Taming The Wolves


Earlier in the week I attended an event where the guest speaker was a financial markets analyst. His presentation was on, what else, but the economy. While he didn’t tell us anything we couldn’t already read in the news, putting it all together in one place did result in an anxious vibe in the room. The stock and bond markets were flat in 2015. Now the stock market was taking a downward turn. Oil is less than $30 a barrel resulting in gas prices last seen in January 2009. And the oil price decline appears to be influencing global market declines. China has devalued its currency, which affects the global economy. And, we are waiting for the Federal Reserve’s next announcement on monetary policy after raising rates slightly last fall, which may not have been a good move. After delivering all of this unsettling news, he cautioned against allowing anxiety to get the best of us with an emotional sell off of assets in a bid to curtail losses.

Never one to worry too much about falling markets, always one to believe in a buy and hold strategy, I can still sleep at night despite the gloomy market news. My dates with anxiety always hit closer to home. Things like a leaking dishwasher or a mistake on a medical bill are more likely to drive me nuts. While worrying about these things spurs me into action, it has also been known to raise my blood pressure and cause sleepless nights, neither of which is good for my health.

Whether it’s an economic decline or a leaky dishwasher, we all have situations that trigger anxiety. Worry is a survival response. Thousands of years ago, when faced by hungry wolves, anxiety triggered our flight or fight response. If we weren’t worried about the wolves, we were really, really unlikely to survive. Life still isn’t a walk in the park, but we often over think and then over react emotionally to life events.

After dealing with a high stress level at watching buckling hardwood in my water drenched kitchen, I decided to do something about my anxiety. Although I probably always knew this, it took a month of mind spinning over the outcome for me to realize my worst fears almost never come true. Thirty days of worrying as the new dishwasher was installed, the hardwood turned up at the edges and my ever handy husband put weight on the floor to straighten the boards, was enough to give me the screaming me-me’s. I was so sure the hardwood in that section was ruined, we’d have to replace the entire floor and it was going to cost a fortune, not to mention the mess to the house. Instead, the floor dried out nicely. The boards miraculously went back to their original shape, to the point where you can’t even tell we endured this minor disaster.

Fear of the unknown and our mind’s creation of the worst possible outcome all conspire to take us to that anxious dark place called worry. The first thing to do is acknowledge our worry as in, “Yes, I’m worried about this, but I’m going to stay present and not let my imagination take control.”

There are a number of things you can do to stay in the present moment. Mindfulness does work. Making a mental effort to stay aware of your current moment in time, your surroundings, the sights, smells, sounds and even tastes takes your focus off the future, the unknown. Use your senses to remain conscious of the now.

Another strategy I use is to focus on something which requires concentration. This is simply an extension of the idea of mindfulness. I find that writing or drawing does the trick. It’s really hard for me to keep spinning worst case scenarios in my mind if I have to concentrate on shapes and lines in a drawing. You might try reading a book or listening to music or working on one of your hobbies. You might also immerse yourself in your volunteer work. Helping someone in need is a sure way to take your mind off your own worries.

Another step to eliminating worry is finding something physical to engage in like taking a walk or riding a bike. I go outside to my garden where there’s always work to be done. There, I deadhead flowers, pull weeds or clip bushes. It’s hard to worry when you are breathing in fresh air, enjoying the sun shine and keeping your hands and mind busy. Physical labor also helps me sleep better regardless of what’s happening in my life. And, we all need a good night’s rest.

I also try a little meditation. Admittedly, I’m only good for 5 or so minutes, but that’s enough to let the stress into your mind and then release it to clear your mind. Accepting your feelings and thoughts of worry sometimes is all it takes to free yourself of the anxiety. If not, don’t be too hard on yourself. Chastising yourself for worrying is just adding more negativity. Instead of saying, “You shouldn’t worry about this. You’re being silly” say something like, “It’s O.K. to worry now and then.” Let the feelings come in, accept them.
Whether you’re worried about the wolves of the financial markets or the one in your kitchen, taking constructive, specific steps may not completely tame the beast, but will help you survive with a better quality of life. Using my goto phrase of, “It is what it is” often allows me to move on. That phrase is one of acceptance of the situation, which puts me in a frame of mind to just be. I can let it be, let it go, take a breath and move on. With time, the future will take care of itself. And, my worst fears will likely not come to fruition. Whatever happens, it is what it is.


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.


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


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.