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Getting Out of Debt Can Take Years—Why Patience Pays

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It’d be nice to snap your fingers and watch your debt melt away. But the truth is that getting out of debt can take years. Here’s more on what to expect, and why patience pays.

How Long Does It Take to Eliminate Debt?

There’s no easy answer on how long it will take you to eliminate your debt. It depends on how much, what kind and which strategy you pursue.

Paying the minimum balance will almost certainly take the longest, which is why it’s not considered a sustainable strategy for the long term. As Real Simple reminds us, it would cost a consumer with about $16,000 in credit card debt—approximately the average amount carried per American household—$11,000 in interest alone if they only pay the minimum balance due each month. And it will take a long time. Interest creates a lot of extra work, so it’s generally smarter to pursue a more aggressive strategy for paying down debt.

Every debt elimination strategy worth its weight in gold takes time. In fact, consumers should probably be wary about any “get out of debt quick” schemes they come across while doing research. It’s very normal for a process like debt settlement to take 24 to 48 months, for instance; many positive Freedom Debt Relief reviews come from people who’ve been enrolled in the program for years, making steady payments into an account and working toward settling their debts one by one.

Another example is debt consolidation, in which you take out a loan to cover your high-interest debts which you then repay at a fixed rate over time. Many debt consolidation loans have terms of three to five years, although some are shorter and some longer.

The moral of the story? It’s better to work sustainably to pay off debt over several years than to throw a lot of money at debt repayment inconsistently. At least if you have a plan in place, there’ll be light at the end of the tunnel.

Staying Motivated to Pay Off Debt on Your Own

Half the battle when it comes to paying off debt is staying engaged mentally. It’s easy to get discouraged every time you receive a collection notice or experience a financial setback. Instead of thinking of debt as an all-or-nothing proposition—either you have debt, or you don’t—think of it as a journey. Celebrate each milestone and use it to fuel your determination.

Many people prefer the debt snowball method in which you order your debts from smallest to largest, then tackle them in ascending order. With each balance you pay off, you can snowball the money you’re saving into paying off your next-largest debt. People say it’s a good motivator because you experience a series of triumphs that keep you forging ahead toward being debt free.

As NerdWallet writes, “If a debt snowball offers the kind of reinforcement that will keep you motivated, it’s worth the premium to get your finances on track.” The premium is that you may pay more in interest over time if you order your debts by size rather than by interest rate. Others find more incentive in the debt avalanche method because it involves knocking debt out from highest to lowest interest, a move that can save you money overall.

Some people prefer to work with a credit counselor or a debt settlement program because it involves someone else helping them stay accountable. Of course, you’ll likely pay a fee to use services like these. Whatever keeps you going, stick to it. Motivation goes a long way in helping you find the patience to stick with whatever debt elimination strategy you ultimately choose.

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Feel Demotivated? A Dopamine Detox is Just What You Need

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Dopamine Detoxes have been going viral for the past few years as a way to resent neurochemicals in the brain, influence the brain’s reward system and allow yourself to rediscover the motivation to do difficult things. 

Founded by Dr Cameron Sepah, a California psychiatrist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for addictions, the Dopamine Detox (a title he warns not to take literally) was meant to explore how people can regain control over their compulsions. 

What’s Dopamine Got to do with Motivation?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, one of the primary feel-good chemicals in the brain responsible in some way for pleasure and happiness. However, dopamine is not directly responsible for the pleasure we feel when we indulge in our favourite activities. Dopamine simply gives us the craving and desire to chase after these things. 

For example, taking your first bite out of a slice of pizza instantly sends feel-good chemicals to your brain. That’s not dopamine. But, the sudden urge to take another bite, almost as if you can’t stop yourself? That’s dopamine. Even thinking about pizza late night when you’re stressed about something else is also dopamine. 

You could say that dopamine is the driving force behind your cravings. But that doesn’t mean that he’s the bad guy here. Dopamine, in humans and animals, is the chemical that forces us to get up and feed ourselves, have sex and procreate, and continue living. That’s why it’s so closely related to motivation. If you don’t have a lot of dopamine in your body, you won’t want to do anything!

Dopamine creates desire, which forces us to chase after things that make us feel good. 

Dopamine is a lousy judge of character.

Now here’s where the problem arises. Dopamine creates cravings and wants for the things that make us feel good, but may not actually be good for us. 

A greasy burger and a healthy protein salad both make you feel good, but in different ways. The burger is instant gratification, sending your taste buds into overdrive and giving your body the sugar and carbs it craves. Soon, you hit a crash or feel bloated from the calorie-dense lunch. 

The salad doesn’t give you the same instant high but could stabilize your blood sugar and give you more energy for the rest of the day. You could have a better mood and feel lighter and better. 

