What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from Harvard’s 75 year study on happiness

“What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life?”

In a recent survey, 80% of millennials say that their major life goal is to get rich and another 50% said it’s to get famous.

We are constantly told that we need to work more and work harder to have a good life. Most of what we know is retrospective – asking people to look back on their lives. But we know that memory can be pretty creative and not very reliable.

So what if we could track people’s lives from the time they are teens through late in their lives to get a sense of what really keeps us happy and healthy?

The Harvard Study of Adult Development did exactly that. For 75 years, it tracked the lives of 724 men asking about their careers and what makes them happy, year after year. Most studies of this magnitude do not survive due to funding, and researchers either retiring or moving on to other projects.

This one did. And about 60 of the participants are still alive and still part of this study that is currently led by Robert Waldinger.

The study tracked two different groups of men. One was from the poorest and most disadvantaged families in Boston. The other group began as freshmen at Harvard College.

Over the course of their lives, these men went on to become bricklayers and lawyers and one the President of the United States. Some developed alcoholism, others schizophrenia. A few of the men climbed the social ladder to its highest rungs, others went the other direction.

To get the clearest picture of these men’s lives, the researchers scan their brains, talk to their children, get their medical records, and talk to the men in their living rooms. They are videotaped talking to their wives about their deepest concerns.

It turns out that the lessons learned from this work aren’t about wealth, or fame, or working harder and harder. The clearest lesson we’ve learned from 75 years in this study is this:

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

We’ve learned three important things from this study about relationships:

  1. Social connections are really good for us and loneliness kills. People who are more socially connected are happier, healthier, and live longer. Loneliness, meanwhile, is toxic. People who are isolated from others more than they want to be find that they are less happy, health declines earlier, and they do not live as long. Unfortunately more than 1 in 5 Americans report at some point in their lives that they are lonely.
  2. It is the quality of our relationships that matters. Living in the midst of a bad relationship has negative effects on our health. High-conflict marriages for example, are very bad on our health, perhaps even worse than getting divorced. Living in warm relationships has protective benefits on our health. Middle age cholesterol levels did not predict whether or not one of the men would become a healthy octogenarian. People who were the most satisfied with their relationships at 50, were the healthiest at age 80.
  3. Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. Being in a securely attached relationship in your 80s, those people’s memories stay sharper longer. It doesn’t mean the relationship was smooth all the time, it was that they knew they could really call on their partner in a time of need.

So why is this so hard? We want a quick fix. Relationships are messy and complicated and hard work. Not very sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong. People in their 70s who were the happiest had worked hard to replace workmates with playmates after retirement.

So what about you?

There isn't time.jpg

The good life is built with good relationships.

[This blog is a summary of a terrific Ted talk by Dr. Robert Waldinger titled: “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness”, and the quotes are taken directly from him. Check it out here: http://go.ted.com/CmnD]

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus  is a Relationship Therapist, Couples Therapist, and Author who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

Posted in Dating, Mindfulness, Psychotherapy, Relationship Coaching, Uncategorized, Yoga | 1 Comment

