TIME Stress

Burnout in the Hospital: Why Doctors Are Set Up for Stress

Every job can lead to burnout, but what happens when it strikes doctors, who make decisions that can affect their patients' lives?

Some experts call physician burn out “inevitable,” given the high-pressure environment in which they must make potentially life-saving, and almost always life-altering, choices on a constant basis. Research shows that up to 40% of U.S. doctors experience emotional, physical, and psychological burnout from their jobs, and the consequences are no different for them than they are for people in other occupations — substance abuse and cutting corners.

In the premiere issue of the journal Burnout Research, which is dedicated to research on the topic, Anthony Montgomery, an associate professor in the Psychology of Work and Organizations in the University of Macedonia in Greece, focused on physician burnout, and argues that the way doctors are trained may set them up for a career of frustrations and high-stress situations. And the consequences may be hurting the care they provide patients.

He says that while doctors interact with people on a daily basis, their training and their worth as physicians are focused almost entirely on their technical capabilities, leaving them with few tools for understanding and navigating social interactions and for collaborating as part of a larger team or organization.

Montgomery argues that most medical students are chosen because of their high test scores, so medical school becomes like an extension of school. They then become residents, thrown into a more social environment in which they are expected to interact with patients, hospital staff and colleagues in ways they may not have expected to or been prepared to do. It’s assumed they have the leadership skills and the proper emotional capacity to guide patients through extremely stressful and often traumatic experiences, but not having the tools to manage these situations can be stressful on the doctors themselves. While burnout among physicians is widespread, some studies have shown surgeons and OBGYNs can be at a particularly high risk.

“The irony is that doctors are the one group of people we don’t want to be stressed, yet we are increasing the possibility for them to make mistakes,” says Montgomery. “Doctors understand that their job is to be the best doctor they can, but [they do] not necessarily [understand] their part in helping the hospital as a whole better serve the community.” In his practice, for example, Montgomery says that his colleagues admitted to learning skills like communication and teamwork on the job, after they left medical school.

And that’s not just a problem for the medical community. The more doctors feel stressed about their jobs, the more they feel burned out and defeated by the health care system, leading to less motivation to improve conditions, both for themselves and for patients. A 2012 study published in Archives of Internal Medicine reported that nearly 1 in 2 U.S. physicians report at least one symptom of burnout, like losing enthusiasm for their work, or growing cynical. Forty percent of doctors reported being unsatisfied with their work-life balance and that they did not have time to devote to their families or their personal lives. And in a 2013 study published in JAMA, the consequences of that burnout started to emerge — only 36% of 2,556 surveyed physicians believed doctors had a major responsibility in reducing health care costs, despite the fact that they prescribe the drugs, tests and procedures that can escalate costs. Other studies also link burnout to poorer quality care and increased rates of medical errors.

What can be done to alleviate some of the pressure on physicians? Montgomery cites revisiting the way doctors are educated in order to arm them with stronger social and leadership skills, as well as some untraditional strategies, including teaching mindfulness. Improving the doctor-patient relationship may also help, so physicians and patients collaborate in their care rather than perpetuate a hierarchical system which neither doctor nor patient finds satisfying. He writes: “The uncomfortable truth is that we may need to reimagine healthcare in a way that views some errors as unavoidable, demystifies the physicians as superheroes, engages real patient participation and steers healthcare professionals away from cultures of self-preservation.” In other words, making health care more satisfying for physicians and patients may be a group effort, and that’s something that doctors aren’t quite used to yet.

 

TIME

These 5 Yoga Moves Will Save You From Back Pain

Yoga forearm plank
Trista Weibell—Getty Images

The key to preventing back pain is to strengthen your core and release tension and tightness in the muscles around your upper and lower back. Plus, back pain can often be the result of stress. Yoga will help you relax and unwind mentally and these poses will continue to keep your core strong, your back supported, and your muscles lengthened and released.

Health.com: 15 Natural Back Pain Remedies

The first three yoga poses below connect us to our deep core muscles, which act as an inner girdle. When we tighten and tone our core, it helps us hold everything in and prevents us from straining our back. The last two are great for releasing tension in the upper and lower body. Tight shoulders can cause an achy upper back and tight hips pull on the lower back.

Try incorporating these poses regularly to keep your spine healthy, back strong, core engaged, and joints flexible.

