A Stress-Free Retirement

Ahhhhh…retirement. Free at last from the stress of the workplace. No more stressing over meeting deadlines, competing for promotions or absorbing yet another policy change. No more training sessions for a new job and you better get it right or the boss won’t be happy with you. No more demanding co-workers, supervisors or customers to face every work day. Life will, instead, be a perpetual weekend or better yet, a vacation.

During the last two years I’ve met several people who retired earlier than planned due to the stress of being in the workplace. Stress happens when people can’t take one more thing. As the pressures pile up, they feel a lack of control. Overwhelmed.

Many, many years ago I read how the administrative assistant of the company CEO is under more stress than the CEO because the assistant has less control over their day. The CEO is the person at the helm, calling all the shots, and, therefore, feeling more in control. After all, the CEO gets to tell their assistant and everyone else in the company what to do, when to do it, how to do it. And, the employees aren’t necessarily told why they are doing it…just get the job done! Their perception is a lack of control while the CEO enjoys the perception of control. The idea of leaving all of that pressure behind as you enter retirement is, indeed, enticing. It’s also just another perception as the pressures of work are replaced by new pressures in retirement.

What would we have to stress over in retirement? Well, to the surprise of even those of us who believe we have enough money, the number one stressor is money. That constant feeling of insecurity lurking just below the surface of everything we do, as we check our portfolio, watch the ups and downs of the stock market and ponder our choice of financial advisor, is stress.

A close second to money is our health. Some of us retired due to health issues, which may be the result of stress in the workplace. My doctor told me most illnesses are the result of inflammation in the body brought on by stress. Or you may have retired in excellent health only to be diagnosed with an unexpected condition such as diabetes, heart disease or even cancer.

Then, there are other people. Other people, it seems, is the number one stressor for the population overall and yes, other people are still a stressor in retirement. Heck, you may even find yourself stressed out by your spouse. After spending a lifetime apart during most days, to suddenly be together 24/7 may be overwhelming at first. But, remember, you are ‘other people’ to someone, which means you are someone else’s stressor. And, then, there’s the big question of, “What am I going to do that has meaning and purpose for the rest of my life?”

There is no such thing as a stress-free retirement just the same as there is no such thing as a stress-free workplace or a stress-free life. Toward the end of one Dynamic Aging class, our instructor brought in a stress coach, Donna Donnelly, to talk to us about stress as we aged. An enthusiastic and fun presenter, Donna not only provided lots of insight into the stress conundrum but infused the class with laughter. Laughter, it turns out, along with sex, is a major de-stressor as the extra oxygen produced goes to the brain. Extra oxygen is part of the relaxation response of deep breath from the abdomen, smile, relax.
With the invention of the MRI, we now know these activities light up both sides of the brain. They increase T-cells, which boost our immune system, helping us to fight off disease as we age. Smiling cuts down on stress. The brain knows when you smile because the corners of your mouth turn up and your lips part a bit. Your brain likes that warm fuzzy feeling smiling evokes and releases neuropeptides, which fight stress. If you’re not used to smiling, guess what? According to Donna, if you aren’t a smiler by nature, stick a pencil in your mouth and your brain will register that as a smile! Sound silly? If you imagine seeing people walking around with pencils in their mouths as they go about their day, it probably is, but, then again, just the thought of that image can put a smile on your face…sans pencil.

Besides smiling, here are a few other things you can do to reduce stress, many of which you probably know but now is the time to practice them, if you’re not already:

1. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal, taking time at the end of each day to name the things you are grateful for in that day. It could be as simple as seeing a rose bloom in your garden or taking a walk around the block with a friend.

2. Accept change. If you are someone like myself, who needs the perception of control, use the Serenity Prayer to let go of the things in life you can’t control, which, by the way includes most things.

SERENITY PRAYER
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

3. Practice mindfulness. Staying in the moment, actively engaging with your environment of the moment and letting your thoughts and emotions arise and dissolve away, will help you let go of the past and keep you from worrying about the future.

4. Put together your support system. We all need other people, especially as we age. Family, very close friends and community groups all provide support. And, don’t forget pets. They also form part of our support system. My cats always know when something is off. They gather around and hang out to cheer me up.

5. Find stress relieving activities. Yoga, meditation, journaling, gardening, a walk around the block or a hike through a nearby park can all relieve stress. Find your stress reliever and use it as your go to when you feel stressed out by life.

6. Get plenty of sleep. As we age, that seems to be a tough one for some of us. However, it is even more important than ever as it keeps our brains functioning at top capacity. So, aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.

Even though retirement will never be stress-free, it can be a less stress time of life if we focus on the positive and adopt the above practices. Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives. Nor the most intelligent that survives. It’s the one most adaptable to change.” Be a person who adapts. And, don’t forget to smile!

The Sleep Challenge

Hoping to find some answers to my on again, off again challenge of a good night’s sleep, my busy February included a two hour presentation by Clemson University Professor June Pilcher on catching some zzz’s. When I worked, getting a good night’s sleep was rarely a problem. Most nights regardless of a bad day or what I may face the next morning, I was able to sleep through the night awakening refreshed. According to Professor Pilcher’s insights, when I left the traditional working world behind, I unwittingly set myself up for sleepless nights.

I’m retired, right? My decades old regimen of going to bed at 10 p.m. and waking at 5:30 a.m. is no longer necessary. I can sleep in if I want. I can stay up late or go to bed early. Everyday is Saturday. Wrong! By giving up my routine, I confused my brain.

When it comes to sleep our brains apparently like a set pattern right down to the very minute. They like us to have a going to bed ritual signaling them to get ready to sleep.  When it comes to sleep, our brains are creatures of habit.  For me, then, the most important advice from Professor Pilcher was going to bed at the same time every night and rising at the same time every morning, just like I did when I worked. Train the brain and you should have a better night’s sleep.

In fact, I learned my 7-1/2 hour sleep from my working years was perfect as it’s divisible by 90 minutes. We go through the five stages of sleep every 90 minutes cycling into REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the last and most important stage, throughout the night. Getting REM sleep is imperative for waking feeling rested. Curiously, REM sleep is also of short duration the first 90 minutes of the night — as little as 5 minutes. It becomes progressively longer and longer with each 90 minute cycle up to 45 minutes by the last cycle.

Should you wake during REM sleep as with an alarm clock or a pet needing attention, it’s known as ‘waking up on the wrong side of the bed’. You will be off to a grumpy start to the day. It seems our bodies and brains know we need REM. Disrupting it irritates us on some primal level.

During REM sleep our body becomes limp like a rag doll. However, our brain remains active. We dream. Our brain races through some pretty weird stuff at times, little of which we remember upon awakening. Apparently, there are hundreds of books written on the hidden meaning of dreams. However, sleep researchers doubt there is any meaning to our dreams. They believe it is simply a matter of the brain remaining awake and uncontrolled while our bodies descend into our deepest sleep.

There is also a ‘switch’, as Dr. Pilcher referred to it, in our brains, which turns the body into the limp rag doll at the beginning of REM sleep and turns the body back on at the end. Then, we cycle once more through the first four stages of sleep before entering REM sleep again. When people die in their sleep, they were most likely in REM sleep and the ‘switch’ malfunctioned.

Dr. Pilcher also advised against using sleep aids as they disrupt the body’s natural rhythm, but (disclaimer) mentioned seeing your physician about that. We had a couple of people in the room who are addicted to sleep aids. Another good reason to stick with a natural approach.

In order to train your brain, you may need to go a few days with a sleep deficit. For example, if you go to bed at 11 but wake up during the night, instead of sleeping in the next morning, force yourself to get up at your appointed time for rising. And no afternoon naps! The next night you will, of course, be more tired. Naturally, you should be more apt to sleep better.

If sleep is interrupted and you can’t go back to sleep within 30 minutes, get up. However, no ‘blue’ lights. No TV, computer, cell phone or anything else well lit. Dr. Pilcher advises read a book — the more boring, the better. When you feel sleepy again, go back to bed.

I’ve been working on training my brain by going to bed at the same time and waking at the same time. It seems to be garnering positive results. We’ll see if it continues to give me a good night’s sleep or it’s another case of on again, off again.

Are You A Positive Person?

 

 

We’ve all heard the sayings designed to promote a positive outlook in the face of life’s bumps in the road. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your response.” I once believed I should put my negative feelings aside, smiling through any negative situation.

In the 1980’s, while working for a company that espoused a lot of new age thought, I was spoon fed those sayings with the caveat that any negative feelings would not be tolerated.  Every single employee was sent to a weekend of training to help rid us of the negatives preventing true success. If we quashed all the negativity in our lives, thinking nothing but positive thoughts, good karma would surely come our way. The company would benefit.

The problem occurred when we ignored negativity including gut feelings about certain projects. Then when the project didn’t turn out as expected, we continued to smile through the ruins, sometimes throwing good money after bad.

Aging and life experience brought on a new perspective — I believe it’s a lot healthier to acknowledge your negative feelings. (I also believe the definition of success is personal and not necessarily tied to money.)  While we can gain a lot by being optimistic about life, the truth is bad things happen to every one of us. No one is immune regardless of how positive they may be. Bad karma has a way of showing up.

Negative feelings serve a purpose from warning us that a situation is possibly detrimental for us to grieving over a bad situation in order to move on from it. It is not only o.k. to grieve, to rant, to feel down, it is part of the healing process. It’s also o.k. to question why you feel negative about a situation and listen to your gut instead of just your head.

