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

 

 

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

Senator Feinstein, I Stand Up for Your Right to Run

           Senator Dianne Feinstein

Have you ever been the target of age discrimination or heard comments that made unfounded presumptions about individuals because of their age? I recently read an Internet article, published in the online version of The San Francisco Chronicle, in which the reporter raised concern over US Senator Dianne Feinstein’s running for another term. Feinstein is one of the oldest US Senators. She is a very vibrant and sharp 84 in anyone’s observation. But the writer gave three reasons that would contraindicate Feinstein seeking reelection; although to some readers—like me—it may have seemed there was only one:

Her age.

The article cites:

  1. Health concerns, given Feinstein had recently been the recipient of a pacemaker;
  2. Being “out of step” with the Democratic party, reasoning that she has been “slow to criticize Trump”, and
  3. Age, which was “perhaps the most pressing issue”, according to the writer, because you can never predict how well the Senator might be functioning toward the end of a potential next term, when of course she would be even OLDER.

Wow.

Let’s start by ignoring the fact that the pacemaker was a voluntary procedure for Feinstein (which actually would improve—not worsen– her heart’s functioning), and the fact she took almost no time off after the procedure; a testament to her resilience.

Let’s also ignore the preponderance of research that shows men generally age faster (biologically) and die younger than women.

And what exactly does “out of step” with her party mean? I heard one commentator on the radio this morning saying that the “old” politicians such as Feinstein should step aside to let some “younger blood” in. Maybe that person should look up the definition of ageism.

I don’t know about you, but I always thought we should vote on the basis of a candidate’s platform and political record. Not on the basis of whether (s)he is young or old (male or female, gay or straight, black or white, etc.).

But no pass for Feinstein. Instead, a statewide survey asking voters if the Senator should run for a 5th term. 48% said YES. Then afterwards her age was revealed to participants. Now only 38% felt she should run. Leading the witness anyone?

Of Feinstein’s age, the reporter fears it is hard to predict how she will function toward the end of a new term should she win; given that she will be in her early 90’s, even if functioning very well now.

True Story: My very strong, active, and seemingly super healthy husband woke up one day when he was 57 and dropped dead 2 hours later when we were about to go grocery shopping. So much for predictability in the basis of age.

Furthermore, we might wonder if the writer has earned a PhD in Gerontology for coming to the following conclusion “Few people work stressful hours at that age because the body and mind can perform only so well at that point in life.”

True Story: My father is almost 98, is still physically very active, and so mentally sharp that he can still out- calculate me in mental math, despite my having taught statistics.

You might say, well the above two examples are atypical, and a sample of 1 does not a sample make. Well you would be right. But that is my point. No one is typical. That is why stereotypes are unfair.

If voters are concerned about a candidate’s body or mind not being up to par, there are cognitive tests and physical exams that we may want to require of ALL of our political leaders, regardless of birth year. Some people show signs of dementia in their 50’s; some have heart attacks in their 30’s. Let’s not assume that advanced age makes a person incapable of doing their job, or that they no longer have anything meaningful to contribute to society.

I am not singling out politics, either. Ageism happens in every field, and outside of the professional world, too. I have been witness to ageist slurs that seem to roll off of people’s tongues, just the way “mafia” slurs flow way too easily from people’s mouths when referring to Italians. In academia, for instance, it was not uncommon to hear students remark that this or that professor “should retire now”, just because they are passed a certain age. When a worker reaches the age of 60 questions like “When do you plan to retire?” seem to come flying out of walls. It is difficult to find a novel where the protagonists are past the age of 35. If you are an actor, you know how few roles are written for the over-50 crowd. And how many of you “over 50”s have had certain goals and dreams thwarted—not because of lack of ability or hard work—but because you are no longer young?

Ageism, like any “ism”, is about making sweeping judgments that don’t necessarily correspond to reality. Unlike some of the more vocal political movements that have sprung up over the past few years; no one in the public eye that I know of has started an anti-age discrimination movement that points fingers and brings law suits. Yet we all know it exists in every sector.

