Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Next Avenue Article: Think Old Age Means Decline? Then It Probably Will

 Image result for next Avenue

I recently wrote an article for Next Avenue: Think Old Age Means Decline? Then It Probably Will. 

Notice the older people around you who are living happily, who think of age merely as passage through time — those who expect to continue to enjoy good health, enough energy to do what pleases them, who figure life is meant to be lived fully, until the day their expiration date comes due. Use them as your benchmark of what life can be like for you as you travel through your 60s, 70s and beyond.

For the entire article, here's the link: http://www.nextavenue.org/think-old-age-means-decline-probably-will/.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Want to Stay Young? Stay Busy

Staying “young” mentally is something you work at by keeping busy and active, and that work pays off.
What if ‘busyness’ is kind of like a fountain of youth? What if being busy, staying very active is a way to stay young?”

A groundbreaking study from The Dallas Lifespan Brain Study of 300 older individuals between the ages of 50 and 89, found that the brains of people who were busy, worked better—regardless of their age: “Busier people tend to have better cognition, especially episodic memory. Our findings offer encouragement to maintain active, busy lifestyles throughout middle and late adulthood.” The study noted that busier people could reason better, had better working memory, better vocabulary and had better ability to remember specific events from the past.

Since mental decline is something many of us fear as we go from 50 to 60 to 70 and beyond, this is extremely valuable information. Get busy, and you can keep those brains humming along just fine.

In practical terms, take a second look at retirement. Maybe the fantasy of sitting on a beach sipping pina coladas for those 20 or 30 or 40 years post-retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe you’d be better off sipping a pina coladas on an occasional Friday evening after work.

If your job is not-so-pleasant and you can afford to opt out of the working world, take on a volunteer role: There are volunteer organizations to fit every conceivable interest. There are even online volunteer matching organizations that help you find the best volunteer fit for you. And of course there are hobbies you never had time for, physical activity to keep your body healthy and time even to start a second career.

The Dallas Lifespan Brain Study points out that the more opportunities to learn and the more we are in contact with different people and situations, the more we stimulate our brains. A mix of activities--some creative, some physical, some giving back, some just plain fun—can be a wonderful approach to a busy, meaningful and rewarding long life.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

How to Tame the Stress Monster

You bury your head in your hands. You’d really like to run screaming from your cubicle, but for one, that would get you instantly fired, for two, your shoes are definitely not made for running. But the stress! Not only does your job stress you out, but there’s your family, friends, chores, errands, social media to keep up with – AARGH! It’s enough to make a grown man/woman weep.

So off you go to yoga/pilates (how to make the time for that is yet another stressor), or meditation class, or get up an hour earlier to run, anything to relieve the tension that seems to invade your every waking moment. I take that back – your every moment - because getting a good night’s sleep is a rarity, and even in your dreams it seems you’re stressed.

You think “Wouldn’t it be great to be a trust fund baby, or be able to take early retirement? Anything so I could just sit on a beach, drink pina coladas, and enjoy the view the rest of my days, stress free.” Well, not so much. I don’t know of any studies on trust fund babies, but certainly the studies on who’s happiest in retirement show that those who retire into “sit on the beach” mode end up dying but a few years later. Whereas those who retire from a job, find interests that stimulate them and are busier than ever, end up thriving and living long happy lives.

So it’s not really stress that’s the culprit, it’s how you look at it, and how you respond to it. Basically, stress is nothing more than stimulation, and as the studies on retirees who thrive show, you need stimulation in order to stay alive – mentally, physically and emotionally.

Stimulation is a good thing! Too much of it is a bad thing. And that’s generally what we’re referring to when we cry out, “I’m stressed!!” When you’re feeling “stressed” what’s really happening is you’re overwhelmed with too much stimulation from the outside world.

Why does that matter? Because there’s a world of difference between how you can deal with being overwhelmed by the situations in your life versus being “stressed.” “Stressed” is an emotional response to a situation. So you look for ways to soothe your painful emotions: thus the yoga/pilates, meditation, running and so forth. All of which are great and supportive of your overall health and well-being, but may not do much to alleviate what’s actually overwhelming you.

The first thing to do when you’re feeling “I’m stressed!!” is to take a deep breath, and ask yourself, “What’s overwhelming me?” “Everything!” is not a helpful answer. Break it down into specifics. Because it’s only by looking at the specifics of the situations stressing you out that you can deal with them; undo, if you will, the overwhelm.

Secondly, check your boundaries. Most overwhelm comes out of our failure to set good boundaries. Whether it’s letting your boss know that you’re happy to do overtime one day a week but not more, or informing your kids that you will no longer be cleaning their bathrooms – they’re old enough to do it themselves and here’s how, or telling your S.O. that you appreciate his/her respecting that 15 minutes of quiet you need upon coming home before launching into the evening drill, all these are ways of setting boundaries and reducing overwhelm.

Thirdly, prioritize. Determine what’s the most important thing you want to accomplish in your job, with your relationship, your friends, your family, yourself! Then schedule your time first and foremost around that most important thing, and stick to it. Let everything else take second, third, fourth place – and if need be, eliminate some activities altogether. Nowhere is it written that if you don’t update your Facebook page every day, life as you know it is over. Try once a week, or once a month, whatever fits. Maybe your top relationship priority is your weekly date night. Great! Don’t let anything get in the way of it, and “date” with gusto.

It’s all about taking charge of your life. About allowing the stimulation that feels good to you, while actively, proactively, setting boundaries and prioritizing such that you don’t take on more stimulation than is right for you, and as a result, spiral down into overwhelm.

Anytime you feel that “I’m stressed!” emotion creeping up on you, stop! Remember it’s but an emotional response, and you can greatly diminish your stress by dealing directly with the situations that birthed that emotion.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Messages of Hope: Penguins, Blankets and Smiles

With all the shootings, wars, and violence in the world, not to mention the heat of the our current political environment, it’s easy to lose sight of the good.

Yet good there is, always. Good people striving to make the world a better place regardless of the turmoil of the moment.

Two stunning examples come to mind: 

            Weighted blankets – blankets that weigh 10% of the person’s body weight, made of what looks like small bean bags sewn together. For reasons science can’t yet figure out, these blankets are helping vets with PTSD and who are suffering from horrendous nightmares, children with autism and other sensory disorders, and elderly persons with insomnia all get a good night’s sleep.

            Middle-schoolers in Connecticut came to the rescue of a penguin with an injured leg. They first made a 3D printed “boot” (which looks like a wide band just above its left foot) with the help of ACT, a 3D systems partner (and the support of their local aquarium). Then they constructed an even lighter-weight boot on their recently acquired high-school’s 3D printer allowing the beleaguered penguin more mobility.

These innovations may be beyond some of our ability to create (certainly waaay beyond what I could come up with!), but there are a multitude of ways to make the world we live in a better place; ways that take little time, little or no money at all, just a moment’s thought.

For example, smile. Smile at a stranger, smile at your spouse, smile at your dog/cat, smile at your boss (!), smile at a co-worker, smile at the barista, smile at whoever crosses your path. For no good reason. Not because they did anything special, just because a smile is such an easy gift to give and receive.

Oh, once in a while there will be someone who’s too deeply mired in a private sorrow or difficulty to receive your smile, but that doesn’t matter. Somewhere within them it may resonate, and if it doesn’t, nothing lost on your end.

Say “thank you.” A lot. Often. Not just because someone did something especially nice for you, but just ‘cause. Like thanking the cashier for bagging your items. Or your teenager for taking out the trash (it doesn’t matter that you had to remind her 15 times, thank her anyway). Or your spouse for giving you the opportunity to chill for a few minutes before diving in to the evening’s chores. Or the flight attendant as you get off the plane. Or anyone else in your vicinity.

People love to be appreciated, and there’s far too little appreciation that comes our way in any given day. Be an appreciator! Your every message of hope and good matters.

Go for the gold, combine your thanks with a smile, and you will indeed have made the world a better place--if only by reminding yourself and others, how good this amazing thing called “life on planet Earth” really can be.