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!

Advertisements

Peer Pressure

When I think of peer pressure, I usually think of my teenage grandchildren. Yet, strangely enough, I’ve encountered more peer pressure in retirement than I thought possible. Oh, it’s not the type of pressure kids face like being hassled to smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol or experience an illegal drug. Rather it’s the push by peers to join the activities they enjoy assuming you will enjoy them, too. Or it’s the pressure to take part as a volunteer because volunteers are needed by their chosen organization. Or, it could be the person likes your company and may want to further the friendship by doing more together.

In just the last few weeks I’ve been asked to join book clubs, a monthly mahjong game, a gym, another writing group, a gardening club and a political action group. While I may certainly enjoy all of those activities, if I said, ‘yes’ to any or all of them, what is important to me would be swallowed up. In the past, saying, ‘no’ was not one of my strong points and sometimes it still isn’t. Why we agree to do something we really don’t want to do is usually based in our wish to keep the relationship.  Thus we try not to offend the other person by saying, ‘no’ to their request.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was busy nearly going down in flames because I didn’t say, ‘no’ often enough, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to say, ‘yes’ to me. This twist in my thinking made it easier to turn down the requests to join in too many activities. Not to sound mean, but I also figured out sometimes I was agreeing to partake with someone I didn’t really enjoy being around. My wish not to hurt another person’s feelings was taking a toll on me.

How did I arrive at this change in thinking, making self-love (not selfishness) a priority? I remember a spring day where I sat on the couch recovering from pleurisy. The night before Martin drove me the six blocks from our house to the local hospital. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack, but the hospital staff did. Describing chest pain and difficulty breathing got me an immediate wheelchair ride to the inner rooms of the ER where two nurses shoved oxygen tubes up my nose and took my pulse and then blood gases. Finally, a chest X-ray revealed inflammation of my lungs. Whew! In comparison to a heart attack, pleurisy sounded good. The ER doctor told me rest, rest, rest.

The thought of a heart attack scared me. Between naps, I spent the next day in deep retrospection of what my life was at the time. I likened myself to a small plane in a fiery nose-dive about to hit the ground, exploding into flames upon impact. This was not the first time I was in a nose-dive going down in flames. But, I knew it had to be the last.

As I sat in my internal revery that afternoon, a friend, who knew I was home from work sick, called to ask me to watch her eight-year-old daughter as “something” had come up that she just had to take care of. To my surprise I heard myself telling her I couldn’t possibly watch an eight-year-old in my condition. When she coaxed me with how quiet her daughter would be (I knew this kid was not quiet), I said, “Look I know you’re in a bind, but I’m also in a bind. I need rest. I have to take care of myself first.”

Even as I said it, I felt guilty, selfish. Yet, after we ended the conversation, I felt empowered. I felt good. I had said, ‘yes’ to me. That’s when I realized the operative word in these situations isn’t ‘no’; it’s ‘yes’… ‘yes’ to me. I needed to say, ‘yes’ to me and clear my life of activities and relationships that were not passionately important to me.

Although that may sound selfish, participating in activities because we feel we ‘should’ can take a toll on our psychological well-being. I call participating in activities we ‘want’ to partake in self-love as these are the activities that feed our spirit. Conversely, if an activity drains your spirit, it needs to go.

With the possibility of so much unstructured time in retirement, it’s more important then ever to know what you want, what is best for you and how to say, ‘yes’ to your priorities. In order to stay focused, write it down. The bucket list is a good place to start creating your agenda. If you are unsure about an activity, ask yourself if you are truly passionate about participating in that activity. With an unambiguous agenda it’s easier to set clear-cut boundaries with our peers. And, that helps us limit peer pressure at any age.

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.

Fences

Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries

In the past few weeks I’ve had more than one friend tell me how, now that they are over 60, they’re having an easier time telling people what they actually think. They are having an easier time saying, “No” and putting their needs first.

One said, “Do you think that’s selfish?” My resounding answer was and is, “Absolutely not! In fact, it’s healthy.”

On the other hand I encountered someone trying to please everyone. As she found out, not for the first time, pleasing everyone is an impossible task. I’ve learned the act of trying to please one person often means being unfair to another person. Then, when that person squawks and you try to alter the situation to please them, the first person is affronted. What a mess! It’s a no-win situation for the people-pleaser.

