Free Courses to Maintain Mental & Physical Health During a Pandemic

As I write this, the smoke from the numerous forest fires across California are making the air quality terrible, so we are being told to stay inside. However, the heatwave is making it insufferable to *be* inside. And we also have to be wary of COVID-19 and wear a mask. You could say this is a slightly stressful situation. And a lot of us are dealing with even more than that--job stability, rent, and on and on. Just typing this made me anxious!

During this time we should try not to neglect our mental health. Fortunately Coursera offers free online courses about Mental Health and Well-Being.




The Coursera video above comes from a Facebook live event that features Yale University’s Laurie Santos, who teaches Coursera’s Science of Well-Being course. This 30 minute Q&A dives right in to our current situation, with Santos outlining a protocol for mental health that should be as much a part of your regimen as wearing a mask and washing your hands with soap (while singing Happy Birthday to yourself, don’t forget.)

Here's a top ten of Coursera's most popular health & well-being courses to check out:

Santos answers questions from viewers, covering topics like avoiding tension and arguments with our loved ones, staying informed on the world without creating more anxiety, how can frontline/healthcare workers combat anxiety, how to keep yourself positive when living alone without family or friends, how to keep productive and healthy at work with the threat of layoffs, how to look for a new job after being laid off because of COVID, how to help your child who is missing their school friends, how do we create good experiences to create good memories, what we can do about sleep problems, how to care for family members with COVID while also working a job, and how to show random acts of kindness during this time (which is what Santos covers often in her Happiness Lab podcast).

Overall, focus on self-compassion, Santos says, which has to be the starting point for all of this. When you enroll in these courses, Coursera gives you two options. You can enroll as a paid student and get a certificate at the end. Or choose to "audit" the course (as shown here) and the course is free. Just like in college! All the learning, none of the blue book essays!

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Building Your Resilience: Finding Meaning in Adversity–Take a Free & Timely Course Online

The Great Courses has made available a free and rather timely course--Building Your Resilience: Finding Meaning in Adversity. Divided into 24 lectures and taught by Molly Birkholm, the course gets introduced with the following text:

Recent research shows that we grow into our best and most joyful selves not when we avoid our problems but when we embrace them, confident that we are resilient enough to work through them to an appropriate resolution. Our problems are an important part of our path.

Resilience is our ability to physically, emotionally, and mentally bounce back from adverse circumstances. Without it, we would be down for the count every time we ran into a problem. Stuck in traffic and late for a meeting? It’s your resilience that allows you to make the necessary phone calls and keep moving forward, confident that you can handle this stressful situation as it evolves. Without it, you’d make a U-turn and give up. Recovering from the flu or recent surgery? It’s your resilience that helps you take care of yourself appropriately and look forward to a better future. Our capacity to thrive in life depends directly on our resilience.

Sharing her own fascinating journey, as well as the latest research by neurologists and psychologists, trauma specialist Molly Birkholm shows us how to gauge our current level of resilience and improve from there. In Building Your Resilience: Finding Meaning in Adversity, you’ll learn how all of our challenges—from everyday stresses to life-altering traumas—can bring wisdom and growth. In 17 fascinating classes and 7 “hands-on” practice sessions, you’ll learn about and experience the process of building the inner calm and clarity of mind that create greater resilience. With Ms. Birkholm’s warm and optimistic demeanor, you’ll feel her encouragement every step of the way as you move toward building your best and most fulfilling life.

Watch all 24 lectures above, or over on YouTube. Building Your Resilience: Finding Meaning in Adversity will be added to our collection, 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Find more courses in The Great Courses catalogue here.