The truth is: Everyone ages differently. Some of us die early, some of us are able to keep age-related diseases at bay longer; some of us suffer from dementia younger—some older—and some not at all.

But lest you begin to feel too confident or giddy over having lived to whatever age you currently are, the writer leaves us with this sobering thought to reflect on: “Aging is a reality that is never pleasant but a reality nonetheless.”

Am I angry over this article? To the contrary; I am actually grateful for the writer’s questioning whether Feinstein should retire because of her age. In doing so, he unintentionally brings to light an ugly reality that goes far beyond the reelection of a single Senator, to make us aware of the ever-lurking undercurrent of ageism that runs through our society—with no strong champions willing to stand up for older adults.

That is why it is up to you and me to take action when we witness (or are the target of) ageism. We do that not only by writing to our lawmakers, but also by making the speaker or perpetrator of ageism aware of their biased statement or actions; pointing out that such attitudes are not innocuous; and that age bias and discrimination deprives all of society of the productivity and wisdom of older adults.

Let’s start a conversation. What is your story?

References

Should Sen. Dianne Feinstein retire? By Larry N. Gerston, San Francisco Chronicle April 29, 2017

https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Should-Dianne-Feinstein-retire-11109694.php

Blagoslonny, M (2010) Why men age faster but reproduce longer than women: mTOR and evolutionary perspectives Aging May(2)5.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

Why Improving Your Memory Could Be A Laughing Matter

Hilarious New Musical Comedy, “Italian Wedding Soup”, Pantochino Productions in Milford CT.  Opening Night is April 20th–Come Share a Laugh with me! For Tickets Click Here

One day last week after leaving the house in a rush from having overslept; I suddenly broke out into a cold sweat wondering if I had unplugged the iron, turned off the stove, filled the dogs’ water dishes, and set the alarm. 15 minutes into my drive I could no longer bear it, so I turned the car around and went back to check all of these things. No, I don’t suffer from OCD, and as far as I know, my cognitive abilities are still quite sharp. But when we are under stress (for example, in a rush), short- term memory goes down the tubes.

Did I maybe just need a good laugh?

Short term memory is responsible for processing information that comes in from our senses, encoding that information so it can find a permanent home in our long term memory, to be later drawn back out when we need it. Short term memory is pretty important, even though it can’t handle a lot of information at once, and it can’t hold it there very long.

In older adults, research has shown that short-term memory deficits can result in making serious errors when taking medication, not doing physical therapy exercises correctly, or even missing health care appointments!

Most medical practitioners have begun to recognize the value of integrative approaches that go beyond traditional medicines and tap into holistic wellness solutions. Cognitive training, certain vitamins and herbal supplements, and (no surprise here) physical exercise, all help in improving short-term memory in older adults. One study, however, found that humor could have clinically significant benefits and rehabilitative properties with respect to short-term memory in this same population.

Two groups consisting of men and women average age of 68.7 and having normal cognitive scores were divided into two groups: the control group and the humor group. The control group was asked to sit calmly (no cell phones, reading, or dozing off) for 20 minutes; the; the humor group could select either a Red Skelton comedy video or 20 minutes worth of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Learning tasks (e.g. a word list) were presented to assess short-term memory—such as learning ability, delayed recall, and visual recognition of words. Saliva cortisol levels (the stress hormone) were also measured at various times.

Researchers found significant differences between the control and intervention group on all fronts. Learning improved by 38.5% in the humor group (24% in the control group). Delayed recall (remembering) improved by 43.6% in the humor group, and 20.3% in the control group, and the cortisol levels were significantly lower in the humor group as well.

What does this mean to those of us who are journeying into our older years? Stop taking life so seriously all the time and start laughing more. Build laughter into your daily routine as you would exercise. Hit the nostalgia channel on your cable dial and watch a couple of episodes of I Love Lucy, The Golden Girls, Seinfeld, Modern Family, or whatever sitcom, movie, or theater production that makes your sides ache with laughter.

