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Brain

Are “Smart” Headbands The Newest Stress-Relieving Technology Of The Future?

If you’re an avid headband wearer who also happens to love the newest innovative technology, this just might be the product for you. Speaking with BBC News, USA Bobsled/Skeleton team member Emma Baumert has taken to wearing a smart headband that measures brainwaves.

The headband, called FocusCalm, is a neurofeedback or EEG (electroencephalography) device. According to FocusCalm, the headband’s sensors pick up electrical pulses from your brain, which are then compared to an AI (artificial intelligence) model that shows the user their mental state.

Through the use of an app, FocusCalm offers the user the opportunity to build a routine while also improving their mental state thanks to games that are intended to engage the user’s brain in order to increase productivity and calmness.

Max Newlon, president of BrainCo., the firm behind FocusCalm, explained to BBC that the headband’s AI monitors 1,250 “data points” in the user’s detected brainwaves. A user score between 0 to 100 is then given, with 50 being the typical score as their website states.

While some may be skeptical of how well FocusCalm actually functions, Baumert— who became a part-time researcher for BrainCo. due to her education and sports-heavy background— vouched for the headband’s usefulness when it comes to improving a person’s overall state of mind and being.

“I got to visualize and learn how to have better control, and what training I need to do to get into a more relaxed state, while still being able to have very high explosive power output.”

A device like FocusCalm isn’t exactly new or exclusive, as other companies have taken a crack at neurofeedback technology. Muse and Cove work similarly to FocusCalm, using apps to deliver brain activity results and exercises to the user. Unlike FocusCalm, both respective products emphasize their ability as a sleep-aid.

Of course, not everyone is on board with the brain-reading headband. U.K. psychologist Dr. Naomi Murphy told BBC that EEG devices can have negative consequences, such as changing a person’s view on their brain activity after use.

“While some people find measurements useful or reinforcing, many are attracted to ‘neuro-tech’ because they identify with a vulnerability, an anxiety about their performance, and the use of data can exacerbate this.”

Additionally, others question how AI can successfully implement itself in meditation practices that have existed for well over 1,000 years, and advocate that you shouldn’t need to compare your mental results to others.

The going price for one of these headbands is almost $200. That also doesn’t include the app membership, which costs $149 for a lifetime account. While you may not be having stress following a purchase, your wallet might. If you’re out of that price range, don’t fret— there are other, less-costly methods that can help you break away from your anxiety-filled days.

Calm, an app that has received critical praise and was named an Editor’s Choice on the App Store, helps to bring users less anxiety through breathing and stretching exercises. Calm also promotes better, more relaxing sleep through music and bed-time stories told by well-known stars. Calm is also free, although it does contain in-app purchases.

If technology isn’t appealing, there are simple, classic ways of stress relief that you could do, even while reading this. From simple, 5-minute yoga techniques to taking a morning or afternoon walk or run, stopping to give yourself personal time, even for a brief period, could do your mental health good in the long-term.

Of course, don’t let anything stop you if you have the burning desire to give FocusCalm a go. You’ll be able to try out some fascinating hardware while also giving yourself a head start on a sci-fi costume for Halloween.

Morning Routine

How To Upgrade The Way You Wake Up In The Morning 

A morning routine is imperative for the success of any individual. Now that a majority of us are getting used to the new normal of either working from home or running our lives more thoroughly out of our living rooms, it’s important that we give ourselves a solid routine in the morning to properly start our days and keep us motivated to take on this ever-changing scary world. 

Remember, everyone is different when it comes to things that get them motivated or wake them up in the morning, however, there are a multitude of general tips one can implement into their daily routines that they can accustom to their preferences. For example, waking up early in the morning is the best way to ensure that you won’t have to rush or feel stressed to get your day going. Waking up earlier and giving yourself that extra time in the morning will have you starting your day on an already calm and leisurely note. However, maybe you aren’t exactly a morning person and don’t know how to just implement “waking up early” casually into your life. 

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For this, experts would recommend you start slow, and that also starts with when you go to bed as well. Try going to bed even just a half hour earlier than you normally would, and see how much it makes a difference when you wake up. Beyond that, the best way to wake your body up in the morning is to get it moving immediately.

Studies suggest that starting your day with even 30-seconds of high-intensity exercise can give you the same energizing effect as a cup of coffee, and will help improve your cognitive function in the morning as well so you’re not left in that post-dream haze for hours. If getting out of bed and immediately doing 30-seconds of jumping jacks doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, try going the more relaxed route and do some quick yoga. 

Yoga stimulates the mind, body, and spirit, and is a great for waking up your body’s internal systems. Stretching, deep breathing, and focusing on balance and posture will center your brain to handle whatever daily tasks you’re about to endure as well. Another major part of this could be practicing meditation/reflecting on gratitude first thing in the morning. 

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Robert Emmons, is a psychologist who is also the author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, a book about the importance of implementing gracious thoughts throughout your day. Emmons recommends starting your day thinking about three to five things, big or small, that you’re grateful for, and if it’s hard for you to think of them first thing in the morning, read from a gratitude journal to remind yourself. 

“Simply keeping a gratitude journal — regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful — can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.”

Mornings are also perfect for planning your day, setting your weekly/monthly goals, and organizing. After you do your morning exercise, have some breakfast, and get yourself dressed, sit down with your planner and list out what things you’d like to accomplish either for the day or maybe week. 

Once you find aspects of your morning routine that help get you motivated, stick to it for at least two weeks. Those 14 days will help train your brain into thinking that these aspects of your routine are necessary to keep your mind, body, and spirit in a positive place throughout the day. During this two week “trial period” don’t be afraid to experiment with the order or your routine and if something isn’t working for you, don’t do it!

Meditation

Take Care Of Your Mental Health During This Pandemic With Some Mindful Meditation

If you’ve ever been curious about mindfulness exercises and meditation in general, now is literally the best time to learn more. It’s totally normal for all of us to feel stressed out and overwhelmed while we endure this pandemic, and during times of uncertainty it’s important that you remember to take care of yourself. Beyond your physical health and protecting yourself from becoming infected with the coronavirus, it’s important to work on your mental health as well. 

Daily meditation can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression levels, and with countless free online apps and YouTube videos on the subject, there’s never been a better time to start. 

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“When you practice mindfulness meditation, you focus on being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and/or your physical sensations with openness and curiosity, and without judging or evaluating what you notice. You begin by finding a comfortable, upright position, where your body feels alert and relaxed. Then you bring your attention to the sensation of your breath. When you notice that your mind has wandered, which it will, you gently bring your attention back to the sensation of the breath,” said Jamie Price, co-founder and president of Stop, Breathe & Think, an “emotional wellness and mindfulness platform that offers guided meditation and activities, including breathing exercises, acupressure, and more.”

Mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation that exclusively focuses on breathing. This is the most common form of meditation, as it’s meant to “anchor” the practicing individual in the present moment while removing any outside distractions regarding the current status of the world, troubles from the past, and fears for the future. The focus of meditation in general is to really clear your mind and place yourself in the present moment, which is why mindfulness meditation is all about being aware enough to control your thinking and focus it exclusively on the current moment, while also being unaware of how relaxed and stagnant you’ve become. 

The best part about making the choice to start meditating is that it doesn’t require any fancy gym equipment or advanced knowledge in order for you to do it. You can literally start practicing anywhere at any time, and now that we all are stuck inside for an indefinite amount of time, you can start practicing mindfulness exercises all over the house. 

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Find a quiet place to sit and relax. Price recommends trying to return to the same spot in your home everyday at the same time to really get yourself into a routine. After a while, your brain will begin to associate that spot with relaxation and isolation from the outside world of scary pandemics and uncertainty. 

Price also emphasized that you shouldn’t get discouraged if your mind begins to wander a lot, especially if you’re a beginner. Remember that your goal isn’t to stop all of your thoughts, but rather to focus on the present moment and strengthen your ability to watch your thoughts as they come and go without any further acknowledgement. 

“It’s the difference between standing on a riverbank watching the river flow by, as opposed to jumping in and trying to reverse the flow. Rather than getting frustrated, try to view it as a great opportunity. No matter how little or how often your mind wanders, each time you become aware of your mind wandering and choose to bring your attention back to your breathing, you are strengthening your awareness — your mindful muscles,” Price said. 

