Chronic Pain and Mind-Body Strategies

Those of us who are lucky enough to be Survivors of Life past the age of 50 are probably way too familiar with the kind of daily aches and pains that our doctors tell us are part and parcel of the privilege of aging.  In talking to my peers I realize that many of us cannot get out of bed in the morning without experiencing some kind of stiffness or pain. Some of you cannot stand up from a chair or even go for a walk without grimacing from the pain in your knees or lower back.  The current chapter I am working on for my book“Aging Happy: How to Knock Out The Nonsense and Make These the Best Years of Your Life”(to be released at the beginning of next year), looks at body image in older adults. This topic is particularly dear to my heart, as it completes the circle of the research I conducted as a (much) younger doctoral candidate many moons ago.  It comes as no surprise that an adversarial relationship with our body in our older adult years is just as poisonous to our happiness as it was in our youth. Body Image Dissatisfaction can still make us older adults vulnerable to eating disorders, low self-esteem, social isolation, and depression.

The bulk of body-image research on adolescents and young adults examines the influence of advertising, the cosmetic and fashion industries, and even the comparisons we make between ourselves and those we think look better than us (i.e. Leon Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory, circa 1954)—but what about the influence of chronic pain on our self image as we age?

Non-malignant chronic pain, the kind that many of us experience every day, can keep us from feeling good about about the very body that houses our heart and soul and keeps us functioning right up to our last breath.

Pain can make us feel (and look) older, and feebler, and often we perceive ourselves to look older as well when we look in the mirror.  Pain can strip us of our motivation to do the things we normally love to do. Thoughts of pain, and ways to adjust our lifestyle to avoid pain can consume our thoughts and eventually our entire existence; causing us become less social and less engaged in life—a disastrous outcome for older adults who need more than ever to be involved with meaningful social interactions.

I recently came across an article that reviewed a number of studies examining various mind-body strategies for relieving chronic NON-malignant pain in older adults. These strategies included tai chi, yoga, hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, guided imagery, meditation, and qi gong. The benefits of these methods are undisputed when it comes to relieving stress and its related maladies.  When dealing with chronic pain researchers are cautiously positive, but are calling for larger clinical trials to be conducted before the scientific jury can definitively weigh in. My hunch is that anything we can do to help ourselves when it comes to chronic pain will also up the happiness factor.

Let me explain.

Chronic pain commonly triggers feelings of learned helplessness especially when people have been to their doctors, tried a number of medications, modified their lifestyles to the nth degree—and still they suffer, despite reassurance from the medical professionals that there is nothing seriously wrong other than a touch of osteoarthritis in the joints that “everyone gets” sooner or later. Of particular note, however, when it comes to using mind-body strategies such as Yoga to relieve pain, is the change in attituderequired to perform these self-therapies.  It takes us from feeling helpless and defeated to actively taking control of our “rehabilitation”. Often this position of emotional strength starts a domino effect of better self-care and a more positive relationship with our body. For example: “That gentle yoga video made my joints feel better so I wonder if I will feel even better if I avoid all flour and sugar today and instead prepare a large vegetable salad for lunch (like mine, in the photo above).”  Then that leads to going out for a 15 minute walk at lunch time, then to setting your timer to get up from your couch or office chair every 20 minutes to march in place or do a few sit ups. And so on.

It’s been established that mind-body strategies are really good at relieving stress. That alone will reduce the perception of pain. But because they also require an “active” component, our sense of self-efficacy (belief in our ability to affect our situation) will also be bolstered and before you know it you may experiences longer and longer stretches of time in which the thought or fear of your chronic non-malignant pain will not even enter your mind. You can start to once again pursue the things you used to love doing, instead of avoiding them.

If you are in chronic pain have it checked out by your doctor and ask about either starting with, or using mind-body strategies as an adjunct to their recommendation. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.

 

Reference:

Morone, Natalia E. & Greco, Carol M (2007). Mind-Body interventions for chronic pain in older adults: A structured review. Pain Medicinevol 8(4) pp 359-375.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

How to Keep Your TV From Killing You

Older adults are the most sedentary segment of society.  Beyond sitting at our desks in front of computers for hours on end, one of our major leisure time activities is watching television for hours on end. The new buzzword for this is “binge-watching”. According to a Deloitte survey, 70% of Americans, including over 1/3 of baby boomers engage in “binge-watching”, or watching multiple episodes of a TV show in one sitting. There is no shortage of data pointing to evidence that a sedentary lifestyle can shorten our life. The data show that low levels of physical activity are responsible for over 5 million deaths each year world wide, and long hours of TV viewing increases the risk of premature death by 33%.

Physical activity, on the other hand, reduces cardiovascular risk, as well as obesity, hypertension and even cognitive impairment later in life.