Memory Note to Myself: From here on in before I leave the house, I plan to think of something funny I saw or heard recently, and have a good laugh to set the tone for the day. I will make and check off a short list of the things that need to be in order before I leave the house. And I will cherish and preserve my memory—- for as long as I can remember to do so 🙂

Reference:

Gains, G.S, et.al. (2014). The effect of humor on short-term memory in older adults: a new component for whole-person wellness. Advances. Spring Vol 28(2) 16-24.

©Raeleen Mautner, LLC

 

This Attitude Can Shorten Your Life—So Here’s How to Change It!

 

There are times when a healthy dose of cynical distrust can be a lifesaver; it can even help us avoid getting scammed—whether from phony phone calls from a voice pretending to be our grandchild in need of money, or an online dating scammer who comes on like a romantic dream-come-true, only to end up a nightmare who texts you from “a business venture in Malaysia” says he/she got “mugged” and now needs you to wire money so you can finally meet in person and live happily ever after.

Yea, right.

Granted, you should always trust your gut when it comes to shady people and interactions.

But if you sense you are becoming skeptical, cynical, and even hostile most of the time, then it’s time to do something about it. Why? Because for one thing, no one will want to be around you, but even more important:

Being in a constant state of suspicion, hostility, mistrust, or cynicism can actually shorten your life.

In a large longitudinal study, 3,433 men aged 42-61, who resided in the town of Kuopio, Finland were measured on cynical mistrust, based on scores from the Cynical Distrust Scale (CDS), a self-report test that contains items like: “It is safer to trust nobody”. Certain measures were taken at the baseline, such as presence or absence of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and the subjects were followed for 20-28 years.

As it turned out, the men who had NO CARDIOVASCULAR disease at the start of the study, but had a high level of cynical distrust had 1.5 to 1.7 times higher risk for premature cardiovascular death, as compared to those who had a low level of cynicism.

It seems that people with hostile personalities have a stronger response to stress, which affects their heart rate, blood pressure, inflammation and other biological mechanisms.

This study was conducted with men, because previous research has shown that cynicism is higher in men than in women, but I think it is a safe bet to say, that we ALL should all

  1. a) Remind ourselves often that life is a balance of good and bad; not just bad; and
  2. b) Deal more effectively with stress, instead of becoming hostile or cynical.

Here are 3 things you can do make sure you’ve got the right attitude:

  1. Think of 10 things every single day that are good about your life. It could be something as simple as a delicious cup of chamomile tea you sip before bed, or a song that makes you want to sing and dance whenever you play it, or an great old movie you are watching with a friend.
  2. Write Gratitude Thank-You Cards. Do you perhaps have a favorite grade school or high school teacher who is still alive? A cousin or friend whom you haven’t seen in years? An unforgettable mentor who trained you at your first job? Find their addresses and write a few words of gratitude on the inside of a thank-you note to express WHY you appreciate them. It will make them feel terrific and will help you to remember how wonderful people can be. I recently got a letter from someone I used to know 40 years ago who sent me a note to thank me for playing a piano piece for him. He said he never forgot how special it was to have someone make him feel that important. I had completely forgotten that incident, but it made me feel great to hear that I had touched someone’s life with such a simple gesture.
  3. Visualize The Most Beautiful Scene You Can. Now put yourself In It. There are many ways to meditate for stress reduction, but one method I used to teach heart patients at Yale, was to close their eyes and visualize a beautiful relaxing scene—some place they had either been to, or created in their mind. I asked them to put themselves in that scene and note all of their sensations. How does this place smell, what colors to they see? What temperature is the ground beneath their feet or the air they are breathing? Find your most beautiful place and immerse yourself totally, by noting every detail. Breathe easily for several minutes as you continue to visualize yourself in this scene. Make it your “safe haven”, to which you can return to anytime when you are feeling stressed or feeling hostile.

 

If you liked this article please press “like” and share on your social media if you know anyone who might find this info useful. Thank-you!

Reference

Smigelskas, K. et.al (2017). High levels of cynical distrust partly predict premature mortality in middle-aged to ageing men. Journal of Behavioral Medicine 40:612-619.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

The Ultimate Happiness Formula (Kindness + Novelty)

In a large hospital setting, a young outpatient stopped me in the corridor the other day and asked if I could tell him how to find the EXIT that led to the parking lot where his car was parked. Without thinking twice I said “Sure, let me walk you there.”

