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

Do You Use Make-Up to Enhance Or Hide?

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

Back in the late 60’s, my M.O. included large hoop earrings, ironed hair, and a splash of Oh de London, before leaving the house with my transistor radio to do the beach strut. I thought I looked pretty dam good. That is, until one particular girl –Yvonne–caused all the boys in our summer neighborhood fall all over themselves whenever she walked by. What the heck did she have that I didn’t? Well, frankly quite a bit, but what it really boiled down to was her— LIPSTICK. Yes, it was the lightest of pink, almost pearlescent. And rumor had it, that it was peppermint! , I never heard one comment about her knockout bikini figure, her large, hypnotic eyes, or her gorgeous dark curly hair. NO. It was all about that lipstick. Not that any of the boys had actually kissed her but that little tube of tint had the capacity to make every boy at least dream of what it would be like to steal a kiss from the alluring girl with peppermint- coated lips.

That was my first observation about the power of makeup to create a perception of beauty— dating back the time of Cleopatra, who was adored for her intriguing painted eyes, long blackened eyelashes, and rose colored lips and cheeks (made possible by red ochre, a type of iron-enriched clay).

The majority of research studies support the fact that women who use makeup are perceived to be more attractive than those who don’t. In one study, women were professionally made up with customized products and application thought to best enhance the specific individual’s features. Then the “judges”, male and female, would look at the same woman’s face in 5 conditions: a) no makeup; b) foundation only; c) eye make-up only, d) lipstick only; and e) full facial make-up (with all of the above). Female judges thought the eye makeup alone condition was most attractive, while the male judges rated eye makeup and foundation to be the most attractive. None of the judges chose the “no makeup” condition as being most attractive.

Personally, I enjoy the “artistry” involved in using makeup, although the older I get the less I use. I have no desire to morph into a “whatever happened to Baby Jane” version of myself; but I do think a little color here and there enhances my current-aged self. Self-adornment can be a reflection of self-respect, although many women bypass make up altogether—and there is no problem whatsoever with their self-esteem. Some older women, however, feel they MUST use makeup or cosmetic procedures to hide their age, because of the consequences of living in a youth-worshiping culture, where they may face age discrimination on the job, or become “invisible” when trying to relate to others.

In fact when women 50-70 years old were interviewed about their reasons for engaging in “beauty work”, to enhance their appearance (e.g., hair dye, makeup, cosmetic surgery, and non-surgical procedures); their explanations included the following:

  • To fight against the invisibility of aging
  • It was part of a lifelong investment in one’s appearance
  • Desire to attract a romantic partner.
  • Because of employment-related ageism.

If you are among those who use makeup to hide your age, because you are either ashamed of the physical changes of growing older, or fear the societal consequences of being perceived as “old”, let me reassure you, you are not alone. But you alone do have the power to turn others’ perceptions around.  You can start by improving your own body image, and acknowledging your ageless beauty. Have fun with makeup if that is your thing. Wear clothes that make you feel great. Stand up tall and proud. Respect yourself and believe in your unique contribution to this world. And only after all of the above– if you feel like buying a tube of peppermint pink lipstick–You go for it 🙂

Do you enjoy or avoid using makeup? I’d love to read your thoughts, so do leave a comment below! 

References:

Clarke L.H., & Griffin M. (2008). Visible and invisible ageing: beauty work as a response to ageism. Ageing & Society (28). 653-674.

Indianpublicmedia.org “Did Cleopatra Wear Makeup?”

Mulhurn et. al. (2003) Do cosmetics enhance female Caucasian facial attractiveness? International Journal of Cosmetic Science (25) 199-205

 

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

When Can We Finally Make Friends What We See in the Mirror?

Years ago, I conducted a cross-cultural study on body image when the bulk of the research in this area focused on adolescents and young women, who were the most prone to life-threatening eating disorders. We know that eating disorders often stem from being at odds with our physical appearance; usually our weight. Adolescent girls are more likely to acquire a negative body image than are their male peers and here’s why: When girls hit puberty, their bodies become curvier as Mother Nature adds some padding here and there as part of normal healthy physical development. Boys at the same age start to become taller, leaner, more broad-shouldered and start to grow facial hair. Considering we live in a culture that up until recently (and this is only just beginning to change) worshiped thinness as the ideal for girls, and broad-shouldered masculinity for boys, many girls at this age compare themselves to impossibly thin “ideals”, and realize it is unattainable for the majority of us. While boys get closer to society’s ideal for them at this stage, female puberty brings girls further away from their “ideal”. Thus begins a cycle of body dissatisfaction, or Body Image Disturbance (BID) depending on the severity, and an adversarial relationship with our body affects our everyday life. Serial dieting, binging, purging, seeing distorted reflections when we look in the mirror that don’t correspond to the reality, critical self-talk, and many other maladaptive behaviors begin to spring forth.

While a handful of studies have found that to a certain degree, women like their bodies more when they get older, the majority of findings tell a different story. Just as a girl, through the natural developmental process, gets more distance to the youth beauty ideal of the advertising or cosmetics industry, think of what happens as a woman ages. Now she is told to wear stretch undergarments so she can smooth out her post-menopausal padding, turtlenecks to hide her “turkey waddle” neck, long pants in the summer to cover her “elephant knees” and loose tunics that camouflage our “muffin tops”. Honestly, I don’t know who come up wit these names!

The truth is, many women hate their appearance all of their lives. That’s a long time spent loathing what we should be grateful for. What we should be proud of, as there is beauty in every age, just like in every season in Nature. Some older women even suffer from eating disorders. Or drain their wallets and bank accounts on a desperate quest to try and look 25 again. Instead of aging with dignity and confidence, we feel marginalized and unattractive. As men age, there is some research to indicated that with the gradual physical decline that comes from age—no so much the change in appearance—men start to be dissatisfied with the way they look too (remember, society’s ideal of masculine strength).

So why is a positive body image so important? Because the way feel about our body is connected with our self-esteem and that relationship doesn’t weaken with age.

It is time to establish our own standard of beauty, attractiveness, confidence, and meaning. While this website is no substitute for professional counseling if you need it, in my opinion we can start doing two things now to start making friends with the woman (or man) in the mirror.

First—take care of the body you live in. We should all try to look and feel our best through good nutrition and regular exercise. These to things alone will help you feel better and more attractive.

Beyond that, I am all in favor of whatever skin cream or procedure that you have researched, read reviews on, and think would make you (not society) happy. Just don’t do anything because you were led to believe you could chase down a time travel fantasy, or because you hate your body.

Second—Write down 5 things you can do every day to start developing a positive body image. Emphasize the functionality, not just the appearance of the body. Think of all the things your organs, senses and limbs do for you each day. Our bodies really are miraculous and deserve to be treated with respect and appreciation.

The time to make friends with the image you see in the mirror is NOW. Stop browbeating yourself. Instead, shake hands with your reflection and your reflection will meet you half way.

References

Baker, Lucie & Gringart, Eyal (2009). Body image and self-esteem in older adulthood. Aging & society (29) 977-995.

Mautner, R., Owen, S.V., & Furnham, A. (2000). Cross-cultural explanations of body image disturbance in Western cultural samples. International Journal of Eating Disorders .

c Raeleen Mautner 2018