7 Self-Help Tools For A Better 2018

So many of us were thrilled to say #bye to 2017 and start a new year, which is a little disappointing. At the very least, though, it's safe to say we have higher hopes for the new year. As cliche as it sounds, the only thing we can really control is ourselves; so, even if the world is going crazy, what daily habits can we practice for a happier, healthier life? Thankfully, there are a number of self-help tools that you can practically do anytime, anywhere, free of charge — and often notice an immediate improvement. They slip seamlessly into your schedule; you can even utilize them sitting in your cubicle. If you do it right, even three minutes of devoted self-help can brighten your day.

We could really use the extra hand, too. Some research says millennials report higher rates of depression — 20 percent, compared to 16 percent of Generation Xers and 16 percent of Baby Boomers. Research also suggests we suffer from anxiety more than previous generations.

We've all got stress in our lives, regardless of our age — bills to pay, mouths to feed, good health to maintain, busy schedules to manage. Here are seven easy tools for feeling a little bit better, here and now.

1Meditation

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It's a word that gets thrown around a lot, but many people don't understand what meditation truly is. It entails clearing your mind entirely — not thinking a single thing, and hanging on to that for minutes at a time. Easier said than done. But if you can get to a meditative state — or even simply spend a few quiet minutes by yourself listening to your breathing — you stand to gain massive benefits.

Some research suggests meditation can help fight anxiety, depression, and insomnia; reduce blood pressure; ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis; manage pain; and help you quit smoking.

You don't have to be a meditation pro, and you don't have to spend hours on it. Research says even just 10 minutes of meditation per day can help you achieve reduced stress, better cardiovascular health, deeper relaxation, relief from symptoms in conditions like cancer and AIDS, and a happier mood.

Mental and physiological benefits? Yes. If you need a little guidance, try an app like Headspace.

2Yoga

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Practicing your asanas doesn't just make you more flexible. The benefits of yoga also include less chronic pain, better muscle strength and tone, more energy, improved respiration, a more balanced metabolism, reduced risk of injury, and better heart health.

The benefits are mental and emotional, too. Yoga is known to help us manage stress better; and you don't need to be reminded that stress can be a nightmare on the mind and body. For better mental health, get busy with that downward facing dog. Namaste!

3Affirmations

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Put simply, an affirmation is a short, powerful, and positive statement that helps you take conscious control of your thoughts. "I am a money magnet." "I find success in everything I do." "I enjoy perfect health." Why is this important, you ask? It's important because of the roughly 45,000 to 51,000 thoughts we have a day, around 80 percent are negative. Worse yet, many of them are sub-conscious, and we don't fully realize we're thinking them. The solution, then, is re-training our minds to think positively on all levels; and that's where affirmations come in.

Aside from helping you feel better, research suggests affirmations could lead to better heart health, boosted academic performance, and reduced chronic stress. Even taken as face value, affirmations force you to acknowledge the positive things in your life and feel gratitude for them; and that's never a bad idea.

4Deep Breathing

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Don't take this lightly: practicing deep breathing can yield noticeable positive results, including reduced tension and greater relaxation, improved oxygen delivery, lower blood pressure, a boost of endorphins (which make you happy), and a better functioning lymphatic system, which helps release toxins from your body. Not only is deep breathing a natural painkiller, but it can literally help you feel happier — just by breathing. It's free, easy, and you can do it anywhere. Win!

5Mindfulness

Mindfulness is simple: it means paying attention to what you're doing in that moment, and being fully present. For instance, when you're doing the dishes, you might zone out completely. If you're mindful, you're noticing the warm water on your hands, the soapy suds, the squishiness of the sponge, the sound of your grandmother's china when you drop it on the floor and it shatters into 4,000 pieces. You've probably heard of mindful eating, where people pay attention — really pay attention — to every bite they put in their mouth. It makes for a better experience overall.

Sound trivial? Maybe. But it isn't. According to the Positive Psychology Program, practicing mindfulness can help you reduce stress (and all the many side effects stress causes), improve memory, better deal with illness, recover from illness, fight depression, focus, balance your emotions better, reduce rumination, and improve your overall health.

Like deep breathing, like meditation and affirmations, practicing mindfulness is a ridiculous easy way to improve your mental and physical health.

6Reading

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Oh, reading. You are so good to us. Here are just a few reasons you should get lost in a good book ASAP: it can boost your intelligence, improve brain functioning, help you be more empathetic toward others, promote relaxation, and help fight aging and even Alzheimer's disease. Plus, science agrees reading can reduce stress and help combat certain mental illnesses. And... it's fun! If you're certain you don't like reading, consider that maybe you just haven't found the right book yet. Explore different authors and genres, fiction and nonfiction. There's something out there for everyone.

7Journaling

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The University of Rochester Medical Center says journaling can help you better manage anxiety, reduce your stress, fight depression, help you prioritize problems and fears, deal with emotional triggers, and facilitate positive self-talk while identifying negativity. One study even found that after journaling about traumatic events, participants reported better physical health and fewer visits to the doctor.

If you're concerned you just can't get into journaling, know that there are different types. A gratitude journal could be the way to go; or maybe you're more of a bullet journal type of person. There are no rules. Find what works for you and helps you feel best, and roll with it.