He looked at me like he hadn’t heard correctly. “But you were going in the opposite direction” he remarked, “I don’t want to inconvenience you. You can just point me towards the next corridor and I will try to follow the signs.”

“Come on,” I said, smiling, doing a 180-degree turn. “I could use the extra exercise!”

The young gentleman had a knee injury so we had to walk slowly. “I’m really sorry this is taking up so much of your time,” he said as he carefully coordinated his cane with his steps. “Someone asked me if I wanted a wheelchair, but actually, this exercise is good for me, too.”

By the time we made it through 4 corridors to the EXIT, this brave young veteran had relayed the story of his injury, told me about his new car, the joy he took in being a new Dad and professed he was looking forward to the springtime thaw so he could garden again. When we got to the door I walked him out further to the ramp so he could hold on and make a gradual descent into the parking lot.

“ Gee, I don’t know how to thank you,” he said. “Talking to you really made my day.”

And he was off.

I had never really reflected on how a simple good deed could have such a powerful effect on the person you help. But the truth is, volunteering to help someone else has an even more important effect on the do-er of the kind act.

I knew that various studies in my field of psychology have positively correlated performing kind acts (or what we call “prosocial behaviors”) with enhanced life satisfaction (i.e. happiness). This holds true for all ages. Kindness makes us feel good about ourselves in addition to bettering someone else’s situation. What a win-win!

Back in the 80’s the buzz phrase “random acts of kindness”, implied that whenever it popped into our heads, we should do something kind for someone else. I would like to propose something different: PLANNED acts of kindness; not only because we can’t always depend on our head Muse to give us a hint, but because varying the kinds of good deeds we do has a more lasting impact on our personal happiness.

One study showed that participants who were asked to perform 5 kind acts in one day had a larger increase in happiness than those who performed 5 kind acts over the course of one week.

How could this be?

Adaptation

It is like walking into someone’s kitchen when they are sautéing onions: You are overpowered with the aroma initially, but after a few minutes, you hardly know it is there. That is sensory adaptation, but the same thing happens with other systems of the human body and brain. We adapt to what becomes routine, and it has less of an impact on us.

Enter the powerful effect of NOVELTY (or newness). To the participants who performed the 5 acts of kindness in one day, their actions were new, or novel, therefore the kind acts hadn’t become “old hat” routine, as it had with those who were asked to perform the kind acts every day.

Does this mean that:

  1. We should do kind acts less frequently so they don’t lose their effect?, or
  2. Should we plan to do DIFFERENT kind acts more frequently as a way to achieve long-lasting happiness?

THE ANSWER IS “B”

Let me explain:

Researchers randomly assigned participants ages 18-60 into three groups. They were asked to do one of three things: a) perform kind acts for 10 days; b) perform new (novel) acts for 10 days; or c) perform no acts and just go about their normal business (control group) for ten days. What they found was that BOTH of the experimental groups experienced a significant increase in life satisfaction as compared with the control condition, which did not.

Given that both acts of kindness, AND doing new things can be a ticket to greater happiness, combining these two concepts can be an unbeatable formula for making you—and the world around you—a happier, brighter place.

Here’s how to get started on your own kindness-to-happiness project:

Grab a pencil and paper when you get a few moments and start a KINDNESS list. Jot down as many ways to help someone else as you can think of. No numbers on the list, because you will add to it every day as you come up with additional ways to practice kindness. The acts could be big or small. Try to recall some of the nice things you have done for others in the past, or things other people have done for you, and add those acts to the list. Then glance at this list each day. And get out there and do something kind and new every day to put a smile on someone’s face.

Examples of Kindness Acts:

  • Show (not tell) someone how to get to an exit when they are lost
  • Bring a meal or a tray of fruit to a sick friend
  • Order a friend a book on Amazon that you think they’d love
  • Pay the next car’s bill at the Donut Drive-in
  • Offer your store coupons or coins to the person behind you
  • Send someone the announcement of an event or conference they might like
  • Shovel a older neighbor’s driveway when it snows
  • Help someone on with their coat when you see them struggling
  • Buy a sandwich and give it to the homeless person standing out front
  • Listen, when you see someone needs to talk something out
  • Smile and say GOOD-MORNING, instead of keeping your eyes glued to your smart phone.

