TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Reliving A Friend’s Death May Help Lessen Grief

Nearly 40% of those who did not relive a the death of a loved one showed signs of prolonged grief disorder

Reliving the death of a close friend or family member may reduce the experience of long-term grief, according to a new study in JAMA Psychiatry.

The study assigned 80 people who had lost a loved one within the past few years to a 10-week regimen of cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of them were also assigned to exposure therapy, in which patients were made to relive the death of the loved one. Nearly 38% of those who did not get the additional exposure therapy showed symptoms of prolonged grief disorder, which includes yearning for the person who’s gone, bitterness about accepting the death and difficulty in engaging in life. Only 15% of those people who got the extra treatment showed signs of it.

Painful as it is, reliving a death may improve a patient’s ability to process loss and adapt to it, the study suggests.

“Including exposure therapy that promotes emotional processing of memories of the death is an important component to achieve optimal reduction in [grief] severity,” the study reads. “Despite the distress elicited by engaging with memories of the death, this strategy does not lead to aversive responses.”

Though researchers acknowledge some limitations, the study’s implications suggest some changes in the way doctors approach treatment for those in grief.

“Reluctance to engage with their distressing emotions may be a major reason for not managing the grief more effectively,” the study reads. “The challenge is to foster better education of clinicians through evidence-supported interventions to optimize adaption to the loss as effectively as possible.”

TIME Exercise/Fitness

The Drug-Free Way to Fight Depression

86504947
Exercising throughout adulthood can help to keep depression at bay Jupiterimages—Getty Images

A 50-year study shows that physical activity may help fight the disease

Exercise can do a lot of physical good, from making hearts healthy to keeping weight down—and now there’s strong new evidence that it can give a mental boost as well.

In a study appearing in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers from the UK and Canada found that people who were more physically active throughout most of their adult years experienced fewer depressive symptoms than those who were less active. That finding is familiar, but these results are extremely affirming because they involved both a large number of same-aged people—11,000, who were born the same week in March 1958—and a long period of time—50 years.

The volunteers answered questions about how many times they exercised a week on average at four points during the study: when they were 23, 33, 42 and 50 years old. They also took standardized tests that measured depressive symptoms such as depressed mood, fatigue, irritability and anxiety.

At every stage, those who reported more physical activity also had fewer depressive symptoms. What’s more, those who became more active between the recordings also showed fewer signs of depression. That means someone who exercised more each week at 42 than they did at 33 also benefited from having fewer depressive symptoms at 42. In fact, getting more physically active at any age—going from never working out to working out three times a week—lowered the chances of depression by 19% five years later.

The results add to previous studies that found similar associations between exercise and lower depression rates among younger and older people, but this study shows that the connection exists throughout adulthood.

Understanding the link could help doctors better treat both obesity and depression; with some people, depression could be a barrier to becoming physically active, while with others, being overweight could feed into cycle of depression. “Our study suggests that practitioners helping patients to recover from depression might address activity within their treatment plan for lifestyle factors,” the authors write.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: Is Meditation Really Worth It?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Totally. Here's why

Updated Oct. 9, 2pm

First of all, understand that “meditation” is a catchall term for a lot of different mental activities, many of which have nothing to do with sitting cross-legged on the floor and saying om.

“There are thousands of different types of meditation,” says Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and author of Words Can Change Your Brain. But while meditative practices come in all shapes and styles, Newberg says nearly all of them have at least one thing in common: They involve focusing your attention, a habit that’s been marginalized by our smartphone-tethered lifestyle of digital distraction.

“That focusing could be on a word or object or physical motion,” Newberg explains. “But regardless, the type of focusing involved in meditation activates the brain’s frontal lobe, which is involved in concentration, planning, speech and other executive functions like problem solving.” Studies have shown meditation can bolster all of these mental tasks. But the greatest benefits may spring from the interplay between your brain’s focus centers and its limbic system—a set of structures that manage your emotions and regulate the release of stress and relaxation hormones.

MORE: The Mindful Revolution

“Studies suggests your body’s arousal system is calmed and the flow of stress-related hormones is reduced [by meditation],” Newberg explains. “There’s also a softening effect when it comes to emotional responses.” Just as weightlifting allows your muscles to lift a heavier load, working out your brain with meditation seems to fortify its ability to carry life’s emotional cargo. That stress-dampening effect has tied meditation to improved mood and lower rates of heart disease, insomnia and depression.

