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Archive for February, 2013

Stress as a Duet–an Important Insight

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

All of us get stressed–just not the same way or at the same things. The way we react to that stress is unique to each of us as well.  But when I read about one key aspect of all these differences, an insight formed that has helped reduce the anxiety my sweetheart and I were feeling about a particularly stressful situation considerably.

Much as I mention this in the context of a primary relationship, being aware of this difference can help you get through tough situations with kids, coworkers, parents, or friends–anyone with whom you’re trying to get something difficult done.

The key distinction?  Whether we over-rev or pull back when things get tense.

Brene’ Brown marked this difference in her 2010 book The Gifts of Imperfection.  The book is about other things. (Its subtitle is  Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are).  However, she includes the observation that there are two ways to deal with stress in terms of taking action:  Some of us kick it into an extra gear, working to get far more done than is reasonable.  Some of us pull back and attempt far less because of the emotional onslaught.

Let’s make something clear here.  Neither way is better.  They are just both ways people deal with a situation that feels out of control.

The situation that my sweetheart and I found ourselves in was a practical one.  We weren’t worrying about the deep issues of coupledom.  We were (are) trying to get a house ready to put it up for sale.  Anyone who’s sold real estate knows this process is a bit like a negative version of the parable of The Loaves and the Fishes.  For every task you get done, two more pop up that must be done to make the place look presentable.

I usually “rise” to such occasions by revving at a faster and faster rate to get it all done.  I don’t do other things that also need attention.  I short myself on sleep.  I drive myself past the point of physical exhaustion.

My guy goes in the other direction.  He pulls back–to regroup or just plain rest.  He takes longer breaks, has long talks with the neighbors, and runs trivial errands.  Until I realized this is part of our differences in coping style, it was the source of a substantial amount of frustration.  I was in the the fast lane, moving toward outright resentment at well above the legal speed limit.  Why was I working so hard if he was going to take a break and watch TV?  Especially since it was his house we were getting ready for the market!

I was working that hard because that’s how I have always dealt with this kind of stress.  He was watching TV because that was how he deals with this kind of stress.  Let me reiterate.  Neither way is better.  They are just very different.

Knowing that, we were able to begin talking about what each of us was doing–and able to laugh a bit about how odd it must look to each other.  From there we could start to move toward a more common approach–mostly because a lot of the stress went away once we saw how much each other’s coping style was affecting the process.

Is this difference entering into something you’re trying to get done?  (I now realize one of my kids is like this as well–and over the years we butted heads more than a few times because of it.)  The best way to deal with stress is to get rid of it.  And sometimes, just recognizing that the person you’re in it with is not like you in how they are dealing with it is a great start.


Get Ready to Age or Stay Young?

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

“Aging in place” home modifications are gaining traction as a way to “get ready” for retirement.  We do need to put some thought into what it would take to be able to live our later years in the surroundings we have come to love in the decades before. But “aging in place” changes can be way too much like “getting ready to die.”  That is a terrible waste of a lot of good years.

Have you ever ended up in the “handicapped” motel room because it was all they had left when you walked up to the registration desk? When this happens to me, I fret a bit about taking it when someone else might really need it.  But that slight bit of empathy is really a disguise for something much deeper.  The message that rumbles from the depths is This is not me!  I feel like I am staying in a hospital when I end up in one of those rooms.  It’s not a place I belong, and I usually don’t relax very well.

Doing a bunch of “aging in place” upgrades to your home in case you might eventually need them can creat the same dissonance.

So if someone is advocating that sort of remodel before you retire so that you are “ready” IF you end up infirm, please think long and hard about what’s being recommended.  How likely is it that you will end up needing those specific things?  What is your family history?  What is your health like now?  Will you enjoy your home as much with those changes as before they were made? Would you even want to remain in your own home if things came to that?

One of the biggest drawbacks of this approach is that it can actually drain away things that would have kept you from getting infirm in the first place.  Gardens can be extremely soothing, and gardening gets you out where you can soak up vitamin D.  It also works your muscles and gives you a sense of accomplishment.  Running up and down the stairs every day gets your heart rate up.  Don’t stop doing stuff you like to do until you have to–whether it’s weightlifting in the garage or having your bedroom on an upper floor or taking three dogs for a walk–separately– every day.

Deciding that you should  have it easier now, even though you can still do all that easily means you don’t get that exercise from here on.  That exercise may have kept you healthy enough to never need any of the modifications you made.

