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What is Really at the Root of Our Procrastination?

It is safe to say that most of us are quite familiar with what it means to procrastinate. No matter who you are, whether a student, professor, or CEO, chances are that you have procrastinated at some point in your life. You say it will “never happen again.” That it is the “last time” and that you have “learned from your lesson.” Yet as the weeks, months, or even years go by, you find yourself falling back into the same pattern of delaying your work to the very last minute. 

So, why do we even procrastinate in the first place? In this article, we will dive into this undesired tendency, explaining its roots, and posing some ways to help overcome it. 

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According to the article Procrastination: When Good Things Don’t Come to Those Who Wait, procrastination involves postponing a task and can have negative effects on well-being. 

While the reason for procrastination differs per individual and situation, there is a psychology behind why we as humans have a tendency to delay responsibilities. As opposed to the common belief that procrastination is linked to laziness or a lack of time management skills, research shows that procrastination is associated with the negative feelings a task may evoke in us such as stress and frustration. Having to do with aversion, a research study explains how we procrastinate as a way to avoid dealing with negative feelings, such as insecurity, self-doubt, and boredom. The psychological phenomenon known as the present bias reveals that we gravitate towards the pleasure or enjoyment of the present moment taking precedence over our long-term desires or goals. This phenomenon is presented in research explored by Dr. Hal Hershfield, a scholar and professor at UCLA. 

Nevertheless, there are actions we can take to help combat our tendency to procrastinate. 

Can I overcome procrastination? 

According to the Princeton University McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning article, Understanding and Overcoming Procrastination, the first step is becoming aware of your procrastination. Once this has been acknowledged, the next step would be self-knowledge, which means turning inward and discovering the reasons for procrastinating. Research has shown that some individuals have found that reasons for procrastination can be rooted in fear, self-doubt, or low self-esteem. Therefore, it makes sense that in addition to learning how to better regulate your emotions, scholars also point to being more self-forgiving and practicing self-compassion, as a strategy that also addresses procrastination. 

Quick tips from MindWell Pod Co-Lead, Dr. Nicole Green:

Executive Director of the UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services

Some of these may serve as good places to start from on your journey:

  1. Reward yourself
  2. Practice time-telling
  3. Develop a tolerance for anxiety/frustration
  4. Go with the motto:  “start it!” not “finish it!”
  5. “Progress” not “Perfection”
  6. Don’t wait to “feel like it”
  7. Use small chunks of time
  8. Expect & account for disruptions and problems
  9. Identify your most productive time(s) of day
  10. Enjoy free time!

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Other Activities to Address Procrastination

  1. Based on research above highlighting some of the negative emotions associated with procrastination, as well as the recommendations to acknowledge the underlying emotions of procrastination by the Princeton University McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, reflecting and journaling on the feelings our tasks evoke could be a good first step for awareness and acknowledgement.
  2. Carola Grunschel and colleagues evaluated potentially effective trainings for procrastination. One of such trainings involved making plans for distractions that may arise. For example, if a friend calls you in the middle of a project, what do you do? This study suggests that creating a plan could be helpful. For example, calling a friend back after writing one page, rather than picking up immediately, or completing  your presentation before replying to a text could be helpful strategies. Obviously this is at one’s discretion and does not apply to emergencies. 
  3. An article in the Harvard Business Review by Chris Bailey leans into this notion of negative emotions and makes suggestions for turning boring actions into games. One fun activity suggested in this article is challenging oneself with the number of words one can churn out in a certain time window. It can be any metric and time period you set for yourself.
  4. Introducing some friendly competition can also amplify the fun aspect of completing tasks given evidence of the potential benefits of competition for taking on one’s goals. You can reward each other for completing tasks, while making room for self-compassion if needed. 
  5. Given research that points to how our perceptions of our current and future selves interact with our decision making and how present bias may mean that current pleasures take precedence over our long-term desires, perhaps, tying one’s current activity to an immediate pleasure after accomplishing current goals can be helpful. It can be as little as buying yourself a meal, boba tea or even watching an episode of television.
  6. Lennart Visser and colleagues suggest that focusing on one’s strengths can be beneficial in the short term for addressing procrastination. Their study involved defined steps that included identifying one’s qualities and examining and utilizing them in studying scenarios. In their paper, they discuss reflecting on a study session that went well and identifying the inner qualities that were present at that point. 


Additional Readings and Videos:

  1. Inside the mind of a master procrastinator – TED Talk by Tim Urban
  2. Put Off Procrastination!! Practical Techniques to Stop Procrastination by the Centre for Clinical Interventions from the Government of Western Australia. 
  3. 5 Research-Based Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination by Chris Bailey on the Harvard Business Review.
  4. Why procrastination is about managing emotions, not time
  5. Procrastination – Video from the UNC Learning Center
  6. Perfectionism, Procrastination, and the Practice of Self-Care 
  7. Tips to Fight Every College Student’s Worst Habit: Procrastination 


Other Helpful Tools and Resources:

  1. Learn how to practice mindfulness or become more aware of positive psychology.
  2. Seek mental health support from professionals, peers, or a trusted community.
  3. Receive academic advising.
  4. Adopt habits to help manage your anxiety or stress.
  5. Take a course on Personal Brain Management or Mindfulness Theory & Practice


Written by  Marissa Hong and Leona Ofei with tips from Dr. Nicole Green

Marissa Hong recently graduated from UCLA, with a degree in Art. When not blogging for the Mindwell Pod, she is leading tours at the Hammer Museum as a Student Educator. You can also find her on runs around Westwood or watching Schitt’s Creek with a cup of coffee. 

Leona Ofei is the MindWell Pod Graduate Student Researcher and a PhD Student at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA. She has an MPH from Boston University and a BS in Biology and Society and Communication from Cornell University. Leona is interested in health communication practice, improving physical and mental health literacy, and hopes to contribute to mental health education on the UCLA Campus.

Dr. Nicole Green is the MindWell Pod Co-Leader and Executive Director of the UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services.

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Practicing Positive Psychology

In 2020, many of us found ourselves isolated and alone, separated from our loved ones because of a raging pandemic. From having to face a screen for several hours in the day to not being able to hug those closest to us, we can all agree that the last two years have been a stressful and overwhelming experience.  Now, vaccines are providing some hope, and as UCLA and universities across the world return to working and learning on campus, we seem to be  returning to “normal” in a world that is not quite normal….yet. 

What are some of the things that have kept us going? It could be family and friends, baking, gardening or taking time to explore the outdoors. In this article, we break down Positive Psychology – a concept that could be useful for moments like the one we are in.

Positive Psychology

The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania describes positive psychology as the process of finding the traits that can cause people and groups to prosper.  


Photo by: Jennie Clavel, Unsplash

What does this mean exactly?

Some researchers such as Peterson and Park (2014) have described it as the exploration of “what makes life worth living” (p. 2). Another piece by Rosemarie Kobau and colleagues including Martin Seligman and Peterson, explains that it is the examination of people’s positive traits and strengths. (Kobau et al. 2011). Furthermore, Gable and Haidt (2005) also emphasize that positive psychology does not mean an ignorance of the stressful and negative parts of life experiences but just an attention to positive experiences. A review of research by Meyers Woerkom and Bakker (2013) and research by Greenawalt and co-authors (2018) examining positive psychology interventions point to its potential for improving well-being.