Newberg says there’s also some evidence that meditation quiets the area of your brain that manages your sense of self and your relationship to others. That may sound like a bad thing, but this quieting may help you feel more connected to others and less isolated within yourself, he says.

“Basically, meditation helps your brain get out of its own way,” adds Dr. Judson Brewer, a Yale School of Medicine psychiatrist.

Once you’re convinced meditation is worth a try, figuring out the right type for you is important, because the benefits tend to materialize only if you enjoy your practice enough to stick with it, Brewer says. Luckily, you have a lot of options—from Transcendental Meditation to Tai Chi. Even yoga counts, because it focuses your mind and blocks out distraction.

MORE: How Tai Chi Helps Fight Depression

Mindfulness is one style of meditation that’s exploding in popularity, largely because it can be done anywhere and anytime, Brewer says. “It’s mostly about being aware of your thoughts and not running after them in your mind,” he explains. Awareness is a wedge that, with practice, you can place between your thoughts and unhealthy emotional reactions, he says.

MORE: Can Yoga Ease Major Psychiatric Disorders?

That kind of vague, semi-abstract language can make meditation seem thorny and inaccessible, but it’s easier than you think. If you want a simple taste of meditation, Brewer suggests focusing your mind on your breath or a nearby object, refocusing it when it strays. “Your mind wanders, and you bring it back,” Newberg says. “That’s a mental push-up.”

Do enough mental push-ups, and you may be amazed at how strong your mind muscle can get.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Why Schools Should Screen Their Students’ Mental Health

kids students
Getty Images

Two new reports argue for in-school mental health screenings

Schools should be a first line of defense for catching young people at risk for mental health issues from depression to ADHD, a pair of new reports says.

Kids and adolescents spend a significant amount of their time in school, yet providing mental health screenings and care is not an overarching requirement for many schools. “We need to think about how to embed mental health services so they become part of the culture in schools,” says study author Dr. Mina Fazel, a child psychiatrist at the University of Oxford. “It will take a commitment from health and education.”

The reports, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, looked at programs already implemented in both high-income schools and middle- and low-income schools. The authors made suggestions for both education systems. For instance, schools could conduct school-wide screenings by asking teachers to identify at-risk kids for further evaluation, or health counselors could be trained to spot both physical and mental issues by looking for visible signs like weight fluctuation or bullying. If treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy were included in a school’s health offerings, Fazel believes mental health problems could be caught early and treated.

“If we made mental health part of the usual health system of a school, then it becomes more normal…and hopefully it will then be easier to access it,” says Fazel. According to data presented in the reports (which is UK-specific but also looks at U.S. programming), about 75% of adults who access mental health treatment had a diagnosable disorder when they were under age 18, but in high-income countries, only 25% of kids with mental health problems get treatment.

Stigma is largely to blame for a lack of participation in mental health care. “[Mental health] is the service that people seem to know least about, seem to fear accessing most, and think they will be negatively viewed by their peers or their teachers or their families if they access those services,” says Fazel.

Some schools in the U.S. and abroad have had success with mental health screenings and programs, but implementation still hasn’t been made a standard, which Fazel thinks is a lost opportunity. By prioritizing mental health in a child’s early years, more people will get the treatment they need early on.

TIME

5 Signs You Should See a Doctor for Depression

backlit woman
Getty Images

Feeling down every so often is a normal part of life. But when you’re gripped by an unrelenting sadness or hopelessness that keeps you from going about your usual routine, it’s time to pay attention: it’s the hallmark sign of clinical depression, and an estimated 7% of adults will experience it, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Even with this telltale sign in place, it’s tough for a depressed person to know if she really has the disease. “Almost all of the symptoms of depression on their own are experienced by everyone at one time or another,” explains Jennifer Payne, MD, director of the Women’s Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. If you’ve been dealing with the following symptoms every day for two weeks, and they’ve impaired the way you usually function (for example, prevented you from working, being a responsible parent, or seeing friends), it’s time to check in with your doctor.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Things to Say (and Not to Say) to Someone With Depression

You’re eating more (or less) than usual

Depression leaves you withdrawn and checked out, and that can manifest as a loss of appetite. “If your brain is preoccupied with negative thoughts, you may forget to eat or lose interest in cooking or preparing meals,” says Yvonne Thomas, PhD, Los Angeles-based psychologist specializing in depression and self-esteem. On the other hand, sometimes the disease kicks in the opposite effect, making you hungry and driving you to overeat. “The mix of emotions that tend to accompany depression—sadness, pessimism about the future, and low self-esteem—can compel you to try to soothe your feelings with food binges,” says Thomas.