Getting rid of our TVs is probably not a realistic an option, but there are a few solutions that may counteract the health risks associated with hours of continuous television-watching. One of those solutions is “active” TV-watching, such as stepping in place during commercials.

Research has found that the average number of calories burned from stepping (i.e. marching or walking) in place during commercials within 1.5 hours of TV watching, is equal to the number of calories expended during 30 minutes of walking at a pace of 3mph (150 calories).

Another suggestion is to take advantage of an entire half hour show or newscast to use your home exercise equipment. Do some strength training with your light dumbbells and leg weights or do a few calisthenics using your body weight: knee pushups, planks, modified squats, and dips. Before you know it you will have a half hour of daily exercise under your belt And that belt, by the way, will gradually need to be tightened!

You can also alternate strength training with cardio exercise; same half-hour TV slot, only you can march in front of your favorite program through the entire 30 minutes, free form dance, alternate jumping jacks with grapevine dance moves, or step lifts, kicks, or any other move that gets your heart pumping a bit.

Last but not least, don’t forget to warm up and cool down adequately.  Protecting our muscles and bones is even more important as we age.  Do a few stretches; take a few deep breaths. Reset.

Remember this: Ageless fitness doesn’t require a Herculean effort; only non-negotiable regularity.  Be consistent about turning your TV time (or at least a portion of it) into active watching time. You’ll feel better, and look better too!

 

 

References:

Chastin, S.F.M. et al (2015) Systematic literature review of determinants of sedentary behavior in older adults: a DEDICAC Study.  International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Vol 12:127.

Deloitte.com/us/tmttrends (2015) Digital Democracy Survey

Steeves, J.A., Thompson, D.L, & Basset JR D.R. (2012) Energy cost of stepping in plae while watching television commercials.  Medicine and Science in Sports Medicine. Pp330-335.

Steinberg, S.I., et al. (2015) Exercise, sedentary pastimes, and cognitive performance in healthy older adults.  American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias. Vol 30 (33) pp290-298

Turi, et.al. (2017) TV viewing time is associated with increased all-cause mortality in Brazilian adults independent of physical activity. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 28:596-603.

(c) Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

 

 

How To Let Yourself “Flow” Into Happiness

Have you ever become so engrossed in a project that you lost all track of time?  Try to remember how you felt –that deep sense of personal satisfaction, a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of wonder and the motivation to keep going; shutting out anything else that might have distracted you.  You might say you were in the ZONE.  It’s been known for quite some time that the activities we engage in can either add to our happiness or detract from it. This is especially true as we grow older, when time is of the essence and how you spend each moment—matters.

 The phenomenon I am referring to is called “flow”.

A state of flowrefers to the high you get when you become engrossed in an activity that brings you such joy and satisfaction that you become seamlessly entwined with the experience, losing all sense of the passage of time. Everything else fades into the background.  You feel productive, on top of your game, in control. Most likely you are also following your heart; doing something you are passionate about.

Csikszentmihalyi first introduced his theory of flow state to the world of psychology in 1975 and since then, researchers across various fields, such as education, sports psychology, neuroscience and others have leveraged this phenomenon to improve performance and increase success.  Important to note, is something called the Match Hypothesis—that is you are more likely to achieve flow state when you choose activities that match your abilities to the demands of the task. Everyone is different, of course. Some people are more cognitively oriented and are more likely to achieve flow when working on intellectual pursuits (reading, writing, continuing education); some are more inclined toward the creative skills (playing a musical instrument, drawing, acting); some the interpersonal skills (showing empathy, communicating, emotional intelligence). It may be that you are a combination of those, but usually, we derive more satisfaction when engaged in one of those areas, as opposed to the others. I know for myself, when I work on something that is a mismatch for my abilities, I end up frustrated and eventually unfocused, not to mention feeling like I wasted x amount of time that I can never get back.

More recently, researchers have found that the principle of “flow” may be an important key to well-being in older adults. It seems to protect our cognitive functioning as we age.

If you are not already doing so, consider reserving at least one hour of your day to give complete concentration to an activity you find rewarding; one that lifts you up to a higher level and helps you transcend the mundane tasks we all have to do each day. Enjoy the natural high that comes with experiencing flow on a daily basis.

Here is how to start honoring your life with a daily dose of flow-driven happiness

  1. Make a list of several projects/activities that you love to do. They should be challenging but not so far beyond your ability that you will be frustrated and abandon the activity.
  2. Categorize these activities (intellectual/cognitive, creative, interpersonal, kinesthetic/physical), etc.). You may find that you gravitate towards one or more areas.
  3. Rate the activities in terms of how closely each project is aligned with your abilities. Remember they should be challenging enough to hold your interest and give you a sense of achievement when completed; yet they are well within your skillset to achieve.
  4. Set aside an appointment with yourself for no less than an hour a day.
  5. Choose one project from you list which you will work on during that hour each day until that project is complete.
  6. Eliminate all distractions—no phone, email, social media, getting up to vacuum, or anything else. Resign yourself to spending this time fully engaged in the chosen activity.
  7. Be mindful of the peace and satisfaction this one hour of engagement offers you.

