TIME health

The Benefits of Spending Time Alone, According to Science

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When you're on your own, you're open to the world and new people in it

I’ve been in two long-term relationships (my first lasted seven years, and I’ve been with my current partner for five), and frankly the time in between, when I was single, was easier for me. So now that I’m paired up again, it’s no surprise that I love doing things on my own. I relish a quiet solo coffee stop or book-browsing session, I love going to the movies by myself, and I also regularly travel on my own as well.

So you might be thinking, who is this woman who already likes to spend time on her own, to give advice to people who are uncomfortable spending time solo? It’s because, at this point, I’m expert at it. I feel absolutely no discomfort sitting by myself at a meal, sidling up to a bar almost anywhere for a beer (even if I’m the only woman), or heading off alone into the woods for a hike. And I think it matters in modern times, when we are growing up in smaller families, marrying later and traveling for work on our own.

Many people are discovering the joys of spending time alone; in this day and age, most of us will experience it, and possibly for long stretches. If solo time is seen as simply a time to “get through” while you’re waiting for a spouse, children or friends to show up, you’re wasting years of your life.

Just recently, in fact, I had the best meal I’ve had all month by myself at Tadich’s Grill in San Francisco. I was walking by, and I spotted a menu that looked like one Don Draper would order from in an early “Mad Men” episode, so I went in and took a seat at the long wooden counter. I drank a perfectly made vodka martini and had the best steamed artichoke I’ve had since my grandma used to make them. I was the only single woman at the counter, which is usually the case. In fact, I always wonder what all the other women on their own are doing while the guys are out, enjoying themselves solo. Are they sitting at home, eating a peanut butter sandwich? What a bummer.

I’m not saying that there aren’t men who feel uncomfortable doing things solo, but it does seem to be more common among women.

Regardless of your gender, if you are uncomfortable eating alone, you are missing out. Why? Because eating alone can even be more enjoyable than a meal with others. You get to order precisely what you like, and you can actually focus on what you’re eating, not your dining companion. There’s also the spontaneity of seeing some place you’d like to try and just going in and seeing if you like it. Last night, for example, I found a new favorite restaurant. (Yes, Tadich’s was that fantastic.)

But don’t take my word for it — there are scientists who study what people think they will experience when they do something alone in public, and then what they actually experience.

“People decide to not do things all the time just because they’re alone,” Rebecca Ratner, a professor of marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, told the Washington Post. Hall has spent the last few years studying how and when people choose to be alone. “But the thing is, they would probably be happier going out and doing something.”

An article in the August Journal of Consumer Research by Ratner and her colleague Rebecca Hamilton covers five studies on the subject of solo activities. Jesse Singal at New York magazine got an early preview of the article. There, the researchers write: “[C]onsumers worry that if they engage in [hedonic] activities alone, observers will infer that they could not find friends to accompany them,” as one of the reasons for not doing stuff independently. (Hedonic means non-utilitarian activities, so doing something you enjoy.)

But when they actually tested that theory out on college students by asking some in groups and some solo to check out a nearby art exhibit, their results found the same enjoyment for both. The researchers wrote that their findings “provide empirical support for a key premise of our investigation: consumers who forego hedonic activities alone are missing out on opportunities for rewarding experiences.”

As anyone who has traveled alone knows, it’s the best way to meet new people. Extrapolate that into your home environment, and it works too. You are in a bubble when you go out with a friend or a partner, but that bubble is broken when you’re on your own, and you’re open to the world and new people in it. You’d be surprised how fun that can be.

It’s simple: If you’re worried about what other people will think of your dining (or movie-going, or concert-attending) alone, you’re having less fun and meeting fewer new people, which is the opposite of what you’d expect, right? So get out there — try a solo meal or other outing. If you must, bring a book or magazine the first few times so you have something to do, but try just sitting on your own through part of a meal not reading. Look around. Taste your food. Enjoy watching other people or thinking about a thorny problem (or remembering a pleasant time in your past). Research says you’ll enjoy yourself.