You’re sleeping too much or too little

Some people with depression find themselves snoozing under the covers more; the disengagement and dip in energy make you fatigued, says Thomas. “Sleeping more is also a way depressed people escape from their sadness; it becomes a refuge,” she adds. Others with depression experience restless or interrupted sleep or even insomnia—they’re too wired by obsessive thoughts or ruminations to wind down and score the seven to eight hours per night most adults need. Thing is, not only can sleep changes be a tipoff to the disease, but they also make it worse. When you’re not getting the proper amount of shuteye, your body’s internal clock gets out of sync, and you’re even more tired and unfocused…and less able to cope.

HEALTH.COM: 7 Bedtime Behaviors That Will Help You Sleep

Small things agitate you

It’s a sneaky sign few people recognize: depression can show up as heightened irritability, says Jennifer Wolkin, PhD, clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and anesthesiology at New York University’s Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health. You might feel cranky and grumpy; little things that normally wouldn’t register set you off and leave you snapping at friends and coworkers. Part of the prickliness may be the way depression exacerbates normal hormonal swings. But it could also be triggered by the weight of so many heavy emotions. “When people are in physical pain, they often get angry and irritated easily, and it’s the same with psychological pain—you don’t feel good or like your usual self, and that saps your patience and puts you more on edge,” says Thomas.

You can’t concentrate or focus

Forgetting work deadlines or when to pick up your kids from a playdate? Feel like your mind resembles an out-of-focus photo, and the fuzziness has made a dent in the way you weigh choices and make decisions? That’s your brain on depression. Being preoccupied with thoughts of sadness and emptiness can plunge you into a head fog that affects your job, memory, and decision-making skills, says Wolkin. In turn, that unfocused thinking can lead you to make poor choices or take on unhealthy, risky behavior.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

You don’t enjoy the things that once made you happy

You used to hit happy hour with your favorite group of coworkers, but for the last few weeks, you’ve been ducking out. Or you always looked forward to your nightly run, but these days, you can’t muster the interest. Not taking part in things you once enjoyed because they no longer give you pleasure is a telltale sign of depression. “A person who is simply blue might skip a few outings, then get back in the swing of things,” says Wolkin. “But depression makes you apathetic about activities and hobbies that once gave you joy, and that makes you isolate yourself.” It sets up that vicious cycle: depression robs you of your ability to derive pleasure from experiences, so you stop doing the very things that could brighten your mood.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Ways to Improve Your Concentration

10 Signs You Should See a Doctor for Depression originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Aging

How Moodiness and Jealousy May Lead to Alzheimer’s

Researchers say certain personality traits, like jealousy, worry, anxiety and anger, can double a woman’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s

We’re familiar with many of the brain-related factors that can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease—letting thinking networks go inactive, putting off exercise and healthy eating, having few social connections, enduring head injuries and genetic factors. But what about personality? Can the way you look at the world affect your risk of developing the neurodegenerative disorder?

Dr. Ingmar Skoog, professor of psychiatry and director of the research center on health and aging at the University of Gothenburg believes the answer is yes. In a paper published in the journal Neurology, he and his colleagues show that women with certain personality characteristics in middle age were twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s nearly 40 years later.

MORE: New Research on Understanding Alzheimer’s

“Getting Alzheimer’s disease is some sort of sum of a lot of different damages to the brain, and different things happening to the brain,” he says. “[Personality] is one of them.”

Specifically, a suite of features linked to what mental health experts call neuroticism showed the strongest connection to Alzheimer’s. Skoog and his colleagues tapped into a database of health information involving 800 women who were 38 years to 54 years old in 1968, when they filled in personality questionnaires and agreed to come in periodically to evaluate their cognitive functions. The personality evaluation placed women on a spectrum of neuroticism and extraversion; those showing more neuroticism included women who reacted more emotionally to events and experiences, worried more, showed lower self esteem and were more likely to express jealousy, guilt and anger. Those who were more extroverted showed high levels of trust, gregariousness and fewer emotional peaks and valleys.

MORE: New Insight On Alzheimer’s: What Increases Your Risk

At each of the four follow ups over the next 38 years, the women reported their stress levels—and women with higher neuroticism scores consistently showed higher levels of stress than those with lower scores.

Skoog believes that stress is the linchpin between the personality traits and Alzheimer’s dementia; previous studies have connected stress to dementia, and he says that the neuroticism characteristics are highly correlated to stress. “It seems like the personality factor makes people more easily stressed, and if people are more easily stressed, then they have an increased risk of dementia,” he says.

What’s more, when he controlled for the effect of stress, the association between neuroticism and Alzheimer’s disappeared, strengthening the idea that personality may lay a foundation for being more vulnerable to the effects of stress. Higher stress, particularly if it’s persistent as it is with certain personalities, can bathe the brain in hormones like cortisol. Those can damage blood vessels and cells in the brain that can then make Alzheimer’s more likely.

MORE: Scientists Are Getting Closer to a Blood Test for Alzheimer’s

The results hint that people can lower their risk of Alzheimer’s not just by keeping the brain active and improving social connections, as earlier work suggests, but by addressing stress-related personality factors as well. That, however, may require being aware of your later Alzheimer’s risk as early as during childhood, when personalities are forming. “Personality is something that occurs early in life, but you may be able to do something about it,” says Skoog. Especially when it comes to stress and how people respond to stress, interventions such as psychotherapy, for example, can help people to cope in healthier and less harmful ways.

He doesn’t believe that addressing stress and traits like jealousy and worry alone will protect a person from developing Alzheimer’s, but, he says, “it’s important to try to find as many factors as you can that contribute to common disorders. The more factors we can do something about, the more we can reduce risk quite substantially.”

TIME

7 Ways Being Single Affects Your Health

woman standing alone
Getty Images

The link between relationship status and well-being is a complicated one. Despite plenty of sensational headlines—”Get married and get fat!” “Stay single and die young!”—it’s hard to say definitively whether being a spouse or a singleton (or something in between, as many Americans are today) is healthier overall.

That’s because every relationship and every person is different, says Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a visiting researcher at the University of California Santa Barbara and author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. And because scientists can’t randomly assign study participants to either get married or stay single, it’s impossible to rule out other factors that could be at play.

HEALTH.COM: 13 Reasons to Have More Sex

Still, trends do seem to exist among people in different types of relationships, with potential lessons that all adults—regardless of their marital status—can use to better their quality of life. Here are seven ways flying solo may affect your health, for better or worse.

You’re less likely to gain weight

A 2013 study in the journal Health Psychology shows that happily married couples tend to gain weight in the four years after getting hitched. Without the pressure to attract a new mate, the authors say, newlyweds can get complacent about their appearance.

A recent Australian study in the journal Body Image showed that women who feel pressured to slim down before their wedding gained more weight within the following 6 months. Married men were more likely to be overweight or obese compared to their peers who were single, in relationships, or engaged, according to a 2014 University of Minnesota study of young adults.

You’re more likely to exercise regularly

“Many single women and men care about their health and their well-being,” says DePaulo. “They exercise, eat right, and live overall healthy lifestyles.” In a 2004 study from the University of Maryland, for example, unmarried adults exercised more than married ones, including those without kids.

A British survey conducted in 2011 echoed these results, finding that 76% of married men and 63% of married women failed to meet the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity a week. Only 24 and 33% of single men and women, respectively, missed the mark.

HEALTH.COM: 20 Ways to Make Exercise a Habit

You may have more close friends

And you may be a better one, at that: A 2006 University of Massachusetts at Amherst study found that single people were better at maintaining relationships with friends, neighbors, and extended family than those who had tied the knot—both with and without kids.

Other studies have also found that single adults tend to do more volunteer work and keep in close contact with their siblings, says DePaulo. “Single people—especially single women—often have networks of people who are important to them,” she says. “They have ‘the ones’ rather than ‘the one.’”

You stress less about chores and money

One stereotype of single people is that they’re constantly worried about finding a mate—but that’s certainly not true for everyone. And in fact, there are plenty of areas where single people stress less than those in relationships. According to a 2005 University of Michigan study, for example, they do less housework than married people.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

Money woes may weigh less on single people as well. In a 2014 survey of more than 2,000 adults in relationships, one in three admitted to “financial infidelity,” or lying to a partner about money issues. Married people are also more likely to have credit card debt—not exactly a health issue in itself, but something that has been shown to detract from both emotional and physical wellbeing.