It’s important that we all are focusing just as much on our mental health as we are our physical health during this pandemic. Take at least 15 minutes everyday to just sit down with yourself and breathe. Put away all your devices, sit on the front lawn and take in the sun and fresh air. There’s never been a better time to center yourself in the present and remember that this too shall pass.

Mindfulness Lotus Position

Is Mindfulness An Established Part Of Our Lifestyle?

As we approach the end of the first month of 2020, it’s normal to reflect upon how many of our new year’s resolutions have survived or slowly faded out. How many of our goals were essentially revolved around becoming happier and healthier? Can an overall objective of mindfulness help to fulfill them all?

In the last few years we have seen the area of mindfulness move away from a scorned and outlandish notion, to a legitimate health practice. As mental health slowly shakes its taboo and the desire for a more fulfilled and present lifestyle takes center stage, many turn to mindfulness. Practices such as meditation are used as a reprieve from the fast-paced pressures of day-to-day life in modern society. More and more people are openly admitting that they meditate and seeking out a different approach to life.

The roots of many mindfulness practices can be credited back to Buddhism, and many meditation teachers refer to these teachings in their practices. Some, like Andy Puddicome, co-founder of the meditation app Headspace, having come directly from practicing Buddhism for a decade.

Mindfulness itself has evolved and moved into the modern realm, making itself available and easily accessed by the average person. Rather than approaching monasteries for teachings of a calmer mind; articles, videos, books, and apps are available at your fingertips. Many argue that the growing trend of mindfulness practices are a result of the chaotic and overwhelming digital society that we live in. It is a little ironic therefore that a popular solution is the growing use of digital mindfulness apps. Learning mindful meditation from the comfort and privacy of your own home is an inexpensive and easy solution. Especially in the case of these apps, as a focus on ten-minute sessions or less are designed to easily slot into your lifestyle.

Last year the mindfulness market was estimated to be worth $1.2 billion (according to marketresearch.com) and it’s still growing; it’s estimated to be worth over $2 billion by 2022. There are over 1000 meditation apps available with Headspace, Calm and Buddify among the market leaders. From sleep exercises to breathing techniques, to mindfulness guides and meditation practices, it has never been easier to practice mindfulness.

The trend isn’t just in these apps, it is not uncommon to see more and more people turn to these practices as alternate health solutions. Doctors themselves are beginning to recommend mindful practices as part of a healthy lifestyle. Mindfulness retreats, classes, studios and training in the workplace are all becoming the norm. In January 2019, Vox reported that mindful activities such as Yoga and Meditation had tripled in the US between 2012-2017 and has since not shown signs of slowing down. You don’t have to go far to find a Yoga class or meditation workshop. Carving out sections of your busy schedule to slow down and focus on this sort of self-care is said to have tremendous benefits.

Anecdotal evidence may indicate that many of your friends, colleagues and acquaintances are embracing these techniques and showing signs of happier and healthier lifestyles. Can we argue that mindfulness is now an established part of society and not just a trend? Have you considered it yet?

So what are the benefits of mindfulness practices? Said to profit both mental and physical well-being, practicing to keep a calmer mind can alleviate mental states of anxiety, depression and stress. More surprisingly perhaps, researchers have begun to find that it can also help to relieve physical conditions such as chronic pain, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal conditions such as IBS, and even treat heart disease. Even without mental and physical health problems, mindfulness and meditation is a way of re-wiring the brain to become, among other benefits, a happier, calmer, kinder and more patient person.

Despite the booming economic market of mindfulness practices, especially meditation, mindfulness doesn’t need to be an expensive practice, but it does take practice. One of the main aspects of mindfulness and meditation is the notion of being present. Many techniques aim to help refine this ability, from mindfully eating to walking to meditating, all of which requires a focus on the body. Whether that is concentrating on a small morsel of food and recognizing taste, texture, and bodily reaction as you take your time to chew; or sitting down and meditating, in which you attempt to clear your mind, focus on the breath and the feeling of your body and allow wandering thoughts to come and go without judgement.

The practice of mindfulness has been hugely beneficial to many people and its shrinking taboo and growing availability has made the area easier to access. Consider seeing if your year could be improved by a clearer, calmer and happier mind.

Health Quote

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Uncovering the Secrets to a Happier, Healthier Life

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has proven that the occupations of journalism and medicine can have very much in common.

Meditation

The Story of Alan Watts, Meditation’s Most Influential Advocate

The introduction of Eastern concepts to the West can be attributed to a number of factors, but perhaps the most prominent and influential figure in the expansion of Eastern philosophy is British author and philosopher Alan Watts.

Yoga

Do You Know The Biggest Health Trends of 2019?

Health and fitness continued to grow across America during 2019 but did you participate in the biggest trends of the year?

The annual Fitness Trends report from ClassPass has been released and it has taken a look at the many different trends in the last year as well as a sneak peak at what they believe will be the top trends to look out for in 2020.

Founded six years ago, ClassPass started increasing their bookings around three years ago and is a firm favorite for fitness lovers, meaning they were able to decipher what was hot and what was not thanks to over 100 million workouts carried out by their members in their 30,000 studios.

It seems that there is a trend that the bigger the city the bigger the person. Not only has strength training been the number one exercise carried out in Miami, New York, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco, but it has also seen an increase in participants in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Although the Workout of the Day (WOD) trend — which incorporates “Strength Training,” or CrossFit — has seen a reduction in numbers over the last few years, the actual number of gyms dedicated to the exercise regime has maintained a steady balance, with between 12 and 20 dedicated gyms in each of the mentioned cities.

However, there has also been a massive increase in interval-based strength training. Slightly similar to HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), interval-based strength training focuses on lower to moderate intensities while HIIT focuses on extremely intense working periods, more commonly known as bursts.

While both interval-based strength training and HIIT are positive routines for helping you stay fit, it is important that you always work with a professional to ensure that each move is performed correctly, therefore reducing the risk of injury.

Another trend that has seen a massive increase, not just in the United States but across the world, is travel fitness.

With the focus in recent times on maintaining a healthy mental attitude, the wellness and travel industries have become closer. While in years past people would head off on their holidays to escape everything, nowadays there are more people looking for the local gym so they can continue with their workout routines.

It’s not just holidaymakers that are working out in other cities. According to a survey, 18% of professionals are utilizing gyms in cities that are not their base towns, an increase of 4% in the last twelve months. With the word “bleisure” now existing it is expected for these numbers to increase next year showing that a workout is becoming the new way to wind down after a busy day.

Yoga is also increasing with the popular activity becoming the most booked wellness class on ClassPass this year. Although New York had the most bookings throughout America, the rest of the country was close behind. With our lives becoming more stressful each year — especially with the effects computer and smartphone screens are having on our brains — a session of yoga appears to be calming us all down again.

Another trend that has hit our shores this year is working out with a friend. The survey found that 80% of people who were hitting the gym were going along with a friend. While this is partially due to the many different exercise classes that are offered now, doing your own individual workout with a friend is the latest craze that seems to have stuck. Maybe if you are looking to join a gym as your new year’s resolution you should “buddy up” to help you maintain your aim of not only getting in shape but keeping fit too.

If you are a fan of Pilates you have probably tried out Megaformer Pilates. The class became the quickest trend of the year, showing a 37% increase compared to last year. However, many have laid the reason firmly at Meghan Markle’s feet. When asked about her fitness regime she commented that the Megaformer machine had changed her body “in just two classes.” While trends among celebrities usually create a short-lived fad, this one seems to have stayed.

Perfect in a class setting, the Megaformers machine was invented by Lagree Fitness owner Sebastien Lagree. Bigger than the Pilates Reformer, the Megaformer emphasizes strength and balance while also focusing on quads, glutes, and abs. While on first glance the Megaformer appears to be quite difficult to master, it is relatively easy once a professional has demonstrated how to utilize the machine to your best ability.

It is also worth noting that more organizations are offering wellness and fitness packages which is helping them retain the best talent for their business, with 58% of professionals surveyed admitting these packages are more likely to sway their decision.

Which just shows that exercise is clearly the way forward to a healthy life, both physically and mentally.

Meditation

How Open Monitoring Meditation Can Help You Recognize Mistakes

Meditation has long been a practice associated not with science, but with spirituality and mysticism. However, the field of psychology has over the past several years taken a closer look at the effects of meditation on the human mind, and scientists’ findings have shown that a regular meditation practice can have positive effects on mental health, even in people who otherwise have no mental health difficulties. Meditation practices need not have a supernatural or spiritual component, as when they are a purely secular exercise they maintain their beneficial effects on mental health and subjective wellbeing. That being said, there are a number of different techniques for meditation, and different practices incur different psychological effects. While the most popular meditative practice is called mindfulness, which has benefits in focus, attention and memory, the lesser-known practice of open monitoring meditation can help train the brain to recognize mistakes, according to a study recently conducted at Michigan State University and published in Brain Sciences.

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According to the study, open monitoring meditation is a practice that consists of focusing attention on feelings, thoughts, and sensations as they arise in the space of one’s awareness. A form of mindfulness, open monitoring meditation differs from other types of meditation by encouraging practitioners to place their focus on whatever phenomena arises in the mind, rather than focusing on a fixed object or sensation such as the breath. As such, open monitoring meditation leads to different neurological activity, as revealed by the research conducted at Michigan State University. According to the researchers, the neurological activity caused by open monitoring meditation involves regions of the brain associated with error detection, suggesting the potential for this practice to improve people’s ability to spot their mistakes. 

One of the benefits of open monitoring meditation is that it can be practiced while doing other things, such as driving, as the practice simply asks you to devote your full attention to whatever is going on at the moment.

The participants in the study were people who were not regular meditators, having little to no experience in the practice, who were asked to participate in a 20-minute guided open monitoring meditation session while their brain activity was monitored via EEG. The study involved 212 participants, and builds on previous research finding a connection between mindfulness and error detection, and aimed to discover the link between these elements. The largest study of its kind as-of-yet, it analyzed activity in different reasons in the brain during meditation and had participants complete a computerized test of distraction. 

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While the researchers did not find that meditating improved participants’ scores in the distraction test, they did find that activity in the brain changed during the test for people who had meditated before taking it compared to people who had not. As EEGs are capable of detecting signals in the brain within milliseconds of their occuring, the researchers were able to detect brain activity in connection with mistakes made during the distraction test. They found that these signals were stronger in people who had meditated, suggesting that the meditation practice had a positive effect on participants’ ability to recognize mistakes. The researchers stress that further research is needed to understand how these neurological effects can manifest in one’s performance in tasks involving focus and decision-making.

One of the benefits of open monitoring meditation is that it can be practiced while doing other things, such as driving, as the practice simply asks you to devote your full attention to whatever is going on at the moment. As such, you don’t need to sit on a cushion or maintain a certain posture for extended periods of time, but instead can easily incorporate open monitoring meditation into your ordinary daily life. If you’re interested in getting involved with open monitoring meditation, which is also thought to incur benefits in creativity and overall subjective sense of wellbeing, a good place to start is by following along with guided meditation exercises on Youtube or elsewhere on the internet, such as in the video linked here.

Food Market

How to Stay in the Moment when Traveling

Many of us don’t often get the opportunity to travel, as the demands of work and other obligations keep us at home. So when we do get the opportunity to visit other places, it’s important that we make the most of our experiences, remaining present and observant of our new surroundings. As research shows that regular travel has a positive impact on a person’s overall sense of wellbeing, it can be helpful to put some thought into how to maximize the benefits of a travel experience.

While taking pictures while on vacation can be a fun way to preserve the experience to remember later, it can also have the effect of taking you out of the moment, as you look at your surroundings through your camera’s viewfinder or display rather than directly. As such, self-imposed limits on your photography can improve your experience of travel. If you set a limit on the total number of photographs you take on vacation, you can remain more present, while also devoting more attention to ensuring the pictures you do take are thoughtfully composed. 

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Additionally, there are other, less common ways of preserving an experience besides photography that can engage you more thoroughly in your environment. Instead of a camera, you can bring a notebook and colored pencils with you on a trip, allowing you to sketch your surroundings and record your thoughts in a journal. For the more creative among us, this practice can be more rewarding and satisfying than the standard vacation pictures.

There are also helpful ways of adjusting your frame of mind to make the most of a travel experience. Though many of us think of a vacation as a way to take a break from all forms of work, exercise can have the effect of sharpening one’s senses, allowing them to stay more present and engaged in their location. Going for a run or a bicycle ride can be a fun way to explore a new environment, and working up a sweat has the effect of raising one’s level of endorphins, helping you to stay in a good mood throughout the vacation. Additionally, mindfulness meditation is particularly helpful for making the most out of a vacation, as the practice of devoting focus to one’s internal and external experiences is particularly important when encountering a chance of locale.

That being said, it’s also important to make sure you enjoy the experience, which is after all the point of going on vacation. Your mindfulness should extend to your decisions about what activities to engage in, as you want to strike the right balance between doing novel things and choosing activities that you’re likely to find valuable and enriching. If you’re more of an introverted person, you may choose to go on hikes in nature, whereas extroverted people may find excitement in immersing themselves in the local nightlife. In either case, your individual personality and interests will dictate the sorts of activities you’ll enjoy, so it’s a good idea to do some introspection when planning your next getaway.

Relaxing

Why “Doing Nothing” Is Good For Your Health

Let’s be honest, doing absolutely nothing is a true art form, that we all have mastered in our own individual way. Whether that’s binge watching three straight seasons of a show you’ve already watched twice, or baking and eating a dozen cookies, or even just laying outside in the sun for three hours, we all have our own versions of decompressing from the real world. After a hard day at work, the art of nothing can sometimes feel like all we have, and yet from a societal standpoint, it’s almost shameful to just relax and allow yourself to be lazy. There’s a general work ethic, especially in America, that tells us when we’re not occupying our time, we’re wasting time and that’s simply not the case. A day of full on low energy nothing is not only good for your mental health but physical as well!! 

Obviously doing nothing all day everyday isn’t good for your overall health and well-being, however, having your time to yourself every week is necessary for living a fulfilling life. Gretchen Robin is the author of “The Happiness Project” and she spoke to ‘Grateful’ magazine about how important leisure time actually is. 

A “Doggy And Me” Yoga Class, Yoga In All Forms Is Proven To Provide Relaxation

“Doing nothing is about making good use of your free time, whether that’s meditating, going for a walk, talking to friends or binge-watching TV shows. Leisure activities are not necessarily ‘doing nothing’ — but, they make us happy and shouldn’t be viewed as wasted time. The key question is: If you know that you feel happier when you give yourself that downtime, how do you make sure that you get it into your life? When [you] feel constant pressure to be more and more productive and more and more scheduled, how do you give yourself that opportunity?”

Robin mainly defines “doing nothing” as simply doing something that allows you to be centered in the present moment. Allowing ourselves to become fully present and not worried about our surrounding stresses in our lives (family, work, relationships, chores, etc.) becomes a very grounding experience. It also shows us that it is possible to just stop, breathe, and live in one particular moment without being overwhelmed, which becomes beneficial when we actually get overwhelmed. It becomes easier to remind ourselves that whatever specific stress we’re experiencing on a given day, is just an in the moment experience, and it too shall pass. 

Doing nothing also has great benefits for anxiety and depression, however it’s easy for it to be just as detrimental. When you don’t give yourself a proper break, and keep working to the point where you can’t recharge or relax, you burn yourself out. In that case, it’s more likely you’ll fall into destructive “doing nothing” habits such as eating an entire bag of greasy food multiple times a week. When you actually go out of your way to dedicate time for a specific leisure activity that centers you, and allows you to acknowledge the present, it leads to a stronger focus and more productive energy.

The easiest way to relax your mind and body with nothingness and receive the positive benefits of it is to understand what true leisure is for you personally. Think about what’s actually mentally beneficial versus detrimental and depressive. For example, is watching another movie and eating another bag of chips truly going to make you happy? Or would you rather get out and do some retail therapy instead. Robin says it’s about separating activities that make you happy as opposed to things that just feel like lazy everyday habits. 

Schedule a specific time for your leisure. If you work a regular Monday to Friday job, schedule a Sunday afternoon of gardening and baking. Giving yourself a fixed date and time, even if it is just for doing nothing, can help ease you from living in a crazy work schedule and routine, into a work and relaxation routine. Change up your environment, remove distractions like electronics, procrastinate vacuuming and just center yourself on your personal leisure path. The more present you become, the more you’ll enjoy just doing nothing.