Dealing with Senior Stress

Dealing with Senior Stress - 4/04/08

INTRO: You've survived raising the kids and the demands of a job. So why are you feeling stressed in your Golden Years?

1. YOUR GOLDEN YEARS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE RELAXING, BUT RETIRING FROM WORK DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN RETIRING FROM STRESS, DOES IT?

A. No, it doesn't. Your retirement years can indeed be golden, but retirement can also be a trap we unwittingly put ourselves in, if we're not careful at how we approach them. I often look to the example of my parents when thinking about retirement.

B. My father's a Type A New Yorker. He was a salesman who was a bit of a loner. His job was both a healthy way for him to channel his aggression and to get a good amount of social contact. He got burnt out around the age of 60 and, instead of taking a sabbatical, decided to retire early and move to Florida. He had taken up tennis, but that was his only real outside interest. He was very dissatisfied, and therefore stressed, concerning his retirement. This led to him not taking care of himself well, and he suffered two strokes.

1. My mom, conversely, worked hard to keep herself challenged post-retirement. She learned how to drive in her 60s, took up photography, learned to play bridge, and made new friends. She really blossomed.

2. SO WHAT CAN PEOPLE DO TO FEEL BETTER ABOUT THEIR RETIREMENT AND REDUCE STRESS?

A. It's important to generate new learning curves for yourself small, meaningful steps that are outside of your comfort zone, but not so tough to be stressful.

B. Also, don't be afraid to give yourself a new challenge, or to take up a part-time job that differs from your lifelong career, or is something that you really enjoy. My girlfriend, for example, retired from teaching. Now, however, she's working a part-time job at a plant nursery, which she loves. She's also working as a standardized patient role-playing as a patient which young doctors practice on. Again doing things you enjoy and that challenge you.

3. HOW DO WE ADAPT OUR DESIRES TO OUR AGING BODIES?

A. Your body starts to slow down and you have to learn to adapt, and that can be a kind of loss. I used to be a jogger, and then problems with my knees and shin splints made me realize that I had to switch to walking, and that was a difficult thing for me to do.

B. Seniors often have to shift their nutritional habits as well they can't eat the same way they did at age 30. Again, this can be a major change. Attitude: try not to focus on the loss - that's stressful. Find the positive in the new way (e.g. walking I get to smell the flowers.)

4. You mentioned that health changes can be considered a loss. Loss and grief is something that can cause stress to seniors. How can we move through grief and minimize stress?

A. Regarding loss and grief, I like to talk about the A6 F's@ for embracing loss and channeling change - coping with grief.

B. First, you must embrace your sadness and/or your anger over having to loosen your hold on a familiar past. You may have to redefine your sense of self your identity.

C. You need to grapple with the anxiety (and the excitement) of an unpredictable future, relating to new people and new situations.

D. You may believe your role, skills, or experience are being devalued; you may feel pangs of self-doubt or, even, feelings of shame, that is, a loss of face.

E. You must eventually recover and redesign a new productive focus, eventually confronting the looming personal or professional challenge.

F. You often require feedback from one or more trusted and objective others in order to reaffirm a precrisis identity as well as to encourage, germinate, and/or evaluate new plans. Look for someone who can give you some TLC: tender loving criticism and tough loving care!

G. And finally, you need faith that you will emerge from the loss emotionally stronger.

CLOSE: Keep in mind the 6 F's of retirement and you can avoid the 7th - Frustration.