A few things I learned & relearned in 2015

  1. Relationships are #1. Keep close the people who love you, invest in you, and are there for you. And remember to offer them all of the same… even when they forget sometimes.
  2. Occasionally you will have to let go of a relationship that’s not working for you. It might suck. But it does open up more space for you to invest in the ones that are there. It can be confusing to figure out the difference between the friends that are just human beings and accidentally hurt us vs. the people that we need to let go of. Here’s a simple way to figure out the difference: if you are feeling hurt by or upset with a friend, talk to them about it. I like to call it a “repair conversation”. If you are able to work through things together, you’ll likely discover that your relationship is stronger than before it all happened. If they don’t seem able to work through things with you, it might be time to say goodbye. (And if you ever feel yourself feeling unsafe with someone, this lets you know that one of those repair convos needs to happen.)
  3. There aren’t any shortcuts. Want to achieve something particularly physically challenging? Keep at it. Make a business successful? Keep at it. Create a lasting partnership? Yep, same three words. There’s no quick fix, magic diet, weekend intensive, life hack, (fill in the blank) that’s going to make anything worthwhile and lasting happen in your life.
  4. Those who love you do not care any less about you because you failed. In fact, let them know about it and they’ll probably care more. I was pretty anxious about sharing with someone really close to me that a business I launched was not going gangbusters as I hoped it would be. In fact, it had a bunch of months where it lost money. But I decided to share what was going on. And she said, “Oh, thanks for letting me know. Gosh, I bet that’s stressful sometimes.” It was amazing. She not only said she appreciated hearing about the thing that wasn’t going so well, she also validated what I was feeling inside. A thousand bucks wouldn’t have felt better.
  5. Those who love you do not care about you any more because you succeeded. Whether you got the promotion or published the book or landed the relationship or achieved the thing, no one who already loves you feels any differently. They just love and accept you. Period.
  6. Responsiveness always wins. We are wired for attachment, so we love it when people get back to us. In little ways like texts and facebook posts. And in big ways like showing up for meaningful moments in our lives or when we really need a shoulder to cry on. My sister was often difficult to get in touch with since she was busy with work and school and friends and romance and all the other stuff that fills up our lives at a certain age. Then she had kids. And as busy as I know she (still) is, she has become incredibly responsive. If she can’t pick up the phone, she texts, “Hey, can I call you when I put the kids down for a nap?” Man, this kind of stuff means the world to me. We talk more. I think of her more. And our relationship has just moved to a whole other level. So good.
  7. Our bodies function as well or as poorly as the quality of fuel we provide to power it. Eight hours sleep, lots of veggies/whole grains/proteins, daily movement, doing stuff we’re passionate about, and hang-time with our favorite people will fuel a pretty incredible rocketship. Moderating sugar/substances/junk food/toxic relationships/screen-time will keep this incredible machine firing at 100%.
  8. Technology is cool, but has rapidly diminishing returns. People and connections are absolute magic. If you’re ever unsure about this fact, look at your phone screen for a few seconds. Then do the same thing into the eyes of any human being you meet. I know, magical right?! I got a brand new computer for my birthday. Awesome, flashy, Apple, fast, and lots of other cool words. As I sit and type on it a few months later, I rarely notice any difference vs. my old computer which was slow, old, heavy and lots of other not so cool words. But every time I share a warm “Hello!” or a longer lasting convo with someone, my heart just lights up. Never. Gets. Old.
  9. Reducing the preferences and particulars you need to feel content sets you up for a whole lot of goodness. The more of life that breezes by, the more specific we get about what we like, how we want things to go, and the preferences we have. Unfortunately, this sets us up for a lot of anxiety and disappointments. As one of my mentor’s voices often rings in my ear, “Life gets pretty easy if you don’t have any preferences.”
  10. Being judgy is easy but just doesn’t feel that great. On the other hand, being compassionate and seeing that beautiful detail you might have missed feels fantastic.
  11. Climbing a mountain is pretty daunting. You’ll notice though, that taking a few steps up a hill makes that mountain not seem as tall. Quick story: I sat down to write a book this past summer but felt remarkably scared/uncertain/lazy about doing it. So I decided instead to just write for a little bit then shut my computer and wait a day or two until writing a little more. About 4 months later I was looking at a completed rough draft of my first book.
  12. Set incredibly small goals. Big ones don’t get completed and leave us feeling more dejected than when we started. For example, I’ve always been intimidated as #$% at the idea of sitting still for any length of time. Then a buddy of mine did a sit for 10 days. Something like 13 hours of sitting still each day. (I know, “Yikes!” right.) For 2015, I decided I’d try to sit still and watch my breath for 4 minutes a day. Since that was actually successful, I’m proud to announce I’m bumping that number way up. You ready: all the way up to 5 minutes a day.
  13. We are tribal. Sure, there’s tens of thousands of years of history and anthropology to reflect this, but we don’t even need to get into all that. I just know it cuz I feel it. We like to share the errata of our lives and for people to let us know it matters. Then ask us about it next time we see them. And laugh about stuff we have in common. And gather around a table for a bite or a beverage. And lament that challenge. And high-five that success. Sure, our tribe needs regular investments. But man, the dividends it pays out are just ridiculously good.
  14. Try doing that thing for a few minutes or even seconds longer than you thought you could. I bet you’ll surprise yourself. Three years ago I set a personal goal to be able to do a certain type of inversion (handstand press-ups in case you’re a fellow enthusiast). Today I still cannot do this kind of inversion. But thanks to a dear teacher in my life, I’ve discovered I could hold handstand for a couple seconds longer than I thought I could. Then those seconds eventually turned into a whole breath. And as breath has now become breaths, I am confident that handstand press-ups are in my future. I’ll keep you posted :)
  15. Beauty is all around us.
  16. We humans are crazy resilient.
  17. Everyone has a story.
  18. I’m worth it. You are worth it.
  19. Closeness and intimacy beats distance and disconnection 10 times out of 10.
  20. We are getting older.
  21. When we shave away the outer layers, we are incredibly similar.

