Your mind and spirit may be the most overlooked—and under appreciated—components of your well-being. But research has shown that nourishing them not only lowers stress, lifts mood and improves relationships but can also protect your health. "Mind, body and spirit are interdependent, so if you take care of your spirit, your body and mind will reap the rewards," says Linda Sapadin, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of It's About Time! The Six Styles of Procrastination (Penguin, 1997). "And if you nurture your body, your mind and spirit."
1. You don’t breathe deeply.
It sounds simple, but studies show that taking deep breaths keeps you alert and relaxed. Make an effort to inhale and exhale for two to three counts each throughout the day.
2. You don’t get enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation can leave you feeling jumpy, disoriented and unable to cope, says Rosalind Cartwright, Ph.D., director of the Sleep Disorder Center at Chicago’s Rush Presbyterian Medical Center. She recommends that you lighten your mood before bed—by reading a humorous book, for example—since being cranky can lead to less- rejuvenating sleep.
3. You've banned chocolate.
"Chocolate stimulates mood-enhancing brain chemicals like serotonin," says Debra Waterhouse, author of Why Women Need Chocolate (Hyperion, 1995). The amount in just two Hershey's kisses will do the trick, she adds.
4. You neglect to exercise
Working out can significantly ease depression, according to a recent study from Duke University. To get the feel-good chemicals flowing, aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week.
5. You stay indoors all day
Lack of sunlight, even during summer, can leave you lethargic and depressed. Just 20 minutes is enough to brighten your outlook, so if you work inside, take a brisk walk outside at lunch.
6. You eat only fat-free food
"Bad" fats, like saturated fat, can lead to high cholesterol and heart damage. But "good fats," such as omega 3's, keep your memory sharp and your mood steady. Good sources include tuna, salmon, flaxseed oil, walnuts and beans.
7. You skimp on calories
Eating too little-less than 1,200 calories a day-can make you tired and irritable, says Kelley Brownell, Ph.D., director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders. Eat a healthy, balanced diet of at least 1,500 calories to maintain energy.
8. You skip breakfast
A recent Canadian study found that having a morning meal of carbohydrates, protein and fat (such as bran cereal with one percent milk) enhances memory. If you're on the run, at least grab a meal-replacement bar.
9. You're still smoking
If the threat of lung damage hasn't convinced you to quit, a new study from the Kentucky Center for Reproductive Medicine discovered that chemicals in cigarettes may lower your libido-and less sex makes for an unhappy relationship. For help kicking the habit, go to quitnet.org.
10. You don't make time for sex
"It's believed that having sex stimulates the release of feel-good chemicals called endorphins," says Constance Ahrons, Ph.D., director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Southern California in TK. Plus, the intimacy it fosters is the glue that binds couples together. Make time by scheduling a "date" with your partner at least twice a week.
11. You have more than two alcoholic drinks a day
A new study found that women who drink excessively may suffer permanent memory damage. Alcohol also acts as a depressant, ultimately lowering your mood. Stick to one glass of wine at dinner.
12. You hate your job
The average American spends at least a third of her life working, so it's important to find a position that's challenging and fulfilling. If yours isn't, talk to your supervisor about how you can reshape your job responsibilities, or dust off your resume.
13. You regret not pursuing a childhood dream
Thoughts like "I should have played the guitar/been a sculptor/learned ballet" can lead to feelings of self-doubt. Instead of worrying about the opportunities you missed, enroll in a class or sign up for private lessons.
14. You rarely socialize with colleagues
You’re not going to love every coworker, but having someone to chat with can make the day go by more quickly. Research shows that social support can prevent illness-and it can ease emotional stress, too.
15. You second-guess yourself
Over-analyzing can erode your self-image, says Ahrons. "Ignore the little voices of doubt in your head and take action before you change your mind," she advises. "Your first choice is often your best choice."
17. You are your career
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in work that you neglect to foster hobbies and other interests—which not only leads to professional burnout but can make you just plain dull. Set aside a few hours a month for a book group or a sports league to add spark and dimension to your life.
18. You don't delegate
Doing everything yourself keeps your work-load-and your tension-unnecessarily high. If you tend to be a control freak, give small tasks to others until you're comfortable handing off larger projects
19. Your office is too loud
A recent study found that people who work in noisy environments have higher levels of stress and lose concentration faster than those in quiet settings. If you can't move your desk, wear earplugs or listen to white noise through headphones.
20. You don't take time off
Research shows that skipping vacations increases your risk of heart disease increases your risk of heart disease. Worried about your in box? Schedule a break a few months in advance and talk to your boss about delegating responsibilities while you're away.
21. You haven't learned from your parents
How mom and dad communicated is a good indicator of how you and your spouse will get along, says Ahrons. Their marriage was dysfunctional? Improve yours by avoiding similar behaviors-such as bickering over trivial matters.
22. When it comes to love, you ignore friends’ advice
A recent Purdue University study found that women are particularly astute at predicting whether a friend’s romance will last. "A friend will be able to see the negative aspects of a relationship that you may be overlooking," says study author Christopher Agnew, Ph.D.
23. You don't set aside "me" time
A recent study found that people with a packed social calendar were more likely to become ill. Try to take one night a week to give yourself a pedicure, try out a new recipe or pursue another hobby-it will help you unwind and stay healthy.
24. You always go solo
Being overly independent can lead to loneliness, which can cause depression. "Friends and family can support you in tough times," says Sapadin. "They can also offer different perspectives when you're trying to resolve a dilemma or navigate a major life change."
