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.

How To Stay Positive With Negative People

Aging, it seems, brings out the negativity in certain people. We all deal with negative people from time to time during our lives. When we leave the workplace, we at least leave any of the negative types from our work life behind. I’ve recommended putting any other negative types out of your retirement life, but that’s easier said than done.

It’s difficult to expel a parent, long time friend, sibling or the person you’re sleeping with. Depending on how someone views the aging experience, negativity can surface even in those who once lived life with a positive attitude. For example, their world view may become one of calamity today as they long for the good old days. Their perception of the past is one seen through the proverbial rose-colored glasses _ time has muted their memory leaving only the good times. Or, and this is the one, which grates on my nerves, they start mouthing statements such as, “You can’t do that anymore. You’re getting old you know. You have to slow down. You’re not as young as you used to be.” I recently had a young sixty-four year old tell me they couldn’t get out and walk every day because they were old! Arrrrrgh!!!

So, what do you do about the nerve grating negativity? Well, first, take responsibility for your positivity. While the negative person may grate on your nerves, the extent to which you allow that to happen is up to you. Counteract their negative effect by taking steps to increase your positivity. Cultivate your optimism.

Years ago I started keeping a gratitude journal after watching an Oprah show. I first listed all the things _ activities, people, places, ideas _ in my life for which I was thankful. They were as simple as a beautiful sunrise or my garden receiving enough rain. I wrote in the journal each night before going to bed. Not only did it help me sleep better as it gave me a feeling of peace, this ritual added to my optimism each day as I made mental notes of items to write in my journal.

As a former news junkie, I can tell you we are bombarded by the media with negative news. Negative sells! So, another step I took was eliminating the newspaper delivery, thus limiting my exposure to the local murder and mayhem. Then, I limited myself to thirty minutes of TV news, if that, a day. Many days I don’t watch it at all. Very rarely do I miss anything that makes a difference in my life. Getting caught up in the world trauma can create fear-based anxiety. While we want to be informed, we don’t want to be inundated. Fill your brain with positive thoughts, readings and encounters with other optimistic people. Try it. You’ll sleep better for it.

Fear is often the basis for the negative person’s pessimism. Fear about world events, fear about aging and declining abilities, fear surrounding financial independence and on and on. Our very impermanence is unsettling to most. However, a Yale University study found that people with a positive view of aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than people with negative views. Don’t get sucked in by fear. It’s important to hold on to your optimism!

We all have negative events in our lives _ all of us. This last year was a tough one for my family. I experienced more than a few moments of negativity. I’m grateful for the friends and family who listened to my ramblings with patience. Here’s where a little compassion on your part comes in, both for the negative people you encounter as well as yourself.

This past autumn I took a class at the Osher Lifelong Learning Center at Furman University on living compassionately. Our instructor, Sandy Brown, taught us the tenets of loving kindness based on Buddhist philosophy. The thought of showing loving kindness toward someone engaging in negativity appealed to me. The appeal is actually seated in my own selfishness. It helped me let go of my negativity toward negative situations and people. I use the following prayer often, saying it mentally, but sending the thought toward the person who would otherwise be driving me nuts! It prevents me from expressing out loud how their negativity is, yes, grating on my nerves, which would only make the situation with them all the more difficult. And, drag me down into their negative spiral. Saying this simple prayer triggers acceptance of ‘it is what it is’. I’m becoming more patient, an attribute which often eludes me. With patience comes serenity. Try sending this thought yourself:

May you be well;
May you be happy;
May you be peaceful;
May you be loved.

Think of actions you can take in your life to increase your positive attitude in the face of negative people. By cultivating your optimism and practicing positivity, you may very well change the negative person’s outlook on life. If you stay mentally up, refusing to be dragged down into the depths of their despair, they will have their moment to vent, get it off their chest and then, maybe, join you in your positive views. If they don’t, well, at least your efforts will ensure you still have your sanity. You can walk away from the engagement with a smile on your face. No, you can’t put all the negative people out of your life, even in retirement. But, you can preserve your aging experience with optimism.