Happy 2016 to you.

What did you discover & rediscover in 2015? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus  is a Relationship Therapist, Couples Therapist, and Author who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

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Mathematically Verifiable Tips for Finding Long-term Love

Love and mathematics. They are two words that don’t initially appear to be a good fit, yet, according to famed British mathematician Dr Hannah Fry – and a bunch of her fellow numerical and statistical geniuses – these two words are an absolutely perfect match. Like true love itself.

In fact, Dr Fry and Co’s faith in the combination of mathematics and affairs of the heart is so great, she goes so far to suggest that math can not only help you find and attract the perfect partner, it can also help you keep them.

And, incredibly, she appears to be correct. Very correct.

In her recent TED talk The Mathematics of Love (link below), Dr Fry concedes that “love doesn’t really work that way. Human emotion  isn’t neatly ordered or rational or easily predication but I also know that doesn’t’ mean mathematics doesn’t have something to offer us.

However, she continues, “Love, as with most of life, is full of patterns and mathematics is, ultimately, all about the study of patterns.

“I believe mathematics is so powerful, it has the potential to offer us a new way of looking at almost anything, even something as mysterious as love.”

So, Dr Fry has combined her exemplary mathematic skills, knowledge and experience with the work of fellow mathematicians, economists and psychologists to unearth “mathematically verifiable” tips for finding long-term love.

[pictures.4ever.eu] couple on the grass, hug, happy couple 156559

No.1: How to win at online dating

Those of us who’ve tried our hand at online dating instinctively know to put our best foot –and face – forward. We only write the most flattering things about ourselves and highlight our best features and attributes, and, it should go without saying, that we use only our best photographs. After all, we’re trying to look as attractive as possible to a possible mate, aren’t we?

However, as widespread and sensible this behavior may be, the data says this approach is wrong. In fact, Dr Fry says all this data proves that appearing too attractive on an online dating website may actually be a disadvantage, so it’s best to appear ‘normal,’ ugly even.

She cites statistics shared by the folk at dating site OkCupid, which was started by mathematicians who constantly tweak the site and hone its matching algorithms based on data, almost a decade’s worth. This data shows that if your image is too beautiful, you won’t necessarily receive the most messages requesting contact, but that you’re better off with an average-looking presence.

Yes, how successful your profile will be isn’t based on how many people find you very attractive, but the overall average spread of how attractive – or unattractive, people find you. So, if viewers consider you too attractive (say a 5/5), they may avoid contacting you assuming their chances of success will be lower, whereas if you’re average looking (perhaps a 3/5 or a 2/5), they would instantly feel they’d have a better chance of success with you and, therefore, feel more confident contacting you.