Bird Dog

Start on hands and knees and imagine you have a glass of water on your lower back and one between your shoulder blades. Without spilling any water, reach your right arm forward and your left leg straight back behind you. Hold here for 30-60 seconds bracing your core. Come back to all fours before switching sides. Repeat 3 to 5 times on each side.

Health.com: 12 Yoga Poses for Non-Flexible People

Boat

Sit tall your knees bent and your feet on flat on the floor. Hinge back without rounding in the lower back as you lift your legs out in front of you at a 45-degree angle. Keep drawing our lower abdominals in and up and lengthen out of your lower back. Hold here for 5 to 8 breaths. Lower down and repeat 2 more times.

If this is too challenging with your legs straight, you can bend your knees so the shins are parallel to the floor.

Forearm Plank

If you only have time for one pose, this is the ultimate core move. It really works the entire midsection, deep core muscles and the back, waist, hips, legs, buttocks, arms, and shoulders.

Lie on your and place your elbows under your shoulders, tuck under your toes and press firmly through the back of your legs and heels. Engage your lower abs and tighten your core as you lift your body up off the floor coming in to one straight line of energy from head to toe. Don’t let your ribs splay open or your butt sag or lift too high. Hold for 45-60 seconds then lower down. Repeat 2 to 3 more times.

Health.com: 25 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

Cow Face Pose

Start on all fours and slide your right leg over your left leg high at the upper thigh. Sit back between your heels and adjust your hips so they are even distance from each foot. Lift your left arm overhead and bend the elbow so the hand comes down between your shoulder blades. Reach your right arm behind your back and up towards the left hand try and touch the fingers or clasp the hands. If you can’t connect your hands, use a towel or strap. Recline forward over your legs and hold for 5 to 8 breaths. Come up move back on to all fours and repeat on the opposite side.

This pose will stretch out tight external rotators, hips, and buttocks as well as shoulders and upper back.

Camel Pose

Tight hip flexors can pull on the lower back and are often the result of sitting for too long of periods. Camel is an excellent counterpose to the slouched forward position we often assume. Camel opens up the entire front body while stretching the shoulders and front of thighs, hip flexors, quads and psoas muscles.

Health.com: Which Type of Yoga is Best for You?

Come in to a kneeling position with your toes tucked under. Place your hands on your lower back and try and slide your tailbone down towards the floor to lengthen your lower back. Lift your chest up and drop your head back as you reach for your heels (if this places any strain on the back keep your hands on your lower back). Hold and breathe for 5 breaths then lift up. If you want to challenge yourself further repeat the pose with the toes flat on the floor. The goal is to open up the chest and stretch the front of the body while lengthening out of the lower back. Use the strong abdominal muscles you found in the first three postures to support the backbend.

Kristin McGee is a leading yoga and Pilates instructor and healthy lifestyle expert based in New York City. She is an ACE certified personal trainer who regularly trains celebrity clients in New York and Los Angeles. She serves as Health’s contributing fitness editor and is frequently seen on national TV.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Aging

14 Ways to Live a Longer, Healthier Life

These tips will reverse your aging

The answer is more complicated than counting the number of candles you blew out on your last birthday cake. Your daily habits can either add or subtract years from your life—like how much you exercise, or how stressed you allow yourself to be. Read on for 14 things you can start doing today to live a longer, healthier life.

Drop some pounds

Being obese increases the risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease, possibly shaving up to 12 years off your life, per an analysis in the journal Obesity. But being too thin can hike your risk of osteoporosis and poor immune function. So aim to stay at a weight that’s healthy for you.

Cap your drinks

Regularly exceeding one drink a day or three in one sitting can damage organs, weaken the immune system and increase the risk of some cancers.

Ease your stress

Chronic stress makes us feel old—and actually ages us: In a 2012 study, Austrian researchers found that work-related tension harms DNA in our cells, speeding up the shortening of telomeres—which protect the ends of our chromosomes and which may indicate our life expectancy. Of course, it’s impossible to completely obliterate stress. “What’s important is how you manage it,” says Thomas Perls, MD, associate professor at Boston University school of Medicine. Practice yoga, pray, meditate, relax in the shower or do whatever else chills you out.