The flow experience is a simple way to enrich your life, give you something to look forward to each day, and increase your passion for life. It is also your chance to engage in experiences you have always aspired to before the other to-do’s of living got in the way. I urge you now to go for it. Take out that easel and paint palate; weave that rug; observe the sunrise; outline the novel you have had stuck in your head; compose the lyrics and music to that song you once thought of writing; build that bird feeder; study that period in history that always fascinated you; learn to tango; feel the waves crash around your feet as you breathe in the salty ocean air; fire up your camera and capture life’s portraits—and allow your passions drive your personal flow state. The result? You will be giving yourself the extraordinary gift of a daily dose of happiness.

Reference

Payne, et al (2011) In the Zone: Flow State and Cognition in Older Adults. Psychology and Agingvol 26(3) pp738-743.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

How A Simple Tomato Can Help You Write Your Book

I wrote my first book over 15 years ago. When it was published, it seemed everywhere I went people were not only interested in discussing the contents of the book, but also wanted me to coach them on how to write THEIR book. One woman told me she had wanted to write a book for the past 10 years, and please would I tell her what the “secret” was.

Well, there is no secret, not really. Just like there is no secret to losing weight—it comes down to the obvious Nike logo of “Just Do It”.

Everyone who has written a book knows that writing courses can be insightful, writer’s groups may offer motivation and camaraderie, but if you spend too much of your time attending courses and going to writers groups, you are robbing yourself of the time you need to write the book itself. Furthermore, the whole notion of “writer’s block” is another method of stalling, as it is premised on the misbelief that you have to wait for inspiration to strike before you can write.

There is no “Muse” that is going to descend on you and tell you what to write. So stop waiting for one, get rid of all excuses and distractions and make a commitment to yourself to WRITE!

Becoming an author doesn’t require a degree in literature, stimulating as that might be. It comes from the very mundane task of being willing to work hard, set aside time EVERY DAY to sit in a chair, and focus on typing out what you have outlined or planned.

The psychology of motivation, tells us that when we “chunk” large tasks into mini tasks, and then record our progress on paper, we actually get somewhere. Why? We can track our progress every time we reach a “mini-goal”, and seeing what we have accomplished thus far, motivates us to take the next step.

We can apply this technique to writing a book and I will share with you, a method that some of the most renowned authors use (e.g. Daniel H. Pink): It is called The Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato.

What does a tomato have to do with writing a book? Back in the late 80s when Francesco Cirillo, the creator of the technique, was in university, he always felt like no matter how hard he worked, he was not doing well with his studying. A big part of that was lack of focus, motivation, and too many distractions. Today we have even more distractions and for would-be authors, with publishers telling them to grow their presence on social media and build their “platform”, get out there and do some speaking, added to the daily tasks of oh, I don’t know, keeping your home in order, working a full or part time job, caring for pets, children or grandchildren, getting our exercise in and the other gazillion things that pop up in our mental “to-do” list every day—somehow our writing dreams just fade into the background until they dry up.

 

Don’t let YOUR dream of becoming an author dry up!

 

As an advocate of Aging Happy (title of my 4th book, which will be out in the beginning of 2019), I know how satisfying AND therapeutic writing can be, as we get older. I also know you may have wisdom and inspiration that others can benefit from if only you will get it down in writing.

Maybe you just want to write a book to leave as legacy to your children, grandchildren and generations to come with no particular desire to publish beyond making a few copies at the local printer. Or, you may want to finally write that novel from an idea you have had inside you for years but never acted upon, or started but never finished. Maybe you have a special expertise that you want to share with others by writing self-help or how to book.

The Pomodoro Technique was named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo himself used to help him stay focused on his studying, and later on his professional work tasks. The technique helped him become successful in all areas of his life and has since helped many others. In a nutshell, here is an example of how it works, as applied to writing a book:

 

Goal: Writing a Book

Equipment: Kitchen Timer (shaped like a tomato or not); Paper, Pencil, and amount of time you will set aside EACH DAY for your task—in this case, of writing a book.

Time: I like to set a non-negotiable block of time each day (either before or after work).

