Managing stress as life moves forward
"Stress and worry, they solve nothing. What they do is block creativity. You are not even able to think about the solutions. Every problem has a solution." --- Susan L. Taylor, American author, (1946 - )
By JULIA ANDERSON
Here's a roundup of what's going on within my extended friendship circle of 60-something women:
- A single-woman friend has moved out of her suburban home this summer after living there 40 years. She's now in an apartment and is turning the house over to foreclosure because she's single, lost her post-retirement job in real estate and borrowed against the equity in the house when values were up. At age 70, there's no way she can make the payments from her current pension income.
- Another friend recently told me that she is going to ask more questions of her husband about the nuts and bolts of their household expenses. "I have no idea how to pay the phone bill, if something happened to him," she told me. Another is dealing with a husband who is deteriorating from Parkinson's Disease. Still another is in counseling with her 70-year-old bi-polar husband who is again taking his medication.
- Widowed three years, a good friend has met a man and fallen in love. She's excited, trying to take it one day at a time as she gets to know this person and as she explores a possible future with him.
- Another is dealing with the recent death of her mother-in-law, which could mean big changes in her life. Will she and her husband go on living in their current home or --- according to a well-planned inheritance --- do they move into the much larger home of the parents?
- Another has just celebrated her husband's retirement from a successful 45-year career. As she said goodbye to us at the front door after the retirement party, she said with some anxiety, "he doesn't know how I spend my day...that I have a quiet cup of coffee in the morning, read and really get started on things after lunch. There will be big changes around here with him home every day."
- And finally, a 60-something woman I know has just moved her 93-year-old mother who is in recovering from a major stroke from the mother's home in Florida to where the daughter lives. The challenge at the care center is to rehabilitate her mother enough so that she can eat on her own rather than be fed through a tummy tube.
Life definitely happens after 60. Is it too simple to say that everything gets more complicated, more complex.
Many of us have aging incapacitated parents who are living longer than our grandparents. Husbands are retiring. Others have died. Some have started new lives without us. Never mind everything that's going on with our kids. Life just keeps happening.
Maybe this shouldn't be a surprise but it is. Was life this complicated for my mother? Not exactly. she lived in the same town as her mother. She lived in the same house for 70 years. My dad was in ill-health in his last years but that didn't really slow her down. My parents were debt free with steady income from the farm, a pension and Social Security. Their cost of living was moderate.
How much stress does all this life bring us? Plenty!
What are the effects of stress? How much is too much? There are warning signs of stress and ways to management too much stress. Read on. Warning signs and symptoms from HelpGuide.org, a nonprofit charitable organization that offers ad-free mental health advice:
Inability to concentrate.
Seeing on the negative
Irritability or short temper.
Sense of loneliness and isolation.
Aches and Pains.
Chest pain, rapid heartbeat.
Loss of sex drive.
Eating too much or not enough.
Isolating yourself from others.
Using alcohol (cigarettes, drugs to relax).
How to be "stress-hardy"
According to experts at helpguide.org, how much is too much varies from person to person. I've always liked a bit of stress that comes with daily deadlines as a journalist. "Stress-hardy people have an optimistic attitude," says HelpGuide. "They tend to embrace challenges, have a strong sense of humor, accept that change is part of life, and believe in a higher power or purpose."
That's good news because all the women mentioned above have many, if not all, of these coping attributes. But most of us can learn more about stress-management even if we view ourselves as strong personalities.
Learning how to manage stress
Bottom line: You don't have to be a victim of stress. Professionals recommend taking charge of stressful situations by managing your thoughts and emotions, your schedule and your environment. They also recommending taking time for rest and relaxation.
Studies show that widowhood for instance can be a time of growth. Having said that those of us who have subordinated our lives to others now may find freedom, rediscover abilities abandoned in our 20s. Emotional growth comes out of loss and change. Yes, we're better for it, if we learn to manage the stress.
You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life nor would we want to. But you can manage it. The experts at womenshealth.gov -- an outlet of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, offer these tips:
1. Become a problem-solver. Decide what problems in your life are solvable and those that are beyond your control. "Learn how do calmly look at a problem, think of possible solutions," they recommend. "Sometimes it's not worth the issue to argue. Think ahead about how you will spend your time...make a to-do list, set priorities and do those things first.
2. Relax. Take deep breaths. Stretch. Massage tense muscles. Take time to do something that you want to do. For me, it's listening to music, reading a good book making a beautiful flower arrangement. "Think of this as an order from your doctor, so you won't feel guilty," advises womenshealth.gov.
3. Take care of your body. Get enough sleep. Eat right and avoid dealing with stress in unhealthy ways such as drinking wine into the evening. For me, wine interferes with my sleep and adds empty calories to my diet. Both real negatives.
4. Exercise. It's always a miracle to me that exercise can make such a difference in my mood and sense of well-being.
5. Connect with others. Among my most valuable relationships is one with a group of six women who meet monthly for coffee to share life's challenges. We've been doing it for six years. New stuff keeps coming up. Talking about your problems with friends and family can really help you feel better.
For me, professional counseling has also been an asset and has helped me cope with specific stress-related life situations. If all these things aren't enough, consider an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medication. While not for long-term use, they can certainly help you get through a crisis. Some friends swear by yoga.
At one point during the worst of my divorce crisis a few years ago, I used "tapping" as a way to stay in the moment and avoid that over-whelmed feeling of despair. The idea is to create a mantra of forgiveness and tap your body with your hand as you silently repeat the mantra while trapped in some difficult moment. It worked.
There's a ton of information out there about stress and coping with stress. Give yourself permission to find out what you need to know and put it into practice.
Quick Stress Relief, click here.
Managing Stress, Women's Health magazine, click here.
Women Managing Stress, click here.
10 Relaxation Techniques, click here.
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