So, it’s actually more beneficial to receive lots of 3/5s and 2/5s and you may still end up with the same average as someone who received fewer 5/5s or 4/5s.

As such, ditch that Photoshopped image and “play up to whatever it is that makes you different,’’ says Dr Fry. “Even if you think that some people will find that unattractive because the people who fancy you will fancy you anyway!”

See, “how attractive you are does not dictate how popular you are and, actually, having people think that you are ugly can work to your advantage.’’

No.2: How to pick the perfect partner

Ok, so you’ve received lots of requests and have met someone nice. How do you convert that to long-term happiness?

Toss a coin? Maybe not. Go with your gut? That usually works! Maths? Yep, you’ve probably got a better chance of getting it right.

Take a ‘typical’ person who might start dating aged 15 and hopes to married by the time they’re 35. They’ll date a number of people, but know that the first few are, unlikely, keepers. This is the period in your life where you’re learning about relationships and how to act within them and are, basically, learning the lay of the land of love.

The thing is, this is also about the time you need to start implementing a little Optimal Stopping Theory, which suggests that you automatically reject the first 37% of suitors as long-term mates, then pick the very next person who’s “better than anyone you’ve seen before” as the one you marry. Apparently, this is the mathematically proven way to maximize your ability to choose the perfect partner.

Of course, this theory doesn’t work if your perfect partner appears in the first 37%, or if the first 37% are horridly dull and virtually undateable because the next person may only be marginally less dull, in which case you’re stuck with them for life.

But, says Fry, this 37% formula is so spot on, it’s even found in the wild with certain species of wild fish using this exact same strategy to find a mate. The thing is, as crazy as this sounds, us humans actually do this sub-consciously anyway!

“We give ourselves time to play the field when we’re young and then we only start looking seriously for potential marriage candidates in mid 20s to 25, so everyone’s brains are prewired to be just a little bit mathematical anyway.”

No.3: How to avoid divorce

Ok, you’ve used Optimal Stop Theory to marry your perfect mate, but now how do you avoid becoming the one in every two marriages that ends in divorce?

Argue. Regularly.

Yes, you read that correctly. In 2003, psychologist John Gottman recorded the conversations of hundreds of couples as well as factors such as facial expressions and heart rates and discovered that it was possible to predict the future success of their relationships based on how positive or negative each partners were being during the conversations.

The couples with the lowest risk of breaking up were most positive with each other in their conversations, while those who found themselves in ‘spirals of negativities’ rated more highly for a potential to break up. Once Professor Gottman teamed with mathematician James Murray, they were able to predict the future of these relationships with about 90 per cent accuracy.

The result of this research was a rather complex looking equation based on the mood of each person when they were alone, when they were with their partner and, most importantly, how much the husband and wife influenced each other during these conversations.

Dr Fry notes that, ironically, this same equations perfectly predict what happens between two countries in an arms race. “So,’’ she says, only half-jokingly “an arguing couple spiraling into negative and teetering on the brink of divorce is actually mathematically equivalent to the beginning of a nuclear war!”

The Negativity Threshold, which can, roughly be explained as how annoying a husband can be before the wife becomes annoyed (or vice versa), determines how likely the couple are to divorce. Though you’d think the best relationships were those where couples let things go and had a high negativity threshold, this isn’t true. The maths, however, show the exact opposite is.

“The best couples have a low threshold. They don’t let anything go unnoticed and allow each other room to complain… and they have a much more positive outlook on their marriage… they don’t let trivial things being a really big deal. “It’s quite interesting to know that there is really mathematical evidence to say that you should never let the sun go down on your anger!”

So, it seems that maths and love are, indeed, the most perfect of partners and, by taking Dr Fry’s learnings to heart, you can be too.

[Hannah Fry’s terrific Ted Talk on which this blog post is based is called The Mathematics of Love and can be found here.]