 

  1. Choose the Task you will work on today: This task can be the outlining of your book, or the completion of 5-10 pages of a chapter, or doing the research needed for that chapter.
  2. Set your Timer (pomodoro or other kitchen timer) for 25 minutes.
  3. During this 25-minute time segment, block out all distractions. No Internet, no cellphone, no TV on in the background.
  4. Work straight through for 25 minutes, then when the timer rings put a check mark next to the title of that task (see below for example). Next comes a short break.
  5. Get up and stretch, walk around the house, get water, take a bathroom break, etc., for 3-5 minutes.
  6. Set the timer for another 25 minutes and get back to the task.
  7. Repeat the process. After each 25-minute segment, put another checkmark next to your task.
  8. After 4 pomodori (or checkmarks) take a longer break of 20-30 minutes. Go out for a walk, pop in an exercise video, prepare a salad, do whatever does not involve the task you are working on. This way you will clear your head and be able to get back to task until it is completed
  9. Set the Timer again in 25-minute segments and repeat the process until your task for that day is complete.

 

Make sure that you are realistic in setting your task(s) for the day. For example if you only have 1 hour a day to devote to writing, don’t set a goal of completing an entire chapter in that one hour. Self-motivation is about seeing yourself succeed at the mini tasks you set out. A bunch of completed sub-tasks will serve as reward and motivator to keep you going when you realize what you have already accomplished thus far.

 

Rough Example of The Pomodoro Technique applied to writing a book:

Outline Book ✔✔✔✔ longer break ✔✔
Write Preface ✔✔✔✔ longer break ✔✔✔✔ longer break ✔✔✔
Research Chapter 1 ✔✔✔✔longer break✔

 

Now is the time. If you have always wanted to write a book, get going and share your insights and expertise by finally getting them on paper. You can do this, if you just take that first step and START!

Let’s start a conversation in the comments section below: What will YOUR book be about?

 

Reference (and for more information)

Cirillo, Francesco (2009, 2018) The Pomodoro Technique, LuLu & Currency Publishers)

(C) Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

Feeling Lonely? Enter Digital Pet.

My personal reality of dog ownership includes frequent veterinary bills, skin allergy meds, anti-cataract eye drops, prescription shampoo, specific hypoallergenic diet, occasional emergency trips to the pet ER, scratched hardwood flooring and gnawed furniture. Now if I had a virtual pet all I would have to do is power up my iPad, press the virtual Fido avatar, and voila’: A canine companion that needs little maintenance, eats nothing, costs nothing, and doesn’t require walks in the dark frigid mornings of winter or the sweltering high afternoons of summer. In fact, with a mere swipe of my tablet screen my virtual pet could even converse with me and remind me to get up and exercise, take my vitamin D tab, or just lend an ear when I want to blow off a little steam and there’s no one else to call.

I envision this possible scenario:

Me: Fido, tell me the truth: Do I look better in the blue dress or the red?

Virtual Fido: LOL (laughing out loud). I’m colorblind; COR (Come on, Raeleen)!

Me: Okay OOTD (outfit of the day) then will be tomato-red Yoga pants and purple studded sweatshirt.

Virtual Fido: ROFL (Rolling on the floor laughing)

Me: YOLO (You only live once)

Virtual Fido: ^5 (high five).

Okay, perhaps it wouldn’t go down exactly like that, but could I become so attached to this maintenance-free virtual pet that it starts to appeal to me more than my sweet, adorable, albeit issue-laded real dog?

No way, because despite my sickly pup’s requirements I can’t imagine life without her. I get pure love in return. And loyalty. And a ton of laughs and smiles just watching her play with her toys, or scamper toward her food dish when its time to eat. No, Virtual Fido could never replace the joy I get from my Real Fido.

That said, I cannot dismiss the fact that Digital Fido can possibly make an important contribution to an older person’s life.

The truth is, about 30% of older adults live alone and the number growing in leaps and bounds with each year that passes. Granted, some are alone because they actually enjoy more solitude than most, but even the most solitary amongst us need social interaction every now and then. Studies on loneliness show that too much isolation can affect us emotionally and physically, and even put us at a higher risk of premature death. Do I encourage you to welcome a live pet into your home if you are able to love and care for it, and provide it a good life? Absolutely. Researchers have consistently shown that older adults who own pets—especially dogs, reap a number of benefits beyond the obvious companionship, which protects against loneliness and isolation. Dog owners specifically have been found to reap additional health benefits from increased physical activity and an improved social life. You will get more exercise throughout the day than a non-pet owner typically gets, and you almost can’t help but meet new acquaintances who want to meet your adorable furry creature and start a conversation as you pass by.

But of course, not everyone has the temperament to be a pet owner. Not everyone can accommodate an animal in their condo or apartment. Not everyone can afford the expenses that come with owning a dog.

Seeing a need for more connectivity in the aging population to combat isolation, researchers from the universities of Washington Seattle, and Northwestern conducted a pilot study with 10 older adults ages 68-89 from a retirement community in Seattle, who had no cognitive impairment and who were comfortable using technology. They were trained in using a tablet-based ECA (embodied conversational agent) system with a pet avatar named “Digital Pet”. The participants were interviewed over the next three months at baseline, midpoint and an exit interview.

