RED January: Active Everyday To Beat The Blues Away

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If you’re on Instagram it’s quite likely you will have seen some people going on about RED January. Maybe you think it sounds like another new year resolution fad like: Veganuary (please don’t shoot me, I’m an animal too) or Dry January, for those pretending that quitting alcohol is hard for them after an indulgent Christmas. Dietary cleanses and detoxes are once again circulating although I’m not in on the scoop of which one is most trendy this year. Are we still on the Whole 30, alkaline and keto “lifestyle change” tips? Either way it seems that whatever direction we turn you can’t help but be faced with lifestyle challenges promising to transform you into a new you and make you feel miraculously better about your shitty life. RED January could fall into this trap if you frame it in such a way, but it needn’t do.

Run Every Day January is a campaign to encourage people to be active on a daily basis throughout January in an attempt to buffer against the blues. Unlike the title suggests, you don’t have to run every day, I think RED January is just easier to market and brand than MED (Move Every Day) January. A lot of people do interpret RED January as another punitive challenge and as such, that you have to run every single day. It isn’t and this defeats the purpose of the campaign. Instead you just move, whether that’s a kick about in the park with your kids, walking to the shops instead of driving, running a Park Run or doing some yoga. You’re not supposed to break yourself over it, it is quite the opposite; it is about prioritising and taking the head space to move your body, connect with your body and in the meantime reap the benefits of moving for your mood.

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There are heaps and heaps of evidence for the positive effects of exercise on our mental and emotional well-being. It is now common knowledge that we can’t avoid to the point of GPs prescribing Park Run for mild depression in patients. Don’t be fooled, it isn’t a cure-all but it is a good place to start in terms of looking after yourself. Despite the accessibility of moving, 1 in 3 adults and children in the UK do not get enough physical activity. Let me repeat this. 1 in 3 adults and children in the UK do not get enough physical activity. This is quite shocking and with the benefits of exercising being so vast and varied, it really is an under tapped resource that most of us have.

I don’t mean that in a “no excuses” kind of way. It’s not easy starting to get active from being inactive for a period of time. It’s daunting, it’s hard work and sometimes it hurts but bear with me. Bear with yourself because in the long run you’ll be glad you got up and did it (pun entirely intended).

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There are numerous ideas and theories as to why achieving adequate physical activity is so difficult. Sometimes how we frame the idea of physical activity in our minds can really affect our perception of movement (Mental Health Foundation, 2013). Is it an extra and particularly painful chore to fit into our already busy schedules? Or is it a part of your self-care regime? Admittedly, with January being one of the coldest and darkest months of the year often curling up somewhere cosy with a book or a film feels immediately much more appealing. The greater benefits of movement may not be such an immediate gratification, but doing a steady amount will usually provide some hard-earned gratification immediately after exercise. So perhaps, the delay of immediate gratification by 30 minutes isn’t the worst after all.

The health benefits of movement are numerous, particularly for our mental well-being: from providing a protective factor to developing depression and anxiety (Fox, 1999) to increasing our work productivity and performance (Wiese, Kuykendall and Tay, 2017). The best news? You don’t have to go hard or go home; no matter how small or unimpressive you may perceive the achievement and effort to have been, any activity is better than doing none at all: what have you got to lose other than 30 minutes to try and see? (Mental Health Foundation, 2013).

The results from last year’s RED January participants speak for themselves. Last year in a survey of 3000, 87% of REDers felt significantly better physically and mentally after January 2018 from partaking in the challenge. Aside from the RED January challenge and their partnership with the mental health charity, Mind there’s oodles and oodles of evidence, scientific and anecdotal, about the benefits of moving your body.

This isn’t a weight loss message, but a 100% emotional wellness message. Regardless of your size, you DO NOT NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT before you can get active. There is no prescribed aesthetic or requirement in order to move. If you are concerned about your health impacting your ability to exercise I have added a link to a PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire) here.

The important focus is just to get moving, preferably in a way that’s enjoyable to you. Exercise does not have to be punitive, and in fact, to get the most from working out a healthy push of your limits is encouraged but don’t put yourself off forever. Start small and keep it real. Punishing yourself for eating something, or to look a certain way is not going to harvest the positive results that make you feel good, empowered and emotionally sound. It will only serve to do the opposite.