Being a people-pleaser takes its toll on our stress level. While the people-pleaser is trying to please others, they are usually putting their feelings and needs aside. We already have our own problems. Increasing that burden by accepting ownership of someone else’s feelings or problems also increases our stress level. The current mantra of “Not my circus; not my monkey” is a healthy thought. Leaving someone else’s monkey on their back means you are setting boundaries.

All too often we look at setting personal boundaries as building fences that keep others out. In reality we are making others responsible and accountable for their situation. Remember the old saying, “Good fences make good neighbors?” Just like a physical fence along a lot line, setting personal boundaries tells others which space is yours and which space belongs to them. It sets the tone of respect for your emotions, your time and your well-being.

One of the situations I’ve come across in retirement is people who think I am sitting around with lots and lots of time on my hands just waiting for them to give me something to do. Before I retired I was warned by an already-retired acquaintance how I would need to guard my time jealously. He was correct. This is where I found it necessary to set boundaries time and again as people thought I would make a great volunteer for their organization or I had time for one more class or an afternoon of playing cards or joining one more club or group. I struggle at times, but for my personal sanity I learned to say, “No.”

Most of the time I’m in a give and take relationship where my decision is accepted graciously. There is mutual respect. However, if my decision is not respected and pushback ensues, I have no qualms about pushing back myself. And, yes, I find it easier to tell people what I want, need and think now that I’m in my sixties. After decades of caring for others, sometimes to my detriment, this time is for me. Oh, I still have people I care for and want to take care of, but I put my needs at the top of the pecking order.

Working on self-awareness is wholly necessary to reach self-confidence in setting boundaries. Being mindful of who you are in retirement, what you want from these years and what you need emotionally to achieve a fulfilling lifestyle will help you stay on your chosen path. Fences do not keep people out; fences allow you to thrive on your terms.

Second Fastest Old Man In The State

This post first appeared on June 18, 2013.

At the finish line

At the finish line

After nine months of training including over 3,000 miles of bicycling, we headed to the coast for Martin to compete in the South Carolina State Time Trial Championships. When he was working, he didn’t have the time to dedicate to rigorous training and a chance to place in the top three. So, the time trial made it onto his retirement bucket list.

The championship breaks the riders up into age categories. Even though Martin is only 59, on his next birthday, he’ll be 60 so he is in the 60 – 65 year olds. Weird, but that’s how they do it. Being one of the youngest riders in his age category also presents the opportunity to check a gold, silver or bronze medal off his bucket list.

Packed and ready, Friday morning we drove the three and a half hours through the Land of Charles to Charles Town for the race. For you history buffs, Carolina is latin for Charles. The “Merry King” Charles granted the land of the Carolinas to his buddies, but named it for himself. Then, his grateful friends, named the sea port Charles Town, which eventually became Charleston. A liberal bastion in a conservative state, Charleston is known world wide for its gracious southern hospitality, beautiful historic district, jazz clubs and inspired regional cuisine. However, the area is chosen for the time trial, not for any of the above, but because it is flat, flat, flat.

Following a yummy lunch of chicken and pasta in fresh tomato sauce at the Kings Street Grill, Martin and I head north on Highway 17 to find the time trial course. The 25 mile course starts at Seewee Outpost north of Charleston.

Driving the highway, the first thing I notice is the lack of buildings and parking lots up against the street. Looking down the road, it appears we are in the middle of no where. All I see are towering pines and oaks with an occasional sign announcing a shopping center or business hidden behind the green space. These folks do not want an ugly view of brick, steel and asphalt.

Whoever’s in charge of city planning is really in charge. The green space isn’t the usual landscaped facade put up after all the natural vegetation is bull dozed to oblivion, then burned or hauled away. It is the natural vegetation. It’s the green stuff Mother Nature put there. Under mature pines and oaks is what most folks call scrub brush. Saplings, native grasses, Spanish bayonet, Dogwoods, vines, whatever Mother Nature dictates. Peeking through the deep expanse of green, I spy the most beautiful Walmart I’ve ever seen. Yes, really — a Walmart in full brick, huge curved front wall and columned portico on its face.

Looking at all this, we somehow can’t find the Seewee Outpost. Well, maybe it’s because the navigator (me) is too busy looking at the great big nursery we pass. But, with all the green space, we zip right by the Outpost. Looking at our map on the iPad (no, we don’t have a GPS…we’re old fashioned that way), I know it should be on the edge of Francis Marion National Park. So, I tell Martin to pull into the Education Center and I hop out to just, quick like a bunny, run in to ask where the Outpost is.

Inside, the ranger tells me the Seewee Outpost is about a mile back on the right. As I listen to her I see a table filled with info on native plants, habitat building and attracting butterflies. When she finishes giving directions, I tell her how I’m a Master Gardener with an interest in native plants and ask if I can take some of the flyers. “Oh, I have something for you! Just come with me,” she says.

wildflower-poster

Wildflower poster

I follow her into a back room.  We keep chatting as she pulls open long, narrow drawers and starts handing me beautiful posters on slick paper. Posters of South Carolina wild flowers, edible plants, mushrooms and trees. By the time Martin starts worrying about me and comes inside to hunt me down, I have four posters, which the ranger and I are rolling up to secure with a rubber band.

Saying goodbye to my new friend and wishing I had more time to spend at the Education Center, Martin and I drive back to the Seewee Outpost, buy some bottled water and then drive the time trial course.  This is so he knows what to expect with the terrain. It is flat, Baby, flat. Before heading back to our hotel, we stop at the big nursery and, of course, I buy a plant.

Next morning race registration starts at 7 a.m. so we arrive at, you guessed it, 7 a.m. Martin registers. Then, we forage for breakfast. He’s #67. Time trial starts at 9 a.m. with a rider pushing off every minute. That translates into a start time of 10:06 for Martin. The wait begins.

Returning from breakfast, he wanders around talking to other riders and watching the first ones out of the gate, while I start taking photos and log in to Facebook to post the event for our family and friends. The well wishes come rolling in.

Another rider assists

Another rider assists

Shortly after 9 Martin starts getting ready, squeezing into his, well, skin tight skin suit. A 76 year old rider, the oldest person in the time trial, holds the bike for Martin as he gets into his shoes, shoe covers and tear drop helmet. Then, off he goes to warm up. I keep shooting photos and posting, family and friends engaged in our event as the “likes” and comments keep coming.

10:06 a.m. and he’s off! I won’t see Martin again for another hour plus a few minutes. So, I stand near the finish line, talking to other waiters as we listen to the officials shouting “rider coming in” and watch each competitor pedaling furiously toward the end.

As the riders stop and talk to each other, I overhear comments about a 10-12 mile an hour wind — headwind in both directions. How is that possible? One after the other, they report not their best times.

As 11:10 turns into 11:15 and still no sign of Martin, my heart sags. His time is not what he expected. He probably won’t place. Yet, a part of me holds hope the riders talking about the wind interfering with their times represent all the riders. If everyone’s having slower times, Martin could still place. I remind myself he’s a winner no matter what, just for all the effort he put into training and then, showing up. But, I want him to place. I want him to proudly check this off his bucket list.

Finally, I see him. Even under the helmet and sunglasses, I can tell by the way he’s pedaling, he’s out of energy. Tired. Like every other rider, Martin summons a last ounce of will power and pedals wildly to the end as I snap a photo.

Whizzing by me he pedals down the road, slows, turns around and comes back. He can hardly talk. Sweat pours down his red face. Is he shaking? Yes, he’s shaking. I ask if I can get him a water. He mumbles, “Later,” then, s-l-o-w-l-y rides back to the car. I stop at the water tent anyway where one of the officials gives me some type of energy drink. “He’ll like that,” the official tells me.

As I hand Martin the drink, I see disappointment on his face. We talk about how his time wasn’t good and I tell him about the other riders’ comments about the wind. “Yes,” he says, “the wind was awful both ways.” I see a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

As Martin sips the energy drink, he recovers from the stress of the ride and walks down to the officials’ tent. They are close to posting everyone’s time. He walks back to the car to tell me. Well, at least the wait will be over.

Back at the tent, crowding around a board with all the other riders, Martin looks on the sheets of paper for his age category and name. Reading across, he sees it. And, next to his name under state ranking is the number 2! Wahoooooo! A silver medal!!!

All smiles now, he finds me. “It’s official,” he beams. “I’m the second fastest old man in the state.”

Check.

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.

Caregiving Revisited

Thank you to everyone who wrote comments about last week’s post ‘Are You A Caregiver?’ The people who commented provide insight for the rest of us. This is so important because many of us will become caregivers at one time or another. All of the comments came from women, not unusual since the majority of caregivers are women, a wife, daughter, daughter-in-law or friend.

It appears the caregivers are taking on this task out of love and friendship, whether you are tending to a spouse, parent, grandchildren or a friend. Our human connection is the impetus for our caring for others. For those of us who are married, we apparently take the vow of “in sickness and in health” seriously. We love our spouses, our children and grandchildren and even our friends. We honor the relationships by continuing to care for them in a time of need.

Most caregivers are engaging in some type of self-care to give themselves a break. Reading for relaxation, tai chi, yoga, painting, a long lunch with a spouse and writing all made the list. According to my research on several sites, breaks are very important for fending off stress. Other recommendations for breaks are taking a twenty minute walk, meditation or talking to a friend.

I personally find art to be very calming. Drawing in particular puts me in what I call ‘the zone’ where I am so focused on what I’m doing, all other thoughts are zoned out. It is meditative.

Carole, who commented about caring for her spouse with cognitive decline, also writes a blog. Carole and I have something in common — we both find writing about our experiences to be therapeutic. You don’t have to start a blog and put it out there for the world, but writing about your thoughts, feelings and daily life as a caregiver may ease your situation. A simple journal will do. I invite you to visit Carole’s site at: http://oneoflifeslittlesurprises.blogspot.com

While you are supporting someone else, it’s important for caregivers to develop their support system. Friends and other family members can become your first line of defense against stress. It’s important to ask for and accept help if you need it. Many of us don’t feel like we should ask for help.  We tell ourselves we can do it all. We can’t.

Donna’s comment reminded me of an article I read many years ago about baby boomers being the sandwich generation. The writer was using the analogy of a sandwich because many of my generation were still caring for children at home as well as aging parents. Donna pointed out the situation today where we may be caring for both grandchildren and aging parents. Now that our kids are adults, many of us are pitching in to care for their kids.

Like caregiving itself, comments ran the gamut of some assistance, such as going along on doctor’s appointments to occasional babysitting to full-time assistance handling every household chore as well as caring for loved ones. According to the Mayo Clinic it is the people committed to high hours of care who are in most danger of feeling stress and strain with this role. Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

1. Accept help and focus on what you are able to provide.

2. Set realistic goals and learn to say no to things which add strain, such as hosting holiday meals.

3. Get connected with community organizations supporting caregivers and stay connected with family and friends.

4. Take care of your own health including regular checkups and discuss your situation with your doctor.

I thank everyone who contributed to this post with their comments and insights. Please take a minute to read their comments and look at Carole’s blog.  Not everyone retired expecting to be in the role of caregiver.  Life sometimes spins us a curve ball.  We are all on a different journey but their journey may become our journey one day.

Lust For Life

This wasn’t the article I intended to post today, but lunch with a friend yesterday was quite interesting. She brought up the concept of lust. We discussed it. I also thought about it a lot after our meeting. It reverberated with me so much I got up early this morning to put my other article aside (next week) and hastily write this perspective on lust.

This isn’t a perspective on the sexual type of lust.  However, that’s where I’m starting.  Lust is, after all, most often thought of as purely sexual desire and often a sexual desire that is out of control, making it a titillating subject indeed. I, myself, have referred to people who abandon a spouse for a new lover as being in lust not in love. Lust is one of the seven sins. The Bible says lust is bad or bad for us if it replaces love. It also says we shouldn’t covet material objects belonging to another.

Looking for a definition outside my Biblical teachings, I found all reflect this one from Merriam-Webster.com: ‘a strong feeling of sexual desire; a strong desire for something.’ That last part is what my friend and I talked about mostly — other forms of lust. In between sips of chardonnay (it was a late lunch), we agreed, although we are aging, we still have a strong desire, a lust for something.

I call it a lust for life. A strong desire to continue living with zeal and fervor and excitement for what may materialize on our still glorious horizons.

If lust is a strong desire like a craving, we all crave things at one time or another. We may crave something as simple as ice cream or a long, hot bath.  We may crave a new car or trip to some far off place. Didn’t many of us have a strong desire to leave the work place and be free in retirement to do what we want with our time? We may crave hitting the road in our RV and kicking around the country for months on end. We may have a strong desire to help others. We may have a strong desire to volunteer, leave money to a charity or create a scholarship to help someone go to college. We may have a craving to reinvent ourselves in retirement and do something we always dreamed of doing. Our cravings, our desires, our lusting after something is not necessarily bad or bad for us.

We have been lusting all our lives. Remember that cute boy or girl sitting across from you in junior year English, the one who invaded your dreams at night? That was probably about the same time you were lusting after a drivers license and your first set of wheels. After that you went on to lust after a great many things. Perhaps the taste of your first adult beverage, a real job, promotions, your first house, a bigger house, a masters degree, a trip to Europe or India or the Fiji Islands. Lusting fired our engines, not just our loins.

When we are young, we lust after life with an eagerness to experience all that we can. We dream. We scheme. We plan. We have a boundless energy focused on the future we strongly desire, we crave, we lust after. We want to gorge ourselves on all that life has to offer — the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual — the entire smorgasbord.

I still feel this way to a certain extent. Oh, I’m a little jaded at times. I have my been there, done that moods. Yet, there are many, many things I want to do in life. I still crave some adventure, trying a new activity, meeting new people, seeing new vistas, straining my brain, pushing my physical boundaries, entering a spiritual dimension I’ve never explored.

Lust gets a bad rap. A little lust for life can be good for us, especially as we age.  In a cliche we are older and wiser.  We aren’t going totally off the deep end, over the cliff. We are a little jaded.  Grabbing the world by the shirttail and twirling it around to see what shakes out is good for us.

Even now, for me at 64, it’s a big wide world out there and it’s easier to access than ever before. There are opportunities waiting to be taken advantage of. There are surprises to be found. There are secrets to be unlocked. There are discoveries to be made. And, I intend to continue lusting after them with a lust for life.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Occasionally I receive questions or comments from readers describing their unhappiness in retirement. Some ask how to get to their happy place. My belief, and this is just that, my belief, is we create our own happiness. Our perceptions of self and how the world looks to us is created by our beliefs, like the belief I just attributed to my thinking. I also ascribe to the notion of I don’t know what I don’t know. If there is something about my life I don’t like, I go in search of answers and change my outlook in order to change the outcome.

When I was searching for satisfaction and happiness in my own situation after retiring, I came across the concept of self-imposed limitations. I realized I was the creator of my unhappiness because I was engaging in self-talk that limited my view of retirement, which in turn limited my options. That, folks, kept me in the same holding pattern, circling the same airport with the same destination — unhappy retirement. In order to fly to a new destination, I had to break the pattern.

While you are writing to me about your unhappiness, describing what you don’t like and don’t want to do, on my end I am reading ‘self-imposed limitations’. You write, “I don’t like crafts”; “I’m not a hobby person”; “I’m not a joiner”; “I don’t like doing volunteer work”; “I’m not artistic”; “my husband, wife, friends don’t want to do this or that”; and I read ‘self-imposed limitations’. These are all statements describing your personal belief about your reality. They are beliefs that limit what you are doing or will do in your life. YOU are the person standing in the way of YOUR happy retirement.

Retirement is a time to reach your personal potential as a human being. Self-imposed limitations are negative self-talk preventing you from putting your dent in the universe. The first step to ridding yourself of this mindset is to recognize it. What are you telling yourself that is limiting, negative and without a proven basis?

For example, I waffled back and forth about taking drawing classes after my perceived failure at watercolor. I told myself things like, “I’m really not artistic. Who am I kidding? I can’t even draw a straight line.” I was talking myself out of taking the class using self-imposed limitations. Fortunately, I have a husband who encouraged me to try it. As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I made the discovery of a lifetime. I still can’t draw a straight line, but I can draw people, animals, flowers and a lot of other things. And, now, I’m trying watercolor again, with some success.  Think about what you may be missing in life because you are filling your mind with self-imposed limitations. Recognize them and replace them with positive self-talk.

There was a TV show about getting people to face and overcome their biggest fears. Though I never watched it, I remember seeing a clip of someone facing their fear of snakes. What are you afraid of that keeps you from trying something new in retirement? What is your snake? Dig deep. Be honest. Sometimes we don’t try, failing before we even start, because we are afraid of exactly that — failing. “What if I have to drop out because I really am not good at __________(you fill in the blank)?” “What will my friends say?” “How embarrassing to fail.” “People will think I’m a loser if I don’t finish.”

So what if it doesn’t work out? This is not like it was in your work world where if you couldn’t rise to the task or the promotion, you might face all kinds of humiliation from co-workers, family and friends. You are retired. Expect to try new activities and expect to have some stick and some not. That’s part of the retirement adventure! Face your fears. Challenge yourself.

Choose to do something you told yourself you don’t like or won’t be good at doing or you are not the type of person who does that. Then, do it. And, do it with an open mind and heart. Determine up front to give it your best.

I told myself for years I was not athletic. I never did well in gym or sports as a kid and carried that picture of myself into my adult years. That was a self-imposed limitation. After having my second child, I took up running just to lose the extra pounds I couldn’t seem to shake. That’s when I discovered what I didn’t enjoy was team sports. I preferred to rely on my own steam, my performance and mine alone. I ran three miles a day every other day for several years until an overworked knee put a stop to it.

Until we try something, we don’t know what we don’t know. We must continually challenge ourselves to try new activities or new twists on old activities in order to discover our true potential and talents. Enlist a spouse or friend to advocate for you when you start talking yourself out of doing what you signed up to do. My husband played that part in the scenario with the drawing class. Now he and I remind each other when we are applying self-imposed limitations. It helps to have a buddy to keep your mind both aware and open.

This is our last third of life. We can create the life we envisioned with an attitude of exploration, discovery and adventure or we can choose to languish with self-imposed limitations until the day we die. I hope this post will encourage at least some of you who seem to be stuck to dump the self-imposed limitations and choose adventure.

The Joys Of Not Working

A 'work' day of hiking

A ‘work’ day of hiking

Last weekend was a long weekend for workers in the United States as our country celebrated its birth on the 4th of July, Independence Day. Sacrosanct among holidays, it is one of those dates modern day Congress has not fooled with to deliberately make it into a three-day weekend. It happens only by the rotation of the calendar as was the case this year. Before I retired I looked forward to such a weekend. Oh goody, the 4th is on a Monday this year! No longer do I think that way.

After all the fireworks, parades and barbecues were over, Tuesday morning America’s workers returned to the grind, while I slept in, lazed around the garden after breakfast with my cup of coffee, picked blueberries and finally headed into the woods to do some real work. Ahhhh, the joys of not working, the pleasures of real freedom.

As a child older members of my family often told me the story of The Ant and the Grasshopper. The Ant and the Grasshopper is one of Aesop’s fables, which trumpets the strong work ethic of the ant while denigrating the grasshopper’s laziness as he fritters away summer only to starve during the winter months. Raised on a strong work ethic highlighted with stories such as this, I always found it difficult to be anything but productive.

Wasting away my hours at any time of the year in the manner of the grasshopper is never happening for me. It is not in my make up. Neither, however, am I the previous corporate ant, who dutifully put in a long productive work day week after week, month after month, year after year. It took a couple of years to re-program myself to enjoy days of simply browsing, from reading a good book to strolling through my garden to leisurely watching the sun go down. I also enjoy my more ant-like productive days of writing, working in the garden or hiking one of the trails in the local state parks. Eventually, I developed a new mindset mid-way between the ant and the grasshopper.

Among the joys of not working is not having to ask a superior’s permission to take time off to partake in the activities you love doing. You can do them every day. Even if they are work, they don’t seem like work because you are doing what is pleasurable to you. Another of the joys of not working — work is not work. And, another joy — you have no superiors.

With freedom also comes responsibility. That, too, can be a joy. Though it may seem daunting at first to fill your previous work hours with activities of your own making, savor the luxury. Few people on Earth get to experience the joys of not working. Revel in your accomplishment. Luxuriate in the ability to choose or not choose, to do or not do, to bore yourself silly today or find something to do heretofore unknown to your senses. You are no longer a worker looking forward to a three-day weekend and perhaps loathing the return on Tuesday. You are free! Enjoy the joys of not working.