People often call me positive or optimistic. Believe me I have my share of negative moments.  The idea of going around acting like ‘Little Mary Sunshine’ when you are dying inside is putting on an act to the world. It’s like fake news.

What I learned about myself is that pushing the negative feelings down caused them to eventually erupt in a ball of fire. Better to extinguish them when they are just a tiny flicker. Better for me and better for everyone around me.  Meditation or the ear of a good friend help me deal with the negatives and dispel them.

The only thing we can count on in life is change. Sometimes it’s good change; sometimes it’s neutral; sometimes it’s negative. Being open to change and acknowledging our negative feelings helps us come to grips with whatever the situation. Listening to our negative voice may also save us from a bad situation altogether.

While I still try to make lemonade when life hands me lemons, I also take a big sour bite of whatever is gnawing at me. Then I add the sugar and move on.

Coping With Bad News

 

A couple of weeks ago a reader wrote me about receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer. This reader and I have corresponded for the last three years. Although I’ve never met her, I feel like she is a friend. She asked if I had ever written about coping with an illness. I had not. She wrote, “This is not part of our plans!”

When we retire, and especially if we retire early, the last thing we expect is news of a serious illness. In 2014 I met a man who told me when he received his cancer diagnosis, everything important in life came sharply into focus. Much of what he worried about was suddenly trivial. After beating cancer, he continued to center his attention on his newfound vision.

While we may not have received a cancer diagnosis, we all encountered blows of some kind in our life experience. Life has a way of throwing us curve balls. It’s almost never expected, whether we just retired or were at some other juncture in life.

As I researched for this post, as usual, much of what popped up was how to handle a financial set back. With retirement, whether it is preparation or crisis, money takes center stage. It took quite a bit of digging to find information on coping with an illness. In the process, I asked myself what I would do if I received a diagnosis of breast cancer.

If I received bad news, I would re-visit previous life skirmishes asking myself how I coped.  What did I do that worked for me?  What would I do differently now? What lessons did I learn, which could be applied to the present situation?

For the last two years I’ve practiced mindfulness, mastering the skill of staying present. The past is behind us; the future has yet to unfold itself to us. What we have is the present, the here and now. Focusing on the present has reduced the number of times my mind runs headlong into the future on mind spinning mode, creating worst scenario outcomes. Mind spinning often results in our conjuring a bad situation into an even worse situation. In the case of devastating news, staying present can provide calm in the face of the hurricane. Add a few deep breaths.

Fight or flight. I tend to go into fight mode when receiving bad news. Rather than run from it emotionally and mentally, I start gathering as much information as I can. I like to make informed decisions. Knowing what I’m facing also provides a sense of some control in what is potentially an uncontrollable situation. Never one to throw my hands up and say, “there’s nothing I can do about it” instead I dig deep for information. Knowledge is power.

Like the man I mentioned above, there may actually be some good news embedded in the bad news. He had an epiphany about what was really important to him in life. Everything small by comparison just fell away, leaving him with a sense of really living.

Another woman I know forced a rosy outlook during her battle with cancer. She said she didn’t have time to be negative.  The fact is we have emotional ups and downs during any crisis. I meditate.  One of the objectives I appreciate about meditation is letting the negatives into your thoughts, dealing with them, then letting them go. It’s ok to feel down at a time like this. We can’t be up all the time. To me, constantly projecting Little Mary Sunshine in the face of bad news is a stress in itself.

Bottling up emotions may also block others from helping you. If you have a spouse or life partner, it is probably as important for their welfare as it is for yours, to open up and let them in. They are also in pain. Most probably they are worried about you. Shutting them out by pretending everything is still normal may do more harm than good. The situation is not normal. They may need to cry along with you — let them.

Take your partner or a close friend with you on medical appointments. I know many, many people who did not include their spouse thinking they were shielding them from more bad news. If you are really partners, now is not a time to dial back the relationship. They can be an advocate for you, perhaps hearing something from a medical professional you missed. Emotionally, they can hold your hand during any delivery of news, either good or bad. And you can hold theirs.

You both need all the support you can get. Include family and friends with information. Back to the woman who put on the rose colored glasses, she never shared any news of her condition. I always wanted to hug her. She was even resistant to that. I know people who didn’t want their children informed of a diagnosis, robbing them of the ability to support and, in worse case situations, say a meaningful goodbye.

I’m not a psychologist or therapist, but I am an advocate of going to a counselor when needed. Receiving any devastating news may be a time when counseling is in order. Talking to a professional can help clarify positions, direction, actions to be taken, not to mention dealing with the emotional toll. Seek professional help for your mind and emotions just as you are seeking professional help for your body. Attending to your spiritual self by talking with a minister or priest may also help.

This is just my personal take on what I would do if faced with devastating news such as a cancer diagnosis. As always, we have to do what works best for us, as individuals, and our family in any particular situation. It is not easy to retire and receive bad news. However, as in any other moment in life, there are actions we can take to move us in the direction of a more positive outcome.

For the reader who inspired this post and all of my readers dealing with bad news of any kind, you are in my thoughts and prayers.

Glory Days

This post first appeared on April 8, 2014.  When I recently saw a comment on social media asking if we didn’t wish we could go back to the way things were in our youth, I decided to repost “Glory Days”.   

 

What is it about the past that it takes on a rosy glow for many people as they age? Was our past really so much better than our present? In my sixth decade I notice more and more people of my generation and older looking back longingly at the good old days. As I listen to those wistfully reliving their youth, it was a simpler time where everyone respected everyone else, crime was nearly non-existent, jobs plentiful in a soaring economy, children respected adults and the good times just went on and on. Their remembrance of their past is often contrasted to a perceived gloomy future riding on the heels of a problem ridden today.

Decades ago when my mother was close to my age, she remarked about an old friend wanting to get together to reminisce about the good old days. At the time I thought my mother was being a bit of a cynic as she went on to say she had no desire to relive the past. She didn’t believe it was all that wonderful.

Today, I tend to agree with her.  In many ways life is better today than it was in my youth. If people from my mother’s generation glorified the past as much as people from my generation do, is this a phenomenon, which occurs with each generation as we age? Or is each decade really worse than the previous or each 100 years really worse than the previous 100? I doubt 1916 was better than 2016. I doubt 1940 when my mother was a young woman was really better than 1980 when her friend wanted to revisit the good old days. Each moment in time is fraught with its problems and imbued with its excellence.

As a baby boomer, when I look back to my youth, I remember social turmoil as minorities and women fought for their civil rights. I remember limited opportunities for women. When I entered the management training program at a local bank, I was told to my face both at work and by men and women in the community how I was taking a job away from a man with a family. Gee, I guess my husband and two kids weren’t a family. See, I can be cynical, too.

I remember horrible diseases where there was no vaccine to spare child and parent from the specter of death or disability, including the dreaded polio, which I had at age 3. I managed to escape the disease relatively unscathed.

I remember a communist under every bed as we kids lined the school hallways scrunched down on the floor as air raid sirens blared a practice run in the shadow of the atom bomb threat. By the time I was 10 we didn’t line the hallways, but got under our desks as if that would save us. I remember seeing violence on the news every night as leaders were assassinated, Soviet tanks crossed borders, the civil rights movement erupted with bombs, tear gas and murders and the Vietnam War grew into a colossal loss of life.

I remember an economy, which unraveled as gas prices soared sending us into a long recession coupled with runaway inflation. Were there good times? Yes! There were great times. But, the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s were also not as rosy as some portray those decades.

I think Bruce Springsteen hit it out of the park with his song, “Glory Days”. All of the people he sang about longed for the days of their youth when they were riding high or life lay before them fresh, new and awaiting. Late teens and twenties seem to be the age most people gravitate toward with their stories of good old days. For some, it may be early thirties.

I’m one of those early thirty types. When I think about the past, there’s a time in my life starting at exactly age thirty where the entire world seemed to open up for me. It actually evokes a very pleasant feeling all warm and fuzzy, eternally rosy. When I think of this time, I get that warm feeling as my mind fills with wonderful memories. It was an exhilarating time of high success as my career took off. I jetted all over the country for my job. We made money, money and more money. Our kids took piano and ballet and played softball and basketball. They went to the best schools in the area. We went out to dinner at tony restaurants, were invited to parties where celebrities were also on the guest list, took vacations and belonged to local museums and art centers. We bought beautiful homes, cars and furniture and were what was known at the time as yuppies. The dreams and possibilities for our future seemed endless as we road this huge wave of personal and material success. The pictures in my mind and the warm feeling filter out how stressed I was as I scrambled to meet the obligations of career, spouse, family and community with little or no time for me. My filtered view of that time in my life doesn’t appear to be all that unusual. In the end, it was a time when I went from soaring heights to nearly going down in flames.

As we age, it seems to me we have experienced plenty, enough to make us feel as if our moment in the sun is over. It’s akin to that mid-life moment when we say to ourselves, “Is this all there is?” But, as it is in that moment, so it is in this moment. The biggest challenge in retirement is finding activities, which challenge us mentally, emotionally and physically. We can choose to be jaded and cynical about today and the future and seek comfort in our glory days. Or we can choose to seek out fresh, new horizons.

It is up to us to fire up the engines one more time and search for a reason to get out of bed every day, greeting the sun with excitement for the possibilities of today and all the tomorrows we have left. While it is fun to reminisce and essential for passing on family history to the next generation or getting to know a new acquaintance, recognize the past for what it is — the past, with all the good memories, flaws and imperfections. Instead of reimagining the past, use your imagination and energy to create a glory day today.

What To Wear Over 50

A little eyeshadow gives a pink wink

A little eyeshadow

If you Google ‘what to wear over 50 years old’, there are an even 12,000,000 results. That’s 12 MILLLLLL-YUN! I’m sure you see the articles, mostly written for women, as you stand in the check out line at the grocery stores reading magazine covers, or looking through your online news articles. Yes, it’s news that women shouldn’t wear this or that as they age or shouldn’t sport eye shadow or certain lipstick colors. Guys you are not supposed to show off your sagging boney knees, any more than the women, by wearing shorts during those 100 degree August days while playing through eighteen holes. And, forget the swim suit!

I started reading these articles when I stopped coloring my hair way back in 2011. Looking for a makeup palette to complement my grey hair, I noticed articles on what to wear for women over 50 were in long supply. All were geared toward looking more youthful. Although I was in the process of eschewing our societal youth culture by uncovering my grey locks, I eagerly hopped on this train chugging down the track of anti-aging. I saw them as helpful, how-to articles.

It took me a while to catch on — 2011 was five years ago. I’m sometimes a slow learner. Then it clicked this summer when a well-meaning friend cautioned me about staying out in the heat too long. Working on my property expanding my gardens is a passion for me. Not to be deterred by ninety degree days with ninety something humidity, I don my sweatbands, mosquito spray and sunscreen, showing my sagging boney knees in a pair of shorts and my flabby upper arms in a sleeveless tee, while arming myself with Gatorade and water. I take to the land. When my same-age-as-me friend suggested I was getting old and couldn’t stand up to the heat and exercise, I was more than a little annoyed. Yes, I thought, I am aging. What’s the big deal? I’ve been aging from the day I was born.

It was here I realized ageism lies subtly at the underbelly of these articles. We tend to swallow whole this myth of things we should and shouldn’t do as we age — me included — which is exactly what leads to ageism in our society. We fall into the trap of doing everything we can to look youthful while at the same time accepting physical limitations due to age. For starters, we don’t all age on the same timetable. We don’t turn 60 with a birthday present of more wrinkles or less stamina.

Chutzpah aside, I know I don’t have the stamina I once did. Despite the Gatorade and gallon of water, I cannot keep going without feeling washed out later in the day. However, I can do what I used to do, just not as long as I used to do it. Still physically fit, aging is not a reason to stop an activity altogether. That said, I began to question the wisdom of not wearing eyeshadow, sleeveless tops or shorts.

The articles themselves are sometimes silly. One says don’t wear short skirts (those knees again) while another says long skirts are aging, making me look like granny (I am granny!). Cover your wrinkled neck with scarves or turtle necks but don’t button your blouse up to the last button —show some cleavage. That’s apparently peeks of bosom in-between the scarf hanging around your neck. Long sleeves are also preferred. After all they cover those wrinkly elbows and flabby upper arms. The bottom line of these articles is not so much how to look good as you age; it’s more like how to hide the fact that you are aging. They imply aging is ugly — better cover it up. If we don’t want to be marginalized as we age, we must cease buying into the idea of cutting back, taking it easy, stopping loved activities altogether and accepting society’s image of what is age appropriate and what is not.

 
I was further reminded of this when Martin brought home Motorcyclist magazine touting a story of ninety-year-old Erv Daley still riding his motorcycle up to 5,000 miles per year in-between RV stops. For anyone who rides a motorcycle they know 5,000 miles is a lot of miles no matter what your age. Erv has logged 145,000 miles since buying this bike new!  After reading Erv’s story, one cannot help but notice his attitude. It’s not about slowing down as we age. It’s about continuing to do what we love as we age, despite the age.  And how we look be damned!

What not to wear over 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 has less to do with eyeshadow emphasizing the creases of aging eyes or shorts showing off boney sagging knees and more to do with society’s view of aging as a time to slow down, cover up and perhaps even disappear from the rest of the world’s view altogether. What I’ve decided I’m not wearing over 50 is acceptance of a dubious deprecation, subtle or not, about my age and aging. Who decides what is appropriate for me anyway? Me! I made it this far; I think I have a pretty good idea of what I should or shouldn’t wear and what I am capable of doing physically and mentally.

As my husband often quips, “My body will tell me when I can’t do it anymore.” I think he’s right. Besides, I like my pink eyeshadow.

Everything Is Fine Until —

 

Everything in the universe has a beginning and an end, a birth and a death. Logically, we all know that. Logically, we all know someday we will die. Logically, we know it could be any day. Referring to my first experience with arthritis my doctor quipped, “Arthritis is just a fancy word for the parts are wearing out.” Our demise is a given — one fine day a very necessary part will wear out. Until then, everything is fine. Oh, the arthritic fingers are a bother. But really everything is fine — until it’s not.