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus  is a Relationship CoachPsychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

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3 Things We Can Learn from Successful Couples About Relationships

I started reflecting yesterday on what this last decade of working with couples and relationships has taught me about creating successful friendships.

Young couple holding hands

I started reflecting yesterday on what this last decade of working with couples and relationships has taught me about creating successful friendships.

Three tools quickly surfaced. Simple, powerful and effective for creating the kind of closeness and connection that each of us desire in our relationships.

1. Invest. I love the analogy that Stephen Covey uses in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” as he equates relationships to bank accounts. He points out that much like bank accounts, we are asked to take a risk and make an investment before we can make a withdrawal of capital.

Investing relational capital has many forms: call a friend out of the blue to see how they are doing, let someone you really appreciate know it, or surprise a pal with flowers. Then, when you need to withdraw on that relational capital—a favor or a listening ear, you’ve got a friend who will be there. And much like financial capital, the ability to withdraw increases as the friendship is matured through time and ongoing investments.

2. Choose them. One of my mentors, also a couple’s therapist of 30+ years, once shared with me that the primary thing that successful couples do is choose one another. Conversely, she has noticed that the ones who stop choosing one another begin to fall apart, and experience so much pain and heartache in the process.

So, in moments when one partner would rather do an alternative activity (i.e. eat at some other restaurant or not bother with the dishes), they choose instead to do what their partner has requested. In doing so, their chosen partner feels like a priority and the relationship is provided the nourishment it needs to continue thriving.

Platonic relationships are incredibly parallel. A dear friend of mine comes to mind who consistently makes me a priority. He answers the phone when I call, or if he can’t, texts me right away to let me know he will call back soon. I love that. He is always game for my favorite type of food—Northern Indian, by the way—even though it’s not the top one on his list. If he tells me he will be there for a get-together that I’m having he always is, regardless of other demands on his schedule. I feel constantly chosen by him and in turn I choose him back. Herein lies the success of our relationship.

3. Altruism. This is one of my favorite practices, and comes from psychologist and relationship master John Gottman. As a way to increase intimacy and reduce conflict in relationships, he suggests that couples look at what their partner is doing through an altruistic lens.

In other words, we choose to believe that the intention of their action was intending good rather than harm. In day to day living, this altruistic lens sees our friend’s lateness as a result of bad traffic rather than because we are not a priority to them. It sees a forgotten birthday because our friend had a busy day and it simply slipped their mind. When they forget to pick up the ice we requested for the party, we choose to believe they just spaced and forgot instead of believing that the oversight means we don’t matter to them.

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Looking for the quick summary? Here you go:

Invest in friends so that they will be there for you in the future, choose your friends so that they know they are a priority and watch those friendships flourish, see everything your friends do–even things that you initially perceive as hurtful–through a lens of altruism and kindness, and you will experience less hurt and more joy in your relationships.

Happy connecting.

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus  is a Relationship CoachPsychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

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Mastery in Love

[This post is a direct summary of a terrific article called “Masters of Love” that was published June 12, 2014 in the Atlantic by Emily Esfahani Smith.]

Four decades ago John Gottman began studying couples in response to the crisis that a majority of marriages were ending in divorce. He set up a “Love Lab” in which interviewed spouses about their relationship while hooked up to electrodes that measured their heart rate, sweat, etc., and then checked to see who was still together six years later. From the data he gathered, he separated the couples into two categories: the masters and the disasters. You guessed it, the masters were still happily together while the disasters were either broken up or in chronically unhappy relationships.

During the interviews the disasters looked the same as the masters, but their physiology told us a very different story via the electrodes. Heart rate, blood flow and sweat production was all elevated in the disasters. This arousal in the disasters let Gottman know that they were in fight-or-flight mode in their relationships. In other words, their bodies believed that there was a lion sized threat present while they were trying to talk to their partner. Masters on the other hand showed a lack of physiological arousal, thus a greater degree of physical and emotional comfort around their partners.