In a world where self-preoccupation is commonplace, YOU can be a unique light that shines kindness all around you. And you’ll be a whole lot happier for doing it, too.

Would you share YOUR ideas for acts of kindness with my readers—so we can all add them to our list, too?  I’d love to hear your stories!

Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and especially for those of you who “like”, “share” on your social media, and subscribe to my email list. Mille grazie!

References:

Buchanan, K.E., & Bardi, A. (2010). Replications and refinements: Acts of kindness and acts of novelty affect life satisfaction. The Journal of Social Psychology 150(3), 235-237

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K.M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology (9) 111-131

©Raeleen Mautner, LLC

How to Be a Mind Reader (And Why You Should)

Ten years ago (give or take) psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote a book called Emotional Intelligence; opening the first chapter with the unforgettable story of a middle-aged black gentleman who drove the Madison Avenue bus through New York City. On this particular sweltering August afternoon; the kind that made most people “sullen with discomfort”, the bus driver greeted each disgruntled-looking passenger with a hearty welcome and enthusiastic smile; even though few passengers returned his greeting. Then, as the bus continued on its journey through the hot city streets, the driver suddenly began to channel his inner tour guide; pointing out the treasures of the city as they rode by; remarking about this wonderful museum exhibit, that terrific restaurant over there, or the flea market of interest down the block. He could tell by looking at the expressions on his customers’ faces, that they could use an uplifting distraction. And he cared enough to be the one to put a smile on their faces.

By the time each passenger came forward to step down from the bus, they made it a point to thank the driver, wish him a wonderful day, and wave him on to his next stop with a smile. Just like that, they were transformed.

Good feelings all around.

Knowing how to engage in positive social interactions (i.e.. no fighting, no arguing, no negative criticisms, or political put-downs if someone didn’t vote the way you did) is a skill that goes beyond the academic IQ test. EQ is a form of intelligence all its own. Emotional intelligence, as Goleman called it, makes us—and others–happier.  It also helps us guard against loneliness—which affects older adults at alarming rates as our pool of friends dwindles, families become estranged, and divorce or widowhood becomes increasingly commonplace.

The ability to empathize with other people and interpret their mental state (needs, desires, motives, feelings and thoughts) is referred to as Theory of Mind or ToM. All positive human interaction depends on this ability to see things from another viewpoint. The bus driver in Dr. Goleman’s story knew that his passengers were not just scowly for the purpose of being unpleasant. They were unpleasant because they were hot, uncomfortable, and had been waiting at the bus stop under a hot summer sun. He didn’t snarl back at them, he felt their pain, and wanted to do something about it.

Unfortunately, research shows that the older we get, we tend to lose some of ability to decode what others are feeling and thinking; which makes us less adept at the kind of interactions we need at a time in our life when we need them most. Various ToM training programs have found to help, but a technique that I hadn’t expected to come across was the 5-minute meditation.

In this study half of the participants were assigned to the control group, whereby for five minutes they were to asked to sit, breathe, notice their thoughts and immerse themselves in them. The other half were in the the mindfulness meditation group where they also sat for 5 minutes, but were instructed to treat their thoughts as fleeting and keep returning their attention to their breathing for the entire 5 minutes.

Then both groups were given two tasks:

  • One task was to decipher various emotional states expressed by photographs of 36 pair of eyes (both male and female).
  • The other task involved watching a video clip involving 3 cartoon figures playing a ball toss game. One figure was excluded by the other two players during the toss game. At the end of that video both groups were asked to write letters to the player that was excluded.

The mindfulness group in both instances outperformed the group that did not engage in the meditation. They were able to mind read emotional states from looking at the photos of eye expressions, and they also expressed more empathy when writing letters to the player that was left out of the toss game.

If you want to maintain or increase your emotional intelligence and have more positive and less abrasive (irritating, emotionally charged, argumentative etc.) interactions with people, try taking a 5 minute mindfulness breathing meditation break before you leave your house or whenever you can throughout the day. It will soften you, make you feel happier, and draw people to your calm and wise demeanor.

Here’s my favorite 5 minute Mindful Meditation Technique:

  1. Breathe in slowly through your nose to the count of 4 (concentrate only on the counting as you breathe)
  2. Hold the breath for a count of 7
  3. Breather out slowly through pursed lips to a count of 9

Do this practice whenever you need it and watch your demeanor change and the quality of your relationships improve.

Let me know how short mindfulness meditation breaks are changing your life and social interactions.

 

BTW–Thank you so much for “following” my blog (If you haven’t done so yet, please do!) Also, I would love it if you would sign up for my monthly (or less) newsletter.

 

Reference:

Goleman, Daniel (2006) Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Bantam

Tan ,B.G., Lo, B.C., & MaCrae, N. (2014) Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Mental State Attribution and Empathizing.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

“Everyone Gets to Be Young. Your Turn is Over.”

My mother (the avid card-sender) and grandmother

My mother would send a greeting card almost every day. We would even go to a special store where she would get her Italian language cards for someone’s onomastico (name day, which coincided with the Saint everyone (except for me apparently), was named for), birthday cards galore, Holy Day of Obligation cards, holidays and everything in between. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but in my case it must have fallen into the yard in another part of the country. I don’t send greeting cards. Will I call someone, or send an email to wish him or her a Happy Whatever? Yes. I know, I know, it’s not the same, but the good thing about growing older, is that we have earned the right to be who we are; whether we are card senders or not.

The other day, however, I decided to “turn over a new card-sending leaf”. A friend of mine was about to turn 60. Yes, dammit, I will send a card. And so begins the search.

“Everyone Gets to Be Young. Your Turn is Over” sounds like it could be a line from the 70’s Sci Fi movie, Logan’s Run, where everyone lived under a pleasure-perfect dome—that is until they turned 30, at which time they were to be annihilated, to keep from growing old.   But No. The above “greeting”, and hence the title of this post comes straight from a greeting card! Ehm…Was that supposed to be an uplifting message?

And so I looked further:

After a certain age, your body is like a garage sale—Some stuff looks old, some stuff doesn’t’ work, and some stuff you can’t identify.

60 year olds like to nap, stay warm, and have things done for them—so basically you turn into a cat. 

(Picture of a donkey with sunglasses)—Your ass looks good—for 60

Psychologists say you go through 7 stages of adjustment when you turn 50—Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial.

Don’t sweat being 50—nobody likes a sweaty senior citizen

Now I have a sense of humor that rivals the best of them, but as I looked at these cards I wondered what vile undercurrent these messages were really sending to older adults in our society. If you substitute any other “ism” for the ageism in those sayings, you would be horrified, I’m sure. Can you image a card that says “Don’t sweat being _______ (a woman, black, Italian, blind, gay, etc.)—-nobody likes a sweaty ———-?

Having spent a good part of my career investigating the effects of stereotyping on both the people being stereotyped and the ways peoples attitudes toward the stereotyped are formed—I say we stop with the “senior moment” jokes, implying that older people can’t remember things (I don’t know about you but I have been losing my car keys from the time I graduated high school), and stop spending our bank accounts on “anti-aging” potions that make aging seem like a dreadful disease to be stomped out. It isn’t. It is a natural privilege that not everyone (certainly not my late husband) gets to enjoy. But you and I do! And that is why the ageist buck must stop with us.

So I bypassed those cards. In fact, I almost decided to go back to my old ways and not send a damn card at all.

Until…

Happy Birthday!

            Here’s to aging

            Here’s to wrinkles

            Here’s to laughing

Till we twinkles (all right, somewhat corny, but so what)

Here’s to the one’s who see us through

            Here’s to birthdays

            Here’s to YOU.

Well hallelujah.  And that is the one I sent.

To all of my Readers, for whatever the occasion– Here’s to YOU!

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC