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Positive Health

This comprehensive compendium offers a wealth of research-informed tools that can boost both physical and mental wellbeing throughout the lifespan. Filled with more than 100 activities to help you live life better, this book is the first of its kind to integrate the latest research from the fields of positive psychology and lifestyle medicine.

Striking a careful balance between theory and practice, the book first reviews what is known about positive psychology and health, presenting a novel approach to holistic wellbeing. It then goes on to provide more than 100 tools designed to increase physical, mental and social health and wellbeing, and also to decrease the risk of illness and disease. The tools described can be used by people of all ages, whether well or experiencing illness. It includes tools that you can use to improve your nutrition and sleep, to increase your physical activity, to develop positive relationships, to develop a positive mindset and to pursue a meaning in life. These tools provide research-informed, practical advice to help you to make lasting changes and become the best possible version of yourself.

This book is invaluable for anyone who wishes to maintain and enhance their health and wellbeing using tools that have been shown through research to be effective. It is also a key text for students in positive psychology and healthcare, as well serving as an evidence-based reference book for coaches and health professionals who wish to recommend research-informed tools to their clients and patients.

What do experts say about this book?

“There is no book on Positive Health that is more readable, applicable, concise, and practical, yet underpinned by rigorous science and the authors sage wisdom. As a must-read, the book owner will enjoy a delightful guide towards health and happiness.”

Associate Professor Aaron Jarden, Centre for Wellbeing Science, University of Melbourne, Australia

“This book is a treasure trove of health and wellbeing practices based on current science. I love that this book is for both health care practitioners and professionals and for anyone wanting to improve their health and wellbeing. Given we are so overloaded with competing and often contradictory information on our health and wellbeing, my recommendation is that this book becomes the go-to handbook in your health and wellbeing library.”

Dr Suzy Green, Honorary Professor in the School of Psychology, University of East London, CEO and Founder of the Positivity Institute dedicated to the research and application of Positive Psychology.

“Reading this book is like the awe and magic invoked by apothecaries of old, making incantations, stirring esoteric herbs and body parts of toads. But rest assured, these are rigorous and compassionate scientists who have amassed a Wiki of positive, health inducing actions and experiences. These experiences will stimulate renewal (Parasympathetic Nervous System) which is the only antidote to the ravages of stress. Read it or stay sick!”

Richard Boyatzis, PhD, Distinguished University Professor, Case Western Reserve University, Co-author of the international best seller, Primal Leadership and the new Helping People Change.

“The Centre for Positive Psychology and Health at the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences is to be congratulated for their paradigm shifting innovative approach to holistic wellbeing. Their new book now provides the science and evidence (the why), along with actionable support strategies (the how) that enable you to enhance your wellbeing. Whether you are struggling right now, or simply looking at ways to add more life to your years (flourishing in your life, relationships and work), then this book is for you. Read it today, reap lasting benefits and live with more vitality.”

Dr Mark Rowe, Medical Doctor, Waterford, Ireland

“If you are looking for the gems of well-being – the best habits to be well – look no further. A brilliant team of European experts have mined for you the scientific jewels out of the self-help mountains. They organized the best habits to fit what you are looking for – to feel good, calm down, be energized, find meaning, improve yourself, or connect more with others. Here’s to more sparkle and light in our lives.”

Margaret Moore, MBA, Co-Founder/Chair of the Institute of Coaching, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School affiliate and Co-Founder/Board Member of the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching

“This is a very valuable resource linking the concepts of positive psychology and lifestyle medicine. It provides very user friendly research-based advice on how to implement positive psychology and health tools into daily life. This book is useful for everyone who needs to bring some positivity into their lives and improve their health. It is especially useful for all involved in education as they may be able to bring some of the learning from the book into their teaching and indirectly impact their students. I loved reading this book and how it introduced me to positive psychology. It is a book that you will go back to time and time again. Every page has some little gem to enhance your day.”

Associate Professor Majella Dempsey, Department of Education, Maynooth University

“The six pillars of lifestyle medicine include exercise, nutrition, stress resiliency, sleep, social connection, and avoidance of risky substances. Positive psychology comes into play when counselling and coaching patients in all of these pillars. The team at the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences in Dublin has created a pioneering program in Positive Health and their new book is full of science and strategies to help people enjoy enhanced well-being.”

Dr. Beth Frates, President-Elect American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Faculty Advisor, Harvard Medical School and Director of Lifestyle Medicine and Wellness, Department of Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital

Three ways to tackle the ‘Sunday scaries’, the anxiety and dread many people feel at the end of the weekend

Many people experience anxiety or dread when the end of the weekend rolls around. Nicoleta Ionescu/ Shutterstock

Jolanta Burke, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences

Sunday is often a chance to catch up with friends, lost sleep, and recover from last night’s hangover. But for many of us, by the time Sunday afternoon rolls around, a feeling of intense anxiety and dread sets in – often referred to as the “Sunday scaries”.

It’s hardly surprising the “Sunday scaries” are so common. After all, research shows Sunday is our unhappiest day of the week – with Saturday being the peak. There are a number of reasons why the Sunday scaries happen, and how you spend your weekend can play a big role.

For example, spending all your weekend stuck inside on your computer probably isn’t a good idea, even if it’s for leisure. This is because research shows people who spend a lot of time on their computer tend to feel more anxious in general. Abundant alcohol and drug use can also cause your mood to plummet and cause anxiety levels to soar the following day. So if you spent your Saturday night partying, this might explain why you feel down or anxious by Sunday afternoon.


Quarter life, a series by The Conversation

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.

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For many people, the Sunday scaries also happen due to the work they left behind on Friday evening. The anticipation of the next day, the work you might have to do, and all the emails you’ll need to catch up on can cause anxiety. But working through the weekend isn’t the answer either – and could actually leave your mental health worse off.

The Sunday scaries may also happen because of a social overload that happens during the weekend. This may be especially true for people who work hard during the week or those who are single, who designate their weekend as being their primary time for socialising. But spending time with others, as enjoyable as it may be, can put additional pressure on us. For example, when we share our friends’ worries, we may become stressed too..

If you’re someone who tends to suffer from the Sunday scaries, here are a few things you can do to cope.

1. Finish your tasks

One of the most effective ways of getting rid of the Sunday scaries is to prevent them from happening to begin with. This means trying to finish any tasks you need to do before the weekend, instead of leaving it until Monday morning.

When you know you have unfinished business to deal with on Monday, it can have a number of effects on you, including by ruining your night’s sleep and making you more anxious on Sunday. It may even affect your next week by making you more likely to experience burnout. This is why starting the week with a clean slate is crucial.

A woman working at a desk with papers and a laptop.
Do what you can so you can start the week with a clean slate. Jacob Lund/ Shutterstock

Before you switch off your computer on Friday evening, you might also want to take time to reflect on the negative things that may have happened during the week, consider what changes you might want to make for the next week, and try to tie up any loose ends and easy tasks that you can instead of leaving them for Monday.

If you’re in a middle of a long-term project, at least try to complete a milestone task that will help you feel like a chapter of your work is closed on Friday, with a new one ready to begin on Monday.

2. Positive anticipation

Probably the biggest reason for feeling anxious on Sunday evening is due to dreading the work you have to do the following week – especially those tasks you hate doing.

But having events planned for the week that you can look forward to can help balance out these negative emotions and make you feel more positive about the week head. Try creating a new routine on Sunday where you plan out fun things you can do the next week, such as meeting friends for lunch or going to the cinema after work.

3. Write it down

If you get your Sunday scaries but have no idea what’s causing them, take 20 minutes of uninterrupted time to write down your deepest thoughts and feelings. This simple exercise can help you figure out what causes your anxious thoughts, which will ultimately help you address them.

But if you’re someone who has never tried expressive writing before, here are a few things that might help you get started:

  • Write about your challenges using a different perspective (such as how your parent or best friend might see it).
  • Try writing at different times of day. You may be more focused at different times of the day, which can be important for helping you tune into how you’re feeling.
  • If you find it difficult to talk or write about yourself, imagine you’re writing with a specific audience in mind, such as your friend. This may help you better express what you’re feeling and understand why you’re feeling that way.
  • If writing isn’t for you, use a recorder or video to help you express yourself.

Of course, there are many reasons that people may experience the Sunday scaries. While some of these factors we can change, some of them are a bit more difficult to address, such as if your feelings of anxiety are due to working with people who treat you unfairly. But regardless of the reasons you may get the Sunday scaries, remember that we often tend to over-exaggerate our anxieties in our heads – and often these fears turn out to be unfounded.

Jolanta Burke, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Positive Psychology and Health, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Has the pandemic changed our personalities? New research suggests we’re less open, agreeable and conscientious

Lightspring/Shutterstock

Jolanta Burke, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences

For many of us, some personality traits stay the same throughout our lives while others change only gradually. However, evidence shows that significant events in our personal lives which induce severe stress or trauma can be associated with more rapid changes in our personalities.

A new study, published in PLOS ONE, suggests the COVID pandemic has indeed triggered much greater shifts in personality than we would expect to have seen naturally over this period. In particular, the researchers found that people were less extroverted, less open, less agreeable and less conscientious in 2021 and 2022 compared with before the pandemic.

This study included more than 7,000 participants from the US, aged between 18 and 109, who were assessed before the pandemic (from 2014 onwards), early in the pandemic in 2020, and then later in the pandemic in 2021 or 2022.

At each time point, participants completed the “Big Five Inventory”. This assessment tool measures personality on a scale across five dimensions: extroversion versus introversion, agreeableness versus antagonism, conscientiousness versus lack of direction, neuroticism versus emotional stability, and openness versus closedness to experience.

There weren’t many changes between pre-pandemic and 2020 personality traits. However, the researchers found significant declines in extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness in 2021/2022 compared with before the pandemic. These changes were akin to a decade of normal variation, suggesting the trauma of the COVID pandemic had accelerated the natural process of personality change.

Interestingly, younger adults’ personalities changed the most in the study. They showed marked declines in agreeableness and conscientiousness, and a significant increase in neuroticism in 2021/2022 compared with pre-pandemic. This may be due in part to social anxiety when emerging back into society, having missed out on two years of normality.

Personality and wellbeing

Many of us became more health-conscious during the pandemic, for example by eating better and doing more exercise. A lot of us sought whatever social connections we could find virtually, and tried to refocus our attention on psychological, emotional and intellectual growth – for example, by practising mindfulness or picking up new hobbies.

Nonetheless, mental health and wellbeing decreased significantly. This makes sense given the drastic changes we went through.

Notably, personality significantly impacts our wellbeing. For example, people who report high levels of conscientiousness, agreeableness or extroversion are more likely to experience the highest level of wellbeing.

So the personality changes detected in this study may go some way to explaining the decrease in wellbeing we’ve seen during the pandemic.

A young woman looks out the window.
Personality changed the most for younger people. fizkes/Shutterstock

If we look more closely, the pandemic appears to have negatively affected the following areas:

  • our ability to express sympathy and kindness towards others (agreeableness);
  • our capacity to be open to new concepts and willing to engage in novel situations (openness);
  • our tendency to seek out and enjoy other people’s company (extraversion);
  • our desire to strive towards our goals, do tasks well or take responsibilities towards others seriously (conscientiousness).

All of these traits influence our interaction with the environment around us, and as such, may have played a role in our wellbeing decline. For example, working from home may have left us feeling demotivated and as though our career was going nowhere (lower conscientiousness). This in turn may have affected our wellbeing by making us feel more irritable, depressed or anxious.

What next?

Over time, our personalities usually change in a way that helps us adapt to ageing and cope more effectively with life events. In other words, we learn from our life experiences and this subsequently impacts our personality. As we age, we generally see increases in self-confidence, self-control and emotional stability.

However, participants in this study recorded changes in the opposite direction to the usual trajectory of personality change. This is understandable given that we faced an extended period of difficulties, including constraints on our freedoms, lost income and illness. All these experiences have evidently changed us – and our personalities.

This study provides us with some very useful insights into the impacts of the pandemic on our psyche. These impacts may subsequently influence many aspects of our lives, such as wellbeing.

Knowledge allows us to make choices. So you might like to take the time to reflect on your experiences over the past few years, and how these personality changes may have affected you.

Any changes may well have protected you during the height of the pandemic. However, it’s worth asking yourself how useful these changes are now that the acute phase of the pandemic is behind us. Do they still serve you well, or could you try to rethink your perspective?

Jolanta Burke, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Positive Psychology and Health, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Seasonal depression: small things you can do every day to cope

Daylight is important, so try to get outside for a walk in the morning and afternoon. Dasha Petrenko/ Shutterstock

Jolanta Burke, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and Annie Curtis, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences

Many of us tend to feel sad or not like our usual self as autumn and winter approach. But for some, these feelings persist until spring arrives.

Known as seasonal affective disorder (or Sad), it’s a type of depression that occurs only during specific seasons. Alongside persistent low mood, some people may find they feel more lethargic than usual, have difficulty getting up in the morning and crave more carbs than normal.

If you’re someone who has Sad (or think you might), here are a few things you can do to improve your mood during the colder months.

What to do every day

Since Sad happens during seasons when the days are shorter and we get less sunlight, it’s thought to be caused by a disruption of our body clocks (also known as circadian-rhythm disturbance). We all have a “master clock” in the brain that uses daylight to control all of our body’s processes – from hunger to when we feel ready for bed.

Circadian rhythm disturbance has been linked to sleep disturbances, changes in mood and our eating patterns and metabolism, all of which are affected by Sad.

This is why getting outside and into natural daylight can be so important for people who have Sad.

In the morning, aim to get outside for at least a few minutes. Since light sends direct signals to your master body clock to tell it it’s time to wake up, morning light will help you feel more alert throughout the day. It may also help you fall asleep earlier in the evening.

At lunch, try again to get outside and get more natural light exposure. But if you can’t get outside or it’s overcast, you may want to try bright-light therapy. This exposes people to bright fluorescent light using a special lamp or mask. Research shows that 30 minutes of bright light therapy daily can help reduce symptoms of Sad.

A woman uses a fluorescent lightbox in her home to help treat her seasonal depression.
Light therapy may help on days that are overcast. Image Point Fr/ Shutterstock

If you find it difficult to convince yourself to get away from your desk at lunchtime, try to organise some activities to do that may help you get outside. For example, try to organise a daily lunchtime group walk with your colleagues or neighbours. Alongside getting you out into the daylight, exercising in a group can also boost positive emotions and connectedness, which is good for wellbeing and mental health.

Another activity you could try during your lunchtime walk is the “three good things in nature” task. The aim of this activity is to boost mindfulness and appreciation of nature by taking note of at least three things from the natural environment while you’re on your daily walk. Not only will this get you outside, it may also help improve your mood and wellbeing.

In the evenings, aim to set aside time to do things you enjoy. This may help to improve your mood and may ease some symptoms of Sad.

Other things you can do during winter months to improve your mood include:

Practise humour
Introducing more humour into your life may help balance out your negative emotions and could even improve sleep quality, mood and reduce symptoms of depression.

In the evening, take ten minutes to think of some funny things that happened during the day. Or think of a challenging situation you faced and instead try to think about how you’d deal with it in a funny way in the future. Making the time to watch something funny on TV three or four times a week may also help to boost your mood.

Find a hobby
Start a new hobby or pick up one you haven’t practised for a while. Engaging in a hobby will keep your mind less idle and more engaged, leaving you with less time to ruminate, if that’s something you tend to do. Perhaps try learning to knit. This is associated with increased mindfulness, calmness and a boost of positive emotions. Mastering new recipes may also be a great way of boosting wellbeing.

It doesn’t matter what hobby you choose, as long as it stretches your skills and helps you get into a state of flow. This is the feeling of “losing yourself” in what you’re doing and is a major component in experiencing subjective happiness. You might not feel better while you are doing your hobby (as it requires concentration), but as soon as you complete your task, you will experience a sense of accomplishment and a boost of positive emotions.

Keep your body clock in rhythm
Since Sad is thought to be caused by circadian-rhythm disturbance, keeping your circadian rhythm in time may help to reduce symptoms of Sad.

Sleep plays a big role in keeping your body clock in check. So in the evenings, try to avoid too much bright light as this will delay your sleep. You should also try to keep similar times for going to sleep and waking up both during the week and on weekends. Alongside proper sleep, eating your meals at regular times may also help to keep your body clock in time.

While it may be normal to feel a dip in your mood after the clocks first change, if you’re finding that symptoms are lingering for many weeks or are having a big effect on your life, you may want to speak to your doctor. In the meantime, remember that even just a few small changes every day may help keep Sad symptoms at bay.


If you are struggling or feel you could benefit from mental health support, please speak to your GP, and/or try contacting supportive organisations such as The Seasonal Affective Disorders Association, The Samaritans or Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).

Jolanta Burke, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Positive Psychology and Health, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and Annie Curtis, Senior Lecturer, School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences (PBS), RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ultimate Guide to Wellbeing

This is an essential guide for all teaching professionals to help them make an informed decision about what wellbeing programmes and initiatives they should select in their schools and why. It provides teachers and school leaders with all necessary knowledge to help identify what they should be looking for in wellbeing programmes, how they should be evaluating its effectiveness and who should be delivering it for them. It presents a suite of components and evidence-based interventions that teachers can pick-and-choose for their school community.

For the first time, practitioners are not being sold a specific programme but instead presented with what is known about wellbeing in order to empower them to make their own decisions that best suit their community. It goes behind the scenes and reveals the secrets used by researchers and experts, including practical advice, recommendations and the author’s own ground-breaking research study involving 3,000 students. Its unique pick-and-mix process demystifies programme creation, simplifies it and makes its building blocks available to the masses.

This accessible, evidence-based guide suggests a whole-school approach with specific interventions that can be used to successfully improve the wellbeing of teachers and students, making it an invaluable resource and must-read for all teaching professionals.

What do experts say about this book?

‘If you care about the wellbeing of your students, you must read this book. Through the theory and practice of wellbeing in schools, Dr Burke is taking us on a fascinating journey of a child’s and school community’s wellbeing. It is all you need to know to create a wellbeing strategy in schools. The book is fresh, balanced, and highly recommended.’

Dr Itai Ivtzan, Naropa University, Boulder, USA

‘This book is based firmly in positive psychology research and gives a solid rationale for why wellbeing is so central for all students. It is a volume of considerable depth and does not duck the challenges of context, the complexity of the concept, the resistance of some educators to fitting in yet another initiative, nor the problems associated with seeking ‘happiness’. Importantly it places teacher wellbeing at the heart of a whole-school approach and the centrality of caring school leadership for effective change. The theory is enhanced with the author’s own experiences, reflections and stories of practice from around the world. This is a welcome text for educators who want something more substantial than a simple ‘why what and how’ of wellbeing.’

Dr Sue Roffey, Ted-X speaker, Founder of the Wellbeing Australia Network

‘Wellbeing in schools has rightly become an important and even urgent topic. But it is a complex issue and needs to be understood and approached in a careful and evidenced-based way. In that respect, this book is a wonderful guide to the latest research and theorising in this area, together with practical ideas and resources for how to actually implement these insights. Very clear and easy-to-read, this is an indispensable book for anyone interested in how to help children and young people flourish at school and in their lives as a whole.’

Dr Tim Lomas, Senior lecturer in Applied Positive Psychology, University of East London, UK

Positive School Psychology

Applied Positive School Psychology is an essential guide to help teachers regain their own and assist the school community in rebuilding their health post-pandemic. While research in positive psychology is thriving, teachers and educational practitioners find it challenging to apply it in their daily practice. This practical book fills the gap between theory and practice and provides practitioners with an evidence-based toolkit on using the positive psychology in their school communities.

With contributions from experts in their field, this important resource explores student wellbeing, teacher wellbeing, inclusion, developing positive relationships, creativity, and therapeutic art.

Written with the practitioner in mind, Applied Positive School Psychology is a must read for the teaching community and those interested in positive education. It will also be of interest to academics specialising in wellbeing or education, educational psychologists, and education policy makers.

What do experts say about this book?

“This is a marvellous book by leading authorities who put across the practical gains of positive psychology in a thoroughly sensible and accessible way. Teachers and parents should all read it: there’s lots in it for your too.”

Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor, The University of Buckingham, UK

“This book is a true gift to aspiring educators and school leaders who desire to bring positive transformation to schools. It addresses the breadth of issues related to positive education and provide rich theoretical foundations and practical applications. As a positive educator, I am truly impressed and intrigued by the reflection questions and discussion points at the end of each book chapter, which allows educators to crystallise their learnings and reflect meaningfully on their teaching and learning practice.”

Matthew Koh, Founder of The Positive Arena, Singapore

“This compendium of positive school philosophies provides a wealth of evidence and inspiration for educators to consider in their teaching approaches, and in terms of whole-school self-evaluation. It offers practical insights into how wellbeing can be weaved into schools’ work. It is also a powerful call to action for system leaders to consider how this thinking might be embedded in future policy and resourcing of schools, particularly CPD for teachers and school leaders. I encourage educators to read it.”

Páiric ClerkinCEO of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network, Ireland