While there were a few concerns/complaints about this virtual pet (e.g.—it didn’t work right when the Internet went down; the conversations were too superficial, etc.), overall, the reaction was surprisingly favorable. One person reported that having Digital Pet was a fun conversation starter when she took him out for a walk! As with any pilot study, the information gathered is intended to identify and iron out the glitches before launching a larger more encompassing study. The researchers agreed that having older persons as co-designers of the system would help to help to increase the usefulness and acceptability of the Digital Pet.

Let’s be honest: None of us really think that computers can ever replace the warmth and cuddliness of a real live pet (or human being for that matter), but when used to enhance a person’s quality of life, who might otherwise be isolated—I doubt that anyone would deny that the “Digital Pet” ECS might have some real potential down the road.

 

NOTE: I want to take a minute to thank you for your comments and emails to let me how much you enjoy reading these articles. Because The Psychology of Happy Aging is a relatively new blog, please help me spread the word. SUBSCRIBE, and let your friends and acquaintances know about it by sharing any articles you feel they might enjoy, or the URL: RaeleenMautner.com   If you haven’t’ downloaded my 5 Happiness Tips on the top bar of the homepage I invite you to do so. By entering your email address you will be the first to know when my upcoming book, “Aging Happy: How to Knock Out the Nonsense and Live the Best Years of Your Life” will be released. Mille grazie.

 

 

References

Nai-Ching, C et.al. (2017)   Pilot testing a digital pet avatar for older adults   Geriatric Nursing 38 pp. 542-547

Heuberger, R. (2017) Associations of Pet Ownership with Older Adults Eating

Patterns and Health. Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research Volume 2017 pp. 1-9.

 

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

Can You Ever Be TOO Happy? The Answer Might Surprise You.

 

On more than one occasion I have been mildly chided for being “too happy”. While I don’t consider myself sickeningly exuberant, I am, in general, an optimist; which is not to say I am immune to life’s heartaches. Never-the-less I guess that irritates some people. But it did make me think. I know that in general, too much of a good thing can actually be—well, no good at all. For example, once a year I enjoy a magnificent zeppola di San Giuseppe; a fried Italian pastry , filled with custard, lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar and finished with a maraschino cherry on top. Fortunately, they are only on display at pastry shops around the time of St. Joseph’s Day (Father’s Day in Italy), the 19th of March. Heaven knows if they were available every day of the year, I would be a regular at my favorite Italian bakery and gradually either morph into a cannon ball, or get physically sick from eating a half-dozen in one sitting. So yes, moderation in most things, is key. But come on; happiness?? Can we ever be just too darned happy?

As it turns out, the answer is YES…and NO.

Let me be clear, I ran across no studies that indicate happiness is a bad thing; in fact, happiness is an agreed upon good thing, and has a number of benefits in every age category. Moreover, happy people seem to be more successful in all areas of life—from work, to love, to health—than are unhappy people. What researchers found, however, when taking a closer look, was that there are certain situations where ultra-happiness is productive and other situations where it may be counterproductive.

There are many definitions of happiness, and those definitions vary among individuals, but for the most part, we are referring to subjective well-being—a feeling of positive emotion and life satisfaction. Some experts define happiness as the presence of positive affect and absence of negative affect. But here’s the rub: there are situations where being 100% satisfied with things as they are will kill your motivation to take action in ways that might improve your circumstances. Sometimes negative emotions can be productive. Fear, for example, keeps me from walking down a dark alley in a strange neighborhood at night alone. I can whistle zip-a-dee-do-dah (yeah, okay, I still love that song) all I want, but that won’t help me avoid danger. Similarly, anxiety about my knee pain motivates me to see a physical therapist so I can get out of pain. A certain amount of stress keeps me on target in meeting my writing deadlines, and memorizing my theater scripts. A strong superego (i.e., guilt) keeps me from violating my own moral code.

Thus, when a person’s situation is less than ideal, being happy but not 100 -percent happy, leaves room for the kind of uneasiness that can lead to positive changes. If an uber-happy person is in a low paying job with no chance of advancement, (s)he may not put in the effort to get a better paying job that would cover the monthly bills; or fail to pursue a more challenging career because there is no motivation to seek more education or training.

Thus when overly happy people are in bad circumstances, they may become complacent and not seek to improve their situation. Too much happiness becomes an obstacle to making positive changes in such cases.

On the other hand, there are other situations where maximum happiness is a good thing. For instance in relationships, where being totally positive can help you overlook some of the more irritating flaws of our partners, family, and friends. Being totally content with your circumstances may have a positive impact on the stability of a marriage, for example, where you do want avoid making such changes, as searching for another partner.

Researchers examined how respondents rated their overall life satisfaction on a 10-point scale on The World Values Survey Data. They also examined other variables such as relationship satisfaction, highest level of education completed, volunteer status, and political participation. They found that the highest possible life satisfaction score was correlated to satisfying volunteer work and relationship status; whereas moderately high levels of satisfaction (i.e., less than maximum) were more useful when it came to income, education, and political participation –all variables that can improve our life circumstances if we are motivated to take action to make changes.

So have no fear about pursuing what Aristotle considered to be the ultimate goal in lifeàHAPPINESS. Just make sure you can gauge when complacency is keeping you from improving your situation when change is called for.

 

Reference

Shigehiro, O., Diener, E., & Lucas, R.E. (2007). The optimum level of well-being: Can people be too happy? Perspectives on Psychological Science. Vol 2(4) pp 346-360.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

Self-Help Books: Can They Really Make You Happier?

Don’t let anyone make you feel embarrassed about reading self-help books. I for one, devour them. I also write them. Why? Because I am convinced in their potential for helping readers get through tough times or get to better times. For some reason, just as with psychotherapy, self-help books come with an undeserved stigma attached to them. Critics say they can be “dangerous”, they can give us “false hope”, or the motivational boost they might give readers initially is fleeting—and then what? Well then you re-read, and re-assess. The truth of the matter is that up to 85% of psychotherapists recommend self-help books to their own patients, and a growing number of studies show that self-help books can make a big difference in readers’ lives. Self-help is as uniquely American as Stars and Stripes and the right to the pursuit of happiness as laid out for us in the Constitution.

If I didn’t believe there was a valid place in the world for good self-help books, I wouldn’t have dedicated many long hours, months, and years of my life writing them. Researchers use the word “bibliotherapy” (biblio=books) to refer to people who seek to feel better through the reading of certain books, and there is growing evidence that for many people, such books do make a difference. Let’s face it, most people don’t have access (or the time or interest) to go to the research journals and muddle through pages of academic writing. They shouldn’t have to have a degree in statistical analysis to interpret what research findings. A good self-help book, in my opinion, brings this information out the obscure journals and laboratories, and into the light of day; making it available and understandable for all who might benefit. I happen to trust that readers can make their own decisions as to whether one book or another makes sense to them; whether they want to try some of the suggestions contained in it; or whether they need more help than a book can give. If self-help books have become cliché or stigmatized part of the reason is that some authors have taken advantage of their platform by using their book as a little more than an empty advertisement for the author’s more expensive programs or products, without giving the reader any real information in the book itself. There are some charlatans in the field that just outright lie, by giving you “miracle” cures for just about every malady under the sun that “they don’t want’ you to know about.” Well ok, such con artists exist in every sector, but if you do a little research, read book excerpts, and examine real (non-solicited) reviews, rest assured that you can find very valuable self-help books with solid information, suggestions, and exercises that will help you to improve your mood, revamp your lifestyle, improve your finances, help you lose weight, learn how to dress more professionally, build better relationships, and get through loss.

Self-help books are neither a panacea, nor a substitute for psychotherapy when you need it; but my point is that you don’t always need it, anymore than you need medical therapy for minor injuries. If I fall and scrape my knee I wash the wound, slather it with some ointment and throw a Band-Aid over it. If I shatter my kneecap, you better believe I am off to a medical professional. Self-help can give you a clear roadmap for navigating the everyday challenges of life. Centuries ago people looked to philosophers or spiritual leaders for wisdom; today, self-help books in America have gained unprecedented popularity.

So the long answer to the question is YES, self-help books really can make a positive difference in your life. One study I came across even found self-help reading to be a viable remedy for sadness or depression in older adults.

Research has shown that both cognitive and cognitive behavioral therapy have typically had high success rates in reversing depression or depressive symptoms—and in many cases are at least as effective as anti-depressant medication perhaps even more effective. But there will always be individuals who, for whatever the reason, cannot afford to go to a mental health professional, do not have access to one, or who just don’t feel comfortable with one-to-one therapy. A good self-help book can be an effective alternative.

Adults between the ages and 60 and 80 were divided into three groups: Individual psychotherapy sessions (12-20 sessions); Cognitive bibiliotherapy (participants were asked to read a book called Feeling Good (David Burns, 1980) and complete all of the exercises in the book; and a third group, the control group, was the delayed treatment group. In general, both of the “treatment” conditions improved geriatric depression more than the control group, and both psychotherapy and bibliotherapy were found to be viable options for depression in older adults.

So the next time you are in a books store, library, or browsing online, check out the self-help books that address whatever it is you want to work on. And don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wasting your time. You and I know otherwise.

Let’s start a discussion! What are YOUR favorite self-help books? I would love to know how a good self-help book made a difference in your life. I welcome your comments below.

 

References:

Bergsma, Ad (2008) Do Self Help Books Help? Journal of Happiness Studies 9 pp. 341-360

Floyd et. al (2004) Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A Comparison of Individual Psychotherapy and Bibliotherapy for Depressed Older Adults. Behavior Modification 28(2) pp. 297-318

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

Nostalgia-Induced Youthfulness? Sign Me Up!