And if you are thinking that you need to move someplace where someone else is responsible for the lawn, run the numbers before you get in line for the newest model.  Homeowners Association dues that include lawn service aren’t geared to cover just that.  You might be able to get all the lawn service you need for much less than what you’d owe the HOA every month at that nice new retirement compound if you just stay where you are and pay to get it done when you need to.

Doing a bunch of modifications to “get ready” before we actually reach the point of age-related decline can be way off base with what we actually end up needing, too.  It might be your sight not your back that fails.  Instead of that wheelchair, you might end up having to work standing because of back problems.  So much for those lower counters!

Let’s find the right balance on this.  If you are buying or doing a major remodel, assuring there’s flexiblity in what you select so you can make changes later if you need them is probably enough. Put money aside for modifications you may need later if you can–for a the new place or the home you’ve loved for 50 years.  That makes a lot more sense than doing a bunch of stuff you might not ever need now and ending up living in a sterile, unauthentic place from here on.

When you reach the point of decline (if you ever do), you may decide there’s a better way than continuing to live where you love now, too.  You’re not going to know what you need then until you get that far.  Trying to get it all set up before you reach that point is silly–particularly since you might never need anything at all modified!

Think about this stuff, yes.  But don’t make  a lot of changes until you know what you need to accommodate.  Instead, focus on staying vibrant as long as you can.  That’s not running away from advanced age–it’s redefining it.


Boomers Living Longer but Sicker?

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

“Healthy Boomers” might be a rarer breed than we want to believe, at least according to recently released study.

When researchers compared U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) of people ages 46 to 64 in the years 2007 to 2010 (Boomers) to the same information for people in that age range between 1988 and 1994 (the Silent Generation) they found 40% of Boomers to be obese compared to 29% in the prior generation. They also became chronically ill earlier in life, had a greater number of limitations in what they could do at work, and are more likely to need a cane or walker. At the same time, Boomers are living longer than the previous generation.

But is this just a case of Boomers gorging on too many Twinkies and getting sick as a result?

It’s not just Boomers who are more likely to be obese these days. The NHANES website itself states that “Between  1988–1994 and 2007–2008 the prevalence of obesity increased in adults at all  income and education levels.”  That is alarming and we do need to mend our wayward ways, but let’s not single out Boomers for the redirection.

The fact that we are diagnosed with chronic diseases sooner and have to live with them longer is probably not really about accelerating decline either.  In the last 20 years,  there has been an aggressive effort within the healthcare system to diagnose people earlier in the hope that by doing so, chronic conditions can be more easily controlled.

Yes, people are probably being diagnosed earlier than those with the same conditions would have been 20 years ago.  But how many of those in the prior generation would have been similarly diagnosed if the technology to do it had been available and the healthcare mindset had been the same when they were that age?

This spike in obesity and chronic illness is a worry, please don’t get me wrong.  But you can’t tell people “accept this sooner so we can help you manage it” and then be alarmed that the number of diagnoses has increased.

Plus, it is far more fashionable to be chronically ill these days.  In 1988, using a cane or needing concessions at work was a sign of weakness.  People who needed them didn’t ask for them because they didn’t want to be viewed as “handicapped.”  The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and strengthened in 2008.  Now what people ask for–and get–as concessions is mind boggling.

Is this “news” really about Boomers being a bigger mess than they want to admit?  Or is it about how far into “healthcare” we have all marched–to the point of expecting pills instead of finding ways to exercise and asking for “procedures” instead of making healthier lifestyle choices?

This kind of news article makes me angry.  It’s fatalistic and implies helplessness.  “Boomers are going to be fat and old for a long time.”  It smacks of some Millenial enjoying the deterioration of the people who are “in the way” of their own advancement.

What’s really going on here?  Let’s ask more questions instead of just assuming that Boomers have been sitting on their butts too much (which they probably have, but they aren’t alone.)

  •  Boomers are the first generation to have “careers” and face the unrelenting stress of this version of a job market.  How does job stress fit into the situation?
  • Boomers are the first generation to live with the advertising that popularized the notion that you’re not supposed to have pain–and that if you do, you need to pop a pill to make it stop.  Does that thinking result in overuse of the healthcare system?  Does that overuse mean over-diagnosis?  Does the over-diagnosis create health problems in and of itself?  Is that contributing to this observed decline?
  • Boomers are the generation that first tasted diet soda, “lite” entres stuffed with chemicals in lieu of calories, baked goods with more fake ingredients than real ones, and chemicals of all sorts in everything from bottled water to underwear.  What is that doing to our bodies?  And are those of Boomers simply the ones that have had the most time to accumulate all that toxic residue?

Is this just about Boomers being a mess or is this about the way we are all taking care or (or not taking care) of ourselves?

As a nation, we need a heavy, across the board dose of “natural.”

  1. We need to eat food that still looks like what it was when it was alive. (Vegetarians included–What’s with the Gardenburgers??!)
  2. We need get outside and move our bodies doing something positive–whether it’s walking the dog, rock climbing, or joining a cause that gets you hip deep in mud.
  3. We need to slow down enough to notice our own breathing.
  4. And we need to stop saying “tomorrow” to all things things our hearts yearn for–like peace and harmony and some fun now and then.

This is not about Boomers in decline.  This is about all of us in decline.  The thing we need to take away from this article is not “Boomers are losing it.”  The thing we need to understand is that the route we’re all on is not a good one.  But we can change.  All of us.  Boomers included.



The Worst “F Word”

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

No…not that word. When it comes to “F words,” the socially naughty one really doesn’t pack much punch. It’s a rude, lazy way of letting off steam and not much more. You say it in exasperation. You voice it with explosive frustration. You yell it when you feel powerless. And when you’re done, nothing much has changed. It’s just a meaningless jumble of letters with a bad reputation.

But there’s another “F word” that can make a mind-blowing difference. That word is “fear.” As a word, we don’t pay much attention to it. But as a way of life, it is devastating.

Most of us assume fear is an emotion that’s automatic and unavoidable. In some ways, that’s true. If a strange pit bull is standing guard over your mailbox and snarling, it’s probably a good idea to be afraid—and maybe even to postpone seeing what the mail carrier left for you that day. A dangerous situation rightly engenders fear. The genuine feeling makes us focus on making a decision to act—to decide whether to put up a fight or run.

But what if you spend your whole life being afraid of all dogs? That’s nowhere near as helpful as a cue. I had that fear, and there were good reasons for it initially. (I had some scary experiences with dogs as a young child.) But hanging onto that into my 40’s? That’s not bonafide fear.

Fear that comes from danger in the immediate environment is essential to personal safety. Fear of what’s going to happen tomorrow? That’s a different thing. It’s this pervasive, ongoing state of fear that can make a mess of your life.

That kind of fear doesn’t even come from the same place. It’s not a reaction to cues from your surroundings. It is your mind trying to convince you that there’s danger simply to enjoy the drama of it. This is “ego fear” rather than useful fear. Ego fear is built on the idea that you should be able to keep yourself safe at all times. That you can and must avoid all bad things. Sorry, but that’s just silly. Life happens. You deal with it.

Trying to keep life from happening just impoverishes your experience of it.

Ego fear steals the future—no matter what you’re afraid of. Fear of the unknown makes you unwilling to venture into it. Fear of not getting it all right makes you not try anything new. Fear of being rejected denies you the opportunity to feel accepted. This kind of fear is not your friend.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous quote “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” is actually part of a longer statement that reads “So let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.

Yes. Unjustified. There is no sabre tooth tiger ready to pounce. The danger is manufactured in your mind out everyday life on the planet. It’s a personally created bad dream—no more real than the monsters under the bed when you were a kid.

This fear is a choice–a really bad choice.

This kind of fear drains the fun out of life. It makes every waking moment one of vigilance, whether the fear you’ve manufactured is of germs, success, or economic Armageddon. Being afraid of whatever is going to happen next takes the delight out of whatever really is on the horizon and out of what is happening right now.

Fear creates stress, so it’s hard on your heart, your immune system, and your overall health. Buying in on unnecessary fear is irresponsible. Yep. It’s no better for you than smoking or living on Coke and Doritos.

Saddest of all, fear keeps us from evolving as human beings. We don’t become the happy, satisfied people we’re meant to be because we’re too worried about what might go wrong to get on with living. The great Roman philosopher Seneca put it well: “Our fears are more numerous than our dangers, and we suffer more in our imagination that in reality.”

We don’t need to suffer. We need to stop worrying and really live what each day brings. Some days might include a pit bull or two, but not always.