25. You’re quick to criticize
"When we criticize others, we're often projecting our own insecurities," says Ahrons. We're also risking offending people. "Before you point out another person's shortcomings, consider whether you have the same ones and how you might change."
26. You're in an unhealthy relationship
Whether it's with a parent, partner or friend, a one-way relationship can be exhausting. Approach the other person and explain how you feel; if all else fails, consider breaking it off. (If you're in an abusive situation, seek help immediately at 800-799-SAFE).
27. You don’t volunteer
A Cornell University study found that contributing your time or money increases feelings of self-worth and control over your life. To find a volunteering opportunity you'd enjoy, log on to volunteermatch.org.
28. You don’t get along with your mother
Recent research shows that women who maintain good relationships with their mothers tend to have higher self-esteem and are less likely to suffer from eating disorders. If you have unresolved issues, sit down and talk. Then spend time together to renew your bond.
29. You’re holding a grudge
Not forgiving another person causes great mental distress (and probably isn't hurting the other person at all). Discuss the offending incident with the person or people involved. Releasing bottled-up feelings will help you leave the past behind.
30. You never cry
Research has found that tears help flush stress-related chemicals that build up in your tear ducts when you're upset. If you feel the urge, find a quiet place and grab a Kleenex-it will calm and refresh you.
31. You ignore your blues
Left untreated, depression can raise your risk of heart disease and stroke, not to mention hurt your relationships and overall quality of life. If you haven't been able to shake persistent feelings of sadness, lethargy and/or hopelessness, talk to your doctor or call the National Institute of Mental Health Depression and Panic Disorder Hotline at 800-421-4211.
32. You don't know your family's mental health history
Like physical health, mental health problems are often genetic. Talk to your parents and grandparents to learn whether they suffered from conditions such as anxiety, schizophrenia or postpartum depression, says Sapadin. Then discuss your history with a doctor.
33. You're an Internet junkie
While the Web can be entertaining and informative, it eats up time you might otherwise spend with family and friends and leave you feeling isolated. A recent University of Michigan study showed that feeling isolated and lonely can lead to depression, so limit yourself to half an hour a day of recreational surfing.
34. Your place is a mess
"Being unhappy with your environment can make you feel weary and even defeated," says Celia Rocks, author of Organizing the Good Life (FOD Press, 2001). Reorganizing can be intimidating, so tackle one room—or even one drawer-at a time.
37. You often lose your temper…
Lashing out can actually make you more aggressive, according to a recent Iowa State study. When you start to get irritated, remove yourself from the situation until you’ve cooled off enough to deal with it calmly.
38. ...or you never express your anger
Research has shown that women who fail to constructively express negative feelings risk increasing their emotional distress and may even be more susceptible to eating disorders. If you're feeling wronged, tell the other person in a calm, nonconfrontational way.
39. You're overly stubborn
Learning to compromise can save you a lot of heartache. A time-tested rule: Choose your battles wisely. If something is truly important to you, stand by it; otherwise, let it go.
40. You think TV will rot your brain
A University of Pennsylvania study found that watching your favorite sitcom can lower stress. “Immersing yourself in a fictional world for half an hour can ease your anxiety,” says study author Sophia Moskalenko, Ph.D.
41. The last journal you kept was in seventh grade
Recording your thoughts is a great way to work through frustration or sadness and figure out your feelings. If you don’t have the time to write in the evening, keep a small notebook or a file on your computer to jot things down throughout the day.
42. You stopped pushing yourself to learn when you left school
Think of your brain as another muscle in your body—if you want to keep it strong, you’ve got to exercise it. Great ways to improve your concentration and problem-solving skills? Read the newspaper, do crossword puzzles and play games like chess.
43. You're obsessed with your weight
"Getting hung up on the numbers on your scale draws attention away from your body's many strengths and abilities," says Brownell. "In serious cases, it can lead to an eating disorder." Try not to weigh yourself more than once a week.
44. You often compare yourself with others.
No two people are alike, so measuring yourself against others may draw your attention to qualities you don't have rather than ones you do. Next time you find yourself sizing up someone else, consciously focus on your own strengths.
45. You’re overly materialistic.
It’s easy to think your identity is based on your possessions instead of on your personality and interests, “ says Rocks. Break the habit by spending two weeks buying only necessities like food and toilet paper. You’ll be surprised at how little you feel the sacrifice.
46. You are always optimistic.
Pessimism can work to your benefit, says Julie Norem, Ph.D., author of The Positive Power of Negative Thinking (Basic Books, 2001). You’ll be better able to cope when something goes wrong if you’ve thought through the possibilities. Just don’t dwell on them.
47. You think role models are just for teenagers.
Looking up to another person plants an image of achievement in your mind, which makes you more likely to attain it, says Laure Redmond, author of Feel Good Naked (Fair Winds Press, 2002).
48. You haven’t embraced your “imperfections.”
Instead of letting features like a not so straight nose or kinky hair undermine your confidence, think about how they make you unique. When you love the quirky things about yourself, chances are that other people will too.<
49. You worry about everything.
“Worrying saps your energy and leaves you feeling powerless, “ says Lee S. Berk, Dr.P.H., director of clinical research at the Susan Samueli Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and an assistant professor family medicine at the University of California at Irvine, “If something is bothering.
50. You can’t remember the last time you laughed
"A good chuckle can lower stress hormones and boost your immune system," says Berk.