Health.com:Best and Worst Ways to Cope With Stress

Keep learning

Having more education lengthens your life span, according to a study in the journal Health Affairs, for a number of reasons. Extra schooling may help you become better informed about how to live a healthy life. And educated folks, as a group, have a higher income, which means greater access to good health care and insurance.

Connect

More and more research points to the value of having friends, and not just on Facebook. An Oxford University study found that being married makes you less likely to die of heart disease, which researchers suggest may be due to partners encouraging the other to seek early medical treatment. Same goes for friendships: Australian research showed that people with the most buddies lived 22 percent longer than those with the smallest circle. “Having positive, meaningful, intimate relationships is critical to most people’s well-being,” says Linda Fried, MD, dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Extend a hand

Volunteering is linked to a lower risk of death, a University of Michigan study suggests. But you don’t have to log hours at a soup kitchen: Simply helping friends and family—say, by tutoring your niece or assisting your neighbor with her groceries—lowers blood pressure, according to researchers at the University of Tennessee and Johns Hopkins University.

Health.com: 14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

Work out often

Exercising regularly—ideally at least three days of cardio and two days of strength training a week—may help slow the aging process, Canadian doctors reported. “Being physically active is like keeping the car engine tuned,” Dr. Fried says. “Even if there’s decline with age, it’s less severe.” You were never an athlete? Don’t worry: Starting to work out now can reduce your likelihood of becoming ill going forward, a 2014 study suggests.

Reconsider your protein

A diet rich in processed meat—including hot dogs, sausage, cured bacon and cured deli meats—has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer. Limit your intake as much as possible.

Give up smoking

Lighting up increases your risk of not only lung cancer but also heart disease and cancer of almost every other organ. “Just one cigarette a day can take 15 years off your life,” Dr. Perls says. Though you won’t instantly revert to pre-smoking health, kicking butts will cut your added cardiovascular risk in half after a year and to that of a nonsmoker after 15.

Health.com:15 Ways Smoking Ruins Your Looks

Enjoy your joe

Good news for java lovers: Research indicates that drinking it regularly may protect against diabetes, cirrhosis and liver cancer. And Harvard research suggests that drinking 3 1/2 cups a day may lower risk of heart disease.

Sleep better

For evidence that you can—and should—make slumber a priority, look no further than a 2013 study from the University of Surrey in England, which compared a group who got less than six hours of sleep a night with a group who got 8 1/2 hours. After just one week, snoozing less had altered the expression of 711 genes, including ones involved in metabolism, inflammation and immunity, which may raise the risk of conditions from heart disease to obesity.

Have more sex

The feel-good rush you get from it helps you fight stress and depression, jolt the immune system and lower blood pressure.

Health.com:15 Everyday Habits to Boost Your Libido

Go Mediterranean

In a 2013 Annals of Internal Medicine study, women who followed a Mediterranean-style diet were 40 percent more likely to live past 70 without major chronic illness than those with less healthy diets. Eat lots of veggies, fruit, fish and whole grains, and avoid simple carbs, such as pasta and sugar (“age accelerators,” Dr. Perls calls them).

Know your history

Have one or more relatives who lived into their 90s? You may be genetically blessed. But that doesn’t mean you should quit the gym and live on doughnuts. “Before you get to extreme ages, healthy lifestyle is more critical than genes,” Dr. Perls says. So thank your ancestors, but stick to vegetables and cardio as life insurance.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME U.S.

These Are America’s Most Stressed-Out Cities

Based on commute times, work schedules, crime rates and more

These days, it seems like just about every American is stressed for one reason or another. But which areas of the U.S. are home to the most stressed-out people? CNNMoney teamed with the American Psychological Association to answer that question. They came up with the major indicators of stress in urban areas and then broke these factors down into the following categories: economy and money, work, family, lifestyle and crime.

The major indicators included poverty rates, commute times, health status, family size and crime rates. An overall weighted ranking system lead to the following list, with the Big Apple, not surprisingly, landing at the top:

1. New York

2. Detroit

3. Los Angeles

4. Riverside / San Bernardino

5. Houston

6. Chicago

7. Miami

8. New Orleans

9. Atlanta

10. Memphis

Head over to CNNMoney to see the full list of the most (and least) stressed-out urban areas.