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How to Find Emotional Strength & Resilience During COVID-19: Advice from Elizabeth Gilbert, Jack Kornfield, Susan David & Other Experts

How to Find Emotional Strength & Resilience During COVID-19: Advice from Elizabeth Gilbert, Jack Kornfield, Susan David & Other Experts

There are many roads through the coronavirus crisis. One is denial, which only makes things worse. Another is service and self-sacrifice, a choice we honor in the medical professionals putting their lives at risk every day. For most of us, however, the best course of action is non-action—staying home and isolating ourselves from others. Days bleed into weeks, weeks into months. It can seem like life has come to a complete halt. It hasn’t, of course. All sorts of things are happening inside us. We don’t know how long this will last; current courses of action don’t bode well. What do we do with the fear, anger, loneliness, grief, and buzzing, ever-present anxiety?

Maybe the first thing to do is to accept that we have those feelings and feel them, instead of stuffing them down, covering them up, or pushing them onto someone else. Then we can recognize we aren't by any means alone. That’s easier said than done in quarantine, but psychologists and inspirational writers and speakers like Elizabeth Gilbert have come together under the auspices of the TED Connect series, hosted by the head of TED Chris Anderson, to help.




TED, known for showcasing “thinkers and doers [giving] the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less),” has wisely recognized the need to dig much deeper. Anderson and head of curation Helen Walters’ conversation with Gilbert, above, runs a little over an hour.

As for that ceaseless anxiety, Gilbert suggests we should all give ourselves “a measure of mercy and compassion.” We might feel like we need permission to do so in societies that demand we constantly justify our existence. But admitting vulnerability is the beginning of strength. Then we find constructive ways forward. The kind of resilience we can build in isolation is the kind that can outlast a crisis. Still, it is hard won. As Anderson says above, in addition to the external battle we must fight with the virus and our own governments, “there’s this other battle as well, that is probably equally as consequential. It’s a battle that’s going on right inside our minds.”

Rather than killing time waiting fitfully for some acceptable form of normal to return, we can build what psychologist Susan David calls “emotional courage.” In conversation with TED’s Whitney Pennington Rogers, above, David reveals that she herself has good reason to fear: her husband is a physician. She also understands the consequences of a collective denial of suffering and death. “The circumstance that we are in now is not something that we asked for, but life is calling on every single one of us to move into the place of wisdom in ourselves… into the space of wisdom and fortitude, solidarity, community, courage.” We move into that space by recognizing that “life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility.”

Themes of courage and connection come up again and again in other TED Connects interviews, such as that above with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and below with author Priya Parker. Elsewhere on the internet, you’ll find similar kinds of advice.

On the Tim Ferris show, you can hear interviews with Jack Kornfield on finding peace in the pandemic, Esther Perel on navigating relationships in quarantine, and Ryan Holiday on using Stoicism to choose “alive time over dead time.”

Stoicism has gathered a particularly rich store of wisdom about how to live in crisis. In his own meditation on isolation, Michel de Montaigne drew on the Stoics in advising readers to “reserve a backshop, wholly our own and entirely free, wherein to settle our true liberty, our principle solitude and retreat…. We have a mind pliable in itself, that will be company; that has wherewithal to attack and to defend, to receive and to give: let us not then fear in this solitude to languish under an uncomfortable vacuity.” In other words, the road through isolation, though fraught with painful emotions and uncertainties, can be, if we choose, one of significant personal and collective growth.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Footage from the Psychology Experiment That Shocked the World: Milgram’s Obedience Study (1961)

For decades following World War II,  the world was left wondering how the atrocities of the Holocaust could have been perpetrated in the midst of—and, most horrifically, by—a modern and civilized society. How did people come to engage in a willing and systematic extermination of their neighbors? Psychologists, whose field had grown into a grudgingly respected science by the midpoint of the 20th century, were eager to tackle the question.

In 1961, Yale University’s Stanley Milgram began a series of infamous obedience experiments. While Adolf Eichmann’s trial was underway in Jerusalem (resulting in Hannah Arendt’s five-piece reportage, which became one of The New Yorker magazine’s most dramatic and controversial article series), Milgram began to suspect that human nature was more straightforward than earlier theorists had imagined; he wondered, as he later wrote, "Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?"




In the most famous his experiments, Milgram ostensibly recruited participants to take part in a study assessing the effects of pain on learning. In reality, he wanted to see how far he could push the average American to administer painful electric shocks to a fellow human being.

When participants arrived at his lab, Milgram’s assistant would ask them, as well as a second man, to draw slips of paper to receive their roles for the experiment. In fact, the second man was a confederate; the participant would always draw the role of “teacher,” and the second man would invariably be made the “learner.”


The participants received instructions to teach pairs of words to the confederate. After they had read the list of words once, the teachers were to test the learner’s recall by reading one word, and asking the learner to name one of the four words associated with it. The experimenter told the participants to punish any learner mistakes by pushing a button and administering an electric shock; while they could not see the learner, participants could hear his screams. The confederate, of course, remained unharmed, and merely acted out in pain, with each mistake costing him an additional 15 volts of punishment. In case participants faltered in their scientific resolve, the experimenter was nearby to urge them, using four authoritative statements:

Please continue.

The experiment requires that you continue.

It is absolutely essential that you continue.

You have no other choice, you must go on.

In a jarring set of findings, Milgram found that 26 of the 40 participants obeyed instructions, administering shocks all the way from “Slight Shock,” to “Danger: Severe Shock.” The final two ominous switches were simply marked “XXX.” Even when the learners would pound on the walls in agony after seemingly receiving 300 volts, participants persisted. Eventually, the learner simply stopped responding.

Although they followed instructions, participants repeatedly expressed their desire to stop the experiment, and showed clear signs of extreme discomfort:

“I observed a mature and initially poised businessman enter the laboratory smiling and confident. Within 20 minutes he was reduced to a twitching, stuttering wreck, who was rapidly approaching a point of nervous collapse… At one point he pushed his fist into his forehead and muttered: “Oh God, let’s stop it.” And yet he continued to respond to every word of the experimenter, and obeyed to the end." 

Milgram’s study set off a powder keg whose impact remains felt to this day. Ethically, many objected to the deception and the lack of adequate participant debriefing. Others claimed that Milgram overemphasized human nature’s propensity for blind obedience, with the experimenter often urging participants to continue many more times than the four stock phrases allowed.

In the clip above, you can watch original footage from Milgram’s  experiment, frightening in its insidious simplicity. (See a full documentary on the study below.) The man administering the shock grows increasingly uncomfortable with his part in the proceedings, and almost walks out, asking “Who’s going to take the responsibility for anything that happens to that gentleman?” When the experimenter replies, “I’m responsible,” the man, absolving himself, continues. As the person receiving the shocks grows increasingly panicked, complaining about his heart and asking to be let out, the participant makes his objections known but appears paralyzed, sheepishly turning to the experimenter, unable to leave.

Although Milgram’s work has drawn critics, his results endure. While changing the experiment’s procedure may alter compliance (e.g., having the experimenter speak to participants over the phone rather than remain in the same room throughout the experiment decreased obedience rates), replications have tended to confirm Milgram’s initial findings. Whether one is urged once or a dozen times, people tend to take on the yoke of authority as absolute, relinquishing their personal agency in the pain they impart. Human nature, it seems, has no Manichean leanings—merely a pliant bent.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in November 2013.

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Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based science and culture writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman

The Visionary Mystical Art of Carl Jung: See Illustrated Pages from The Red Book

Carl Jung’s Liber Novus, better known as The Red Book, has only recently come to light in a complete English translation, published by Norton in a 2009 facsimile edition and a smaller “reader’s edition” in 2012. The years since have seen several exhibitions of the book, which “could pass for a Bible rendered by a medieval monk,” writes art critic Peter Frank, “especially for the care with which Jung entered his writing as ornate Gothic script.”

Jung “refused to think of himself as an ‘artist’” but “it’s no accident the Liber Novus has been exhibited in museums, or functioned as the nucleus of ‘Encyclopedic Palace,’ the survey of visionary art in the 2013 Venice Biennale.” Jung’s elaborate paintings show him “every bit the artist the medieval monk or Persian courtier was; his art happened to be dedicated not to the glory of God or king, but that of the human race.”