As someone who retired in good health, I expected the good health to continue for a very long time. Then, this spring I began having unusual difficulty getting a full breath. My dad was a smoker at the time when the vagaries of second-hand smoke were unknown. I often sarcastically refer to my allergies and chronic bronchitis as his legacy. On more than one occasion spring in the garden has sent me to the emergency room with what turned out to be pleurisy instead of a heart attack. This shortness of breath didn’t feel like that.

I have lived through my share of crises, health or otherwise. I rarely take flight but instead go into fight mode. On the Myer-Briggs scale my personality is that of a supportive controller. Martin tells me that means I’ll support you as long as I’m in control. I know there is much in life we can’t control, but I at least want to know what’s happening and ultimately make an informed decision. First stop toward that end was my doctor’s office.

When a lung X-ray and EKG showed all was normal, the doc decided to send me to a cardiologist. I also have a heart valve defect. Was my inability to get a full breath just a really bad allergy season or was the valve failing? Now, I was trying not to panic. Easier said than done as my mind swirled with images of a laparoscopy to replace my ailing valve, not to mention the drain on my bank account despite an excellent insurance policy. As negative emotions ran away with my brain my breathing became more shallow. I even felt a twinge or two of chest discomfort along with some palpitations. Stress was creeping in. Or was this the pre-cursor to a heart attack?

A super thin very calm man, the cardiologist was encouraging while at the same time ordering a stress test and echocardiogram. It had been some twenty years since my last ultrasound to look at my heart valve. He assured me with, “We know a lot more about this condition now. It was often misdiagnosed in the 1990’s.” Incredulous! You mean I might not even have the condition I’ve been worrying about?

Well, that was great news, but I still stressed, my mindfulness and meditation not doing nearly what I hoped it would in this situation. In addition, I was foregoing my daily walk, my labored breathing putting a damper on remaining active. Worry kept me up at night. I wasn’t sleeping well. The pounds I lost last year began to silently slip back around my waistline. Martin kept telling me it was all in my head. Thank you, honey. Yes, mindset I told myself. Mindset.

On tests day I got up at 4:45 so I could eat breakfast. My instructions were nothing to eat two hours before the test scheduled for 7 a.m. All stress tests were performed at this now-insane-to-my-retired-self hour. Having pre-checked in over the phone a few days prior, I dutifully showed up before 7 only to be told the technician assigned to perform my tests would be late because she was moving!!! And, the woman delivering this news didn’t know when she was going to show up for work. Whaaaaaaaat? I was already stressed over the stress test. This rude news sent me spiraling. After much ado, 40 minutes later, the department supervisor set up the testing.

My cardiologist appeared for the stress test, which revealed a heart functioning as it should under stress. Whew! One down. The supervisor did the echocardiogram, delivering the results to my cardiologist that afternoon. My heart valve defect turned out to be so minor, my heart is considered to be no different, than the heart of someone without the defect. Double whew!! The shortness of breath is attributed to a really bad allergy season AND stress. Stress further aggravated by the challenge of understanding hospital and doctor bills, an overcharge to me for my portion of the bill and the pulling teeth (only 3 phone calls with a lot of wrangling necessary) to get my money refunded.

Worst pine pollen season in years

Worst pine pollen season in years

Shortly after the tests, my breathing returned to normal.  The Asthma Center reported record pine pollen levels this spring.  But, by June, the thick pine pollen covering every square inch of my property, house and car subsided and washed away in a spring rain.  I could get a full breath, returned to taking my daily walk and slept through the night again.  My doctor prescribed a different medication regimen.  I hope next spring is not a repeat.

Everything is fine now — until the next time it is not. This experience highlighted my mortal condition. We all depend on our physical and mental well-being to provide a happy productive retirement. Toward that end my goal is to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. The optimal way to live and leave this world is to be healthy and then, one day, you suddenly just die.  Few of us will go out in such a way. Until then, everything is fine.

Prevent Slip And Falls With Rhea

Rhea Footwear is stylish and practical

Rhea Footwear is stylish and practical

As a blogger I get a few requests a year to try a product and write a review of the product. Usually, I respectfully decline the requests for a number of reasons, not least of which is the integrity of my blog. However, when Natalie Rodriguez of Rhea Footwear contacted me, I felt that taking a look at her product would be a service to many of my readers as well as myself. You see, I experienced a slip and fall on September 29, 2015 — an experience I never want to repeat and I would not wish on anyone.

As we age, we are more prone to falling due to loss of muscle strength, balance and a host of other causes, including diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson, even hearing or vision problems. Many accidents happen due to hazards in or around the home, which is exactly what happened to me.

It was a rainy night on my wet back porch.  I didn’t turn on the lights. I was only going to be a minute as I fetched the cats’ dish to take it in for the night. When I reached down to pick it up, I slipped, fell forward first to the right, then twisted to the left where my face hit the wet cement floor as my glasses pushed upward cutting my brow open. The thud from my fall was so loud, Martin came out to see what happened. Stunned, with blood pouring down my face, I couldn’t get up at first. Martin pulled me to my feet, helped me into the kitchen where I grabbed a wad of paper towels, scrunched them into a ball and pressed them to my bleeding head.

“I think I need to go to the emergency room,” I said.

Martin pulled the paper towel back for a look and said, “I think you do, too.”

We finally made it back home around 5 a.m. on September 30 after six and a half hours in the ER, five stitches, one CT scan, one tetanus shot and one black eye later. And, boy, did I hurt — all over. What a night! According to the CDC, one out of three people 65 or older falls each year. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again. As mentioned above, I don’t want to repeat this experience. I feel lucky nothing was broken, my brain was o.k. and all I have to show for it now is a scar just off my left eyebrow, along with a new pair of glasses.

Non-slip technology

NeverSlip™ outsole

When Natalie contacted me touting Rhea’s patented non-slip outsole technology, I couldn’t resist taking a look. Yes, they sent me a pair — a really snazzy looking pair of red flats. Very stylish as well as practical. Rhea Footwear has a micro-tread pattern that pushes water in all four directions with a sole that grips.

I’ve been testing these velvety red flats the last couple of days and feel like I could have avoided six and a half hours in the emergency room if I had been wearing my Rhea’s. Instead, I’m a statistic — one of 2.5 million older adults who, according to the CDC, are treated in the emergency room each year due to a slip and fall accident. Rhea Footwear is engineered to minimize slip and fall accidents. Their NeverSlip™ outsole is made from an exclusive rubber compound that grips on most slippery surface conditions and has more traction than other soles even on ice and snow.

 
Since I don’t want my readers to ever experience the trauma of a slip and fall accident, I recommend Rhea Footwear AND Rhea has graciously offered a 20% discount for any reader ordering from Rhea using the promo code, KATHYSRETIREMENT! Click here
https://www.rheafootwear.com, use the code and tell them I sent you!

Your Brain On Eggs

Your brain on eggs

Your brain on eggs

Eating a balanced diet is important at any age. My mother used to hand me words of wisdom like, “you are what you eat” and “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” I guess that’s why I was never one to skip breakfast. One of the worst habits at any age, but even worse as we get older, is skipping breakfast. A cup of coffee won’t give you what you need. After all, breakfast is short for breaking the overnight fast.

For years and years I started my day eating eggs. However, after learning about my skyrocketing cholesterol numbers, I changed my eating habits to limit my egg consumption. Because they are believed to raise cholesterol in the body, eggs got a bad rap for many years. At one time, I totally eliminated eggs at breakfast for an entire six months. Instead I ate oat based cereals. Anticipating a lower cholesterol number, I was shocked when my doctor told me my number dropped only one teeny-tiny point over my previous six month blood test. I’m no scientist or nutritionist, but that piece of information made me wonder if all the hoopla over eggs was — well, just hoopla.

Despite my questioning, I continued to avoid eggs at breakfast. Instead, I ate cereal or an energy bar. I didn’t feel more energetic. In fact, by 11 a.m. my stomach started sending signals of hunger. I felt depleted, even tired.

Now, along comes a book I read, Rewire Your Brain by John B. Arden, Ph.D. It’s not a new book. The copyright is 2010. It was sitting in my to-be-read stack since 2014. While the book has a lot of technical information on how our brains work, Arden also offers up a chapter on “Fueling Your Brain”. Guess who is the breakfast heroine in this chapter — yup, you got it — the egg. There are lots of other foods we need and should eat to fuel our brains, but the morning egg, breaking the fast, carries a lot of weight.

Speaking of weight I, like many people, think about what I eat in terms of feeding my entire body and keeping my weight in check. Until reading Arden’s book I never really gave the specifics for fueling my brain a lot of thought (no pun intended). According to Arden, “A bad diet can have a major impact on the brain’s ability to function properly, making you less apt to think clearly, pay attention, and cultivate neuroplasticity.” As we know, these abilities are really, really important for aging well.

Memory is also important. Arden goes on to say, “One of the neurotransmitters you need for processing memory is called acetylcholine. Your body needs an amino acid called choline to manufacture acetylcholine. One source of choline is eggs.” While there are other sources of choline, the egg is the one for getting your brain off to a good start for the day. Remember, it’s been fasting all night long with the rest of your body.

As we age we also lose muscle. Protein builds muscle. Eggs are a good source of protein. Eggs are also a rich source of vitamins, including B vitamins like B12, essential for energy. Other vitamins are A, E and K plus riboflavin and folic acid. Exercise and a balanced diet can help keep our muscles in good working order.

 
After reading all this, I decided to try Arden’s suggestion of eating an egg (using a no-stick spray), a piece of whole wheat toast (sans butter), and a glass of orange juice for breakfast. It took about a week for me to start feeling more energy. I noticed I can go until noon or later without feeling hungry. Since mornings are when I write, I realized I was mentally sharper. And, I sleep more soundly. This is my brain on eggs.

What about the cholesterol?  At last count a couple of weeks ago, despite my breakfast egg, my cholesterol is down 44 points!!!  Obviously, I’ve made a lot of other changes to my diet in the last year.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Most healthy people can eat up to seven eggs a week with no increase in their risk of heart disease. Some studies have shown that this level of egg consumption may actually prevent some types of strokes.” They go on to say, the risk of heart disease is more closely tied to the saturated and trans fats used to cook the eggs than the eggs themselves.  As always, you should check with your doctor about your egg consumption as, according to the Mayo Clinic, it is not recommended if you have certain diseases, such as diabetes.

Whether or not an egg a day is good for you is up to you and your doctor to decide. For me, I’m continuing my breakfast egg routine.   Regardless of what you eat in the morning, make sure you do eat to break the fast and fuel your brain and body. That’s essential for living well and aging dynamically.

Money Blown

While I received a lot of positive comments on last week’s post, “What’s Your Relationship With Money?”, I also received more negative comments than in the last 3 years combined, including some very personal dings at me. Why? It seems some people see ‘blow money’ as money blown.  I stand by my belief that blow money is important and here’s why.

Blow money is simply my term for my and Martin’s personal allowances. It could just as easily be called allowance money, retirement enjoyment money, don’t want to be on my deathbed with regrets money, bucket list money, hobby money, exercise money, good health money, leisure money, entertainment money or anything else I decide to call it.

In life, I’m a planner. We also planned money for an occasional new car. We planned money for vacations. Some people may see those items as wasted money. When Martin and I reviewed our retirement resources and budget with the financial planners, it included a line item for personal allowances. If calculating our numbers showed us having enough money to take us into our nineties, blow money, inflation and all, there is no reason to forego a personal allowance.

Money blown

Money blown?

Martin spends most of his blow money on bicycle and motorcycle gear. As someone bicycling 80 to a 100 miles per week, he’s put nearly 8,786 miles on his current bicycle. Yes, he loves bicycling so much he keeps a log of the miles he does each week, weather and any other conditions, which affect his time.

Money blown or money well spent

Money well spent

He is in such great physical shape, with a resting heart rate of 52 beats per minute, that a medical doctor friend once joked, “With a heart like that, you’ll live forever!” We all know that’s not true, but it points out just one of the benefits of bicycling. Money blown on bicycle gear? It’s cheaper than a heart attack, which can easily run into the six figures and kill you! I love my husband and want him to stick around as long as possible. Money well spent.

Much of my blow money is spent on my gardens. I never met a plant I didn’t like _ well, maybe poison ivy. Not only does gardening keep me in good physical condition, the garden is my goto place for stress relief. After a tough day at work, there was nothing like coming home to a beautiful garden to relax or dig in the dirt. When I’m tending my gardens, I feel like I’m doing God’s work, taking care of nature and providing a place for birds, bees and butterflies to flourish. I also spent $300 on the Clemson University Master Gardener Program, so I could learn more about gardening and pass that information on to others in my community as a Program volunteer. Money blown on gardening and volunteering? Money well spent.

Money well spent

Money well spent

I also spend my blow money on an occasional lunch out with friends. While some may see this as a waste of money to eat out, I see it as nurturing my relationships with my support group. As we age social interaction becomes increasingly important at a time when we may have fewer opportunities to socialize.

According to the Rochester University Medical Center, the benefits of strong social ties include:

1. Potentially reduced risk for Alzheimer’s, some cancers, cardiovascular problems and osteoporosis;

2. Lower blood pressure; and

3. Reduced risk of mental health issues such as depression.

Many of the people I socialize with are long time friends, but some are also more recent friends encountered in art and writing classes _ more blow money expenditures. Money blown breaking bread with friends? Money blown taking classes to open new neural pathways and meet new people? Money well spent.

Money well spent

Money well spent

As we age, keeping our bodies strong, our minds sharp and our social network alive are important not only to our longevity but also our quality of life. Martin and I live an amazing retirement life filled with activities we enjoy, good friends, old and new, and a healthy, happy marriage. While we enjoy a lot of activities together such as hiking, cooking and art, we are not joined at the hip. We go our separate ways for many other activities and blow money helps us do that without infringing on joint items in our budget. We have no disagreements over money!  Money blown on a harmonious relationship?  Money well spent.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a budget line item that includes a personal allowance, even if you are single. As one of my wise readers pointed out, a budget gives us the permission to spend without the fear of spending too much. After all, what’s the point of saving all this money if you don’t get to enjoy your retirement? I personally don’t want to be at death’s door and say, “Gee, I wish I’d taken that art class or gone out to lunch with my friends more often.”

Money blown? Money well spent!