In 1990, Gottman gathered 130 couples together in a lab designed like a bed and breakfast retreat to try to get at the heart of why some couples flourish while others anguish. His key discovery was in the requests that partners made for connection or what he termed “bids.” A husband would make a bid by saying “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He is requesting a response from his wife so that they can share in a moment of connection with one another, however brief.

His partner now has a decision to make about whether to – as Gottman called it – “turn toward” or “turn away” from her spouse. These bidding interaction had a tremendous impact on the closeness of the relationship. Couples who ended up divorced had “turn toward” bids that were met with closeness just 3 out of 10 times, whereas couples who were still together six years later were emotionally responsive 9 out of 10 times.

Through these interactions, Gottman could predict which couples would stay together 94% of the time.

So much of the success of the couple came down to the spirit that the couple brought to the relationship, be it kindness or generosity or hostility, contempt and criticism. “There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning their social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning their social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

Contempt is the #1 factor that tears couples apart. Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Masters tend to think of kindness as a muscle that needs regular exercise to stay in shape, much like a relationship need regular hard work to stay healthy.

Fights are critical times that separate the happy from the unhappy relationships. Here’s Gottman again: “Disasters will say things differently in a fight. Disasters will say ‘You’re late. What’s wrong with you? You’re just like your mom.’ Masters will say ‘I feel bad for picking on you about your lateness, and I know it’s not your fault, but it’s really annoying that you’re late again.’”

One way to practice kindness is to interpret a partner’s acts charitably rather than assuming the spouse has negative intentions. Disasters tend to assume that he left the toilet seat up deliberately to annoy her, whereas masters will believe he absent-mindedly forgot to put the seat down.

Another powerful kindness strategy is in being able to connect with and celebrate a partner’s shared joy. Disasters tend to respond to good news with disinterest and shut down the conversation. In Gottman terms, “turn toward” your spouse’s good news rather than “turning away” from it.

A lot of factors tear couples apart, but one of the most fundamental is a lack of kindness. Instead of the negativity and critique that guides chronically unhappy couples, the happy ones meet the stresses of life while practicing a shared sense of generosity and kindness.

[To reiterate, this post is a direct summary of a terrific article called “Masters of Love” that was published June 12, 2014 in the Atlantic by Emily Esfahani Smith.]

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus  is a Relationship CoachPsychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

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Simple Ways to Relieve Stress

The alarm blows like a siren, I leap out of bed.

www.sfrelationshipcoaching.com

Was that meeting at eight or 9? And where did I put my work cell phone? Look under the pillow, on the dresser, under the bed, by the computer…nothing!

Now I’ll be late, and will certainly miss the bus. Run downstairs. ArgI bet it’s at the gym. Glance at the cell phone. No text. Why do they never get back to me?? Chew fingernails. How am I going to make this appointment?

I’m good at stressing out.

As quickly as it started, I’ve worried the entire day away. I’m crawling into bed, and still a bundle of nerves. To boot, I cannot sleep with all of this anxious energy racing, so a new stress tape begins. Did I forget to…

Worrying sucks. It often makes my life worse and rarely makes it better. And unfortunately our species is really good at it. Unlike animals, we have a well developed an incredibly resourced frontal lobe. We often allocate many of those resources to thoughts about the past and future. When we land on a bad thought, it activates our stress response.

Perhaps you’ve heard it referred to as the fight or flight response. This stress response is governed by what some psychiatrists think of as our reptile brain. As long as it reports back that we are safe, everything is copasetic.

But the moment our reptile brain registers danger, it takes over and our rather superhuman powers unleash.Access to our frontal lobe and rational thought is limited or cut off. Our body gets flooded with all the resources—adrenaline, cortisol and stress hormones—needed to fight or take flight from a lion.

