” It happens. And it inevitably leads to a not-so-fun argument. Mirroring, a classic communication technique, helps prevent that.
    When mirroring with your partner, listen to his or her thoughts and feelings and then repeat back what was said, following it up with, “Did I get that right?” Your partner can then confirm or deny whether or not you had it correct and continue the conversation until they feel they’ve been sufficiently heard. At that point, the listener can validate their partner’s feelings by saying, “That makes sense,” or “I’m glad you explained that to me.” Even if you don’t fully agree with everything that was said, at least now you have heard your partner and can approach the conflict from a place of better understanding.
    “This exercise gives couples the opportunity to practice expressing their feelings and perspective, to practice active listening, for partners to have the experience of feeling truly heard, and to give and receive empathy and validation,” says Dr. Tari Mack, a speaker, author, coach, and clinical psychologist. “These are skills that couples need to master in order to grow and sustain healthy relationships.”
  4. The Weekly (or Daily) Check-In
    Life is busy and full of constant distractions. Sometimes, the best we can do as a couple is a quick, “How was your day?” as you’re both passing through the same room on your way to somewhere else. This might work for a little while, but ultimately, if you don’t schedule time to check in with each other on a meaningful level, you start to be ships in the night.
    Avoiding that is a simple communication exercise of setting up formal check-ins. You can schedule these check-ins, or make it part of your regular routine (such as taking a walk together every night and checking in then), and they don’t have to be long. Just take as much time as you both need to catch each other up on what’s really been going on in your respective lives.
    “In this space, they might engage in the listener/speaker exercise, share what’s going well with them and in the relationship, and finally express gratitude for whatever it is that they are grateful for,” says Molly Mahoney, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the owner of True Therapy. “This method fosters greater connection and communication, even with a hectic life where time to talk is often overlooked.”
  5. The 40-20-40 Process
    This is a specific communications exercise designed for compassionate listening and constructive conflict resolution. The name comes from the division of attention in the conversation (40 percent to each party in the conversation’s feelings, and then 20 percent left in the middle to discuss the relationship).  Each person takes their allotted time to speak about their own feelings, with the goal being for each person to listen with the intent to understand and not defend themselves. To that end, accusatory statements are to be avoided, and the focus is solely on how each person is feeling.
    “The shared goal is to practice hospitality with one another,” says Grant Brenner, psychiatrist and co-author of the upcoming book, Making Your “Crazy” Work for You, “developing over time a secure base of constructive conversations in which conflict is seen not only as survivable, but also an important and valued–if not always comfortable–part of growing together as individuals and as part of a couple.”
  6. The Stress Reducing Conversation
    It’s an easy trap to fall into: Your partner talks about their stress and you immediately start thinking of solutions to their problems.

More evidence that a plant-based diet protects heart health

Incorporating more fresh whole foods into one’s diet is something medical professionals often promote. Eating natural foods rather than highly processed foods can have a plethora of health benefits.

Two new observational studies looked at the benefits of plant-centered diets. Both studies followed participants for more than a decade to track health and food choice trends.

USDA nutrition recommendations

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been setting forth dietary guidelines for more than 100 years. While the guidelines have changed over time, the USDA has long focused on eating foods that provide the nutrients needed to maintain good health.

The USDA presently recommends an individual’s diet consist of the following:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • grains
  • protein
  • dairy

Based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet, the USDA suggests people eat 2 cups of fruit, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 6 ounces (oz) of grains, 5.5 oz of protein foods, and 3 cups of dairy.

It also suggests that people vary their protein sources and explore eating meatless meals every so often.

Young adulthood diet study

The first new study, called “Plant-centered diet and risk of incident cardiovascular disease during young to middle adulthood,” appears in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The researchers in this study tracked almost 5,000 young adults who were aged 18–30 years when the study began. The study lasted for 32 years.

None of the participants had heart problems when the study started. At checkups over the years, doctors evaluated the participants’ health, asked about the foods they ate, and assigned them a diet quality score.

By the end of the study, nearly 300 people developed cardiovascular disease. Moreover, after adjusting for various factor, including race, sex, and educational attainment, the researchers also found that people with the most plant-based diets and a higher diet quality score were 52% less likely to develop heart issues than those following the least plant-based diets.

“A nutritionally rich plant-centered diet is beneficial for cardiovascular health. A plant-centered diet is not necessarily vegetarian,” says Dr. Yuni Choi, one of the authors of the young adult study.

Dr. Choi is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis.

“People can choose among plant foods that are as close to natural as possible, not highly processed. We think that individuals can include animal products in moderation from time to time, such as non-fried poultry, non-fried fish, eggs, and low fat dairy,” Dr. Choi says.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, a nutritionist with a master’s degree in health management and the founder of KAK Consulting, spoke with Medical News Today about the study.

“The data presented in this study is consistent with previous studies on plant-based diets and longevity and metabolic health,” said Kirkpatrick.

“I’m not surprised at the findings,” she said, “and perhaps the takeaway here is it’s never too late or too early to start a plant-based diet.”

5 Toxic Behaviors Parents Engage In

There isn’t a clear-cut definition of what it means to engage in “toxic” behaviors — or to be a “toxic” parent — because it’s not a clinical term. When the behaviors or relationship are really toxic, though, it’s usually pretty easy to tell, like when parents are totally unsupportive, or when they manipulate their kids. In those cases, parents can inflict significant emotional and developmental damage, and may ultimately end up estranged from their adult children, a situation that is on the rise and more common than once thought.

Other times, however, they have habits or patterns of behavior that are less obviously toxic but still have the potential to do real harm. With that in mind, here are five relatively common toxic habits parents often have, without even realizing it.

1. Yelling 

Of course every parent yells sometimes (particularly during challenging times like navigating COVID-19), but when parents fall into the pattern of doing it too often, it can take a huge toll on their relationship with their children.

“It’s important for parents to recognize the difference between a misstep and behavior that does damage. In the best of all worlds, none of us would ever yell at a kid, but there isn’t anyone who hasn’t lost it now and again,” said Peg Streep, author of “Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life.”

“But there’s a huge difference between a one-off moment (hopefully followed by some repair such as ‘I am sorry I yelled. Let’s talk about it.’) and sustained bombardment, which the parent falsely frames as ‘discipline,’” she added.

Yelling does work in certain situations, like when your child is doing something really dangerous or harmful and you need to get their attention fast. But beyond that, research shows it’s not an effective form of getting kids to change their behavior. Plus, research shows it can lower kids’ self-esteem and ultimately lead them to develop more aggressive behaviors themselves.

It’s hard to know how much yelling is too much, but if you find yourself justifying or rationalizing your behavior fairly often (thinking things like, “Well, she’ll never listen to me if I don’t yell”) that could be a red flag, Streep said.

And when you feel the urge to yell, do literally anything else — even cluck like a chicken, Carla Naumburg, a clinical social worker and author of “How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids,” previously told HuffPost.

“Do whatever it takes to calm down and get the tension out of your body so you can refocus and reengage with your kids. It might take a few minutes, but that’s OK,” she said.

2. Comparing siblings

When you have multiple kiddos at home, it’s easy to spend time pondering how different or alike they are, even from the earliest age. (I personally remember being pregnant with my second and spending a lot of time thinking about his kicks and movements stacked up next to his brother’s.)

But comparing children even in small, seemingly insignificant ways can take a toll.

“If you have more than one child, please make an effort not to compare them out loud, either to motivate or to discipline; this is such common behavior — the fancy name is parental differential treatment — that it even has an acronym (PDT) that’s used in research articles,” Streep said.

One study looking at the academic success of first- and second-born kids in the U.S. analyzed children’s report cards and interviewed their parents to get their sense of how capable the kids were on their own and relative to each other. “Researchers found that the teenagers’ future report card grades were influenced by their parents’ beliefs as to which child was smarter, even though these parental beliefs weren’t based on past grades,” explained Today’s Parent.

3. Labeling

In the same way that comparing children can be a really toxic behavior, labeling kids as anything — good or bad — is potentially harmful as well. Labels can become self-fulfilling and can be really hard to shake. And even seemingly positive labels can be problematic to the point of being toxic, experts warn.

12 Tips For Succeeding as a Stepdad

Around four million men in the United States are living in relationships where the children aren’t their biological offspring, according to the last Men’s Fertility report. Of those the majority — 59.9 percent — are identified as a stepdad to one or more children in the household. The blended family is growing dynamic and one that presents its own set of challenges and rewards. 

“While conventional families resemble a cake with its orderly layers and icing on top, a step-family is often more like an Eton Mess cake,” insists stepdad Neil Reilly. “It’s often all over the place and you never get the same one twice.” 

Step parenting is tricky territory to navigate. Simply knowing that you’re going into a very different family set-up, with a whole new set of existing rules (or possibly no rules at all) and traditions means it pays to tread carefully. 

“I married into a family of two, and then had another two children. And then divorced and then remarried, with a family of two children,” explains Dirk Flower, psychologist, teacher, adolescent therapist, and family mediator. “I’ve become a step-father twice with very different experiences both times. Obviously, each family is unique, but in my experience there are common themes that occur in blended families that it helps to be prepared for.” 

Stepping up to become a stepfather can also be a life-defining experience as you grow and nurture your blended family, build new relationships, and master new parenting skills. But what advice is important to keep in mind? This advice from parenting experts and stepfathers who’ve been there is worth keeping top of mind. 

Don’t: Rush In

“Common errors new stepfathers make include rushing into issues like a bull in a China shop, or else avoiding issues completely for fear of being too imposing,” says David Spellman, systemic and family psychotherapist. It’s a tough balance to strike. A solution, according to Flower, is to bide one’s time. “Allow the original parent to be the parent,” he says. “Until you’ve established a really good relationship with the children — and your new partner — stay out of the parenting world. See your role initially as being supportive of the mother and to provide extra resources as and when required.” 

Do: See Yourself as a Step-Dad

“Visualize how you would want to relate to your stepchildren, and how you see yourself forming a new blended family,” suggests Rachel Andrew, family mediator, and psychologist. “Too often step-parents are so wrapped up in the new relationship with their partner that it’s only later — as they can come to feel like they’re thrust into a situation with that involves children — that they realize they haven’t talked about how they’re going to come together as a family and how the role of step-dad will work.”

Do: Expect Fireworks

By the nature of separation and divorce you may find yourself going into a relationship with a new family still hurting from what’s gone on before, explains Andrew. “The children in that family may still be coming to terms with their parents’ separation and trying to make sense of what’s going on,” she notes. “Often the new step parent will bear the brunt of their anger, confusion, and feelings of fear and worry.”

Don’t: Talk Bad About Their Dad

It’s crucial, per Spellman, to avoid disrespecting the biological  father when you’re around the children. “No matter what your personal view of the children’s biological father is,” he says, “discuss that away from the children.” If you feel the need to vent — and you likely will — use your own support networks to talk about the frustrations you may have with his behavior towards you, your new partner, or the children.

Do: Trust the Process

“If you become aware of issues regarding the biological father’s parenting — if he was neglectful or abusive in some way — you may have to trust that the children will come to a point where they will see all of that,” says Andrew. They will get it and see him for what he is. You don’t need to be the person to point it out. “But,” he adds, “you do need to be there in the background still giving support, and giving them what they need.”

Do: Expect Fireworks

By the nature of separation and divorce you may find yourself going into a relationship with a new family still hurting from what’s gone on before, explains Andrew. “The children in that family may still be coming to terms with their parents’ separation and trying to make sense of what’s going on,” she notes. “Often the new step parent will bear the brunt of their anger, confusion, and feelings of fear and worry.”

Don’t: Talk Bad About Their Dad

It’s crucial, per Spellman, to avoid disrespecting the biological  father when you’re around the children. “No matter what your personal view of the children’s biological father is,” he says, “discuss that away from the children.” If you feel the need to vent — and you likely will — use your own support networks to talk about the frustrations you may have with his behavior towards you, your new partner, or the children.

Do: Trust the Process

“If you become aware of issues regarding the biological father’s parenting — if he was neglectful or abusive in some way — you may have to trust that the children will come to a point where they will see all of that,” says Andrew. They will get it and see him for what he is. You don’t need to be the person to point it out. “But,” he adds, “you do need to be there in the background still giving support, and giving them what they need.”

Encourage Your Employees to Give You Critical Feedback

It’s been 10 years since I co-authored the HBR article “Making Yourself Indispensable,” with John H. Zenger and Joseph Folkman. In the article we provided a model to get useful and actionable feedback on one’s leadership effectiveness, and how to uniquely develop your strengths in those areas.

As I re-read the article recently, I was struck by a statement we made about using an informal 360 to get feedback from colleagues and direct reports: Do your best to exhibit receptiveness and to create a feeling of safety (especially for direct reports). Make it clear that you’re seeking self-improvement. Tell your colleagues explicitly that you are open to negative feedback and that you will absorb it professionally and appropriately — and without retribution. Of course, you need to follow through on this promise, or the entire process will fail.

Unlike formal 360s which usually involve anonymous surveys, informal 360s are based on direct conversations with team members. The informal 360 is incredibly valuable for leaders as a means to seek feedback as well as develop stronger alliances with colleagues. However, as I’ve worked with leaders and teams using informal 360s over the past 10 years, I’ve realized we may have understated the challenges associated with getting actionable feedback from colleagues in this face-to-face assessment format. There are two important points I would like to add to “Making Yourself Indispensable” to help leaders get more out of an informal 360:

1. The good stuff is easy. The “fatal flaws” are much, much harder to uncover.

I didn’t think we went far enough in stating: “Tell your colleagues that you are open to negative feedback,” implying that would be sufficient to get a direct report to candidly share their thoughts about your weaknesses. Most people are incredibly loath to say anything negative, and it will take some serious effort on your part to enable the people you work with to tell you the truth about yourself — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I saw this in action recently when I was hired as part of an executive coaching engagement to work with an EVP in a Fortune 500 company. I was talking with the CEO, who had hired me, about the performance of this leader. The CEO shared some very direct examples and feedback about this person that had not been aired quite so candidly in our previous chats. I asked the CEO if he had ever talked with the EVP about this issue, using the precise language he just shared with me. He said no. I asked if I could share his thoughts with the EVP, and he backpedaled, asking if he could think about it first. I share this example to highlight that even for the top executive in the company, it can be tough to share candid feedback if the stage is not properly set.

One benefit of an informal 360 is that whatever is shared is just between you and the person giving feedback is off the official record, not evaluated by HR or executives. This can open a valuable safe space for evaluators to get real with you about your impact as a leader.

To make this work, you must first promise total amnesty to participants, and I don’t use that term lightly. Simply “creating safety” and “exhibiting receptiveness” (as we wrote in our previous article) are not sufficient for most people to be willing to share the kind of feedback you need to hear. It can be extremely challenging to get people to share their true thoughts about your leadership weaknesses when hearing their honest opinions about any flaws might upset you. This is doubly hard if you have a history of getting angry or shooting the messenger.

You will need to go out of your way to invite opinions that others think you may not want to hear. Tell participants: “I want to hear your real perspectives about the impact I have on you as a leader, even where it’s negative. I promise you amnesty — and that I will not respond defensively or with retribution, even if I don’t like what I hear. I value your perspective.” And then of course, you need to make good on your promise.

You’ll find that it’s easy to get a colleague to share the good stuff you’re doing. People naturally want you to feel good and associate themselves with giving you a lift. But when an executive asks, “Tell me about my fatal flaws,” the response I’ve heard recounted dozens of times is, “Well, it’s not a fatal flaw, but . . . [insert critical leadership problem here].” This is a valuable clue, and you should seriously consider addressing the issue. Being attuned and open to this candid feedback is extremely valuable in your efforts to become an exceptional leader.

2. The informal 360 process builds mutual trust in a way a formal survey cannot.

While formal surveys can provide a vehicle for sharing comments anonymously, a common criticism is that comments lack depth or aren’t fully clear. The informal 360 stimulates a shift in the way people interact and discuss these comments. And since leadership is, at its core, a relational and interactive skill, the informal 360 facilitates a change in the way leaders discuss performance with their teams.

One beneficial effect of engaging in these open dialogues about areas where you can improve is that, over time, it builds the kind of trust that allows you to be frank with others. This is not to say that when you receive feedback, you immediately turn around and deliver your own feedback to the other person. That old phrase about feedback being a gift doesn’t suggest “regifting” right away. But graciously receiving feedback in the informal 360 can open a more productive dialogue about performance and the impact we have on others.

I’ve observed many instances when a leader was able to create an atmosphere of openness and trust, which changed the way colleagues interacted and discussed performance issues. The informal 360 process establishes accepting the perspectives of others as the norm, even when people may not completely agree. One leader told me that as a result of this process, he and the president of a division had a more valuable relationship because now they could openly address the challenging issues and dissenting opinions that were previously simmering beneath the surface.

It’s powerful when leaders acknowledge their weaknesses, demonstrate their commitment to development, and make changes. The environment of trust you establish by accepting feedback graciously creates a collaborative two-way street. Directness and candor, when provided in the spirit of genuinely helping and supporting the growth of colleagues, can create a dynamic mindset that inspires meaningful change within teams. We all grow together when we can speak truthfully about areas that need improvement.

The informal 360 is a valuable tool for increasing leadership competency and a key to making yourself indispensable.

4 Strategies for Building a Hybrid Workplace that Works

The global pandemic has created new challenges and opportunities in almost every industry, and as the economy reopens competition will be intense. Winners will be those who most clearly understand their customer’s needs, collaborate to identify multiple solutions, prototype, iterate and bring new ideas to market. Those behaviors will only happen when people come together in the new, modern workplace.

By all indications the future of work is hybrid: 52% of U.S. workers would prefer a mix of working from home and the office, saying it has a positive impact on their ability to be creative, solve problems and build relationships. Global research tells us 72% of corporate leaders plan to offer a hybrid model, and only 13% say they expect to decrease their real estate footprint in the next year, suggesting that organizations will continue to leverage their workplaces within a hybrid work future.

But getting hybrid right will be hard. Deciding who works from the office and how often is a complex issue, and it will be different for every organization. If not done well it could threaten culture, collaboration, and innovation. Conversely, a well-executed hybrid workplace can be a magnet that brings people together and helps us work better than ever before.

Organizations who will win know that workplaces designed for people and the resiliency of their organizations will help them move forward, learn, and remain competitive. To start, more than 50% of U.S. companies plan to pilot new spaces as part of their return to the office this year, for example, repurposing a café into a high-energy social and collaboration space that better supports new hybrid work patterns.

As architects and office-furniture designers serving the world’s largest organizations, we recommend leaders think through four design approaches as you consider your hybrid strategy.

Braid the Digital and Physical Experience

As leaders of global teams, we know that bridging the gap between in-person and remote participants is hard, and hybrid work means there will inevitably be someone who is remote, regardless of well teams coordinate their in-office days. Remote colleagues can feel frustrated and unable to participate equally, becoming less engaged. This is especially true for creative and innovative work, such as brainstorming, which often use analog whiteboards or other physical products that are difficult for people on the other side of the camera to fully experience.

The solution is to integrate physical spaces and technology with three key concepts in mind: equity, engagement, and ease.

For example, currently, many conference rooms consist of a long table with a monitor at the end. In-person attendees sit around the table while remote participants are featured in a grid of tiny boxes, often on the same screen as any shared content.

One way to create more equity is to give each participant their own screen, placing monitors on rolling carts that can easily be moved around. Teams can pull a remote colleague into a breakout session or up to the table. Many software systems now let you split people and content onto separate displays.

To be fully engaged, people need clear sightlines to one another and to the content. Designing for employee engagement in digital-to-physical space means thinking like a movie director – lights, camera, audio, content. Some solutions we’re seeing are angled or mobile tables, additional lighting, extra speakers, in room microphones, and easy-to-move markerboards and displays.

In addition, research tells us more people will connect to a meeting on their individual devices as well as the technology in the room. Ample power supplies, whiteboards, and a variety of software solutions will contribute to an easier, more seamless hybrid collaboration experience for people.

Flip Enclosed and Open Spaces

It is time to rethink the open plan. For decades, individual workstations have become more open with ever-increasing density, while meetings are held in enclosed conference rooms. As people return to the office, these spaces will begin to shift. Meetings will happen more often in open spaces with movable boundaries, and individual focus work will happen in enclosed spaces like pods or small enclaves.

Open collaboration spaces are inherently more flexible because they don’t require fixed features in their design, so they can morph and change as new work patterns emerge. Innovation, problem-solving, and co-creation often use agile approaches — for example, quick stand-up meetings which require visible, persistent content which can be hosted in open spaces, defined by flexible furniture, easy-to-access tech, and other design elements.

Meanwhile, individual spaces will need more enclosure to provide different levels of visual and acoustical privacy that people have come to expect while working at home. Video calls will happen everywhere, so enclosures — screens, panels, pods — will give people places to focus and mitigate disruptions.

Shift from Fixed to Fluid

Buildings are built for permanence, meanwhile the pace of business and change continues to accelerate. We can see the tensions between slow and fast emerge in the rise of pop-ups and coworking models with demand for shorter lease terms. Most companies who have real estate are asking, how much space do we need?

The hybrid future solves for a more fluid workplace that can flex as needs change. Not only does this accelerate innovation and advance the culture of the organization, it can ensure real estate is always optimized. At Steelcase, we’ve optimized our own space by designing an open area that supports hybrid meetings in the morning, becomes the café at lunch, hosts a town hall in the afternoon, and can be rented for an evening event.

Balance “We” and “Me” Work

Sleep apnea: Exercise and cutting TV time reduce risk

OSA involves repeated, intermittent upper airway blockage during sleep. This blockage reduces or halts airflow to the lungs and may increase the risk of serious conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes, among others.

OSA occurs when the throat muscles temporarily relax during sleep, causing partial or complete blockage of the airway. 

Snoring is a common indicator of OSA. Interrupted sleep and inadequate nighttime oxygenation may result in daytime sleepiness, headaches, mood swings, and high blood pressure, among other adverse effects. 

The role of physical activity

Previous research has shown that low levels of physical activity during the day, or increased sedentary behavior, may be linked to a higher risk of experiencing OSA.

Mediators of these adverse effects may include excess body fat, chronic low level inflammation, insulin resistance, and fluid retention.

Investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MA, and other institutions collaborated on a new study, which examined “the potential role of maintaining an active lifestyle in reducing [OSA] incidence.”

The results appear in the European Respiratory Journal

The authors concluded that being more active and spending less time sitting while watching television are behaviors linked to a lower risk of developing OSA. 

The study also attempted to tease out each factor’s influence on OSA risk.

The investigation

The investigators examined data from 137,917 participants enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII), and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS).

Medical News Today spoke with Tianyi Huang, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the authors of the study. 

According to Huang, these large, long-term, ongoing studies provide an especially reliable source of health-related information, as the participants are all healthcare professionals. 

Among the general public, “OSA is highly underdiagnosed,” Huang said. He noted that healthcare professionals are presumably more likely to recognize and report symptoms of OSA.

The results

For their analysis, the investigators accounted for the time that the participants spent sitting at work. Physical activity included all the time that they spent moving, including walking, running, lap swimming, and weightlifting. 

Overall, the team found that individuals who were less active were more likely to report OSA. For example, the participants with more sedentary jobs had a 49% higher risk of OSA than those with the least sedentary occupations. 

Also, those who watched more than 4 hours of TV each day had a 78% higher risk of OSA than the participants with the least sedentary lifestyles.

Maintaining an active lifestyle and avoiding excessive sedentary behavior are associated with a lower risk of developing OSA. This, in turn, may be linked to a reduced risk of developing various potentially serious conditions, including cardiovascular disease and obesity.

4 Ways to Overcome That Gap on Your Resume

The impact of the pandemic on careers and jobs has been massive. According to the International Labour Organization, as many as 114 million jobs were lost in 2020. In addition, the reduction of working hours was found to be equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs. The impact on the labor force has been disproportionate, and in the United States alone, the women’s labor-force participation rate has dropped to just 57%, the lowest since 1988. Thousands, if not millions, are now trying to re-enter the job market after a career gap.

For someone who is attempting to re-enter the workforce now after a career gap  — possibly one that wasn’t by choice  the prospect of explaining the employment gap to a panel of interviewers could be an embarrassing and daunting one. It is also not surprising to find friends and family dishing out advice like, “Whatever you do, secure a job offer before you leave this one, or else you’ll have a hard time explaining a career gap.” Advice as such further reinforces the mindset that having a career gap is like having a demerit point on your record, so the discomfort is understandable.

I have worked with clients who had career gaps of varying length, and I often notice that with the steps illustrated below, it takes them little effort to change their uneasiness into a calm, quiet confidence.

Here are four ways to help you bounce back from a career gap with grace and class.

1. Clarify what you really think about your career gap

From my experience, what you think of the career gap often matters more than what the hiring manager thinks. When my clients themselves are uneasy about the discussion, they project that discomfort to the audience, and it might be described as awkward, tentative or even guilty. Most interviewers can pick up on that energy; as a person who has been on many interview panels, I can attest to that. When we dove deeper into what was behind the emotions in my clients, we realized that the source was a lack of acceptance of their employment gap.

Some clients did experience emotions like resentment (when a choice was not given to them), anger or self-doubt  all of which need to be processed, made peace with and then set aside. For the majority of my clients, once they come to terms with their career gap, they are able to speak about the employment gap easily and with confidence.

2. Practice your response

You can expect interviewers to be curious. They might ask an open-ended question, and you need to practice your response until it “rolls off your tongue.” You might be tempted to divulge too many details, but before you do that, consider what is valuable to the interviewers (and to you). You definitely want to maintain a certain level of honesty, but keep it to the point so you can move on to discuss other subjects  like why you make a great candidate for the role.

3. Focus on the learning you have gained during the gap

Life does happen to people from time to time, and jobseekers can help themselves by accepting responsibility for it  and handling it with maturity during the interview.

The interview panel might not be very keen to hear how life was mundane and dreary, so steer the conversation towards the learning that you’ve gained over the course of the months or years of your gap. 

Will new guidelines for heart failure affect you?

In a normally functioning heart, the left ventricle sends over half the blood within it out to the body every time the heart beats. The percentage of blood the left ventricle can pump is known as the ejection fraction.

When the heart’s ejection fraction is reduced, people can develop symptoms of heart failure. Heart failure due to a reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) can impinge on a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks, and affect their quality of life. It also can shorten lives. Now, recently updated expert consensus guidelines recommend new decision pathways designed to help clinicians treating people with HFrEF navigate increasingly complex therapies. If you have this type of heart failure, these changes may help you and your doctor steer a course through many important decision points. Keep in mind, of course, that treatments — and your own goals for treatment — are likely to evolve as time passes.

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

Generally, symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing when lying flat, and swelling in the ankles. Very mild symptoms may not affect or limit activities, while people who have more advanced illness may experience symptoms with even minor activities, such as getting dressed.

How is heart failure treated?

Fortunately, a steadily increasing number of medicines, devices, and procedures help reduce heart failure symptoms and hospitalizations, and may prolong life. While these treatments offer enormous potential benefit, they can seem confusingly complex to people living with heart failure — and even to their doctors.

Good care for heart failure emphasizes choosing the right medications and taking the right doses of those medications. Identifying the best approach to help you achieve the goals you set can be a slow and complicated process, as your medical team weighs which medications to begin sooner versus later, and how and when to increase dosages, based on current evidence.

If you have HFrEF, how can the updated guidelines help you?

The recent update is aimed at guiding physicians through complex decisions on how to successfully start medicines, and choosing the right dosages for people with heart failure. This process varies depending on many factors. One piece is selecting goals, which may change over time. Goals can be big or little, short-term or long-term. For some people, it may be their ability to do a favorite activity, such as gardening. For others, minimizing the disruption that medications can cause in their lives is most important. For example, a person might want to avoid having to use the bathroom every hour in the middle of the day.

Further, the update notes that two groups of people — older adults and those who identify as African American — have been underrepresented in studies examining many treatments for heart failure. So, we don’t currently know if the optimal dose of a given medicine might differ for these groups. In some cases, very limited data is available to show whether a drug works for certain populations. While acknowledging limitations, the update shares specific guidance for people in these groups. It also identifies ways to monitor whether the treatments chosen are working well.

When should you see an expert in heart failure?

While you may receive much of your care for heart failure within a primary care practice, in some instances it’s wise to see an expert to decide on the best path to take. Ask your doctor whether a referral to a cardiologist experienced in heart failure could be helpful at specific points. For example, it can help to see a cardiologist

  • when you are first diagnosed, to ensure that appropriate diagnostic testing has been done, and to choose a treatment plan that will be best for you.
  • if you experience persistent symptoms that limit your ability to function, have repeated hospitalizations for heart failure, or develop related health issues, such as worsening kidney disease or heart rhythm disorders.

Do you find it hard to follow your treatment plan for HFrEF?

Often, even the best medical advice for managing heart failure is hard to maintain for many reasons. Medicines may have side effects, like fatigue. The cost and logistics of taking several medicines at different times may be challenging. Not surprisingly, as many as half of people following a treatment plan for HFrEF aren’t able to take medicines consistently as prescribed — so if you’re finding it hard, you’re not alone.

Unfortunately, not taking medicine as often as needed or at the dose needed can affect your health. So, talk to your doctor to see if there are ways to address the challenges that make it hard to follow your plan.

Options might include

  • getting larger quantities of each prescription to minimize trips to the pharmacy
  • simplifying the regimen
  • using pill boxes and reminders
  • choosing generic medicines to lower cost, or getting assistance with copays.

Living well with heart failure depends not only on the available therapies, but on ongoing, open communication with your medical team about how you are feeling, what your goals are, and what challenges you’re facing, so that together you can determine the right path forward for you.

Without The CDC’s Eviction Ban, Millions Could Quickly Lose Their Homes

“It’s devastating,” said Safiya Kitwana, a single mom with two teenagers living in DeKalb County, Ga., who lost her job during the pandemic. Like 7 million other Americans, Kitwana has fallen behind on rent.

Kitwana and many other renters had been protected by a ban on evictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the U.S. Supreme Court effectively blocked the CDC from extending the eviction moratorium past the end of July. And Congress didn’t have the votes to extend it.

Kitwana fears what could be next.

“A marshal coming to your door,” she says. “I’ve seen it happen where they just throw your stuff out in the parking lot.”

Kitwana says it’s painful to think about her kids going through that.

Help was supposed to be on the way. Congress set aside nearly $50 billion to help families like hers pay the back rent they owe and avoid eviction. But that money flowed to states and counties, which created hundreds of different programs to distribute it. And many so far have managed to get just a small fraction of the money to the people who need it.

In Kitwana’s case, she applied for the help and she was approved.

But DeKalb County officials worried they might run out of that federal money because so many people needed help. So to try to spread the money around, they made a rule — the county would pay landlords only 60% of what renters owed. And to get that, landlords had to agree to forgive the remainder of the debt or split the difference with the renter and drop the eviction case.

But, as NPR previously reported, some landlords like Kitwana’s said that wasn’t enough money and moved ahead with the eviction process.

The CDC moratorium expiring has created a new sense of urgency in states and counties around the country. In DeKalb County, it has also prompted some big changes. A county judge has now put in place an emergency two-month local eviction ban.

“This is a godsend, really, for tenants,” says Michael Thurmond, the county’s top elected official. He’s also announcing another big change.

“Landlords will be receiving an increased amount of revenue to cover back rent,” says Thurmond. The new rules will reimburse landlords for 100% of the back rent they are owed going back as far as 12 months. Thurmond expects the rules to be formally approved on Tuesday — welcome news for thousands of renters nearing eviction in the county.

That means Safiya Kitwana should now be able to avoid eviction by paying her landlord everything she owes. In addition, the new program gives renters like her three months’ rent going forward to get back on their feet.

“It is a huge relief,” she says. “I just didn’t know what I was going to do.”

Wait, Smiles Do Make You Happy?

When I taught my first undergraduate social psychology course, I was excited to explain one of my favorite findings to the class: smiling makes you happier. In the original study, participants were asked to rate how funny they thought a series of cartoons were while holding a pen in their mouth. The trick was that the way they held the pen varied: in one condition, they held it with their lips, preventing them from activating smile muscles; in another, they held it with their teeth, forcing them to activate their smile muscles. When the smile muscles were active, participants rated the cartoons as funnier! You may not realize it, but smiling changes your feelings! Activating muscles associated with a specific emotion seemed to influence people’s emotional responses in a subtle, unconscious way.

Then, that finding turned out to be wrong. In 2016, a large-scale study that collected data from 17 different labs found that the original study’s results did not replicate. Activating smile muscles did not change how funny people found cartoons. This result felt definitive because this new replication included many more people, from a more representative sample (since it wasn’t just students from one university), and with a more constrained methodology and analysis plan (because they ran everything by experts in facial feedback research who provided feedback on everything). But was it?

Just two years later, new evidence was added to the debate. Tom Noah, Yaacov Schul, and Ruth Mayo keyed in on what they believed was an essential difference between the original and the replication study: the use of a video camera. Based on feedback from one of the experts they consulted, the replication group had decided to video record each session to make sure everything had worked smoothly (including the pen being held in the mouth the right way!). But having a video camera facing you might make you more self-conscious. Different literature in psychology suggested that you’re less willing to rely on “gut feelings” when making decisions when you’re aware you’re being watched. This might have messed up the results of the replication study.

So Noah and colleagues decided to run a new study, where they randomly assigned participants to one of two different versions of the experiment: the original, no camera version, versus the replication, camera-included version. When comparing people in front of a camera, they replicated the replication; there was no effect. When they didn’t include the camera, they replicated the original; there was an effect. It was the video camera that made the difference.

It is easy to interpret this as a fight between science reformers and their opponents among social psychologists. A traditional finding was rejected, and then a counter punch was thrown, rejecting the rejection. (Editorial comments by Noah and colleagues imply that replicators’ claims “decrease cumulative science” don’t help). Yet this is actually a great example of how science is meant to work. Scientists are meant to question each other’s findings, and it’s essential to find out whether results hold up. This includes questioning the results of replications and thinking through why results might be different when a study is replicated. 

One potential outcome of re-examining earlier research always needs to be “we got it wrong, this effect is not something reliable about the world.” This can be because of statistical noise–the way the data came out, it looked like there was a difference between groups, even when there really wasn’t. That’s no fault of the experimenter, but it’s something we can check by doing replications. Finding out that an earlier belief was wrong should always be an acceptable outcome of the research, and that does indeed contribute to a cumulative science.

Hope in the Face of Adversity

It has been a tough couple of years. As the U.S. gradually starts to return to something like normal, many of us are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic. Death, illness, grief, job loss, businesses closing, and mental illness are just some of the challenges we face as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed, and it’s hard not to feel hopeless.

The reality is that many of us have already experienced substantial adversity, in one form or another. And, unfortunately, many people experienced that adversity at a young age. Experiences like these are so common, in fact, that the CDC has a term to describe them: adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)1. It’s an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of really difficult experiences, stretching from abuse, to domestic violence, to living in a household with someone who was abusing substances, incarcerated, or experiencing mental illness, to the divorce or separation of parents2. ACEs are alarmingly widespread. The CDC reports that 61% of adults have lived through one or more ACE, and 16% have experienced four or more different categories of ACEs1.

A lot of what researchers have learned about ACEs is hard to hear, and links being exposed to ACEs to even more challenges later in life, like diagnoses of heart disease and cancer3 and mental illness during college4.

However, academic research also suggests that the picture is more complicated than that.

Investigating Opportunity for Adversarial Growth 

For a surprising number of people, overcoming adversity leads to positive outcomes. One of these outcomes is resilience. In fact, one study measured resilience in the aftermath of another large-scale traumatic event—9/11. Researchers determined that 65.1% of study participants demonstrated resilience in the wake of these terrorist attacks.5

Another positive outcome is known as adversarial growth. When people experience adversarial growth6, they actually end up in some way better off than they were before7. What might this look like? They might renew old friendships, turn more meaningfully to religion, or gain confidence in their abilities after realizing they can handle adverse situations8.

Adversity, resilience, and adversarial growth could be experienced at different points in peoples’ lives. However, they present particular challenges and opportunities for college students. What’s more, nearly one-third of college students nationwide have endured at least two adverse experiences4.

What happens to these students?

For several years, our team, led by Dr. Gregory Wolniak at the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia, has been tracking a large group of students across the U.S. as they make their way through their college experiences. These are not your average college students—over 80% of these students have been through at least one experience of childhood adversity—many have gone through much more. In fact, these students have experienced an average of two adverse experiences prior to college, with 32% experiencing 3 or more ACEs. Yet in emerging research, we have also identified a remarkable tendency toward positive growth and change.

When Will Your Next Monthly Child Tax Credit Payment Arrive?

Parents from all over the country cheered when they received their first child tax credit payment. Getting up to $300-per-child each month (depending on the age of the child) can be a lifesaver for families who are struggling financially because of the pandemic. But Americans had to wait for months after the program was announced before receiving any money. Now that the first round of payments has been delivered, the waiting begins again for the next round of direct deposits, checks, and debit cards.

The IRS sent payments to approximately 35 million families on July 15. Additional payments will follow each month through the end of the year according to the schedule below. As it stands right now, the payments will not carry over into 2022 (although President Biden wants to extend them beyond this year), so plan accordingly.

Schedule of 2021 Monthly Child Tax Credit Payments

PAYMENTDATE
1st PaymentJuly 15, 2021
2nd PaymentAugust 13, 2021
3rd PaymentSeptember 15, 2021
4th PaymentOctober 15, 2021
5th PaymentNovember 15, 2021
6th PaymentDecember 15, 2021

2 Simple Actions to Help Curb Mental Illness Stigma

Mental health and substance abuse advocacy is a growing movement. Each May, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) declares a week as National Prevention Week. It’s defined as “A week dedicated to bringing an annual health observance dedicated to increasing public awareness of, and action around, mental and/or substance use disorders.” The focus is on preventing suicide, substance abuse, and undue suffering from untreated conditions.

Unfortunately, despite such campaigns and mental health being more “out of the shadows” in recent years, stigma and misunderstanding are alive and well, and contribute to lack of care and, ultimately, undue suffering.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 51.5 million Americans have a diagnosable mental illness (2021), yet fewer than half seek care. Contributing factors include lack of providers and people not understanding that their condition is treatable. However, the stigma of mental illness is quite possibly the most significant contributor. According to trauma psychotherapist Lisa Ferentz (2021), “Our culture still perpetuates the belief that people suffering from mental illnesses are not intelligent, extremely violent, or incapable of making decisions that profoundly impact their lives.”

In 2015, the University of Memphis published four disturbing facts about mental illness perception:

  • 4 in 5 think it’s harder to say they have a mental illness than other illnesses.
  • 1 in 2 are frightened by people with mental illness.
  • “Psycho,” “nuts,” and “crazy” are the most common description of those with mental illness.
  • Mental illness ranked as the most stigmatized type of illness.

Ironically, even some treatment facilities contribute to the problem. Despite the push to destigmatize and encourage people to seek treatment, many facilities adopt names devoid of the words “psychological,” “mental,” or “behavioral.” While the intention is to make sure it is a place people feel comfortable entering without stigma, it is a double-edged sword; modeling associated with mental health care is unfavorable.

In 2019, The Austen Riggs Center, a private psychiatric care facility in Stockbridge, MA, published a newsletter devoted to stigma. The most remarkable statement was as follows:

In both entertainment and news media, individuals with mental illness are often inaccurately and disproportionately depicted as dangerous and unpredictable. This has negative repercussions for both those struggling with mental illness and for the public’s understanding of mental illness. The fact is that people mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence.

15 Family-Favorite Summer Traditions to Start This Season

Maybe it’s an activity passed down from generation to generation. Maybe it’s a random trip you took once that ended up being so fun that it’s now a summer staple. We spoke to 15 dads about their favorite summer family tradition. Some spoke of neighborhood get-togethers and backyard olympics, others of cherished getaways and fireworks-buying trips. All of them make clear one truth: Summer is a hell of a time. 

1. Going to the County Fair

“Our county fair happens in the summer, and it’s one of our favorite things to do as a family. Ever since the kids were little, they’ve loved going to see the animals, ride the rides, and eat junk food. It’s actually gotten a lot nicer in recent years, too. They’ve started bringing in bands and musicians. They’ve added a bunch of tents and local vendors, and brand new rides. There’s a pie-eating contest, and a petting zoo. Face painting. The works. County fairs really have something for everyone.” – Kurt, 37, Michigan

2. Seeing Movies at the Drive-In

“I’m not sure how many drive-in movie theaters still exist in America, but we have one of them, and it’s one of our favorite places to go in the summer. We borrow my dad’s big conversion van, load up with snacks, blankets, and lawn chairs. Then we back in facing the screen, prop the doors open, and enjoy the show. My wife and I sit outside, and the kids use the van as their own personal clubhouse. The movies are always shown as double features, too, so we’re all up way past bedtime. We probably go at least two or three times from when the theater opens in the summer to when it closes in the fall. Definitely a favorite family tradition.” – Jon, 40, Ohio

3. Throwing a Tie-Dye Party

“As soon as the kids get out of school, we have their friends over and tie-dye their ‘summer shirts’. These are the shirts they’ll wear all season, when we go to the pool, or hiking, or on other family trips. It’s always a big tie-dye party on our deck, and the kids have gotten super into it over the years. They look up new techniques on YouTube, try to find different color dyes, and usually end up doing more than one shirt. Or a shirt and shorts. Or socks. Socks have actually become pretty popular the past few years. It’s a messy tradition, that’s for sure, but we love it.” – Ed, 36, Indiana 

4. Going on a Fireworks Run

“We used to buy fireworks where we live, but they’re really just glorified sparklers. Our neighbor tipped us off about going to Pennsylvania, because you can buy way, way more stuff there. We’ve never looked back. It’s our tradition every Fourth of July. We always buy more than we need, and my wife groans when we come back with a trunk full of them. But then we always have a great time on the Fourth, and have plenty to last us for a while after. She’s the only one who doesn’t look forward to it. Maybe the neighbors” – Jeremy, 47, New York

5. Hosting a Big Garage Sale

“Every spring, we do a massive spring cleaning and purge whatever we can from inside the house. We box it all up, and store it in the garage until summer, when we have a massive, annual garage sale. We usually coordinate it with the neighbors, too, so it’s this big event on our street. It’s never made us rich, but it’s definitely a nice way to earn a little spending cash we can use for other summer fun. And it’s a good motivator when spring cleaning rolls around. We have teenagers, so it’s always like, ‘Do you really want to keep that? Or would you rather have ten bucks in the summer?’ We weren’t able to do it last year because of COVID, so we’re really excited for this year. The giant summer garage sale will return to all of its glory.” – Tom, 39, New Jersey

6. Watching Fireworks Displays

“My sister’s birthday is on July 4th. Our city always has a great fireworks show at the town park, so all of us – aunts, uncles, cousins – go there to celebrate. It’s always a madhouse, but one of my cousins works at the city pool, which is right inside the park. So he unlocks the pavilion for us, and we get to sit on the big patio, chilled out in lawn chairs, and watch the show. The kids think it’s so cool, like they’re VIPs. My sister is in her 30s now, but I think as long as we can all walk – we usually have to park far away and then walk to the pool because of the crowd – we’ll be observing this tradition for a long time.” – David, 37, Pennsylvania   

Retirement expert details ‘3 things you got to do’

“There are essentially three things you got to do to prepare for retirement,” Caroline Bruckner, Kogod Tax Policy Center’s managing director, recently told Yahoo Finance Live. “Number one, you got to save in a preferably tax-advantaged retirement saving plan. Number 2, you have to have your individual savings outside of that.”

“And then number three, people tend to rely on Social Security” for retirement, especially women, which often is not enough, Bruckner said. She encourages Americans to look at individual retirement accounts or IRAs.

“IRAs [and] Roth IRAs are things that most Americans don’t necessarily utilize in the way that they should,” Bruckner said.

For people who don’t have access to a workplace retirement, Bruckner pointed out that setting up an IRA or a Roth IRA can be done online with relative ease and minimal expense, depending on your income.

“The income eligibility rules are fairly generous for most low and moderate-income Americans,” she said, “particularly those that don’t otherwise have access to a retirement plan.”

IRAs and Roth IRAs don’t come with the benefit of automatic paycheck deductions like 401(k)s or 403(b)s, but Bruckner said that “thoughtful taxpayers” can use their annual tax refunds, instead.

Throw that money into an IRA if they don’t otherwise have access to a retirement plan, forget about it, and just let it grow,” she said. Annual IRA contributions are capped at $6,000 and $7,000 for people over age 50.

Investing in other accounts like “traditional retirement savings plans” like IRAs and 401(k)s “can really help substantiate an overall retirement saving strategy.”

“The earlier you can start saving, the faster that money will grow and help substantiate your retirement,” she said.

Why You’re So Anxious About Going Back to the Office

If you’re feeling social anxiety about returning to the office, you’re not alone. Many folks are feeling unsettled. After over a year of remote work — and seeing our coworkers only on screen — the idea of seeing everyone again in person can feel overwhelming. And, since the Covid landscape is still in flux, it’s hard to feel sure about how long the “return to normal” will last.

You might be wondering why getting back to the office is rattling you so much. After all, you coped with office-life before. Here’s why the transition back to our glass towers might feel surprisingly difficult, and how to ease your reentry.

1. Transitions naturally spike our anxiety.

A lot of human psychology has an evolutionary basis. Familiar situations tend to be safer and more predictable for us. They allow us to let our guard down. In unfamiliar situations, we’re wired to be more on edge, and constantly on the lookout for dangers. Because of this, transitions tend to increase our anxiety. We’re always subtly on the lookout for potential threats. This reaction has an adaptive basis, but it can feel quite exhausting.

Think of how you’ve felt in your first six months in a new job. That’s a stressful period for many people as they learn new skills and procedures, and the cultural norms of their new workplace. Although you may be returning to your old job, a lot has changed, and it might be helpful to expect to feel the same type of adjustment stress. Give yourself the same grace and self-compassion you would if you were starting a new job or embarking on transition, like starting college or grad school. See this article if you need specific tips for how to be kinder to yourself.

2. Whenever you’ve avoided something, you’ll feel anxious about returning to it.

Imagine an elite gymnast who has been out for several months with an injury. They weren’t purposely avoiding training or procrastinating. They were benched because of their injury. Yet, when they return, they’re likely to feel a lot of anticipatory anxiety about performing moves they routinely performed before.

That’s how anxiety works, across the board. We feel anxious about anything we’ve “avoided” even if the break was externally imposed. If you’re a parent, you might find yourself feeling anxious about being separated from your child during the day, even if this was routine in your family before. Or, you may feel anxious about making small talk or managing other people’s personalities at work.

What’s the solution? Like the gymnast, when you gradually get back into your previous activities, your built-up anxiety will naturally subside.

3. Social relationships and boundaries have changed.

Pre-pandemic, it’s highly unlikely you knew much about your coworkers’ health decisions. Now, you’d probably quite like to know who in your office is vaccinated and who isn’t. Pre-pandemic, your colleagues may never have seen your home or your children, but now they have, thanks to all the Zoom meetings.

As people return to the office, some coworkers will likely become influencers. They’ll lead office culture and norms in terms of how many Covid precautions are kept up, and how vigilantly. Other people may be ostracized. For example, if they’re someone who chooses not to vaccinate and to keep masking, when everyone else wants to take their masks off for good. This shakedown may make the preexisting pecking order and popularity contest of the office even more obvious. For example, if “cool” coworkers are eschewing their masks, going out to lunch, and acting completely as before, but “picky” coworkers are still masking and eating lunch at their desks.

Likewise, some coworkers may be thrilled to get back to the office and find it helps their productivity, whereas other people may be feeling the reverse. People’s circumstances and natures are different, so your perspective won’t be identical to someone else’s. If a leader or coworker is shouting from the rooftop about how we need to get back to the office to regain productivity and camaraderie, they’re probably overgeneralizing from their own perspective and experience.

The solution to all of this is tolerance, acceptance, and refraining from gossip.

4. Be intentional about retaining the best parts of WFH and office-life.

Working from home was a big natural experiment. You might’ve learned a bunch about what helps and hurts your productivity, and helps you feel happy. Some of these insights will be practical, like you learned you really need the two huge monitors you had at the office. Or, you might’ve found yourself eating a better lunch at home, or taking more walks, and that those behaviors helped you mentally.

Some of your insights into yourself may also have been social. What did you learn about the social rhythms that best support your productivity? Did you develop new strategies for getting deep work done? Did you manage interruptions differently? Did you develop more efficient ways of communicating? What did you miss about seeing your coworkers in-person? What did you miss about not going to conventions or doing business travel?

Our behavior and habits are very influenced by our environment. If there are pandemic habits and pluses you want to keep when you change environments and go back to the office, you’ll need to be very intentional about how you establish those. You’ll need to purposefully form those habits in your new (but old) office environment. Without this, you’ll quickly go back to doing everything the way you did before.

Good habits that felt solid and well-established when you were working from home (like lunchtime walks or healthy lunches) will become very fragile when your environment and routines shift back to the office. You’ll need to establish these habits almost from square one, as if they were completely new habits. This is because habits need consistent cues, and the cues you had at home will likely no longer be present, at least not in the same way.

Feeling anxious about going back to the office doesn’t mean you’re fragile or have poor coping skills. There are good reasons that these types of transitions spike our anxiety. Try the tips mentioned here to navigate the shift as smoothly as possible, and to better understand the perspectives of your colleagues and how they may be navigating the transition back, too.

How Housing Stability Programs Can Help Protect Your American Dream

As our team here at MMI discussed during a recent webinar, that fallout has been especially harsh for low-to-moderate income, Hispanic, and BIPOC individuals. With multiple relief programs set to expire in the second half of 2021, these households will likely experience a new set of burdens, including payment shock as long deferred bills begin hitting their budgets. For homeowners in particular, the possibility of another major financial crisis is very real. 

Thankfully, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 includes millions of dollars for housing counseling services aimed at those facing housing instability, including potential eviction, default, foreclosure, loss of income, or homelessness. In addition, up to $46.55 billion has been made available to states and local governments to provide financial support to eligible households though emergency rental assistance programs. 

For me, each announcement of a new housing stability program hits close to home because a housing stability program changed the trajectory of my own recovery during the Great Recession. If you’re skeptical on the value of housing counseling, or simply unsure if it’s right for you, hopefully my story will help you understand how life-changing these housing stability programs can be.

FINDING STABILITY IN A CRISIS 

In 2007, I bought a 1930s bungalow at the height of the housing bubble. It was near the outer limits of my budget, given the inflated market at the time, but it was by no means extravagant. I fully financed the purchase and moved in, excited to start my life in a new neighborhood and in a new relationship. 

But as life has a way of doing, a curveball was soon thrown my way. Just a year later, I was laid off from my union job at a global financial services company where I had worked for nearly seven years. In a panic, I cut expenses, added roommates, and downgraded my vehicle from a new SUV to a well-used economy car. But it wasn’t enough. 

After a brief stint of unemployment, I found a new job, ironically as a financial counselor at a nonprofit called Clearpoint, which later became part of Money Management International. I was grateful to have a job with all the layoffs and downsizing across the country, but my new salary was significantly less than when I had purchased my home. I was one of the millions of Americans experiencing underemployment during a recession. 

An Obama-era federal housing stability program was a significant part of my recovery. While I was not behind on my mortgage payments, I was struggling to balance all the financial commitments that come with homeownership. On top of adjusting to the true cost of owning a home, I also had student loans and credit card debt. 

The Home Affordable Modification Program (a now-expired program known as HAMP) reduced my loan interest rate and made the monthly payment much more affordable. In addition, annual incentive payments were applied toward the balance over the course of the modification, helping to reduce the principle. I was so grateful that I volunteered to share my story to promote the program and, as a counselor, encouraged my clients to apply. 

Now, more than a decade later, I have just sold the home I so desperately tried to keep during the Great Recession and am moving on to the next chapter in life. Thanks to a lot of hard work and a timely housing stability intervention, I was able to protect my credit and make my homeownership a success. 

Last fall, I shared my experience once again with Money, in the hopes that it helps others find the encouragement and support they need during the current economic downturn. For those experiencing housing instability, whether due to the pandemic or any other unique situation, you aren’t alone. There are programs available to help you through difficult times. The best way to start is to openly communicate with your lender or landlord and connect with a nonprofit housing counselor right away. Help is just a click or phone call away.

What is Debt Forgiveness and What Does It Cost?

In other words, the idea of having your debts forgiveness by your creditors is an appealing one. And debts are sometimes forgiven, but there are often costs associated with debt forgiveness. This is what you need to know about debt forgiveness, including when you might qualify and why debt forgiveness is rarely ever free. 

WHEN IS A DEBT FORGIVEN?

Debt forgiveness can come in many forms. If you have an account in collections, you may attempt to negotiate with the collector by offering to pay a portion of the debt in exchange for having the remaining debt forgiven. As an example, let’s see you owe $10,000 on a charged off credit card account. You ultimately agree to settle the debt for $5,000, with the remaining $5,000 being forgiven.  

If you foreclose on your home, or are forced into a short sale where the sales price doesn’t cover the remaining mortgage, the lender may forgive all or a portion of the remaining debt. 

On certain federal student loans, if you’ve made the required payments over a set period of time (usually between 10 and 30 years), whatever is left of your remaining balance may be forgiven. 

Essentially, in any scenario where you owe money and don’t eventually make a full repayment, part or all of the remaining balance may be considered forgiven debt. Nearly any debt could potentially be forgiven (or at least partially forgiven), but whether or not that happens is almost entirely up to the lender or whoever owns the debt. Forgiveness needs to be in their interests, as well, so if you’re perfectly capable of repaying a debt in full, there’s little chance of a lender offering to forgive any portion of the debt in question. 

WHAT DOES DEBT FORGIVENESS COST YOU?

Because debt forgiveness is most commonly connected to settlement, there are two major costs to consider: the cost of the settlement itself (that is, the portion of the debt you do pay), and the tax you pay on the forgiven debt. If you’re using a third party to negotiate your settlement, there will be additional costs and fees associated. 

As for the settlement amount itself, it will vary, but typically falls around 35-50% of the original debt amount. And if you’re using a settlement company, they typically charge 15-25% of the total debt (though some charge based on what you saved, and others may use totally different pricing methods).

So, using the $10,000 example again, in order to get out of the debt, you’ll likely need to pay the creditor between $3,500 and $5,000, while paying the settlement company $1,500 to $2,500. Using the low end, we’ll say you started with $10,000 in debt, spent $5,000 (including settlement company fees) and had $6,500 forgiven. Not free by any measure, but at least you’re out of debt and saved $5,000 in the process.   

However, just because you’re square with your creditors doesn’t mean you’re square with the government. Forgiven debt is almost always considered taxable income. 

“How can debt be income?” you may ask. Well, I suppose you have to look at it this way – you were provided with money, goods, or services in the amount of your debt. In the above example, from a tax perspective you got a free $6,500. But of course, nothing is actually free, so now you need to pay taxes on that $6,500. 

Any time a creditor forgives a debt in excess of $600 they are required to send you a 1099 form reflecting the amount of the forgiven debt, which you must then add to the “Other Income” section of your personal tax return for that year. It should be noted that creditors are required to send you this form because they themselves are claiming your forgiven debt as lost income. If you have a forgiven debt that’s less than $600 you still need to claim it on your taxes – creditors just aren’t required to send notification in that instance. 

The impact on your tax return could be major or minor, depending on a lot of factors, such as your income bracket and the amount of the forgiven debt. If you have questions or concerns about how to complete your tax return, be sure to speak with a qualified tax professional. 

EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE

You should generally assume that if your debt is being forgiven, you are going to have to pay taxes on the balance. But there are definitely exceptions to that rule. 

Your forgiven debt might not be taxable if: 

IT’S A RESULT OF A PERSONAL BANKRUPTCY

All debts discharged through bankruptcy are generally not taxable. 

YOU ARE INSOLVENT IN AN AMOUNT GREATER THAN THE FORGIVEN DEBT

Insolvency is when your debts outweigh your assets. If you currently owed $10,000 more in debt than you held in assets, and then had a creditor forgive $3,000 in debt, you would not have to claim that $3,000 as additional income. If they forgave $11,000 in debt, however, you would have to claim $1,000 as income.

YOU COMPLETED THE TERMS OF A CAREER-SPECIFIC STUDENT LOAN REPAYMENT PLAN

If you made all of the required payments on a public service loan forgiveness, teacher loan forgiveness, law school loan repayment assistance, or National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment program your forgiven debt is not considered taxable. Any forgiven debt resulting from any other student loan repayment plans, however, including income-based and income-contingent plans, is taxable. 

There are a few other unique exceptions, including exceptions for student loans that were discharged due to the death or permanent disability of the student, but those relatively rare. Again, if you have specific questions about how debt forgiveness may impact your personal tax return, please contact a tax specialist. It’s what they do. 

In almost every case, the benefit of a forgiven debt far outweighs the tax consequences, but it’s important to be aware of those consequences and plan accordingly. Free money almost always costs you something in the end.

15 Family-Favorite Summer Traditions to Start This Season

“I have a 13-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son,” Anderson says. “The tax credit payments are coming just in time for my husband and I to start making payments on our daughter’s new braces.”

Braces aren’t Anderson’s only financial worry. Like many American parents, she’s fighting a financial war on multiple fronts. “Our health insurance has gotten more expensive over the years and this will help us offset those costs,” she says. “Not to mention everything else that is going up in price. From the cost of gas to grocery expenses, it’s getting more and more difficult to get ahead these days.”

But the braces set Anderson apart from other parents Fatherly spoke with for this story. Offsetting the cost of straightening out a set of teeth was a far more detailed plan than most families had for the money. No one we spoke with was upset about getting monthly payments from the federal government. But few had a concrete plan for exactly how they would spend the funds. 

Other parents approached for comment in this story say they haven’t earmarked the monthly credit payments for anything specific. While they’re happy for the tax credit advances, they planned to spend the same amount of money they would otherwise, but perhaps with more confidence that they wouldn’t incur overdraft fees. 

Connecticut father of one Rob says knowing the credit payment was coming soon influenced his decision to sign his daughter up for an additional week of summer camp. “I probably would have signed her up anyway,” he says. “But a week of camp was a little over $300. The credit takes some of the sting away from writing the check.”

The Child and Dependent Care Credit has been on the books since the late ‘90s, when it was introduced as a $500-per-child nonrefundable credit in the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. It has grown several times since. This year, in response to pandemic-induced economic woes, the federal government supersized the credit. In March, the American Rescue Plan increased the Child Care Credit from $2,000 to $3,600 per child for children under six and $3000 for children ages six to 16 while vastly increasing the number of American families who qualify for the credit.

Between 36 and 39 million American families qualify for the credit. And they won’t have to wait until tax season to get it. Parents can claim half the credit when they file their 2021 taxes; the IRS is paying the half the credit in advance through six monthly payments beginning in July.  Married couples with incomes of $150,000 or less, unmarried couples with incomes of $112,00 or less, and single parents making $75,000 or less will receive $300 per month for each child five or younger and $250 per month for every child between 6 and 17. 

“They’re paying it upfront, which is really new and different,” says Jackson Hewitt Chief Tax Information Officer Mark Steber. “We haven’t seen that related to a program of this size and scale in a long, long time. It’s a totally new way to get people their money.” 

Ohio mother of one Corritta Lewis says she’s grateful for the credit but doubts it will have a substantial impact on her budget. 

Flatten the Mental Health Curve

Picture this: Tenth-grade Laura checks her Instagram after a long school day. And she finds something that is absolutely horrific. Her long-time adversary, Gertrude, has posted a nude photo on her Instagram story. The photo is a bit blurry, but it kind of looks like Laura. And, although it’s actually not Laura in the photo, Gertrude claims that it is and she even tags Laura with some very nasty verbiage. The post goes viral.

Laura’s anxiety level shot through the roof as she stood there alone on her driveway. She had never experienced this level of hurt before and she had no clue whatsoever as to what she was going to do about it. Feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and depression engulf her. 

The Skyrocketing Nature of Mental Health Issues in Modern Times

In a large-scale study of the prevalence of various mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and mood disorders, it was found that steep increases in each and every such condition were found for adolescents and young adults between the years of 2009 and 2017 (see Twenge et al., 2019). We are talking about increases in major depression, for instance, from 8 percent to more than 13 percent among those in the 12- to 25-year age range across these nine years. This same general trend seems to exist for mental health issues in general. Anyone who works on a college campus will tell you that counseling centers are running beyond capacity across the US. 

Mental health issues are on the rise. And this trend is particularly true among our young people (Twenge et al., 2019).

A year ago, when people talked about flattening the curve, they were referring to the COVID pandemic. I think it is time to revise our usage of this phrase. As we work as a global community to put the COVID pandemic behind us, I say that the phrase flattening the curve be rebranded to refer to the steep increase in the prevalence of mental health issues in the modern world—especially among young people. 

Three Potential Causes of the Problem

Twenge et al. (2019) offer a few suggestions to explain the trends found in their data. Generally, they refer to “birth cohort effects,” suggesting that people born after 1982 have access to digital media and other online resources that have had unintended adverse consequences regarding the mental health of adolescents and young adults today. While this explanation is speculative in nature given the non-experimental quality of the data in their study, I think it’s certainly a perspective that warrants further study. With this said, here are three specific potential causes that I think warrant our deepest consideration.

1. Cyberbullying. 

In line with the analysis presented by Twenge et al. (2019), we can consider cyberbullying as a specific trend that has risen hand-in-hand with rises in communication technologies such as the internet and social media. 

According to data compiled by Comparitech, rates of cyberbullying have increased sharply across the globe over the past decade. Below is a slice of the eye-opening data found in their report:

Between 2011 and 2018, rates of cyberbullying among teens have increased markedly in nearly every nation across the globe. For instance, in the US, rates of teens reporting having been victims of cyberbullying increased from 15 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2018. These comparable rates for a few other nations, just to put a global face to the problem, are as follows:

Turkey: 2011, 5 percent; 2018, 20 percent

Mexico: 2011, 8 percent; 2018, 18 percent

UK: 2011, 11 percent; 2018, 18 percent

China: 2011, 11 percent; 2018, 17 percent

2. Increases in industrialization have ironic effects when it comes to mental health.

Generally, we think of technological advancement as a good thing. But I would argue from an evolutionary perspective that any and all technological advancements need to be considered with caution. 

When it comes to large-scale industrialization, people who live in relatively large, industrialized areas are more at-risk for mental health issues than are people who live in relatively small-scale social environments. And this finding seems to be true across the globe (see Srivastava, 2009). As time moves forward, technology and industrialization increase. And adverse mental health outcomes of our young people seem like a fully adverse (if unintended) consequence of this pattern.

The Latest in PTSD Treatment

Today, I’m writing from the cutting-edge of innovation and research in PTSD. PTSD science continues to advance exponentially, and exciting breakthroughs are on the horizon. What I’m presenting in this post are some of the highlights from the last two years of scientific findings. 

While these approaches can’t yet be considered the gold standard for PTSD treatment, what they represent is hope for an ever-expanding array of options that might be available for sufferers one day. 

I’ve divided the treatments into three categories: psychotropic medications, procedures, and non-pharmacological approaches.

Psychotropic Medications

MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy

May 2021 heralded promising results from the first phase 3 clinical trial testing MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD. In MDMA-assisted therapy, the medication MDMA is only administered a few times, and the talk therapy component remains an integral part of this combination treatment.

In an article published in Nature Medicine, researchers from UCSF reported on results of their trial, which sought to test the efficacy and safety of MDMA-assisted therapy for the treatment of 90 patients with severe PTSD over 15 clinical sites. The results were impressive, with patients reporting a large drop in symptoms after receiving MDMA-assisted therapy.

Of particular interest was that the study included patients with common PTSD comorbidities such as dissociation, depression, a history of alcohol and substance use disorders, and childhood trauma. In this way, the study conditions better mimicked real-world clinical scenarios and therefore gave cause to be optimistic that such a treatment may eventually provide tangible benefit to patients treated in clinical practice. 

Another plus for this research is that, for the duration of this study, the researchers reported that MDMA did not induce adverse events such as abuse potential or suicidality. Furthermore, unlike most medications for mental illnesses which are often taken daily for a substantial length of time, MDMA is only taken a few times.

A second phase 3 trial is currently underway and, if results continue to be encouraging, a drug application with the FDA is anticipated in 2022.

Repeated Ketamine Infusions

Ketamine is a non-barbiturate anesthetic and antagonist at the NMDA receptor. It is typically administered intravenously and has been used for years to provide pain relief to patients with severe burns. It was in this use that its dissociative properties became apparent. Ketamine may disrupt the process by which traumatic memories are laid down, as some studies show that those who received ketamine after a traumatic event were less likely to go on to develop PTSD. 

In a 2021 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry (in Advance), researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai suggested that repeated ketamine infusions may lead to rapid symptom improvement in people with PTSD. 

Thirty study participants who received six ketamine infusions over a two-week period experienced greater drops in PTSD symptoms and comorbid depressive symptoms compared with participants who received the sedative midazolam, a psychoactive placebo control administered approximately three times a week for two weeks.

Side effects associated with the ketamine included blurred vision, dizziness, fatigue, and headache. Of more concern is that some participants did report dissociative symptoms that emerged during their ketamine infusions.

It’s important to note the limitations associated with ketamine: Benefits may last only a few weeks and there is a potential for patients getting addicted to this treatment.

Riluzole: A Glutamatergic Modulator

In a 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers designed a randomized controlled trial that investigated the efficacy of Riluzole augmentation for combat-related PTSD symptoms resistant to treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). 

Riluzole is a neuroprotective drug that blocks glutamatergic neurotransmission in the CNS. Glutamate dysregulation has been implicated in the pathophysiology of PTSD, so medications that regulate brain glutamate concentrations may be an effective treatment strategy for PTSD. 

Over a four-year period, veterans and active duty service members with combat-related PTSD who were not responsive to SSRI or SNRI pharmacotherapy were randomized to eight-week augmentation with a starting dose of 100 mg/day of riluzole or placebo.

An analysis of PTSD symptom clusters showed significantly greater improvement on PTSD hyperarousal symptoms in the riluzole group. However, Riluzole augmentation was not superior to placebo on change in depression, anxiety, or disability severity.

Procedures

Stellate Ganglion Block Treatment

In 2008, media reports started to emerge about how a stellate ganglion block (SGB), an invasive manipulation of sympathetic nerve tissue, helped PTSD sufferers. The procedure, which consisted of injecting a local anesthetic into sympathetic nerve tissue in the neck, led to immediate symptom relief in a small group of patients. 

Still, a positive outcome in a few cases is not sufficient to label something a treatment. A treatment should be more effective than a placebo, so it needs to be studied under controlled conditions. It took some time for the first controlled study of the SGB to be done, and the initial results, which were reported in 2016, were disappointing: The block was not superior to sham injection in relieving PTSD. 

In early 2020, results of the first multisite, randomized clinical trial of (SGB) outcomes on PTSD symptoms were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Psychiatry and revealed reasons to not give up on SGB entirely. In this trial of active-duty service members with PTSD symptoms, the authors reported that two SGB treatments two weeks apart were effective in reducing PTSD scores over a period of eight weeks.

Physical activity may counter negative health effects of poor sleep

While the negative health effects of physical inactivity and poor sleep have been independently researched and documented numerous times, few studies have focused on the synergistic impact of these factors on mortality.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine investigates the joint association of physical activity and sleep with all-cause and cause-specific mortality risks.

Physical activity and healthy sleep

The long-term study followed over 380,000 middle-aged men and women who are part of the UK Biobank.

The participants completed questionnaires, interviews, and physical measurements to determine their baseline health condition along with their physical activity levels and sleep behaviors.

Individuals were excluded from participating in the study if their baseline assessments indicated a history of cardiovascular disease, cancer, sleep apnea, or class 3 obesity.

The researchers assessed and summarized physical activity data using metabolic equivalent task minutes. These minutes are roughly equivalent to the number of calories expended per minute of physical activity.

Individual physical activity was categorized based on the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Categories included:

  • high (1200 or more minutes per week)
  • medium (600 to less than 1200 minutes per week)
  • low (0 to less than 600 minutes per week)

The researchers defined another category to include no moderate-to-vigorous activity per week so that they could also assess the effects of insufficient physical activity.

The negative health effects of poor sleep encompass more than just sleep quality or duration, and therefore the researchers applied a novel healthy sleep score.

They used five sleep characteristics — chronotype (night owl vs. morning lark tendencies), sleep duration, the presence of insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and snoring — to score participants on a scale from 0 to 5. Sleep score categories included: healthy (4 or higher), intermediate (2–3), and poor (0–1).

Using both these scoring methods along with other information supplied by the participants, the researchers derived a dozen physical activity/sleep combinations.

The participants’ health was then tracked until May 2020 or their death, depending on which came first, to assess their risk of dying from any cause, and specifically from cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, and all types of cancer. These are the common issues independently associated with poor sleep and minimal physical activity.

How to Find Free Money for Graduate School

That’s much lower compared with undergraduate students. More than 80% of first-time, full-time undergraduates at private, nonprofit four-year institutions received institutional grants, and about 50% of those students at public colleges received institutional grants, according to NCES data from the 2017-2018 academic year. Additionally, 33% to 38% of undergraduates at those schools received federal grants and 25% to 38% received state or local grants.

While scholarships for undergraduates are common, many students are unaware grants and scholarships exist at the graduate level. These forms of financial aid typically don’t cover a graduate student’s entire cost of attendance – a Sallie Mae study conducted in 2017, How America Pays for Graduate School, found that grants, scholarships, fellowships or tuition waivers typically pay for about 15% of grad school costs – but every dollar helps. 

Sallie Mae’s online tool, Graduate School Scholarship Search, allows current and prospective graduate and professional students to hunt for private scholarships and boasts more than 950,000 scholarships worth up to $1 billion.

“There’s a lack of understanding that there’s availability of scholarships for grad school,” says Rick Castellano, a Sallie Mae spokesman. “With grad students, they don’t know where to look. When we talk to them, they’ll just say they Google searched.”

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Castellano says students should feel more empowered to shop around and drive the conversation this year. “Don’t be afraid to negotiate for more aid,” he wrote in an email.

“The conversation is a two-way street; call your financial aid office, explain your situation (especially if it’s changed in light of COVID-19), and be open about what financial resources it would take for you to attend. You might be surprised by how willing a school is to work with you,” he says.

For prospective graduate and professional students, here are a few approaches to consider when tracking down free money to pay for an advanced degree.

Use Scholarship Search Engines

While Sallie Mae’s Graduate School Scholarship Search lists scholarships and fellowships available at the graduate level, other scholarship search engines list private scholarships for grad students in addition to awards available for undergraduate college students. A few of these scholarship databases include UnigoFastweb and the U.S. News Scholarship Finder.

GoGrad is another online resource that lists niche scholarships for prospective and current grad students. 

While graduate scholarships tend to be more modest compared with those offered to undergraduates, experts say a $1,000 award can still help reduce living costs and student loan borrowing.

Consider Free Graduate Schools

Students interested in attending graduate school may want to consider tuition-free programs.

For instance, New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine made headlines in 2018 when it announced a first-of-its-kind, full-tuition scholarship to all students. The scholarship amounted to $57,476 for the 2020-2021 academic year, and it is awarded to every student regardless of merit or financial need. It does not cover other fees and expenses. 

In 2019, the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine announced it would provide around half of its new students with free tuition, which amounted to $68,480 in 2020–2021. 

Identify Scholarships Available Via Professional Organizations

Students can apply for graduate scholarships by finding and joining professional associations in their chosen field of study. For instance, undergraduate and graduate members of the National Black MBA Association Inc. can apply for an award of up to $5,000. 

As another example, the Dental Trade Alliance Foundation awards graduate scholarships of at least $5,000 to a varying number of dental students annually.

Fried foods, sugary drinks linked to sudden cardiac death

In a new study, researchers have found a positive association between the Southern diet — which involves more fried food and sugary drinks — and sudden cardiac death. They also linked the Mediterranean diet to a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death.

The research, which appears in the Journal of the American Heart Association, offers further evidence of the importance of diet to cardiovascular health.

Heart health and diet

Death certificates show that sudden cardiac death is a factor in 1 in 7.5 deaths in the United States. A key underlying cause is coronary heart disease.

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP)Trusted Source, a person can improve their heart health by changing their diet. The ODPHP suggests that people eat a variety of fruit and vegetables, low fat dairy, whole grains, a variety of proteins, and unsaturated fats.

Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on legumes, vegetables, fruits, fish, and grains, can be protective against cardiovascular disease.

Researchers have also identified an inverse link between the Mediterranean diet and sudden cardiac death. However, the study had significant limitations, as it included a hugely disproportionate number of white participants and focused primarily on women.

More than 20,000 participants

In the present study, the researchers drew on data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke Study cohort in the U.S. This cohort consists of 30,239 African American and white adults aged 45 years or older, who all joined the study between 2003 and 2007.

The researchers excluded participants who were missing appropriate recorded information or were unavailable at follow-up. This left them with a sample size of 21,069 for the current analysis. Of these participants, 33% were Black, and 56% were women. 

A total of 56% of the participants lived in the Southeastern United States. This area is known as the Stroke Belt because it has had a higher-than-normal rate of death due to stroke since the 1940s.

The researchers took background health and demographic information from the participants at baseline and asked them to complete a food frequency questionnaire each year to show how many of 110 different food items they had eaten during the previous 12 months.

Looking at this data, the researchers were able to give each participant a Mediterranean diet score, reflecting their adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

The researchers were also able to identify five dietary patterns:

  1. The convenience pattern: This dietary pattern primarily consisted of pasta, pizza, and Mexican and Chinese food.
  2. The plant-based pattern: People following this pattern ate lots of vegetables, fruits, cereals, legumes, yogurt, chicken, and fish.
  3. The sweets pattern: This pattern included high amounts of dessert, candy, chocolate, and sugary cereal.
  4. The Southern pattern: The Southern diet is high in fried foods, sweetened drinks, processed and organ meats, and eggs.
  5. The alcohol and salad pattern: People following this pattern consumed lots of leafy greens, dressings, tomatoes, and alcoholic drinks.

According to lead author Prof. James M. Shikany, who is a professor of medicine and associate director for research in the Division of Preventive Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, “All participants had some level of adherence to each pattern but usually adhered more to some patterns and less to others.”

“For example, it would not be unusual for an individual who adheres highly to the Southern pattern to also adhere to the plant-based pattern but to a much lower degree.”

The researchers attempted to contact the participants approximately every 6 months over a 10-year period, which enabled them to record any cardiovascular events, including sudden cardiac death. During this period, there were 401 recorded instances of sudden cardiac death.

Is food addiction real?

Food addiction is a concept that researchers use to describe compulsive eating habits in humans, which may resemble addiction-like behaviors.

Research indicates that some individuals may be more likely than others to experience addiction to palatable foods — meaning foods that are high in fat and sugar.

Other studies suggest that those who may experience food addiction exhibit “seeking” behaviors, as well as other symptoms and cravings similar to those that people typically experience as part of a substance use disorder.

There is no universally accepted clinical definition of “food addiction,” and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not list it as a condition. However, researchers have identified some behaviors associated with this concept. These include:

  • compulsive overeating, even in the absence of hunger
  • cravings for high fat and sugary foods
  • difficulty in controlling food intake
  • binge eating and disordered eating patterns

What do we know about food addiction?

Publications from 2009, 2011, 2016, 2018, and 2019, among others, have highlighted that palatable foods — or even foods in general — stimulate the same parts of the brain and share the same neuronal activities as illicit substances.

The hippocampus, caudate, and insula are three brain regions that researchers have pinpointed as being implicated in this relationship. 

For instance, foods and illicit substances both result in the release of the hormones, such as dopamine, and endogenous opioids that the body naturally produces.

These hormones are a part of the “reward system” — or the mesolimbic circuit — in the brain, which is responsible for motivation, want, desire, and cravings.

Some studies even suggest that it is the anticipation of food rather than the consumption itself that may trigger food addiction — a “seeking” behavior that people with substance use disorder often display. 

In theory, it is possible to explain this behavior by the phenomenon of incentive sensitization, which posits that it is possible for a person to want something even if they do not like it, as long as it stimulates the pleasure centers in their brain.

For example, people may crave a sugary beverage because it makes them feel good due to the release of dopamine rather than because they genuinely enjoy drinking that beverage.

Even though the DSM-5 does not list food addiction as a condition, researchers have referred to both the DSM-4 and DSM-5, as well as the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), when studying this phenomenon.

In fact, researchers developed the YFAS based on information in the DSM-4 about the symptoms and associated behaviors of substance use disorders. The YFAS contains 25 self-reported questions that may help identify food addiction.

The concept of food addiction has drawn a lot of interest in the scientific community, with some proposing it as a potential underlying contributor to obesity and others seeing it as a symptom of having excess body weight.

Whichever way this association may lie, a 2017 review cites evidence that behaviors linked with food addiction occur at notably higher levels in people seeking bariatric or weight loss surgeries.

When To Stop Parenting And Just Be A Parent

A huge irony indeed because to practice in most any profession where one provides services to the public, most states require a license or certification that can only be obtained by completing an appropriate amount of schooling and passing a competency test. Even marriage requires a license (unfortunately, however, a competency test is not a prerequisite!). Yet bringing another human being into the world requires nothing more than a pair of functional reproductive systems—no schooling, training, competency or license required! Obviously, legislating and regulating who and under what circumstances one can procreate is grotesquely fascistic and an abhorrent infringement of human rights. Nevertheless, I noted the above irony to merely underscore the fact that the most awesome responsibility a person can ever have is one very few people in our modern world are innately equipped to manage.

Learning the crucial skills of parenting enables parents to be truly effective, increasing the chances that their children will be able to navigate the labyrinth of life successfully. One of the most valuable gifts you can give your children is a working compass (skills and facts) that can help them succeed in school and work, play and fun, love and intimacy.

Unfortunately, most schools do not include specific courses on how to acquire social skills, how to think rationally, how to control unwanted emotions, and how to be a truly effective parent. People must learn on their own how to teach their children to resolve conflict, be assertive, manage stress and regulate their moods. And often, they need to discard the poor parenting techniques they may have learned from their own parents.

Of course, all children are unique individuals and possess their own temperament, needs and personalities, and there is no absolutely correct way to parent. What’s more, experts disagree on just what constitutes good parenting styles. There is some consensus, however, about what the essential ingredients of basic parenting are such as providing children with a sense of safety, protection, love, support, encouragement, kindness and consistency—but also limits, boundaries and appropriate consequences.

Parenting adult children, though, involves it’s own set of challenges. Because being a parent is a lifelong commitment that does not stop simply because a child is of full legal age, or even an independent adult with children of their own. But while being a parent is a lifetime commitment, actively parenting one’s adult children is usually unhelpful. This is because “parent“ is both a noun and a verb. To be a parent, at base, means to give unconditional love and emotional support to one’s child or children; that is being a “mom” or a “dad.” To parent, however, means to actively instruct, direct and control a child because people are not born with a complete repertoire of social and self-care skills and need to be taught how to successfully function in the world.

Hence, as mentioned above, it is vital for parents to provide their children with as much helpful information and useful life skills as possible, as well as set beneficial limits and boundaries and impose appropriate consequences on their behavior. Thereby, as they grow and develop into adulthood, they will be better adjusted and more able to make their way in the world as independent and self reliant individuals. But to actively parent one’s adultchildren is usually unproductive and often fosters anger and resentment. This is because most adults don’t like being told what to do and what not to do. So offering unsolicited advice, giving specific directions, making strong recommendations and offering even constructively intended criticism will often backfire when foisted on one’s adult children.

Therefore, unless one’s adult child is about to make a stupendously poor, potentially reckless or criminal, decision it is better to simply validate them without interjecting any strong opinions to the contrary. So if one’s adult child is making a decision that one does not approve of, rather than raising objections it is better to simply say something like, “I hope that works out for you.“ And if an adult child complains of specific hassles, stress or hardship, instead of immediately offering advice it is usually best to simply say something like, “That sounds tough. Is there anything I can do to help?“ Again, this is because unsolicited advice usually lands on people – especially one’s adult children – unpleasantly. Consider that as a clinical psychologist people seek me out for my advice, pay me for my advice, and still often don’t follow it.

The upshot is simple. Unless one has a child or children with specific needs, disabilities, or other developmental challenges, as soon as one’s children are fully fledged adults, it is time to transition from active parenting to simply being a loving and supportive parent. And for most people full adulthood usually occurs in their mid-20s when the brain has undergone it’s final maturational process called pre-frontal myelination. This is when the brain’s frontal lobes, the seat of so-called executive functioning, become insulated with tissues that enhance neurotransmission. When this happens, peoples’ impulse control, social judgment, and deep emotional capacities like empathy come online.

Which Debt Repayment Strategy Does the Most for Your Credit Score?

Debt repayment is a marathon, after all. Most of us are always working on at least one debt, and when you’re juggling multiple debts, it’s smart to wonder which debt to target first. If building your credit score is your top money goal, it’s helpful to understand how debt impacts your score, so you can make an informed decision on how to tackle that debt.  

Standard disclaimer to start: there’s never any guarantee that any credit-related action you take will improve your credit score by any amount. We know in a very general sense what most major credit scoring models use as a basis of their calculation, but the actual formulas used are complex and proprietary. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to build a great credit score. 

UNDERSTANDING HOW DEBT IMPACTS YOUR CREDIT

To begin, here’s a quick reminder of the major factors examined in the FICO scoring model, which is one of the more popular, widely-used models: 

  • Payment history (35 percent) 
  • Amount owed to all creditors (30 percent) 
  • Length of credit history (15 percent) 
  • Amount of new credit (10 percent) 
  • Types of credit in use (10 percent) 

As you can see, how much you owe is the second most important factor in your score. Assuming that you’ve been able to make your monthly payments consistently and haven’t opened a ton of new accounts recently, simply paying down your debts is the likely the most impactful thing you can do for your credit score.

REDUCE YOUR CREDIT UTILIZATION RATIO 

Your credit score judges your “amount owed to creditors” level not as a measure of your overall debt, but as ratio of debt to available credit. If you used $5,000 of a $10,000 credit limit you would have the same credit utilization ratio (50 percent) as someone who used $500 of a $1,000 credit limit. 

Generally speaking, the lower your credit utilization ratio is the better it is for your score. Most experts suggest trying to stay below 30 percent utilization, with your score likely to suffer once you go over 50 percent. 

It’s important to note, however, that FICO factors credit utilization in two ways – on an account-by-account basis and as an overall reflection of your debts and limits. This means that if the utilization ratio is low on most of your cards, but one of your accounts is close to maxed out, that will likely have a negative impact on your score. 

So, if you have multiple credit cards and you’re trying to decide where to concentrate your repayment efforts, check the limits on each card. If you’ve got any accounts where you’re using more than 50 percent of the available limit, that may be where you want to start. If the utilization ratio is below 30 percent for all of your cards, then you may want to focus on whichever account has the highest interest rate. 

LINES OF CREDIT VS. CREDIT CARDS

When it comes to lines of credit, it can be tricky to pin down their impact on your score. Different scoring models use different rules and they can vary pretty wildly. 

The confusion is in how you classify the line of credit – as revolving credit or as an installment loan. Only revolving credit accounts are factored into your credit utilization ratio. Installment loans are considered differently. 

A regular line of credit, like a business line of credit, is usually considered to be revolving credit and would be treated exactly the same as a credit card. 

A home equity line of credit (HELOC), however, may be considered revolving credit or an installment loan. In many cases it depends on the size of the available credit. A general rule of thumb is that a HELOC over $50,000 is usually factored as an installment loan, while anything below that is considered a revolving line of credit. 

So which should you pay off first? Again, it’s difficult to know for sure. I would suggest that if your line of credit is on the smaller side, treat it the same as a credit card and use the rules listed above. If it’s a relatively large HELOC, it’s probably in your best interests to pay the credit card debt first. 

And while we didn’t address it here, the same goes for mortgages, car loans, and student loans – if credit building is your focus, work on reducing your credit card debt, while keeping your loans current.

4 Imperatives for Managing in a Hybrid World

More than a year after the pandemic’s global debut, physical interaction is slowly resuming to workplaces in different parts of the world. However, hybrid work is here to stay, as remote and virtual work will continue for many. Now is a good time for executives to start planning what their hybrid organizations will look like, and how to manage them.

Our research team, which includes a past public company CEO and current chair of several boards, strategy consultants, and a professor at Harvard Business School, wanted to gain insight in how to approach this challenge. We interviewed and surveyed 38 top leaders at five global businesses in multiple Nordic countries, spanning manufacturing to consumer-facing sectors, to find out what are their biggest challenges in managing in the hybrid mode. Participants ranged from vice presidents to CEOs in rank.

Nordic leadership teams provide a particularly interesting benchmark for hybrid management since they operate in complex and challenging settings with multiple nationalities and native languages among top management. Just as test driving a car in more difficult terrain can expose weaknesses faster, interviews in this setting can surface challenges organizations face but may have been able to ignore or mask to date. As organizations model longer-term practices for the hybrid world, leaders should examine their organization for hidden issues that need to be addressed.

Our conversations surfaced surprising organizational tensions. To manage them requires new approaches and skills. We summarize our insights into four key imperatives that leaders need to observe to be effective in a hybrid world.

1. The Virtual World Does Not Treat Roles and Tasks Equally

The executives we interviewed say that hybrid settings bring with them several new types of tensions between different levels of the organization, and even among executives themselves.

The most surprising one is emerging within upper management itself. CEOs often say that they are quite satisfied with how effective their team has been in a virtual format. Yet, second- to third-level executives, such as the VPs and country leads just below the global executive team, are more skeptical.

To some extent, this isn’t surprising; one rarely makes it to the top of a global executive team without showing significant self-direction, soft skills, adeptness with ambiguity, presentation and speaking skills — traits that make team dynamics on Zoom thrive.

These skills, however, are often weaker at lower levels. Some executives and middle managers we interviewed said they were frustrated with their own virtual effectiveness and with the difficulties to express themselves fluently. This is worrisome, as middle managers are also usually the ones who have had to face and manage the new operational complexities first-hand. As the CEO of a European logistics company noted, “We carried out an engagement survey after the summer, and it became obvious that some managers were struggling in the new environment. Some managers were reactive rather than proactive, and in a way had disappeared. The subordinates were lacking in support or had increasingly tense interaction with the managers.”

So, CEOs need to be cautious about inferring that their own virtual experiences are representative of the whole company and learn what they can do to help support others. For the above CEO’s company, that meant “increased managerial training and mentoring” and making “some changes in top and middle management.”

Another tension we uncovered is who gets access to the best technology. The quality of video equipment, screen size, and web connections matter greatly for virtual impressions. During the pandemic, many companies deployed top-notch digital equipment to settings and roles where it delivers obvious returns, like teams dealing with customers or those that engage in complex strategic and innovative work where collaboration is key.

While this equipment can deliver a great ROI, they are not equally available to everyone — not even to executives at the same organizational level. In fact, our team concluded from comparing interviews within the same company that today’s broadband internet and top-notch cameras are “designer business suits.” Leaders need to be cautious that they do not make poor talent judgments and decisions based upon these conditions — just as the best-dressed employee did not always turn out to be the smartest.

Finally, executives that we interviewed predicted business travel will decline on average 40% in the post-Covid world. This can result in big and lasting differences in face time with the boss, even among personnel at the same organizational level. We may have settings where one has purely in-person relationships with some people and purely remote relationships with some others. Leaders need to be careful, again, about taking into account these dynamics for their employee evaluations.

2. Nuances Matter in People Management

Many leaders we interviewed explicitly or implicitly highlighted a “hybrid paradox”: While in-person connection is becoming less frequent, people skills become more important than ever. The best leaders listen and show empathy, allocate more leadership time to team management and coaching, enable versus control, and invest more in building a culture that reaches out of the traditional office and into people’s homes.

This is easier said than done. Executives lamented that it’s challenging to feel the whole team’s collective spirit and resolve. One simply cannot get a group reaction clear in a Teams or Zoom meeting, where each face a is just a thumbnail.

One leader identified places where body language might matter more or less: “Two times a year, [we hold a] review of business sites where we have the whole leadership team [along with] group functions. That [will be] done face-to-face in the future also,” he noted. “In the meeting you can read the person’s body language, colleagues’ expressions, etc. Currently we lack how the full team [is] reacting. But [for the] monthly business review, we can continue to do in Microsoft Teams, as there is no need to read the body language.”

The issue goes beyond regular meetings, too. Executives must increasingly discern what motivates or concerns individuals who they have not casually observed in the lunchroom or corporate retreat. For example, we all mostly smile at the camera once our video is turned on for something like a virtual happy hour, so it will take more commitment and skills for leaders to understand employees beyond what is being deliberately projected. In the hybrid world, this deep observational skill will become an essential leadership skill. One company went so far as to hire a psychologist to observe and help teams.

Ultimately, leaders will likely need to adapt their listening and communication skills. “Once we understood that [remote work] will not go away overnight, we decided that will have to adjust our leadership styles,” the CEO of a global consumer goods company stated. “I feel that the discussions, both in teams and one on one, have been more in-depth and personal as would have been the case face to face. I am much closer to my team on a personal level now.”

As communication has changed, however, many executives noted that slack time is vital for innovation and renewal. They often worry that employees may feel left alone, but employees also feel they are never alone — their calendars are always full of meetings, largely because follow-ups that used to happen informally now must be all formally scheduled. To address this, leaders will need to learn to be much more disciplined about their own calendars and those of their teams, balancing group and one-on-one discussions with time for more focused work or rest. Mastering people management nuances like these will differentiate good and successful leaders from those who are less successful going forward.

3. Strong Central Guidance Is a Must

Non-tax filer families can now sign up for the new monthly child tax credit

The IRS debuted on Monday its new non-filer sign-up tool so families can ensure they’ll get the credit and monthly payments starting July 15.

In addition to enrolling for the child tax credit, the tool will help people register for their third $1,400 economic impact payment as well as claim the recovery rebate credit if they did not receive previous stimulus checks they were eligible for, according to the agency.

“We have been working hard to begin delivering the monthly Advance Child Tax Credit to millions of families with children in July,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement. “This new tool will help more people easily gain access to this important credit as well as help people who don’t normally file a tax return obtain an Economic Impact Payment.”

The new portal is only for people who have not filed a 2019 or 2020 tax return and who did not use the IRS non-filers tool in 2020 to register for economic impact payments. With the online tool, people will be able to give the IRS their personal information, including name, address and Social Security number, as well as details about their children ages 17 and under and their direct deposit information.

The portal was developed by Intuit and delivered through the IRS Free File Alliance.

One more IRS portal is coming

Another portal set to launch later in June will help families who have filed a 2019 or 2020 tax return that’s been processed by the agency give more current information about their household. This is important for families who have more eligible children in 2021, have had a change in marital status or a significant drop in income — all of which could mean they’re owed larger monthly checks through the credit.

This portal will also allow families to opt out of receiving the monthly payments, meaning they’ll get the full credit amount when they file 2021 taxes, as the monthly payments are an advance on a 2021 tax credit.

The child tax credit was enhanced by the American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. The new credit increases the annual benefit per child age 17 and younger to $3,000 from $2,000 for 2021. It also gives an additional $600 benefit for children under the age of 6.

The full expanded benefit is available to all children 17 and under in families with 2020 or 2019 adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 for single parents and $150,000 for a married couple filing jointly, and ends for individuals earning $95,000 and married couples filing jointly making $170,000, though they’d still be eligible for the regular child tax credit.

For families getting the full credit, payments will be $300 per month for children under the age of 6 and $250 per month for those between the ages of 6 and 17.

Most families — roughly 80% — will get the payments via direct deposit on the 15th of each month, unless the day falls on a weekend or a holiday, according to the IRS. Those without direct deposit information will receive either paper checks or debit cards, the agency said.

The monthly payments will continue through the end of the year. When families file their 2021 tax return next year, they’ll get the second half of the enhanced credit as a refund. If families don’t send the IRS updated information that would have led to a larger monthly payment, they can claim the rest of the credit they’re owed when they file 2021 taxes.

Happy Fourth of July!

It has been a long 18-months, spent social distancing and staying safe. With that said, we hope you find yourself safely celebrating with those that matter most to you this holiday weekend.

We appreciate your continued support here at the PAF, and hope that all former players and their loved ones have a joyous Independence Day.

Instead of Waiting for Motivation, Build Habits

“But I just can’t find the motivation” is probably one of the most common complaints I hear in my private clinical psychology practice. I have heard this from clients who come in with a severe depressive disorder (where amotivation is a symptom), but also from clients who are struggling with a general lack of impetus. I have worked with people who want to work harder, study more, exercise more, develop a new hobby or commit to a new business idea, but struggle with building the momentum they need. They might think about doing things, but find themselves procrastinating, or never actually commencing an activity, despite their best intentions. I have certainly been in this space as well—most of us probably have, at various points across various arenas. Motivation is not something I struggle with much anymore, and there is one simple reason for this: I don’t wait for motivation.

When I want to do something, I try and think about whether it is something that has value for me and whether it is something I have the time and resources to commit to at present, and if yes, I plan for it, and make it a habit. I treat anything I want to do much like I treat brushing my teeth. Regardless of the circumstances of life, I brush my teeth twice daily and I try and treat other activities (such as work and exercise) in a similar way. I do these things as scheduled, regularly, typically at the same time each day, and I do them regardless of whether I want to or not. Sometimes energy and inspiration are missing, and I might amend what I do (a gentle stroll vs. a bike ride, editing a blog post vs. writing a book chapter) to account for this, but I adopt the ‘bum on seat’ philosophy (i.e., just get your bum on the seat and see what happens). This philosophy carried me through a 60,000-word doctoral thesis, and it works very well for a slew of other commitments now. I often suggest that my clients try and build habits instead of waiting for motivation to strike, and those who are able to adopt this philosophy generally have much better success with forming and adhering to commitments than those who continue to wait for that elusive motivation.

Habit formation

When forming habits, I follow a range of simple rules, these include:

Decide whether you can commit to forming a new habit. It is helpful to remember the opportunity costs that everything brings. Each hour you spend working, as an example, is an hour taken away from sleep, learning, exercise, friends, and recreation. Everything we commit to has a cost and we all have finite resources. Remember that new habit formation will necessarily come at a cost, and consider whether the benefits of a new habit outweigh the costs. The world is drowning in productivity information and exhortations to do more, but the wisest thing you can do sometimes is to simply decide that you don’t really want to swim.

Keep it simple, start small, and be regular. The best new habits are those that are achievable. We are unlikely to be able to commit to a new exercise routine that takes an hour a day, but will probably find more success if we commit to walking for 15 minutes, three times a week. It may not seem like much, but it is a lot more than nothing. Habits can build over time, and you can always increase the amount of time/energy you commit to something once an initial baseline has been established. It is better to only try and form one new habit at a time, to avoid overwhelming yourself.

Chain habits. It is much easier to commit to a new habit if you link it to something you already do. I have clients who walk their dogs daily and have recently started jogging every second day with their dogs, instead of strolling. This is far easier to commit to than a whole new form of exercise, as they leave the house to walk anyway. Some other examples might include; practicing Duolingo while waiting for your coffee to brew or meditating for five minutes straight after breakfast.

Evaluate. It is OK to start a new habit/routine and realise that it is not actually serving you in the way you hoped. Set aside time to re-evaluate habits and routines regularly (monthly is a good interval) and give yourself permission to change things that are not bringing the results or satisfaction you are seeking. Over time, as we achieve greater success with forming new habits and build interest in life and a sense of self-efficacy, we are likely to notice increased motivation as a by-product of commitment to habit formation.

Even Vaccinated People Are Nervous About Going Back to ‘Normal.’

Claudia Campos, 34, wanted there to be no doubt about why she continues to wear a face mask at the Florida car rental company where she works. She decided to screen-print a mask that telegraphs her thoughts. “I’m vaccinated,” it reads, “but I’m not ready to trust you!”

Campos’ slogan distills the complicated emotions many people are feeling as the summer of vaccination commences. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the roughly 43% of people in the U.S. who are fully vaccinated can mostly ditch masks, travel safely and gather indoors with others. But many of those 43% are finding that they’re not ready to live like it’s the Before Times.

In a March 2021 American Psychological Association poll, about half of respondents said they were “uneasy” about resuming in-person social interactions, regardless of vaccination status. And in a May 25 Axios/Ipsos poll, about half of vaccinated respondents said they still wear a mask at all times outside the house, even after the CDC’s announcement that doing so is no longer necessary.

Lauren, a 38-year-old from New York City who asked to be identified by first name to preserve her privacy, says she and her wife are living essentially as they did in 2020, even though they’re both fully vaccinated. They’ve dined inside once (an experience simultaneously refreshing and stressful, Lauren says), but otherwise have stayed mostly outside and mostly masked. That’s in large part because the couple has a 2-year-old daughter who isn’t eligible for vaccination, and they want to keep her safe. But Lauren admits there’s also “some lingering anxiety from having followed all of these protocols for so long. It’s hard to believe that certain things are actually safe, even though we know they should be.”

Rob Danzman, an Indiana-based licensed clinical mental health counselor, says that’s a normal response to a year marked by confusion. “Humans are terrible when it comes to not knowing the rules of the game,” Danzman says. “We had mixed messages, we had inconsistent science, inconsistent testimony, inconsistent mandates from different states. From my vantage point, if people were not experiencing some fear and trepidation, that would be weird.”

The confusion is also not over. On one hand, the data around COVID-19 vaccination is outstandingly and consistently good. People fully vaccinated with the mRNA-based shots made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are 91% less likely to be infected by the virus than unvaccinated people, according to recent CDC data. (Janssen/Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose shot is around 66% effective at preventing disease.) And even when fully vaccinated people do get infected, according to the CDC’s recent study, they are less likely to spread COVID-19 to others than an infected, unvaccinated person. Both of those findings support a return to normal life after vaccination.

But with thousands of people in the U.S. continuing to test positive for the virus every day, it is understandable that even vaccinated people remain skittish around others, particularly if they live with unvaccinated or immune-compromised people who are still at risk. The emergence of highly transmissible variants is also reason for concern. Throw in the psychological challenge of reentering the outside world after a year of being told other people could be deadly, and it’s little wonder that not everyone is eager to squeeze into a restaurant booth or crowded flight.

How to readjust

It’s natural that people respond differently to re-opening. Some individuals are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 than others, and personality, environment and experience all dictate how someone will rebound from the pandemic. But while it’s one thing to decide to take re-opening slowly, it’s another to feel so anxious about re-entering the world post-vaccination that it affects your mental health.

Conflicting feelings after vaccination are totally normal, Danzman says. “I can acknowledge, ‘I believe the science…and I also feel afraid,’” he says. “Both of those can co-exist.” Adjusting to post-vaccination life isn’t necessarily about suppressing one of those feelings, he says; it’s about learning to balance both.

People should “slow down and observe their thoughts, their feelings and the choices in front of them,” Danzman says. “Most of us smush all those things together.”

Ask yourself questions. Does a plan simply feel unfamiliar, or do you actually think it’s unsafe? Are there adjustments that would make an outing feel more comfortable? Danzman adds that it may feel less overwhelming to think about one decision at a time—like whether to go out to dinner or remove your mask in a certain setting—rather than trying to make big, sweeping statements about whether you’re ready to go “back to normal.”

Campos says she’d feel safer if around 70% of people in Florida were vaccinated. (As it stands, about 42% of people there have had both shots.) Making calculations like that can be useful, says Dr. Ryan Sultan, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Irvine Medical Center/New York State Psychiatric Institute. “Think about it as a long-term issue,” he says. “What’s your endpoint?” Waiting until every American is vaccinated may not be realistic, but you might decide you’ll only feel comfortable attending mask-free gatherings when your whole family is vaccinated, for example. That can help guide your actions in the interim.

A little bit of exposure therapy may help, too. For people who devoutly wore masks throughout the pandemic, shedding them may feel uncomfortable—even in a situation, like walking in a park, where the science strongly supports doing so. To practice, Sultan recommends starting small. You could try taking your mask off for a few minutes, he suggests, or when you’re alone and away from any crowds. Slowly but surely, that will begin to feel normal again.

These Are the 8 Types of Friends You Need in Your Life


Tom Rath and the Gallup organization discovered something interesting: the vast majority of the time, no one pal offers you everything you need from your relationships.

Some of your friends are great listeners… but they’re not always there when you need them. Others are intensely loyal… but just not that great at helping you out of a jam. And so on.

We get different things from different friends. And sometimes even with a sizable group you’re still not getting all the things you want in order to feel truly supported in life. Kinda like how to be healthy you need the four different food groups — you can’t just eat cookies for every meal.

“Friendship” is a pretty vague word. You generally don’t even know everything you want from your relationships to feel whole — you just know something’s missing. There’s a gap.

So Rath and Gallup got to work. They surveyed over a thousand people to find out what the types of “vital friends” were — someone who if they vanished, your life satisfaction would noticeably decrease.

What did these types of friends offer? How do they round out your life? What are those things we all want from a group of friends to feel truly fulfilled?

Rath breaks down the results of their research in Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without.

It turns out there are 8 types of “vital friends.” Many of us don’t have all of them in our squad, and that’s why we often feel disappointed or like we’re not getting everything we need. (You have to collect all the different Pokemon to win at the game called life.)

So let’s break down the 8 and get the basics on what they are, learn where you might meet the ones that are missing, and find out how to strengthen your relationships with the ones you already have. We’ll also look at what you should do to be better at the role which you play in the lives of others.

1) The Builder

Just because you’re not in Little League anymore doesn’t mean you don’t need a coach. Someone who motivates you and encourages you to take it to the next level. That supportive friend who believes in your potential and won’t let you rest on your laurels.

From Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without:

Builders are great motivators, always pushing you toward the finish line. They continually invest in your development and genuinely want you to succeed — even if it means they have to go out on a limb for you. Builders are generous with their time as they help you see your strengths and use them productively. When you want to think about how you can do more of what you already do well, talk to a Builder. Much like the best coaches and managers, these are the friends who lead you to achieve more each day.

Lacking a Builder in your life? We all need that person who nudges you to be all that you can be. Start asking more people for advice, then vet based on who gives solid answers and supports you. Who checks in with you a week later to see how things are progressing? That’s your new Builder.

Want to make the Builder you have better? Tell them your goals and what you’re struggling with. Tell them you appreciate their support… and give them permission to nag you if you slack.

What if you’re a Builder? How can you be more helpful to your friends? Pay attention to what they’re up to and offer help. Check in with them if goals they said were important do a vanishing act. Some people need a supportive voice in order to follow through.

My friend Jodie is a Builder par excellence. I tend to only do things that interest or excite me. So my life can get a little unbalanced. (That is a tsunami-sized understatement, by the way.) When I neglect things that, oh, “keep me breathing” or “make life worth living,” Jodie offers reminders, support… and then nags me relentlessly. So I always do what she says…

Eventually.

Builders motivate you and keep you going. Who sings your praises to others?

2) The Champion

We all need a friend who isn’t afraid to break out the pom-poms and play cheerleader. Somebody who roots for you and describes you to others in a way that makes you blush.

From Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without:

Champions stand up for you and what you believe in. They are the friends who sing your praises. Every day, this makes a difference in your life. Not only do they praise you in your presence, a Champion also “has your back” — and will stand up for you when you’re not around. They accept you for the person you are, even in the face of resistance. Champions are loyal friends with whom you can share things in confidence. They have a low tolerance for dishonesty. You can count on them to accept what you say, without judging, even when others do not. Champions are your best advocates. When you succeed, they are proud of you, and they share it with others. Champions thrive on your accomplishments and happiness.

Need a Champion in your life? Look for the people who are always praising others. They’re usually very humble and kind. So say hi.

Want to help your Champion help you? Regularly keep them abreast of what you’ve been doing and what your goals are. And don’t forget to thank them when their help pays off. Champions live for that.

If you’re a Champion, how can you improve? Ask your friends what they’ve been up to and how you can help. Think about different ways you can promote them. Maybe you’ve spread the word about their great work at the office — but have you ever complimented them in front of their spouse?

Luckily, I have Andy. Andy says things about me to other people that would make me want to meet me if I didn’t already know myself. And he does this for all his friends. I can tell you that they are all very lucky people. But Andy would just tell you how awesome they are.

So maybe you have someone swinging pom-poms for you. But do you have that person to conspire with on that passion project?

Build Your Reputation as a Trustworthy Leader

His defensiveness was intense. He insisted he had kept his commitments, delivered positive results, and hadn’t ever acted deceitfully or unscrupulously. And all of those things were true.

Like many leaders, he was shocked to learn that the standards of trustworthiness have risen significantly as the world’s experience of honesty and trust have descended into a freefall. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that government, NGOs, and media have continued to lose trust while business barely hangs on as the only institution people view as competent and ethical. People’s expectations and definition of trustworthiness are broadening for leaders, and it takes a lot to gain that trust.

The findings of my 15-year longitudinal study of more than 3,200 leaders on organizational honesty for my book, To Be Honest: Lead with the Power of Truth, Justice, and Purpose, also show that to earn and keep trust, leaders must accept that reliability and integrity are merely table stakes. They don’t, on their own, earn you a reputation of being trustworthy. They may get you labeled as dependable or easy to work with, but to be trusted consistently requires more. If you want to be certain that the people you lead see you as trustworthy, here are four practices to master. My research revealed that if you do, you’ll be 16 times more likely to earn and keep the trust of others.

Be who you say you are.

Consciously or not, we all navigate the world guided by a set of values that are revealed by our actions. We may say we value compassion, but if the first question we ask upon hearing someone plowed into our new car in the parking lot is, “How bad is the damage?” instead of “Was anyone hurt?” our commitment to compassion appears pretty thin. Others judge our trustworthiness by the extent to which our actions and words match. Here’s how to make sure they do.

Embody your stated values. The first thing you must do is articulate your values so others know what to expect. Importantly, though, good intentions don’t count. One of the issues in Gabe’s feedback was that he routinely extolled the importance of teamwork and being an “all for one” team. But during meetings, he became impatient with others’ updates and was sarcastic with his feedback. Although he didn’t intend it, his actions intimidated others and prevented them from participating, so he’d lost their trust.

Your values serve as a yardstick that others use to gauge their experience of you. If you haven’t articulated them, people are left to make assumptions that may not align with what you believe. And if you have articulated them, as Gabe did, be especially vigilant about embodying them. Make a list of your most important values and for each, define the ways you intend for them to appear in your day-to-day actions.

Acknowledge any say-do gaps. None of us are consistent all the time. Identify the places where your actions have belied your values, leading to unintended consequences for others, like Gabe’s behavior in meetings. Where necessary, apologize to those who’ve experienced those consequences. Otherwise, as with Gabe, the hypocrisy people attribute to you will erode trust quickly. But demonstrating humility for the impact of those moments can be a trust multiplier as people see that you’re humble enough to take responsibility when your words and actions don’t match.

Treat others and their work with dignity.

In an economy where people’s primary output is often a reflection of themselves — their ideas, insights, and ingenuity — the importance of treating both the contributor and the contribution with dignity is vital. People are more likely to trust colleagues who graciously regard what they do as a distinct part of who they are. Here’s how to do that.

Create opportunities for others to shine. Look for ways to allow others to showcase their talent. For example, invite people who don’t have high visibility to present their critical projects to wider audiences in your organization. Or encourage those who host meetings you attend to hear a pitch from someone you know has a great idea but is struggling to get it heard. Maybe you can connect someone you know with career aspirations to people within your organizational network who might be able to help them advance their dream. Become known as someone who dignifies the contributions of others by making sure they’re seen and celebrated across the organization.

Be a safe place to fail. Fewer moments call for dignity more than when someone’s efforts fall short. People inherently trust others they feel no need to hide from, especially in the shame of failure. When others make mistakes, even substantial ones, make sure that accountability includes keeping their self-respect intact. Balance expressing your disappointment with making sure you remain an ally, doing whatever you can to help them get back on track.

This Simple Thought Experiment Will Reshape How You See Your Marriage

Take a moment to sit with this idea. Take a moment to let it in. Consider the idea that, somehow, you are committed to getting all of the problems and challenges you experience in marriage throughout the day. That’s right, you are committed to, say, a partner’s control issues, sarcastic comments, or lack of affection.

Of course, there are limits to this thought experiment. It works with minor irritations and conflicts and is certainly not a guiding principle when confronted with major traumas or abusive situations.)

Most of us recoil at the very thought of this idea. We feel deep resistance to it. Our minds flood with defensive thoughts: “How can that be?” “Why would I be committed to all this struggle?” or “I’m not the problem here.”

But if you can let these initial waves of resistance move through, if you can open to a radical sense of curiosity, then this simple thought experiment can change your marriage and your life.

Why? It flips our ordinary way of viewing marriage on its head. We’re wired to think that most of our problems originate from outside ourselves. This wiring sounds like, “If only my partner were more loving or more engaged,” or “If only my extended family wasn’t so crazy” or “If only the world weren’t so out of control.” If only these things changed, we think, then I could finally be happy.

The thought experiment posed by the Hendricks’, however, challenges you to set these thoughts aside, if only for a moment, and to instead wonder how you might be creating these problems for yourself. At first, this idea might sound totally depressing. But, in the end, it’s actually radically empowering. Because if you played a role in creating these problems, then you must also have the power to change them.

So how can you make the most of this shift in perspective to what the Hendricks call 100% responsibility? Take these steps.

1. Identify Your Unconscious Commitments.

The first step is to see these commitments more clearly. To do that, it can be helpful to ask yourself, “What are the problematic results I’m getting in marriage?” “Where am I stuck?”

Then, write down your answers.

For example, many people tell me that they feel upset at their partner for not caring enough, doing enough, or loving them enough. If that’s the problematic result you’re getting in marriage, write down, “My partner isn’t caring, engaged, or loving enough.”

2. Ask Yourself, “How Am I Committed to This?”

Now for the mind-blowing question: “How am I committed to getting this result?”

This isn’t one of those questions that you ask, think about for 15 seconds, and then leave behind. No, this is a question on which to meditate. It’s a question to plant in your mind and then sit with for a while.

Once you have reflected on it, write down the one to three ways you are holding this pattern in place.

For example, if your partner doesn’t show you enough love and affection, your question becomes, “How am I committed to having an unaffectionate partner?”

Once you look closely at this question, you might notice that you have a part to play in this dynamic. For instance, it might be that you’re expecting affection but also not giving your partner enough of it. Or it might be that you’re not following through on key projects, chores, or tasks around the house. Or maybe there is fear holding this dynamic in place: your fear of being vulnerable, showing your true emotions, and asking for what you really want.

3. Build One Commitment-breaking Habit

Do you really want to change this commitment?

It’s a question worth asking because most of the time we actually benefit in some way from these dysfunctional commitments. We get to feel in control. We get to be right. Or we get the badge of honor that comes with being a modern day super dad.

But assuming your answer is “yes,” that you want to change this commitment, the final step is to create a new commitment-breaking habit. It’s something you can do every day to interrupt the momentum of the commitment you have identified.

If you’re committed to having an unaffectionate partner, for example, your new habit might be revealing your inner experience to your partner (and — for bonus points — doing it from a place of kindness).

Why You Don’t Believe in Happiness Anymore

You start with big dreams, full of youthful enthusiasm. Over time, challenged by obstacles and hardships, your commitment to those dreams is tested. But you’re still young, so you push on and persevere. 

Then you get hit with big disappointments, letdowns in your career, love life, or friendships. You feel unsupported and alone. “Why is this happening?” you wonder, “I’m a good person. I didn’t do anything to deserve this.” 

Then you face a health crisis, lose a loved one, suffer injuries, or financial hardships. Unforeseen stressors continue to pop up and dash your plans.

You start to lose hope. 

Losing the confidence that you’ll ever be happy

When you’re struggling, it’s natural to want to give up. You may look around and feel that everyone has an easier life than you. You forget that no one is exempt from suffering, and some of the most outstanding individuals in history faced overwhelming personal hardships. 

But no matter. The longer you stay in a place of hopelessness, the harder it is to believe that you’ll ever be happy again. You may justify your unhappiness by proclaiming your powerlessness. You even start to question the concept of happiness.

“Happiness is an illusion sold by the media to make money,” you decide. “Happy relationships? Happy families? Happy friendships? Bah! That’s not real life.”

Five conditions that cause people to abandon happiness

1. Heartbreak 

Deep wounds to the soul come in many forms, but for me, the word “heartbreak” captures the catastrophic pain of unforeseen loss. No matter what form heartbreak takes when your heart is broken, gravity shifts, your body, and mind feel sluggish, color is drained from the world, and every day is a battle with yourself. 

2. Social isolation

You withdraw from the world. Stop seeing friends or family and embrace loneliness. The more you live in isolation, the more your thoughts and feelings become deluded. You distort even the simplest of interactions and grow paranoid and suspicious of others. No one is who they seem to be.

Do You Need Short-Term Disability Insurance?

The answer for some may be short-term disability insurance. Should you fall ill, become diagnosed with a medical condition, or get into an accident that prevents you from working for awhile, short-term disability can replace some of your income until you’re back on your feet.

“Short-term disability is important because it can protect your savings and investment accounts in the chance that you are temporarily unable to work due to a disability,” says Ben Smith, founder and financial planner of Cove Financial Planning. “Without coverage, many people are forced to take on debt, draw on their cash reserves, or worse, their retirement savings, in order to pay bills and living expenses in an instance where they are not earning an income due to a disability.”

Nearly every worker could potentially benefit from having short-term disability insurance, but there are some instances where having that extra protection is even more important.

YOU’RE SELF-EMPLOYED

If you work for yourself or have a small number of employees, you’ll definitely want to consider getting short-term disability insurance. 

“Doctors, veterinarians, CPAs, and similar professionals who have their own practices are often self-employed and may not have the coverage, and also may be earning high incomes that lead to expensive month-to-month lifestyle costs,” says Ian Bloom, a CFP® and Financial Life Planner for Nerds. “In some cases, a disability would exhaust their savings rather quickly.”

You’ll also want to consider short-term disability insurance if you’re a full-time freelancer. Freelancers don’t get sick leave or get coverage through an employer. So if they’re unable to work, and their cash flow takes a halt, it could put them in financial peril.

YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH IN SAVINGS

It might be okay to forego short-term disability coverage if you have six months worth of income in savings, as well as a considerable cushion beyond that, points out Bloom. When figuring out whether you have enough in savings to cover your living expenses when you’re disabled, keep in mind that if a disability occurs, you’ll likely have medical expenses — doctors’ visits, treatments, medication — in addition to your regular monthly expenses.

On the flip side, let’s say you have a large cash reserve. In that case, you might not need short-term disability. “This means that they may be able to ‘self-fund’ a potential temporary loss of income during a disability,” says Smith. And if your spouse or partner has a high-income job, and they can cover household expenses for a short time, you may not necessarily need to be covered with short-term disability.

“Every situation is different, so it’s important to learn about your unique options and needs,” says Smith.

YOUR EMPLOYER DOESN’T OFFER IT

If your employer doesn’t offer short-term disability, it might be worth looking into getting it on your own. And even if your employer does offer short-term disability insurance, it might not be enough for your potential financial needs. 

To gauge this, review the coverage amounts and terms with your employer. You’ll also want to assess what your current living expenses are, and tack on additional expenses for medical treatment. If the current coverage doesn’t match your costs, you may need add additional coverage on your own.

TIPS FOR SHOPPING FOR SHORT-TERM DISABILITY

A few pointers if you’re thinking of hopping on a short-term disability plan:

LOOK FOR COVERAGE THROUGH YOUR EMPLOYER FIRST

You might be able to get coverage through your employer, which is typically less expensive than buying a private plan, explains Smith. What’s more, it’s usually easier to get coverage through a group plan. When it comes time to re-up on your company benefits, be sure to ask about short-term disability coverage if that’s something you’re interested in.

SEE IF THE STATE YOU LIVE IN OFFERS SHORT-TERM DISABILITY

Only five states in the U.S. offer their own short-term disability programs: California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. The coverage amounts and time periods vary. Even if you live in a state that offers it, you might still want to get additional coverage to make sure you have enough to live on should you need it.

CHECK THE ELIMINATION PERIOD

An elimination period is the amount of time you must wait until your insurance coverage kicks in. For example, a 14-day elimination period means you must wait 14 days after you become disabled before receiving any benefit from the plan. Elimination periods for short-term disability are usually are typically 7 or 14 days, while some might be up to 30 days. “In most cases, the longer the elimination period, the lower the cost of insurance will be,” says Smith.

And even if you hop on a short-term disability plan, you could still need some cash reserves to cover your expenses until the elimination period ends.

Meet the Staff: Laura Stefanow

Laura Stefanow always knew that she wanted to have, in some capacity, a career in sports. And while studying at West Virginia University, realized the direction she would pursue.

“I got a degree in sports management and then kind of figured out what my niche was going to be by going to grad school,” Stefanow said. “I got a graduate assistantship on campus with the Office of Wellness and Health Promotion. And so that really kind of honed in on the passion to work with people in a community sense, and a charitable sense, as well.”

Gaining additional experience through an internship with the Washington Football Team’s Charitable Foundation, in October 2017, just a few weeks after her internship ended, Stefanow joined PAF as an assistant, and has proved to be a natural.

Now a coordinator, besides developing a role where she works closely with the PAF manager Leslie Isler in social media, engagement, and event planning, Stefanow focuses mainly on the Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust Fund (GUPAT).

It helps former players who are facing financial hardship due to unforeseen crisis, unaffordable medical situations, and players who wish to go back to school to finish their undergraduate degrees.

“I’m there to assist any former player who may be looking for any type of resource,” Stefanow said. “They might call in and are not sure of what we have available. But then largely with the (GUPAT), we help them figure out what it is that we can maybe support them in.

“I help with their applications and it goes through the process. A decision is made, and we have a pretty high approval rating, so most of the time we see a positive reaction to our work. And so that’s just a really awesome thing that I get to see through and through.

“And a lot of it is also connecting them to the other resources in the building, helping them understand that help is there. It’s hard for a lot of people, not just former players, to ask for help. Especially when it comes to their finances, or admitting that there might be something larger going on within their household that they might need a little help with. I just try to do my best in being that person that they can talk to openly and without judgment.”

Even though every day and, well, every phone call is different, Stefanow does an outstanding job making the initial point of contact as well as the ensuing conversations with former players go smoothly.

“More than just transactional relationships, you do form real bonds and connections with them. Which is great because we want to be the place the former players can come to – for good and bad,” Stefanow said. “Whether they’re having a hardship or they’re looking to do something fun at one of our events, it feels very good.

“I find it amazing that an organization like the PAF exists. I often think that adults sometimes get overlooked and people pass judgement when they’re struggling. And that’s just not who the PAF is. I’m very proud and happy to be a part of that whole production. I enjoy the people aspect. I like being able to be somebody that is helping others.

“And I want to acknowledge our former player community for welcoming me into their space, in many cases, during times of increased vulnerability and uncertainty. Without their openness and trust, it may have been a challenge to find my way in my role at the PAF. However, the player connections are what keep me coming back.”

Meet the Staff: Leslie Isler

Executive Director Andre Collins saw something in Leslie Isler while she was interning in the NFLPA’s Former Player Services Department in 2013, and the PAF is better off today because of it.

“When that internship was over, Andre reached out and said, ‘Hey, I appreciated your time here. You did a good job. There’s potentially an opening in about a year or so if you don’t land on anything that you like. There could be an opportunity to come back.’ So, in 2015, I was able to come aboard fulltime as the PAF coordinator,” Isler said.

With responsibilities that include social media, engagement, and event planning, she also focuses on the PAF’s wellness events and solidifying partnerships and resources for its members, as well.

Isler has worked on Super Bowl events such as Smocks & Jocks and Painting with the Pros. However, this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts are being made on how to transition those events online.

“A lot of our stuff this year was just transitioning to a virtual platform, helping our members navigate the chapter scholarship program that the PAF does in conjunction with the Former Players Department,” Isler said. “As well as managing a few partnerships that we have in education with Penn State World Campus. And we just started a new program with EPIC Risk Management, a gambling prevention initiative.”

What Isler enjoys about her job, and appreciates, is the freedom to create she has been given by Collins and PAF Director, Tyrone Allen.  

“They don’t do a lot of micromanaging,” Isler said. “So, my creativity in my space is limitless. I love that I’m able to just bring them ideas, whether they’re familiar with the idea or not. Sometimes they need a little bit more convincing, but there’s always room for them to see things from my perspective.

“We are from two completely different generations, but I don’t feel like Andre has ever hindered my creativity. He’s super open-minded, and the trust that he has for me in this role has definitely allowed me to tap into some innovative and creative ideas that I think have benefitted our messages.”    

Growing up watching the NFL with her family, Isler is glad that she is now able to assist those former players who helped mold the game to what it is today.

“I always felt like that I was paying homage to the sport. Whatever contributions they made, whether it’s that they signed a practice squad contract or played for 15 years, I’ve always felt like that was pretty much me paying them back for this great sport that we enjoy now,” Isler said.

“Working for the union has completely changed my outlook of the sport. Where it’s not just about who’s winning on Sundays, but it’s more about advancing the sport, making it safer, allowing these players to develop an identity outside of football.

“I love amplifying and promoting what our players are doing in their second act. That’s definitely one of my favorite aspects of my job, to create partnerships with players, as well. To amplify what they’re doing across the membership is also one of those things that is very rewarding.”  

What Does It Mean to Go into Foreclosure?

If you took out a mortgage, you borrowed money to purchase your home and put up the home as collateral. Foreclosure is the legal process that allows the lender to repossess a home when borrowers fall far enough behind on their payments.

Facing eviction and losing the time, equity, and love you’ve put into a home can be a sad and scary prospect. But it’s important to remember that even if you’re months behind on your mortgage payments, there may be ways to remedy the foreclosure and keep your home. Or, if your goal is to move to a more affordable home, there could be alternatives to foreclosure that can save you money, time, and may not hurt your credit as much.

In either case, understanding the process can help homeowners identify where they stand and their options.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING FORECLOSURE?

Foreclosures can be governed by a combination of federal, state, and local laws. The foreclosure process, relevant terms, laws, your rights, and the timeline can, therefore, vary depending on where you live and the agreement you have with a lender. However, the processes tend to follow a similar path:

THE BORROWER MISSES A MORTGAGE PAYMENT

Missing a single payment won’t immediately lead to losing your home, but it’s the first step towards a foreclosure. Once a borrower misses a payment or pays less than the total amount due, the mortgage could become delinquent.

The lender, mortgage service or a collection agency may start reaching out to the borrower to inform them of the missed payments. It may also notify you of different options you have to help avoid foreclosure and keep your home.

THE LENDER SENDS A DEFAULT NOTICE

The timeline can vary, but often around three to six months after you miss a mortgage payment, the lender will send a letter or notice that your loan is in default. The notice may also tell you how much you currently owe, including past-due payments and fees, and how long you have to bring your loan current.

The notice could also be posted on the door of the home and a record of the notice might be filed with the local county office. You may see this letter referred to as a Notice of Default or lis pendens (“suit pending”).

PRE-FORECLOSURE BEGINS

If you don’t bring your loan current by the deadline, the lender can begin the foreclosure process. The pre-foreclosure period may be one to several months long, during which you still have options to avoid the foreclosure by repaying the amount owed, selling your home, modifying your loan, or coming to another agreement with your lender.

THE FORECLOSURE PROCESS OFFICIALLY STARTS

The lender may be able to pursue different types of foreclosures:

JUDICIAL FORECLOSURE

A judicial foreclosure is an option in every state, but isn’t required everywhere. The judicial foreclosure process goes through the courts, and you will be sent a notice of the pending lawsuit. If you don’t respond, the lender will win a default judgment. Generally, if the lender wins the suit, an auction date for the home will be chosen, and the local court or sheriff will then sell the home at the auction.

NONJUDICIAL FORECLOSURE

Some states allow lenders to pursue a prescribed foreclosure process outside of the courts. The process can vary, but often takes at least a month and involves one or more notices informing you of how much you owe, how you can bring the mortgage current, and when the home will be put up for sale.

THE HOME IS OFFERED FOR SALE

Either the lender, a representative of the lender, a local court, or the sheriff may sell the home via an auction. Or, in some cases, the lender simply takes ownership of the home. The lender will also become the owner if the home isn’t sold at the auction.

Depending on the state, you may have the right to repay the entire amount due and reclaim your home as long as the auction hasn’t ended. In some states, you may even have the right to buy the home back after it was sold at auction.

THE BORROWER IS ASKED TO LEAVE OR IS EVICTED

Once a new entity takes ownership of the home, you may receive a notice that you have to leave the house. You could have anywhere from a few days to several weeks to vacate, and sometimes a new owner will offer you money to move out quickly and leave the home in a good condition.

If you don’t leave, the new owner may take steps to forcibly evict you. The eviction process could also take several days to several months. Although you’ll be able to stay in the home longer, having an eviction on your record could make it harder to find a rental in the future.

YOU MAY HAVE OPTIONS IF YOU’RE FACING FORECLOSURE

Foreclosure doesn’t happen overnight, and the lengthy process isn’t a desirable outcome for borrowers or lenders.

Generally, acting sooner is better than waiting. Even if you haven’t missed a payment yet, reaching out to your lender and letting it know you expect to have trouble in the future could be a helpful first step that leads to avoiding foreclosure proceedings altogether.

Your lender may have programs that can temporarily, or sometimes permanently, lower your monthly payments. The U.S. Treasury Department and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also have many programs aimed at helping borrowers avoid foreclosure.

As the process and programs can vary depending on where you live and your mortgage agreement, speaking with a trained professional is often be a good idea. Some attorneys specialize in housing cases, including foreclosure defense, that may be able to help.

7 Ways to Experience Inner Peace

Has modern technology and your ability to access infinite amounts of information and entertainment brought less stress or more stress into your life?

Sure, we can buy everything we want online—clothes, computers, and cars—and yes, it’s convenient. But has it made our lives more peaceful?

Emotional energy

Most of us would agree that emotional energy has become a precious commodity in our lives. When we feel emotionally depleted, then anxiety and stress are the natural by-products. Left unchecked, stress can lead to feelings of being out of control.

As a result, stress can prompt us to seek temporary relief in unhealthy habits that create more stress in the long run. Turning to alcohol, comfort food, or overspending might provide temporary relief and distraction, but these things greatly complicate our lives.

Controlling your stress

Not everything that causes us stress can be eliminated—nor should it. Low-level stress stimulates the brain to boost productivity and concentration. It can also be a big motivator to make changes, solve problems, or accomplish goals.

In addition, many sources of stress are simply beyond our control. It’s become so commonplace for people to feel stressed and overloaded that we tend to forget there is an alternative way to live.

It’s time to slow down and consider ways to bring more peace to your heart and soul. Start with these seven ideas:

1. Beware of peace pickpockets.

You encounter all kinds of people and situations that try to steal your serenity. Know what they are and take measures to fend them off.

2. Take a mental health day, or morning, or moment.

Whatever time you can allow, give yourself the space to refresh your mind and spirit.

3. Rethink your “should do” and “ought to do” lists.

If the voice in your head is guilting you into doing things that don’t bring you joy, regard these as prime candidates to delete.

4. Kick the approval habit.

It’s natural to want to be liked by others—and it’s healthy to accept that it’s not going to happen all the time.

5. Be still.

If your pace is wearing you out, set aside a half-day or a full day to sit on the sofa to think, journal, read, and nap.

6. Let the music move you.

Few things are as cathartic and cleansing as your best-loved music. Use your favorite tunes to calm you down, pump you up, or stir your emotions.

7. Give yourself a quality-of-life checkup.

It’s wise to periodically assess whether you’re satisfied with the quality of your life. If you don’t feel fulfilled, ponder what changes are in order.

Inner peace is a worthwhile goal. In today’s saturated world, having an inner peace plan—and working on it every day—is a good way to ensure you attain that goal.

“Will I Ever Find My Passion?”

 I have a client who’s an engineer and feels he’s just going through the motions, afraid that his career will always be humdrum. He asked, “Is there any chance that, age 35 (I’m changing irrelevant details to protect his anonymity), I’ll find my passion and make a living at it?”

A prerequisite question is “Is finding a passion needed for career contentment?”

As I’ve written previously, because most people hold one of the same few passions: the arts, entertainment, the environment, helping the poor, and sports, the chances of making a living at a commonly held passion are not great. And because of the oversupply of willing workers in such fields, pay is often poor if not volunteer.

More often, career contentment comes not from passion but from work of moderate difficulty, some impact, a decent boss and coworkers, reasonable commute, decent pay, and job security.

But just because passion isn’t the key to career contentment, doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to make a living related to one’s passion. But many people, like the aforementioned client, have trouble identifying a passion. Here are some questions that might help you unearth one:

The question I asked him that unearthed a passion for this client was, “What were you attracted to as a child?” He said, “Hunting for unusual wildflowers.” When I asked if there subsequently have been other things like that, he said that he had loved hunting for used navionics (electrical devices for use on boats and ships.) The common thread was hunting, so we explored a variety of careers that required some form of hunting, especially those that would leverage his engineering experience. One example: becoming a purchasing agent for a boat or ship manufacturer.

If that question doesn’t work or you, might one of these:

What do you most like to read, watch, and talk about?

What do you give a damn about?

What activity most engages you, for example, talking with people, doing research, working with your hands, making art, starting a business, handling details?

What value most drives you: money, fame, a non-profit cause, glamour?

What’s an unusual interest of yours? (The job market may be better when you’re away from the madding crowd.)

To what or whom would you donate or invest a million dollars?

If you had a year to live, didn’t care what anyone thought, and had to be productive, what would you do?

The takeaway

Career passion may be oversold—Do what you love and poverty may well follow. Nevertheless, it’s worth at least a shot at unearthing a passion and then seeing if there’s a career in which you feel the risk of pursuing it is worth it.

Diabetes: Diet and weight loss may reduce need for blood pressure drugs

Diabetes is a common and serious medical condition, affecting approximately 463 million people worldwide in 2019. People with a condition called metabolic syndrome are about five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. 

Metabolic syndromeTrusted Source consists of a constellation of clinical findings defined by the presence of at least three of the following:

  • elevated blood pressure (hypertension)
  • abdominal obesity
  • impaired glucose tolerance
  • insulin resistance,
  • increased triglycerides
  • low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“good cholesterol”)

People who develop type 2 diabetes have a greater chance of having a heart attack, stroke, chronic kidney disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), and eye disease (retinopathy). 

Approximately 85% of patients with type 2 diabetes will require treatment for high blood pressure. Although antihypertensive medication medications effectively decrease blood pressure, some medications, such as β-blockers and thiazide diuretics, may have side effects or aggravate blood glucose control. 

The American Diabetes Association estimates that 33–49% of people with diabetes fail to achieve blood glycemic, blood pressure, and blood lipid goals. Lifestyle modifications, such as weight loss, can help.

Weight loss can effectively reduce blood pressure by about 1 millimeter of mercury (mmHg) for each kilogram (kg) of weight lost. However, current clinical practice guidelines do not recommend a trial withdrawal of antihypertensive medication during a medically managed weight loss program for people with diabetes who have overweight. 

In the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial (DiRECT)Trusted Source, researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Newcastle in the United Kingdom demonstrated that the primary-care-driven intensive weight management program Counterweight-Plus resulted in remission of type 2 diabetes in 46% of participants at 12 months. 

During the initial total diet replacement phase, participants underwent a planned withdrawal of all blood pressure medication to prevent low blood pressure when standing up from sitting or lying down.

Researchers re-examined data from this study to determine the safety of stopping blood pressure medications and the extent of the decrease in blood pressure levels in participants with and without hypertension. The scientists recently published the results from this post-hoc analysis in the journal Diabetologia.

Significant blood pressure decrease

The study used a low energy (825–853 kilocalories per day) formula diet for 12–20 weeks in the intervention part of the study, followed by a step-wise reintroduction of food over 2–8 weeks, as well as a structured weight-loss maintenance program with monthly visits.

Participants receiving the intervention discontinued all diabetes and antihypertensive medications when starting the initial total diet replacement phase unless they needed them for conditions other than diabetes or hypertension. 

Researchers monitored blood pressure and glycemic levels throughout the study and reintroduced medication to those participants whose levels increased.

78 of the 143 participants receiving total diet replacement had hypertension at baseline, with 44% of participants receiving one antihypertensive drug and approximately 56% receiving two or more. Around 36% of participants reported dizziness during the total diet replacement phase.

The study demonstrated significant decreases in average blood pressure levels during total diet replacement therapy at 20 weeks and 1 and 2 years. In those participants with no history of hypertension, the decreases were immediate. In contrast, significant reductions in blood pressure did not occur for those previously treated for hypertension until about week 9.

During the total diet replacement phase, 27.5% of participants (26% on one medication and 74% on two or more medications had to restart taking antihypertensive medications. However, at 2 years, 28% of the participants who stopped antihypertensive drugs did not need to take them again.

According to the study, 53 people saw remission in their type 2 diabetes with an average weight loss of 11.4 kg at 2 years. Of this group, 27 participants had high blood pressure and stopped all blood pressure medication at baseline, with 12 remaining off all antihypertensive medication at 2 years.

What Parents Should Know About Traveling With Unvaccinated Kids

As of now, there are no COVID-19 vaccines approved for children under 12, which means families are left wondering if it’s safe to travel with their little ones and how to do so while minimizing risk.

“The answer to these questions ultimately comes down to parents’ overall risk tolerance and level of comfort; however, there are factors that should be considered when making a decision to take a trip with your children if they are unvaccinated,” said Dr. Vivek Cherian, an internal medicine physician affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical System.

So what exactly should parents know about traveling with their unvaccinated kids? Below, Cherian and other experts share their advice.

Assess Underlying Health Risks

“I think every family will have to weigh the risks and the benefits of traveling with their unvaccinated children,” said Dr. Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. “A family that has a child with underlying health conditions may not feel as comfortable traveling as compared to a family who has children that do not currently have medical conditions.”

While the risk of developing serious illness and complications from COVID-19 is generally lower in children than in adults, it’s still a major concern for those with underlying health conditions.

“Early evidence suggests children with diabetes, obesity, lung diseases or who are immunosuppressed may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19,” said Dr. Diane Kantaros, an internist and chief quality officer at Nuvance Health. “We are also still learning if there are any potential long-term complications from having COVID-19, regardless of severity of illness.”

If your child has an underlying health condition, you may consider taking a more cautious approach to travel for now. Their risk level can affect the type of trip you plan, accommodations, timing and other variables.

“Read the updated CDC guidelines, and talk with your child’s pediatrician to discuss any concerns,” recommended Cheryl Nelson, a travel preparedness expert and founder of Prepare with Cher. “The pediatrician can address any underlying health conditions that your child may have and the risks associated with traveling with certain conditions.”

Research Your Destination’s COVID-19 Situation

“I would ask what exactly is going on with the virus at your destination,” Cherian advised. “You can view various locations on the CDC’s website to get an idea of the risk assessment level for COVID-19 at your destination. This is also an important step to learn any specific requirements or local regulations at your destination regarding quarantine or testing.”

You’ll want to avoid vacation spots with notably high COVID-19 case numbers and variant rates. This is especially true for places with limited health care infrastructure, which may become easily overwhelmed amid big outbreaks. Look with a critical eye.

“The case rates may look like they are declining, but that is because when you take the number of cases and divide by the population (vaccinated and unvaccinated), the numbers look good,” said Robin L. Dillon-Merrill, a professor of information management specializing in decision and risk analysis at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “However, if you take the number of cases and divide by only the unvaccinated population, the rates are as bad as ever. I would advise that the first thing you consider is how much virus is circulating in the community of the travel destination, and if it is still high, don’t travel there.”

Looking at the vaccination rates in your potential destinations can also be a helpful way to compare vacation spots.

“The more people who are vaccinated, the lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission,” Nelson noted.

How to Prepare for the End of a Mortgage Forbearance

For those with federally-backed mortgages, the CARES Act suspended potential foreclosure until May 2021, and created a path to extended mortgage forbearance for those who needed to divert their mortgage payments to other essentials.

According to a study from the New York Federal Reserve, by May 2020 approximately 7% of all mortgage accounts were in forbearance. American homeowners had jumped at the chance to push back their mortgage payments until they had a clearer picture of how COVID-19 was going to impact their finances.

Interestingly, that broad interest didn’t last. The New York Fed found that by June 2020 the trend was already reversing, with more consumers exiting a forbearance than entering one. As of March 2021, the forbearance rate was 4.2% of mortgage accounts. 

The concerning issue, however, is not the overall number of mortgages in forbearance – it’s that the homeowners currently in forbearance don’t seem well positioned to recover once their forbearance ends. Per that New York Fed study, the households taking advantage on the extended forbearance period are more likely to:

  • Be first-time homebuyers
  • Live in lower-income areas
  • Be one or more months past due on their mortgage payments

While overall forbearance numbers are down, the majority of those currently on a mortgage forbearance entered their forbearance on or before June 2020. In other words, there is a worryingly large population of homeowners who were struggling with new mortgages before the pandemic began, who’ve been on a forbearance since they were first available, and who will likely only come out of forbearance when their 18 months is up.

So what should these and other homeowners do to prepare for the end of their forbearance?

REFINE YOUR POST-FORBEARANCE BUDGET

Whether you’re making payments during your forbearance or not, it’s crucial that you understand what life is going to look like financially once your forbearance ends. Review your spending. Consider any other expenses that may be currently paused, but will need to be factored into your budget.

If you’ve got the income necessary to handle your full mortgage payment, then you’re all set. But if you’re coming up short you may need to consider taking additional steps to ensure that you don’t fall (further) behind.

PURSUE A REFINANCE

Depending on the status of your loan and your overall credit profile, you may be able to qualify for a mortgage refinance. Per the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), even if you’re currently in forbearance, you may be eligible for a refinance as long as you’ve made at least three consecutive monthly payments.

Of course, a refinance may extend the length of your repayment period and there are additional costs to consider, but if your goal is to stay in your house and your post-forbearance mortgage payments won’t allow that, then it may be the best path forward.

PREPARE TO SELL YOUR HOME

Home prices are skyrocketing at the moment. That’s bad for prospective homebuyers, but great for home sellers and may provide a potential solution if your post-forbearance outlook isn’t positive. 

What you don’t want is to be forced to sell your home after falling behind on your payments. If downsizing your home or becoming a renter (at least until prices begin to fall) is the best way to stabilize your budget, it’s better to be proactive.

WORK WITH A HOUSING SPECIALIST

If you’re concerned about your mortgage – no matter what your forbearance status might be – you should consider working with a HUD-certified housing counselor. MMI’s housing experts can help you review your options and get you started on the best path for you, your home, and your financial stability. 

If you’re not sure if your problems can be solved with better budgeting, or whether or not it makes sense to refinance or sell your home, a housing counselor can help. 

Paying the Price for Sun Damage

Pick your favorite cliché: Do as I say, not as I do; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; better safe than sorry; forewarned is forearmed.

Mea culpa. All the above relate to my failure to follow the well-established health advice about sun exposure that I’ve offered repeatedly to my readers: Routinely protect your skin from the cancer-causing and aging effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

For decades I’ve failed to practice what I preached (OK to wince) and am now paying for my negligence with unsightly splotches, bumps and bruises and at least one cancerous lesion on my sun-damaged skin. My litany of excuses has included: hats mess up my hair, long sleeves and pants are too hot in summer and exercising while coated with sunscreen is suffocating.

Annually vowing to do better, every summer I dutifully purchase the latest dermatology-recommended sunscreen that, alas, spends the summer unopened on a bathroom shelf. I hereby pledge to do better this yearalbeit late in the game.

A new report from a dermatology team at Kaiser Permanente health care centers in California has prompted me to reform. The team, headed by the epidemiologist Lisa Herrinton in Oakland, followed nearly half a million patients seen at the centers for up to 10 years. Half had already developed one or more actinic keratosis, a precancerous rough, scaly skin lesion caused by years of unprotected sun exposure.

As you might expect, these lesions most often form on the face, ears, back of the hands, forearms, scalp and neck and are — or should be — routinely removed when found by dermatologists to prevent progression to cancer. The lesions are markers of sun damage and can serve as an early warning system for people at risk of developing cancer somewhere on sun-exposed skin.

Pandemic Stress Supercharges Personal Growth

It’s no secret that the pandemic has battered our mental health. Fear of infection, grief for lost loved ones, social isolation, and financial insecurity have created the perfect conditions for a mental health crisis, and, worldwide, 15 to 25% of people have experienced depression, anxiety, insomnia, or even PTSD over the past year.

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, though, researchers have discovered a psychological benefit to these months of tension: the same people who have experienced high stress are also showing signs of significant personal growth.

A new study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found that among people who reported high levels of COVID-related stress, 77% also experienced “one or more positive changes in their lives as a result of COVID-19.”

We tend to focus on the negative impacts of trauma, but suffering has the power to transform our lives for the better, too. Post-traumatic growth is the act of finding “silver linings” in a terrible experience and has been recorded in survivors of wars, natural disasters, and life-threatening illnesses.

Growth and gratitude

Participants in the study reported that they now have:

  • Higher regard for health care workers
  • Stronger awareness of the value of their own life
  • More affection for friends and family
  • Better appreciation for each day
  • Different priorities about what’s important in life
  • Greater feelings of self-reliance

Most of these changes are rooted in gratitude, and with good reason. When the people around us have lost jobs, loved ones, even their own lives, when we ourselves have suffered deep losses, it reminds us to appreciate what we have while we have it. Study after study has shown that feelings of gratitude like these are closely linked with overall well-being.

The last item on the list—greater feelings of self-reliance—might be more surprising, since so much of the pandemic, from viral transmission to lockdown measures, has been out of our hands as individuals. Still, the social isolation and uncertainty brought on by COVID have taught many of us that we are capable of fending for ourselves in times of adversity, a lesson that can bolster our confidence as we face future challenges.

Is this growth real or an illusion?

The study, though, raises a fundamental question: is this personal growth genuine, or is it all self-deception, an attempt to reassure ourselves that we’re weathering the storm of COVID better than we really are?

An assessment of their overall functioning indicated that 17% of the study’s participants were experiencing only the illusion of growth—they were telling themselves they were resilient when their mental health was actually deteriorating. For the other 60% of participants who reported growth, though, the positive changes they reported were very real, signs of healthy adaptation and adjustment.

10 Side Hustle Skills You Can Master This Summer on a Budget

Staying on top of new innovations and skills will help you become a better entrepreneur and a better person. This Memorial Day, you can set yourself up to learn a variety of new skills over the summer on a budget. The Entrepreneur Store has a wide array of courses covering myriad subjects on sale for unbeatable prices for the holiday weekend. You’ll want to act fast because these deals won’t last long.

1. Amazon FBA and Dropshipping

Want to start a side hustle? Dropshipping through Amazon FBA is one of the best ways to earn passive income. In this bundle, you’ll learn how to set up an online store, source inventory, and scale your store without ever having to put your hands on products.

2. Adobe Creative Cloud

Design is complicated, which is why it’s often expensive to hire freelance designers. Why not learn the skills you need to beautify your website and promotional materials yourself? This massive bundle covers the entire Adobe Creative Cloud, from Photoshop to XD, so you’ll develop a comprehensive design skill-set.

3. Project Management

Efficiency is everything in business, especially in lean times. Learning project management principles can help you keep projects on time and under-budget. In this bundle, you’ll explore several different project management methodologies, learn a variety of useful tools, and understand how to operate your business more efficiently.

4. Mobile App Development

Got a great app idea? Then it’s time to buckle down and build it! This nine-course bundle will guide you from ideation through to getting your app live in the App Store. You’ll learn how to build apps for both Android and iOS using tools like Java, React Native, Git, and more.

5. Full Stack Coding

The future is digital and learning to code will help you stay ahead of any and all innovation. This massive bundle includes 27 courses and more than 270 hours of training from the web’s top instructors. You’ll delve into web development, data science, software development, machine learning, and much more.

Happy Memorial Day from the PAF

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our veterans and remember those who have fallen in action.  Our community of NFL players, old and young, are proud to play a game that is watched all over the world by our veterans and servicemen and women.  Ultimately your service allows us to continue to play the game we all love, and we cannot thank you enough.

Happy Memorial Day!

Fewer Ultimatums, More Boundaries

“Give ‘em some tough love.” It’s an often-repeated saying in relationships, both with kids and adults. Let’s say your kid is acting out. It’s common, as a parent, to use a bit of tough love to teach your child a lesson — for example, warning them that you’ll take away that night’s screen time if they continue throwing peas at the dinner table. But similar strategies of course shouldn’t be used when dealing with other adults — including your spouse. 

This sounds obvious, but it’s important to understand why this doesn’t work in a marriage. For one thing, you’re not in charge of your spouse. (“Unlike with parenthood where there’s a hierarchy, marriage is a meeting of equals,” says marriage coach and relationship expert Lesli Doares.) For another, while the occasional ultimatum might motivate your child to stop an annoying or inappropriate behavior, it’s just not possible to force someone to do something. 

So what happens when shit hits the fan and you need your partner to change for the well-being of your marriage? Skylar Ibarra, a therapist with Lenarra Therapy in California, says “tough love” in a relationship comes down to setting clear and confident boundaries, not ultimatums. While the latter focus on getting someone else to change, the enforcement of healthy boundaries places the power squarely within. With a boundary, you’re essentially communicating how you feel about a behavior, why it won’t work for you, and then describing the natural consequence that will occur if the behavior continues. 

“The point is not to control your spouse, it is to control yourself and make better choices for yourself,” notes Kimberly Perlin, a psychotherapist in Towson, MD. “In changing your behavior you are inviting your partner to choose differently than the same old particular pattern.” 

For example, an ultimatum might sound like, “If you don’t start spending every weekend at home, I’m leaving you.” A boundary-setting statement would be closer to, “When you’re not at home, I feel unloved and uncared for. I need to feel loved and cared for in a relationship. If this is something you feel you can’t do or don’t want to work on, I’m going to prioritize my own needs, which will likely mean leaving.” 

“Instead of an argument, it’s a statement of fact,” says Ibarra. 

For many reasons, such points are difficult to make. But in case you need them, here are some therapist-backed tips for using tough love in a relationship, no ultimatums required. 

1. Set boundaries early on

Ultimatums, per Ibarra, tend to feel increasingly necessary the longer a person goes without setting boundaries. For example, if you notice your spouse drinking too much but don’t say anything, you’ll internalize frustration and blow up later on when it really matters –– like when it starts to affect their health or behavior in more negative ways. At that point, when the stakes are higher, ultimatum will feel like the only option.

To avoid the need to threaten or control your partner later on, be intentional about enforcing healthy boundaries now. Part of doing that is recognizing your own responsibility to self-advocate. 

“Once we understand our own responsibility to express our needs and to give fair feedback, we can also start holding ourselves to a better standard of behaviors we will accept from others,” Ibarra says.

2. Be clear and honest

The first step to boundary setting is describing your experience of your spouse’s behavior –– what you don’t like and how it’s affecting you. It may be tempting to water down your message to avoid hurting your partner, but Seattle-based psychologist Carly Claney, owner of Relational Psych, says it’s important not to adjust your message to be more digestible. Instead, express your needs and expectations clearly and honestly –– doing so will increase the likelihood your spouse will understand and take steps to change.

3. Be respectful

When your spouse is behaving in a disrespectful or hurtful way, it’s totally normal to be upset. But keep in mind starting an argument won’t help either of you. According to psychologist Mark Sharp, owner of Aiki Relationship Institute in Illinois, it’s important to communicate your needs respectfully. Raising your voice, calling names, or belittling your partner will just create more negativity and escalate your partner emotionally, which makes it more difficult for them to take in and process your message.

4. Use “I feel” statements

Everything You Need to Know about the Child Tax Credit Payments

The payments are an advance on the annual child tax credit, which – under normal circumstances – is factored into your annual tax return, and would be distributed as part of your tax return (if applicable). Instead, a portion of the tax credit will be delivered to eligible households throughout the course of the year, with the intention of helping families (and specifically children) who need the money right away. 

WHO’S ELIGIBLE FOR THE CHILD TAX CREDIT ADVANCE?

Similar to the coronavirus stimulus payments, eligibility is based primarily on your most recent reported annual income. You may still be eligible for some amount of the tax credit if your income is over the threshold, but not the full amount.

The income cut-offs are:

  • Individuals – up to $75,000
  • Single parent head of household – up to $112,500
  • Married couples filing jointly – up to $150,000

If you make less than the stated maximum for your filing status and you claimed an eligible child on your tax return, you should expect to receive your first payment on July 15.

It’s important to note that the credit is fully refundable. You don’t need to have earned income (or owe income tax) to qualify.

HOW MUCH WILL YOU GET FROM THE CHILD TAX CREDIT ADVANCE?

In addition to authorizing advanced payments on the credit, the American Rescue Plan of 2021 also increased the maximum tax credit amount per child. The tax credit is now $3,600 for children under 6, and $3,000 for children 6 and up. The credit amount was previously $2,000 per child.

The advance will be 50% of your total credit, spread out over 6 monthly payments. The remaining credit amount will be factored into your 2021 tax return. 

Your child’s age on December 31 is key. Children who turn 18 before the end of 2021 aren’t eligible. Similarly, children who turn 6 before the end of the year won’t be eligible for the higher credit amount.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO TO GET YOUR CHILD TAX CREDIT PAYMENT?

If you haven’t yet filed your 2020 tax return, be sure to do so as soon as possible. The IRS will use your 2020 return to calculate your credit amount. 

If you’ve already filed your taxes, you don’t need to do anything. The IRS will make payments by direct deposit, paper check, and debit card (you will very likely receive payment the same way you received your stimulus payment).

If you don’t want to receive this advance, the IRS will be providing a way to opt out of these payments. Be sure to check IRS.gov as we get closer to July 15.

People with healthy hearts may have better cognitive abilities

Now, a group of researchers claims to be the first to demonstrate with a large group of healthy people that individuals with healthier hearts have better cognitive performance. 

The authors, who are affiliated with the University of São Paulo in Brazil and several U.K. institutions — Queen Mary University of London, the University of Oxford, Imperial College London, and the University of Southampton — recently published their findings in the journal European Heart Journal Cardiovascular Imaging.

“Our findings are highly relevant in an ever-aging global population, with an ever-increasing burden of common chronic diseases, such as ischemic heart disease and dementia,” Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, an author of the study and British Heart Foundation Clinical Research Training Fellow at Queen Mary University of London, explained to Medical News Today

“Understanding links between these diseases enables us to optimize our assessment of older people and to potentially develop new therapies, which will target common mechanisms of aging.”

A fresh look

The researchers used data from 29,763 participants from the U.K. Biobank, a biomedical database containing in-depth genetic and health information from half a million participants. The average age of the participants was 63 years. Overall, the participants were healthier and wealthier than the national average in the U.K. 

For the study, the researchers assessed heart health by examining cardiac MRI scans of participants, while they assessed cognitive function with fluid intelligence tests. These cognitive tests measure an individual’s capacity to solve problems using logic and reasoning rather than previously learned knowledge. The researchers also tested reaction time.

The researchers found associations between better cognitive performance and measures that likely represent a healthier heart. These measures include larger ventricular cavity volumes, larger left ventricular and right ventricular stroke volumes, higher left ventricular mass, and greater aortic distensibility. 

Reduced cognitive function was associated with smaller ventricular volumes and lower left ventricular mass, together with smaller left ventricular and right ventricular stroke volumes and lower aortic compliance.

Participants with higher distensibility — less stiffness in the artery, which indicates better health — showed less rapid age-related decline in fluid intelligence.

The researchers observed associations between brain and heart health that remained significant even after adjustment for a range of cardiometabolic, lifestyle, and demographic factors.

Dr. Scott Kaiser, a geriatrician and director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, was not involved in the study. He told MNT that he frequently sees patients experiencing both heart disease and dementia.

“We know that there’s a close correlation between heart health and brain health. That is no surprise,” Dr. Kaiser said. “What was really cool about this study is that […] it just gave a little bit more of a robust picture. It was a large sample of biomarkers [that allowed the researchers] to really look at what was going on in terms of the heart health in a robust way, and then matched it with some pretty cool cognitive health markers. So it just kind of filled out the picture a little.”

The Link Between Insomnia and Mental Illness

Insomnia rates have continued to rise throughout the pandemic, contributing to increasing rates of depression and anxiety, as well as worsening symptoms of other severe mental illnesses. Defined as chronic sleep onset and/or sleep continuity problems associated with impaired daytime functioning, insomnia has a bidirectional relationship with mental health issues. 

Mental Illness and Insomnia: How Do They Interact?

The incidence of psychiatric illness in patients with insomnia is estimated to be near 50 percent. The highest comorbidity rates have been noted in mood disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder, as well as anxiety disorders. In patients with diagnosed major depressive disorder, as many as 90 percent struggle with insomnia. 

Insomnia has also been identified as a risk factor for the development of a mental illness. In a meta-analysis of patients with insomnia published in 2011, the authors concluded that persistent insomnia can more than double the risk of major depression. 

Another 2019 meta-analysis of more than 130,000 participants assessed the effects of baseline insomnia on the development of a psychiatric illness over a five-year period. Individuals with insomnia demonstrated a significantly higher risk of alcohol abuse and psychosis. Additionally, insomnia tripled the likelihood of being diagnosed with a depressive or anxiety disorder.

Sleep disturbances can also worsen symptoms of diagnosed mental illness, including substance abuse, mood, and psychotic disorders. Laskemoen and colleagues found that a startling 74 percent of participants with diagnoses of schizophrenia or bipolar spectrum had at least one type of sleep disturbance (insomnia, hypersomnia, or delayed sleep phase)—nearly twice the rates in healthy controls. Importantly, compared to those with mental illness not suffering from sleep disturbances, sleep-disordered participants had more severe negative and depressive symptoms on the positive and negative syndrome scale (PANSS), as well as significantly lower function as measured by global assessment of functioning (GAF).

How Can Insomnia Be Treated?

Although insomnia symptoms can resolve after relief from a particular life stressor, as many as 50 percent of patients with more severe symptoms will have a chronic course. Many of the sedative-hypnotics are designed for short-term use, though are frequently continued beyond the recommended time frame. In a survey reviewing the national use of prescription drugs for insomnia, as many as 20 percent of individuals use a medication to target insomnia in a given month. 

The benefits of cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) have been demonstrated repeatedly, and it is recommended as the first-line treatment for insomnia by the Clinical Guidelines of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Center for Disease Control , and the National Institute of Health . Studies suggest benefits persist long-term, even after completing the therapy sessions have ended.

The Importance of Mental Health Awareness Month

Did you know that Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the month of May since 1949? It was originally designated as such by the national advocacy organization Mental Health America. Annually during the month of May, organizations, groups, and individuals run campaigns that are designed to raise awareness and educate the public about mental health conditions.

Here’s what you should know about the importance of Mental Health Awareness Month and how you can get involved.

Why do we need Mental Health Awareness Month?

People consistently rank health as one of the most important things in life. Sadly, however, optimal mental health is often not included. Mental health is many times the proverbial “elephant in the room”—we know that it is there, but it makes us uncomfortable to address it. 

Stigma, misinformation, and disinformation all create substantial barriers in raising mental health awareness. We believe that stigma associated with mental illness is the most problematic of these. Stigma is defined as a mark of shame or discredit. In our book, Understanding Mental Illness , we discuss the stigma of mental illness and how it impacts those living with mental health conditions. Stigma is a label placed upon people to set them apart, to make them feel ashamed, disgraced, or embarrassed about who they are, often because of factors beyond their control.

What are the consequences of the stigma around mental illness?

Because of this stigma, people are more likely to discuss physical health conditions rather than mental health conditions with others. Similarly, they are also more assertive in seeking care for physical ailments than they are for mental health disorders. Surveys show that the average time between the onset of mental health symptoms and the decision to seek care for mental health conditions can be a year or more. Making a difference in the lives of people suffering from mental illness becomes quite difficult when such a delay exists between symptoms and interventions. As with physical health conditions, early diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions lead to better outcomes. 

How do we as a society move forward? 

Despite the barriers that exist, all hope is not lost. Increasingly, key stakeholders are having impactful conversations on ways to improve the mental health of Americans. Campaigns such as Mental Health Awareness month are playing a great role in important mental health issues such as awareness and access.

Rebuild, reskill and renew

With many businesses still recovering from the economic damage caused by the Covid-19 crisis, employers have to find innovative ways to maximise the potential of their staff. In many industries the priorities of entire workforces have totally shifted in the last 12 months, resulting in employees having to adopt new and refined roles.

It is critical that your managers become ‘adaptive change champions’. 

Here, we’ll discuss how businesses can present their employees with a vision for success, encouraging them to embrace and react positively to change.

The success formula

In order for employers to motivate their staff to adopt new roles they must first overcome two psychological factors that cause people to resist reskilling and taking on new roles:

  1. Humans are creatures of habit, so we all feel uneasy whenever asked to act outside our normal comfort zones
  2. We don’t like change because it creates uncertainty, and uncertainty is a demotivator

These two factors combine to act as a ‘psychological brake’ on people’s willingness to take on new roles, so managers need a way of taking off the brakes. Managers should learn, teach and talk about ‘the five-part success formula’, and its evil twin, ‘the failure formula’. As the names suggest, the success formula leads people to succeed, and the failure formula causes people to fail, and each person gets to choose which formula to live by.

The success formula can be summarised in five words: purpose, plan, action, setback, change:

  1. Purposes are the goals we want to achieve
  2. Plans are how we intend to achieve our goals
  3. Actions are the daily implementation of our plans
  4. Setbacks are the inevitable things that go wrong and that mess-up our original plans
  5. Changes are the adaptations, adjustments, modifications and updates that we must make to our original plans and actions in order to achieve our purpose and to prosper

We must understand that setbacks and change are inherent in the system and cannot be ignored.

The failure formula is the exact opposite of the success formula:

  1. No purpose = drifter mentality
  2. No plans = dithering and the repetition of obsolete methods
  3. No action = inaction, apathy, delay
  4. Ignore setbacks = evasion, willful blindness, head in the sand
  5. No change = stubbornness, refusal to adapt, modify, evolve, respond or retrain

Isolated Too Long?

Dating in the era of multimedia technology is a challenge in and of itself. But navigating the limitations that the pandemic has forced upon relationship-seekers has not been easy.

Now, with the tentative re-emergence of venturing out there again, it is even more complicated. Many people have not only become rusty at those skills but have lost touch with how others have been affected, and how those differences can successfully mesh. 

Many of my patients have told me how nervous they are about moving out into the dating world again. Virtual reality, no matter how accurate it is in representing the real world, cannot fully prepare people for what they will experience. 

In addition, going too long without connection creates deprivation, which can lead to unsafe risk-taking. Where the availability of multiple possibilities helps accurate discernment, the lack of those opportunities can lead to more dangerous choices.

When people spend too much time isolated from reality, their conversations have mostly been with themselves. That can lead to making assumptions that are not checked and conclusions based on suppositions and/or fantasies. Transitioning from self-to-self to self-in-the-presence-of-others is both a challenging and anxiety-producing process.

All people learn how to successfully adapt from consistent feedback in real-time. Even though dating on a regular basis may not always yield successful results, it does provide the opportunity to rethink and reset. The limitations of the pandemic and the fears of becoming infected have limited the exchanging of views that have always helped people understand whether there is possible compatibility.

As a result of this unnatural situation, this re-entry dating anxiety is totally understandable and shared by many others. Without the continuity they have depended upon, they must now start over without knowing what new skills they will need.

Navigating successful re-entry into the dating pool

There are five steps to this process:

  • Honestly and non-judgmentally assess who you used to be before you were cut off from the natural exploration of relationships.
  • Fully understand how you feel about who you’ve become during your dating isolation.
  • Thoroughly re-educate yourself as to how the dating world has actually changed while you’ve been absent.
  • Prepare to re-emerge as your best self.
  • Re-enter with a cautious spirit of adventure and the courage to be a novice again

Mental Health Awareness Week with Andre

Andre Collins, PAF Executive Director

The following interview was originally posted in Premiere Sports Network. Check it out here.

How have the lockdowns in the US impacted your mental health?

Generally speaking, it has been tough at times. Early in the lockdown, things were fun, a chance to take a real break from the regular routine…but as time wore on I started to question purpose and productivity. I started to notice myself more, and that wasn’t always good. Looking a little fat and tired…

What have you been able to do to support your own mental health?

Exercise has sustained me. Walking. Jogging. Yoga. Weights. Also heavy doses of Netflix to escape reality.

What changes have you had to make to your lifestyle since the onset of COVID, that has taken away from your regular day-to-day?

Exercising at home, but that has been a good change. My wife has gone back to work so staying home with kids and managing the home during the day is new for me.

How have you been able to support the mental health of those associated with the NFLPA?

We’ve really tried to emphasise being aware of mood. We’ve hosted webinars where players can come on and share and chat with each other; sometimes without much of an agenda. We’ve also offered free virtual counselling sessions for all players active and former. The counselling program has been very busy. We also have a 24 hour ‘get help’ hotline for players.

What difference can the NFL make to people’s mental health, whether fans or the players involved?

I think using our players’ celebrity to communicate “that it’s ok to not always feel ok or normal…and to pay attention to your mood changes.” If American footballers can seek help then it’s ok for you to seek help too. We’ve been very active on all of our social media channels.

Is there more that the NFL can do to support mental health?

We can always do more. But I am pleased with our progress. We must continue to engage the social media influencers to help us solidify our messaging with our young audience and future fans

Packed on the Pandemic Pounds?

And according to a JAMA study, adults in lockdown gained more than half a pound every 10 days, which is about two pounds a month.

But now, with the light at the end of the tunnel, summer on the way, and pants with actual waistbands making a reappearance, you may be ready to take control of the bad habits that cropped up over quarantine.

While experts have different theories about the best way to lose weight, celebrity nutritionist Haylie Pomroy believes it’s all about keeping your metabolism fired up. Here are her tips.

Give yourself grace

The stress and fear of the past year — worry about the virus, remote learning, job loss, ill loved ones — made it hard to stay fit. “We had hormonal shifts in our bodies that we didn’t have control over,” Pomroy tells PEOPLE. “Stress and fear create a spike in hormones that slow your metabolism.” Add to that disrupted routines, closed gyms, less movement and more takeout, and it’s no wonder people gained weight.

But don’t feel bad about it. “Guilt and shame are fattening,” says Pomroy, adding that our bodies did what they were supposed to do. “Let everything go that was in the past — start fresh from today.”

Eat breakfast

Pomroy’s approach is to eat within 30 minutes of waking up. The author of the bestselling The Fast Metabolism Diet says a good meal includes 10 to 15 grams of protein, a vegetable, a whole fruit and some sort of healthy fat such as organic eggs, coconut, avocado or a tablespoon of olive oil over a sweet potato. “You want to turn on your digestion and support proper blood-sugar based hormones.”

Seven Ways to Improve Your Chances of Buying Your Dream Home

Dreaming about your ideal home is all well and good, but once you find the perfect home, will you be able to get a mortgage for your forever home? If you ever want to make your homeownership dreams a reality there are a few actual, proactive steps you should be taking to make yourself the kind of borrower lenders dream of working with.

USE CREDIT AND USE IT CORRECTLY

First, let’s establish two crucial facts. One, lenders hate risk. And two, mortgages – by the simple nature of their size – are risky.

Lenders are looking for low risk applicants. They’ll almost certainly dive into your financial history and employment status to get an accurate picture of how reliable you may be, but that deep dive usually begins (and sometimes ends) with your credit report and score.

Having a low credit score will often disqualify you immediately from many types of loans (and certainly from most loans with favorable terms). If you’re interested in buying a home someday – even if that day is years in the future – start using credit wisely today. The only way to build a strong credit history is by using credit. You don’t have to carry a balance and you don’t have to go into debt. You simply need to have a few open credit accounts that you use regularly and repay immediately.

KEEP ALL YOUR ACCOUNTS IN GOOD STANDING

Lenders want to feel confident that you can be relied upon to pay them back as promised. There are a lot of factors they’ll consider on that front, but perhaps the most critical bit of evidence is whether or not you’ve been reliable in the past. That extends to all financial obligations. Have you made your required payments, on time and in full?

Minor slip-ups happen, so one mistake doesn’t mean you’ll never get that dream house. But the more thoroughly you can demonstrate that you take your obligations seriously and follow through on your commitments, the more comfortable lenders will feel giving you a mortgage without astronomical fees and sky high interest rates.

REDUCE OR ELIMINATE YOUR OTHER DEBT OBLIGATIONS

Repaying your debts (and not creating new ones in their place) serves two purposes. It usually helps build your credit score, and it will reduce your debt-to-income ratio. We’ve already discussed why having a higher credit score can help you, so here’s what you need to know about your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio:

Debt-to-income ratio captures the percentage of your monthly income that’s eaten up by debt repayment. If you have a lot of debts and they take up a high proportion of your income, that makes you risky to potential lenders. When debts already consume so much of your paycheck, it becomes more and more likely that you’ll eventually falter and struggle to repay all those debts.

Many lenders may even have pre-established cutoffs, where if your DTI goes above a certain percentage (over 40 percent is usually a red flag for most lenders), your application will be automatically denied. That’s why it’s a good idea to focus heavily on debt repayment before getting ready to purchase a new home.

BE FINANCIALLY CONSISTENT

Financial fluctuation is not your friend – at least not when you’re trying to buy a home. Lenders prefer applicants that make a consistent income, with consistent expenses, living a consistent financial lifestyle. That kind of consistency (preferably over a stretch of two or more years) make it easier for lenders to forecast your ability to repay.

If you’re self-employed and find that money tends to come and go, buying a home is not impossible. It just means you need to do your best to strengthen the other six areas discussed in this article.

STAY IN YOUR JOB

As an offshoot of financial consistency, it helps quite a bit to be stable in your employment. The longer you’ve been in your current job, the better (from an underwriting perspective).

Of course, the job market isn’t quite what it once was (Americans now stay in a job for an average of less than five years – and even that is continually shrinking), and it’s relatively rare for anyone to stick with a job from day one to retirement. So don’t fret and worry that you need to stay in a less than ideal job situation for the sake of your dream house. Just keep in mind that if you just started a new job, you may want to wait at least six months (if not the recommended two years) before applying for a mortgage.

BRING CASH – LOADS OF IT

Having cash up front is a great way to reduce a lender’s risk and earn more favorable terms for yourself. How much do you need? Well, as much as you can reasonably afford.

Having a large down payment can help you on two fronts. First, if you have at least 20 percent of the loan’s value to put down up front, you can avoid having to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI). Lenders require PMI (on top of your regular homeowners’ insurance) in instances where the borrower has less than 20 percent equity in their home. As with most things “loan,” this is done to help mitigate the lender’s risk.

Secondly, a borrower with plenty of cash on hand is just generally more appealing for a lender. The more equity you can start with, the less risk there is for the lender. Of course, you don’t want to invest more up front than you can reasonably afford, and you definitely don’t want to sink all of your available savings into your home. You can’t easily access that equity if there’s ever an emergency, so make sure you’ve got an adequate emergency savings built up and close at hand.

STAY MODEST

I know we’re talking about “dream homes” here, but you can do yourself a big favor by keeping your dreams at least somewhat restrained. Ultimately, when a lender is considering whether or not to extend you a mortgage, they’re asking themselves, “Will this person be able to repay the debt on time, in full, and as agreed upon?” The bigger, grander, and more expensive the house, the more likely it becomes that you may one day struggle to make your payments. 

So while it’s okay to dream, try to dream in moderation. If you look at the costs of your dream home, grit your teeth, and say, “I think we can make this work,” it might be in your best interest to keep looking until you find something a little less expensive.

9 Early Warning Signs of Potential Emotional Abuse

The risk of falling into an abusive relationship has increased now that so many relationships are initiated online. It’s always been difficult to discern in dating which habits and attitudes will emerge when living together; developing feelings for someone online, before ever meeting them in person, makes it much harder.

In the early stages of dating, abusers are able to mask the obvious red flags of angry, controlling, possessive, jealous, or violent behavior. Here are some very early warning signs of potential abuse that are harder to hide.

1. A Blamer

Avoid anyone who blames negative feelings and bad luck on someone else. For example, if your potential partner says something like, “You’re so smart, sensitive, and together, you won’t believe the trouble that self-centered, greedy, person I used to date caused me,” you can bet that sooner or later blame will fall on you. Blamers forego the natural motivation of negative emotions to improve. Instead, they opt for temporary feelings of moral superiority to those they blame.

2. Resentment

Resentful people are so locked into their own perspectives that they become insensitive to the rights and perspectives of the people closest to them.

3. Entitlement

After the glow of infatuation wears off, people who believe they deserve special treatment and special consideration will regard their feelings and desires as more important than yours. If you acquiesce, you may get depressed. If you disagree, you may get abused.

4. Superiority

Once they get close, people who act superior to others begin to put down their partners to feel a little better about themselves.

5. Pettiness

A potential partner who makes a big deal out of nothing probably means that in a close relationship you will be criticized for the smallest of things, real or imagined.

6. Sarcasm

Sarcastic people try to sound smart or witty with at least a subtle put-down in their voice. They tend to be oblivious to the effects of their behavior on others or dismissive of the hurt feelings of others as a function of their “poor sense of humor” or “over-sensitivity.” In dating, the sarcasm may be directed at others; in a relationship, it may center on you.

4 Ways to Manage Your Energy More Effectively

Almost anyone can muster enough gumption for a short burst of high-energy effort. Maybe it’s making a shining impression your first few weeks on a job, hitting the gym with fervor at the start of January, or spending a weekend on a remodeling project exhibiting all the peppiness of an HGTV star.

But what about after that initial burst? Do you still feel the same a few months or even a year into your new job, goal, or project? Have you abandoned your ambitions? Do you continue to push on while fighting signs of fatigue or burnout? Or do you wildly vacillate between hyper productivity and getting nothing done?

The key to success at work and in life isn’t really starting strong, it’s staying strong. And one of the keys to having that staying power is the idea of self-regulation. This entails operating within lower and upper boundaries of activity by predetermining the minimum and maximum amount of action you will take toward a specific goal within a certain span of time (such as a day or a week). This keeps you from getting derailed because you dropped off or lost interest, or overdoing it and finding yourself too exhausted to continue.

As a time management coach, I’ve seen that there are four steps to creating this staying power. When you follow these steps, you’ll be surprised to find that you’ll accomplish more of your goals with less effort — and give yourself drive that lasts.

Set upper and lower boundaries 

The idea of goal setting is popular, especially at the start of the year. But not many individuals take the time to write out the steps that they will take to achieve their goals. And in my estimation, many fewer take the time to define their daily upper and lower boundaries for each of their goals.

In Greg McKeown’s book Effortless, he suggests the idea of making concrete boundaries for both how little and how much you will do in a given day on your important priorities — for instance, for hitting sales numbers, you may determine to never make fewer than five sales calls in a day and never more than 10 sales calls in a day.

You can extend this into any project or goal that you want to accomplish. For example, if you want to author a book, you might decide to write no less than 30 minutes per day and no more than three hours per day to avoid burning out. Or for exercise, you may decide to work out no less than three times per week and no more than five times per week, so you get a sufficient workout in  and also have time for your other priorities like spending time with your family or personal tasks.

These boundaries give you some wiggle room but also give you the ability to stay on track over time. When you’re setting your own upper and lower limits, think through what’s the least you could do in a particular area to feel like you are keeping up your momentum. The goal on the low end is to not feel like you “stopped” and need to exert extra effort to break the inertia and restart again. And when you’re defining your upper limits, think about where you need to limit yourself so that your investment in this particular area doesn’t take so much of your time that other areas of your life suffer.

Understand your tendency 

When facing a goal, do you tend to get into a high-drive gear and try to remain there 24/7? Do you operate at a low-drive level most of the time, often having to scurry to the finish line at the last minute? Do you find yourself vacillating between extremes where one day you compulsively work until the wee hours of the night, and the next day you crash and do next to nothing?

Depending on your tendency, you can proceed in one of the following three ways:

  • For those in the first, “high drive” category, you’ll need to give yourself permission to be human, to rest, and to have real downtime. Keep a close eye on whether you’re going over your upper boundary of activity and headed for burnout.
  • For those in the second, “low drive” category, keep a close eye on whether or not you’re staying above your lower bound. You want to ensure that you’re doing at least the minimum before chilling out (as tempting as that may seem).
  • For those in the third, “fluctuating drive” category, you’ll need to keep an eye on both bounds. Avoiding going over your upper bound should prevent you from falling below your lower bound the next day.

As McKeown wisely writes in his book, “Do not do more today than you can completely recover from by tomorrow.”

Build in rest and recovery

As humans, we’re designed for cycles of activity and rest. That’s why we sleep at night, why weekends are an essential part of a productive workweek, and why even elite athletes can’t work out every waking hour.

If you’re a high-drive individual, you’ll need to remain especially conscious about giving yourself planned times of rest and recovery. Since I fall toward this tendency, I make sure that my personal time isn’t as jam packed as my work time. For me, that means viewing my nonwork time not only as time to complete personal tasks, but also as time for rest. For instance, two mornings a week I don’t do my normal 5:15 am wakeup for swimming. Instead, I give myself time to contemplate life, read interesting articles, or simply sleep in. I also consciously take time on the weekends and evenings to connect with people without a time limit — just going with the flow and allowing things to take as long as they take.

If you operate at a low-drive level, make sure you’ve at least hit your lower boundary of activity before taking a break. That means that you can still take ample breaks, but only after you’ve made progress on a goal.

And if your drive fluctuates, you’ll need to remember to have rest and recovery on the days when you feel on top of the world and like you can work 24/7, so that you don’t crash the next day. That could include the basics like taking time to eat, moving from your chair by stretching or walking, and not staying up crazy late — no matter how energized you feel. Force yourself to stop when it’s a reasonable time for you to go to bed, so that you can begin again fresh the next day.

9 Trends That Will Shape Work in 2021 and Beyond

It’s fair to say that 2020 rocked many organizations and business models, upending priorities and plans as business leaders scrambled to navigate a rapidly changing environment. For many organizations this included responding to the social justice movements, shifting to a full-time remote staff, determining how best to support employees’ wellbeing, managing a hybrid workforce, and now addressing legal concerns around the Covid-19 vaccine.

It would be nice to believe that 2021 will be about stability and getting back to normal; however, this year is likely to be another full of major transitions. While there has been a lot of focus on the increase in the number of employees working remotely at least part of the time going forward, there are nine additional forces that I think will shape business in 2021:

1. Employers will shift from managing the employee experience to managing the life experience of their employees. The pandemic has given business leaders increased visibility into the personal lives of their employees, who have faced unprecedented personal and professional struggles over the last year.

It’s become clear that supporting employees in their personal lives more effectively enables employees to not only have better lives, but also to perform at a higher level. According to Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey, employers that support employees with their life experience see a 23% increase in the number of employees reporting better mental health and a 17% increase in the number of employees reporting better physical health. There is also a real benefit to employers, who see a 21% increase in the number of high performers compared to organizations that don’t provide the same degree of support to their employees.

That’s why 2021 will be the year where employer support for mental health, financial health, and even things that were previously seen as out of bounds, like sleep, will become the table stakes benefits offered to employees.

2. More companies will adopt stances on current societal and political debates. Employees’ desire to work for organizations whose values align with their own has been growing for some time. In 2020, this desire accelerated: Gartner research shows that 74% of employees expect their employer to become more actively involved in the cultural debates of the day. I believe CEOs will have to respond in order to retain and attract the best talent.

However, making statements about the issues of the day is no longer enough: Employees expect more. And CEOs who have spent real resources on these issues have been rewarded with more highly engaged employees. A Gartner survey found that the number of employees who were considered highly engaged increased from 40% to 60% when their organization acted on today’s social issues.

3. The gender-wage gap will continue to increase as employees return to the office. Many organizations have already adopted a hybrid workforce — or are planning to this year — that enables employees to work from the corporate office, their home, or an alternate third space (coffee shop, co-working space, etc.). In this hybrid scenario, we are hearing from CHROs that the surveys of their own employees are showing that men are more likely to decide to return to their workplace, while women are more likely to continue to work from home.

According to a recent Gartner survey, 64% of managers believe that office workers are higher performers than remote workers, and in turn are likely to give in-office workers a higher raise than those who work from home. However, data that we have collected from both 2019 (pre-pandemic) and 2020 (during the pandemic) shows the opposite: Full-time remote workers are 5% more likely to be high performers than those who work full-time from the office.

So if men are more likely to work from the office, and managers retain a bias towards in-office workers, we should expect to see managers over-rewarding male employees at the expense of female employees, worsening the gender-wage gap at a time when the pandemic has already had a disproportionate impact on women.

4. New regulations will limit employee monitoring. During the pandemic, more than 1 out of 4 companies has purchased new technology, for the first time, to passively track and monitor their employees. However, many of these same companies haven’t determined how to balance employee privacy with the technology, and employees are frustrated. Gartner research found that less than 50% of employees trust their organization with their data, and 44% don’t receive any information regarding the data collected about them. In 2021, we expect a variety of new regulations at the state and local level that will start to put limits on what employers can track about their employees. Given the variability that this will create, companies are likely to adopt the most restrictive standards across their workforce.

How Parents Should Prepare for Children’s COVID-19 Vaccine

Currently the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for kids age 12 and up is likely to be authorized for kids age 12 and up by mid-May with possible approval for children 2 to 11-years-old by September. But children are in a unique position when it comes to the COVID vaccine. For instance, kids will lean on parents to communicate the reasons for the vaccine in ways that are clear, age-appropriate, and concise. But even more than that, parents are responsible for logistics like scheduling and transportation to vaccination locations. And make no mistakes, those logistics require some forethought. 

Why You Should Make a Children’s Vaccination Plan Now

Unlike adults, children require special consideration when getting vaccines, explains Dr. Kenneth Alexander, chief of infectious diseases at Nemours Children’s Hospital. “The thing that parents have to keep in mind is that the FDA is asking that COVID vaccines be given two weeks before any vaccine and two weeks after,” he says. 

Those guidelines present a potential for serious disruptions in a child’s standard vaccine schedule. So if your child has vaccines coming up in the fall, as required for school for instance,  Dr. Alexander has one piece of advice: “Go while the going is good.”

Where Will Children Get the Vaccination

Most children receive vaccines from their pediatrician. But logistics will likely require kids to be vaccinated outside of doctors offices. 

“The FDA asks that we observe people for 15 minutes after you get vaccinated,” Dr. Alexander says. “If you’re a pediatrician trying to run people through a family office, it’s going to gum up the works. I expect most vaccines for young people will be mass vaccination scenarios.” 

Importantly, the United States has no centralized medical authority to standardize vaccine administration across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can offer guidance regarding the administration of the COVID vaccine and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates vaccine safety, but distribution is solely up to state health departments. That means distribution of a vaccine to children will look different from state to state.

That said, Dr. Alexander assumes the most likely scenario is that many children will receive their vaccine in school — following the examples of the polio vaccine in the 1940s and the measles vaccine in the 1960s. But some states may administer vaccinations at already working sites. Pharmacies, for instance, may vaccinate children as young as four, but it won’t look unlike what parents are used to in the doctor’s office. 

Helping Your Child Understand the Vaccination

Children can be hesitant to get a vaccine in the best of times. But a children’s COVID vaccine is one shot that can help them feel like they’ve made a difference. It just requires some civic pride. 

“It’s the perfect time to have that dialogue with your kids,” says Dr. Alexander. “Their motives are no different from ours. First thing is that you want to protect yourself. You want to be healthy. Then you want to protect the people that make up your world.”

Because while it’s true that most kids don’t get particularly ill from Covid-19, they are capable of transmitting the virus to others. So getting the shot is not only helping themselves get back to normal, it’s protecting their community. 

“This is a way of talking to kids about thinking outside of themselves,” explains Dr. Alexander. “If I got COVID and I gave it to you and you gave it to your mother or grandmother, I’m affecting someone I’ve never met.”

Managing Parental Anxiety About Children’s COVID Vaccinations

Even parents who believe in the efficacy and importance of childhood vaccinations might balk at the prospect of giving their child a vaccine approved for emergency use. But Dr. Alexander assures parents that by the time the vaccines are ready for children’s arms, there have been tens of thousands who have already tested the vaccine for safety. 

Sleep well — and reduce your risk of dementia and death

n a recent blog post I discussed how beneficial sleep is for memory function. But sleep isn’t just good for your memory; it can actually reduce your risk of dementia — and death. Although it has been known for some time that individuals with dementia frequently have poor, fragmented sleep, two new studies suggest that if you don’t get enough sleep, you are at increased risk for dementia.

Sleep six to eight hours each night

In the first study, researchers at Harvard Medical School studied more than 2,800 individuals ages 65 and older participating in the National Health and Aging Trends Study to examine the relationship between their self-report of sleep characteristics in 2013 or 2014, and their development of dementia and/or death five years later. Researchers found that individuals who slept fewer than five hours per night were twice as likely to develop dementia, and twice as likely to die, compared to those who slept six to eight hours per night. This study controlled for demographic characteristics including age, marital status, race, education, health conditions, and body weight.

In the second study, researchers in Europe (including France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Finland) examined data from almost 8,000 participants from a different study and found that consistently sleeping six hours or less at age 50, 60, and 70 was associated with a 30% increase in dementia risk compared to a normal sleep duration of seven hours. The mean age of dementia diagnosis was 77 years. This study controlled for sociodemographic, behavioral, cardiometabolic, and mental health factors, although most participants were white, better educated, and healthier than the general population. In addition, approximately half of the participants had their sleep duration measured objectively using a wearable accelerometer — a device that tracked their sleep using body movements — which confirmed the questionnaire data.

Inadequate sleep in midlife may lead to dementia

What’s new here is that inadequate sleep in midlife raises one’s risk of dementia. There are many reasons for poor sleep in middle age: shift work, insomnia, caretaking responsibilities, anxiety, and pressing deadlines, just to name a few. Although not all of these are controllable, some are. For example, if you’re currently only sleeping four to five hours because you’re up late working every night, you might want to change your habits, otherwise you risk developing dementia by the time you retire!

This relationship between sleep in midlife and dementia in late life is important not only from a clinical perspective, but also from a scientific one. It had always been a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem when trying to interpret the relationship between poor sleep and dementia. Was it really poor sleep that caused dementia, or just early dementia symptoms causing poor sleep? By looking at individuals who were initially studied in midlife — some as young as age 50 — we now have greater certainty that poor sleep can increase one’s risk of developing dementia 25 years or more in the future.

Flush your brain while you sleep

Although it is not totally understood why inadequate sleep increases your dementia risk, one possible reason relates to the deposition of the Alzheimer’s protein, beta amyloid. Beta amyloid is the protein that clusters and clumps together to form Alzheimer’s plaques. No one is completely certain what its normal function is, although there is increasing evidence it is involved in the brain’s defense against invading microorganisms.

During the day, we all make some of this beta amyloid protein in the brain. When we sleep, however, brain cells and their connections actually shrink. This shrinking allows more space between the brain cells, so that beta amyloid and other substances that accumulate during the day can be flushed away.

Will student loan forgiveness ever happen? What we know so far

President Joe Biden has said he supports canceling $10,000 in student loans per borrower.

Facing pressure from other Democrats, progressives and borrowers, Biden has now also asked his Education secretary to prepare a memo on his legal authority to wipe out as much as $50,000 each for all.

“I think the odds of some student loan forgiveness being enacted is as good as it has ever been,” said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.

Still, nothing is certain, and many borrowers have a lot of questions while they wait to learn the fate of their debt, which can impact everything from when and if they’re able to buy a home to the careers they pursue.

Here are some answers, based on what we know at the moment.

When could forgiveness happen?

If Biden chooses to cancel the debt through executive action, in theory borrowers could see their balances reduced or eliminated pretty quickly. But such a move may be met by court challenges, which could lead to delays.

A clearer picture may soon emerge.

“If Biden decides he can do it via executive order, I expect we’ll hear about it by June or July,” said Betsy Mayotte, president of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors.

If the White House opts to leave student loan forgiveness to Congress, Democrats would likely use the budget reconciliation process to get it done.

That’s because that process allows them to pass legislation with a simple majority, which is all they have. Other bills typically must garner 60 votes to advance, thanks to Senate procedural rules. Republicans are largely hostile toward the idea of a student debt jubilee.

The next budget reconciliation process will likely be in the fall.

Can I count on my student loans being forgiven?

Although the odds of student loan borrowers getting their balances reduced or eliminated have never been greater, “until legislation is signed into law, you can’t count on anything,” Kantrowitz said.

Currently, there are pending reports from the U.S. Department of Education and the Justice Department on whether the president has the legal authority to implement loan forgiveness through executive action, Kantrowitz said. It’s still unclear when the findings will be published.

In the meantime, he added, “borrowers should not take any precipitous action in anticipation of loan forgiveness.”

How much could be forgiven?

At the moment, the main point of contention among student loan forgiveness proponents is over how much debt should be scrapped: $10,000 or $50,000.

If all federal student loan borrowers got $10,000 of their debt forgiven, the outstanding education debt in the country would fall to around $1.3 trillion, from $1.7 trillion, according to Kantrowitz. And roughly one-third of federal student loan borrowers, or 15 million people, would see their balances reset to zero.

How (And Why) to Say No

Saying no is a skill that most of us struggle with. It is very common for many people in therapy to trace some of their anxiety, stress, and overwork to difficulties, or an utter inability to say no. People over-commit to a range of things and often feel like they have to say yes to every opportunity that might come their way. However, every new choice comes with an opportunity cost (i.e., the loss of capacity to invest in other options). As an example, when I made the decision to sit down and write this post, I gave up the opportunity to instead complete a yoga session, go for a walk, see a client, read, sleep. Every choice we make comes with a financial, time, and energetic cost and we forget this to our detriment.

People often struggle to say no because of a multitude of reasons, including socialisation (“you can’t say no to people”, “you must not be selfish”), expectations from friends and family, the fear of missing out, and structural commitments (having to keep up with diverse roles, such as work and childcare). Sometimes we need to say no to other people, but sometimes we need to be able to say no to ourselves first.

My clients often express a range of worries when they consider saying no to something. Some common worries include:

  • Not knowing when to say no or what to say no to
  • Being unsure how to politely say no
  • Being worried about how the no will be received (worrying that people will become upset or angry when they receive a no)

With the latter, I encourage people to remember that a good boundary to hold is knowing that we cannot control someone’s reaction to something – the only control we have is in carefully assessing a no, and in offering it respectfully and politely. Allowing other people to experience and process their feelings without making it your responsibility, is a key competency when thinking of saying no to something. It might be helpful to remember that most reasonable people will respond well to an occasional no, and if someone is unreasonable then it is even more reason to erect firmer boundaries and say no more often.

In general, when trying to work out when to say no, I encourage people to ask themselves a number of questions to assess opportunity costs. These questions are:

  • Do I have the time, energy, and money for this at the moment?
  • Do I want to do this?
  • Will this add value to my life?
  • Is this aligned with my values?
  • Am I saying yes, only because I am scared of saying no?

If the answer to any of these questions indicates that a no might be in order, then it is important to know how to say no. The main things to consider when saying no are the context of the relationship (how close is the relationship?), the request being made or opportunity being offered, and what we want to say no to (we might want to say no to part of the request but allow another part). 

Some people find it easier to say no to people close to them because they know what response they might receive and some people might hold the belief that being in a close relationship means being self-sacrificial and always being there to support someone else. In general, the closer the relationship, the more likely it is that we will want to be there for someone, but this does not mean that we never say no. It is probably even more essential to have good boundaries with the people closest to us, so we can maintain healthy and long-lasting relationships. Some simple, but relationship-maintaining ways of saying no are:

Thank you, but that is not for me/Thank you, but no.

Simple, easy to understand, and makes it about you, not the other person. It is also perfectly okay to say no without explaining why.

That’s a lovely offer, but I have over-committed and can’t fit that in at the moment. Can we try that next month?

A good one to use when you want to do something, but don’t have the time, energy, or money for it. 
Another way to say this might be, “I don’t mean to offend, but my bucket is full and I cannot take that on right now.” 

I don’t have the capacity to do X at the moment, but could do Y?

A good one to use when you feel like you can say yes to part of a request or can offer a compromise (“I can’t man the bake stall, but can drop off a cake.”)

Sorry, I have something else on.

It is important to use this one carefully only when it is true, not as an easy social white lie to avoid saying no.

“How Do I Start Therapy?”

Stepping into therapy can be a life-changing experience and the start of a journey that can take us through unexpected discoveries and insights. An unavoidable part of this is building a trusting relationship with a complete stranger: our therapist.

We will be revealing the deepest parts of ourselves, perhaps stories we might never have talked with anyone about before. It’s both exciting and daunting, and we want to make sure we create the best possibilities for an encouraging beginning to this journey of self-discovery. But where do we start?

Preparing for our journey

It is worth putting in a little effort to ensure we get the absolute best from our investment of emotions, time, and money. There are some very simple and practical preparations we can do to create a good foundation for our therapeutic journey.

Preparing will also build our confidence when we finally contact our chosen therapist. Plus, it will make us more comfortable engaging with therapy right from the beginning.

Which type of therapy is best for me and my issues?

Finding the right therapy for us and our issues can seem overwhelming: with so many different types of therapies available, how can we know which is the best for us?

We could say that any therapy is better than none, though to have the best chance of success it is worth considering our own requirements, rather than looking for a specific type of therapy. Here are some questions that might help:

  • Who is looking for therapy: is it us individually, or us and our partner, or us and a family member?

Some therapists specialize in working with individuals, these could be counsellors or psychotherapists. Others might have specialized in working with relationships such as couple’s counsellors or psychosexual and relationship therapists, or a family therapists.

Deciding who is seeking therapy will help us narrow down our search.

  • How do we prefer to work?

Some therapies are based on creating changes through giving homework and consciously changing thoughts and behaviors. Others are based mainly on making changes by talking, thinking, and reflecting on our thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and preoccupations. If we like a bit of both, then there is that option too.

Consider this: If we dislike homework and know that we are unlikely to carry out the required tasks between sessions, it is unlikely we will gain much from this type of therapy.

On the other hand, if we prefer homework, we might get frustrated by a therapy that is focused on talking and contemplating.

If we know what works best for us, we are more likely to find success in therapy. We can talk with the therapist during our initial conversation to clarify if their method suits our preferred way of working.

  • What is the main issue we are looking for help with?

Being able to name the issues we bring to therapy can make us feel a little more confident when we first contact a therapist and during our first session. Something as simple as asking ourselves why we feel in need of therapy can clarify if for example we feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or scared.

These are not the only reasons to seek therapy and remember: no issue is too small or too big for therapy. Knowing a little about what we are seeking help with, will make our first conversation with a therapist easier.

Finding a therapist

It is always best to seek a therapist who is qualified, and who is accredited or licensed, and registered with one of many associations especially established for therapists.

We can try searching for ‘therapists associations’ online, which should give us a couple of choices close to where we live. If we are looking for a relationship or family therapist, we can add that description to our search, so we get results for the appropriate associations.

How to Ease Back into Exercise Safely After a Long Break

f you took a long break from exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. 

The stress and uncertainty of the past year, along with the closure of many gyms and need for physical distancing, have thrown off many people’s workout routines. 

Getting sick from COVID-19, a debilitating disease with weeks or sometimes months of symptoms, has also greatly limited the ability to engage in physical activity for many people.

As vaccines continue to roll out throughout the United States and restrictions begin to ease, it’s natural that many people are eager to get active again. 

However, there are some things people should be mindful of while restarting their fitness routines to avoid injury and get the most out of returning to exercise.

Manage your expectations 

People who have taken a long break from exercise are likely to find that they may not be able to do the things they once could. 

Whether this is running a 5K or holding a yoga pose, experts say not being able to perform at the same level is to be expected.

Still, this may be difficult for some to accept. 

Keep Brainstorming—Your Best Ideas Are Still to Come

Most people assume that lightbulb moment will arrive right away, when you’re feeling freshest. But according to new research, we’ve got it wrong. 

Across several studies, Loran Nordgren, a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, and Kellogg PhD alumnus Brian Lucas, now of Cornell University, discovered a widespread, persistent, and mistaken belief that creativity drops off with time. They dub this the “creative-cliff illusion.” 

What’s more, they found, the illusion is self-defeating. The more people believe in it, the fewer creative ideas they generate. But with experience comes wisdom, Nordgren and Lucas learned: people who do lots of creative work do not fall victim as often to the myth of declining creativity. 

“People think their best ideas are coming fast and early,” Nordgren says. In fact, “you’re either not seeing any drop-off in quality, or your ideas get better.” By giving up too soon, we risk leaving our best ideas on the table. 

Nordgren believes bringing attention to the problem can help people unlock new ways of thinking. “People don’t maximize their creative potential, and part of that is because of these beliefs,” he says. 

Creativity Increases as You Brainstorm

Nordgren and Lucas began by recruiting a group of 165 online participants, all of whom had previously worked at charitable organizations, to complete a five-minute brainstorming task. Before they got started, participants were asked to predict their creativity during each minute of the task.

Next, participants set to work generating ideas for how a charity could increase donations. As motivation to keep the juices flowing, the researchers told participants they would be entered in a lottery to win $50 for each idea they came up with. 

Then, Nordgren and Lucas recruited a new group of online participants to rate the creativity of the ideas the first set of participants had generated.

Participants in the brainstorming task gave faulty predictions about their own creativity, the researchers’ analysis revealed. While people thought they would become less creative as the session went on, the opposite was true: their creativity—as rated by the second group of participants—actually increased. 

Confusing Productivity with Creativity 

Why do people so uniformly believe their creativity will decline the longer they tussle with a problem? 

Nordgren and Lucas suspected people confuse creativity with the ease of generating ideas. For many of us, early ideas come quickly, while later ideas prove more elusive as the brainstorm slows to a brain drizzle. This experience of difficulty could easily be misinterpreted as a decrease in the quality of ideas.

To test the hypothesis, the researchers repeated the same study as before, recruiting 191 new participants. This time, however, participants predicted their creativity after they had already finished generating ideas. 

It didn’t matter. Even after the brainstorming task was complete, participants incorrectly judged their later ideas as less creative—because, the researchers reasoned, those ideas were harder to access. Yet, as in the first study, the opposite was true: ideas that took longer to excavate were more likely to be truly innovative.

What Does It Mean to Be “In Debt?”

Between car loans, mortgages, student loans, credit cards, medical bills, and so on, if you’re participating in society, you’ve probably got debt.

But just because you’re carrying debt, doesn’t necessarily mean that you consider yourself to be “in debt,” right? Which raises the question: exactly when do you go from simply having debt, to being “in debt?”

Honestly, there’s no one correct way to look at it. There are, however, three criteria that can help you decide if you’ve just got debt, or if debt’s starting to get you.

YOUR DEBT’S EATING TOO MUCH OF YOUR BUDGET

A healthy financial ecosystem requires a balance of give and take. In other words, money comes in and money goes out. That’s all perfectly normal. 

And debt can be a perfectly healthy part of that flow. The question, though, is whether or not your debt is consuming too much space in your budget. 

What’s too much? There’s no hard and fast rule, but 36% is a popular rule of thumb. What that means is that you don’t want your non-mortgage debt payments to account for more than 36% of your income. 

Of course, the cost of living varies depending on where you live, and so it may be easier (or harder) to carry more debt depending on what your other costs look like. But generally speaking, if your debt-to-income ratio is nearing (or exceeding) 40%, that’s a warning sign, and you may well and truly be in debt.

Use this calculator to see how much of your income is devoted to debt repayment.

YOUR DEBT’S COSTING YOU WAY MORE THAN IT’S GETTING YOU

Quite a bit of debt is a form of investment. A house is an investment. A college education is an investment. A car is an investment (although one that depreciates alarmingly fast).

Ideally, the money we spend should come back to us in some way, either as more money, as good health, as peace of mind, as increased opportunities, etc. You may not like the amount of student loan debt you’re carrying, but if it helped you land a high paying job, you probably don’t think of it negatively.

On the other hand, if you’ve got a massive student loan bill and the career opportunities are slim pickings and you’re barely scraping by, then you may not think too kindly of that debt.

Generally, when a debt’s just creating more costs and not offering any tangible value, it’s more likely to feel like a burden, while you – by extension – feel deeply in debt.

YOUR DEBT’S CONSUMING TOO MUCH MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL REAL ESTATE

Finally, you don’t necessarily need an equation to determine if you are or aren’t “in debt.” You probably already know, simply based on how your debt makes you feel.

  • Do you think about your debt regularly?
  • Do you worry about your debt (enough to read articles about whether or not you’re technically “in debt”)?
  • Do you fantasize about a life without debt?

A healthy amount of debt shouldn’t give you heartburn and it shouldn’t be something you think about much more than once or a month or so. No matter what the numbers say, if your debt is sticking with you and causing you regular distress, that’s enough to say that your debt is a problem.

Ultimately, being in debt is more about whether or not your debt is preventing you from living the life you want. If your debt is a barrier to better options or a weight that’s keeping you from making progress, it doesn’t really matter what you call it – it just matters that you get rid of it.

Should I Pay Off an Old Debt?

It’s a great question, because there are two totally unrelated issues at stake when it comes to an old debt like this: the impact on your credit and your legal responsibility to the debt in question. 

NOTHING WILL CHANGE HOW LONG AN ITEM STAYS ON YOUR CREDIT REPORT

There’s a fairly common misconception that you can inadvertently “reset the clock” on delinquent items on your credit report. Just when you thought it was going to disappear from your credit report, you make a critical mistake and now your credit report (and credit score) gets dinged for another seven years. Fortunately, that’s not possible.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act was amended in 1996 specifically to prevent unscrupulous collectors from taking actions that kept delinquent items alive on your credit report for years and years and years. 

Now it’s pretty cut and dry. The reporting period runs for seven years and 180 days from the date of the last delinquency or missed payment. It doesn’t matter when the account was charged off, when it was sold or if you ever paid a single penny towards the debt. That means that if you missed a payment due date over seven and half years ago, and never made any payments from that point, the account in question is very likely to have fallen off of your credit report by now. 

(As an aside, it’s important to remember that even if you pay off an account all delinquencies still stay on your credit report until the reporting period is over. The difference is that the account is listed as paid, rather than unpaid, which is definitely better for you.)

THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS CAN RESET WITH CERTAIN ACTIONS

The idea of “restarting the clock” comes from the statute of limitations for collecting on a debt and has nothing to do with how the debt is reported by the credit bureaus. Broadly speaking, once the statute has expired, your legal responsibility to repay the debt goes with it.

The statute of limitations is set by each state, so the timeframe varies. It’s completely separate from your credit report. In fact, if you live in a state where the statute is greater than 7 years, a collector could sue you for a debt that’s already fallen off of your report.

The statute of limitations in your state doesn’t protect you from being sued, necessarily, but if you can prove that the applicable statute has expired, you should be able to get your case dismissed.

Crucially, making a payment, agreeing to a repayment plan, or, in some instances, simply confirming that the debt is yours can revive the debt and restart the clock. So it’s important that you know whether or not the applicable statute has expired before making a decision.

THERE ARE RARELY DRAWBACKS TO PAYING OFF AN OLD DEBT

So what should you do about an old debt? The answer really depends on your unique circumstances. 

Generally, if you have the funds to pay off a debt they’re really aren’t many drawbacks to doing so. It certainly won’t hurt your credit to pay off an old debt, and while it may “revive” the debt that really doesn’t matter once the debt’s paid off (just make sure you keep adequate records of everything). 

Either way, your old delinquency will fall off your report after seven years regardless of what you decide to do (or not do). But in the meantime, anyone looking at your credit report will see that unpaid debt. If you’re considering getting a loan or looking for a new job or even moving into a new home or apartment, it might be worth it just to be certain that you don’t miss out on something good because of a really old debt.

6 Leadership Paradoxes for the Post-Pandemic Era

The pandemic has accelerated a trend that has been unfolding over the last decade. As the world has grown more digital and complex, the range of decisions that leaders need to make has broadened, spanning from big picture strategic thinking to careful execution, to advancing technology roadmaps and upskilling and engaging employees. And decision-making criteria too have expanded, increasingly focusing on ESG considerations in addition to narrowly defined profit expectations. The past year has been particularly intense, pushing leaders to make decisions for which they had no previous experience — and do so quickly.

To succeed in this new era of value creation, leaders need new skills and capabilities. Our in-depth research of more than a dozen companies that have transformed and positioned themselves for success in this new world — including Microsoft, the Cleveland Clinic, and Philips — shows that leaders at these companies sought to be proficient across a wide set of characteristics rather than relying solely on their areas of strengths. They learned how to work together with others who have different backgrounds and different ways of thinking, and they emphasized collaborating together to lead their business despite all their differences. (If you’re interested in participating in a survey about leadership, you can find more details at the end of this article.)

The characteristics that leaders we interviewed considered most important in this new era align well with the six paradoxes of leadership described in Blair Sheppard’s recent book, Ten Years to Midnight.

Strategic Executor

Leaders who want to succeed in this complex and fast paced business environment need to have clarity about what the new world will look like and what their company’s place in that world is going to be. This requires highly strategic leaders, visionaries who can step back from the day to day to see where the world is headed, understand how value can be created in the future in ways that are different from today’s, and stake out a powerful position for the company.

Being a good strategist, however, isn’t enough. Leaders need to be equally skilled at execution. They need to own the transformation of the company needed to reach the future. They need to be able to translate strategy into specific executional steps and see that execution through to the end. They need to be able to make rapid operational decisions that help deliver the path to the future.

In many ways, the digital model of value creation may require even stronger execution skills than in the past, since there is so much to do to push the limits of what’s possible.

Humble Hero

The digital age calls for hero leaders, people who are willing to make bold decisions (like shedding certain business positions or staking out new ones) in times of uncertainty.

At the same time leaders need to have the humility to acknowledge what they don’t know and to bring on board people with potentially very different skills, backgrounds, and capabilities. They need to be willing to learn from others who may have less leadership tenure, but more relevant insights. They need to be highly inclusive and great listeners to understand not only new technologies, but also new ways of doing things that are different from how they did it before.

Tech-Savvy Humanist

While in the past, leaders may have gotten away with delegating the company’s technology challenges to their Chief Information or Chief Digital Officer, that approach will no longer work. With technology being an essential enabler for almost everything a company does — innovation, product management, operations, sales, customer service, finance, or any other area — every leader needs to understand what technology can do for the company and how.

At the same time, they also need to understand and care about people. They need to understand how technology impacts people’s lives and they need to help their people adapt to and adopt the many changes that technology will enforce. This means engaging people with a huge degree of empathy and authenticity — helping them to embrace the changes and co-own the transformation.

Traditioned Innovator

Company purpose and values have probably never been as important as they are today in a world of constant change and multiple disruptions.

In the midst of uncertainty, having clarity of purpose and values helps guide organizations through their path to value creation and relevance. While leaders reimagine their company’s place in the world, they also need to be clear and grounded about who they are as a company. They need to be clear about the organization’s reason for being — its purpose and values — to guide how they will uniquely create value in a way that engages others in their ecosystems and is relevant in the future.

At the same time, leaders need to innovate and try out new things — faster than at any time before. They need to have the courage to fail and allow others to fail as well. All this experimentation and innovation, however, must not be unbound — it must happen within the guardrails consistent with the company’s purpose.

High-Integrity Politician

In an ecosystem world where companies, institutions, and individuals must collaborate to create value, being able to accrue support, negotiate, form coalitions and partnerships, and overcome resistance is an essential leadership capability.

Leaders need to make compromises, be flexible in tweaking their approach and go one step back to be able to move two steps forward. This way of operating, however, can only be successful if leaders establish trust and integrity as the bedrock of all their actions. Effective collaboration within ecosystems can only happen when the parties involved can trust one another. Customers are willing to share privileged insights and participate in ecosystems only when they can trust how their data is used and how they are treated.

And integrity will be key for managing the increasing regulatory scrutiny many companies are going to see. In a data-driven economy, integrity and trust are essential foundational conditions. These are values that cannot come from a computer — they require human leaders to make deliberate choices measured by their actions and words.

Globally-Minded Localist

Technology has erased many boundaries and distances — it’s much easier now to reach customers on the other side of the globe and to collaborate with people from far apart.

Almost by force, companies operating in the digital age need to think globally — even if only to gain access to insights and talent to serve local needs. This requires leaders who can think and engage globally, who will expose themselves to new thinking and work with people from all around.

At the same time, leaders in the digital age also need to be deeply aware of and responsive to the situation and preferences of individual customers and to the local communities and ecosystems in which they operate. Customers, partners, and institutions expect companies to be responsive to their specific needs, and leaders will certainly have to adopt a locally conscious mindset.

9 Couples Therapy Exercises That Should Be In Every Couple’s Repertoire

But just like individual therapy, that hour spent with a trained professional is only half the battle. A lot of the growth happens at home, in the trenches of everyday life, which is why therapists send clients home with a slate of couples therapy exercises. The exercises are tailored specifically to help couples work through conflict and build communication, trust, and intimacy in a relationship. 

Regardless of whether you’re active in therapy or not, the right couples therapy exercises can help reframe arguments, create more emotional intimacy, or simply appreciate one another more. That’s we asked a variety of couples therapists for a few  go-to exercises that everyone can try. They offered those that are easy-to-accomplish and, over time, very effective. Try a few and chances are you’ll learn something new about your partner — and grow your relationship in the process. Here are nine couples therapy exercises they suggested.

Couples Therapy Exercise 1: Write a letter

Markesha Miller, a South Carolina-based psychologist, says she frequently suggests this exercise to couples in conflict. Here’s how it works: Write (not type!) a love letter to your partner, focused on positive, early aspects of your relationship –– what attracted you, your favorite memories, and so on. Then, transition the letter to potential growth areas. Silently read the letter your partner wrote you (and vice versa) before convening to talk about what you wrote and why.

Why it’s helpful: A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, right? That’s the premise here. When you express positivity toward your partner, emphasizing what works in the relationship, they’ll probably be more receptive to the stuff that’s harder to hear –– largely, because they know your intentions are good. Plus, you’ll both realize when things went off track so you can course correct.

Couples Therapy Exercise 2: Hold “state of the union” meetings

State of your relationship meetings are weekly (or daily!) check-ins to see how you’re both feeling in the relationship, says San Diego-based marriage and family therapist Dana McNeil. Think of these brief meet-ups as opportunities to share things you haven’t discussed, issues that need some clarification, or conflicts that need to be resolved. Ideally, each person should have time to share how they’re feeling, uninterrupted.

Why it’s helpful: According to McNeil, it’s common for couples to have missed bids for connection during the week. Big conversations don’t always feel possible in busy schedules, so it’s important to regularly –– and intentionally –– take stock of how you’re feeling so tension doesn’t grow. “Both partners are CEOs in a relationship, and both have needs and expectations that require space to be talked about in an open and positive environment,” McNeil says.

Couples Therapy Exercise 3: Do daily emotion check-ins

Marriage and family therapist Emily Stone, owner and senior clinician at Unstuck Group in Austin, suggests using a feelings wheel as an opportunity to connect. Each partner should choose and share three emotions they experienced in a given day. After, the other partner should reflect back: “It sounds like you were bored, frustrated, and excited today. I would love to hear the story of these emotions.” Remember: The goal is to share and reflect, not correct or defend. 

Why it works: Emotional validation is an important part of making a partner feel heard, loved, and supported. Practicing active listening and mirroring back the other person’s emotions can help build communication skills and intimacy as a couple. Plus, you’ll have a better idea of how to support your partner when you’re in the “know” about what they experience on a daily basis.

Couples Therapy Exercise 4: Perform daily appreciations 

If emotion check-ins feel a bit too vulnerable, Stone suggests building trust and intimacy first through affirming one another’s positive contributions to the relationships. Take time at the end of each day to share three things you appreciated about your partner, even if it’s small –– and do your best to give specific examples. For example, instead of “I appreciate how kind you are,” you could say “I appreciated how you stopped to give me a hug during a busy day.”

Why it works: Providing specific examples about behaviors you like is like positive reinforcement. Affirming your partner also builds respect in a relationship, making it easier to open up and grow together. 

Couples Therapy Exercise 5: Use “The story I’m telling myself is…” in conflict

When you’re in the midst of conflict, it’s easy to project your feelings onto your partner –– but that doesn’t help anyone. Instead of pointing fingers, demonstrate to your partner you’re giving them the benefit of the doubt by using “ my story” statements. For example, instead of “You don’t want to spend time with me,” you could say “My story right now is that you don’t want to be with me because I’m too much.”

Why it works: According to Stone, framing your feelings this way takes ownership of your experience and perception of the scenario without throwing blame at your partner, which ultimately gives them the opportunity to share their side so you can work it out together.

What It Really Means to Take Care of Yourself

Real self-care probably isn’t what you think it is. It isn’t all about escaping and relaxing. Although it pays off for your well-being in the long run, in the present, self-care can be a hard thing to do.

Taking care of yourself might look like making a plan to pay off your debt, sticking to a hard morning routine, or cooking healthy meals. It’s facing your problems and unresolved issues head-on, instead of avoiding them and then trying to distract or soothe yourself later.

Self-care means doing what makes you anxious now, like setting boundaries with tough people, saying no when you don’t want to do something, getting through a tough workout, or telling someone something they don’t want to hear. Taking care of yourself means compassionately accepting yourself for who you are instead of burning yourself out trying to be everything to everyone all the time. It’s living your life in a way that doesn’t leave you needing to check out or take a break just so you can have a bath, read a book, or sip tea.

Currently, consumer-based self-care is a very popular topic; however, a world we need to escape from in the name of self-care is a world that needs a perspective change. Self-care isn’t something we should be doing just because we’re so burnt out that we need time away from our internal and external pressures. 

Real self-care isn’t massages and green juices; it’s choosing to create a life that you don’t feel the need to regularly check out of.  

Self-care means doing things you initially don’t want to do and making the choice to do what’s uncomfortable. It means accepting your personal failures and disappointing relationships, then deciding to re-strategize them. It’s not about giving in to your immediate urges when that means giving up on a long-term goal. It’s about forgiving, letting go, and accepting what you can’t change. It’s about being willing to let people down and even saying goodbye to some of them. Self-care can sometimes be about putting your life aside to care for someone in need, and other times about putting yourself first above those who drain you. Ultimately, it’s about living a life you choose, not one that you sleepwalk through.

Self-care is allowing yourself to be normal and average, instead of always pushing yourself to be perfect or exceptional. It means letting your house stay messy when you’re tired of cleaning up or deciding you don’t need the perfect body after all. It’s knowing yourself and understanding how you operate, so you can decide what changes are the right ones to make in your life. 

If you constantly feel like you need a break, it may be because you’re disconnected from living a life that includes you in it. Real self-care isn’t so much about treating yourself as it is about taking actions for your personal growth and development, aiming to choose what’s better for your wellness in the long run.

Self-care is not about believing that being super busy is a badge of honor and making yourself so exhausted that you self-sabotage in ways that aren’t actually good for you. It’s about taking time to take care of yourself because you truly know that you aren’t broken and don’t need fixing. Once you start doing the real self-care, you start realizing that loving yourself and compassionately being there for you might just solve many of your problems.

When you take care of yourself, you become the author, not the victim, of your life. You create a life you truly enjoy, instead of one you might need recovery, or even therapy, from. It’s not creating a life that looks good on paper, but one that fits well with who you are. It’s letting go of some of your goals so that you can truly live a more balanced life. It’s choosing to no longer make decisions based on what will ease your anxiety, but instead based on what will be good for you tomorrow or the next day. It’s not looking to others to meet your needs; it’s meeting your own needs. 

Self-care is living a life that’s meaningful and being true to yourself. It’s knowing that massages and green juices are great ways to enjoy life, not escape from it. 

Will You Need a Booster Shot of the COVID-19 Vaccine?

When the first COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2020, most people breathed a sigh of relief since both shots were shown to be between 94% and 95% effective in protecting from COVID-19 symptoms. But public health experts warned that nobody really knew how long the protection would last, since the longest clinical trials in people only went to a few months. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, suggested that additional booster doses—and perhaps even yearly shots, similar to the annual flu shot—might be necessary to keep the public safe.

That’s because SARS-CoV-2, like many other viruses we know about—from influenza to HIV—doesn’t sit still. It constantly mutates, and a handful of these mutations are now circulating around the world and keeping public health experts on the alert, since these variant viruses are better at evading immune cells, including those elicited by the vaccines.

So far, experts say that the vaccines continue to provide good protection against all forms of SARS-CoV-2. But the immune response against some of the variants, specifically against one called B.1.351 that was first identified in South Africa, may be slightly lower than immune responses against the original strain that the vaccines were designed to fight. An additional dose, scientists believe, may boost that response back up to where it should be.

The other open question about vaccines is how long the immunity they confer actually lasts. In data released in April, both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna reported that their current two-dose vaccines contribute to strong antibodies that can neutralize the COVID-19 virus for up to six months. Fauci has said that the protection may last even longer than that if other immune protection, involving immune cells such as T cells, are activated by the vaccines. Some early studies suggest that they are.

But only continued studies involving people in the early trials, who are supposed to be followed for up to two years, will answer the question of how long people can expect the vaccine protection to last. That said, both companies seem to believe a booster might be necessary: On April 14, Moderna’s CEO, Stephane Bancel said on CNBC that the company planned to have a booster shot ready by fall. And on April 15, CNBC aired a video segment, taped previously, in which Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said that it might be “likely” that people would need a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine within a year after getting the first two doses, referencing human clinical trials the company began in February to test a third dose.

It’s been a year since the first studies of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines began last March. A small number of the participants of the initial trials of these two-dose vaccines have also volunteered to get a third, booster dose, so scientists can see if the additional dose improves immunity or makes it more durable. In February, Pfizer-BioNTech began studying a third dose of its existing vaccine among people enrolled in the early phase of the vaccine; the company’s scientists are also developing a new version of the vaccine directed specifically against the aforementioned B.1.351 variant.

Monthly Payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credit Will Begin in July

For this year only, the credit amount for many families is increased from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per kid ($3,600 for children under age six), 17-year-olds qualify, and the credit is fully refundable.

One additional major element of the new child tax credit regime requires the IRS to make advance payments of the credit to qualifying families in 2021. The IRS will base eligibility for the credit and advance payments, and calculate the amount of the advance payment, based on previously filed tax returns. It will first look to your 2020 return, and if a 2020 return has not yet been filed, the IRS will look to your 2019 return. The advance payments will account for half of a family’s 2021 child tax credit. The amount a family receives each month will vary based on the number of children in the family, the ages of the kids and the amount of the family’s adjusted gross income. Families who qualify for the full $3,000 or $3,600 credit could see checks of $250 or $300 per child for six months. Families with higher incomes who qualify for the $2,000 credit will get monthly payments of $167 per child for six months. 

The American Rescue Plan also requires the IRS to develop an online portal so that you can update your income, marital status and the number of qualifying children. So, if your circumstances change in 2021 from your last filed federal tax return, and you believe those changes could affect the amount of your child credit for 2021, you would be able to go onto that portal once it is up and running and update it for the correct information. Also, people who want to opt out of the advance payments and instead take the full child credit on their 2021 return could do so through that same online portal.

RS Commissioner Charles Rettig said today in testimony before Congress that the IRS fully expects to launch the portal by July 1 as required under the law, with advance payments going out on a monthly basis to eligible families beginning in July. That means many families who qualify for the child tax credit should receive six payments in 2021, one each month from July through December. This is very good news because just last month Rettig warned that the IRS might not be able to have the portal set up in time and that sending monthly payments out would be difficult. Rettig acknowledged today that the IRS is not historically an agency that is used to sending out periodic payments and that there is a lot of work still to be done in creating this huge undertaking. He estimates that a minimum of 300 to 500 agency employees will be involved in the program. He also said that, though the online portal will be launched by July 1, it is sure to need future enhancements and adjustments as taxpayers begin to enter data into the tool. In other words, don’t be surprised to see snags, at least in the beginning.

19 Ways to Show You Care About Your Friends

Friends deserve a special place in our lives. In the U.S., for example, they are important because they embody American values of equality, choice, self-expression, individualism, freedom, fluidity, and flexibility. They are important because our families have never been smaller than they are now, because fewer people are marrying, and those who do marry are getting to it later in life than they once did. And rates of remarriage are dropping. With fewer brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and all the other relatives who used to gather around during holidays and other days, Americans increasingly look to the people they choose to have in their lives, rather than the people assigned to them through family ties.

But we don’t typically accord our friends the special treatment they deserve. Instead, it is our attitudes toward marital relationships that are reverent and celebratory – matrimaniacal, even. No proposal, no wedding, is ever deemed too much. Married people routinely have their spouses invited to social events. They expect the other people in their lives to ask about their spouse. They get celebrated again if they stay married for a special number of years.

A spouse is considered an important person, an important relationship, in just about every imaginable way. I have no problem with the valuing of a spouse. I just don’t think that spousal relationships should be valued exclusively, as if no other relationship could ever be as significant. One of the ironies of the over-the-top hype that spousal relationships attract is that those relationships are not always all that enduring. For many people, including many married people, some special friendships may have lasted far longer than any of their marriages ever will.

How can we value our friends and everyone else’s, today and every other day?

Honoring Your Own Friends

  1. Be there to help when things go wrong.
  2. Be there to celebrate when things go right. 
  3. Be there just to be there. Keep in touch. Do fun things together. Don’t ever say you are too busy. If you don’t have the time, make it. After all, research shows that we are more likely to feel happy when we are with our friends than when we are with anyone else, including our romantic partners or spouse, or children.
  4. Remember their birthdays. Make a big deal out of the milestones and big accomplishments in their lives, and I’m not just talking about weddings or babies. There are graduations, houses, new jobs, big moves, and all sorts of things that matter to them.
  5. Mark their importance in your life in a big way. Celebrate holidays with them. Or go beyond that. Create a special event, maybe even akin to a wedding, to celebrate the friends in your life. For How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, I interviewed several people, including a lifelong single woman and a lifelong single man, who did something like that.
  6. Plan travel and vacations with friends.
  7. If things are headed south, or if your friend seems to need special help or attention for any reason, consider counseling. You’d probably do that if it were your marriage that was in trouble.
  8. If you are coupled, spend some time alone with your friends. And when your friends invite you to something, don’t just assume that your partner is invited, too.
  9. If your friends are single, don’t just ask them about their romantic prospects. They have lives full of interests, passions, plans, goals, accomplishments, work experiences, people they care about – including friends, and tastes and preferences in sports, music, books, movies, food, the arts, travel destinations, and just about anything else you can think of. Ask about those things.
  10. If your friends are married with children, don’t just ask them about their spouse or their children.

We’ve Earned a Break, We Deserve Down Time

I need to cure my ailment…and it’s bad… I’m a procrastinator. But I learned it may be because I need to shut down.

I’ve been reading lots of articles about taking a break…a little down time, time off.

For overall good health, routine breaks come highly recommended.

Andre Collins, PAF Executive Director

I’m not addicted to work, no way, not me! But I do have a strong sense of obligation to my daily responsibilities. As I grow, “work smarter” seems to represent a level of maturity I need to attain. The little voice in my head that keeps saying “work harder, push through” may be detrimental to my overall energy. I may think I’m being productive but eventually I’ll slow down to a snail’s pace racing side by side with fatigue.

I’ve heard someone describe taking a break as disconnecting to reconnect. We need breaks to cool our brains down, literally.

I’m not addicted to work. At least I don’t think so. But I am habituated to metrics or the different ways of measuring success. What are my percentages, my numbers…am I hitting my marks? Everything quantified, everything measured. I get it, we need to know if the job is getting done, but at what cost to the work/life balance or being allowed to enjoy the workday. For most of us, if we don’t enjoy the workday, at the end of the week we lose 5-to-2. We’re supposed to enjoy work. I love my job’s purpose. My job is creative and vigorous…but it is demanding. And even though I have freedom to create, a continual need to be creative has its own kind of pressure.

Did I miss a call?  Did I miss a text?  Who’s on my call back list …everyday.

And so now, I got my eyes on a break.

Experts say strategic breaks can be refreshing and help you see a situation in a new way.

A break isn’t going to kill me. And I won’t suddenly forget how to do my job. In the end it won’t harm me. So, what will I do?

I plan to stay up late, people watch, and exercise some.

I hate board games, puzzles, and card games. So, I won’t do that. I will read. I like to read about religion and history.

A break is a brief pause from work, physical energy, or activity. You’re resting with the full intent of getting back to work within a realistic amount of time.

Let me get scientific for a sec. I’ve learned …when you’re doing goal-oriented work that requires focus, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for keeping you focused on your goals. The prefrontal cortex is also responsible for logical thinking, critical decision-making, and willpower. The prefrontal cortex is asking for a timeout.

Decision fatigue can lead to procrastination. As players we think we are getting laser focused, but studies indicate that sustained attention to a single task hinders performance. Psychology professor Alejandro Lieras says, “deactivate and reactivate your goals. That allows you to stay focused”. Breaks keep your goals on track! Have fun, relax, laugh with friends, be entertained. Rest leads to productivity and brings back motivation.

Here are some helpful suggestions for rest that leads to motivation; walk, exercise, sit alone, nap, breath, meditate and always take the long way home

 An action like taking a break creates opportunity for productivity.

asdf

Andre Collins
Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

Try these stretches before you get out of bed

“Stretching before getting out of bed can help wake up the body and improve the circulation. It can also turn on the parasympathetic system – the ‘rest and digest’ system — which puts us in a more relaxed state right when we get out of bed, helping set the tone for a calm morning and day,” says Dr. Beth Frates, who directs wellness programming for the Stroke Research and Recovery Institute at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

Theoretically, stretching before getting out of bed may also help prevent falls. “By focusing on your legs and arms, you may be more careful and mindful when you put your feet on the ground,” Dr. Frates says.

How should you start?

Normally before you stretch, you should warm up your muscles; that gets blood flowing to them so they’re more pliable. But Dr. Frates says the muscles are already on the warmer side when you’ve been in bed all night. All it takes to prepare for stretches in bed, then, is a few minutes of flexing the joints before you stretch. (Tip: Remove your blanket and sheets before stretching, to give yourself a little more room.)

While you’re still lying down, flex your lower limbs: put your knees and feet in the air; with your knees in the air, raise and lower your feet; roll your ankles and move them back and forth.

Next, sit up in bed. Slowly look left and then right. Roll your shoulders a few times; work your elbows by holding both arms in front of you and doing biceps curls; flex your wrists up and down; open and close your hands several times.

Now you’re ready to start stretching. Try the stretches we’ve laid out for you on these pages (in any order you like). Some require a towel or resistance band, which you can keep next to your bed.

“Hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds if possible,” Dr. Frates advises. “And don’t bounce, which can damage the muscles.”

When you finish stretching, you’ll probably feel better. “Stretching can release the body’s ‘feel good’ chemicals, lubricate the joints, and help you maintain your range of motion,” Dr. Frates says. And that makes the wake-up stretching routine a prescription for a full day of better functioning.

For more stretching, including additional exercises, check out the Harvard Special Health Report Stretching (www.health.harvard.edu/str).

Full-body stretch with resistance band

Lie on your back with both legs extended. Hold the band shoulder-distance apart with both hands by your hips. Lift the strap up toward the ceiling, over your head and down toward the bed behind you.

Single knee pull

Lie on your back with your legs extended. Bend your left knee. Grasp the back of your left thigh and pull your knee toward your chest. Flex your right foot and press the thigh and calf of that leg down toward the bed to feel a stretch in the front of your right hip and top of your right thigh. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.

Side-lying quadriceps stretch

Lie on your right side with your legs stacked and extended. Rest your right arm under your head. Bend your left knee and bring your heel toward your left buttock, reaching back with your left hand to grasp your foot. Feel the stretch in the front of your thigh and hip. Turn onto your left side and repeat the exercise.

Hamstring stretch with resistance band

2020: A Year in Fitness Like No Other

This year, the novel coronavirus crept into and transformed every aspect of our lives, including our fitness. In countless ways — some surprising, and a few beneficial and potentially lasting — it altered how, why and what we need from exercise.

At the start of the year, few of us expected a virus to upend our world and workouts. In January and February, I was writing about topics that seemed pressing at the time, such as whether low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets endanger athletes’ skeletal health; if fat-soled, maximalist running shoes might alter our strides; and how completing a marathon — remember those? — remodels first-time racers’ arteries.

The answers, by the way, according to the research, are that avoiding carbs for several weeks may produce early signs of declining bone health in endurance athletes; runners donning super-cushioned, marshmallowy shoes often strike the ground with greater force than if they wear skinnier pairs; and a single marathon renders new runners’ arteries more pliable and biologically youthful.

But concerns about shoe cushioning and racing tended to fade in March, when the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic and we suddenly had new, top-of-the-mind worries, including social distancing, masks, aerosol spread and lockdowns.

The effects on our exercise routines seemed to be both immediate and stuttering. At that time, none of us knew quite how and whether to work out in these new circumstances. Should we still run, ride and stroll outside if our community had instituted stay-at-home restrictions? Did we need to wear a mask during exercise — and could we do so without feeling as if we were suffocating? Were communal drinking fountains safe?

My first column grappling with these and related topics appeared on March 19. The experts I spoke with then were adamant that we should aim to remain physically active during the pandemic — but avoid shared drinking fountains. They also pointed out, though, that many questions about the virus, including how to exercise safely, remained unresolved.

After that, our experience with — and the research about — Covid and exercise snowballed. A much-discussed April study, for instance, showed that brisk walking and running could alter and accelerate the flow of air around us, sending expired respiratory particles farther than if we stayed still. Consequently, the study concluded, runners and walkers should maintain 15 feet or more of social distance between themselves and others, more than double the standard six feet of separation then recommended. (Subsequent research found that outdoor activities were generally safe, though experts still suggest staying as far apart as is practical, and to wear a mask.)

Another cautionary study I wrote about in June tracked 112 Covid infections in South Korea that spring to Zumba classes. A few infected instructors introduced the virus to their students during close-quarter, indoor, exuberant classes. Some students carried it home, infecting dozens of their family members and friends. Most rapidly recovered. But the study’s story was disquieting. “Exercising in a gym will make you vulnerable to infectious disease,” one of its disease-detective authors told me.

Thankfully, other science about exercising in the time of Covid was more encouraging. In two recent experiments involving masked exercisers, researchers found that face coverings barely budged people’s heart rates, respirations or, after some initial getting used to, subjective sense of the workouts’ difficulty. Moving felt the same, whether participants wore masks or not. (I use a cloth mask or neck gaiter on all my hikes and runs now.)

More surprising, the pandemic seems to have nudged some people to start moving more, additional research found. An online survey of runners and other athletes in June reported that most of these already active people said they were training more frequently now.

A separate British study, however, produced more-nuanced results. Using objective data from an activity-tracking phone app, its authors found that many of the older app users were up and walking more regularly after the pandemic began. But a majority of the younger, working-age adults, even if they had been active in the before times, sat almost all day now.

The long-range impacts of Covid on how often and in what ways we move are unsettled, of course, and I suspect will be the subject of considerable research in the years ahead. But, as someone who writes about, enjoys and procrastinates with exercise, the primary lesson of this year in exercise for me has been that fitness, in all its practical and evocative meanings, has never been so important.

In a useful study I wrote about in August, for instance, young, college athletes — all supremely fit — produced more antibodies to a flu vaccine than other healthy but untrained young people, a result that will keep me working out in anticipation of the Covid vaccine.

More poetically, in a mouse study I covered in September, animals that ran became much better able to cope later with unfamiliar trouble and stress than animals that had sat quietly in their cages.

And in perhaps my favorite study of the year, people who undertook “awe walks,” during which they deliberately sought out and focused on the small beauties and unexpected wonders along their way, felt more rejuvenated and happier afterward than walkers who did not cultivate awe.

In other words, we can dependably find solace and emotional — and physical — strength in moving through a world that remains lovely and beckoning. Happy, healthy holidays, everyone.

45 Winter Activities for Kids That the Pandemic Hasn’t Ruined

Winter is here, the pandemic drags on, and yet, kids still need to burn off energy somehow. With limited access to the places we relied on in past years (remember museums?), it’s time to get creative. Combatting winter stir-craziness is a long game, and having a few new go-to winter activities for kids can help those long, dark days inside feel less bleak. This list of COVID-safe activities includes some ways to get kids outside(which helps build strong bones and regulate the circadian rhythm), a few doable crafts that won’t ruin your house or make you lose your mind, and a handful of winter rituals that no childhood is complete without. Just remember that unstructured play is also really good for kids. These winter activities are great, but don’t be afraid to tell them to go play outside or let them get bored. 

  1. Make ice sun catchers. Fill a container with water, decorate it with leaves, berries, or food coloring, add string, leave it outside (or in the freezer) to freeze, and hang on a tree like an ornament, or near a window.  
  2. Put a marshmallow in the microwave and watch it quadruple in size
  3. Make monster prints in the snow. Cut cardboard in the shape of a monster foot, and draw an outline your kid’s shoe on it. Punch two holes near the top and the bottom, thread string through the holes, and tie the feet to your kid’s shoes. Let them stomp around in the snow and leave the impression that Bigfoot’s come for a visit. 
  4. Make a snow volcano. It’s the classic baking soda and vinegar experiment, just inside a volcano shaped heap of snow. 
  5. Put on as many layers of winter clothes as you can and then have a hula hoop contest. The limited mobility makes it extra challenging, and funny. 
  6. Make reindeer food. Combine oatmeal (for taste) and glitter (so the reindeer can see it) and sprinkle it around the yard. 
  7. Make an ice sculpture. Fill different containers with water and a little food coloring, wait for them to freeze, and then arrange them however your artists heart desires. To get them to sick, try pouring a little hot water on their edges to melt them and then watch as they freeze back together
  8. Do cookie-cutter snow painting. Stick a cookie cutter in the snow and paint the snow within with watercolors. 
  9. Play secret snowflake. Each family member gets assigned another family member and spends the day doing nice things for them. That night, everyone tries to guess who their secret snowflake was.
  10. Play tic-tac-toe in the snow. Just use a stick or a finger to draw a board. 
  11. Make maple syrup snow candy. It’s as easy as boiling down some maple syrup and then pouring it onto snow to cool and harden. 
  12. Build an ice rink in your backyard. (It’s easier than you think.)
  13. Make snow ice cream.
  14. Make snow! You just need 6 parts baking soda and 1 part shampoo. 
  15. Get an outdoor thermometer. Teach kids how to read it and have them check it each morning.
  16. Try your hand at building a cooler entirely out of ice, à la this guy.

How to Find Emotional Balance During These Holidays

The December holidays (Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa) provide a capstone for the year. Most years are a mixed bag of experience—some combination of bright and dark—steeped in varying shades of joy and sorrow, of connection and loss, of the beautiful and the brutal. Obviously, 2020 is not most years. 

The stress and anxiety of the coronavirus pandemic have taken a devastating toll on people’s mental, emotional, and spiritual, as well as physical well-being. According to a national poll by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), more than one-third of Americans (36%) reported that coronavirus is having a serious impact on their mental health and over half (59%) reported serious impacts on their day-to-day lives. Most adults were concerned about the negative impacts of Covid-19 on their finances (57%) and almost half were worried about running out of food, medicine, and/or supplies.[1]

These results were released in March, nine excruciating months ago and early in the evolution of the pandemic. Since then, most individuals and families the stress, anxiety, financial hardships, and overall emotional dysregulation have only worsened.

During the pandemic, the number of adults exhibiting symptoms of depression has tripled [2] and alcohol and other drug use, as well as overdose rates have increased measurably. In a study published in JAMA Psychiatry this month, researchers monitoring an emergency medical systems database in 47 states found that medics were responding to more than double the number of overdose-related cardiac arrests in May, at the height of the pandemic lockdowns, than they had in 2018 and 2019.[3]

The adverse effects are also weighing heavily on children, as manifest in this year’s requests to Santa Claus based on a review of letters addressed to the North Pole collected through the USPS’s Operation Santa program. While kids across the US are still asking for toys and video games, in a year steeped in illness and uncertainty, some only want Santa to bring a cure for Covid-19. Others are asking for masks, and others write about the difficulties of going to school online or how their parents can’t afford to buy presents this year because they lost their jobs.[4]

Emotional balance occurs when we can: 

  1. Be consciously aware of and observe our feelings as they emerge
  2. Allow ourselves to present with our emotions (whether they are pleasurable, painful, or neutral) without needing to suppress them or become suffocated by them
  3. Learn to accept the full multi-colored palette of our feelings without judging them—or ourselves for having them, whatever form they may take

The wish, as well as the impulse to avoid emotional pain is natural—who wants to be in pain?! There is a tendency to think (however unconsciously) that if we can just avoid experiencing the discomfort/pain, it won’t affect us. Unfortunately, attempts to keep painful emotions at a distance always fail, even though they may seem to work temporarily. All forms of experiential avoidance ultimately boomerang on us by extending those painful emotions and amplifying the suffering connected to them. 

Alcohol and other drugs are one such well-worn avoidance strategy. Using substances and other addictive behaviors to feel “good” or “better” is a shortcut that inevitably leads to a dead end. Avoidance doesn’t work because pain is an inevitable part of life. It is an essential aspect of being human. It is in how we choose to respond to what we experience that determines whether we get stuck in trying to outrun, numb, or fight against it, or respond skillfully to it with presence and acceptance, which allows it to run its course and in time dissipate. 

It is important to clarify that acceptance does not equal approval. We can learn to accept and co-exist with uncomfortable, distressing, painful emotions, even when we don’t like them, and even when we dislike them intensely.

When we are under their influence, intense emotions can feel like they will last forever. However, whether they are painful or pleasurable, feelings are always temporary. They come and go like guests who come to visit: some are welcome and we’re happy to see them; others, not so much. Some leave sooner than we’d like and others significantly overstay—but eventually they all leave.

The time from Thanksgiving through the New Year typically revolves around themes of gratitude, abundance, and celebration. Yet, 2020 has left so many of us feeling diminished and exhausted. This year, more than perhaps ever, major holidays, especially those that emphasize family and social connection, can precipitate profound experiences of loss related to significant others who have passed or other serious life changes that leave us grieving what is no longer available to us, such as relationships, jobs/careers, homes, and health/physical functioning. 

Gratitude doesn’t erase or even necessarily diminish grief and vice versa. These two powerful emotional states can exist side by side, even if in any particular moment, one is much more prominent than the other. In Island, Aldous Huxley wrote about “the excruciating presence of an absence.” Empty spaces seem to spit into the face of gratitude. It’s okay to not feel grateful. 

It’s important to know that the holidays don’t have to feel like a celebration. You can give yourself permission to simply be where you are emotionally. Practicing self-compassion, kindness, and forgiveness by staying in conscious contact with the limitations of your time, energy, and finances, and carving our time for self-care is even more essential during this time of grieving and increased stress. 

You can find a balance that meets your needs between participating in holiday-focused efforts/events and self-care that includes such basics as reasonably healthy eating (in terms of what and how much you eat), physical movement/exercise—as little as 10 minutes of exercise a day can help improve your mood and reduce feelings of anxiety,[5] and getting decent sleep.

When we can develop the capacity to keep our minds and hearts open to our experience—the brutal, as well as the beautiful—our emotional life becomes more balanced and peaceful. The waves of feelings toss us about less as they lessen (even ever-so-slightly) in size and intensity and are less likely to swamp us. Learning to recognize, be present, and make peace with the parts of our experience that we may struggle with, makes it possible to be more okay with and accepting of whatever arises. 

8 Science-Based Ways to Beat Negativity

Because negativity makes us feel bad, it tends to be bad for our well-being (take this well-being quiz to see how you’re doing).

If you find that you struggle with negativity, you’re not alone. In fact, humans actually have a negativity bias. A negativity bias just means that we notice and feel negative things more intensely than positive things—and negative things have a bigger impact on our mental health. So that means we could experience a bunch of positive things but the one negative thing could ruin our entire day. If our thoughts are plagued by negativity, this can be especially true for us.

How do we stop feeling so negative?

Firstly, go easy on yourself. Remember, we are all negative sometimes and that’s okay. Remember to have self-compassion as you’re are working to shift your negative thoughts. But it’s also helpful to know that our brains like to do things the way they have always done them. If we’ve been negative for a long time, regulating our emotions and shifting to more positive thoughts may be a little harder and take a little longer. Just keep at the strategies below to see improvement over time.

1. Make positive concepts more accessible in your brain

Our brains prefer to just go to whatever is familiar—it’s easier, quicker, and requires less energy. So undoing negativity involves making positive concepts more familiar and accessible in the brain. One way to do this is to just have a “positive word of the day”. Or, memorize a series of positive words each morning and ask yourself to recall them each night. 

Although the research hasn’t shown that there are positive regions of the brain, per se, strengthening the connections between positive concepts and strengthening your ability to generate positive thoughts, words, and emotions can likely make it easier to do this again in the future.

Researchers have measured the emotional content of thousands of words to find the positive and negative ones. If you want to use the most positive of these words to reduce negativity, check out my positive word flashcard book. 

2. Deconstruct your negativity

When we feel negative, it can be easy to see the external causes of our negative emotions but not the internal causes. The truth is our thoughts have just as much (or maybe more) to do with our negativity than the situations we’re in. We really do create our own reality.

To deconstruct how your thoughts lead to your negativity, engage in self-reflection by asking yourself if you do any of the things below:

  1. Do you often expect that everything will turn out horrible?
  2. Do you only see the bad without seeing the good?
  3. Do you ignore or devalue the positive things?

If you do any of these things, you can shift your thoughts in ways that decrease negativity and increase positivity. Use these questions when you’re feeling negative to shift your thinking away from the negative and onto the positive:

  1. How could this situation turn out better than expected?
  2. What are the positive parts of this situation?
  3. Why are the positive things in this situation really important or valuable?

Forcing your mind in a new direction can help shift your emotions too.

3. Check your attribution style

Do you feel like nothing you do matters and the world is responsible for all your woes? Of course, this may be true sometimes, but this “external attribution” means we have given up control of our lives and this can end up making us feel worse. To shift this thinking, try to think of the things you dohave control over. We all have control over some aspects of our lives.

Or, do you feel like you are to blame for all of your woes? This “internal attribution” style where we blame ourselves for the bad things can hurt our self-esteem and mental health. To shift this thinking, recognize that not everything is in your control. We all have done bad things, but we can move past them when we see that we did the best we could given the situations we were in.

A Letter to My Children

Dear Marv, Mareon, Murrell and Mya,

I have something to tell you. Something I want to talk about. 

It’s something I’ve mostly kept to myself up to now, and you might not fully understand it right at this moment, but I need for you to hear it.

It’s tough to talk about even all these months later, but after your little brother Marlo passed away in December….

Daddy was ready to call it quits.

Not just football, either. I’m talking just get away from … everything.

Leave the country. Move to Spain. Hunker down. Just us and Mommy. That sort of thing. Never talk to anyone ever again, never have to face anyone or discuss anything, just shield us all from the entire outside world. You know what I mean?

We were all just struggling so much.

Mom and me was one thing, but hearing Mya ask, “When is Marlo coming back down from heaven?” Seeing that teddy bear that you guys called by his name? It was beyond heartbreaking.

We always told you guys it was O.K. to cry and to let your feelings out.

But sometimes that’s not so easy. Even for Dad.

Me and Mommy tried our best to stay strong in front of you guys, and to make sure you understood that we were going to get through this no matter what. We knew you’d be watching us — looking to us for how we were handling such an unimaginable tragedy. So we did our best. But the reality is.…

I was really hurting.

Early on I’d try to act “normal” all day and not show any hurt, and then I’d just lie down in bed at night and it’d all come out at once. So, yeah, those first few days, it all just felt like too much.

But that’s not what I wanted to tell you.

I mention all that stuff because I need you to understand the backdrop for what I do want to talk about. And that is….

What happened next.

A few days after our little angel left us, as sad as we all were … something truly amazing happened. Something inspiring.

And that’s actually what I want to tell you about.

All of sudden, folks just kept showing up at our front door. And, at first, I gotta be honest … I didn’t want to answer. But the doorbell just kept ringing.

Matthew and Kelly Stafford.

Danny Amendola.

Kenny Golladay.

Coach Patricia. Coach Prince. Other members of the organization. 

All showing us love. Giving us support. Letting us know that they were there for us.

I mean, you guys … it was so moving what they did for our family.

I’m getting choked up right now just sitting here writing about it. But back then? In that moment? I’m not lying when I say that their visits, that support….

It changed something inside of me.

I went from wanting to be closed off and isolated from pretty much everyone to realizing beyond a shadow of a doubt that our family needed all the love and support we could get.

So after those first few visits, our door was wide open. You guys remember it. Everyone in the family flew up to Michigan. Your grandparents, aunts and uncles on both sides. Auntie Leslie even flew in from China.

Everyone rallied around us.

And as tough as those first few days were, I always want you guys to remember how our family and friends came together to lift us up and help us all get through the most difficult experience of our lives.

Local businesses and restaurants sent over food and care packages. Police and firefighters stopped by to lend their support. Friends, sports fans, and just regular folks from all around the world sent us their well-wishes and shared their stories of loss with us to make sure we knew we weren’t alone. 

It was powerful. And it goes to show something I want you guys to always remember…. 

It really does take a community sometimes. Sometimes you can’t do things on your own.

People need people.

How to Collect a Missing Stimulus Payment

Setting aside whether or not $600 is an adequate amount, most Americans are grateful to get something after months of financial hardship and uncertainty. The problem, however, is that some recipients aren’t getting their payments because they’re hitting closed or incorrect accounts. If you’re still waiting on your check, here’s what you need to do:

VERIFY THAT YOU HAVE A PAYMENT COMING

For starters, are you eligible for a stimulus payment? If you received money during the first round of economic impact checks back in the spring of 2020, you’re almost certainly eligible for the second payment, which is $600 per U.S. citizen or resident alien, plus $600 per qualifying child. (If you filed taxes jointly with your spouse, you’ll receive $1,200 for the pair of you.)

The amount of your stimulus may be reduced if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is too high. Per the IRS, you’ll get the full amount as long as your AGI does not exceed:

  • $150,000 if married and filing a joint return or if filing as a qualifying widow or widower;
  • $112,500 if filing as head of household; or
  • $75,000 for eligible individuals using any other filing status.

Over the threshold? You may still get a check, but the payment will be reduced by “5% of the amount by which your AGI exceeds the applicable threshold.”

CHECK WHERE YOUR PAYMENT IS HEADED

Payments are going out digitally and by mail, with most direct deposit payments already out the door and in accounts by now. There was no action required on your part, by the way – just like before, payments were sent out automatically based on the info from your 2019 tax return.

To verify the status of your particular payment, use the IRS’ Get My Payment tool. This will tell you the where and when of your stimulus payment. The IRS really doesn’t want you to call (they don’t have the capacity to help over the phone), so this online tool is your best bet for up-to-date info.

YOUR TAX PREP PROVIDER MAY HAVE YOUR FUNDS

Because payments on both stimulus checks are tied to your most recent tax return, if you used a third party tax prep company like H&R Block or Turbo Tax, your money may have ended up there. 

H&R Block has already announced how they plan to handle client payments, while Turbo Tax’s parent company issued a statement noting that they would reject any stimulus payments back to the IRS (note – this doesn’t mean your money is gone, it just means Turbo Tax doesn’t want to be responsible for handling these payments).

Long story short: if you used a tax prep service and it looks like that’s where your payment was sent, be sure to check their website or contact their customer service for more info.

CHECKS WON’T BE REISSUED

If your check is headed to the wrong place or was deposited into a closed account, you can still get your funds, but it may not be as immediate as you’d like.

The IRS has already stated that they won’t be able to reissue any checks. Instead, if you were due a payment and it never made it to you, you’re advised to claim the “Recovery Rebate Credit” on your 2020 tax return. Technically, this stimulus payment is already a tax rebate, but most of us will receive it in the form of an advance. By claiming the credit on your tax return, you’ll either see your refund increase by the amount owed to you, or have your tax bill decrease by the amount owed.

After having waited so long for this assistance, it’s understandably upsetting to have to wait even longer to receive your share, but unfortunately that seems to be the only option. Be sure to prep and file your taxes early this year to get access to any funds owed to you.

21 Smartest Money Moves to Make in 2021

Pop the Champagne (in a safe, outdoor setting) because 2021 is finally here. Even in a pandemic, a new year is an opportunity for a fresh start. Vaccines are coming, the economy is slowly returning to normal, and you’re perfectly poised to improve your financial life.

And Money is here to help.

We’ve compiled a list of the 21 smartest money moves you can make in 2021. Fix your budget, maximize your savings, spice up your resume and more with our guide. While these aren’t necessarily easy, we looked for things that could realistically be accomplished with a few hours (or in some cases days) of effort.

See how many you can complete!

Finance Your Future

1. Get Serious About Saving

If Americans ever doubted the importance of saving, the coronavirus pandemic has made it clear just how necessary a financial cushion can be. A study from the Pew Research Center found that 41% of all adults in the U.S. have had trouble paying their bills and making housing payments since the pandemic began, while a study from Clever found that 61% of Americans said they don’t expect to have any emergency savings by the end of 2020. That’s why in 2021, it’s time to get serious about saving — even if you think you’re already in a comfortable financial position.

Financial advisors often encourage people to follow a 50-30-20 rule when dividing up their take-home pay, with 50% of your income going towards living expenses like rent and groceries, 30% for recreation or entertainment, and 20% going into savings. But for people who are just starting to save (or even those who are already on the right track), jumping from zero to 20 can be a daunting task — and sometimes downright impossible. That’s why it helps to set incremental goals, according to Kristen Euretig, a certified financial planner and founder of Brooklyn Plans.

She recommends starting with a number you can actually commit to, even if it’s just a few dollars and gradually adding more as you get comfortable. For example, start by saving 5% of your monthly income in January and then increase that amount by one percentage point each month. By December you’ll have tripled the money going towards an emergency fund each month. “Saving is a long game, and it’s a situation where the tortoise wins every time,” says Euretig.

— Kenadi Silcox

2. Actually Earn Something on Your Cash

One additional obstacle savers face right now: Low interest rates make it hard to earn much, even in CDs and so-called high-yield saving accounts offered online. The good news is there are better options if you are willing to put in a little extra legwork.

One good place to look is high-yield checking accounts (also known as rewards checking accounts), according to Ken Tumin, founder of DepositAccounts.com. Some of these pay as high as 4% (compared to less than 1% for most CDs). Of course these accounts, mostly offered through credit unions and regional banks, do have some caveats, typically requiring a certain number of electronic transactions per month and limiting the amounts on which they will pay out top dollar.

For example, Consumers Credit Union’s Reward Checking account offers up to 4.09% interest on $10,000 or less, although there are some hefty stipulations. To earn the full amount, members need to make at least 12 monthly debit card purchases and deposit $500 each month. To earn the maximum interest, members also need to spend $1,000 each month using a CCU Visa credit card. However, account holders can opt out of the credit card and still get a comfortable 2.09% APY.

— Kenadi Silcox

3. Reconsider Small Caps 

It’s been hard out there for shares of so-called small-cap companies, those with market values below $2 billion or so. While tech giants like Apple and Amazon have seen business actually improve during the pandemic, smaller companies, whose financial prospects tend to be tied closely to the overall health of the U.S. economy, have struggled mightily: While large-cap stocks have returned 14% over the past three years, small cap core stocks have returned just 8.7%.

The silver lining: Historically, once the economy begins to pull out of a recession, investors tend to warm to small caps and their returns can sling-shot ahead of those of bigger, steadier names. Looking at the past 11 recessions small-cap stocks beat larger ones by more than six percentage points on average, in the six months immediately after the recession ended, according to brokerage firm LPL.

While the U.S. economy isn’t out of the woods yet, the prospect of an effective COVID vaccine has many Wall Street analysts hoping small stocks could turn the corner in 2021. “Small caps may have history on their side,” wrote Invesco portfolio managers Matthew Ziehl, Adam Weiner and Jason Farrell in a recent blog post.

— Ian Salisbury

4. Invest Your Conscience with an ESG Fund 

With issues like racial justice and climate change on young investors’ minds, so-called ESG (or environmental, social and governance) funds have been gaining fans. By the end of September, U.S. sustainable funds attracted a record $31 billion in new investment dollars, according to Morningstar. The strategy is also getting the attention of some of the biggest names on Wall Street. In its annual letter to clients, BlackRock said the company was making sustainability integral to the way it manages risk and constructs portfolios.

As an investor, it’s nice to think that you can easily sort “good” companies from “bad” ones. But that’s not always the case. “There are some notable shortcomings that the industry still has to iron out,” says Jennifer Coombs, associate professor at the College for Financial Planning specializing in ESG investing. Among these concerns is that the handful of agencies that grade companies on their adherence to ESG principles tend to vary widely in their approaches.

Click Read More for 17 more tips.

Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?

These are inspiring examples, to be sure—but Dashun Wang didn’t think they told the whole story. Why did these individuals ultimately succeed, when so many others never manage to get past their failing phase?

“If we understand that process, could we anticipate whether you will become a winner, even when you are still a loser?” asks Wang, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, who directs the Center for Science of Science and Innovation (CSSI).

In a new paper published in the 150th anniversary issue of Nature, Wang and colleagues developed a mathematical model to pinpoint what separates those who succeed from those who merely try, try again. Along with PhD student Yian Yin and postdoctoral researcher Yang Wang at CSSI, and James A. Evans of the University of Chicago, Wang found that success comes down to learning from one’s prior mistakes—for instance, continuing to improve the parts of an invention that aren’t working rather than scrapping them, or recognizing which sections of a denied application to keep and which to rewrite.

But it’s not simply that those who learn more as they go have better odds of victory. Rather, there’s a critical tipping point. If your ability to build on your earlier attempts is above a certain threshold, you’ll likely succeed in the end. But if it’s even a hair below that threshold, you may be doomed to keep churning out failure after failure forever.

“People on those two sides of the threshold, they could be exactly the same kind of people,” says Wang, “but they will have two very different outcomes.”

Using this insight, the researchers are able to successfully predict an individual’s long-term success with just a small amount of information about that person’s initial attempts.

Measuring Success in Three Different Domains

A growing body of research supports the idea that failure can make you better off in the long run. Indeed, in another recent study, Wang himself found that an early career setback often set up scientists for later success.

However, as the stories of Ford, Edison, and Rowling plainly demonstrate, the road to success typically involves more than a single setback. “You don’t just fail once,” Wang says. “You fail over and over.” And while that litany of failures may make the Edisons of the world better off, it seems to thwart many other people.

To understand why, Wang and his colleagues needed a lot of information about the process of falling, getting back up, and trying again.

They turned to three massive data sets, each containing information about very distinct types of failure and success: 776,721 grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 1985 and 2015; the National Venture Capital Association’s database of all 58,111 startups to receive venture-capital funding from 1970 to 2016; and the Global Terrorism Database, which includes 170,350 attacks between 1970 and 2016.

These sources allowed the researchers to track groups and individuals as they made repeated attempts over time to achieve a goal: obtain grant funding, lead their company to get acquired at high values or achieve an IPO, or, in the case of terrorist organizations, execute an attack with at least one fatality—a grim measure of success, to be sure.

The three domains “can’t be more different,” Wang says, “but as different as they seem, what’s interesting is that they all turn out to show very similar, predictable patterns.”

What Makes You Successful: Luck or Learning?

With data in hand, the team began thinking about success and failure at the simplest level. Success, they theorized, must be the result of one of two basic phenomena: luck or learning. People who become successful in a given area are either improving steadily over time, or they are the beneficiaries of chance. So the researchers tested both theories.

If wins are primarily the result of chance, the team figured, all attempts are equally likely to succeed or fail—just like a coin toss, where what happened before doesn’t much influence what happens next. That means the typical person’s hundredth attempt won’t be any more successful than their first, since individuals are not systematically improving.

So the researchers looked at the first attempt and the penultimate attempt (the one right before a win) for each aspiring scientist, entrepreneur, and terrorist in their dataset. To measure improvement (or lack thereof) over time, the researchers looked at changes in how the scientists’ grant applications were rated, the amount of venture funding the startups received, and the number of individuals wounded in terrorists’ attacks.

Analysis revealed that the chance theory doesn’t hold up. In all three datasets, an individual’s second-to-last attempt did tend have a higher probability of success than their very first effort.

Yet people weren’t learning in the way the researchers had expected. The classic idea of the learning curve says that the more you do something, the higher your proficiency gets. So if everyone in the dataset was reliably learning from their prior failures, their odds of success should increase dramatically with each new attempt, leading to short-lived failure streaks before success.

But the data revealed much longer streaks than the researchers anticipated.

“Although your performance improves over time, you still fail more than we would expect you to,” Wang explains. “That suggests that you are stuck somewhere—that you are trying but not making progress.”

In other words, neither of the two theories could account for the dynamics underlying repeated failures. So the researchers decided to build a model that accounted for that.

The Pros and Cons of Paying Off Your Debt Early

Not so fast. In some cases, paying a debt off early doesn’t save you all that much money. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of paying down debt before you have to.

Pro: You’ll save thousands of dollars in interest

You can’t take out a loan without paying interest. You also can’t carry a credit card balance without paying interest. And the longer you owe money, the more interest you’ll pay. Let’s say you buy a car for the price of $25,000, and you borrow $20,000 at an interest rate of 3 percent on a 60-month loan. That could mean more than $1,500 in interest payments over the course of five years. What a waste, right?

So whether it’s a car loan or credit card debt, the sooner you wipe it out, the more money you’ll save in interest payments, and depending on the balance, this could mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Con: You may have paid off most of the loan interest already

Most loans have something called an “amortization schedule” that maps out how much you’ll pay in interest and how much you’ll pay in principal each month. With many loans — especially mortgages — you pay most of the interest in the early years and pay mostly principal later on.

For example, let’s say you have a 30-year loan of $300,000 with a 5 percent interest rate. Using this handy amortization calculator, this means you’ll pay $1,610 per month. (For simplicity purposes, I am not including taxes and insurance in this calculation.) A typical amortization schedule shows that you will pay $1,250 per month in interest payments at first. But toward the end of the lending period, your interest payments are much lower. By the time you have three years left on the loan, you’ll pay a little over $200 in interest per month and it will continue to decline from there.

If you are fairly late in the loan term, there’s not a major financial advantage to paying your loan off early. You’re practically borrowing money interest-free at this point, so you might as well hold onto your cash or use it for something else.

Pro: You free up cash for other things

Your mortgage is $1,500 a month. Your car payment is $200 per month. Your student loan payment is $180. The minimum payment on your credit card balance is $250. If you’re locked into these payments each month, you may not have a lot of money left over for other needs or wants. Debt prevents you from having true financial flexibility. Pay those debts off early, and breathe easier knowing you’ve freed up a significant amount of cash.

Con: You could deplete your emergency fund

Your drive to pay off debt early may be strong, but where is that money coming from? It’s not easy for most people to pay off the $20,000 left on a mortgage in one fell swoop, for example. If you do have that much cash available, you need to make sure it’s not coming out of your emergency fund. It may feel good to pay off a debt, but when you have no money left to cover a medical emergency or job loss, you’re playing a dangerous game. It’s best to keep at least three months worth of living expenses on hand in cash, and avoid the temptation to raid it just to pay off a debt early.

Pro: You’ll sleep better

For many people, carrying debt from month to month is physically and mentally exhausting. It weighs on you. And that’s totally understandable. Everyone has their own comfort level with debt, and if you simply can’t stand the thought of even a small debt burden, pay those loans off in full if you can. In many cases, paying off a debt early offers a mental and financial freedom.

Con: You might stop building credit

Believe it or not, paying off debt early may actually hurt your credit. If you insist on always clearing debts in full long before they are due, you may cease to have enough credit history to get a favorable rating from credit agencies. As long as your debt burden is not too high, making consistent, regular payments on debts and paying bills on time is the best way to build strong credit.

Happy New Year, 2021!

As 2020 winds down, we wanted to take a moment to thank you for your support and dedication over the past year. While this hasn’t been the easiest year for many, we are grateful for the community we have of former players. We are dedicated to continue the support that has come to define us for the past three decades and are determined to continue to evolve our offerings and service in the year, years and decades to come.

We wish you a happy, safe and healthy 2021. See you back here in the New Year.

-Your PAF Family

Feeling Tired in Social Situations?

Feeling tired after a physically or mentally straining day is normal. But if you are feeling more tired than usual after a typical day of interacting with family, friends and colleagues, it could be a sign of hearing loss. 

Hearing loss is incredibly common, affecting over 48 million Americans to some degree. It’s not just something that happens to the elderly—it can happen at any age and any stage in life. You may think you will know right away if you have hearing loss, but it typically occurs gradually over the course of a few years. In fact, it is often family members and friends who catch the early signs. They tend to notice the TV volume getting too loud and the frequent interjections of “Huh?” and “What?” before the person with hearing loss notices. 

So why does hearing loss make us feel so fatigued? 

When you have normal hearing, understanding your friends or loved ones doesn’t require significant thought or effort. It just comes naturally, allowing you to focus your attention on other details of everyday life. When you can’t hear well due to hearing loss, your brain has to work overtime to understand the people around you.  

Right now, we are all learning how it feels to have a conversation over video call. Missed connections, distracting noises, and poor sound quality make conversations more difficult and can leave us feeling exhausted and even frustrated afterwards. Know the feeling? 

Having a conversation with hearing loss is similar. You have to exert more focus and ask more clarifying questions. You may be mistaking words or feel like everyone is mumbling. Meanwhile, your brain is trying to process and interpret these sounds, as well as distinguish between important sounds and background noise. Some people with hearing loss even begin to rely on lip reading without noticing. With all this extra work, it’s no wonder those with hearing loss may feel tired or mentally drained after social interactions.

The good news is that hearing aids can help the majority of hearing loss cases. Even if you have a minor hearing loss, hearing aids can help you regain important sounds and take the fatigue out of everyday conversations. 

While some are resistant to trying hearing aids, patients who try them out find that the positive effects of feeling more connected to your friends and loved ones causes them to quickly forget about their hesitations. Treating hearing loss not only helps you have better conversations, but it will also leave you with more energy for other activities, like taking your children out to dinner or going on a bike ride after work.

As a member of the NFLPA, you have access to an exclusive program offered by EarQ and the PAF. Come in to any participating EarQ office to have a hearing test completed at no cost to you. If you show a significant need for hearing aids, you may be eligible for a Gene Upshaw PAT Grant to assist with the payment.   

If you are ready to get your energy back and take the next step to better hearing, please call us at 888-840-1292 to get set up with an EarQ provider today!

*Access to the Gene Upshaw PAT Grant is at the sole discretion of the Professional Athletes Foundation.  Please contact the Professional Athletes Foundation at 800.372.2000 with any questions about applying for the grant. 

4 ways to stay fit and stress less during the holidays

As the holiday season ramps up, daily schedules can easily fill with the demands of the season, like shopping, cooking, wrapping and planning. To avoid overload, it’s all too easy to shift self-care priorities — like regular exercise — to the bottom of the list. Skipping workouts, however, can actually make it more difficult for our bodies and minds to deal with added holiday stressors. 

Instead of letting exercise slide, taking a less-is-more approach to working out will enable you to avoid schedule overload without sacrificing your health. By training smarter, not longer, you can increase time available for holiday to-dos while still decreasing the impact of seasonal treats on the waistline. This plan will also help reduce stress and safeguard your overall well-being. 

Below, I outline four strategies to help you stay fit during the holiday season.

Use habit stacking to add more daily exercise 

One of the best ways to train smarter, not harder, in this busy time of year is to ensure you’re exercising consistently at least a few minutes every day by making it a habit. And one of the most effective ways to create a daily habit that sticks is to stack it on an existing one.

Consider some of common everyday habits that are so ingrained in your routine, you automatically do them, such as brushing your teeth, showering and making your bed. By adding an exercise right before, during or directly after one of those habits, it’s easier to make it stick in your daily routine. For example, for nearly eight years now, I’ve been doing 50 body-weight squats or two-minute wall sits while I brush my teeth.

It wasn’t until a couple years ago when I read James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits” that I realized what I’d been doing was called “habit stacking.”

In a blog post on Clear’s website, he explains why “synaptic pruning” in our brains supports habit stacking. Connections (synapses) between neurons in our brains, he wrote, decrease when not used and strengthen when used frequently. Consequently, existing habits have stronger synaptic connections that we can leverage through habit stacking to create new habits.

That’s why my squat habit while toothbrushing was so easy to start and maintain. After reading Clear’s blog, I also added 10 push-ups before showering to my daily routine — and I formed that habit easily as well!

What daily habits could you stack with different forms of exercise?

Feel free to use mine or come up with your own. Maybe 30 jumping jacks before morning coffee? Or 20 alternating step-back lunges right after putting on your shoes? Choose what feels right for you to slot into your routine.

Multitask your mobile screen time

Although spending time on your smartphone might seem like a habit, it’s usually more of a time waster that happens sporadically throughout the day rather than a natural part of a daily routine. And leading up to the holidays, many people experience an increase in mobile screen time. Whether people are online shopping, answering texts or scrolling social media to keep up with friends’ holiday plans, many folks inevitably spend a significant chunk of the day looking down at their phones.

What if you could make even a fraction of that time better for your health? And maybe even dissuade yourself from spending so much time looking at your phone? You can — by incorporating posture-improving, core and leg-strengthening wall sits in your smartphone time. 

By design, wall sits are challenging. So, even though they’re good for you, you aren’t going to want to hold them for very long or do very many sets. So if you pair them with your smartphone time, you’ll likely reduce your scrolling minutes just to avoid them — which isn’t a bad thing for your mental health.

The Next Generation of You: Ovie Mughelli

by Jim Gehman

 “My parents were Nigerian immigrants, and when they came to this country, they had to, like most immigrants, go bust their ass to get things done. They came here with next to nothing and both have double-digit number of siblings and had to send money back. So, they had a crazy work ethic and a certain level of accountability that was through the roof. They instilled that into all their children,” Mughelli said.

“They were big on goals. So, when it came to football, I just was so detail-orientated on what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there. Not just being big, fast, and strong, but having that mental game and having that understanding of how to be successful and focus on details is what set me apart from other fullbacks.”

In 2008, Mughelli’s second year with the Falcons, he started the Ovie Mughelli Foundation.

“I always wanted to give back. I was raised that way,” Mughelli said. “We always, through our church ministry, donated our time, our treasures, to help those less advantaged. I wanted to do more with my foundation than just ‘shop with a jock’ or have a bike drive, which are both very important. I don’t to minimize those, but I wanted to find something where I can really make a difference. And things kind of just came together.”

The foundation’s focal point is based on Mughelli’s role as an environmental advocate. Its goal is to educate and inspire the next generation of environmental leaders.

“My first two kids were born premature,” said Mughelli, a husband and father of three. “And just the fact that I almost brought my kids out into a world that could have killed them because of the air pollution in Atlanta at the time, made me want to do what I could to make sure that the planet that I’m leaving to my kids is one that I could be proud of, and one that’s safe. Not many NFL players are really pushing sustainability or environment justice or talking about anything green. No one, actually. So, I’m the first NFL player to have a fully environmental foundation.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Mughelli would often speak around the country before large conferences of business and community leaders. He opened many eyes with his speeches.

“It’s fun because we really focus on people of color, children of color, because the environmental movement is a very, very white movement. All the conferences I go to, I say, ‘Look around. Does this room look like America, or even the world?’ It’s always no. It’s always 95 percent or even 98 percent people of non-color. And I’m like, ‘We can’t be successful in this movement if we don’t get everyone involved,’” Mughelli said.

“It’s going to take some uncomfortable conversations and breaking down some walls of unconscious racism. And some conscious as well, where even though with the green jobs coming around, there’s a lot of options for green jobs that are not being made available or pushed in communities of color the same way that they are being pushed in other communities. 

“That’s where I feel like I have a real strong opportunity to do something great because I use sports to promote sustainability. Because if an athlete who needs clean air and clean water to play his sport is not pushing for environmental equity or not for pushing to make sure our planet is safe to play sports, then who will? So, I use my platform to join with other people, other organizations, and even now, other athletes. I was calling myself an eco-athlete in 2008, and now there are several eco-athletes in baseball and soccer and tennis, Olympic sports. It’s really fun and I’m excited about where this is going to go.”

Happy Holidays from the PAF!

While you may not be able to celebrate with family and loved ones this year, we are sending our warmest wishes to you and your families this holiday season.

Here at the PAF, we wish you the best over the next few weeks, especially good health 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.

Happy Holidays and may you have a safe and healthy New Year.

-Your family at the Professional Athletes Foundation.

The Next Generation of You: Dwight Hollier

by Jim Gehman

“One of the things that drove me as a player, as a young person, is idea that I may not be good enough, I’ve got to work my tail off,” Hollier said. “So, I was always pushing myself. And at some point, about my fourth or fifth year in the league, guys in the locker room started calling me the old dude, and I was 27, 28. I was like, if they’re calling me the old dude now, I should probably start preparing for whatever is going to be next for me.”

After eight seasons with the Dolphins and one with Indianapolis, Hollier left the game following the 2000 season armed with a master’s degree in counseling he had earned earlier that year from Nova Southeastern University. He felt prepared for the transition. However…

“Two months after officially filing for severance, I was employed as a mental health counselor at a big health care agency in Charlotte, North Carolina,” Hollier said. “I put all these pieces in place. I was a poster child for doing things the right way, I think. And yet, still, I struggled. And I struggled for maybe a few reasons. One, the game was done with me, but I wasn’t done with the game. As least mentally.

“I’d gotten hurt my last year and played injured, and that put me into a real depression, and I had difficulty coming out of that. I was doing counseling with young people and helping them work through issues. And yet hadn’t worked through my own.

“Often times, people would ask me if I played football and I’d get frustrated with the question because I wished I was still playing. And they would say to me, ‘You played a long time in the NFL.’ And I’d say, ‘I only played nine years.’ When I say it out loud now, I sound foolish. But I was so caught up in being mad and frustrated that I didn’t play 10. I struggled with that for long time after finishing playing.”

Having gone through those experiences himself, Hollier is in a position to advise other former players who are going through or may soon go through the same things.

“There are some wonderful resources that are provided through the NFL, through the NFL Players Association, that I think guys should take advantage of. One thing I would absolutely recommend is to have a mentor, someone that has maybe been where you are planning to go,” Hollier said. “When I left football, I felt like I was in a bad wasteland of nothing. No contact. Nothing. And I think the NFL Players Association does a much better job now of connecting with guys, particularly as they’re transitioning.

“Often times for guys in transition, it’s the disconnect. Sometimes we disconnect for a lot of different reasons, including sadness that we have about not playing the game. Or the thought in our minds that we’re somehow disappointing someone because we didn’t make the team.

“And then make sure that you are addressing mental health through counseling, through networks, connecting with mental health professionals. That’s also part of finding a mentor and staying connected because that person can help keep you grounded and may see things in you that you don’t recognize yourself.”

Nearly two years ago, Hollier took a step back in his history and returned to the University of North Carolina, where he’s a senior associate athletic director.

“I work with the aspect of wellness for our student-athletes, connecting and communicating with our sports medicine, our strength-conditioning, nutrition, sports psychology areas,” Hollier said. “Just assuring that we have the right resources in place to help support the student-athlete’s health and well-being.”

And is the job even more special because it’s at his alma mater?

“Absolutely! When I got the job, I was telling people it’s like hitting the lottery for the fourth time,” Hollier said. “I hit the lottery when I got an opportunity to play football at the University of North Carolina. And I hit the lottery when I got drafted by the Dolphins and got the chance to speak with (their legendary coach) Don Shula. And I hit the lottery again when I got hired by the NFL in 2013 to then be the director of transition and clinical services.

“And then to be able to come back to a place that I’ve loved since I was 18 and be able to serve in the capacity where I’m assisting young people with finding fulfillment through athletics and academics, it’s just really special. I feel very blessed to be afforded those opportunities. I’m grateful that I get to get dressed up in my in my Carolina blue gear and my bowtie and drive onto that beautiful campus in Chapel Hill.”

The Next Generation of You: John Wade

by Jim Gehman

“Every kid that plays football thinks that, but in reality, I didn’t believe it until I made the team after my rookie training camp,” Wade said. “I wasn’t a highly-recruited or top-tier prospect in the high school realm or even the college realm. I was on good teams at Marshall, and having Randy Moss on the team also helps you probably get more looks than you would of.”

Sharing the offensive huddle with a future Hall of Fame wide receiver helped Wade get noticed, but after that, he was on his own. And he made more than the best of it by generating a 12-year playing career with the Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the then-Oakland Raiders.

“I didn’t expect to make it one year, much less get credit for 12,” Wade said with a laugh. “Just the fact that I was able to not only make the team, but start for a number of years, it was more than I anticipated.

“And I was around a few guys early in my career that played 10,12 years and never made the playoffs. So, I was fortunate to make the playoffs a couple times in Jacksonville and a couple times in Tampa. I never made it to a Super Bowl, but not everybody does.”

Retiring from the league in 2010, Wade returned to his hometown of Harrisonburg, Virginia, to work for his family’s business – Bob Wade Autoworld.

“My dad started the dealership in 1980, so I’d been around it before I left for college,” Wade said. “He was going to retire, but unfortunately, he passed away in the fall of ’11. So, I became the full-on owner at that point.”  

Successfully operating the business for nine years, Wade uses some of the leadership qualities he picked up from his former coaches, Tom Coughlin and Jon Gruden, to oversee the dealership’s staff of 50 employees.

“Playing team sports, you have to deal with different personalities, people from different backgrounds. So, you have to learn to adapt and adjust from a personality standpoint to come to a common goal to succeed,” Wade said.

“I think football and both of those coaches, a little bit different in style but still very regimented on keeping things task-oriented and driving towards a goal, that’s what retail sales is also. We have a team and a goal every month. Sometimes outside things, whether it be customers, family, could intervene, but you have to figure out how to pull it all together and month to month, make it work.”

What does Wade enjoy most about his work?

“Just interacting with people. I don’t mind talking to people, whether it be good or bad. Hopefully more good than bad,” Wade said. “So, it’s just interaction with people, whether it be employees or customers. Every day’s a new adventure, if you will. Besides the normal paperwork stuff.

“I look at it as when I left the NFL, that was it. That was the end of that chapter. Some customers will come in and we’ll have conversations about it, and I don’t mind talking about it, but it’s not at the forefront for me to be like, ‘Hey, I used to play.’ If the customer or an employee wants to talk about it, then I’m all in. But like I said, it’s not my go-to thing.”

Want Your New Year’s Resolutions to Stick?

A few years ago, researchers from UCLA and UPenn’s Wharton School published a paper (Dai, Milkman, & Riis, 2014) that explored why something they call the “fresh start effect” motivates people to make aspirational behavior changes via New Year’s resolutions.

The gist of their “fresh start effect” theory is that temporal landmarks like New Year’s Day, birthdays, back-to-school season—which serve as delineating signposts for the passage of time on a calendar—seem to facilitate “new mental accounting periods each year, which relegate past imperfections to a previous period, induce people to take a big-picture view of their lives, and thus motivate aspirational behaviors.”

Despite the centuries-old tradition of making New Year’s resolutions in the month of December, surprisingly few modern-day, large-scale studies have investigated this “temporal landmark” goal-setting phenomenon until recently.

This week, researchers from Stockholm University and Linköping University in Sweden published a study they describe as “probably the largest and most comprehensive study on New Year’s resolutions conducted thus far.” These findings (Oscarsson, Carlbring, Andersson, & Rozental, 2020) were published on December 9 in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.

This year-long study involved over a thousand people (N = 1066) who said they’d made New Year’s resolutions and were recruited via multiple channels in the last week of December 2016. Participants agreed to follow-up interviews once a month from New Year’s Eve through December 2017.

In addition to investigating if online support could increase people’s odds of sticking with their New Year’s resolutions over the course of 12 months, the researchers examined how “approach” vs. “avoidance” goal-setting affected the likelihood of long-term success.

What’s the difference between “approach goals” and “avoidance goals”? An approach-oriented goal focuses on actively doing something (e.g., “I will start going for daily walks”), whereas avoidance-oriented goals center around not doing something (e.g., “I will stop sitting too much.”) In general, avoidance goals are about stopping, quitting, and forbidding behaviors. On the flip side, approach goals are about seeking a fresh start, new beginnings, and proactively getting out of a rut.

New Year’s Resolutions: Approach-Oriented Goals vs. Avoidance-Oriented Goals

As this “Keeping Resolutions” graph by corresponding author Per Carlbring of Stockholm University illustrates, study participants who made approach-oriented New Year’s resolutions had a higher success rate (59%) than those who made avoidance-oriented resolutions (47%).

This research suggests that flipping the script from an avoidance-oriented resolution that uses language such as “I will stop _______” to an approach-oriented script that states “I will start _______,” may increase one’s odds of sticking to a New Year’s resolution.

“In many cases, rephrasing your resolution could definitely work. For example, if your goal is to stop eating sweets in order to lose weight, you will most likely be more successful if you say ‘I will eat fruit several times a day’ instead,” Carlbring said in a news release. “You then replace sweets with something healthier, which probably means you will lose weight and also keep your resolution. You cannot erase a behavior, but you can replace it with something else.”

To the researchers’ surprise, providing study participants with extensive online support in the form of “emails with information and exercises regarding motivation, thought patterns, and negative spirals in relation to New Year’s resolutions” didn’t significantly boost someone’s odds of success.

After randomly dividing study participants into three groups that received no support, some support, or extended support, a one-year follow-up showed that providing people with “some support” seemed to be a sweet spot.

“Participants receiving some support reported greater success than those receiving extended support, and those receiving no support,” the authors explain. “This suggests that information, instructions, and exercises regarding effective goal setting, administered via the Internet, could affect the likelihood of success—another question to study further.”

“[We] found that the support given to the participants did not make much of a difference when it came down to how well participants kept their resolutions throughout the year. What surprised us were the results on how to phrase your resolution,” Carlbring concluded.

Are you making any New Year’s resolutions for 2021? If so, try to think of ways to frame your personal goals and resolutions for the upcoming year using approach-oriented language.

4 Clues to Help You Choose an Effective Business Name

It is the central theme and the very foundation on which your business stands. Everything else revolves around it. 

When people hear your brand name, it should immediately give them an idea of what your business is. Whether this is true depends on the effectiveness and relevance of your business name to your business. Imagine a brand called “Oblivious Designs.” What first comes to mind? Fashion? Architecture? Now imagine that this brand tells you they are into food production and distribution, or that they are a security company.

Be conscious of the fact that whenever people hear your business name, they start forming mental pictures of what your business is about. Therefore, you must take due care and give proper thought to your choice of a business name.

Your business name confers identity on your business. Many businesses have failed simply because they chose the wrong business name. Choosing an effective name is vital to how your brand is perceived, which affects how it will be received in the market. Below are four clues that will help you choose an effective business name.

1. Your choice keywords are in high demand

The key element of an effective business name is that it can attract traffic on its own. Your ideal business should be solving a problem that people have. If it is, then people should already be searching for the solutions you provide.

With tools from Google such as Google Trends and the search function, you can find details of how people are searching for your business solution. With Google Trends, you can keep track of past trends in line with your business offering. You can also see current trends and determine how it affects your business and choice of a business name.

If you are looking to choose an effective business name, you must already have suggestions in mind. The point here is to plug those keywords into tools. These tools would show you the demand for those keywords. If your chosen keywords are in high demand, you are unto something.

2. Your business name options are original

There is hardly anything new under the sun. But choosing a business name that is already in use is a bad idea. Rather than impress people, this will turn them off. Worse still, you may never hit the ground running as the existing name will overshadow yours until it becomes non-existent.

Imagine that another brand springs up today with the name ‘Mark Donalds’. Not only can they get sued, but they would also earn the dislike of the larger populace. People want to see that you put in the necessary effort in your quest to serve them.

Business naming could be a tough process, no doubt, but the end is rewarding. A good brand is known for originality, ingenuity, and authenticity. With these qualities, everything that represents the brand and everything the brand stands for becomes valuable to her target audience.

Take advantage of different business naming services and their plethora of naming methods. One such service asks you to input the keywords that represent your business. With these keywords, it will generate some combinations and name options that could work for your brand. An example is NameOyster which generates names using artificial intelligence.

Another good example is Brand New Name. They offer a crowdsourced approach to business naming. The way it works is that they will give you access to a platform to run a contest and engage hundreds of talented creatives who will generate inspiring and innovative name ideas for your product and business. And to ensure that you get the best result, a prize is awarded to the best idea, driving the creatives to offer powerful options in hopes of winning.

3. Make sure your keywords are legally available

As many experienced business owners can attest, it is possible to come up with an amazing business name, start working on the brand identity creation (including logo and other branding items), only to find out that the business name is not legally available for use.

To avoid wasting effort and resources, consider the legal availability of your options. The regulatory bodies usually have a business availability checker on their portals. You can also file for a business name availability check physically.

Fixing the Fix

This month’s Editor’s Note comes from a valued guest contributor, current NFL veteran Josh Shaw.

My name is Josh Shaw, I am a 5-year NFL Veteran. I have a beautiful wife who is my high school sweetheart. We have been married for four years, and we have three beautiful children together and one on the way.

In November 2019, I was suspended from the NFL. My suspension was due to me being irresponsible and making a bad choice. I wagered on professional sports. Once the news came out that I was suspended from the league for my actions I was devastated. The job I loved had been taken from me. Although I was disappointed in myself for my actions, my suspension was a blessing in disguise. I am thankful for my suspension because it helped me realize I had a gambling addiction. Before my suspension I had no idea, I had a problem with gambling. Although my gambling stems from table games, my one mistake opened my eyes to see the bigger picture of my addiction. My suspension allowed me the time to self-evaluate and realize how big my addiction to gambling was.

I am thankful for my suspension because it helped me realize I had a gambling addiction…I had no idea.

I accepted that I had a gambling addiction, the first step I took was informing my wife. My wife and I agreed that it would be best to seek professional help from a counselor. I took the time to reach out to the NFL and they directed me to my current counselor, who has helped me tremendously in my recovery process. Counseling has really helped me get to the root of my gambling issues, realizing what I often experienced while gambling is a pleasure chemical known as dopamine. I would have never thought I would be seeking help from a counselor. In fact, as a high-level athlete we are always told to be tough, suck it up, never show a sign of weakness etc. Counseling is typically frowned upon by men. A large part of that is our pride. We tend to think we can handle issues on our own. This stereotype surrounding counseling needs to change!

I would have never thought I would be seeking help from a counselor…[athletes] tend to think we can handle issues on our own.

In addition to counseling another effective tool for me has been attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings. Here I was able to be around so many people from different walks of life. Whether past or present, at some point everyone taking part of the GA sessions has been negatively affected by gambling. It has been helpful to be around a group of people talking about their experiences with gambling. The common denominator with everyone that has overcome their struggles was to accept that there was a problem. When this happens then the healing can begin.

Gambling was always something I looked forward to. It was the most fun hobby I had. Through counseling I realized I needed to do other things I was passionate about to keep busy. In March of 2020 I began training kids, teenagers, and young adults. God has continued to open door after door for me. I recently began training two future 2021 NFL draft prospects that opted out of their senior seasons. I love the fact that I can help educate them on what steps to take to ensure they have the tools to remain successful as they become a part of the National Football League.

The Professional Athlete’s Foundation has partnered with EPIC Risk Management to bring program content and education on problem gambling, which will be tailored to meet the mental health needs of NFLPA members.  The PAF and EPIC Risk Management are committed to educating our athletes and families on warning signs of problem gambling which can be difficult to spot as problem gambling is often referred to as the hidden addiction.  Those with gambling disorders and addictive tendencies will receive our unyielding support.   

Try Out Some Active Engaged Eating

My Dear Old Friends,

Charcuterie is a French word that means the collection of cold cooked meats. Adding an assortment of cheeses to the mix creates something I decided to call “Active Engaged Eating”.

I don’t love cold meat as much as I love cheese. That’s why I have my own version of this eating experience that includes potato chips, cashews, apples, grapes and my favorite red wine infused cheese. Some may say potato chips and expensive cheese is two worlds clashing. But for me and my life even knowing the word charcuterie is two worlds clashing!

Andre Collins, PAF Executive Director

The joy of putting different combinations of chips and fruits… and nuts together with every bite is exhilarating. The various groupings for the perfect mix of sweet and savory are endless.

But isn’t “Active Engaged Eating” a little bit like life. Through experiences we must learn what we like and what we don’t like. We must try new things and hear new words… and hear different points of view to become our best. When I put together the right combinations from my plate to create a taste that explodes, isn’t that like strategically assembling the right sequences of decisions that creates success and joy!

In the mindset of ‘trying to do your best’ just reaching for the chips and cheese is even fun… do I choose a grape to go with this bite or the cashew? Do I wipe my hands on my jeans or keep it neat with a napkin?

Wiping your hands on your jeans symbolizes risk. But in real life we don’t always think we need a napkin. Like reaching for food … life should be fun picking the right people to engage. Seek to learn more in understanding fair business, honest work, a beneficial relationship or a path to good health. What are the risks, the rewards, the pitfalls? An active engaged life is necessary to own success.

…So, take action! Cheese and chips together are delicious. A napkin is better than your jeans and creating the right mix helps you understand real opportunity.

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Andre Collins
Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

This month’s letter from Andre is a revisit to one of our favorite from the archives. We hope you enjoy reflecting back on it as much as we do.

A few good friends can go a long way

My Dear Old Friends,

I’m feeling a little guilty lately, beating myself up a bit as I question what kind of friend I’ve been over the years. I can’t help but think how good some people have been to me and wonder where they are now as I’ve lost contact. My wife’s friends seem to be my only friends, and I hang out with my kid’s friend’s parents on the weekend…mmmm…no shade. My coworkers do fill in nicely when I need to talk, and joke. But what about all the relationships that helped to shape me.  Where are those people? It’s too many to name that were there through my ridiculousness and, at the time, deep arguments, and debates. Where are those influences that made me who I am?

Andre Collins, PAF Executive Director

Friendships are good for your health and overall well-being. Friends are easy to come by, but it’s hard to build the kind of bond that lasts a lifetime. I remember lots of laughs with my old friends.  There were so many good times, and during tough times no words needed to be said because we all felt the same. My friends were good to me and celebrated me genuinely.

Friends give good advice even when you don’t want to hear it. And you almost never follow the good advice from those that know you best. Leaving the door open for a true friend to say “I told you so,” …I’ve had too many of those moments.

Friends don’t let you be lonely. My friends always knew when to call, those faithful compadres. They let the ‘real me’ belong; a little goofy, talked too much at the wrong time and curious about the oddest stuff. My friends and I rallied around our situation and circumstances. We were happy and gave each other confidence. We built each other up…we’d say, “Keep trying, you’re with us!”

Friends return home for one another when someone from the tribe is sick or worse has to say goodbye forever.

As an adult I’ve met people I’m fond of and warm to. I call them friends but it’s hard to develop those same fearless type of friendships I developed when I was younger and felt like I had nothing to lose.

When you get older, developing friendships take a back seat to duties as a husband and father. Supporting your wife and finding the right words to nurture your kids is ever-present. And those dear old friendships grow apart as life gets in the way. That distance removes us from the past.

Maintaining a good friendship takes a big effort, good listening skills and being open. Make yourself available and it will be worth the joy and comfort a good friendship can provide. A few good friends can go a long way.

My challenge over the next few months to you is to reconnect with old friends. They know you and even though you may have changed over the years, the common ground that was built many years ago lies somewhere beneath the surface.

I read something recently that said just reach out to old friends. So, I will! And over the next few months I’ll share the stories of those reunions. It’s never too late to reconnect. There are lots of good years left to laugh…wish me luck.

As an exercise in wellness I challenge you to go back and reconnect. There may be a bond that still exists that will lift you up!

Action Creates an Opportunity for real joy and real friendships.

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Andre Collins
Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

Be deliberate about recreation and self-care

Dear Former Players and Families,

Wow 2020 is really trying to go out with a literal bang! These are exciting times as well as stressful times. Which leads me to say this, I wholeheartedly and sincerely support any American’s right to vote how they see fit. This is what makes us American and makes our nation great. People worldwide do not enjoy civil liberty in the same way us Americans do. 

I don’t take those freedoms for granted, but I also don’t spend much time thinking about civil rights being taken away. I trust our democracy when it comes to basic entitlements. But today I’m exhausted and wiped out. So, this message is a call to take care. A call to take care of self. 

Be mindful of the pandemic, politics, social justice, an up and down economy, unemployment, work from home and school from home. Our emotional resources and internal strengths are being drained, strained, and stretched beyond our understanding. I want to offer this advice and I’ll be sure to apply it to my own life. Find your happy. Find your sweet spot and be deliberate about recreation and self-care.

Let’s revisit our PAF Peptalk series from April on ‘Stress Management’. Click on the links below to hear the conversation and download the stress management toolkit.

PAF PepTalk on Stress management


PAF Stress Management Toolkit

(Or cut and paste the following link into your search for Toolkit)  bit.ly/38intHk

And remember, action creates opportunity,

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Andre Collins
Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

What Lesson is 2020 Trying to Teach?

Today I’m sitting on my front stoop, not in the back. I wanted to see who’s out here enjoying the late afternoon sun. It feels like September, the sun sitting low in the sky, casting long shadows… I love how this feels. Life shouldn’t be a constant critique of what I did the hour before. Sometimes I do get to breathe and just be.

But something’s tugging on me.

Life’s not acting perfect right now. The coronavirus has life on the ropes for a standing 8 count. COVID-19 is a raw deal. But what lesson is this virus trying to teach? 

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Andre Collins, Executive Director

We already know disease in general can be cruel and unforgiving. We already know life is fragile and not to take life’s fragility for granted. We know what it means to take care of each other …we don’t always do it.  But we know how to be responsible and loving.

COVID-19’s lesson may be hiding in plain sight, pleading with you to search and find. Asking you to realize the opportunity to grow as you stay at home.

I’ve had more than a few good teachers and mentors in my life. A treasure chest of words to live by. But a most valuable lesson is ‘living in the moment’, a foundation for stability and emotional well-being. Living in the moment has untapped potential; a power underutilized and not exercised.

To your detriment, human nature betrays you into looking too far ahead in life and at times too far behind. You can’t predict the future and the past can’t make you perform better today….

  • Don’t overthink your next move. Just move.
  • Avoid writing a doomed ending to your story without going on the journey.
  • Live moment to moment and be thrilled with what’s literally in sight.
  • Notice new things. Look up and look out! Don’t keep your head down.
  • Learn to understand what you’re feeling

Open your eyes. What do you see?  Be here right now. Be still.

Open your eyes. Life is exhilarating if you let it!

… sun casting long shadows… I love how this feels!

2020 is not cancelled.

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Andre Collins
Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

Visit www.PAFwellnessretreat.com
Action Creates Opportunity.

Happy Labor Day

We’d like to take a moment to wish all of our fellow former players a happy Labor Day, and hopefully a long-weekend spent with your family and friends.  

Your past experiences as part of the NFLPA have created a bond with labor unions across the country, and even the world.  We thank you and all of the hard working men and women in America for your dedication, day-in and day-out.

From all of us at the Professional Athletes Foundation, we wish you and your family, good health, much happiness and all the best heading into the fall!

Get a new “set of downs”

Dear Fellow Former Players & Families,

How is the PAF different from other programs for former NFL players?

Many years ago, we recognized that former players needed help through difficult financial situations. So, the NFLPA took a brave step in creating the Professional Athletes Foundation (PAF) to help former NFL players, a group of men the world perceived as ‘having it all’. 

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Andre Collins, Executive Director

The PAF has come a long way since its inception in 1990. This year, in 2020, we are celebrating our 30th anniversary. In that first year, we delivered just one grant for $1,000. Today we help more than 500 former players every year. 

‘Good work’ doesn’t come without risk, but the reward for helping to rebuild players’ lives is evident in the generosity these players pour back into their communities. 

Our 30th year gives us an opportunity to reflect on our work. We know life is hard and realize there are lots of ‘fourth and one” situations. We will help you get a new “set of downs”. 

The PAF will never forget how important it is to care for those we serve. You have wives, families, children, and careers. You are men of influence. You are great! 

Action Creates Opportunity. The PAF is here as a resource. Stay connected. Let our experience of working through difficult situations guide you through this unprecedented time.  

Andre Collins

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Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy During the Coronavirus Pandemic

After several weeks, you might find that all that extra togetherness is overwhelming. How do you maintain harmony and not drive each other crazy? 

Chris Kraft, Ph.D., a psychologist and expert in relationships and sexuality, shares some tips and encouragement for couples waiting out the pandemic together.

Couples and Cabin Fever

Spending day after day in the same place can make even devoted couples a little stir-crazy. 

Kraft says, “Even committed couples can start to become lethargic and lose sense of time, asking themselves, What day is it? A sense of monotony can cause a numbness to feelings, which is part of coping with so much uncertainty in the world right now.” 

Though relationships can offer solace, it’s important for each person to take responsibility for individual health and well-being.

Maintain self-care and a routine

“Self-care is essential. With everyone’s schedule changed, it’s important to establish and maintain some kind of a routine,” Kraft says. He recommends sticking to regular sleep hours, waking up on time, making the bed and getting dressed each day. Eating nutritious foods is important, too.

Scheduling breaks, such as a midday yoga video or mediation session, can break up the day and help partners stay grounded.

Keep the workday limited

“For couples who are working at home, it helps to set boundaries between work hours and time spent together,” Kraft says. “The anxiety caused by the pandemic may tempt some people to lose themselves in work, particularly people who invest a lot of their personal identity in their professions. They might miss the routine, the meetings, the structure that go with that.”

Beware substance use and abuse

Increased stress can aggravate habits such as smoking or substance abuse, including drinking more alcohol. “Keep an eye on the cocktails,” he advises. “Too much alcohol can set the stage for unhealthy interactions.” 

He adds that people in recovery from substance use disorders may need to be especially vigilant, because being stuck at home without in-person support meetings can raise the risk of relapse.

Go outside together

Exercising outdoors together can be a powerful way to reduce stress and strengthen positive connections, Kraft says. 

“For couples that are used to spending time in the gym, it might require some changes to keep up with fitness and exercise when you can’t work out on machines or take live classes.” He recommends partners go for a run or a bike ride, dig in the garden, or even just take a walk together. 

“Couples who are more sedentary can start a healthy habit, such as a regular walks outdoors together during this time,” Kraft says.

Work together to keep kids occupied

Kids sequestered at home during the pandemic create another whole dimension of family togetherness, along with overwhelming stress, especially when one or both parents are trying to work from home. It can be all but impossible to do work, attend video meetings, help kids with home school lessons, and deal lovingly with their emotions and behaviors. 

Couples should plan kids’ days in advance when possible, and ensure that each partner is taking an equitable amount of time to keep children occupied and content.

Don’t count on amazing sex

Staying at home to help contain a dangerous, viral pandemic is not exactly a romantic vacation. Kraft says couples should modify their expectations around sexual intimacy. “People are distracted, and there’s a blur between work and home life,” he says.

“The stress is very real, particularly if one or both people are dealing with children at home, financial concerns, job loss, or illness affecting a friend or family member. These concerns, along with a generalized uncertainty about what’s going to happen next, can interfere with sexual desire.”

Broaden your support system

Your partner is just one person, no matter how amazing, and Kraft advises against leaning on any single individual for all your emotional needs just because you’re under the same roof. 

“It’s important for both people in the relationship to stay connected with family and friends who can be available for them, especially as time wears on with continuing physical distancing measures. 

“Talk with other people on the phone and use technology to keep your support network intact,” he says.

Plan something fun

Though couples’ pre-pandemic plans may be cancelled or postponed right now, Kraft suggests making new, different ones. “You can take a drive together, plan a special meal, or, if you have the resources, even make a small purchase that you can both enjoy. 

“Apps can help couples virtually get together with friends for dinners, game nights or movies. The important thing is to create things to look forward to, even if they’re small.”

High blood pressure before and after exercise linked to health issues in later life

Blood pressure and disease

Cardiovascular illnesses relate to issues with a person’s heart or blood vessels. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), these can include heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, arrhythmia, and heart valve problems.

A key issue driving cardiovascular diseases is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States.

High blood pressure occurs when a person’s blood ves