In this respect, the virgin active ad recently is a good message: Enough.


Sources:

Fox, K.R. (1999) The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public Health Nutrition. 2(3a) pp.411-418.

Mental Health Foundation (2013) Lets Get Physical. London: Mental Health Foundation.

Wiese, C.W., Kuykendall, L. & Tay, L. (2017) Get active? A meta-analysis of leisure-time physical activity and subjective well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 13(1) pp.57-66.

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How To Get Rich and Thin in 2019

Endings and new beginnings can be emotional times, whether it’s excitement for the future or sadness for the end of a really good chapter. There’s no time of year when we communally experience this sensation as a planet more than the turn of a new year. Cue the dieting, resolution-ing and lists of life vows that make wedding vows look like a pinky promise in the playground.

For as easy as it is to be over ambitious the key to success is to be realistic; instead of loading up the 1st of January like a mountain mule to only be disappointed when the mule collapses from exhaustion, go small, regular and achievable. The very edge of your comfort zone is ideal, not the oceanic depths beyond the void.

For the money minded there’s big business to be done, where capitalising on insecurities, steroid jacked hopes for huge lifestyle changes and pipe dreams are a cash flow wonder. Weight loss warriors and life coaching gurus start popping up all over the shop, trying to sell to us an intangible and unrealistic expectations for in which the failure of realisation and execution keeps the profits turning. They’re business counts on you failing. You are a cash cow, who can be guided via raw diets and zen retreats to a whole new sparkling version of you at a price. The price isn’t always monetary though, often times the price paid is sanity, happiness and self worth. The irony is astounding.

Those trying to capitalise and gain from your outlandish goals and their subsequent failure “make 2019 your year”, they’ll say, as if every other year in your life up until this point has been of much less value. Of course next year 2020 can be your year and then 2021 too. You are not limited to having and making the most of any one year over another. Some years are good and some are not so good, we have control over how we perceive these experiences but very little in the way of controlling what happens around us. Some years will just be a series of unfortunate events and a life coach or diet won’t and can’t fix that.

My point here? Don’t let your failure become someone else’s profit to exploit. Especially if your failure is of attaining the unrealistic standards that are sold to us via our subconscious. Shut that shit right down right now; ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!

Giving up on setting goals though is the least likely avenue to reap any results or success, but a good ~40-something % of us make resolutions at new year and of those roughly 40% see results and effort beyond 12th of January. When we shift the focus from January the 1st as being a deal breaker, and from setting enormous unachievable goals, we can move towards the idea of gentle progression and change with consistency.

This can save ourselves from the emotional rollercoaster that comes with getting our hopes up about exciting new changes and results we are going to see very soon, and then the disappointment of failure softened by the comfort eating everything in sight, which is even more counterintuitive to any dieting and health goals if that’s what you’re after. However, when you skip the restrictive dieting practices and make small sustainable lifestyle changes in any area of your life, the rewards you will get won’t be as drastic but they’ll also not be as temporary.

Push yourself and learn to respect your limit, be kind and comfortable with being uncomfortable. As Alex Honnold says about his feat of conquering a first in climbing history, “No one ever achieved great things being cosy in their comfort zone”.

He is the first person to free solo El Capitan, the biggest and most epic centre of the climbing universe. It was first ascended in the 50s, and when they ascended it they pulleyed up instead of climbing all the way because they just couldn’t do it. We live in an incredible world with a lot of people doing incredible things. We can’t all be Alex Honnold, but we can all push ourselves slightly beyond comfort and apply our energy to reaching our goals.

A good starting point would be to dare to make goals that go beyond attempts to control your body size or appearance. Go climb a mountain, start a project, try a new sport or apply for that promotion. You don’t need to diet, transform your body or only eat “clean” to do this.

“We could die any day so why not spend the time we do have here doing something we love, even if the potential consequence could be death” – Alex Honnold

P.S- I have no useful advice for getting rich and thin in 2019.

Race The Light – Pure Trail UK

This last weekend was my final race for 2018 and although there is no Medal Monday to show for it, my Garmin route and Trail Events buff serve as medals enough. As it turns out, it was the kind of running event where the other runners looked very fast; short shorts whatever the weather kind of fast runners who’s french baguette legs and strong quads make you question your decision to start running at all and consider whether maybe there’s another sport out there more suited to you.

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Where the estuary meets the Sea

The weather was everything you don’t want on race day: rain coming down in sheets so hard it bounced and winds that make standing straight a challenge not to be messed with. The start line was on the beach with a clear stretch of hard wet sand to the estuary which wound up just above my knees deep. This river crossing was what I was most apprehensive about due to the cold I anticipated (I had no idea how shit my head torch was at this point). I don’t think I need to explain the cold; it was as cold as you most likely imagine it to have been complimented with lashings of wind and pelting rain pellets trying to penetrate your skin. This was a moment for using mindfulness to zone out of some sensations and into the task in hand. I breathed through it slowly and focused on the water just ahead of me. Each time after a while, the water became more shallow again as I waded towards the other side.

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The sun going down down dowwwwnnnn

The crowd were all seemingly very friendly with numerous encouragements of “well done” more times than I can remember by other runners who were essentially lapping me on the return loop. This was all very friendly and well meaning, but with the course being a turn around loop I did feel rather inadequate and uncomfortable with my own performance. I know I often says “comparison is the thief of joy” and I stand by that statement. It really is, however after a while, and once I got to the turn around point it was just me and the woodland trail running along the estuary.

I really enjoyed the peace and quiet of the trail and it was a really nice antidote to a week of exams, excessive socializing and generally being quite busy. Even when I was alone in the pitch black with just my phone torch I was able to take this in my stride. My head torch died, although was also absolutely useless even when it was working. The only sounds were birds, the flowing water that morphed into waves and strong winds as I edged closer to the beach again, the creaking of enormous trees swaying in the wind and my feet squelching along the trail.

With this being the area I grew up in, being in the woods after dark is nothing new to me. I spent half of my teenage years deep in the woods at night with my friends in these areas. A trip down memory lane was the initial attraction of this race for me, and in bringing me some of the calm I found in woodland when I was younger it served it’s purpose well.

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Early on with the optimism that I might beat the light…..

The final stretch across the sand was the most difficult stretch despite being essentially flat and able to see the lights of the end up the hill. It was at this point that I kept imagining myself on a documentary about my life and running, and imagining how the people on Gogglebox would be cheering me on through the wind and rain. Having an imaginary cheer team from the warmth of their imaginary sofas whilst I faced the elements seemed to really help. A hot chocolate in the refurbished old school house was a good end to a grueling and good day out.

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Well and truly beaten by the sunset…

Although this won’t go down as a best performance run it is definitely a learning curve and experience under my belt kind of run. Maybe next year I won’t have the apprehension about crossing such deep cold water. To top it off, I saw some crabs in the estuary water – now there’s something you don’t so on a road race.

Santa Silliness to Festive Frolics: Christmas Running for Everyone

Last year I signed up for Run Up To Christmas and didn’t manage to qualify for a medal. This year I signed up again and I am quite confident that I can achieve what I couldn’t last year. As we approach the final stretch of 2018 it is easy to start thinking as if the year is over. December is still a full month just as any other even if it is especially hard to keep on just as you have all year with all the intention in the world to pick it all up again in January.

Having said that, I can’t help think that with all the stress and extra activities, expectations and awkward social interactions the festive season brings that running and exercising throughout the month might not be the worst idea.

Run Up To Christmas (aka RU2C) is a good challenge and way to find some peace and calm in all the madness. It’s also a good motivation to keep running through one of the darkest grizzliest month of the year. Run Up To Christmas has sold out now but that doesn’t mean you can’t do a similar challenge if you fancy it.

Here’s a list of other festive challenges to get you in the Christmas spirit whilst letting some steam off without necking all the spirits you can get your hands on to deal with in-laws, extended families and people you just don’t feel like dealing with. Some are virtual, some are free, some are social and some are just a bit of silliness.

Christmas Sloth Virtual Race
Entry: £9.99
Link Here

Choose your distance, form 1 mile to a full marathon. As the title suggests it is virtual so just record it via a free app on your phone like Strava, or with your running watch if you have one. This is super accessible to everyone from the seasoned runner to those who struggle to even get out the door. 1 mile is 1 mile, a goal set and a challenge completed is a challenge completed.

25K Advent Challenge December 2018
Entry: £12
Link Here

This is another advent inspired challenge where you cover the distance between 1st – 24th December. The distance is 25 Km, which averages out at a km a day. This is definitely achievable for most people. Pace is irrelevant and you can aim to walk it if that suits you.

Santa Dash 5-10K, Multiple Locations and Dates
Entry: ~£25 (prices vary)
Link Here

You’d be hard pushed to not have noticed the annual swarms of Santas running around parks all around the country. Many are charity events raising money for a variety of causes. The biggest dash in London has already been and gone, but there are plenty more opportunities to don your red suit and run 5-10 Km in a swarm of santas. What could be more festive than pretending to train for christmas eve like the champ himself?

Running in the Name of… CHRISTMAS 10K
Entry: Free
17th December, Threadneedle street, EC2R 8AH
Link Here

This run is not a race as such, but a social 10km festive run. Festive dress is encouraged and there will be plenty of photo opportunities. They do request you are confident running 10km at a 10 minute mile pace.

Yule Jog 10K, Multiple dates
Entry: £20
Link Here

Run a fun filled 10 Km route around London whilst experiencing many of the best lights, christmas markets and trees London has to offer. There are varied paces to sign up to, all of which can be seen on the website. The route starts at Tower Hill Tube.

Do I Really Need This? The Minimalism Challenge

A good while ago, the exact time escapes me, I watched Minimalism on Netflix. It is a documentary about 2 guys, The Minimalists, who tour around talking about their minimalist lifestyle and how being more minimalist has helped increase their life satisfaction compared to having lots of stuff and things.

These guys had realised that working hard to collect and buy lots of things wasn’t making them happy. Each thing they got would bring them some joy for a while, but it all had a finite amount of joy to bring into their lives. So they shifted their focus from material possessions to making things count. I think we can all relate to this in some way, whether we buy a new clothing item to cheer ourselves up, or some new stationary that will lead the personal organisation revolution we are about to embark on.

Since watching this documentary the crux of the idea has stuck with me. The point is not to have the least amount of things you can own and function, but more that everything you own brings purpose and/or joy to your life. So this could look like, fewer clothes, fewer knick-knacks that sit in the cupboard for eternity collecting dust, and fewer things for the sake of having things. Do I really need 5 sets of headphones? I mean, really? Each set has their selling points, but really? What about that CD collection that I never listen to? Or the DVDs I have of films I don’t even think are that great? I’m not about to vow to become a minimalist. Instead I embarked on a month long clear out similar to The Minimalism Challenge to free up some space in my flat.

The final trigger moment was when I was sat in my big chair to relax and instead of relaxed I felt overwhelmed. There was stuff everywhere, piled up to the high ceilings I have and covering the floor except for a few pathways between my stuff to the bathroom, kitchen and bed, not dissimilar to animal tracks in the woods. Maybe I hadn’t noticed before because I was spending so much time watching TV, ‘no TV August’ really made me realise just how much my room had gotten overcrowded and how actually, in my accumulation of so much stuff I could no longer use my space effectively: I couldn’t shut my wardrobes or my drawers, using my bathroom or toiletries was like a game of Jenga to get a deodorant. My floor was rarely clear, my wardrobes were stacked upon so much that the towering amass felt claustrophobic like high rises on narrow streets in a city.

As I sat there in my chair I decided that something needed to change. It wasn’t a one day long task. It felt too overwhelming for that. I decided to do the minimalism challenge. You throw the amount of things away that is for that day, so 1 on day 1, 2 on day 2, the final amass is 465 or something. Instead of saying I’d do it each day because I knew I wouldn’t, I aimed for 465 things re-homed or recycled by the end of September.

There is enough ‘stuff’ in the world to do the rounds – what if by passing something on, books that you know you won’t read again or don’t love, could bring some joy to someone else? Surely that is a more fulfilling purpose for the book whilst encouraging resourcefulness rather than everyone needing their own copy to then throw away in landfill?

This isn’t to say we are entirely blameless for our consumerism. It is a driving force in western culture. When you don’t have much you are constantly made acutely aware of how little you have and how much you can’t have that everyone around you seemingly just has. For a period of my life I didn’t have very much at all. I couldn’t buy much, even buying enough food was hard, and every penny was accounted for. As this period of my life drew to a close and I had a little bit more money so that I could – within reason – eat what I wanted, have a choice of food, be able to afford to have coffee out regularly (one of my favourite things to do) and I could go to places, I went through a few phases.

I went through a phase of going out and getting drunk a lot because I felt that I had missed out on so much whilst I was 19-23 via not having money followed by being mentally unwell. After a while I realised this wasn’t fulfilling. I was spending a lot of money each week on getting drunk with my friends, but still I wasn’t happy. It also wasn’t doing any good for my mental health and at one point in my journey the decision to really reduce my alcohol consumption was a real sticking point.

I stopped going out with my drinking friends and started to get into other things. I’d buy new things to entertain each fad. I don’t think there is so much wrong with this. I was lost and trying to figure out what I liked and disliked. I had a long journey of finding myself after having lost myself so extremely. I started to exercise, and got into running and OCR. I also bought a saxophone, art materials, knitting bits and bobs, climbing equipment, ukuleles, and so on and so on, all in a bid to find out who I was now. All of these things bring me joy in some way but I essentially live in a bedsit:I have a large bedroom with a kitchen and a bathroom attached.

My bathroom shelves are once again functional, as is my desk. My kitchen is no longer unsuitable for cooking or baking. My space is no longer so much of a health and safety concern; trip hazards have been reduced and I can close my wardrobes. I know where most things are, and am no longer regularly late because I couldn’t find my keys or oyster card. There’s no before and after photo on the way but already I have noticed and felt the difference. Once again my room can be comfortable, useful and practical. I hope it continues. I have learned that spending money on experiences and forming memories are what I value more and I am also more conscious of my spending and buying habits. I now stop to ask, do I really need this? Will I really use it? Will my life be better off with this? If the answer is no then I hold back much more.

Belly and Me Volunteering for Beat Eating Disorder Charity UK

Once upon a time I would regularly stand sideways in the mirror to scrutinise my body. Standing on the end of the bath I would use the huge wall sized mirrors to view myself from every angle possible. I would pick at bits that I particularly hated about myself to really ruminate and focus on, and trust me there were many.

In all of this extensive scrutiny my belly was the main focal point of my relentless barrage of self hatred. From taking selfies on dodgy cameras in the 2000s, to checking every reflection opportunity regardless of how skewed it may have been: the TV screen, changing rooms under dodgy lighting, and window reflections. I wouldn’t call it vanity although I understand that it may sound that way. It was never to admire myself, or to check my make up but instead to check how fat I was, and how much of a failure I was for not having lost any weight.

I used to stand in first position (ballet) and check my belly, my waist and shoulders from the back and side. Eventually I started measuring my waist multiple times a day because in my mind the weighing scales just didn’t show “progress” quite as well. I was in the depth of my eating disorder. Regardless of which eating disorder I was engaged with the same insecurities prevailed; the same poses regardless of how much weight I lost, didn’t lose or gained.

I will never get those hours back. For a long time, part of recovering from an eating disorder is removing triggers from the home: bread, cereal, weighing scales, mirrors, or whatever it is that you struggle with in particular. I only just recently graduated to getting a full length mirror again. I found it helpful in the process of learning to not obsess over my reflection and body shape or size to not have one. With just a head sized bathroom cabinet mirror to check for toothpaste, mascara smudges and whether I could push it another day without washing my hair. I’d consider these the basics. Now I have a full length mirror that I briefly check my overall outfit in sometimes. No belly checks. No shoulder blade analyses. No standing in first position and taking measurements.

I may have gained weight and realising just how much no one gives a fuck is brilliantly liberating. Sometimes now when I’m watching TV, or sat on the bed idle I actually like to rest my hands on my belly. Sometimes it pokes out from under my top in front of my friends and I’m not embarrassed anymore; it’s my belly and I’m healthy. It doesn’t mean anything more or less than that. It doesn’t need to be toned or trimmed or flattened. Sometimes it’s quite comforting to poke and prod my belly whilst sat around. I have no idea why or what exactly caused this seismic shift in mentality, but I’m quite affectionate of my belly and if I see it jiggling in a video it doesn’t upset me like it used to.

 

See here, I am having the time of my life running through ridiculously deep autumn leaves. My belly is jiggling. Yes I noticed it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t but look at that smile; that is more important to me.

Using my body to feel good and strong is more important to me. Wearing clothes that are comfortable and I feel nice in is important to me but the size label in them isn’t. I am proud of my recovery from my eating disorder. It was one of the hardest battles of my life and an experience I will never forget. This experience fuels my passion for nutrition, health and empowering others to make peace with their bodies and food. Soon, my belly and me are going to start training to be a Beat online mentor.

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There’s serendipity in this. Maybe all those hours I spent body checking, weighing and measuring myself wasn’t a ginormous waste of time. Something good can come from this in relation to my purpose on this earth; from that experience I have gained a passion, a purpose and a drive to help others. I feel that this is finally going to start happening in real terms with this volunteering opportunity and I’m really proud of that, perhaps more proud of that than my little belly.

 

The Human Interaction Conundrum in The Information Age

As humans we have evolved over the discourse of millions of years. There have been generation after generation before us through which we have evolved for the greater survival of our species. In recent years technology built the internet and made it accessible to most of us most of the time, introducing The Information Revolution. We are now more globally connected and informed than ever: we’re in group chats that are kind of like hanging out; we’re in Facebook groups of people with similar interests to us, most of whom we’ve never met; we follow people’s lives on social media, especially Instagram which is largely based on visuals that we come to feel like we know these people whose content we follow, comment on and share when we really don’t know them at all.

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Tea for One

In becoming more connected with others via technology we are less connected in reality as we use our smart phones to for more and more tasks. Gone are the days of asking someone for directions, of going in person into a cab reception and making conversation whilst waiting, and now coffee chains have even made it possible to order without talking to anyone via our phones without having to even speak or look at another human being, all of which allow for as little human interaction in person as possible (Kushlev, Proulx & Dunn, 2017). Unfortunately, this trend bucks our evolutionary DNA for healthy fulfillment; social interaction has long been an established an innate human need, and is central to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ((Kushlev, Proulx & Dunn, 2017). Although originally considered to be related only to close relationships such as family, partners and close friends it has transpired over time that the little interactions with strangers as we go about our day are also important (Kushlev, Proulx & Dunn, 2017).

I am very good at spending a lot of time on my own. I can go a while without really seeing anyone and only realise on day 3 or so. The downside to this is that I am quite a socially anxious person. I wouldn’t go as far to suggest I have social anxiety but I get overwhelmed for sure. I get so much anxiety in my stomach when I need to leave the house to go somewhere where I may meet or talk with others so intense that I frequently freeze until it’s too late to go anymore. So when my psychiatrist says to me that I need to get out and interact with people more, in person and preferably doing activities that aren’t solitary, it feels like a the hardest of recommendations to accomplish. It’s a tall order when just being around others can make me cry even though I k now it’s irrational. Consequently, I miss many social plans. Each time gives me a short space of relief but in the long run my anxieties just deepen and grow. It’s fair to say that I’ve been letting anxiety physically stop me from giving myself a chance at getting my human needs met.

So here’s the challenge for the next year or so:

  • Go to more social activities, will opt for sports closer to home to begin with.
  • Use mindfulness and breathing exercises to remain calm
  • Try to scowl less when I am out and about. Apparently this makes me seem unapproachable.
  • Use mood monitoring app to record anxiety levels around social events, whether I succeeded in going or not, what went well and what didn’t.

 


Sources:

Kushlev, K., Proulx, J.D.E. & Dunn, E. (2017) Digitally connected, socially disconnected: The effects of relying on technology rather than other people. Computers in Human Behaviour. 76pp.68-74. (Link)