Unlike us, animals are very much in the moment so they sense real danger and they respond accordingly. Lamentably for us humans though, we allow the anxiety about tomorrow and yesterday to take hold of our minds, thus triggering our reptile brain to prepare ourselves to face our imagined threat.

Our reptile brain’s response is incredibly useful to fight or flight from a real enemy. But we only get so many of these superpower doses before we are left pretty depleted. So, no wonder many of us drag through the day exhausted, irritable and short-fused. Then, to top it off, we have difficulty sleeping at night.

Commercial break. Let’s say you woke up this morning with 100 energy points to spend, how are you going to use them? I’m guessing that, like me, you would want to balance them among what’s important in your life. You know, relationships, play, work and so on.  Trouble is, every time worrying generates a stress response, it zaps 10 of those points.

So, if you managed seven good worry sessions today, you only have 30 points left. That energy needs to stretch through the hectic hours of your nine to five, one grocery store run, helping your partner with dinner and putting two kids to bed. No wonder you have so little energy left over for the important people in your life and feel tired all day.

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program. Is there a fix? Yes.

1. When a worry tape starts, focus your awareness on your breath.

One of my favorite exercises is to try to count 10 breaths in a row, and to make each breath longer than the one before it. Even right now, pause to feel this inhale and then notice the exhale that immediately follows. Then on this next one, see if you can count slowly to three as you breath in and out. Now go for four.

2. Bring your attention into your body.

Specifically notice right in this moment the way your feet feel in your shoes. Can you feel the pressure of the shoe around your foot or detect the temperature you are feeling? Now notice your ears. Can you detect a slight breeze on your ears or perhaps notice a slight tingling sensation on your earlobes?

Suddenly the worry tape starts again: totally okay. Totally normal. Human in fact. Simply come back to this same awareness of what you are feeling in a specific part of your body.

3. Expectations are ripe grounds for the activation of our stress response.

As a meditation master once told me, The future is unwritten. As a result, we often try to plan our day to give us a sense of control about how things are going to go. Again, a very human thing to do. And it’s a fine thing to do until the plan begins unravelling, as they often do.

When you begin texting your friend about meeting at the drive-In at 7 p.m., also remind yourself that things probably won’t go exactly as planned. Traffic or work or whatever will slow one of you down, and that’s okay. That way when one of you is running behind, your stress response is a little less likely to get triggered. One of my favorite ways to remember this is in the phrase, Hold it lightly.

“What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.” ~ Socrates

Extra special bonus. We can do things to deplete some of those energy points we wake up with every morning. Too much alcohol, caffeine, sugar and other substances are examples.

Something nagging us in the back of our minds can similarly suck battery life by acting like a constantly running background app. In this case, jot the thought down or put the needed reminder in your phone so that the nagging can stop.

On the flip side, there are all sorts of great things we can do to let go of that toxic stress that builds up in our body and even increase the number of energy points we have for the day. Here’s a quick list of my favorites:

1. The Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep every night for adults.

2. 30 minutes of active movement daily. That one is a Mayo Clinic doctor’s orders.

3. Good nutrition. Focus on fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains and some protein.

4. Constant hydration. I carry my Klean Kanteen everywhere and end up drinking more just because it’s in front of me. The recommended dose of water per day is half an ounce or more per pound of bodyweight.

5. Touch a friend. Researchers at Berkeley found that this will reduce the stress hormones in your body and gives the message, I’ll share the load. And particularly when stressed, it feels good to know there’s someone in our corner.

Jeremi McManus  is a Relationship CoachPsychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

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Secrets of Happy Couples

I’m always a little cautious when I see a title of an article claiming so much. But then I spent some time with this infographic that Happify has created and it is really solid. Not only have they culled really needed data for couples and relationships, they used great sources in the process.

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Want to find out what’s worth $105,000 in happiness per year? Enjoy!

Jeremi McManus  is a Relationship CoachPsychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

Posted in Dating, Psychotherapy, Relationship Coaching | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment