Hacks to su­per­charge your mind (you’re wel­come!)

Over­haul your well­be­ing, fast! These sci­ence-backed tweaks will help slash life stress in sec­onds

Women's Health Australia - - NEWS - By Florence Mitchell and Sophia An­der­son

These 14 sci­ence-backed habits will help slash life-stress, stat!

Ah, life goals. At times, they can feel more out of reach than a mil­lion-dol­lar mort­gage in beach­side Bondi. And ain’t no­body got the time nor the in­cli­na­tion to climb Ever­est ev­ery day! Does this mean you should ditch your as­pi­ra­tions? Not at all. In­stead, it’s about clean­ing up the gunk and su­per­charg­ing your life by mak­ing tweaks so tiny you barely even no­tice them.

This ap­proach is based on ‘mar­ginal gains the­ory’ – the idea that in or­der to achieve some­thing in the long term, you need to fo­cus on short­term changes. The the­ory was pop­u­larised by Bri­tish Cy­cling to turn around the for­tunes of the be­lea­guered na­tional team in 2003. Their aim? To im­prove mul­ti­ple as­pects by 1 per cent to ac­cu­mu­late grad­u­ally into an over­all im­proved per­for­mance.

The suc­cess of the strat­egy made house­hold names of the team in Bri­tain, but this the­ory can do won­ders for am­a­teurs, too, ar­gues clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Dr Jes­samy Hib­berd. “It’s a com­mon­sense ap­proach to well­be­ing, as op­posed to a clin­i­cal one,” she ex­plains. “Mak­ing small shifts has an ac­cu­mu­la­tive im­pact on your over­all well­be­ing. You’re giv­ing your­self a bet­ter chance of things go­ing well, lead­ing to a greater pos­si­bil­ity of suc­cess.” So en­hance your men­tal health with 14 easy, sci­ence-backed tweaks that work ev­ery time!


If an ac­tual hu­man were pes­ter­ing you ev­ery few sec­onds with pics of cute an­i­mals and Bach­e­lorette goss, it would prob­a­bly be time to have The Talk. So why do you put up with it from your phone? A re­cent study by the uni­ver­si­ties of Vir­ginia and Bri­tish Columbia found that smart­phone in­ter­rup­tions cause inat­ten­tion and hy­per­ac­tiv­ity – and you don’t need sci­ence to tell you how easy it is to fall down a What­sapp worm­hole when you’re on a dead­line. A smart­phone break-up is ex­treme, but some ground rules are a good start. Stick your phone on aero­plane mode while you’re at work and mute group chats if you’re stressed. If it’s re­ally piss­ing you off, throw it in the wash­ing up bowl. Easy!

2 Go with your gut

The mind-gut con­nec­tion gets more press than Harry and Meghan. Why is that? “We’re start­ing to see a strong re­la­tion­ship be­tween diet and men­tal health,” says di­eti­tian, chef and Jodi Lee Foun­da­tion Trust Your Gut am­bas­sador Themis Chrys­sidis. “A re­cent Aus­tralian study found that in­di­vid­u­als who ad­hered to a Mediter­ranean diet showed a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in de­pres­sive symp­toms over a three-month pe­riod.” His top tip? Fo­cus on pre­bi­otics: “These are a non-di­gestible car­bo­hy­drate which pro­vides the healthy bac­te­ria in our large in­tes­tine with food to en­sure the healthy bac­te­ria in our gut con­tin­ues to grow.”

Eat more fruits, veg­eta­bles, whole grains, nuts and seeds; limit booze and high-fat and high-sugar foods. He adds, “Im­prove your diet, im­prove your gut, im­prove your mood.”

3 Fly solo

Whether you’re sin­gle or not-at-all-sin­gle, time spent alone is a proven con­fi­dence­booster and stress-re­ducer – head­phones on the com­mute doesn’t count. You don’t have to dive in at the deep end and book a ta­ble for one (although, more power to you), but do choose ac­tiv­i­ties that al­low you to soak up some solo-ness. Peruse an art gallery in your lunch hour, take your­self out for a cof­fee and chill, or block out sin­gle time just as you would date nights.

4 Swerve some sug­ars

You’re well versed in the joy ride that is the sugar train; a 3pm choco­late bar spikes your blood sugar, giv­ing you a tem­po­rary boost, fol­lowed by a sharp crash. But re­search pub­lished in Sci­en­tific Re­ports found that a con­sis­tent in­take of re­fined sugar can in­crease your risk of de­vel­op­ing anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion. No need to stick your birth­day can­dles in a pot of hum­mus: it’s ha­bit­ual sugar in­take that’s prob­lem­atic, so just be more dis­cern­ing come snack time.

5 List the good stuff

If writ­ing about the things you’re grate­ful for sounds like the kind of ad­vice doled out by a mar­ket­ing exec at a sta­tionery com­pany, get a load of this: a Univer­sity of Mi­ami study found that peo­ple were more op­ti­mistic and felt bet­ter about their lives af­ter sim­ply writ­ing in a grat­i­tude jour­nal for 10 weeks. So next time some­thing gen­uinely nice hap­pens – your boss praises a job well done, you de­cide you do de­serve that Ap­ple Watch or your Fri­day night drinks es­ca­late to danc­ing – park your cyn­i­cism and put pen to pa­per, stat!


There’s a rea­son they’ve got where they are: they get shit done – even though that be­gins when most of us are still in REM. Anna Win­tour is on the ten­nis court by 5:45am and Oprah is al­ready mid-sun­salu­ta­tion at 6am. Hal El­rod has writ­ten the book on the sub­ject, The Mir­a­cle Morn­ing.

He ar­gues that, by ris­ing just one hour ear­lier to ex­er­cise, med­i­tate or even just to read a book, you can feel more en­er­gised and lower your stress lev­els. The early bird...


Some­times, watch­ing the news/read­ing a pa­per/perus­ing Twit­ter can leave you feel­ing like you’ve gone three rounds with Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.

But wor­ry­ing about the state of the world will do you no good. Re­search con­ducted by the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia af­ter the Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ings in 2013 found that re­peat­edly en­gag­ing with trau­mare­lated me­dia con­tent pro­longed view­ers’ stress. We’re not say­ing you should go and live un­der a rock, but turn­ing off the news alerts on your phone is a pretty good start.

8 Try a lit­tle metacog­ni­tive ther­apy

A thought is just a thought; it does not re­flect re­al­ity. This is the the­ory be­hind MCT – the new kid on the cog­ni­tive ther­apy block that’s evolved out of some 20 years of re­search by sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Manch­ester. The deal? Stud­ies sug­gest it has prom­ise in treat­ing anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion when ap­plied by trained clin­i­cians. But the prin­ci­ple can help even if you don’t have a men­tal health con­di­tion. Next time you have a neg­a­tive thought, recog­nise (yes, talk­ing to your­self can help) that it’s just a thought and that it is sep­a­rate from you and your sit­u­a­tion. Have the thought, then move on.

9 Chan­nel those chores

They may not top your list when it comes to chill-out tac­tics, but mind­ful chores are a le­git thing. It’s all about re­fram­ing some­thing you think of neg­a­tively as an op­por­tu­nity. Me­nial it may be, but fo­cus on the warmth of the wa­ter when you’re wash­ing the dishes, the tex­ture of the plates and the sounds of the suds and you might find that you can take small de­light in the dull-as­dish­wa­ter job. Re­peat for tasks such as vac­u­um­ing, bill pay­ing and your Sun­day batch cook, and you’ll ba­si­cally be boss­ing life.

10 Give some­thing back

If you haven’t sur­ren­dered your time for a good cause since you got your­self a Duke of Ed­in­burgh’s Award, you’re hu­man and that’s cool. But with a large amount of ev­i­dence link­ing vol­un­teer­ing to men­tal well­be­ing, help­ing oth­ers could be a le­git way of help­ing your­self. The the­ory goes that peo­ple who vol­un­teer reg­u­larly ex­pe­ri­ence spikes in oxy­tocin (the cud­dle hor­mone). Need some in­spo? We googled, and vol­un­teer­ing as a puppy so­cialiser is an ac­tual thing.

11 Sweat around your cy­cle

When you buy a box of su­per tam­pons, head to the gym and can’t quite crush it like you usu­ally do, blam­ing your bi­ol­ogy will get you nowhere. Pe­riod. “Dur­ing your pe­riod, oe­stro­gen and pro­ges­terone are nat­u­rally low, so more restora­tive ex­er­cises can work best, such as yoga or walk­ing,” rec­om­mends Heba Sha­heed, phys­io­ther­a­pist and founder of The Pelvic Ex­pert. “In the week af­ter your pe­riod and be­fore ovu­la­tion, oe­stro­gen and testos­terone rise, which is great for mus­cle build­ing. This is the best time to do strength train­ing.” If PMS is kick­ing in? Get back to restora­tive faves, such as pi­lates or swim­ming.

12 Get a pet

Aca­demics at the uni­ver­si­ties of Manch­ester, Southamp­ton and Liver­pool re­viewed 17 stud­ies on the im­pact of pets on the men­tal health of their own­ers, and saw a pos­i­tive over­all ef­fect. If you’re sans pet be­cause of, you know, life, hit up bor­rowmy­pooch. com.au to look af­ter some­one else’s dog while they’re on hols. Or just get a gold­fish.

13 Switch your fo­cus

Med­i­ta­tion has been around for, oh, about 4000 years or so, but sci­ence has fi­nally caught up and dis­cov­ered that just 10 min­utes per day can ease anx­i­ety and stress, re­lieve chronic pain, in­crease cre­ativ­ity, boost em­pa­thy and make you cog­ni­tively sharper. Start by sit­ting in a comfy po­si­tion and fo­cus on your breath. Take in the sounds and smells around you – some peo­ple pre­fer to close their eyes, but the choice is yours. Tune into how your hands and feet are rest­ing un­til you’re re­laxed and your mind is clear. It’s not as sim­ple as it sounds, but prac­tice makes per­fect.



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