You may be stigmatized—but maybe not for long

Single people are often viewed as lonely and unhappy, says DePaulo, which can in turn have a negative effect on their overall health. But that may be changing: the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that, for the first time, the majority of adults in the United States are unmarried, with singles clocking in at 50.2%.

“I do think that as the number of single people continues to grow—to well over 100 million adults just in the U.S.—it will be increasingly difficult to maintain the stereotypes and caricatures of single people,” says DePaulo. “There are just too many single people who are happy and healthy and love their single lives, and too many people who know single people who are thriving, for the misperceptions to endure.”

In the meantime, DePaulo’s advice is simple. “Living your single life fully, joyfully, and unapologetically—even as other people are insisting, without any good scientific basis, that you must be less healthy than your married counterparts—is a good way to maintain your good health.”

HEALTH.COM: 12 Ways Your Relationship Can Hurt Your Health

Surgery may be more dangerous

Going under the knife carries risks no matter your relationship status, but a 2012 Emory University study found that single people were three times more likely to die in the three months following heart surgery (and 71% more likely to die over the next five years) than married study participants. Married people tended to be more optimistic about their recovery going into surgery, but they also had lower smoking rates than single people—an important factor in their higher five-year survival rates.

But even these findings aren’t definitive, says DePaulo. She points to a 2011 RAND Corporation survey on alumni of the Wounded Warrior Project, which found that veterans who had never been married reported higher levels of resiliency—the ability to bounce back after injury, illness, or hardships—than those who were married, divorced, or separated.

Your heart health may be at risk

Single adults are 5% more likely to develop heart disease than their married peers, according to a 2014 study of more than 3.5 million people presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session. (Divorced and widowed people in the study also had a higher risk.) “Not all marriages are created equal, but we would expect the size of this study population to account for variations in good and bad marriages,” said the study authors in a press release.

But other research hasn’t found that being married is any better for your heart. In a 2006 study from the University of Texas at Austin of more than 9,000 people there was no statistically significant difference in cardiovascular disease risk between those who were currently married or had never gotten hitched.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Ways to Gear Up for Weight Loss

woman grocery list
Getty Images

A study released last week made fewer headlines than I hoped it would. Conducted by University College London, it concluded that discrimination against overweight and obese people, or “fat shaming” as it’s often referred to, leads to weight gain, not weight loss. The lead researcher stated, and I agree, that there is no justification for discrimination against people because of their weight, which may include being treated disrespectfully, or being harassed.

Trouble is, many of my clients fat shame themselves, and talk to themselves silently in ways that they’re often too embarrassed to share with me out loud. If you find yourself doing this, I hope you can stop, because in my 15+ years of helping clients lose weight, I’ve seen this pattern only lead to discouragement, or depression, and abandonment of health and weight loss goals.

If you really want to motivate yourself to slim down and healthy up, especially in ways that will last, consider these five dos and don’ts.

Don’t: Beat Yourself Up

In my experience, one of the main triggers of throwing in the towel is negative self-talk. Coming down hard on yourself for small indiscretions, like sneaking an extra square of dark chocolate, or taking a bite off your partner’s plate, can have damaging consequences, including emotional eating, or engaging in risky purging behaviors (e.g. compensating by undereating, overexercising, taking laxatives or diet pills, vomiting…). One exercise I often carry out with my clients is to compare how they talk to themselves to what they would say to their best friend if he or she were in the same circumstances.

HEALTH.COM: 9 Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic

The comparisons are eye opening, and the objective is to consciously work on adopting the same kind of nurturing, caring, and encouraging dialogue you use with the people you respect and love with yourself. I’ve seen just this one change result in major shifts in motivation, as well as transitions from on again/off again yo-yoing to steady, sustainable strides. In other words, just committing to being nice to yourself has the power to transform your relationship with food, your body, and your health.

Do: Celebrate Every Success

Most of my clients want to reward themselves when they hit their weight goal, perhaps with new clothes, a trip, or a spa service. But I encourage them not to wait. When you’re working on changing your lifestyle, there are numerous victories along the way, and each one should be honored. One client recently told me that it dawned on her that she automatically reaches for water over diet soda, and no longer misses her former daily fix—that’s a huge win! Another shared that her kids are now asking for fruits and veggies. A third remarked that everyone’s been commenting on how radiant her skin looks.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

Even if you’re still pounds away from your weight goal, revel in these achievements, and commemorate them, even if just in small ways, like buying flowers for your office or home, doing a happy dance in your living room, or taking a silly selfie to share with a friend. Recognizing these moments will keep you going, and it’s important to recognize that they’re really the foundation of your long-term success.

Don’t: Focus Solely on Your Weight

One of the reasons the “do” above is so important is that it creates a shift in perspective. When I’ve worked with clients who remain laser focused on weight, they’re often willing to compromise health for the sake of weight loss. For example, I’ve had really smart clients tell me they took up smoking, fully knowing the risks, as a means of losing weight. As a health professional that makes me very sad, and it’s one of the reasons why I talk to clients about things like mood, sleep quality, energy, immunity, digestive health, strength, endurance, and help them monitor health indicators like blood pressure, cholesterol, and liver values. I generally find that over time, all of these factors that contribute to wellness, become much stronger motivators than weight or size, because they so strongly influence day to day quality of life. When this happens, you may even decide to banish the scale altogether, which is incredibly freeing, because you’ll have far better—and less fickle—ways of gauging your progress.

Do: Find Positive Support

I hate to say it, but most of my clients have at least one person in their lives who either consciously or unconsciously sabotages their healthy efforts. It may be a significant other who doesn’t want to lose his or her partner in crime, so in turn brings home a box of donuts or a piping hot pizza. Sometimes it’s a competitive co-worker who becomes critical, or a family member who says things like, “You don’t need to lose weight.” A lack of support, even from those you’re close to, is a common conundrum for most people who’ve adopted healthier habits.

HEALTH.COM: 11 People Who Could Wreck Your Diet

You may not be able to change this, but you can counterbalance it by finding positive support. Even if your cheerleader or confidant is online or long-distance, just having at least one person in your corner who really gets what you’re trying to do and is on the same page can help you stay on track. Spending a little time each day on social media can also help as long as it’s empowering, so find ways to connect that make you feel like you’re not in this alone.

Don’t: Set Unrealistic Expectations

One of the biggest pitfalls I see is setting unrealistic expectations, either results-wise (e.g. I’m going to lose 30 pounds in 30 days), or behavior wise, such as vowing to work out seven days a week, or cut out all carbs. On the flip side, the lasting transformations I see—that is, people who lose weight healthfully and keep it off for good—come from focusing on progress and consistency, not strictness or perfection. You know yourself better than anyone else. If you can’t realistically see yourself maintaining a goal you’ve set for yourself one, three, or six months from now, modify it. When I ask my clients about their weight history, most tell me they’ve lost and gained back the same 20 or so pounds over and over again. And what finally allows them to shed it for good is ditching any approach they know that can’t stick with!

HEALTH.COM: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

The Reason You Make Unhealthy Choices

self hug
Getty Images

Self love isn’t just for hippies and millennials. If you’re trying to stick to a diet or scrape together the motivation to get to the gym, it might be for you, too.

So finds a new meta-analysis published in the journal Health Psychology. Self-compassion—accepting yourself without judgment when times get tough—is linked to better health behaviors.

People often think that they are motivated by self-criticism, but a burgeoning area of research suggests the opposite. Being kind to yourself, as opposed to tearing yourself down, leads to fewer bad feelings and, in turn, healthier actions. One study found that when people were assigned to practice self-compassion, they were able to curb their smoking habit faster. The reason self-compassion works, researchers think, might be its ability to improve self-regulation: the follow-through you need to stay loyal to healthy behaviors.

This analysis looked at 15 studies of more than 3,000 total people across the age spectrum and discovered a link between self-compassion and four key health-promoting behaviors: eating better, exercising more, getting more restful sleep, and stressing less. People who were more self-compassionate practiced these health habits more often.

“So much research right now is suggesting that not engaging in these behaviors can be the precursor to a variety of different life-threatening and chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, you name it,” says study author Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at Bishop’s University in Quebec. Developing self-compassion is a way to commit to the behaviors you already know you should do, she says.

In addition to just being nice to yourself, self-compassion requires you to embrace that you’re part of the human race that shares common miseries, and mindfully recognize negative feelings without getting enmeshed in them. If that sounds impossible, Sirois assures us it’s not.

“One of the reasons we were quite excited by the findings is that self-compassion is a quality that can be cultivated,” says Sirois. Writing a letter to yourself—as if you were your own friend—and opening it up in times of stress or failure is one way to start, she suggests. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in this field of research, offers guided self-compassion meditations and exercises on her site.

Find out where you currently fall on the scientific scale for self-love here.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

9 Natural Treatments You Didn’t Know Actually Work on Depression

Depression depressed
Getty Images

Here are some treatments for depression that are not antidepressants

Depression is a tricky disease to treat, in part because it manifests so differently in those it afflicts. But promising new research shows there may be options outside the pill bottle and off the couch at a therapist’s office. That’s not to say you should stop taking prescribed antidepressants or break up with your therapist, but if you’d like to consider alternative treatments, read on.

TMS
A recent study on a kind of therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which uses magnetic pulses to alleviate depression, showed that after a year of treatment, 68% of adult patients had improved depression symptoms and 45% had complete remission. Currently, TMS is used among patients who do not respond well to antidepressants, but some experts think the therapy could one day be used as a first-line treatment. In TMS, a large magnet is placed on the left side of a patient’s head, and magnetic pulses stimulate the under-active areas of the patient’s brain that are involved in mood regulation. The patient is awake the entire time, and there are few reported side effects aside from headaches in some. Other research published in August showed TMS could also have positive benefits for memory.

Acupuncture
Acupuncture is becoming an increasingly mainstream way in the U.S. to treat a wide variety of ailments from chronic pain to anxiety. The research to support its use for mental health disorders is still mounting in the West, but it’s thought that by inserting needles into parts of the body to manipulate energy can reduce tension. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) notes that it’s still unknown whether acupuncture’s effects as a therapy are placebo.

Interpersonal therapy
Interpersonal therapy focuses on patients’ relationships with other people and how an individual may be struggling with connections and communication. It’s commonly recommended for young people, and is typically viewed as a short-term depression treatment. It’s also thought to be helpful for when marriage problems arise. According to the National Health Service (NHS) in the U.K., some research has suggested it could be as effective as antidepressants in certain cases, though more research is needed. Some studies show it can work as a first-line treatment, and it’s usually given in 12- to 16 one-hour weekly sessions.

Exercise
Scientists are increasingly showing that exercise improves mental health. For instance, Jasper Smits a psychologist with a clinic in Dallas has long recommended that therapists use exercise therapy for people who are not responding to other forms of treatments. In 2012, a clinical trial of heart failure patients found that regular exercise help alleviate depressive symptoms. It’s believed that exercise increases hormones like serotonin and dopamine in the brain, subsequently making people feel better.

Exposure therapy
For depression symptoms that may be related to other mental health issues like phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder, exposure therapy can help patients become more accustomed to and comfortable with things that used to bring them fear and anxiety. For example, if someone is afraid of flying, they my build up to taking an actual trip on a plane by starting with simply looking at images of airplanes. Johns Hopkins researchers report that it’s typically very successful if people can find the right therapist they can trust.

Mindfulness
Plenty of research supports meditation as a possible treatment for depression and anxiety. The mechanism is not entirely understood, but if a person can be acutely aware of what is happening in the present moment, the thought it is that they can relax and gain more focus. As TIME reported in January, many many cognitive therapists have started recommending it for patients as a way to deal with their anxiety and depression since it can mitigate stress.

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, “seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information… It helps a person see disturbing material in a less distressing way.” It’s still considered a fairly new type of therapy. As a patient goes through an unpleasant memory, they may watch moving lights, listen to tones and feel taps on their palm. It’s primarily used to treat PTSD, and still needs a lot more efficacy evidence. EMDR has had it’s share of controversy among researchers who question whether it really works.

Electric shock treatment
Also known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), shock treatment is fairly common treatment in which electric currents are passed through the brain and trigger seizures. It’s believed that the shocks interfere with brain chemistry that might be out of wack. ECT is considered much safer today than it was in the past–which too high doses were given resulting in negative side effects like memory loss and physical injury.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (including online and over the phone)
People are likely familiar with cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a talk therapy usually recommend for patients with moderate to severe depression. The idea behind cognitive behavioral therapy is to help patients understand the events or emotions behind their current status, and figure out ways to mitigate how they’re feeling day-to-day. Some recent research has suggested that cognitive therapy can work even if it’s not necessarily done face to face. In 2012, a study compared face-to-face therapy to therapy done over the phone and found that phone therapy was just as effective, and patients were more likely to stick with it. Some therapists will even do sessions via video chat, like Skype.

 

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser