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Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

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The soulful science behind woulda, coulda, shoulda

Woman sitting on a chair by the window looking out
Woman sitting on a chair by the window looking out
Photo: Anthony Tran/Unsplash

Which is worse: regretting what you did or didn’t do? Which is harder to live with: a misstep or a missed opportunity?

This is a writing prompt I’ve used in a class I teach called “Writing Your World.” The best writing prompts are evocative, and because much of life writing comes down to better understanding ourselves — and our decisions — in relation to the past, as an instructor, I’ve found this prompt particularly useful.

As a therapist and clinical ethicist, I’m always fascinated at the follow-up discussion. …


It will take time and patience to reemerge from the collective crisis of the pandemic with our mental and physical health intact

Photo: Bankim Desai/Unsplash

When I met Darren Sudman six years ago, at an event in Palm Springs, I didn’t expect that his story would be one that I would return to time and again as I began examining what makes us thrive and heal after difficult times.

Sudman introduced himself as a former lawyer and a founder of a nonprofit. In 2004, Sudman and his wife, Phyllis, experienced every parent’s worst nightmare: Their three-month-old son, Simon, was found motionless in his crib. …


It’s time to work less; your life may depend on it

Photo: Marten Bjork/Unsplash

Work too much? Need an excuse to put in fewer hours? Feel free to wave this new study under the nose of your boss: Working too many hours causes physical and mental stress that killed 745,194 people before their time in a single year around the globe, due to heart disease and strokes.

The analysis, the first analysis of its kind, was done by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization and was published May 17 in the journal Environment International. …


Why time seemed slower when you were a kid

Photo: Alvin Mahmudov/Unsplash

If this year feels like it has flown by, there’s a solid scientific reason for that. Most of us spent it locked in our homes, doing the exact same thing day in and day out.

It turns out that our brains love this kind of predictability, neuroscientists at Brown told me. The human brain evolved to keep us in the comfort zone of a predictable routine because that improved our chances of survival in our past environments. For example, a reliable routine that helped us regularly find food kept us alive.

Even before the pandemic, our lives were rather predictable…


The Nuance

Roughing it now and then may be the secret to a more contented life

Photo: Anna Kubiak/Unsplash

The journalist Michael Easter once spent a month in the Arctic Circle, tracking a herd of caribou for a national magazine story.

After 33 days in the backcountry — lugging an 80-pound pack through forests and tundra, spending each night outdoors in a tent — Easter says that his reunion with running water almost brought him to tears.

“I was in this little bathroom at an airfield in Kotzebue, Alaska,” he recalls. “When that warm water hit my face, it was like, oh my god. I think I let it run over my hands for about 20 minutes.”

In his…


The evolutionary argument for happy hour

Photo by Caro Sheridan

Did you find yourself drinking too much during Covid shutdown? You’re not alone. Well, metaphorically at least. From mid-March to mid-May 2020, during the initial phase of the pandemic, alcohol sales around the world skyrocketed, increasing anywhere from 40% to 60% over pre-pandemic levels, with distilled liquor sales increasing more rapidly than sales of wine and beer. Some analysts argued that this retail surge merely reflected a shift from drinking at bars and restaurants to imbibing at home, but this in itself is a serious concern.

That is because, even if we were not alone in drinking more or drinking…


It’s okay if your mental health is not bouncing back. Here’s why.

Photo: valentinrussanov/Getty Images

At first, Lindsay Pearson felt hopeful. She was getting the Covid-19 vaccine, and case rates around the country were going down. The pandemic was, by many accounts, finally getting under control. Like many of us, Pearson, 23, who lives in Bakersfield, California, has had a miserable year — she has struggled with mental health problems her entire life, but being unable to work as an actress, her main creative and social outlet, made things so much worse. After Pearson got her first jab, she did feel some relief — until, suddenly, she didn’t. Her depression began to bear down on…


My Therapist Says

As the pandemic recedes, I’ve got to decide what kind of life I actually want to live

Illustration: Xinmei Liu for Elemental

When school let out for winter break of 2020, I finally started to lose my shit. It wasn’t the holidays, a possible election coup, my kids off Zoom school for a couple weeks, writing deadlines, managing my newsletter, or having to ready my online classes for a January 4 start date that had me at a breaking point. It was the upcoming vaccine rollout.

Everyone was starting to plan their vacations; schools were talking about bringing the kids back to campus; my partner was talking about going to a fall 2021 concert. Yet, I felt anxious. At the culmination of…


My Therapist Says

Excavating those ‘little t’ traumas has helped me chip away at the bigger ones

Image: Boce/Getty Images

When I first started going to therapy at 19, I had a pretty good idea of the traumas I wanted to excavate: divorce, parental addiction, eviction — the “big T” traumas that are easy to define in a word.

I used to think the only reason to go to therapy was to talk about trauma like this. I sat in the offices of half a dozen therapists, balling wet Kleenex in my hand and sipping on lukewarm chamomile tea in paper cups, while trying to get them to talk about these big things and changing the subject whenever they wanted…


Training your mind to find meaning in everyday life

Photo: sultancicekgil/Getty Images

When was the last time you felt truly fulfilled? When your life felt meaningful and rewarding, or aligned with some deeper purpose or motivation? Take a moment to really think about that and observe what comes to mind. Most of us remember specific events when we think of life’s meaningful moments: the birth of a child, a major accomplishment, a rare moment in nature when all felt right with the world. These are the peak moments of life, and it’s true that they are also often the times when we feel truly fulfilled.

But these moments are aberrations.

We remember…

Elemental

Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

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