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!

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Will Decluttering Make You Happier?

 

Clutter

Last week a friend sent me an email with a message about days gone by when, instead of throwing something away when it broke down, our parents generation fixed the item. That’s how I grew up. We repaired shoes, lawn mowers, televisions and washers. My friend’s email also reminded me how every spring we took part in the ritual of spring cleaning, opening windows after a long winter and clearing away the season’s accumulation of dust and grime. Today, in our material driven economies, we tend to hang onto all kinds of things, broken or not, which may not add anything purposeful to our lives, but take up plenty of space in both our homes and our minds.

It must be all the years I spent as a real estate broker, looking at garages crammed so full the family cars wouldn’t begin to fit in them. While I no longer take part in a spring cleaning ritual, each January I have my own ritual of decluttering. Since retirement, that is one habit I have not changed. Why? There are lots of reasons to declutter.

1. Decluttering helps me start the year off fresh, clear and focused. Without excess stuff in my desk, closets, art work space and garage, I can focus on what matters most to me. Activities like writing, drawing and gardening can take precedence without having to sort through clutter to find what I need. Everything has a place and is in the place it should be. Whew! I can relax and not only enjoy these activities but have time for my spouse, family and friends.

2. Since I donate what I no longer need or want, it also helps those less fortunate in my community. Clothing, sports equipment, home furnishings, eyeglasses, cell phones and other electronics can be put to good use. Some people hold a garage or yard sale and make a few extra bucks. I’d rather give it away and use my time for activities that hold more meaning to me.

3. Clearing unnecessary items also clears out places for the dust and dust mites to accumulate. That’s right. Dust mites _ ick. As someone suffering from allergies, including an allergy to dust mites, I’m all for reducing places for the little darlings to accumulate. So, allergic or not, decluttering may also help you breathe easier.

4. While you’re decluttering, take a clue from our parents’ generation.  Take the time to fix the fixable. I learned years ago how decluttering removed a lot of life’s little annoyances. Fixing things has the same effect. Even a broken shoe lace can nip at the edges of your subconscious mind clouding your thoughts. Replacing burnt out light bulbs, smoke alarm batteries, weed whacker string, filters or anything else you have waiting for attention clears your mind for more important thoughts, like what are you going to do today to change the world?

5. Once you declutter and make a habit of decluttering yearly, you’ll find that you actually accumulate less clutter during the year. Why? Because you start looking at the accumulation of stuff differently. You start asking yourself, “Is this an item I really need or will I end up donating it next year?” I find myself living a more minimalist lifestyle. I am decidedly knick-knack adverse. Every time I look at something pretty or cute in a store, I think to myself, “Who’s going to dust that?” My answer is always, “Not me.” Then, I put it back down and walk away. Decluttering changes your mindset.

While I can honestly say decluttering probably hasn’t made me happier, it has made me saner. Every time you buy more stuff, you bring home a thing, which needs cleaning, maintenance, storage and, potentially, fixing. The more things you have, the more things you have to suck up your time with busy work. Is that what you want in retirement? Busy work? Or do you want your remaining years filled with work that really matters to you?

A decluttered life is a less harried life. Instead of feeling like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down one hole after another, I feel relaxed when I know exactly where to go to lay my hands on the scissors or the battery charger or my drawing pencils or whatever. I feel good knowing my time is spent on more productive activities that enrich my life. And, I love it, absolutely LOVE it, when the smoke alarm batteries are changed before the darn things start beeping at me, always, ALWAYS some time around midnight. Now that I think of it, avoiding that annoyance is cause for happiness!

MINDFULNESS

Today, there is a growing movement centered on being aware of, and staying with, the present moment. It is called mindfulness. Each time I hear the term, it reminds me that as a child, whenever I was going to a party or a friend’s house, my mother said, “Be sure to mind your manners.” She was telling me to pay attention to my behavior. Remember to be polite. Be aware of how you act. Mindfulness is simply an extension of what my mother was expecting from me. It’s paying attention to what is happening in your surroundings and within you at the present moment. It is staying with your current experience including all your sensory perceptions and emotions. It is remembering to stay present instead of letting your mind wander off into the past or future. It is being aware. I call it living consciously. While this concept has been around for centuries and is steeped in the Buddhist practice of meditation, it serves a real purpose in our stress filled, frenetic modern world. If we stay present, instead of mind-spinning about the past, which is non-changeable or the future, which has yet to unfold itself, we can eliminate much of the stress we, ourselves, create in our lives.

I first heard of mindfulness a year ago when I was taking the Dynamic Aging Program at Furman University. We touched on the subject as it relates to aging. While most people start out believing retirement will be stress free as they leave the workplace behind, they soon find there is stress in retirement. We just encounter different stressors from what stressed us while working. Instead of deadlines, office politics and not enough time for family or ourselves retirement stressors may include health concerns, finances, 24/7 with our spouse or significant other or too many requests to volunteer for organizations. Once I understood the concept and practice of mindfulness, I also realized I had flirted with the idea for years. During my most hectic years of working, being a wife and mother, volunteering in the community, I knew I either had to stop dancing as fast as I could or go down in flames. I chose to slow dance, become more focused on what was important to me and stop trying to be super woman. In a nutshell, I chose to become more choosy. As a result I stopped being a leaf in the wind, buffeted by other people and self-imposed commitments. I stopped living unconsciously. I started living fully awake and aware of what I was doing and why. I became more mindful.

Last Friday I took a mindfulness seminar at Furman. Our coach, Brenda Verdone (www.ANewGreenville.com), is an energetic and engaging woman who takes mindfulness beyond meditation and into our everyday lives. The two-hour session was interactive as we explored how to use mindfulness in our daily activities to ward off stress, restore health and well-being, and create a balanced life style. While I am already practicing much of what Brenda taught us, I also learned a few things. We started out learning how to breath. That’s right – breath. How to inhale a breathe so the air reached all the way down to our diaphragm. With hands on our bellies, we then exhaled fully and slowly, counting the seconds, and paused, which is natural, before taking the next breathe. We do this involuntarily right? Perhaps when we are calm but what about when we are stressed? The old flight or fright goblin causes quick, shallow breaths taken in and let out of the lungs in such a hurry we don’t get enough oxygen to our other organs. Sometimes we may be so stressed we do this unconsciously, unaware that we are robbing our bodies of much needed oxygen. Quite some time ago my doctor told me that most of the people in hospitals are there because of stress, which causes inflammation to the body and leads to various diseases. We are so stressed out in our fast-paced world that we are killing ourselves!

Besides how to breath with awareness of our bodies, Brenda went on to talk about relationships, recreation, communication and even mindful eating, drinking water and posture. You may remember I took up mindful eating with the assistance of the My Fitness Pal APP in order to lose 18 pounds. It took me about 30 days to form my new eating habit, which made a huge change in my health, most notably avoiding diabetes. The APP helped me to eat mindfully, to be aware of what I put in my mouth as well as when, where and why I was eating. Being mindful in all aspects of your life can provide immeasurable benefits as we age. Brenda laid out six areas of life along with some questions to ask yourself about each area. I’m sharing this with you here. Exploring each area and answering the questions will help create a balanced, harmonious lifestyle. Honesty with yourself, of course, is necessary. Ditto for taking action.

AREAS OF LIFE

Spiritual – Peace of Mind
Physical Health
Relationships with Family and Friends
Life Purpose
Financial Stability
Recreation

CRITICAL QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

Do I feel satisfied in this area of my life?
Is this area in balance with all others, or is it too much or not enough?
Is this an area I’m equipped to handle myself or do I need someone to guide me? (i.e. clergy, teacher, holistic wellness consultant, interpersonal relations counselor, financial advisor, trainer/instructor)
Where would I like to be in this area one year from now?
What do I need to get or do in order to move forward in this area?
When am I going to do it?

While this may strike some of you as more New Age nonsense, which has come and gone over the last several decades, it is one tool for getting your retirement life on track. Mindfulness is by no means a cure-all for everything which may ail you. But, it is my personal experience that balancing out all aspects of your life can create a feeling of harmony thus removing a good deal of stress. Being mindful of what you are doing, why you are doing it and where the benefit is to you, will help you crystallize your retirement purpose. This can lead you to a happier, more fulfilling retirement lifestyle. If you have not given mindfulness a try, now is the time. Let me know if it helps! Or, even if it doesn’t.

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, some of which may be the result of stress in the workplace. My doctor has said 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, cross wise, of course, 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. Engage in 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. Cat naps are ok, too.

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!