1 More Way to Quiet the Negative Voices Inside You

1 MORE WAY TO QUIET THE NEGATIVE VOICES INSIDE YOU

Angel Chernoff

It’s Sunday, and I want to remind you of another effective method for quieting that negative inner voice of yours. But first, let’s examine a super-common mistake negative people make…

Negative people are often proud to describe themselves as “realists.” Of course, anyone who holds a strong belief thinks they are being “realistic” by holding it, whether it involves UFO encounters or perfectly truthful politicians.

The “being more realistic” declaration is a favorite of cynics everywhere. And in a way they are correct. But only because negative thinking causes us not to try – or if we do try, to do it half-heartedly and give up sooner – so the negativity itself influences our outcomes. Self-fulfilling predictions like this really do happen. Research has even found that in some cases what we believe about our health can have more bearing on how long we live than our actual health.

What makes all of this so scary is the fact that it means negative thoughts can plague us even when things seem to be going relatively well. For instance, the thought “It’s too good to last!” quickly wrecks havoc on a positive situation. Thus, my tip today has to do with how negative thinking can distort your perception…

Stop yourself from over-generalizing the negative (and minimizing the positive).

Ask yourself: “If something negative unexpectedly happens, do I over-generalize it? Do I view it as applying to everything and being permanent rather than compartmentalizing it to one place and time?”

For example, if someone turns you down for a date, do you spread the negativity beyond that person, time, and place by telling yourself: “Relationships never work out for me, ever”? If you fail an exam do you say to yourself, “Well, I failed that exam; I’m not happy about it, but I’ll study harder next time”? Or do you over-generalize it by telling yourself you’re “not smart enough” or “incapable of learning”?

Remember, negative thinking stops us from seeing and experiencing positive outcomes, even when they happen often. It’s as if there’s a special mental block filtering out all the positives and only letting in data that confirms the ‘negative bias.’ So, do your best to catch yourself today.

Being able to distinguish between the negativity you imagine and what is actually happening in your life is an important step towards living a happier life.

And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to feel better, think more clearly, and get our lives back on track.

A Fresh 60-Second Reminder that Will Change Your Mindset (and Spare Some Pain)

A FRESH 60-SECOND REMINDER THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR MINDSET (AND SPARE SOME PAIN)

Angel Chernoff

As you read these words, you are breathing. Stop for a moment and notice this breath. You can control this breath, and make it faster or slower, or make it behave as you like. Or you can simply let yourself inhale and exhale naturally. There is peace in just letting your lungs breathe, without having to control the situation or do anything about it. Now imagine letting other parts of your body breathe, like your tense shoulders. Just let them be, without having to tense them or control them.

Now look around the room you’re in and notice the objects around you. Pick one, and let it breathe. There are likely people in the room with you too, or in the same house or building, or in nearby houses or buildings. Visualize them in your mind, and let them breathe.

When you let everything and everyone breathe, you just let them be, exactly as they are. You don’t need to control them, worry about them, or change them. You just let them breathe, in peace, and you accept them as they are. This is what letting go is all about. It can be a life-changing practice.

At our annual conference, Think Better, Live Better, Marc and I guide attendees through this process of letting go—and breathing steadily through life’s twists and turns (you should get an HD recording of the event).

Truth be told, inner peace begins the moment you take a new breath and choose not to allow an uncontrollable event to dominate you in the long-term. You are not what happened to you. You are what you choose to become in this moment. Let go, breathe, and begin again…

Getting Back to Sex After Pregnancy Loss

GETTING BACK TO SEX AFTER PREGNANCY LOSS

Jessica Zucker

Though your body might be ready to return to sex after a miscarriage, are you?

How soon can you have sex after experiencing a pregnancy loss? It’s a common question among women of childbearing age, considering that up to 20 percent of pregnancies result in miscarriage and approximately 1 in 100 in stillbirth. There’s not a standard — or straightforward — answer. Generally, physicians counsel patients to wait until they feel ready. But readiness for a woman and her partner can depend on a number of physical, and emotional, factors.

“From a medical and practical perspective, the primary thing is to ensure that the pregnancy has passed completely, the cervix has closed, and that there isn’t an increased risk of causing infection in the uterus,” explained Zev Williams, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “The timing for this depends on how far along the pregnancy was at the time of the loss and how quickly the woman’s body recovers.”

A couple’s romantic readiness is another question altogether.