However, dopamine won’t recognise long term effects as much. Dopamine tends to be stronger with the activities that give you instant gratification. 

Similarly, scrolling through social media and reading a book will both trigger feel-good chemicals in the brain. However, dopamine will recognize scrolling through social media as the stronger and more desirable activity since it’s instantly gratifying instead of longer pay-off. 

That’s why the dopamine released when we hear a notification ping is so strong, it almost forces us to reach over and check our phone, no matter what we were doing. 

In fact, even when the stimulus is disappointing, we still want to do it again and again. Haven’t you ever craved junk food so bad that you ate it and then realised it wasn’t as tasty as you thought it would be? Or spent half an hour scrolling through Instagram thinking that you don’t know why you wanted to do it so bad?

That’s dysfunctional dopamine making you want things that you don’t actually want so bad!

Since it’s the driving force behind cravings and wants, we end up chasing the burst of dopamine—just one more slice of pizza, one more episode, one more page to scroll through. 

Also read Dopamine and Friends: The Happy Chemicals in our Brain

Dopamine Dependence

If you feel like your urge to check your phone constantly is so strong that it’s almost become involuntary, you might have a dopamine dependence. A good way to tell when you’re in this situation is when it feels like you’ve lost a lot of control and are mildly addicted to everything. 

Instead of one addiction, you feel like you can’t resist daily temptations. Whether that’s social media, junk food, shopping, drugs/alcohol or any other kind of instantly gratifying activity, you feel like you almost compulsively indulge in them without being able to really make a decision. 

Apart from this, you feel it’s increasingly challenging to stay focused on low dopamine-producing activities. Exercising, Reading a book, and working on your side projects are all things you want to do but keep procrastinating. You lack the motivation to actually do them, even though you want to. 

Dopamine can seriously interfere with motivation. Instead of reprimanding yourself and going into a spiral of self-loathing for not having enough self-control, try to understand your brain so you can regain control over your decisions. 

How to do a Dopamine Detox

  1. Make a list of all the activities and destructive behaviors that you want to avoid. This is personal to you and completely depends on your lifestyle. Dr Sepah mentioned these six compulsive behaviors: emotional eating, excessive internet usage and gaming, gambling and shopping, porn and masturbation, thrill and novelty-seeking, and recreational drugs. However, any other destructive behaviours are also linked to dopamine. 
  2. Create a list of Can Do and Cannot Do

There is a lot of ambiguity over what can be done and what cannot on the dopamine fast. That’s why it’s best to stick with what Dr Sepah mentioned. He said that there is no way to completely eliminate all dopamine-producing activities. There’s no reason to isolate yourself from human interaction, in fact, it’s encouraged! The idea is to reinforce the brain with wholesome activities. 

Spend a quiet day with yourself full of introspection, meditation and sitting with your feelings. If you feel uncomfortable and craving a particular activity, write it down (in a notebook) and articulate this feeling. What exactly is this discomfort? More importantly, what exactly is this desire? Do you really want the (said activity) or do you just want to feel good?

It’s suggested that you keep away from:

  • Eating
  • All technology
  • Listening to music

Most other entertainment forms like gaming, but reading a book is acceptable for a short amount of time.

  1. Keep a fast for 24 hours.

Most dopamine detoxes involve a fast from food just so that you can have a quiet day without stimulation. But if this would interfere with your health or you’re keeping a detox for longer than 24 hours, make sure you plan some simple and healthy meals with nourishment, not taste as the focus.

  1. Be Prepared

Have all your things prepared the night before. This is your notebook to write your thoughts in and to refer the rules you made about what you can do and cannot do. 

Make sure you inform your friends and family that you’ll be undertaking this detox. This will make sure you’re not disturbed and also create a sense of accountability. It should, of course, be an off day from work as well.

Expect to experience extreme boredom and discomfort. The goal is to experience these emotions and understand our cravings and our actual needs. 

You should also take this day to reflect on what you wish you did more of, but never seem to find time for. That can be painting, art, reading more books, cooking, etc. 

  1. Hide your distractions

It might be helpful to hide your devices away. It will likely be challenging enough without your phone within arm’s reach, mocking you. I drained my phone of battery when I did this detox, mostly because by the time I felt tempted to go and charge it so I could use it; I would realise what I’m doing and keep it away. 

If it’s emotional eating you’re doing this detox for, make sure you haven’t kept your favourite foods and snacks in your fridge! Having bland and healthy food around can ensure that you only eat when you’re really hungry, instead of just bored. 

  1. Afterthought

Once the detox is done, don’t jump back into your regular life and abuse all the things that you missed so much! Take some more time just to reflect what the experience was for you. 

Especially try to focus on what you think you learnt, and whether you feel like you’ve regained a sense of control. 

Most people feel a strong sense of pride in themselves once they’re done with the detox. They didn’t expect to be able to take such a big break from their destructive habits. Taking the break makes you realise how easy it might be to do this regularly. 

What the Dopamine Detox will NOT do

Contrary to popular belief, the dopamine detox doesn’t actually increase or decrease dopamine levels in the body. It will not make your life more enjoyable! Taking a break from using social media doesn’t mean that you will enjoy social media more afterwards. 

The reason for this is that Dopamine doesn’t actually affect the pleasure we experience. It only controls how much we want that pleasure.

You might find that social media is just as exciting or dull as it was before, and junk food just as tasty or gross. However, what has changed is the urge you feel to consume it is not as strong as before. 

Next time you hear the notification ping, you might get the shot of dopamine in your brain to reach out for it, but you’ll be able to take a moment and think about whether you want to act on it or not. 

You’ll also find it easier to indulge in lower dopamine-producing activities, like reading books or working. Dopamine detoxes are very effective in training the mind to do seemingly difficult tasks by reducing the need to indulge in the easy ones. 

With fewer urges to indulge in destructive habits, you’ll have more time and motivation to do the other things in your life that require your attention. This is a good time to refer to the list you made of all the activities you wish you had time for.

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Dopamine and Friends: The Happy Chemicals in our Brain

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Most of us have heard the word Dopamine or Serotonin. They’re often used in popular culture, or described as ‘The Happy Chemicals’. While this is mostly accurate, there are four neurotransmitters (chemical substances) released in the brain that are responsible for the experience of happiness or any other positive emotion. 

Even those familiar with the Dopamine and Serotonin often use them interchangeably, even though they are activated in entirely different activities and circumstances. 

We’re all in the pursuit of happiness in one way or another. One of the core reasons why people begin to try and improve their lives and themselves is so that they can be happier and experience a greater quality of being. 

Knowing about the four chemicals that produce the happiness sensation in the body can almost act as a formula to get your result!

DOSE

Here are the four chemicals that play an integral role in the experience of happiness. 

  • Dopamine
  • Oxytocin
  • Serotonin
  • Endorphins

Dopamine

Dopamine is released in the brain everytime you expect a reward or experience pleasure. This means a bite out of a pizza slice immediately releases dopamine which allows you to enjoy it so much. 

But dopamine doesn’t just stop there. It also has a powerful effect on making you want to take another bite of the pizza, and another, and another. That’s why dopamine is integrally involved in addictions. 

Dopamine can also be linked to motivation. Your brain begins to only want to do the activities that will release the most dopamine. So if eating a pizza releases more dopamine than a salad, that’s why it’s so tough to eat healthy. Similarly, watching a youtube video or scrolling through instagram also gives instant gratification: release of dopamine in the brain. Doing your work or assignments are lower dopamine releasing activities (at first!) which can unmotivate you.

But dopamine isn’t the end-all. We don’t need to blindly listen to this chemical. In fact, if you choose to eat that salad and do your work, you’ll experience an even higher level of dopamine much later after accomplishment: and be proud of yourself too!

Why is it connected to happiness? Dopamine lets you enjoy the good things in life. In cases of mental illnesses like depression, and substance abuse; brains that have severely low levels of dopamine experience anhedonia which is the inability to feel pleasure of any kind. They no longer have the motivation or desire to eat or move or do anything.

Oxytocin

Known as the love drug or even the ‘cuddle hormone’, oxytocin is released with physical contact with loved ones, even if you’re petting your dog! Oxytocin levels in a person can also have a link to how much love they received as children from their parents. People with low oxytocin levels have shown tendencies to feel hostile and suspicious of other people in their environment. 

Oxytocin is integral in our brain’s perception of the social relationships we’ve formed. In a study, a group of men were given a dose of oxytocin and asked to describe their relationship with their mothers. The men who already had a secure and good relationship with their mothers were able to recollect instances and examples of how caring and understanding she was. 

However, men who didn’t have a good relationship with their mothers were able to explain in detail how she wasn’t caring enough or didn’t love him as much as she should have. 

Oxytocin helps us identify and articulate our feelings about all social relationships. In another study dutch students given a dose of oxytocin, they displayed strong preference for Dutch names and aversion to Arab and German names. Oxytocin helps us identify with our group and feel a strong connection and sense of belonging with them. This also means a sense of animosity towards those that don’t ‘belong’. 

So how does oxytocin relate to happiness? You know that feeling when you’re with a friend and laughing uncontrollably about something? That moment can feel like true joy and happiness, and it’s all because of the release of oxytocin. In fact when people say ‘Laughter is the best medicine’, they’re not entirely wrong!

Serotonin

When most people use the term Dopamine for happiness, they actually are referring to serotonin. Serotonin is responsible for mood stabilising, and the feeling of well-being and well, happiness!

But Serotonin does more than this. Common belief is that Serotonin is only in the brain, when actually more than 70% of serotonin receptors are in the digestive tract. Serotonin is closely involved in how regular your bowel movements are, nausea, blood clotting and sleep. In short, the optimal levels of serotonin will ensure smooth bodily functioning. 

Too less serotonin in the body can make the person experience depression amongst other mental illnesses, including suicidal tendencies. 

High levels of serotonin doesn’t equal more happy: nerve cell dysfunctioning and high blood pressure, diarrhea and fever can be some of the symptoms as you’re on the brink of serotonin syndrome. 

Most recreational drugs increase levels of serotonin in the body, which is why people experience the incredible ‘high’ and happiness while on them. A good case in point is MDMA, which increases serotonin levels drastically for the high and subsequently depletes resources for the next day or two. That’s why the ‘downer’ of MDMA is said to be so awful: even nicknamed ‘Suicidal Tuesdays’ for what happens to people after rolling on Molly on the weekend. 

But even apart from illegal drugs, serotonin can be regulated to a great extent by the regular healthy individual. Exercising and being active can help regulate the serotonin in the body, as well as spending time in nature and practicing meditation. Getting sun exposure is a big factor: since Vitamin D levels and Serotonin are closely related!

Endorphins

Next time somebody tells you about a runner’s high, they’re really talking about the release of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are also more popular in pop culture, commonly linked to exercise.

They also are the body’s natural painkillers. In fact, endorphins have a very similar effect to opioids! They work similarly, relieving pain and flooding the body with a feel-good sensation. 

Endorphins take around 30 minutes to be activated. So while any form of exercise is good for you (including taking the stairs instead of the elevator), if it’s endorphins you’re after, you’ll want a good work-out session. 

Many people experiencing mild forms of mental illness as well as periods of low feelings benefit enormously from pursuing a sport or physical activity. 

For bonus chemicals: don’t just exercise, exercise with friends and sunshine! Then you’ve tick marked all four D.O.S.E and have hacked the code for happiness.

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Do Video Games Relieve Stress?

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We live in one of the most stressful times today. If the global pandemic wouldn’t be enough, we also have to bear the effects of the financial and employment crisis it has caused, not to mention the many other issues we have to face today. Under these conditions, it’s not surprising that stress, anxiety, and depression are commonplace. 

The World Health Organization has called stress the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century” a few years ago, pointing out its many negative health effects, ranging from digestive discomfort to headaches, high blood pressure, and in the long term, heart disease, diabetes, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. This makes stress relief one of the most important preventive measures one can take. 

Reach for the game

When they go home after a hard day at work (or finally close Zoom, Microsoft Office, and Skype after a long day at the home office), many people like to unwind by playing video games. Is this a good way to de-stress? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Games that involve fighting, shooting – violent games, in general – seem to have the opposite effect. At first, that is. Playing these games can be especially stressful – aside from the difficulty of the game, multiplayer titles also add the occasional fumbling of the teammates who are always blamed for losing. But once the game is over, the stress disappears, leaving relief, a sense of achievement and relaxation in its wake.

Researchers around the world have studied the efficacity of video games as a means of recovery after experiencing stressful situations and found that not only did they reduce the effects of stress but also helped some subjects develop healthier coping mechanisms.

The more casual, the better

Casual games are all around us today, available at every major app marketplace, every online casino, everywhere we look. Slot machines are the games available in the greatest variety – online casinos have libraries of hundreds of them, ready to be played either for real or for fun, with virtual funds. These games fit into the “hyper-casual” category because a player can learn the rules and play them within seconds, and can stop at any time without sacrificing any progress.

A group of researchers from the East Carolina University’s Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies have looked at the effects of casual games on stress and recovery. They followed a group of students using popular casual games and compared their reactions to a controlled group who were engaged in a web-based activity similar in physical and mental nature to the game-playing groups. 

The results were astounding. Each of the games studied had different effects on the subjects’ brain (reflected by EEG readings) – all of them improved their mood, reduced their anger, significantly reduced their psychological tension, and depression.

Compared to simply relaxing, casual and hyper-casual games are much more effective at reducing stress and its effects. Depending on the type of the game itself, the effects can differ – but they all contribute to stress relief.

Video games are, indeed, a good way to reduce stress. And for many people in these trying times, they are more important than ever as a means of relieving stress – and, in the long term, in helping protect our health.

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