So how can we practically apply positive psychology? 

The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania highlights the PERMA™ Theory of Well-Being as a way to approach positive psychology. PositivePsychology.com, a site that provides knowledge on positive psychology from various experts and professionals, also highlights this model and credits it to Dr. Martin Seligman, referring to it as The PERMA model

The UPenn Positive Psychology center also credits this model to Dr. Seligman and breaks it down for us to understand. It is important to note that Dr. Seligman is associated with the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania hence we use this source to break down PERMA.

  1.  Positive emotion: The Positive Psychology Center at UPenn explains it as having feelings of positivity about prior events [they highlight practicing gratitude] , current events [they mention enjoying “physical pleasures”] and future occurrences [they list having hope as a strategy]
  2. Engagement: According to The Positive Psychology Center at UPenn’s explanation, this basically involves putting your all into doing something “challenging”.
  3. Relationships: The Positive Psychology Center at UPenn highlights the value of our social associations, elucidating on how these can bring us joy, purpose and other feelings that are beneficial for our wellness.
  4. Meaning: The Positive Psychology Center at UPenn elucidates on the idea of having purpose and living for ideals “bigger than the self.” The center explains that these can be fostered through channels such as work, religion, pursuing issues of social importance, among others.
  5. Accomplishment: The Positive Psychology Center at UPenn describes this as working towards excellence in something such as work, recreational or leisure activities, for the purpose of excellence and not what one might gain out of it. 

Practical activities you can do right now with PERMA

The MindWell Team has found activities that you can engage in to practice some of these steps

Positive emotion:

  • Practice Gratitude: From Emmons & McCullough 2003 study on the benefits of gratitude
  • Think back over the past week and write down up to five things in your life that you are grateful or thankful for. (Can be the big or small things) 


  • MindMap Activity: This activity is based on an assignment in the course Personal Brain Management by Dr. Robert Bilder and modified for this activity.
    • Take any project you are currently working on in school or at a job
    • Use a MindMap to envision how you plan to address this project
    • Create a MindMap including the strategies you hope to use, challenges you encounter, and how you deal with them and any other thing you feel is important 
    • Adjust this MindMap in real time  as you work on the project to completion
    • An online program like powerpoint is recommended so that you can adjust your map where necessary 
    • Feel free to make circles or squares or whatever shapes you like 
    • Consider the following:
      • Are there superordinate categories that can help represent multiple concepts? 
      • Are there new details that you should add, now that you have laid out the categories?
      • Remember to group and similar ideas together 
    • Click here for a guide  from University of Alberta on Mindmaps (you do not need to be an artist – draw in a way that makes you feel comfortable!)


  • Reach out to a loved one, friend or family member you have not spoken to in at least a month. 
  • Catch up on the phone or in person (safely)
  • After the interaction, write a paragraph (or more) on how you felt after reconnecting. 



  • Take the Selgman and colleagues’ inventory of character strengths online at https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/Register and receive individualized feedback about your top five (“signature”) strengths (Seligman et al., 2005). 
  • You should then aim to use one of these top strengths in a new and different way every day for one week.
  • It can be as simple as committing to doing all your readings, making yourself breakfast, writing in your journal. Whatever it is, track how much you are able to accomplish – for your own satisfaction 

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Photo by: Conscious Design, Unsplash

Additional Readings and Videos 

If you’re curious, here are a few additional readings and videos that shed some more light on Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology in a Pandemic, with Martin Seligman, PhD

The new era of positive psychology | Martin Seligman

A discussion of the PERMA Model and its adjustments from The University of Minnesota

Move From Surviving to Thriving: The Positive Psychology Workbook for Challenging Times by Bruce W. Smith, Ph.D.

What makes life worth living?  with Christopher Peterson


Leona Ofei is the MindWell Pod Graduate Student Researcher and a PhD Student at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA. She has an MPH from Boston University and a BS in Biology and Society and Communication from Cornell University. Leona is interested in health communication practice, improving physical and mental health literacy, and hopes to contribute to mental health education on the UCLA Campus.

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Hygge in Quarantine

In early winter of 2020, I purchased Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living to learn about Danish culture prior to embarking on a summer study abroad trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. As expected, my program was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19. However, still having read Wiking’s book on the word “hygge” (pronounced hoo-ga) provided me with wisdom and knowledge from Danish culture that has helped me get through these monotonous months of quarantine.

 In this blog post, I thought I would share what I’ve learned thus far about hygge, and how cultivating it has never been more relevant.

What is hygge?

On the surface, hygge is wearing fuzzy socks, lighting a scented candle, and cuddling near a fireplace with a cup of apple cider. In English, it’s commonly translated to “coziness” and associated with a nice indoor atmosphere. However, rather than be a fleeting trend or activity, it’s a mindset, way of living, and feeling deeply rooted in Danish culture. 

Documented as early as the 19th century in Denmark, hygge has been used as a coping mechanism to overcome seasonal affective disorder and depression during harsh Nordic winters. Over the years, hygge has become a lifestyle for many Danes and is thought to have much to do with Denmark usually reporting as the “happiest nation in the world.” 

How is hygge connected to positive psychology? 

According to an Los Angeles Times article, hygge is slowing down to acknowledge and indulge in the simple pleasures of life. Often associated with feelings of gratitude, happiness, and compassion, it focuses on positive states of mind rather than negative. In many ways, it is similar to the belief behind positive psychology—the scientific study of human strengths and optimism rather than struggles. Similar to practicing positive psychology, hygge can teach us how to shift our perspective to focus on the good in life, such as joy, peace, and love. 

Why hygge? 

During quarantine, it’s common to feel overwhelmed or burnt out. Let’s face it, we spend most of our day indoors and are exposed to tremendously less social interaction compared to pre-covid times. With days feeling repetitive, it’s often difficult to remember to check-in with ourselves and others. However, ensuring we are taking care of our mental and emotional health is as important as ever.

 Practicing hygge is a form of self-care that can not only help improve our day-to-day mood, but our overall health. Research has shown that being self-compassionate and engaging in self-care acts can “reduce psychological symptoms and make it easier to deal with stressful situations.” Therefore, hygge has the ability to benefit you in both the short and long-run.

So, how can you practice hygge?

Although there are many ways to practice hygge, here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

  1. Find a space that brings you comfort, joy, and relaxation. Whether it’s your couch or a corner in your room, make sure you enjoy spending time in this spot. Keep in mind: How is the lighting? Is there a nice view? Are there distractions around and if so, how can you remove them?                                                                                      (To learn more, check out Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge.)
  2. Once you have found a space to practice hygge, indulge in your senses! This may mean lighting your favorite candle, listening to a soothing album, or baking a delicious pastry. In addition, this may involve adding soft pillows and blankets to make your space feel welcoming and comforting.
  3. Hygge also has much to do with cultivating community and developing meaningful connections. Perhaps take time out of your day to call an old friend or schedule a virtual family game night. Whatever it is, try to be fully present and be grateful for the loved ones in your life. 
  4. Finally, take some time away from technological devices. Indoors, consider reading that book you’ve been eyeing. Or, if possible, step outside! While social distancing and following COVID precautions, consider going on a long walk or nature hike. 

With all that being said, there isn’t one right way to achieve hygge. (There isn’t even one definition!) From this list alone, you may choose to practice one or all of the suggestions. As long as you’re working towards living a more joyous, peaceful, and harmonious lifestyle, then you’re practicing hygge. Just remember to keep it consistent and do what brings YOU happiness. 



Marissa Hong is a 3rd year UCLA undergraduate majoring in Art. When not blogging for the Mindwell Pod, she is leading tours at the Hammer Museum as a Student Educator. You can also find her on runs around Westwood or watching Schitt’s Creek with a cup of coffee. 


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Cultivating Equanimity

It is no secret 2020 was a turbulent year for most of us. Whether it was the fear of catching or spreading coronavirus, anger around racial injustice, or frustration with the political climate, I think it’s safe to say all of us felt something. And let me tell you, those feelings were not always positive. 

So, as we begin a new year, the question is: how do we stay resilient when our lives start to feel overwhelming again?

While there is no one answer, I do have a suggestion — learn to cultivate equanimity. 

What is Equanimity? 

To put it simply, equanimity is the state of being mentally calm and composed, especially in times of conflict. It is being able to monitor your immediate judgement or reaction towards others by taking a moment to pause, notice, and reflect. According to 10 Percent Happier Podcast’s episode “Vitamin E: Cultivating Equanimity Amidst Chaos,” equanimity is when you can open yourself up to others as a result of being grounded in mind and body. Buddhist teacher and anthropologist Roshi Joan Halifax describes it as having big open arms and being able to stay present without losing a sense of mental clarity. Therefore, cultivating equanimity does not mean disengaging from reality or embracing neutrality. In fact, it means the exact opposite. 

When breaking apart its Latin roots, equanimity means “evenness of mind, spirit, or feelings.” However, this does not denote indifference. Instead, it indicates staying interested and concerned while maintaining impartiality. In Halifax’s words, cultivating equanimity means having a “strong back and open front.” It is when you can listen to another side of an argument, one that you may greatly disagree with, yet still be able to stay engaged and communicate in a respectable, healthy manner.

How is Equanimity related to Mindfulness? 

Imagine this scenario. You are at the DMV and have been waiting in line outside for over 2 hours. Already, you are in a terrible mood. You have not had lunch yet, you are missing an important meeting for being here, and the weather is scorching hot. Then, a lady working at the DMV walks outside. She announces to everyone that they will no longer be meeting with people and that the DMV has closed early. 

With mindfulness, you would acknowledge your emotions and the ways they are affecting you at this moment in time. You may identify and accept your feelings, possibly frustration or anger. Once mindful, you may then decide to cultivate equanimity, which would entail embracing an even-mind. With equanimity, you may then withhold from your strong emotions, resisting powerful feelings of attachment to the situation. Thus, while mindfulness and equanimity are not the same things, they are deeply connected. Although the exact relationship between the two differ depending on whether you are viewing them from a spiritual or scientific lens, mindfulness and equanimity always go hand and hand. 

Why cultivate it?

Especially right now with everything going on in the world, it is common to feel anxious, stressed, and even angry. By cultivating equanimity, you are given the choice to accept rather than struggle with these emotions. In other words, through equanimity, you learn to acknowledge your emotions and let them be, instead of letting them overwhelm you. You can then have a clearer mind, and have control over the ways in which you respond to situations. 

Research has shown mindfulness meditation, a practice linked to equanimity, leads to great benefits for individuals. Scientific studies have shown mindfulness meditation results in reduced reactivity and anxiety while increasing resiliency. By practicing mindfulness, even if it means dedicating 10 minutes a day to meditating, you are developing skills enabling you to behave wisely, rationally, and calmly. Similarly, by cultivating equanimity, you are learning how to find balance and composure in your everyday life. 

As described by Diana Winston, UCLA Semel Institute’s Mindful Awareness Research Center’s director, mindfulness is the process of “moving inward as opposed to externally.” Moving inward can mean taking the time to notice, reflect, and then respond to a situation. It entails using meditative practices to focus on your breathing and self-awareness, preparing yourself for future situations that may be emotionally enticing. 

Therefore, by practicing mindfulness and developing an even-mind, you may find it easier to maneuver your way through our politically charged society. 

With so much going on and the influx of news media, it can feel emotionally overwhelming and be mentally unhealthy. However, by cultivating equanimity, a sense of mental calmness and stability will enable you to be open to the outside world while still staying grounded.

Moreover, especially today, it feels as if almost everyone has differing opinions. With equanimity, you may learn to monitor your discernment and civilly communicate with others, even with those whose beliefs may be greatly different from yours. 

So, how can you cultivate it? 

Just like anything else, learning to cultivate equanimity takes time and practice. Luckily, there are numerous resources out there that can be of guidance. 

  1. UCLA Mindful App: This free app by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center provides numerous guided mindfulness meditations in both English and Spanish. You can also find drop-in guided meditation podcasts at the Hammer Museum. (Remember: mindfulness helps cultivate equanimity!)
  2. 15-Minute Meditation to Cultivate Equanimity: Join Diana Winston, UCLA Semel Institute’s Mindful Awareness Research Center’s director, in meditation to discover balance and cultivate equanimity. Watch the video or read the article to learn how a meditation practice can allow you to become more centered, steady, and resilient. 
  3. Vitamin E: How to Cultivate Equanimity Amidst Political Chaos: Listen to this podcast featuring Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, and anthropologist Roshi Joan Halifax where she shares her knowledge of equanimity. From a spiritual perspective, Halifax describes how equanimity can be understood as embracing a “grandmother’s heart.” 

Also, it is important to note simply taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to a close friend or drink your favorite cup of tea can also help you cultivate equanimity. 


Marissa Hong is a 3rd year UCLA undergraduate majoring in Art. When not blogging for the Mindwell Pod, she is leading tours at the Hammer Museum as a Student Educator. You can also find her on runs around Westwood or watching Schitt’s Creek with a cup of coffee. 


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Finding Routine amidst Chaos

If you’re like me, you may have struggled to establish a routine over the past few months. It’s hard enough to find a daily rhythm as a college student with a jam-packed schedule that varies by day. Add to that a pandemic and pressing racial injustice concerns, and your daily rituals might not be top of mind.

However, finding a sense of personal routine is still possible. It’s also necessary – routines support our mental well-being and productivity. Therefore, successful routines enable us to navigate uncertainty in school or work, serve our communities, and practically advocate for social change.

Stress less by creating structure

A daily routine provides a grounding sense of familiarity. When so much of the world is unpredictable, how we approach our day is sometimes the only thing we can control. Dr. Nicole Green, Executive Director of UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services and co-leader of the MindWell pod, affirms that a solid routine helps us to feel more calm. “It’s very easy to feel less stable when you don’t have a daily routine. It certainly impacts mood,” Dr. Green says.

A concept known as “decision fatigue” may be at play here. Psychologists have found that the more decisions we make in a day, the more mentally depleted we become. Without a solid routine, we are constantly asking ourselves, “What should I do now? And now? And now?” Those moment-to-moment decisions add up to deplete our mental resources, causing us to work less efficiently and feel overwhelmed.

While we inevitably face choices as a part of life, routines can reduce the number of effortful decisions we have to make. For example, completing daily activities such as eating, exercising, or chores at the same time every day automates those decisions and frees up mental space for more important tasks. Dr. Bob Bilder, UCLA’s Chief of Medical Psychology and co-leader of the MindWell pod, suggests, “Program your meals – this is a great time to start a mindful eating practice.  Plan when you’re going to eat, what you’re going to eat, and then savor it.  Don’t multi-task while you’re eating. Just eat!”

Additionally, going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day boasts a multitude of benefits, leaving you feeling more refreshed. “A regular sleep-wake cycle is almost as important as getting enough sleep in total,” Dr. Bilder says.

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Consider your morning routine. When you first wake up, do you check your text messages? Do you think through the options for what to do after getting out of bed? Even these small moments contribute to decision fatigue. When you automatically know what you’re going to do after waking up (this can be as simple as brushing your teeth and eating breakfast), you can enter your day feeling a little more grounded. Check out this article for more morning routine tips.

It doesn’t have to be complicated

In fact, it shouldn’t be.

Imagine yourself in this scenario. At the start of a new quarter, you think to yourself,  “I’m going to wake up every day at 6:00 am, meditate for 30 minutes, go for a run, and then start my work at 9:00 am!” Last quarter, you woke up at 9:00 am every day, ran three times per week, and completed your work mostly in the evening. In any case, you try out this new routine for a few days in an attempt to improve yourself and feel accomplished. But, you can’t summon the willpower to stick to it, so you end up scrapping the morning routine altogether.

Many UCLA students have had a similar experience. Of course, an extensive 6:00 am morning practice works well for some people. However, setting a rigid schedule that isn’t true to how you usually live isn’t exactly setting yourself up for success. “You’re not a failure, you just set up a routine that wasn’t based in who you are,” Dr. Green says. Make a routine that flows with your preferences and needs, rather than one that runs against the current.

Having flexibility and compassion towards ourselves is essential, especially when times are hard. Dr. Green encourages people to adopt an 80% rule for their routines. Rather than setting either an extreme routine or none at all, create a routine you can stick to 80% of the time. 80% is certainly better than 0%! “Seeing those successes is really important,” Dr. Green reminds students.

Protect against procrastination

Even when we have a solid routine, sometimes we still avoid it. Dr. Green provides the following tips to manage procrastination.

Don’t clear your schedule. Clearing your schedule to get more work done gives the illusion that you have endless amounts of time, so you end up wasting a lot of time too. You’ve probably found that when you’re busier, you’re more productive. Even if you don’t have a job or class to physically show up to, see if you can find ways to implement that structure. Maybe it’s scheduling study time with a friend, or holding yourself accountable to a family member or professor to meet a deadline. Blocking off time for relaxing activities can encourage you to finish your work in the remaining hours, too.

Recognize the difference between worry and effort. It’s common for us to worry about studying or job applications instead of actually studying or applying. This is because worrying almost makes us feel like we’re doing the task. Of course, this is not helpful – not only are you not getting anything done, but you are spending time feeling stressed. “If you’re not going to do the thing, then don’t worry about the thing,” Dr. Green advises. Next time you observe yourself worrying but not putting in effort, see if you can let go of that worry and make a conscious choice to either take action or not.

Approach, not avoid. Sometimes when we avoid something, it’s because our mind is making it seem more daunting than it really is. Ask yourself, can I work on this paper, read this book, or do this workout for just five minutes? Shifting the goal from perfection to progress can make tasks feel more doable.

Balance rest and activity

Creating a daily routine is also a great opportunity to block off time for self-care. “Give yourself breaks. Be kind to yourself,” Dr. Bilder encourages. “When we ‘program’ ourselves, we almost all overdo it.  The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi always highlighted the importance of balancing rest and activity.”

Finding this balance requires getting honest with yourself about how much time you actually spend working. “Note that most people cannot really concentrate for hours on end…managing 20 minutes to 40 minutes in a stretch is usually great,” Dr. Bilder says. Rather than planning to work for eight hours straight, consider breaking up your work into shorter spurts.

For the remainder of your day, think about the self-care activities you want to incorporate. What brings you joy? What helps you feel calm, present, alive? Is there a hobby you want to make time for? Programming social time into your schedule is also an essential piece to consider.

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As you determine which activities blend well into your schedule, keep remembering to be self-compassionate and self-accepting. Below, members of the Semel HCI community share some simple practices they’ve been implementing over the past few months to take care of themselves.

“I’m really grateful that my apartment building has a rooftop space where I can practice yoga or do a short workout every day. Exercise and fresh air have both been fundamental in keeping my mental health in check, and yoga has been especially helpful in calming any anxious thoughts I might be having.”

“At the end of the day, I always try to reward myself with something that I enjoy doing. To me, this has been baking. Not only does it take my mind off of academics, I am able to treat myself with something tasty! Other rewarding activities could also mean simple things like a stroll in the neighborhood, or just spending quality time with family!”

“I recently built a raised garden bed with my boyfriend’s family to grow our own vegetables. Every morning, the first thing I think about is how our veggies are doing. We’d spend the morning wild-eyed watching our plants grow and making sure they’re well watered for the day ahead.”

“One new routine I have developed recently is eating my meals on my balcony which overlooks the street. We have a fair amount of people walking around the neighborhood and I’ve found great joy in waving at everyone who looks my way. I don’t always get a smile or wave, but when I do, it’s a nice little burst of serotonin.”

“I’ve really tried to embrace the stillness of the morning. I think compared to UCLA mornings, I am a lot more free, a lot slower, to be honest. The mornings are an invitation to be mindful and set intentions for the rest of the day! I love to wake up, lay in bed for a few minutes, open my window, enjoy the sunshine, and read a bit. Allowing myself to calmly wake up allows me to have a calmer rest of the day. I then of course indulge in a homemade latte, write or listen to a podcast and get moving with a little walk. Then, school! Embracing the routine and serenity of the morning has really given me a sense of peace and control of my mental health during this difficult time.”


Emily Short is a 4th year UCLA undergraduate majoring in Psychology and Economics. In addition to blogging for the MindWell Pod, she is a project coordinator for a research study in the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab. You can also find her drinking tea, reading, and practicing yoga.



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Mental Health Literacy: Anxiety

1 in 3 college students report experiencing a diagnosable mental health disorder. However, it is estimated that 64.5% of these students are not seeking the help they need. The Mind Lexicon project was a study conducted by the Semel HCI MindWell pod to assess students’ knowledge of mental health terminology, since improved understanding can reduce stigma and encourage people to seek treatment. Surprisingly, only 27.7% of student responses were categorized as good understanding. The Mental Health Literacy blog series aims to continue the conversation around commonly misunderstood mental illness and mental health terms, ultimately to lessen stigma and empower readers to take care of their mental health.

Gaps in the knowledge

Among the seven mental illness terms on the Mind Lexicon survey, students’ knowledge scores for anxiety disorder ranked second to last. In fact, almost 50% of students demonstrated poor to no understanding of anxiety. Accordingly, students expressed a relatively high level of stigma; 11% of students’ descriptions of anxiety contained stigmatizing language. This is consistent with the overall findings of the study: a lack of knowledge is correlated with greater stigma.

These findings are surprising given the prevalence of anxiety. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the country, with 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiencing an anxiety disorder in the past year.

Anxiety disorder is commonly confused with stress, fear, and worry. For example, students in the study thought that anxiety is when someone is “constantly worrying” or “unable to be at peace.” However, this is not the whole story.

We all have periods in our lives where we worry a lot. You might feel anxious when you experience family problems, job interviews, finals week, or even a long to-do list. This is completely normal – your brain is built to anticipate future threats and be averse to separation in close relationships. In fact, humans have been able to avoid danger and survive as a species thanks to this feature of the mind. Thinking that these normal feelings in response to a stressor constitute anxiety disorder, however, can lead to the belief that anxiety is not a real medical condition, which perpetuates stigma.

Some people also interpret anxiety as a sign of weakness. It can seem like the person is at fault for not being able to handle life’s difficulties. Several responses in the study trivialized anxiety in this way. One student described anxiety as “the inability to handle adversity or even the possibility of adversity in an adequate manner.” However, this notion also stigmatizes the illness and decreases the likelihood that people will seek help. Anxiety can affect anyone, and it doesn’t mean you’re weak.

So…what IS anxiety disorder?

If some amount of anxiety is normal, when does it cross the line and become a disorder?

1. Anxiety disorder is marked by excessive worry or obsessive thinking.

You are not only anxious in response to typical stressors – you also feel this way when there is no apparent threat, no obvious reason. You feel extremely worried about several areas of your life, and the anxious thoughts and feelings seem uncontrollable.

2. Anxiety is chronic.

It’s not a temporary feeling that passes after a stressful situation ends; you feel excessively worried more days than not for six months.

3. Anxiety interferes with daily activities.

When anxiety starts to impact your day-to-day functioning, it’s a sign that it has surpassed normal levels. The anxious thoughts and physical sensations interfere with your relationships and ability to perform in school or work.

4. Since the mind and body are deeply connected, anxiety is not just psychological – it is accompanied by at least three of these six telltale physical symptoms.

  • Feeling on edge or restless; unable to relax
  • Feeling weak or tired all the time
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained muscle aches/pains
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep

Other common physical manifestations include dizziness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and nausea.

To put the official definition in perspective, one student in the survey described anxiety as “worrying excessively about everyday things that do not worry most people and eventually impair[ing] function or cognition.” Another student wrote that anxiety is “my way of being in the world. Elevated heart-rates, lack of sleep, concern about what others think, over-analyzing, inability to pay attention because too many things are happening at once, racing thoughts.” These descriptions are characterized as good understanding because they capture both the chronic and debilitating nature of anxiety.

Anxiety is not one-size-fits-all

Though most people with anxiety experience these general symptoms, it’s important to remember that the disorder may affect each individual differently. There are also a few specific sub-types of anxiety disorder. One of these is panic disorder, in which the person experiences unexpected episodes of intense fear, sometimes for no particular reason. During these moments, they may feel a sense of losing control, a rapidly beating heart, and a sense of detachment from oneself, which can be very frightening. This quote from the National Institute of Mental Health encompasses what a panic attack could feel like:

“Without any warning or reason, a feeling of terrible anxiety came crashing down on me. I felt like I couldn’t get enough air, no matter how hard I breathed. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and I thought I might die. I was sweating and felt dizzy. I felt like I had no control over these feelings and like I was drowning and couldn’t think straight.”

As opposed to panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder does not usually include panic attacks. Sometimes people don’t seek help because they aren’t experiencing panic attacks, but just because you are not experiencing panic attacks does not mean your anxiety disorder isn’t real.

Panic attacks are also common for people with agoraphobia. This is a type of anxiety where people avoid certain situations for fear of not being able to escape if they experience a panic attack there. They may avoid places like shopping malls or public transportation, or they may not be able to leave home at all.

Other forms of anxiety include separation anxiety, specific phobias (such as fear of insects, flying, or medical procedures), social anxiety, and selective mutism.

What can I do?

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, you can fill out this online screening questionnaire to help gauge if what you are experiencing is an anxiety disorder.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, there are many self-help practices for anxiety management. They may not make anxiety magically disappear, but incorporating these practices into your routine can make a world of difference:

  • Do your best to stay in the present moment. Anxious thoughts are often about the future, but the future hasn’t happened yet. Try to focus on what’s happening now. Practicing meditation can help train your mind to continually come back to the present moment.
  • Challenge your thoughts. Anxious thoughts immediately bring you to the worst-case scenario, telling you that a situation is more dangerous than it really is or that you can’t handle it. Notice the thought you’re having – even write it down. Accept that the thought is there. Then have a conversation with it: Is it true? Is there evidence that it’s true? What is a different way I could think about the situation?

Thoughts from anxiety

  • Make time to relax. Give yourself permission to set aside your problems and responsibilities for a designated block of time. Listen to music, make art, read a book, practice yoga, meditate, practice progressive muscle relaxation, anything that gives your mind a break.
  • Breathe. Remember to breathe deeply throughout the day. You can also practice breathing exercises such as the 4-7-8 breath: inhale and count to 4, hold the breath and count to 7, exhale and count to 8.
  • Aim for daily movement. Even a short walk can produce mental health benefits.
  • Eat whole foods and drink plenty of water. See this article for tips on managing anxiety with diet.

anxiety coping status

  • Sleep – ideally at least 8 hours! The importance of sleep for mental health is greatly underestimated.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. They can trigger physical symptoms of anxiety.
  • Talk to friends or family about how you feel.

Understanding the source of anxiousness

While the above practices build a strong foundation of mental wellness, many people with anxiety require additional treatment. In combination with your results from the screening questionnaire, talk to someone knowledgeable to decide if self-help is enough, or if you would benefit from one of these treatment options:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT involves working with a therapist to identify thoughts and behaviors that trigger or worsen anxiety. Then, you learn how to replace them with more helpful patterns. CBT also can include exposure therapy, where you learn how to confront activities that anxiety was previously holding you back from.
  • Group therapy. CAPS offers a variety of treatment groups, including groups specifically for anxiety. These groups utilize a variety of techniques including CBT and acceptance-based therapy.
  • Medication. Medications commonly used to treat anxiety include benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and beta-blockers. They can help relieve extreme worry and physical anxiety symptoms. Medications come with side effects and they affect individuals differently, so work with a doctor or psychiatrist to make the right choice for you.

In addition, be sure to take advantage of these mental wellness resources offered at UCLA:


Emily Short is a 4th year UCLA undergraduate majoring in Psychology and Economics. In addition to blogging for the MindWell Pod, she is a project coordinator for a research study in the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab. You can also find her drinking tea, reading, and practicing yoga.

A painter covers a canvas with red paint and a blue flower.

Do I Need a Hobby?

When you hear the word “hobby”, what do you think of? You may conjure images of a post-retirement activity or your childhood art projects. Maybe you associate it with an idle waste of time. In reality, a hobby is any leisure activity that you voluntarily do when you are free from responsibilities. A wide range of activities fall into this category – creative pursuits, athletics, practicing a skill. It can truly be anything you enjoy that brings you a sense of meaning.

Of course, most of us do something we love at least once in a while. But amidst the constant busyness of our modern lives, it’s common to feel a twinge of guilt when setting work aside to engage in leisure. Or, responsibilities have slowly taken over the time we used to spend on hobbies, and now we’re not even sure what we’re interested in. Even so, we’re doing our mental health a favor when we devote more time and attention to hobbies, no matter how difficult it can be.

Relieve stress, improve mood

Spending just two hours per week engaging in creative leisure activities is shown to significantly boost overall mental well-being, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of mental illness. One major benefit of hobbies is the ability to cope with stress and negative emotions. Hobbies act as restorers, filling up mental reserves after an exhausting day. Practicing these activities allows your mind to rest from daily pressures, and this relaxation can induce positive emotions and a sense of calm.

Research has also shown that people with hobbies experience lower levels of depression and more positive mental states. Even during the enjoyable activity itself, people demonstrate reduced stress, reduced heart rate, and improved mood.

Why do hobbies boost our mood and release stress? For one, they provide us with a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy. When we accomplish a goal or progress toward mastery, we create meaning and purpose for our life. Hobbies also add depth to our identity. Work or relationship stress may be less damaging to our self-esteem if other pieces of our identity are found in creative or athletic undertakings.

Additionally, practicing hobbies facilitates a flow state – the feeling we get when we’re “in the zone.” When we remove distractions and immerse ourselves mindfully in an activity, we enhance our psychological well-being.

These mental health benefits aren’t limited to solo endeavors. Leisure activities in community aid in mental illness recovery and foster greater social connectivity. One study found that Australian adults who participated in team sports experienced lower levels of depression and anxiety than those who did not regularly participate.

A hand holding a pen is shown writing on paper. Journaling or creative writing can be a great stress reliever.

Overcoming barriers

Spending more time doing things you love seems straightforward…who wouldn’t want to do that? However, it’s perfectly normal to struggle with starting and maintaining a hobby practice. Sometimes our mindset can get in the way – here are two thoughts you might have experienced regarding your hobbies and how to deal with them:

1. I have to be perfect, or else it’s pointless.

You might relate to the feeling: attending diligently to every detail, striving to perform at the best of your ability, ensuring you’re making the “right” decision. When performance on tasks becomes equated with self-worth, pressure to succeed leaves you feeling inadequate after every action you take. For this reason, studies have shown that perfectionism is associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety.

Perfectionistic habits can limit you in your leisure activities, too. You don’t put pen to paper because if your writing isn’t published-author quality, why put in the effort? You don’t try that painting technique you saw online because if you can’t do it perfectly at first, what’s the point? When every action feels damaging to your self-worth, enjoyment is stripped away. Creative potential goes unrealized.

Thankfully, hobbies are a great first step to stop this negative spiral. Challenge yourself to dive headfirst into an activity you know you enjoy, even if you feel resistance at first. Focus on improvement, rather than achieving a certain standard. Shifting your goal from proving self-worth to learning has been shown to alleviate depression. When you repeatedly practice the activity and expose yourself to imperfection, you will see that the consequences of messing up aren’t so bad. You may begin to discover the meaning that is found in growing, improving, and yes, imperfection. Releasing the pressure and expectations for yourself can help you achieve the previously unimaginable.

For more tips on tackling perfectionism, check out this article.

2. I’m too busy!

“I used to love reading, but I don’t have time anymore…” You’ve probably heard – or said – something like this before. UCLA students, staff, and faculty are busy. But this notion that we’re too busy to pour energy into hobbies may be more of a mindset than a reality. Americans don’t work more hours than they have in the past several decades. The busy feeling probably has more to do with our increasingly connected society – an infinite to-do list items are readily available. Productivity has also become a status symbol; if we’re not maximizing our time to be the most productive we possibly can, we’re not doing enough. As a result, when we consider slowing down to read an entertaining book or create a watercolor painting, we label this as “unproductive,” and it’s relegated to a lower position on our priority list.

It’s hard to shake the goal of productivity. So, it might help to know that leisure time helps you perform better at work. In one study, employees who engaged in hobbies experienced more job creativity and recovery from demanding work, two markers of a healthy mind.

Work, emails, and social media seem to creep in and consume every available hour. Physically scheduling hobbies into your calendar can help – you end up working smarter and trimming screen time to fit that meaningful activity in, so you probably will accomplish the same amount of work as you would otherwise. Trust that active leisure is worth making time for – the mental revitalization it brings will help you excel in other areas of life that you care about.

Hands rest on illuminated piano keys, surrounded by darkness. A musical instrument can be a great way to de-stress and take time for yourself.

Need inspiration?

Consider investigating UCLA Recreation’s offerings, including martial arts, yoga, outdoor adventures and intramural sports. Find a new piece of music and practice it on one of the public pianos on campus. Attend a Mindful Music concert or learn more about mindfulness by attending a free drop-in meditation. Head over to our previous blogs to learn more about knitting and journaling.

You can also check out this list of 101 hobbies to get you thinking. The ideas are endless! The most important thing is to find a good fit for your interests and abilities, and be true to what makes you happy.

Of course, simply choosing an activity to spend more time on is not the ultimate cure to serious mental illness. Hobbies are certainly not equivalent to therapy or medication. But when we consider the true meaning of mental health, we don’t just mean diminished symptoms – we’re talking about human flourishing. A life of flourishing includes creativity, life satisfaction, and eudaimonia. Practicing meaningful hobbies is essential, in concert with other self-care practices, to experiencing holistic mental well-being.


Emily Short is a 4th year UCLA undergraduate majoring in Psychology and Economics. In addition to blogging for the MindWell Pod, she is a project coordinator for a research study in the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab. You can also find her drinking tea, reading, and practicing yoga.

Hike in Santa Monica Mountains

Want Free Therapy? Try Nature

We know intuitively that getting outside is good for us. But how much time do we really spend appreciating green space, away from technology and to-do lists that so often pull us indoors? With more and more research unveiling nature’s powerful mental health benefits, lack of nature exposure may be costing us more than we realize. Maybe a powerful medicine for our mental ailments has been in front of us all along.

Your brain needs rest too

When we juggle a constant stream of attention-demanding tasks, our brain is strained and we feel distracted. The prefrontal cortex is primarily responsible – this brain area typically helps us plan and solve problems, but it easily becomes overloaded with a busy lifestyle. Research suggests that spending time in nature actually lowers brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. Even a short walk in a park can restore our concentration, improve memory capabilities, and bring us into a meditative state.

Additionally, this reduction in prefrontal cortex activity gives us mental room to be creative. You may have heard avid hikers report that mental chatter slows down and their best ideas flow in the outdoors. Indeed, one study demonstrated a 50% increase in creative problem-solving task performance after a wilderness backpacking trip.

Nature as medicine

Time in nature is a possible remedy for a wide spectrum of mental health challenges. A nature walk could reduce activation in brain areas associated with rumination, or negative self-reflective thinking – a predictor of mental illness. In another study, individuals with major depressive disorder experienced improved mood after walking in a natural environment. The benefits of nature are promising for reducing stress and anxiety, too. Walking among trees significantly reduces cortisol levels and relaxes the nervous system, while the same does not hold true for a city walk.

Healthcare providers have recognized the healing potential of the outdoors. Some doctors are already prescribing nature for their patients to treat everything from depression to ADHD. This typically includes working with the patient to locate nearby parks and specifying how many times they will visit the site each week. Wilderness therapy programs are also harnessing the healing powers of nature to assist people suffering from trauma and PTSD.

A little goes a long way

It turns out that you don’t need to summit a mountaintop or go for a week-long backpacking trip to reap the benefits of nature (though it wouldn’t hurt). In a study of UC Berkeley undergraduates, everyday nature experiences such as walking through a greener part of campus led to improved well-being. Research like this suggests that the most important thing is to appreciate the nature around you. Walking for 20 minutes in a woodsy area, sitting under a tree after class – simple acts like these can positively impact well-being. The caveat? It’s best if nature experiences are unplugged. You may not be maximizing the benefits for your brain if you’re distracted by your phone – remember, our brains need rest! Instead, take a few deep breaths and notice the sights and sounds around you.

Nature spots near UCLA

Whether you have five minutes or a whole weekend, there are many places near UCLA where you can get your nature fix. This can be a space for self-reflection, but it’s also a perfect chance to foster community. Research shows that a group walk in nature is just as beneficial for mental well-being as going alone, so don’t be afraid to invite friends.

If you have a favorite location or walk that’s not listed, leave a comment!

Walking trail in the dorm area

  • Take a short urban hike around campus: starting at Westwood Plaza and Sunset, go west on the dirt path along Charles E Young Dr N. Turn right on De Neve Dr. You’ll eventually pass Sunset Canyon Rec Center and the jane b semel HCI Community Garden. Turn right on Bellagio Dr, left on Sunset, and left on tree-lined Veteran Ave. Continue to the De Neve dorms to return back to the hill, or turn around and go back the way you came.
  • Carve out time to visit the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Gardens. Soak up the benefits of this peaceful mini-forest by strolling along the paths or relaxing on a bench. There are also tables you can use for studying and meetings.
  • Check out Total Wellness Magazine’s post for inspiration on the best campus green spaces and how you can incorporate them into your daily schedule.
  • Hike at Will Rogers State Park, only 15 minutes by car or 35 minutes by bus from UCLA. 
  • Explore other nearby hiking areas in the Santa Monica Mountains, such as Temescal Canyon Park, Topanga State Park (Los Leones is a popular trail), or Malibu Creek State Park. 

Walking trail on Veteran Ave

Emily Short is a 4th year UCLA undergraduate majoring in Psychology and Economics. In addition to blogging for the MindWell Pod, she is a project coordinator for a research study in the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab. You can also find her drinking tea, reading, and practicing yoga.

The Clinical Corner: How cancer affects mental wellbeing in patients

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be the single most terrifying and life-changing moment in many patients’ lives. Coping with this news in a healthy way is an important part of the treatment and recovery process, one that may actually affect how disease recovery and remission progresses.

It may come as no surprise that a life-threatening disease diagnosis tends to adversely affect the mental states of many patients, but some research also suggests that depression in patients may lead to worse symptoms of the physical disease.

The two way street between mental and physical health

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that “it is common to feel sad or discouraged” after a serious diagnosis or during pain management. However, distinguishing those feelings from more acute mental health concerns is important for both mental and physical health.

When depression symptomatology lasts longer than a few weeks it can become a serious hindrance to cancer care, treatment, and decreases a patient’s overall quality of life. In fact, the NIMH found that co-occurrence of mental and physical health issues is common.

David K. Wellisch, UCLA professor of psychiatry and behavioral science and doctor of psychology at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, says that 66 percent of cancer patients have an adjustment disorder. “It’s very common,” says Wellisch. “The issue becomes, is it transient, or does it persist and become clinical depression?”

Patients with chronic physical illnesses are more likely than the general population to develop depression, and the same is true of the opposite. According to the NIMH, people with depression are more likely to receive a serious physical health diagnosis and experience more severe symptoms.

In some cases, these relationships even have their own set of terminology. Cancer-related post-traumatic stress (PTS) has been described as presenting similarly to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The National Cancer Institute found that as many as 25 percent of cancer survivors experience symptoms of depression, 42 percent experience anxiety, and survivors are 50 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

A study published by Australian psychiatrists Jane Turner and Brian Kelly in the Western Journal of Medicine called Emotional dimensions of chronic diseases, highlights the ways in which depression may affect a patient’s chances of disease recovery.

“Even mild depression may reduce a person’s motivation to gain access to medical care and to follow treatment plans,” wrote Turner and Kelly. Failing to follow treatment plans could lead to an exacerbation of the medical condition, which in turn feeds the mental disturbance, creating a cycle. The study also notes that diagnosing depression in physically ill patients is difficult, as common symptoms like sleep disruption or mood swings may be the result of the medical condition.

Encouragement from family members may not be enough to result in a patient seeking psychological help, so hospitals and oncology professionals must be equipped to provide patients with the resources they need. Additionally, training these doctors to be aware of depressive symptomatology will increase the likelihood that a mental condition is treated before it becomes a bigger concern.

How machines may be able to help 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become something of a buzzword in the medical field, with promises of streamlined healthcare IT, better disease diagnosis rates, and even tailored treatment plans on a patient by patient basis. An AI system developed at the University of Surrey, in partnership with the University of California, San Francisco, may even be able to predict mental health symptoms in patients.

A study published in the PLOS One Journal reported that researchers were able to create a machine learning based program to accurately predict the symptoms of depression, anxiety and sleep disturbance in cancer patients. This program, which sorts symptoms by likely severity, could lead to an increase in patient quality of life and even help allocate mental health resources correctly.

Payam Barnaghi, a professor of machine intelligence at the University of Surrey, remarked on how these programs could positively affect cancer patients.

“They can help clinicians identify high-risk patients, help and support their symptom experience and preemptively plan a way to manage those symptoms and improve quality of life,” Barnaghi said.

Where mental health support is needed most 

Studies proving these connections between mental health and disease mortality, suicide, and continuing mental health concerns after treatment are plenty. Just as cancer treatment considers to monitor for reappearances of tumors after remission, mental health resources should be accessible long after treatment is over. 

The University of Surrey’s intellectual investment into alleviating mental health concerns for cancer patients could signify an important shift in the way the oncology field prioritizes a patient’s mental wellbeing.

The need for comprehensive mental healthcare is large, considering the implications of failure to treat these patients. A study conducted at Tilburg University in the Netherlands found an increased mortality rate of 19 percent among cancer patients with depression.

Disease severity may be a factor in these cases of depression and suicide, where conditions with shorter life expectencies and worse symptoms could cause more mental health issues. Cancer is a notoriously unpleasant disease, and variations like mesothelioma, which moves quickly and aggressively, are especially bleak diagnoses to receive. The Australian Psychological Society studied the connection between mesothelioma and depression, finding that lung cancers have “been associated with greater morbidity and higher levels of psychological distress than any other form.”

Age is also an important factor in allocating mental health resources. A Canadian study in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment found that “depression is strongly associated with mortality in younger patients with early stage breast cancer.” For continuing care, factors beyond disease severity or longevity should be considered, as clearly younger patients are more at risk. Still another factor to pay attention to is location. An American Cancer Society study reported in cancer survivors, “clinically significant psychological distress” was 5 percent more likely in rural than urban survivors.

Making resources a part of holistic cancer treatment would ensure that cancer survivors don’t feel alone, and even have the possibility to reduce mortality and suicide among those affected. For example, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) has adopted what they refer to as a collaborative care model.

“Collaborative care is patient focused,” said Tammy Wetzman, an oncology social worker at SCCA, in an interview with Social Work Today. “It provides centralized psychosocial care for our patients. The care manager, generally a clinical social worker, who is a key member of the medical team, has regular interaction and collaboration with psychiatry and psychology colleagues and other supportive care providers to create a multidisciplinary and cohesive team that can deliver comprehensive and holistic care.”

Dr. Anne Coscarelli, director of the Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology, has noticed a decided shift in the mental health care for cancer patients from the beginning of her career to present day, she said in a UCLA Health interview.

“The focus was on how to get the cancer under control,” Dr. Coscarelli said. “Now we’re paying attention to the whole person with cancer. There is a greater awareness that cancer affects more than just the body.”



Emily Walsh is the Director of Community Outreach at Mesothelioma.com, which has been working for 22 years to connect patients and their families with authentic and helpful information and resources. Walsh stays up to date on the latest cancer research and asbestos news to advocate for a full fledged asbestos ban and promote healthy information for cancer patients.

The Roots of Eudaimonia: An Interview with Joseph Raho

The Roots of Eudaimonia: An Interview with Dr. Joseph Raho

Eudaimonia AwardsUCLA is holding their third annual Eudaimonia awards on April 29th, 2019, and in anticipation for the event, I sat down with ethicist Dr. Joseph Raho to discuss the roots of eudaimonia in ancient Greek philosophy. After majoring in philosophy in undergrad, Dr. Raho wished to use the analytic skills he learned during his studies in a very practical way. He found that opportunity in bioethics, landing a job after graduation with The President’s Council on Bioethics (a federal bioethical commission in DC). That experience led him to pursue his PhD in moral philosophy with a concentration on end-of-life ethics at the Universita’ di Pisa, Italy. This is how Dr. Raho ended up living in Italy for five years, developing a passion for Italian art and culture, espresso, and reminiscing about the passeggiata. He returned to the States to do his post-doctoral fellowship in clinical ethics at the UCLA Health Ethics Center in 2014. He was hired as clinical ethicist for UCLA Health in the spring of 2016. In this role, he aims to facilitate the principled resolution of ethical conflicts and challenges that healthcare professionals, patients, and their families face in the hospital setting.

Feb 2015 Ethics Center Raho

Photo by Julia Saltzman

Q: If you had to give a quick elevator pitch to describe Eudaimonia to someone who did not know what it was, what would it sound like?

A: I would have to start with what it means in Ancient Greek: Eu (good) daimon (divinity or spirit). It’s someone who has a good spirit, or someone who has been able to realize their inner spirit. In English, it’s something akin to happiness, enjoyment, or pleasure. The best translation is not happiness, however, but a state of flourishing or excellence. Aristotle connected eudaimonia with virtuous behavior—virtue in accordance with reason and contemplation. Virtue is not about singular, isolated activities and behaviors, but habitual ones. You become virtuous by molding yourself through your actions over time. This raises important questions: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to flourish specifically as a human being? What does it mean to live well? What kind of person do I desire to become? What kind of activities, projects, or hobbies should I seek out because they will be conducive to my overall flourishing? At a very rudimentary level, it will be hard to flourish if you don’t have the basic necessities in life. I would also add that it’s hard to flourish alone—activities, projects, and hobbies are important, but frequently leave one only partially fulfilled, so relationships are a big part of what it means to flourish. To live well involves doing good not only for yourself, but also for others. We must strive to go beyond ourselves, overcoming our limitations. Finally, living a good life is, in a major way, connected with the various roles one has been given or assumed in life (for example, that of a parent, healthcare professional, or teacher). What does it mean to truly flourish in those roles?

Q: Where did you first hear about Eudaimonia? What do you remember about that moment/time?

A: It was my freshman year of college while studying ancient philosophy. I remember that when the professor talked about it, the concept resonated with me. I think each of us tries to live a meaningful existence. Human beings strive to create meaning. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the answer is, it’s about the dialogue—and that really drew my interest.

Q: How do you incorporate Eudaimonia into your life?

A: Mindfulness and reflection about your life and the lives of others.

Q: Can you explain the link between Eudaimonia and Philosophy?

A: The word philosophy comes to us from Greek, meaning “love of wisdom.” Yet, you don’t have to be an academic philosopher to be a reflective thinker. Human beings are naturally curious and reflective individuals. We all yearn for understanding and meaning. Philosophy is a branch of knowledge that tries to uncover fundamental truths about ourselves and our world in a systematic way. Eudaimonia is a state of human flourishing or excellence. Philosophical reflection would seek to better understand fundamental truths about what it means to flourish or be excellent human beings and why.

Q: What’s one bit of advice you would give to someone looking for meaning and purpose in their lives?

A: I would ask the person: “Where do you find joy in life and why is that aspect of your life filled with joy?” Trying to find meaning and purpose in life is admittedly very subjective—it will depend on what a person values. Striving for meaning and purpose should be understood as a journey instead of as a destination. It’s not necessarily about achieving particular things or goals (even if those things are important). Ultimately, I think the person should ask herself “What kind of person do I want to become?” and then strive toward that ideal.

Q: What can one do daily, monthly, yearly, to live with Eudaimonic principles?

A: That is a very difficult question! One should think about what it means to flourish in a holistic sense and set that as a goal for oneself. Then, he or she should strive to live in accordance with that goal one step at a time, recognizing that it may need to be modified along the way.

Q: What gives you purpose in life?

A: Relationships. Being a good partner, a good friend, a good family member, a good colleague. We should also try to help people if we are in a position to do so. Finally, we should be mindful about our actions and their impacts on others. As an ethicist, I aim to identify, analyze, and help people navigate difficult value-laden decisions. My goal is to equip them with the tools needed to arrive at their own decisions, in a way that is consistent with their deeply-held values and beliefs. I like to think that I am using my training in a creative way to assist individuals who may be struggling with complex medical decisions.

Q: What would you like UCLA to know about the Eudaimonia Awards?

A: The purpose of the awards is to recognize outstanding persons whose actions embody our collective ideals of a life well lived. The winners not only excel as individuals, but also use their talents for the broader good of the community and society at large by making an impact on the lives of others. By recognizing and celebrating such excellence, the hope is to get people on campus to think: “That is the type of person I want to become.”



Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.