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

What a treasure I recently happened upon: An episode of The Jack LaLanne Show from the 1950’s! There he was, the Pioneer of Fitness with his over-the-top enthusiasm, and a charisma that catapulted you from your easy chair into jumping jacks before your mind even had a chance to talk yourself out of it. Oh, what nostalgia! In grade school I was mesmerized in front of our black and white TV as Jack, his stately German Shepherd “Happy”, and his super-cheerful wife Elaine LaLanne got me ready for a simple, 20-minute workout routine, in which nothing more was needed than my own body, and a few things I had around the house—soup cans for weights, a jump rope, maybe a chair. Then, as a backdrop to the overall exuberance—came the muffled sound of a live organ playing Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do. The tempo got faster and faster until Elaine LaLanne could barely keep up and would eventually burst into laughter as Jack encouraged her keep going, keep going, do one more jumping jack.

Watching that show again brought back all kinds of wonderful memories that went beyond Jacks message of exercise and healthy nutrition. At one point he would pull up a chair, look into the camera and saying something like “Boys and Girls, now go get your Mom and your Dad and have them do these exercises with you”. Being as I still believed TV was magical and that Jack was able to see me right through the screen— into the kitchen I ran to get my mother. Of course she resisted, so I would grab her hand and pull her into the “parlor” (what we called the living room back then) and insisted she do the exercises with me. Eventually, unable to keep up, she too, would burst out laughing. Then I would run downstairs and show my grandmother how to do them too—but that was where the line was drawn because in her day in Sicily, intentional exercise hadn’t even been invented; and had it been no one would have done something so silly because life back then was hard enough and physical on its own terms.

These and more memories came flooding back as I recently watched that episode, and I suddenly I felt a surge of happiness. I sent away for a DVD of old Jack LaLanne TV shows and started exercising to them, simply because they made me happy. I still belly laugh at his his corny jokes, contort my face all over the place like I used to do back in the 50’s when Jack commanded us to exercise our face muscles. Reconnecting to something that made me so joyful in childhood still has the power to bring me right back to simpler times, growing up with my parents and sister in a 4-room third floor flat above my grandfather’s shoe store and down the street from my other grandparent’s little grocery market. One memory spawned another and another and I begin to feel like a kid again.

As it turns out, nostalgia may really be the fountain of youth. I’m not talking about external appearance, but rather, when we FEEL younger than our chronological age, studies show that we also feel healthier, more confident about our physical abilities, and more optimistic about our future health. A walk down memory lane can give you that feeling of turning back the clock.

Granted, for a small percentage of people, nostalgia can be equated to a kind of sad longing for something lost in the past. But more recent research shows that for most, nostalgia helps people feel more youthful and promotes a greater sense of well-being. A sentimental affection for one’s past, seems to give us a sense of continuity and a self-perception of youthfulness. Among other benefits this feeling of youthfulness has translated into more positive recovery from illness, lower levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation in the body), and an increased level of strength when performing tasks.

Researchers from North Dakota State University performed three studies that compared participants who were asked to induce nostalgia, by listening to a song they from their childhood, versus the “control” group who were asked to listen to a contemporary song. In all three studies, the older subjects in the nostalgic group—regardless of gender, felt younger than their chronological age. They were also more optimistic about their health, and had a more positive outlook about their current and future health status as compared to the control group.

So the Jack LaLanne effect is not all in my head after all. I didn’t think so. I have since found other ways to weave the warmth of nostalgia into my life. Here are some of them:

  1. Music: I regularly listen to my favorite songs from the 60’s and 70’s; both those in Italian and in English that I loved. Gianni Morandi, Sergio Endrigo, Massimo Ranieri, Iva Zanicchi, Mia Martini, Cream, Mamas and the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, Dusty Springfield, and all those wonderful bands from the “British invasion”.
  2. Artifacts from yesteryear: I located and purchased a perfume that I used to use back in the day—Blue Waltz! It is still as sickening sweet as it was then, but there was a magic to it, which, when I put it on today still happens!
  3. Retro-Dressing: I have a few “retro dresses” that I absolutely love. I found these on Amazon and they are very inexpensive. They are not the quality that will last a decade, but for a couple of seasons, I can look like I Love Lucy if I want to. Oh, Ricky?!!
  4. Old TV Shows: I adore reruns of I love Lucy, the Carol Burnett, Show, I Married Joan, Topper, Leave it to Beaver, Andy of Mayberry, Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour, Lassie, Popeye, The Three Stooges. And of course the yearly event of The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland. My heart still skips when the wicket witch flies onto the scene. We watched that in our little parlor on that Sunday evening. The black and white versions are still the best.
  5. Live in Real (not virtual) Time: I like to spend my free time doing simple things, like I did back then. Forget FaceTime—go make a real time visit. Get up from your computer and start to explore the places you google. Get involved in community theater, go to a discussion group, and art exhibit or a museum. Take a course in a real classroom.
  6. Browse old photo albums: Be careful that this one doesn’t bring you more pain than joy. Select the photos that put a smile on your face, not those that re-open an emotional wound.

Question for my Readers: Does nostalgia make you feel more youthful? What are some of your happiest childhood memories that energize you when you think back to them? Let’s start a conversation!

Reference:

Abeyta, Andrew A., & Routledge, Clay (2016). Fountain of youth: The impact of nostalgia on youthfulness and implications for health. Self and Identity. Vol 15(3) pp. 356-369

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

The Placebo That Really CAN Help You Lose Weight-Your Mindset!

Experts say there is no easy way to lose weight or improve your fitness level. Yeah okay; we all know the routine: Eat right and get plenty of physical activity. Kudos to you who love to go to the gym—but you probably won’t find me there. Different strokes for different folks. I like to exercise to home videos, or go outside for a brisk walk then finish with some strengthening moves. Whatever way we get the job done. But here’s something I haven’t paid enough attention to—UNTIL NOW. Did you know that aside from your daily planned workout, you can also reap some real exercise benefits by simply regarding your household tasks as “exercise” too?

If you don’t already do that, you might want to reconsider.

The placebo effect is an outcome that has nothing to do with an actual drug or remedy but rather, to the therapeutic effect of your own beliefs and expectations. A review of the research in this area shows that the mind-body connection is no fairy tale. Placebo studies that involved depression drugs have produced impressive results, but the mind-body connection has also been explored in other ways. It has been effective—not as a cure—but as a powerful way to address pain, insomnia, stress, and even to counteract the side effects of cancer treatments; like nausea and fatigue. As it turns out, our mind is not only capable of producing positive effects on our health, but negative expectations can also produce negative results, which scientists call the “nocebo” effect. For example; older persons who perceive their health as “poor” were 6x more likely to die than those who regarded their health as “excellent”; regardless of actual health status. In another study, participants who were exposed to fake poison ivy (but believed it was real) developed actual poison ivy rashes. Likewise, subjects who were told they were drinking caffeine (but really weren’t) produced increased motor performance and heart rates, similar to what would be seen with the effects of caffeine.

But how can all of this make me lose weight?

A study out of Harvard revealed that when it comes to getting exercise, your mind-set can influence how many calories you burn, how much body fat you lose, and how fast your waist will whittle down—by simply being aware that your daily activities ALSO burn calories, and believing that these activities, too, are “exercise”. Think of the possibilities: We make the bed every day, go up and down the stairs in our home or workplace, vacuum and wash the floors, clean bathrooms, dust furniture, till the garden, shovel snow, repaint the backyard fence, mow the lawn, sweep the driveway and push a grocery cart for at least 30 minutes twice a week. These are just routine tasks, but when perceived as exercise, they may actually help you get fit—without doing anything else beyond what you are already doing.

The researchers in the Harvard study randomly assigned hotel room attendants from 7 hotels to the “informed” or control group. Hotel attendants clean on average 15 rooms a day, which takes about 20 minutes each to complete. They are bending, lifting, pushing vacuums and carts, carrying supplies, etc. Those in the informed condition received information on the benefits of exercise, and were informed that their daily work satisfied the Surgeon General’s statement that all adults should get 30 minutes of exercise each day. They were given specific information about the benefits of exercise and the calorie expenditure of each of the tasks they performed in their job. This group was also told that their daily housekeeping work satisfied the recommended prescription for daily exercise. Subjects in the control group received the same information about the benefits of exercise, but were not told that their work tasks fulfilled the requirement for daily exercise. There were no other significant changes to the housekeepers’ diet, or other aspects of their lifestyle.

The results were fascinating. After just 4 weeks, the informed group’s blood pressure was lower, they lost weight, their BMI went down, and so did their waist-to-hip ratio. No such changes occurred among the participants in the control group. In other words, increasing one’s “perceived” exercise—independent of actual exercise—resulted in measured physiological benefits.

The implications of this study go far beyond exercise benefits. Think of how many ways your positive expectations might create other meaningful changes in your life. Imagine how you might benefit by training yourself to habitually expect the best; not dread the worst.

Placebo or not—Sign me up for a lifetime prescription!

Comment below: What are some ways you could expect more positive results from some aspect of your life? Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Please “subscribe” to my blog if you enjoy reading it. And don’t forget to download the free Happiness Tips eBook on my home page. Thank you for stopping by!

Reference

Crum, Alia J., & Langer, Ellen J., (2007). Mind-Set Matters: Exercise and the placebo effect. Psychological Science.Vol 18(2) Pp165-171.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC