Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The 20-Minute Rule


My resolution for the New Year is actually very simple: The 20 Minute Rule. It means I no longer allow myself to worry over anything for more than 20 minutes. Anything. Not the state of my health, finances, relationships, the world – anything.

Why should this rank as a valid resolution? Well, because too often whatever the worry is can all too easily morph into a perfectly awful, depressing, miserable whole day. I have done that more than once, and it never made the worrisome thing go away. So, yes, for me at least, a valid resolution.

Sounds easy, right? Huh! Try it. Dang. Because it’s no fair stopping the worry about, say, the balance in my checking account after 20 minutes, only to start worrying about it again an hour or two later. Certainly not about the same dismal balance. Why 20 minutes? Because it often takes me about 20 minutes to realize I’ve been obsessively worrying about something. . .

The good news is that worrying is a habit, as anything else we do repetitively, and habits are made, therefore can be broken. Or, more accurately stated – developed, and therefore allowed to devolve into nothingness once again.

That being said, sometimes whatever I’m worrying about requires attention. Attention, yes, not worry. Proactive problem solving is the best alternative to worry.

Think of worry as an attention-getter. Something that alerts you to a situation that requires your attention. Not your fear, anguish, despair or anger – but your attention! Which in turn can lead to effective problem-solving to deal with whatever is causing you to worry.

After all, when you’re worrying about the weather, what you’re really worrying about is if you can get to work OK, or if your kids took their rain gear, or if the roof will leak. All of those are things about which you can take proactive steps, thus quashing the worry. The weather itself? Nah. That you can’t do much about. So don’t try. Let worry get your attention focused on what you can do something about, and go for it.

Adopt The 20 Minute Rule for this stellar New Year, and watch what happens. Worry will vanish, and you will feel empowered once again.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

How to Make Holiday Magic

The holidays can sometimes feel like one long list of obligations. You have to figure out which gifts to get for whom and how much you can afford to spend. You have to write holiday cards/notes/emails at least to some people, once again figuring out what to whom.

You have to figure out which relatives/friends you have to entertain, spend time with, tolerate, try not to argue with. You have to travel at the worst possible time of year given weather, traffic jams and airport/train station chaos. You have to jam your ordinary chores in with all the not-ordinary chores such as when are you going to find all that time to go shopping? Not to mention dealing with demanding, unruly, hyper children/grandchildren all along the way . . .

Ah, the holidays! But here’s the thing: the more you come at the holidays with a “have to” “got to” approach, the more harried and stressed you will be. Instead, if you adopt a “want to” “get to” approach, everything will go much better for you.

So before you dash off into the rain/sleet/snow/traffic to do whatever it is, take a moment to sit down and reflect.

What do you want to do in terms of gift-giving? There’s a world of difference between “I want to get Aunt Julia something she’ll really enjoy” and “I have to get Aunt Julia something decent.” Which feels better?

“I want to get my 5 year old a present she’ll enjoy and I have $20 to spend on her gift,” versus “I have to somehow manage to get my 5 year old something she’ll like on just a measly $20.” Both are true statements, but one is likely to cause you anxiety and stress, the other will inspire you with positive motivation.

You can practice the “I want to” approach with anything and everything. “I have to cook” becomes “I want to make something delicious for my family.” “I have to visit 3 sets of relatives in one day” becomes “I want to spend a fun couple of hours with each set of my relatives.”

The more you practice the “I want to” technique, the easier it becomes. All of a sudden, lo and behold, the holidays become the magic they were always meant to be.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Sixty How to Keep Stress from Ruining Your Family Holiday Gathering

(Appeared in November in Sixty and Me)

Whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Kwanza or Christmas, the holidays will soon be upon us, spreading a message of peace and love around the world. It's a truly uplifting and inspiring time of year, no doubt, until your relatives arrive to celebrate with you.

Of course, some of us have easy, smooth and delightful interactions with our friends and family. But most of us have some degree of, shall we call it “challenge,” when it comes to dealing with friends and family, especially those we generally see only during the holidays.

Let’s face it, after a certain age, one hopes that family stress would be mostly behind us, that we’d come to accept each other as we are, for who we are. If only it were so. Unfortunately, family members can still grate on our nerves, try as we might to take it all in stride.

Your perpetually whining grandson refuses to talk to anyone, but spends the holiday get-together with his face in his mobile. Your cousin Ann wants “just another little drinkie” before lunch, which guarantees she’ll be incoherent by dessert. Your brother-in-law George's jokes are not only politically incorrect, but also downright rude. All put you in an impossible position. Ignore or smooth over? Attempt people-management or plaster a smile on your face? Run and hide? Well, you can’t do that. The upshot is--stress.

The Stress Challenge. Holiday stress, whether handled directly or sublimated in the interests of apparent family harmony, takes its toll. Not just in terms of momentary frustration and aggravation, but in terms of your health and longevity. Conflict produces stress. Stress can accelerate telomere shortening, which research shows can jumpstart age-related disease. Why is telomere so important to good health? Every cell in our body contains chromosomes, each with protective caps known as telomeres. Telomeres shorten naturally as we age, but telomeres also shorten due to stress, with a highly unpleasant consequence known as “accelerated aging.” I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is “accelerated aging.”

We can’t avoid all stress. A certain amount of stress is actually healthy as it gets us up and going. But the stress of family challenges is rarely healthy stress, as it can lead to anxiety, frustration or even depression.

How To Lower Stress Levels. Exiling all stress-inducing friends and family from holiday get-togethers isn’t the answer. Instead, learn how to deal more effectively with stress and the stress of family challenges.

Imagine if Artie Giles, who dreamed of attending Seminary and receiving a Master’s Degree, had given up on her dream when life got in the way? She had to support herself and her family, working as a hair stylist, then as a bus driver and then helping special needs children. She was finally going to pursue her education dreams after retirement only to find herself taking care of her ailing spouse and elderly parents until they passed away. On top of that, personal stress kicked in: in her late 70s, Artie suffered an unusual nerve condition that left her paralyzed and bedridden for a year and in a wheelchair for another. But with the help of a devoted brother, Artie refused to allow herself to succumb to what would have been life-shortening stress and despair. On the contrary, at 81 she began her Master’s program and fulfilled her dream with a degree at age 85.

Artie is living proof that by refusing to let family challenges and personal stress get you down, you can continue with the life you want for yourself. Certainly, you may cringe when challenges occur, but as long as you shift your focus to dealing constructively and quickly with them, chances are good the effects of the stress will not impact your health or longevity.

Here is a useful strategy to deal with holiday family stress challenges:

Look For The Good. So your grandson has nose-dived into his cell phone. At least that keeps him occupied and out of everybody’s hair. Cousin Ann will sneak a drink regardless of your valiant attempts to keep her away from the refreshments. Either make sure she has someone to drive her home after the festivities or make up a bed for her. Everyone is used to brother-in-law George’s offensive humor. Ignore it. Don’t rise to the bait by responding, and trust that your other guests will take their cue from you.

Enjoy What Can Be Enjoyed. Your job is to enjoy what can be enjoyed in your family gathering, not to be the family’s problem-solver. You won’t reform anyone overnight, so don’t try. This is not to say that at some other point you might wish to engage in communication with various family members over unhealthy or inappropriate behaviors, but not now.

The holidays are meant to be a time of peace and celebration. To the best of your ability, let it be so. And with that, know you are supporting your own health and longevity. A precious holiday gift to yourself.