One could more accurately say that Jung’s book was dedicated to the mystical unconscious, a much more nebulous and oceanic category. The “oceanic feeling”—a phrase coined in 1927 by French playwright Romain Rolland to describe mystical oneness—so annoyed Sigmund Freud that he dismissed it as infantile regression.

Freud’s antipathy to mysticism, as we know, did not dissuade Jung, his onetime student and admirer, from diving in and swimming to the deepest depths. The voyage began long before he met his famous mentor. At age 11, Jung later wrote in 1959, “I found that I had been in a mist, not knowing how to differentiate myself from things; I was just one among many things.”

Jung considered his elaborate dream/vision journal—kept from 1913 to 1930, then added to sporadically until 1961—“the central work in his oeuvre,” says Jung scholar Sonu Shamdasani in the Rubin Museum introduction above. “It is literally his most important work.”

And yet it took Dr. Shamdasani “three years to convince Jung’s family to bring the book out of hiding,” notes NPR. “It took another 13 years to translate it.” Part of the reason his heirs left the book hidden in a Swiss vault for half a century may be evident in the only portion of the Red Book to appear in Jung’s lifetime. “The Seven Sermons of the Dead.”

Jung had this text privately printed in 1916 and gave copies to select friends and family members. He composed it in 1913 in a period of Gnostic studies, during which he entered into visionary trance states, transcribing his visions in notebooks called the “Black Books,” which would later be rewritten in The Red Book.

You can see a page of Jung’s meticulously hand-lettered manuscript above. The “Sermons,” he wrote in a later interpretation, came to him during an actual haunting:

The atmosphere was thick, believe me! Then I knew that something had to happen. The whole house was filled as if there were a crowd present, crammed full of spirits. They were packed deep right up to the door, and the air was so thick it was scarcely possible to breathe. As for myself, I was all a-quiver with the question: "For God's sake, what in the world is this?" Then they cried out in chorus, "We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not what we sought/' That is the beginning of the Septem Sermones. 

The strange, short “sermons” are difficult to categorize. They are awash in Gnostic theology and occult terms like “pleroma.” The great mystical oneness of oceanic feeling also took on a very sinister aspect in the demigod Abraxas, who “begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness, in the same word and in the same act. Wherefore is Abraxas terrible.”

There are tedious, didactic passages, for converts only, but much of Jung’s writing in the “Seven Sermons,” and throughout The Red Book, is filled with strange obscure poetry, complemented by his intense illustrations. Jung “took on the similarly stylized and beautiful manners of non-western word-image conflation,” writes Frank, “including Persian miniature painting and east Asian calligraphy.”

If The Red Book is, as Shamdasani claims, Jung’s most important work—and Jung himself, though he kept it quiet, seemed to think it was—then we may in time come to think of him as not only as an inspirer of eccentric artists, but as an eccentric artist himself, on par with the great illuminators and visionary mystic poet/painters.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

When Salvador Dali Met Sigmund Freud, and Changed Freud’s Mind About Surrealism (1938)

The close associations between Surrealism and Freudian psychoanalysis were liberally encouraged by the most famous proponent of the movement, Salvador Dalí, who considered himself a devoted follower of Freud. We don't have to wonder what the founder of psychoanalysis would have thought of his self-appointed protégé.

We have them recording, in their own words, their impressions of their one and only meeting—which took place in July of 1938, at Freud’s home in London. Freud was 81, Dali 34. We also have sketches Dali made of Freud while the two sat together. Their memories of events, shall we say, differ considerably, or at least they seemed totally bewildered by each other. (Freud pronounced Dali a "fanatic.")




In any case, There's absolutely no way the encounter could have lived up to Dali’s expectations, as the Freud Museum London notes:

[Dalí] had already travelled to Vienna several times but failed to make an introduction. Instead, he wrote in his autobiography, he spent his time having “long and exhaustive imaginary conversations” with his hero, at one point fantasizing that he “came home with me and stayed all night clinging to the curtains of my room in the Hotel Sacher.”

Freud was certainly not going to indulge Dalí’s peculiar fantasies, but what the artist really wanted was validation of his work—and maybe his very being. “Dali had spent his teens and early twenties reading Freud’s works on the unconscious,” writes Paul Gallagher at Dangerous Minds, “on sexuality and The Interpretation of Dreams.” He was obsessed. Finally meeting Freud in '38, he must have felt “like a believer might feel when coming face-to-face with God.”

He brought with him his latest painting The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, and an article he had published on paranoia. This, especially, Dali hoped would gain the respect of the elderly Freud.

Trying to interest him, I explained that it was not a surrealist diversion, but was really an ambitiously scientific article, and I repeated the title, pointing to it at the same time with my finger. Before his imperturbable indifference, my voice became involuntarily sharper and more insistent.

On being shown the painting, Freud supposedly said, “in classic paintings I look for the unconscious, but in your paintings I look for the conscious.” The comment stung, though Dali wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. But he took it as further evidence that the meeting was a bust. Sketching Freud in the drawing below, he wrote, “Freud’s cranium is a snail! His brain is in the form of a spiral—to be extracted with a needle!”

One might see why Freud was suspicious of Surrealists, “who have apparently chosen me as their patron saint,” he wrote to Stefan Zweig, the mutual friend who introduced him to Dali. In 1921, poet and Surrealist manifesto writer André Breton “had shown up uninvited on [Freud’s] doorstep.” Unhappy with his reception, Breton published a “bitter attack,” calling Freud an “old man without elegance” and later accused Freud of plagiarizing him.

Despite the memory of this nastiness, and Freud’s general distaste for modern art, he couldn't help but be impressed with Dali. “Until then,” he wrote to Zweig, “I was inclined to look upon the surrealists… as absolute (let us say 95 percent, like alcohol), cranks. That young Spaniard, however, with his candid and fanatical eyes, and his undeniable technical mastery, has made me reconsider my opinion.”

via Dangerous Minds

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Can You Spot Liars Through Their Body Language? A Former FBI Agent Breaks Down the Clues in Non-Verbal Communication

Can you spot a liar? We all know people who think they can, and very often they claim to be able to do so by reading "body language." Clearing one's throat, touching one's mouth, crossing one's arms, looking away: these and other such gestures, they say, indicate on the part of the speaker a certain distance from the truth. In the WIRED "Tradecraft" video above, however former FBI special agent Joe Navarro more than once pronounces ideas about such physical lie indicators "nonsense." And having spent 25 years working to identify people presenting themselves falsely to the world — "my job was to catch spies," he says — he should know, at the very least, what isn't a tell.

Not that all the throat-clearing and arm-crossing doesn't indicate something. Navarro calls such behaviors "self-soothers," physical actions we use to pacify ourselves in stressful moments. Of course, even if self-soothers provide no useful information about whether a person is telling the truth, that doesn't mean they provide no useful information at all.




But Navarro's career has taught him that actions decisively indicating deception are much more specific, and without relevant knowledge completely illegible: take the suspected spy he had under surveillance who gave the game away just by leaving a flower shop holding a bouquet facing not upward but downward, "how they carry flowers in eastern Europe."

For the most part, detecting a liar requires a great deal of what Navarro calls "face time," a necessity when it comes to observing the full range of and patterns in an individual's forms of non-verbal communication. In the video he analyzes footage of a poker game, the kind of setting that heightens our awareness of such non-verbal communication. At the table we all know to put on a "poker face" and shut our mouths, but even when we say nothing, Navarro emphasizes, we're constantly transmitting a high quantity of information about ourselves. Whatever the setting, it comes through in how we dress, how we walk, how we carry ourselves — especially if we think it doesn't. In the eyes of those who know how to interpret this information, all the world becomes a poker game.

Navarro is the author of two books on this subject: The Dictionary of Body Language: A Field Guide to Human Behavior and What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People. For a contrarian point of view that challenges the idea that we can ever read people accurately, see Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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