This article originally appeared on MNN.com

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TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Premature Babies Are More Likely to Develop This Personality Type

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Whether babies are born early can affect the personality traits they develop later, suggests the latest research

How gregarious you are, whether you tend to be anxious all the time and how responsible you are for your own actions certainly depend on a myriad of factors. Genetics, your home and school environment during childhood, as well as early life experiences, all contribute to the type of person you become.

But in a study published in Archives of Disease in Childhood (Fetal & Neonatal Edition), scientists in the UK report that there may be another more surprising contributor to your personality traits—whether you were born prematurely.

The researchers studied a group of 200 people who were either born when they were less than 32 weeks old or with very low birth weight, both of which have been linked to other health issues in previous studies. These 200 people were compared on personality traits to 197 others born to term and of normal birth weight when all of the people in the study were 26 years old. The group of people born early or of low birth weight were more likely than the controls to fit into what the authors call a socially withdrawn personality; these people scored higher on traits of introversion, neuroticism and autistic features, while scoring lower on risk taking and agreeableness.

MORE: Some Premature Babies Can Survive After Only 22 Weeks, Study Says

All told, premature birth accounted for about 11% of the personality assessment, the researchers say. That’s just a fraction of the different experiences that make up personality, but it’s possible that early birth can set children up for certain traits for a number of different reasons. Biologically, it’s possible that the premature birth exposes infants to a potentially traumatic environment in a neonatal intensive care unit that’s very different from the nurturing, calm experience of babies born to term who are immediately allowed to bond both physically and emotionally with their parents. Second, premature babies may be exposed to certain treatments, including corticosteroids, that can change their metabolic and hormonal development, priming them to be more sensitive to stress and anxiety, for example. And concerned parents of premature infants may tend to be over-protective of their children throughout childhood, contributing to the child’s tendency to avoid risk and worry more.

MORE: Extremely Premature Babies Face Developmental Issues, Study Says

While personality can’t be traced to one particular experience or event, the scientists suggest that prematurity should be investigated further as a potentially important aspect of personality development. “Defining a general personality profile and understanding its aetiology are important because this higher order personality factor may help to partly explain the social difficulties [prematurely born] individuals experience in adult roles, such as in peer and partner relationships and career,” the authors write.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Kids Are Unhappy With Their Bodies as Young as Age 8

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By age 14, 39% of the girls in the study said they had dieted in the last year

Boys and girls as young as age eight can experience dissatisfaction with their bodies that can predict their risk for eating disorders later in life.

A new U.K. study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry followed about 6,000 children until they were 14 years old and discovered a pattern of poor body image at a young age and eating disorder behaviors later on. The researchers found that at age eight, 5% of girls and 3% of boys were unhappy with their bodies. When the children reached age 14, 39% of the girls said they had dieted in the last year and 8% said they had binged. Among boys, 12% had dieted in the last year and 3.5% had binged.

“We were surprised about how body dissatisfaction at that young age tracked into eating disorder behaviors at 14 years,” says lead study author Nadia Micali, a senior lecturer and honorary consultant psychiatrist at the University College London Institute of Child Health.

Other factors seemed to influence a child’s body image and eating patterns; the study shows that nearly a fifth of girls reported feeling “quite a lot” or “a lot” of pressure from the media to lose weight. A mother’s history of anorexia, bulimia or both was also predictive of high levels of body dissatisfaction among girls and dieting behaviors among boys. The researchers also found that the among boys, high levels of body dissatisfaction and high BMI were linked to a higher prevalence of eating disorder thoughts and behaviors.

The researchers say the findings speak to a need for interventions early in life. High self-esteem was linked to lower levels of eating disorder behaviors, and the effect was stronger among boys. The researchers write that their findings suggest that some children might be more vulnerable to feeling pressure from media, family and peers than others.

Intervention won’t look the same for all children, Micali says. “The findings suggest that a blanket approach focusing on all adolescents or children might not be best, and that targeted prevention that focused on boys who are overweight/obese rather than all boys might be more useful,” says Micali. “I think that it is important that we adapt our interventions for younger children appropriately, as there is some evidence that for example ‘healthy eating’ classes that are not designed for younger children might be harmful, especially for those who do not have the cognitive ability to adequately process the information.”

More research is needed to understand the best approach. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), research is continuing to discover that eating disorders are highly complicated and can be caused by an interaction of genetic, biological, psychological and social factors.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

More Than 200,000 Vietnam Vets Still Have PTSD

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New research reveals considerable PTSD in some vets, even decades after war

Many veterans who served in the Vietnam War still have war-zone-related post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

The researchers, led by Dr. Charles R. Marmar, of the New York University Langone Medical Center, wanted to look at the prevalence of PTSD over time. Thanks to the National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study, a study of PTSD in Vietnam vets done more than 25 years ago, they had historic data on the prevalence of PTSD; they conducted a follow-up to the study by gathering new data from the 1,450 veterans who were still alive and willing to participate in another round of PTSD assessments. From 2012-2013, researchers gathered from each vet a self-report health questionnaire, a telephone health survey or a clinical interview by phone. (Some vets participated in two or all three of the measures.)

MORE: Meet 15 Extraordinary Wounded Warriors Who Are Stronger Than Ever

The team determined that even now—40 years after the war ended—about 271,000 Vietnam vets have full war-zone-related PTSD plus war-zone PTSD that meets some diagnostic criteria. More than a third of the veterans who have current war-zone PTSD also have major depressive disorder.

MORE: “Hidden Wounds”: Battling PTSD With Music

Men who served in the Vietnam war had a war-zone-related PTSD prevalence of 4.5%; when factoring in vets who met some of the criteria, that number climbed to almost 11%. For women veterans, those prevalences were about 6% and 9%, respectively.

“An important minority of Vietnam veterans are symptomatic after four decades, with more than twice as many deteriorating as improving,” the study authors write. “Policy implications include the need for greater access to evidence-based mental health services; the importance of integrating mental health treatment into primary care in light of the nearly 20 percent mortality; attention to the stresses of aging, including retirement, chronic illness, declining social support and cognitive changes that create difficulties with the management of unwanted memories; and anticipating challenges that lie ahead for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.”

TIME health

7 Habits of People Who Age Well

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Strong social ties can increase your chance of living longer

Exercise, diet—even attitude—can be as important as genetics when it comes to growing old gracefully. “Old age,” as Bette Davis once said, “is no place for sissies.” But that doesn’t mean you need to chicken out. Sure, growing older affects nearly every part of your body—including your hair, skin, heart, muscles, and more—but aging well may be as simple as adopting these (mostly) easy everyday habits.

1. Maintain a positive attitude.

You are what you think you are when it comes to aging. Seniors who think of age as a means to wisdom and overall satisfaction are more than 40 percent more likely to recover from a disability than those who see aging as synonymous with helplessness or uselessness, according to The Journal of the American Medical Association.

2. Watch what you eat…

Nutrition plays a major role in how your body ages. “The latest research shows that a low-glycemic diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is healthiest,” says Dr. Jeffrey Benabio, Physician Director of Healthcare Transformation at Kaiser Permanente Primary Care. One great example is the Mediterranean diet, rich in plant-based foods, whole grains, nuts, and red wine (in moderation!). It also involves eating fish twice each week and cutting back on salt. Research shows that this type of diet may help you age better by warding off heart attacks, strokes, and premature death, according to Harvard Medical School. An added bonus: Benabio says that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, salmon, and flaxseed, help your skin manufacture the essential oils it needs to protect itself and can help skin look younger. In contrast, sugary, carbohydrate-heavy, and fatty foods—think, chips, soda, and white bread—can speed up the aging process, says Benabio. “So, when shopping or dining out, opt for whole grains and natural sweeteners,” he says.

3. …And how much you eat.

Overeating may lead to a shorter life span, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes, according to the NIH. To age well and live longer, it’s best to stick to a balanced diet that consists of about 2.5 cups of vegetables, 1.5 to two cups of fruit, six ounces of grains, three cups of dairy, and five ounces of protein each day.

4. Exercise regularly.

Staying active is a vital part of aging well. The average woman can lose 23 percent of her muscle mass between ages of 30 and 70, says Fabio Comana, a faculty instructor at the National Academy of Sports Medicine. You lose muscle more rapidly as you age, but exercise—resistance workouts in particular—can increase mass and strength, even well into your 90s, says Comana. Staying fit may also reduce age-related memory loss, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Plus, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for approximately 60 to 70 percent of all dementia cases, says Comana, adding that increasing physical activity can decrease this statistic by 25 percent. That’s because exercise strengthens the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with learning.

5. Stay social.

Friends and relatives can help you live longer. Those of us with strong social ties were shown to have a 50 percent higher chance of living longer than those with poor or insufficient relationships, according to a study published in the journal PLoS Medicine.

6. Protect your skin from the sun.

Too much time in the sun can cause wrinkles, not to mention cancer. But wearing sunscreen can help prevent your skin’s aging. And while the sun’s UV rays do trigger vitamin D production, which is essential for bone health, that’s hardly a good reason to expose yourself. “Here are the facts,” Benabio says. “After a few minutes of sun, your skin stops making vitamin D…and starts making skin cancer.” Most people get plenty of Vitamin D, but if you think you’re not, try eating more salmon or even eggs (don’t skip the yolk).

7. Get plenty of sleep.

You probably know that you should snooze for seven to nine hours each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But did you know that not sleeping enough may mean a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Plus, naps can improve memory and even help make up for missing nightly Zzs. And it turns out that “beauty sleep” isn’t a myth. During sleep, your body releases a growth hormone that helps restore collagen and elastin, the essential building blocks of young, healthy skin, says Benabio. Recent studies have also shown a connection between insomnia and accelerated aging of the brain, Benabio says. In other words, chronic lack of sleep adversely affects your brain’s function and speeds up the aging process. “Too many of us treat sleep as a luxury instead of a need,” says Benabio. “If I could encourage people do make one healthy change this year, it would be to sleep more.”

This article originally appeared on Real Simple

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The Best Pets For Your Health

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Animal friends can reduce stress, protect your heart and even help you lose weight

Our pets aren’t just our best friends; they’re members of the family. While their companionship can bring us so much joy, pets are also good for our health, according to a wealth of studies—sometimes in unexpected ways. And the more attached you are to your critter, the stronger the protective benefits may be. Check out the top animals that can lend a helping paw, hoof or wing to your health.

#1 Pet with benefits: Dogs
“The breadth and depth of what dogs do for our happiness and longevity is pretty remarkable,” says Marty Becker, DVM, author of Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul. Studies link dog ownership to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, plus a reduced risk of heart disease. A 2011 review in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that dog owners are 34 percent more likely to meet their exercise requirements (based on the federal guidelines) than nonowners.

There are also the mood-enhancing perks. “Simply petting a dog is like a spa treatment,” Dr. Becker says. “after just a minute or two, you have this massive release of positive neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin.” extra bonus: kids who grow up in homes with dogs are less likely to have allergies.

#2 Pet with benefits: Cats
No need to hiss at this second-place finish, cat lovers. You’re probably getting the same stress relief as dog owners; there are just fewer studies to prove it. In one, when stockbrokers with high blood pressure were given the choice of adopting a cat or a dog, both animals significantly lowered their owners’ stress responses. And cats earned a few more points toward a healthy-pet pedigree when researchers at the University of Minnesota found that people who had never owned a cat had a 40 percent higher risk of death from heart attack than cat owners.

#3 Pet with benefits: Fish
Want a little dose of calm? “Watching fish, like listening to music, can distract you in a good way,” Dr. Becker says. Numerous studies show that spending time in nature improves well-being, and an aquarium lets you bring that healing action indoors. In fact, one study revealed that for patients about to undergo dental surgery, gazing at a fish tank for 20 minutes was as effective at lowering stress levels as being hypnotized.

#4 Pet with benefits: Birds
Human companions for ages, birds have only recently been recognized for their healing properties, says Gregg Takashima, DVM, president of the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians. Like fish, these small space friendly creatures offer “nature on demand”—a relaxing or even energizing touch of wild beauty in your home. And they provide the same interactive pleasures that make cats and dogs so popular.

#5 Pet with benefits: Horses
A list of healthy pets wouldn’t be complete without horses. Sure, their size and strength can make them a bit intimidating—but therein lies their healing power. “By gaining control of a creature so much larger than you, you can gain control of a larger problem in life,” Dr. Becker explains. That’s why you’ll find horses used in hundreds of animal-assisted therapy programs. Working with horses can even reduce kids’ stress hormones, according to a 2014 study. And the muscle control horseback riding requires makes it an excellent toner and balance builder for just about anyone.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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10 Signs You Really Need a Vacation

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Because we all need some time off every now and then

You probably wouldn’t hesitate to call in sick if you had the flu. But would you take a day off when your stress levels have catapulted into the stratosphere? For many of us, the answer is no. In a 2011 survey of 1,546 people by the American Psychological Association, about one-third of respondents said they typically feel tense or stressed out during their workday. And despite that nearly all of us need an occasional break, many rarely take a vacation day because they worry that others will look down on them, says Paula Davis-Laack, PhD, author of Addicted to Busy. Sky-high stress at work won’t just lead to burnout—it can also bring on stomach issues, trouble sleeping, headaches, and more, according to a 2011 review by researchers from the University of South Florida. On average, Americans get 14 days of vacation a year, but use only 10 of them. How do you know when you’ve reached a breaking point and it might be time to cash in your chips? Read on for 10 signs that you and your workplace need a little time off.

Every little problem is turning into a big issue

No one likes fielding other people’s mistakes, but the truth is, you should be able to handle the occasional curveball or two—and your goal should always be to knock it out of the park. A positive attitude is key. “There are days when you [tackle problems] like a rock star,” says Davis-Laack. “And that’s a good feeling to have.” Even on days when you’re not feeling very ambitious, you should try to keep the situation in perspective. Sure, legitimate annoyances will always pop up, but “not everything you deal with is a level-10 problem,” she says. If you’re acting testier toward your co-workers or clients (say, you find yourself thinking, “Didn’t we just go over that?” or “Why can’t you understand these directions?”), then you’re the one who might be making a mistake—by not taking some time off to recharge.

Your coworkers keep asking if you’re feeling all right

Other people may notice that you’re stressed before you do. If your coworkers keep approaching you to say, “You look tired,” or ask, “Is something wrong?” then that could be a sign that your stress has spilled over into your workday and is obvious to the rest of your office, says Davis-Laack. Another sign: You’re unusually cranky and people are giving you more distance than usual. If that’s the case, you may not need to take much time off—just a day or two or a long weekend, she explains. Andrew Shatte, PhD, a stress resilience expert and co-author of meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier also recommends trying to work more “microbreaks” into your day. For example, all it may take to give you a quick mood boost is a 2-minute lap around the office floor or a short coffee break.

You start making mistakes

“Chronic stress is a well-known cause of workplace errors, and it’s a sign that you may need to take a step back,” says Davis-Laack. Studies show that when doctors and pharmacists are stressed or have a heavy workload, they could be prone to more mistakes—a serious problem in the medical community, since they can be potentially fatal to patients.

If you’re in the middle of a project and have been slipping up, finish the project and then arrange for some time off, advises Davis-Laack. “You don’t have to tell everyone on your team what’s happening,” she says, “but you might want to let your supervisor or client know that you’ve fixed your mistake and are taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

You’re feeling pretty cynical

Everything bores you, nothing excites you, and you can’t muster up any positive thoughts about the company you work for. Once those cynical thoughts start percolating in your brain, it may be a sign that you could be headed for burnout. Try to counter it ASAP: Davis-Laack advises employees to keep at least a three-to-one ratio of positive to negative experiences. (And she also says that highly successful teams have a ratio of about six to one.) Shatte’s advice: “If you have an upsetting conversation with someone at the office, jump on the phone with another long-term colleague and ask to chat for a few minutes,” he says. “You want to balance out the bad experiences with even more good ones.”

You start ‘borrowing’ the office supplies

Sure, we’ve all snatched a pen or two, but when you’re practically shopping at the supply closet, that’s a sign that you’re stressed out. Researchers actually have a name for these habits: “counterproductive work behaviors,” or “CWB,” for short. And one new 2015 study found that it may take weeks or even months before they start showing up in stressed-out employees. “Uncertainty [in the workplace] drives a great deal of stress,” says Davis-Laack. “As a result, people tend to turn inward, seek to protect their own turf, and become less likely to help others because they don’t know what’s going to happen outwardly.” If you’re engaging in counterproductive work behaviors, like picking fights with your co-workers or taking extra-long lunch breaks, she says, you may need a day off to help reset your priorities or even seek out new opportunities.

Everything hurts

Backaches. Headaches. Eye strain. All of these painful conditions are your body’s not-so-subtle way of telling you that you might need a day off. One 2011 University of South Florida review about stress in the workplace found that heavy workloads, negative environments, and obstacles that prevent people from completing their tasks were all factors linked to pain-related health problems in employees. The researchers say that when people find themselves in a stressful situation, their bodies release chemicals that trigger inflammation and increase their sensitivity to pain.

Your stomach basically hates you

A killer headache isn’t the only physical sign that you’re feeling frazzled—cramping and bloating might be other indicators. “Some people say they’re more likely to have stomach problems and digestive issues when they’re feeling stressed,” says Davis-Laack. That could be because stress can cause changes to the bacteria that reside in our guts, which could make us more vulnerable to upset stomachs. In fact, a 2010 study in the Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease found that people with gastrointestinal disorders may be more likely to have chronic stress than their calmer GI counterparts.

And you can forget about getting a decent night’s sleep

If you’re having trouble sleeping, that can also be a side effect of too much stress, says Shatte. In one 2007 study from the University of Georgia at Athens, people who believed they did “excessive” amounts of work were more likely to have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and spending more time in the restorative part of their sleep cycle than those who weren’t as overloaded at the office. And another 2005 study by Swedish researchers also found that overworked employees were more likely to have trouble unwinding before bed and have increased amounts of daytime sleepiness, possibly because their bodies were trying to make up for lost shut-eye. Some researchers speculate that the hormones involved in the flight-or-fight response—which is activated when we encounter a particularly stressful situation—may cause lasting tension and sabotage your sleep.

When you get home, you reach for a glass of wine

Do you bolt straight for the wine cabinet when you come home? If so, says Davis-Laack, you might be using alcohol as a coping mechanism for too-stressful days at the office. One 2012 study conducted in people in the nursing field—a particularly challenging occupation—found that drinking alcohol was a common way they dealt with the pressure. And another 2012 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who were experiencing burnout were more susceptible to emotional and uncontrolled eating—two habits that could boost your risk for obesity. A better way to send stress packing? Exercise. One study from the University of Maryland found that when people performed 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, they were calmer in the face of an anxiety-inducing situation than those who had just rested quietly. (Now you know what to do on your day off!)

You can’t remember why you wanted this job in the first place

Some people who are under a lot of pressure lose perspective of why they keep coming to work, says Shatte. This is one of the more serious signs of burnout, so if this is you, you may need to take a longer break from the office—and you may also need to reframe your thinking. “Sometimes people can become siloed at their job, and when that happens, they fail to see how their work affects their country or community,” he explains. Think about how your day-to-day impacts your life’s big picture: do you have a family to support? That’s one major reason to stay positive, says Shatte. So keep a picture of your relatives on hand, and remind yourself that you’re working for them, not just The Man.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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Children With Mental Health Problems Are Also at Risk as Adults

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A new study suggests that psychiatric problems in childhood are linked to several negative outcomes in adulthood

Having psychiatric problems in childhood is challenging enough, but new evidence suggests that these problems can lead to issues as an adult—even if the problems do not persist into adulthood.

A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry used data from a survey of 1,420 children from 11 counties in rural North Carolina. The children were followed over time and assessed annually between ages 9 and 16 for common psychiatric problems, like depression, anxiety and behavioral issues. The researchers found that 26% of children in the group suffered some form of behavioral or emotional disorder; another 31% displayed “subthreshold” psychiatric problems, or a few symptoms of psychiatric problems without being diagnosed with the condition.

“In terms of most types of health problems, kids are the healthiest,” says lead author Dr. William Copeland of Duke University Medical Center. Most chronic health diseases take hold during middle age, but “one exception is mental health problems, which occur at the onset of childhood and adolescence,” he says. These can include ADHD, behavioral or conduct problems, anxiety and depression.

Out of the initial survey group, 1,273 people were later re-evaluated three times at the outset of adulthood—ages 19, 21 and 25—to see how the now-young adults had fared in four areas: health, the legal system, personal finances and social functioning. These included negative life events like being incarcerated, dropping out of high school, having trouble keeping a job and having a serious health problem or addiction, Copeland says. “Nineteen and 21 are a peak period in terms of criminal behavior, substance problems, and transitioning from the home,” he says, and age 25 is when things typically start to stabilize.

Of the young adults who had suffered from a subthreshold psychiatric problem in childhood, 42% suffered an adverse outcome in adulthood. Of the kids who had behavioral or emotional issues as kids, 60% of them reported having trouble as adults. By comparison, just 20% of the young adults who had no psychiatric issues reported adult problems.

In other words, having a diagnosed psychiatric issue as a child made him or her six times more likely to experience at least one adverse effect as an adult and nine times more likely to suffer from two or more adverse outcomes. Children who had subthreshold symptoms without an official diagnosis faced three times the risk of having one adverse outcome and five times the risk of having two or more adverse outcomes.

Copeland thinks this is proof that mental health needs to be addressed early on and without stigma. “We need to focus on prevention and intervention,” he says. “If we want to reduce the cost and distress associated with many social problems, we really need to address them earlier.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Your Phone Knows If You’re Depressed

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Phone data could predict with 87% accuracy whether someone had depressive symptoms

Most of us are pretty attached to our phones, and researchers are starting to figure out what that connection can tell us about our health, including our mood. In fact, your phone may be able to tell if you’re depressed even better than a self-assessment of your own depression can, according to a small new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

“We found that the more time people spend on their phones, the more likely they are to be more depressed,” says David Mohr, one of the authors of the study and director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The researchers also found that spending lots of time at home was linked to depression—and that phone data like this could predict with 87% accuracy whether someone had symptoms of depression.

Northwestern researchers recruited 28 people ages 19-58 from Craigslist and souped up their smartphones with location-and-usage monitoring software. At the start of the study, they took a standardized questionnaire that measures depressive symptoms; half of the subjects had symptoms of depression, and half did not. For two weeks, the phones tracked GPS location information every five minutes and pinged the users with questions about their mood several times a day.

The phone data the researchers collected were rich: how many places the participants visited each day, how much time they spent in each of those places and how frequently they used their phones, says Sohrob Saeb, one of the study’s authors and a postdoctoral fellow and computer scientist in preventive medicine at Feinberg. The researchers then correlated this objective data with their depression test scores.

What they hoped to find was a connection between the objective markers of behavior—such as where the people were and how often they changed locations—and their depression test results. That way, the data derived from phones could become a useful way to track depression without the user having to report how they were feeling, which is often a barrier to depression treatment, says Mohr, who has studied depression for about 20 years. “One of the things that we find over and over again is that people don’t answer questions,” he says. “In apps, they’ll respond to questions for a few days and then get tired of it.”

Mohr and his team indeed found a strong correlation between these objective markers and depression. Phone data were even better than the daily questions the users answered to predict depression test results. “People who tend to spend more time in just one or two places—like people who stay at home or go to work and go back home—are more likely to have higher depression scores,” says Mohr. When a person moved around was important, too; people who stuck to a regular pattern of movement tended to be less depressed, they found. “This fits into a larger body of clinical research showing that people with mental health problems in general, their circadian rhythms get thrown off,” Mohr says. “Usually it’s looked at with sleep and activity, but here we’re seeing it also in terms of their movement through geographic space.” When people get depressed, he says, their mood may pull them off their routine.

Depressed people, too, spent an average of 68 minutes using their phones each day, while people without depression only spent about 17 minutes on their phones. The software didn’t track what people did on their phones—just whether or not they were using it. But the authors have some ideas about why they saw phone activity rise with depression. “One of the things we see when people are depressed is that people tend to start avoiding tasks or things they have to do, particularly when they’re uncomfortable,” Mohr explains. “Using the phone, going in and using an app, is kind of a distraction.”

It’s preliminary research, but Mohr hopes to add to the number of smartphone sensors and use these to subtly help manage depression and spot it more quickly, without requiring any work on behalf of the user. “Being able to get people timely treatment for depression is a critical failure point in public health right now,” Mohr says. An app that people download on their phones—without having to answer any questions—may help pinpoint their depressive states more effectively and help them get treatment.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

These Antidepressants May Be Riskier For Pregnant Women, Study Says

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Alfredo Ausina—Getty Images/age fotostock RM

Treating depression properly is important, but a new analysis found a link between certain SSRIs and birth defects

In a study published in the BMJ, researchers conducted the most thorough study to date looking at how popular SSRI antidepressants taken by pregnant women affect their unborn children.

Previous studies, most of which investigated individual medications and their potential effects on the still-developing fetus, have resulted in conflicting results; some have found associations between the antidepressants and birth defects, while others have not.

In the BMJ study, Jennita Reefhuis, team lead in the birth defects branch at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and her colleagues analyzed data from six existing studies of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, called SSRIs—a class of antidepressants—and their relationship with birth defects, as well as the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, which collected birth defect information from hospitals in 10 U.S. cities. The added data from nearly 18,000 mothers who had children with birth defects provided more power to the analysis that Reefhuis and her team performed.

MORE: Therapy and Antidepressants Work Better Together Than Just Pills Alone

Overall, they found that two SSRIs—fluoxetine (Prozac) and paroxetine (Paxil)—were linked to seven specific birth defects, including those involving heart structures, abnormal brain formation and the growth of the intestines outside of the body. The other SSRIs studied—citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), and sertraline (Zoloft)—did not show strong associations with birth defects.

The researchers don’t yet know exactly why these SSRIs were linked to birth defects, and Reefhuis stresses that the risks she uncovered are small. For example, a heart structural defect occurs normally in about 10 per 10,000 births, and for women taking paroxetine, that risk doubled to 24 per 10,000. “But two times a small number is still a small number,” she says.

MORE: Why Some Antidepressants Make You Feel Worse Before Better

Still, the results should provide better information for doctors and women who want to start families about how to balance the benefits of antidepressants like SSRIs in treating depression and the potential risks the medications can pose to the baby. “I think our data points in the direction that maybe they could choose an SSRI that has not been shown to be associated with, or has been associated with fewer, birth defects,” she says. But more studies like this are needed to confirm and expand on what we know about how specific antidepressants are linked to specific birth defects. “This information is most helpful in trying to unravel this mystery,” says Reefhuis. “I really hope it provides options for treating women who need treatment for depression during pregnancy.”

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