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Eating Chocolate Really Can Cure Stress, say the Experts, And Other Self-Care Tricks To Boost Joy

The secret is to identify and nurture your different "selves"


Though your summer days are filled with everything from family barbecues to road trips, you feel a nagging sense of emptiness — like something is missing or some part of you isn’t as satisfied as it could be. Your intuition is spot-on: Recent research shows there are important, hidden aspects of ourselves we tend to overlook. While most of us perceive our inner self as a “monolith,” singular and indivisible, our identities are actually multifaceted and filled with variety. Keep reading to see what research reveals about the three surprising aspects of your identity that lead to happier living, less stress and more confidence every day.

Loving Your Various ‘Selves’

A study in Psychological Science shows we contain several specific “selves” with different strengths and needs, and we can boost our joy dramatically while slashing stress by nurturing each of these dynamic facets.

“People’s happiness is influenced by a complex interplay of factors that include the ‘Core Self,’ our central values and important goals, the ‘Social Self,’ our relationships and social interactions and the ‘Experiential Self,’ our ability to regulate emotions,” explains study co-author and social psychologist Kostadin Kushlev, PhD, Assistant Professor at Georgetown.

The great news is tending to this “inner trifecta” helps bring all of the aspects of who we are into harmony, allowing us to lead a more satisfying life. “Research shows this helps us feel more authentic, which is great for happiness, and increases our sense of purpose,” confirms Kushlev. Read on for simple ways to care for all of your “selves” so you can live each day with greater bliss and intention.

Fearful? Uncertain? Self-critical?

Nurture your Core Self

From rumors of upcoming layoffs to the sputtering economy, you’re not sure what the future will bring, and you feel knocked off balance. You worry, What if I can’t handle what’s ahead? “When we feel threatened by outside forces like financial unknowns or job insecurity, our center of gravity, or Core Self, is shaken,” says scientist and behavioral change expert Alexandra Linares of Canaima Coaching, who explains that taking time to get back in touch with our goals and intentions will help us rediscover our resilience.

If you’re worried about what’s ahead, restore strength and hope to your Core Self by taking a moment to reflect on the joys that are always there within you, but that often get drowned out by the din of your inner critic, urges Linares. She adds that while our fears and anxieties ebb and flow, our Core Self is comprised of the unchangeable principles that make us feel purposeful and grounded — this is the part that anchors us against a storm of uncertainties and reminds us of our priorities and talents.

“Focus on your values by asking yourself what you care about — like spending time with loved ones, harnessing your creativity or doing acts of service,” Linares urges. “What does that feel like and how does it inspire you to behave with intention?” Reclaiming this central aspect of who you are creates a greater feeling of inner peace that helps silence worries. Adds Kushlev, “Tapping our core values also increases our sense of meaning in life.”

Lonely? Dejected? Isolated?

Boost your Social Self

After a neighbor moves away, you find yourself taken aback by just how much you miss your fleeting exchanges of small talk. In fact, research shows our Social Self craves connection not only with those closest to us but also with people we see only in passing.

Nurture your Social Self by tending to both strong and weak ties, says Linares. When it comes to the former, she says we tend to tell ourselves stories that prevent us from fostering deeper bonds. “So many narratives get in the way, like ‘My friend is too busy — I don’t want to bother her,’ or ‘X doesn’t want to hear from me.’” But nothing could be further from the truth: Studies show we vastly underestimate how much even the briefest of check-ins matter to our loved ones.

Says Linares, “I’ll text my two best friends funny memes with just ‘thinking of you’ — it’s short but so powerful.” In fact, of all the things that increase joy, social relationships are the most important, adds Kushlev. “Surprisingly, people are happier when they interact more with acquaintances and even strangers. This is true for extroverts and introverts alike.” To maximize the rewards of such “weaker ties,” just say “hi” to a fellow dog walker or compliment the cashier when you’re in the checkout line. Says Linares, “These interactions are what the Social Self thrives on because they’re about seeing others and being seen.”

Anxious? Tense? Overwhelmed?

Tap your Experiential Self

As you write today’s to-do list, you feel like a boulder is resting on your shoulders. Soon, your thoughts are not just racing, they’re chasing you — all the way upstairs into your bedroom, as you toss and turn at night, unable to shake your anxiety. The space between the stressor we’re experiencing and our emotional response to it is where the Experiential Self lives — it’s the part of us that helps us stay in the moment.

To foster the long-term peace of mind that springs from your Experiential Self, try mindfulness, advises Kushlev. He explains it’s simpler than you may think — and can even be delicious. “Though dedicated meditation is a proven way to improve mindfulness, or our ability to focus on the moment, there are easier ways to integrate it into our daily lives, from taking a few deep breaths to noticing what we’re experiencing, like the sensations, texture and flavor of eating a piece of delightful chocolate.”

Another great way to silence racing thoughts is to practice listening to the voice of your Experiential Self, suggests Linares. “Don’t overthink it — just follow your inclinations in the moment, whether they’re telling you to take a 3-minute walk outside or lie in the grass to take in your surroundings.” Such intentional activities ground you in the now and increase your sensory awareness, melting stress. In the end, focusing on your Core, Social and Experiential selves will boost your overall happiness, by reminding you just how many beautiful layers you truly have.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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