TIME Research

New Study May Explain Why Stress Can Cause Heart Attacks

White blood cells
White blood cells Getty Images

Stress can cause an overproduction of white blood cells, which can contribute to blockages

Scientists may have identified the connection between chronic stress and heart attacks, according to a new study: white blood cells.

“[They] are important to fight infection and healing, but if you have too many of them, or they are in the wrong place, they can be harmful,” said Matthias Nahrendorf of the Harvard Medical School, who was a co-author of the study, Agence France-Presse reports.

Stress causes an overproduction of white blood cells, which defend the body against diseases but can cause problems when produced in excess. These extra cells can stick to artery walls, causing restrictions in blood flow and aiding the formation of clots that can cause blood-vessel blockages throughout the body.

Columbia University researcher and physician Dr. Alan Tall, who was not involved in the study, told Science magazine that while doctors have believed that chronic stress could lead to cardiovascular disease, the exact mechanism has not been clear in the past.

To identify the link, Nahrendorf and a group of researchers studied 29 medical residents working in the hospital’s intensive care unit — a fairly stressful place to work. Researchers collected blood samples from the residents during both the workday and off-hours, and they also administered questionnaires about residents’ stress levels. After observing an overproduction of white blood cells in residents, they performed an experiment on mice, whose white-blood-cell counts responded similarly to stress induced during the experiment.

While the research may shed new light on the connection between stress and heart attacks, Nahrendorf also says blood pressure, genetic traits, high cholesterol and smoking contribute to risks of heart attacks and strokes.

[AFP]

TIME Aging

10 Ways to Live to 100

Women exercising and laughing
Sam Edwards—Getty Images/Caiaimage

No one really wants to think about aging, but let’s face it: the habits you practice now can play a role in how long you’ll live, and how much life you’ll have in your years.

The world’s oldest man, Polish immigrant Alexander Imich, passed away on Sunday in New York City at the age of 111. That’s way longer than the average American male life expectancy of 76, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health.com: 13 Everyday Habits That Age You

While Imich told The New York Times that he chalked up his longevity to good genes, there are healthy habits you can pick up to help you live a longer, happier life. Here are some ideas:

Find a hobby
Doing something you find truly fulfilling will give you a sense of accomplishment, and can help reduce stress.

Floss!
Flossing does more than clean your teeth: Getting all that inflammation-causing bacteria off your gums can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Health.com: 14 Reasons Why You’re Always Tired

Plan a vacay
Taking a break from work can lower your risk of heart disease and add 1 to 2 years to your life.

Rest up
Your body repairs cells during sleep, so skimping on it doesn’t do your body any favors. Plus, adequate sleep also affects your quality of life. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of shut-eye per night.

Get busy
Having sex releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin, another stress reliever. Plus, a study from the University of Quebec found that women burn 3 calories per minute of sex while men burn 4.

Health.com: 7 Foods for Better Sex

Be social
People with stronger friendships were 50% more likely to live longer than those with weaker connections, a 2010 analysis found. That makes the impact of friendlessness comparable to that of smoking (more on that below).

Eat right
You need to fuel your body with healthy foods to live a long life. Limit your intake of foods high in fat, salt, and added sugar (which can increase your risk of heart disease, obesity, and other chronic diseases) and look for superfoods rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein.

Health.com: Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

Hit the gym
Not only is exercise good for the heart, but working out can trigger the release of endorphins, pain-relieving chemicals known to boost your mood. Shoot for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, per the CDC.

Beat stress
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are associated with an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. That’s even more reason to take up calming activities, like meditation and yoga.

Stop smoking and limit drinking
Imich, a former smoker, swore off both cigarettes and alcohol and you should follow his lead-at lease when it comes to the cigs. Smoking causes one out of 5 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC. Moderate alcohol consumption is good for you, but experts recommend that women have no more than one drink per day (or up to 7 per week); for men it’s 1 to 2 drinks per day, or a max of 14 per week.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME work life balance

Why You’re More Stressed by Home Than Work

Could be that you're still laboring but not getting paid

A new study out from the Council on Contemporary Families suggests that contrary to most surveys, people are actually more stressed at home than at work. Three Penn State researchers measured people’s cortisol, which is a stress marker, while they were at work and while they were at home and found it higher at what is supposed to be a place of refuge.

“Further contradicting conventional wisdom, we found that women as well as men have lower levels of stress at work than at home” writes one of the authors, Sarah Damaske, assistant professor of labor and employment relations, sociology and women’s studies at Penn State (the italics are hers). In fact women even say they feel better at work, she notes. “It is men, not women, who report being happier at home than at work.” Another surprise is that the findings hold true, says Damaske, for both those with children and without, but more so for nonparents. This is why, the authors conclude, people who work outside the home have better health.

What the study doesn’t measure is whether people are still doing work when they’re at home, whether it’s household work or work brought home from the office. For many men, the end of the workday is a time to kick back. For women who stay home, they never get to leave the office. And for women who work outside the home, they often are playing catch up with household tasks. With the blurring of roles, and the fact that the home front lags well behind the workplace in making adjustments for working women, it’s not surprising that women are more stressed at home.

But it’s not just a gender thing. At work, people pretty much know what they’re supposed to be doing: working, earning money, doing the tasks they have to do in order to draw an income. The bargain is very pure: employee puts in hours of physical or mental labor and employee draws out life-sustaining moola.

Usually if the workplace is well organized, and moneymaking enterprises often are, the employee has a defined set of tasks. I am paid to sit at my desk and press letters on a keyboard in an order that will produce something people can make sense of. If I choose to vacuum my floor, that’s fine, but I still have to do my keyboard finger dance. Other people have to teach children. Others build or mend teeth or organize conferences.

On the home front, however, people have no such clarity. Rare is the household in which the division of labor is so clinically and methodically laid out. There are a lot of tasks to be done, there are scant or intangible rewards for most of them. Your home colleagues — your family — have no clear rewards for their labor; they need to be talked into it, or if they’re teenagers, threatened with complete removal of all electronic devices. Plus, they’re your family. You cannot fire your family. You never really get to go home from home.

So it’s not surprising that people are more stressed at home. Not only are the tasks apparently infinite, the co-workers are much harder to motivate.

Damaske and her co-authors suggest that telling people to work less will solve no problems. The answer is more flexibility. “Telecommuting, paid sick days, paternity and maternity leaves, are all policies that make it easier for workers to retain the health benefits of employment and for companies to retain the financial benefits of having loyal employees rather than having to deal with constant job turnover,” they write in the study.

That sounds like people will be spending more time in the home. That’s going to play havoc with their stress.

TIME psychology

Be More Productive—By Doing Less

459771745
Reza Estakhrian—Getty Images

Our constant busyness prevents us from entering the associative mental state in which unexpected connections and insights are achieved.

“Leisure is the new productivity.”

That counterintuitive slogan emerged from a panel I attended last week at the annual conference of the New America Foundation, a Washington D.C. think tank where I am fortunate to be a fellow. The panel was anchored by Brigid Schulte, a Washington Post reporter and the author of a new book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time.

Time and the way we spend it was Schulte’s focus, and she argued that we spend too much time working, logging more hours at the office than employees in any other developed country save Japan and South Korea. As a result, “we have a lot of unproductive, sick, unhappy, burned out, and disengaged workers,” Schulte noted. Ironically, we are less productive, creative, and innovative than we would be if we had more time off.

Our continual state of busyness, she explained, prevents us from entering the loose, associative mental state in which unexpected connections and aha! insights are achieved. Schulte was drawing here on the research of psychologists and neuroscientists, one of whom, Northwestern University professor Mark Beeman, was also on the panel.

Beeman and his collaborators have found that although we may appear idle while daydreaming or mind wandering, the brain is actually working especially hard in these moments, tapping a greater array of mental resources than are used during more methodical thinking. This unfocused “default mode,” Schulte has written, “is like a series of airport hubs in different and typically unconnected parts of the brain.” When activated, it “puts together stray thoughts, makes seemingly random connections and enables us to see an old problem in an entirely new light.”

If we don’t allow our minds to have this kind of downtime—because we’re always under stress and on deadline, always making calls and checking email—such connections and insights won’t materialize. “At work and at school, we expect people to pay attention, to focus,” Beeman observed. “To focus on one thing, you have to suppress a lot of other things. Sometimes that’s good. But sometimes a solution to a problem can only come from allowing in apparently unrelated information, from giving time to the quieter ideas in the background.”

Schulte and Beeman contend that we need to make room in our lives for two distinctly different kinds of mental activity: the directed, focused attention usually expected of us at work and at school, but also a more diffuse and leisurely state in which we’re focusing on nothing in particular. “Oscillating” between these two modes—a kind of interval training for the mind—is the best way to reap the benefits of both kinds of thought.

“As we move ever further into a knowledge economy, in which ideas are our products, we have to think about where ideas come from,” Schulte concluded. Where they come from, she argued persuasively, is not only from conventional work, but from productive leisure.

Annie Murphy Paul is the author of the forthcoming book Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter. Read more at her blog, where this post first appeared.

TIME movies

Intense Movies May Be Dangerous for People With Weak Hearts

Robin Tunney In 'Vertical Limit'
A scene from the 2000 movie 'Vertical Limit' Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

Dramatic scenes that leave moviegoers’ chests pounding could be dangerous for viewers with already weak hearts, a small study shows, drawing a link between emotionally stressful cinematography and potentially dangerous cardiac changes in audience members

It’s no surprise to anyone who’s felt their heart jump into their throat while watching a scary movie that these scenes can be stressful. But can that stress be measured by scientists — and is it dangerous?

In a small study published yesterday in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, researchers tracked how emotional stress — in this case, watching a harrowing five-minute clip of the rock-climbing movie Vertical Limit — affects the heart. They measured the blood pressure, heart rhythm and breathing speed of 19 heart patients while they watched the scene and found that the clip affected the stability of their heart beat while also increasing blood pressure and how quickly the patients were breathing.

“If someone already has a weakened heart, or if they experience a much more extreme stress,” said study author Dr. Ben Hanson of University College London, “the effect could be much more destabilizing and dangerous.”

(Researchers recreated those breathing patterns without subjecting the patients to the clip and found no such change in heart rate, suggesting that the emotional stress — and not just the increased respiration — was to blame.)

In a statement about the study, Dr. Ben Hanson, one of its authors, said that the results did vary but the observation of cardiac changes was consistent. So, though there’s no reason for healthy movie fans to worry, those with preexisting heart problems might want to take it under consideration.

Watch the clip at your own risk here:

 

MONEY health

5 Ways to Reduce Your Financial Anxiety

Cutting down on discretionary spending and paying down debt will help reduce your financial anxiety. photo: shutterstock

Tired of feeling anxious about your family’s financial future? To reduce this lingering economic insecurity, try these strategies.

Create a plan. Fueling our anxiety about money is the feeling of being out of control — that economic events you have no hand in will hurt your prospects. Developing a financial plan with specific goals and targets helps you feel as if the control is back in your hands.

Need proof? Gallup reports that 80% of nonretirees and 88% of retirees with such plans said having a plan boosted their confidence that they could achieve their goals. And a Transamerica survey shows that workers with a written plan are 47% more likely to say that they’ll retire with a comfortable lifestyle than those without one.

Break off bite-size chunks. Lofty long-term goals like building a seven-figure retirement nest egg or saving enough to pay for your kid’s BA can feel impossible to achieve. So instead of focusing on big end numbers, set your sights on more manageable interim targets.

Related: What’s your money state of mind?

“Create small steps, each with its own deadline and reward,” says Harvard behavioral economics professor Brigitte Madrian. “The more small things you knock off your list, the less anxious you’ll feel about bigger goals.”

Accentuate the positive. “Our brains tend to focus on the negative, so it’s a struggle to see what’s going right,” says Rick Kahler, president of the Financial Therapy Association.

Help yourself by taking inventory of what’s going well for you moneywise — maybe you’ve upped your 401(k) contributions, your home’s value has jumped, or you’re saving money by brown-bagging it at work. Use the list to buoy your spirits when setbacks occur.

Related: How we feel about our finances

Plump your cushion. The single best move you can make to feel better about your finances: Build up your emergency fund.

A University of Georgia study has found that having adequate reserves is a better predictor of financial satisfaction than other moves, such as paying off credit card debt. “It’s like having extra insurance,” notes Terrance Odean, a finance professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Don’t get too relaxed. The recession made us realize how vulnerable we are, Madrian says. And that awareness led many to cut back on discretionary spending, pay down debt, and save more.

“These habits are good,” says Odean. “If anxiety motivates people to make these changes and can motivate them to save even more, you don’t necessarily want to relieve people of all of it.”

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