Emotional roadblocks are a big factor: Women may feel reluctant to engage in sexual intimacy while still grieving their loss. Miscarriage can also change a woman’s relationship with her body, and what sex represents to a couple might shift. If this seems hard to understand, it is: I am a psychologist specializing in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health, and I didn’t fully comprehend how complex returning to sex could be until I experienced a second trimester miscarriage firsthand. Then I understood all too well: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

“There are no guidelines with regard to telling patients what to expect about returning to sex after miscarriage. Routinely, we don’t discuss sex after loss unless patients bring it up,” said Jessica Schneider, M.D., an ob-gyn at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “There’s research about how safe it is to get pregnant again after a loss, but not about sexual function or satisfaction.” And the fact is, sexual function and satisfaction can, and do, change.

I talked to several women about their experiences around sex after pregnancy loss to find out how they approached returning to intimacy. (The women preferred their last names not be used due to privacy concerns.)

Some women, like Ash, 36, felt ready to have sex right away. After experiencing a stillbirth, she turned to sex for healing. “It was a way to feel powerful in my body,” she said. “I felt like my body had failed me, and sex was a way to get that back.” There was one caveat though: She didn’t want to risk another pregnancy. “It felt better to engage in sexual acts that couldn’t result in one.”

Trying to get pregnant again is a sensitive topic medically and emotionally. The World Health Organization’s official stance is to wait six months before attempting another pregnancy. Recent research, however, suggests that having sex sooner doesn’t have a negative effect on future pregnancies and could actually help success rates.

“The doctor told us to wait until we were comfortable,” said Maria, 26, who has had four miscarriages. “It was nerve-wracking to return to sex. I think because I was terrified of getting pregnant again and losing it or not getting pregnant again. It was challenging mentally.”

It’s understandable to feel conflicted, but the odds of future success are good: Up to 85 percent of women who experience a pregnancy loss, and 75 percent of women who have had multiple losses, go on to have a healthy pregnancy.

Shame and self-blame can enter the bedroom after pregnancy loss and create trouble where there previously was none. Hanan, 27, thought she was ready to have sex again immediately after a stillbirth, though her doctor told her to wait six weeks. She said she felt arousal and the desire to have sex, and engaged with her husband in everything other than penetrative sex, while waiting for medical clearance. But the first time they had intercourse, she wasn’t prepared for her emotional reaction. “I cried so much after the first time. I felt very guilty,” she said. “My body wanted to, but my brain didn’t. It felt selfish and immoral — like I should have been celibate while grieving.”

These thoughts are especially challenging for women who are actively trying to conceive again. “I did not want to initiate sex after my loss, but at the same time, I did want to get pregnant again,” said Maggie, 32. “My vagina became a constant reminder of the loss.”

Some women said they resented their bodies for a perceived failure. “After my miscarriage, I couldn’t be with anyone for over a year,” Zachi, 27, told me. “The fact that my body failed impacted the way I felt sexually afterward. I carried the baby emotionally, long after physically.”

While a 2015 survey found that 47 percent of respondents who had experienced a miscarriage reported feeling guilty about it — and nearly three-quarters thought their actions may have caused it — the reality is that chromosomal abnormalities are the explanation in about 60 percent of miscarriages. Pregnancy loss cannot be prevented.

If you’ve been trying to conceive for a long time, sex following a pregnancy loss can become especially fraught — even unappealing.

“After my first miscarriage, we only had sex to conceive. It started to feel like a task,” said Gina, 30, who has experienced infant loss and two miscarriages. “That mentality compounded after my second miscarriage and killed all sexual desire for me.”

Sonali, 33, who has lost four pregnancies, had difficulty returning to the very place she got pregnant. “Sex with your other half in the bed where you conceived the babies you lost is so triggering,” she said.

“Sometimes, I’m thinking about where I’d be in my pregnancy now; how I wouldn’t be able to have sex in this position,” Maria said. “It makes me feel guilty to feel great, when I should be seven months pregnant and uncomfortable.”

Pregnancy loss can have unintended positive impacts on a woman’s sexuality, too. Zachi said that she is more assertive in her sex life because of her miscarriage. “I have to listen to my body now,” she said. “It becomes painful not to. I am a lot more sure in what I want.” A miscarriage ultimately brought Maggie and her husband closer together, she said. “During the loss, I felt like I was on an island,” she remembered. “The first time my husband and I had penetrative sex, I cried from relief, because I felt so re-connected to him.”

Having and enjoying sex again is really about one thing — personal readiness — which is what I tell my patients. It’s O.K. to feel grief and sexual desire simultaneously. “Moving on” is not a prerequisite for pleasure.

Discipline vs. Punishment

DISCIPLINE VS. PUNISHMENT

Richard Innes

1956, London, England, UK — Seretse Khama, later the first President of Botswana when it gained independence, with his wife Ruth, and children in the garden of their Croydon home. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

God said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV

Nine-year-old Al had disobeyed his father who, as a strict disciplinarian, sent him with a note to a police station in London. When Al came in late after curfew, his father met him at the door and handed him a note and said, “Take it to the jailhouse.”

Al was terrified.

“The officer, a friend of his father, opens the note, reads it, and nods,. ‘Follow me.’ He leads the wide-eyed youngster to a jail cell, opens the door, and tells him to enter. The officer clangs the door shut. ‘This is what we do to naughty boys,’ he explains and walks away…. The jail sentence lasts only five minutes. But those five minutes felt like five months. Al never forgot that day. The sound of the clanging door, he often told people, stayed with him the rest of his life.

“The fear of losing a father’s love exacts a high toll. Al spent the rest of his life hearing the clanging door. That early taste of terror contributed to his lifelong devotion to creating the same in others. For Al—Alfred Hitchcock—made a career out of scaring people.” (From UpWords from Max Lucado, www.maxlucado.com)

True, discipline is important, but it always needs to fit the crime. Some children are impaired for life because of severe punishment as a child. Others are left terrified if they were beaten severely or abused. It is imperative that parents never discipline out of anger because that is punishment, not discipline. Discipline always needs to be in love. 

Those whom God loves, he disciplines in love—not punishes in anger. We need to do the same with our children.

Suggested Prayer:

“Dear God, thank You that when You discipline me it is always out of Your love for me and for my good. Help me to do the same when disciplining my children. May it always be in love and never out of anger. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus’ name, amen.”

1 Little Thing to Think About Before You Give Up

1 LITTLE THING TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE YOU GIVE UP

Angel Chernoff

If you feel like you’re completely stuck in life right now with nowhere to go, realize you are lying to yourself. You have imprisoned yourself in your own mind by telling self-defeating stories — stories about what your life should be like, what should or should not have happened, and so on and so forth. By doing this you’ve created a tiny space in your mind and you’ve begun to believe you are actually living in it.

But you are NOT. You are alive in a vast world with infinite destinations. Take a moment to remind yourself of this. Go outside. Look at the sky and the clouds. THIS is the space in which you really live. Breathe it in. Then look at your current situation again.

When someone younger than me (or someone who simply has far less life experience) asks me about how to overcome the pain and frustration associated with life’s unexpected setbacks, this is how I explain it to them (Please note that I’m not suggesting YOU are younger than me or have less life experience. This is just an example.):

Life Experience Chart

Look at the circles above. The black circles represent our relative life experiences. Mine is larger because I am older than you and have experienced more in my lifetime. The smaller red circles represent a negative event that has taken place in our lives. Assume we both experienced the same exact event, whatever the nature. Notice that the negative event circles are the same size for each of us; but also notice what percentage of the area they occupy in each of the black circles. Your negative event seems much larger to you because it is a greater percentage of your total life experiences. I am not diminishing the importance of this event; I simply have a different perspective on it.

What you need to understand is that an overwhelmingly painful and frustrating event in your life right now will one day be part of your much larger past (and pool of experience) and not nearly as significant as it seems in this moment.

Hopefully knowing this changes your perspective and gives you a good reason to NOT give up. And truthfully, this is just one small example of how you can shift your thinking and renew your sense of hope. The bottom line is that you can make many small, internal adjustments starting today that will help you feel better, think more clearly, and grow beyond life’s painful setbacks when they happen.

After a Miscarriage, Grief, Anger, Envy, Relief and Guilt

AFTER A MISCARRIAGE, GRIEF, ANGER, ENVY, RELIEF AND GUILT

Jessica Grose

October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, and if your family has experienced any kind of loss, we are here for you. Miscarriage is common — as many as 15 percent of known pregnancies end in a first-trimester loss. We have guides on miscarriagestillbirth (far less common and incredibly heartbreaking), ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilized egg lands somewhere other than the uterus, also rare),and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

***

I had a miscarriage in between my two girls. I went in for an ultrasound at around seven weeks, and there was no heartbeat. My period is so irregular that I had to wait two additional weeks to confirm that the pregnancy was not progressing properly. My obstetrician couldn’t definitively date the pregnancy because he couldn’t definitively date the ovulation, so I trudged to multiple radiologists for multiple disappointing ultrasounds over 14 days.

I expected to feel sad during this painful two-week wait, and after — and I absolutely did. A guttural sadness that would take months to lift.

What I didn’t anticipate was that I would feel a lot of other things, and that the emotional ground would continue to shift under my feet. I felt relief when I was able to take a new job right around when I would have been due to give birth; I knew I wouldn’t have been able to take it had I carried that pregnancy to term. Then I felt guilty about feeling relieved. I felt anger — spiky and random, popping up unexpectedly and without apparent trigger. And most appalling to me was the envy I felt toward women who were pregnant, successfully. An acquaintance of mine was due around when I would have been, and I could not stand to be around her during her pregnancy. When she tried to make plans, I made excuses.

There’s a myriad of responses to loss, said Julia Bueno, a psychotherapist and the author of “The Brink of Being: Talking About Miscarriage.” “There may well not be any grief,” Bueno said, and the grief some women feel is “exquisitely nuanced, powerful and profound.” If the miscarriage is in the first trimester, it may also be hidden, Bueno said, because you don’t always look pregnant to the outside world, and it’s not customary to reveal a pregnancy until you’re past 12 weeks.

Partners of pregnant women may also feel a range of emotions. As technology allows us to know we’re pregnant just after a missed period, it allows partners to become bonded to babies far earlier than they might have been in previous generations. There’s a case study in Bueno’s book about a woman who miscarried twice, whose husband was grieving deeply. “He bought the pregnancy test. He saw that test emerge — he was drawn into it,” Bueno said. He was already forging a relationship with the baby that he had to mourn, too.

Nearly five years after my loss, I don’t think about the miscarriage much anymore. I was lucky to have a second child, which is what I desperately wanted, and that helped me. But lots of families still feel complicated grief even after having additional children. Bueno lost twin girls, Florence and Matilda, at 22 weeks, and she had three miscarriages as well. She went on to have two boys, and for her, “the nourishment and joy runs alongside the grief.” Bueno told me about an oral history she had read from a woman with nine children. That woman had a miscarriage, too, and though she was in her 80s at the time of the oral history, she still felt the loss acutely despite her sizable brood.

If you know someone who has experienced a loss, Bueno said, “err on the side of compassionate curiosity.” This could mean saying you’re sorry for a loss, and then asking something open-ended, like, “Tell me what it meant to you,” as it allows for the many kinds of emotion someone might feel. Be prepared for any response — a woman may not want to talk about it at all, or she may want to talk about the gory viscera. I recall making extremely dark jokes about what came out of me in the aftermath. Those physical side effects, “that stuff needs to be talked about,” Bueno said. Otherwise we run the risk of women feeling “icky and shameful and abnormal” about what they’ve experienced.

We need to make cultural space for every single kind of reaction to loss — there will always be a gamut of responses. And sharing these stories is a good place to start.

If you have (or had) toxic relationships of any kind, read this now!

IF YOU HAVE (OR HAD) TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS OF ANY KIND, READ THIS NOW!

Karen Salmansohn

This is a vulnerable story – about an unconventional therapist I saw – who helped me to learn how to get out of bad toxic relationships.

About a decade and a half ago I used to joke that for me all dating should be re-named ‘blind-dating” – and instead of saying I was “seeing someone right now” – I should be more honest, and say, “I’m dimly viewing someone.”

I remember I was once “dimly viewing” this particular guy. I’ve written about him before.

I explained how every time I said this guy’s name, my girlfriends would sing the theme song to Batman. Not because this man looked great in black Spandex tights. No, no. It was because he was a bad man.

“Dadadadadadada Bad-man! Bad-man!” my girlfriends would sing, right after I’d finish telling a particularly bad Bad-man episode—of which there were many.

Let’s call this ex of mine “Bruce Wayne” – to protect his not-so-innocent secret identity.

Today I want to share something I never told you about Bruce.

Ready?

Bruce’s “dadadadadada bad-behavior” began very early on – a few weeks into our relationship.

Yep, right out of the gate Bruce displayed what I felt were highly controlling and jealous behaviors, products of paranoia.

Yet I continued to date him.

I even went away with Bruce for a weeklong vacation in Turkey – where we had a very big fight one evening.  I made a silly joke to our Turkish waiter – who then laughed – and touched my shoulder before he left our table. Bruce then became convinced that I was flirting with this Turkish waiter.

Bruce specifically wanted to know if I’d rather be dating this Turkish waiter – a man who could barely speak English – plus lived well beyond a 5,000 mile radius of my zip code.

I kept reassuring Bruce I was not the teeniest bit interested in this Turkish dude – yet Bruce refused to talk to me for a full two days of our vacation!

When I came home from vacation, I sought out therapy.

I found a nice older psychotherapist, named Sid, who eventually became like a “grandfather from another great-grand-mother.” I adored Sid.

“You’ll never believe what Bruce said/did last night,” I’d begin each and every therapy session. And then I’d launch into another “Dadadadadadada Bad-man Episode”!

  • “Bruce said he doesn’t want me to have brunch with girlfriends on weekends anymore – unless he comes along.”
  • “Plus, he doesn’t want me to take an evening painting class – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.”
  • “Also, he doesn’t want me to go to the gym  – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.
  • “Aaaaannnd…he told me he doesn’t like it when I come home happy from work – because he worries I enjoy work more than him! He actually became angry the other day because I came home so happy!”

Each week I’d tell Sid story after story – quickly followed by rationalization after rationalization – always explaining why I should stay with Bruce.

“You know what your problem is Karen?” Sid asked me one session.  “You’re so smart, you’re stupid.”

I laughed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You are able to over-think things so much – that you wind up talking yourself out of what you already know.”

“So you think I should break up with Bruce?” I asked.

Sid sighed loudly. “I’m a therapist. I’m not supposed to tell you what to do. But if you want my honest opinion… I can’t believe you’re gonna stay with him, when he’s an asshole.”

“Wow! I can’t believe you just called Bruce an a***hole,” I said. “But you’re right, he is an a**hole.”

“Actually, I didn’t call HIM an a**hole! I called YOU an a**hole. You heard me wrong. I said, ‘If you continue to stay with Bruce, then YOU are an a**hole.’”

“What? I’m not the a**hole! Bruce is the a**hole!”

“At this point, Karen, if you stay with Bruce knowing what you know – then YOU are the a**hole.”

“I’m the a**hole?”

I repeated this word out loud – a word as opposite in content as a mantra could ever be – but alas, more powerful than any mantra I’d ever used.

This word “a**hole” became my wakeup call!

Sid was right. If I stayed with someone who was so very toxic to my wellbeing  – then I became the A**hole to me – for allowing this soul-crushing, freedom-squelching relationship to continue!

“Listen, Karen,” Sid said, “at this point in therapy we are simply wasting time talking about Bruce – and how messed up he is. Quite frankly, you are only using stories about Bruce to distract yourself from your real issues – and the important inner work you have to do on yourself. It’s time we talk about the white elephant in the room: your wounds! There’s obviously something so wounded inside of you, that you feel the need to stay with Bruce – when he is so toxic.

Although this story about toxic relationships happened well over a decade ago, I think about it often.

I particularly think about it whenever I’ve found myself starting to enter into what I intuit might be a toxic relationship – be it in love, business or friendship.

I feel if we’re not careful we can all find ourselves wasting a lot of precious tick-tocking time complaining about how badly someone is behaving towards us.

If you’re dealing with bad toxic relationships, you need to stop asking…

“Why is this person treating me this way?”  

“Why did this person do that crappy thing to me?”

“What is wrong with this person?”

“Are they an a**hole?”

“Sociopath?”

“Narcissist?”

“Isn’t this person simply just a terrible person?”

The really important questions to ask… so you can move on from bad toxic relationships…

“What did I miss in the vetting process that I allowed this person into my life?”

“What is wounded inside me that I choose/chose to stay with this person for as long as I do/did?”

“How can I grow from this experience – so it doesn’t repeat itself into a bad pattern?”

“Do I want to make this a story about how I was a victim – or how I became a victor?”

“Do I want to waste my time, thoughts and energy on toxicity or use it for a higher purpose?”

“Aren’t I wise and strong for how I moved on to be with better people and live better days?”

If you’re presently caught up in telling stories about the toxic misbehaviors of someone – the time has come to stop getting caught up in name-calling, contempt and blame.

The time has come to recognize you’re just distracting yourself with all the drama, chaos and static!

Yep, the more you stay with and/or complain about a toxic person, the more you’re merely delaying doing the important inner work you need to do – to heal your wounds, expand your limiting beliefs, and show yourself far more love and respect.

All of this time expended on them could be time spent on expanding you – growing who you are!

My lesson/your lesson:

  • Don’t be an a**hole to yourself.
  • Stop staying with (and/or complaining about) toxic people.
  • Choose to focus your time, energy and conversation around people who inspire you, support you and help you to grow you into your happiest, strongest, wisest self.

Heal and move on from toxic relationships.

When times are hard, remember this one thing

WHEN TIMES ARE HARD, REMEMBER THIS ONE THING

Angel Chernoff

One of the most important moments in life is the moment you finally find the courage and determination to let go of what can’t be changed. Because, when you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to change yourself… to grow beyond the unchangeable. And that changes everything.

Of course, when hard times hit there’s a default human tendency to hold on—to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the same. This doesn’t happen as often when things are going well. A laugh, a smile, and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth and then we let them go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclical, self-fulfilling prophecy. Know this! If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your present and future through that same dirty lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that is worn out and false.

But make no mistake, this is more than simply accepting that life will improve as time passes. Yes, “time heals wounds,” but yours is not a passive role in the process of healing and moving past pain. The question is: where are your present steps taking you?

It doesn’t matter what’s been done; what truly matters is what YOU DO from here.

Realize that most people make themselves miserable simply by finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now.

Don’t be one of them!

Let go of your fantasies. This letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about something or someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only thing you really have control over is yourself, in this moment.

The best action you can take right now is changing your thinking, instead of trying to change the broken world around you.

And there is a path. Marc and I have walked this path ourselves many times. A decade ago, in quick succession, we dealt with several significant, unexpected losses and life changes, back-to-back, including losing my brother to suicide, losing a mutual best friend to cardiac arrest, financial unrest, and more. Trials and tragedies strike indiscriminately and nobody is guaranteed safety. But, by changing your thinking, bad times and rocky patches can become the proving ground for achieving renewed happiness.

The key is to understand that no matter what happens, you can choose your response, which dictates pretty much everything that happens next. Truly, the greatest weapon you have against anxiety, negativity and stress is your ability to choose one present thought over another—to train your mind to make the best of what you’ve got in front of you, even when it’s far less than you expected.

Yes, YOU CAN change the way you think! And once you do, you can master a new way to be.

To Counter Loneliness, Find Ways to Connect

TO COUNTER LONELINESS, FIND WAYS TO CONNECT

Jane E. Brody

A four-minute film produced for the UnLonely Film Festival and Conference last month featured a young woman who, as a college freshman, felt painfully alone. She desperately missed her familiar haunts and high school buddies who seemed, on Facebook at least, to be having the time of their lives.

It reminded me of a distressing time I had as an 18-year-old college sophomore — feeling friendless, unhappy and desperate to get out of there.

I didn’t know it then, but I was in the age bracket — 18 to 24 — that now has the highest incidence of loneliness, as much as 50 percent higher than occurs among the elderly. For young adults, loneliness and social isolation are major precipitants of suicide, experts say.

Fortunately, I visited the university health clinic where an astute psychologist examined my high school records, including a long list of extracurricular activities, and noted that I had done only schoolwork during my first year in college.

“There’s nothing the matter with you that wouldn’t be fixed by your becoming more integrated into the college community,” she said. She urged me to get involved with something that would connect me to students with similar interests.

I protested that as a biochemistry major with classes six mornings a week and four afternoon labs, I had no time for extracurricular activities. And she countered: “You have to find time. It’s essential to your health and a successful college experience.”

Having no better option, I joined a monthly student-run magazine that fit into my demanding academic schedule. I soon fell in love with interviewing researchers and writing up their work. I also befriended a faculty adviser to the magazine, a grandfatherly professor who encouraged me to expand my horizons and follow my heart.

Two years later as a college senior and the magazine’s editor, I traded courses in physical chemistry and advanced biochemistry for news reporting and magazine writing.

The rest is history. Armed with a master’s degree in science writing and two years as a general assignment reporter, at 24 I was hired by The New York Times as a science writer, a job I have loved for 53 years. In making rewarding social connections in college, I not only conquered loneliness, I found a path to a marvelous career.

“Social connections, in a very real way, are keys to happiness and health,” noted Dr. Jeremy Nobel, founder of the UnLonely Project and faculty member in primary care at Harvard Medical School. In an opinion piece in The Boston Globe written with Michelle Williams, dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, these experts stated that loneliness and social isolation play “an outsized role” in preventable deaths by suicide.

They urged that social relationships be considered a national public health priority “to roll back those heartbreaking, preventable deaths of despair.”

But it’s not just young people who are lonely. “More than a third of adults are chronically lonely, and 65 percent of people are seriously lonely some of the time,” Dr. Nobel said in an interview. Among the groups with especially high rates of loneliness are veterans, 20 of whom take their own lives each day on average. Even half of chief executives experience loneliness (it can be lonely at the top), a state that can adversely affect job performance.

The rate of persistent loneliness is also high among older adults, who, in addition to limitations imposed by chronic illness, may suffer the isolating effects of mobility issues, lack of transportation and untreated hearing loss.

However, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, told the UnLonely conference that no one is immune to the toxic effects of social isolation. “It’s so distressing, it’s been used as a form of punishment and torture,” Dr. Holt-Lunstad said.

“Loneliness saps vitality, impairs productivity and diminishes enjoyment of life,” Drs. Nobel and Williams wrote. Its effects on health match that of obesity, alcohol abuse and smoking 15 cigarettes a day, increasing the risk of an early death by 30 percent.

The aim of the UnLonely Project, Dr. Nobel said, is to raise awareness of its increasing incidence and harmful effects and reduce the stigma — the feelings of embarrassment — related to it.

“We want people to know that loneliness is not their fault and to encourage them to become engaged in programs that can diminish it,” he said. One program featured in the film festival depicts a group of older women in the Harlem neighborhood in New York who participate in synchronized swimming. One of the women said she didn’t even know how to swim when she joined the group but now wouldn’t miss a session.

In Augusta, Ga., in partnership with AARP, a program of painting together, as well as music and dance, was created for caregivers who often have little opportunity to connect with others and reap the benefits of mutual support and friendship.

Doing something creative and nurturing helps both caregivers and people struggling with serious chronic illness get outside themselves and feel more connected, Dr. Ruth Oratz, medical oncologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, told the conference, convened by the Foundation for Art and Healing.

The foundation’s goal, Dr. Nobel said, is to promote the use of creative arts to bring people together and foster health and healing through activities like writing, music, visual arts, gardening, textile arts like knitting, crocheting and needlework, and even culinary arts.

“Loneliness won’t just make you miserable — it will kill you,” Dr. Nobel said. “Creative arts expression has the power to connect you to yourself and others. How about a monthly potluck supper? It’s so simple, such a great way to be connected as well as eat good food.”

Much of modern life, though seeming to promote connectivity, has had the opposite effect of fostering social isolation and loneliness, experts say. According to the foundation, “Internet and social media engagement exacerbates feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.”

People rarely relate intimate tales of misery and isolation on Facebook. Rather, social media postings typically feature fun and friendship, and people who lack them are likely to feel left out and bereft. Electronic communications often replace personal, face-to-face interactions and the subtle signals of distress and messages of warmth and caring such interactions can convey.

So consider making a date this week to meet a friend for coffee, dinner, a visit to a museum or simply a walk. Online communities like Meetup.com can be a good source for finding others with common interests. If nothing else, pick up the phone and have a conversation with someone. Chances are, you will both be better off for it.

Advice From a Formerly Lonely College Student

ADVICE FROM A FORMERLY LONELY COLLEGE STUDENT

Emery Bergmann

Last fall, I made a viral video about having trouble making friends. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Emery Bergmann in a scene from a video about loneliness that she made as a Cornell freshman last fall

Being known as “the girl with no friends” wasn’t my favorite part about having made a video that went viral — but you take what you can get.

About a year ago, as a college freshman at Cornell, I was assigned a short video project for my Intro to Digital Media course.

I decided to focus on my disappointment with the early weeks of college: How I couldn’t get past superficial conversation, how I couldn’t seem to enjoy parties, feel comfortable on campus, or just meet people who I wanted to spend more time around. I felt so lost and beyond confused.

I had been a pretty social person in high school and I fully expected to make great friends right away when I got to college. It’s supposed to be the time of your life, right?

I had been looking forward to college for years. I started studying for standardized tests in 10th, hammering out extracurricular activities and A.P. courses all through 11th, and spent senior year typing applications till my fingers practically bled. I got into a great school, pleasing myself and my family. This was not the payoff I expected.

The worst part was that I felt as if I were the only one who was this lonely. I’d see all these freshmen walk in packs — just massive groups of friends already formed in the first two weeks of school. I couldn’t muster the courage to ask people to get lunch. It was so frustrating. I immediately turned on myself — criticized and blamed myself for being weird and unapproachable.

I spent a ton of time on social media, constantly checking in on my high school friends and seeing how they were getting along at their colleges. They’d post more and text me less. I really tried to put myself out there, but the more people I met, the more defeated I felt. I wasn’t interested in forging fake relationships out of necessity, I wanted genuine friendships that I could treasure. Why couldn’t I find them in my first month on campus?

I poured my loneliness into the four-and-a-half-minute film I made, called “My College Transition.” I posted it on YouTube expecting only my professor and a couple friends to see it.

It now has over 275,000 views and hundreds of comments. I had students from all over the country reach out to me and express their experiences, thanking me for making them feel less alone. Administrators from various universities wrote to me asking for permission to show the video to their freshman class. I even landed a few freelance video design jobs. I spoke on panels, gave tons of interviews and won an award at a film festival.

It was overwhelming in the most beautiful way, and was further proof that I wasn’t alone in my experience. It also showed how necessary it was for people to be open about isolation on college campuses.

Now a sophomore, I see how ridiculous my expectations were for my first year. To assume I could instantly meet my New Best Friends while also getting used to a new place, starting a new academic career, and learning how to adjust to life away from home — that’s a full plate already. Some of the high school friends I was missing had been my friends for my whole life.

Expecting close relationships like the ones that had taken years to develop was unfair to myself and the people around me. Going to college is a massive change — so many students are being uprooted from the familiar comforts of their homes and thrust into a completely new place. It was beyond unrealistic for me to anticipate a seamless transition.

After I posted the video I had people of all ages and genders reaching out to me, explaining how they felt the same way when they started a new job, when they moved to a new place, even when they started retirement.

Loneliness is too often paired with self-blame and self criticism: “I can’t find my place among these people, so it must be my fault.” My social life became a big game of trial and error, slowly learning in which groups I felt welcome and included. It was hard! It was draining! But by putting myself out there, I found so many communities on campus to invest myself in, and where I knew I would be happily received.

The video was definitely a conversation starter, and it made people more likely to open up to me about their struggles as a freshman. But I don’t think the video was any sort of motivator for people to actually become my friend.

Now, a year after making the film, I’ve settled in to college a lot better. But I see the new batch of freshmen around me and imagine many of them are going through the same transition. Here’s what I know now that I wish I could have told my younger self.

The notion that my college friends should be stand-ins for my close relationships from home: impossible. One of the great things about going away to college is the chance to meet people who are not the same. I learned to cherish each relationship for its uniqueness, for the different perspective and ideas it brought into my life. At first I searched for people who reminded me of my friends from home, who would play a similar role in my life that they do. But I began to realize that no one can stand in for or replace them — which was oddly comforting, and a relief to acknowledge.

I had to minimize my time on social media. It became a platform for comparison. I evaluated every picture my friends posted, determining whether their college looked like more fun than mine, if they had made more friends than I had, just meaningless justifications for my unhappiness. It was comforting when old friends reached out to me to say that they related to the video. Many of them were people I thought were having a fantastic time at school. Social media reinforces the notion that you should always be enjoying yourself, that it’s strange to not be happy and that life is a constant stream of good experiences and photo-worthy moments. I taught myself that everyone’s college experience is different, and slowly, I started to embrace the uniqueness of my own.

Transitions are always hard — regardless of your age. But the social expectations around college put overwhelming pressure on students to fit in seamlessly into their campus, without truly acknowledging the difficulty of uprooting your life and starting fresh. The hardest thing to tell struggling freshmen is that acclimation takes time — and “thriving” even longer. Making friends is an active process, and all the preconceived ideas college students arrive with can make for a defeating experience. Understand that your loneliness is not failure, and that you are far from being alone in this feeling. Open your mind and take experiences as they come. You’re going to find your people.