A Story of Hope and Optimism: What It Means for You

A Story of Hope and Optimism: What It Means for You

“A rainbow is a prism that sends shards of multicolored light in various directions. It lifts our spirit and makes us think of what is possible. Hope is the same—a personal rainbow of the mind.”

Charles Richard Snyder

What Is Hope?

Hope is not merely an emotion.

Hope does not mean having a pollyannish approach to situations in life. 

Oxford English Dictionary defines hope: “a feeling of expectation and desire for something to happen.”

But hope is also more than mere desire and better than mere expectation.

Hope is directly related to our sense of possibilities.

Hope is indispensable if you want to endure difficult circumstances without giving up or sinking into a deep depression.

And hope is not passive. To sit and wait is the same as “wishing” that gets you nowhere.

To hope means to have positive thoughts about your future and to be willing to take the steps necessary to make it happen.

Hope means to roll up your sleeves and work!

Let me illustrate with a story—

I read a book by Jose Saramago titled Blindness, published in 1995. The book won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

Many consider this book Saramago’s dystopic vision, which means an imaginary place or society where everything is profoundly unhappy and miserable. 

I’ve never read a more unusual book. There’s mass blindness that pictures a loss of humanity.

Here is a brief plot summary as described on wikispaces.com:

‘”Blindness”’ tells the story of several individuals engulfed in a widespread epidemic of ‘white blindness,’ in which they only see bright white. The government quickly interns all the blind and those in contact with them in an old mental hospital facility.

“To stay with her now-blind husband, an ophthalmologist’s wife fakes her blindness into a new hell.

“A story of survival against an army of ‘liquidators’ and sacrifice, ensues during which the last remaining seeing woman leads the internees.” 

So much happens to the characters in this book (the characters have no names, only descriptions).

For instance, though helpless and interdependent, their behaviors are reduced to no more than animals.

They act worse than savages; they fight over food, commit rape, and murder. There is a total breakdown of what makes people human.

But “the doctor’s wife” never loses hope.

In her compassion, she claws and scratches and schemes and even commits a murder herself.

In the end, when there seems to be no way out of “hell,” it is she, as the only person in the asylum not afflicted with blindness, that leads the group out of the asylum and helps them survive in the city.

For me, the critical thought in this story is “hope.”

No, hope isn’t passive; it’s a willingness to put into action steps to shape and invest in your future; it’s a positive outlook on your future.

“Hope,” as a possession of the Christian faithful, for instance, means an expectation or desire for everlasting life.

However, the author Jose Saramago is an atheist Communist and believes religion is the cause of all humankind’s ills—including violence. 

So as an atheist, did Saramago intend that one of his main characters should have hope?

Do atheists have hope?

We know that for many of the religious, hope gives peace of mind for what lies ahead.

But atheists will say hope is a religious construct and that people experience hope apart from religion.

There are many things to hope for: health, wellness, and happiness; for the power to make a better life for self and family, and so forth.

So even though Saramago as an atheist, would suggest no thought of religion or faith in a higher power, there’s no question in my mind that in his book Blindness, it is hope that propels “the doctor’s wife” to take action—and win.

Is There a Science of Hope?

Yes.

One example is Charles Richard Snyder (1944-2006). Snyder was an American psychologist that specialized in positive psychology. He developed what’s known as Snyder’s Hope Theory.

According to Snyder:

“Hope can be seen as the perceived ability to walk certain paths leading to the desired destination. Also, hope helps people stay motivated when walking these paths.”

There are three components related to hope:

  1. Focused thoughts (or goals thinking)
  2. Developed strategies in advance to achieve goals (or pathways thinking)
  3. Motivated to make an effort required to reach goals (or agency thinking)

Or—

“Hope: A positive feeling and a state of motivation that arises from the beliefs that one has agency (power and ability) and pathways (means) to achieve one’s goals.”

As in the book Blindness, “the doctor’s wife” believed in her capacity; she schemed, and in her goal-directed determination (she developed the feeling of hope) finally succeeded in her plan, which saves the people in the asylum.

Envisioning a better future motivates you to take steps to make it happen.

In the final analysis, hope is about having goals or mental targets of your future, pathways or routes to reach them, and agency or the mental energy to persevere.

For a detailed discussion on Snyder’s Hope Theory, please visit:

www.toolshero.com/personal-development/snyders-hope-theory/

You will find additional questions about hope, activities and exercises, useful hope worksheets, and other references on the website.

Health Benefits of Hope

Hope affects our minds and bodies.

Casey Gwinn, J.D., and Chan Hellman, Ph.D., authors of the award-winning book, Hope Rises: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life, recognize measurable science around hope and maintain that “hope is the most predictive indicator of well-being in a person’s life.”

Hope Rising provides a roadmap to measure hope in your life, assess what may have robbed you of the power of hope, and then provides strategies to increase hope.”

According to Jerome Groopman, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and staff writer in medicine and biology for The New Yorker, “Belief and expectation – the key elements of hope – can block pain by releasing the brain’s endorphins and enkephalins, mimicking the effects of morphine.”

Research has shown that women with high hope are more likely to implement cancer-prevention activities in their lives than women with low hope. And high hope people in general cope better while recovering from serious injuries.

Also, hope:

  • Ensures increased life satisfaction scores
  • Promotes better lifestyle habits (“hope for the future”)
  • Lowers the levels of depression and anxiety
  • Improves overall general health
  • Boosts your immune system
  • It makes you happy!

What Can Cause You to Lose Hope?

Many things can and do go wrong in life.

In adults, losing a loved one in death or divorce is the leading cause of losing hope.

Losing the means to make a living and support family is also high on the list of causes for losing hope.

Living through a major illness or other traumatic events can lead to hopelessness.

And as I write this article, worldwide, we are grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Millions have died.

Many more millions have become ill.

The economies in most countries throughout the world are in shamble.

Has hope diminished?

What can you do?

Here are a few tips to avoid losing hope:

  1. Be grateful (a recurring theme in this article).
  2. Look forward.
  3. Ignore negative people and situations.
  4. Meditate.
  5. Persevere.
  6. Don’t worry.
  7. Choose positive friends.
  8. Look to others for support.
  9. Speak with a therapist for depression.

What Can Be Said About Optimism?

“Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.”—William James

Are you a glass half empty or a glass half full type of person?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, optimism means “confidence about the future or successful outcome of something.”

So, can optimism improve your health?

Yes.

According to a study in the Journal of American Medical Association, a positive outlook on life is good for your heart.

Dr. Richa Sood, a Mayo Clinic General Internist, agrees.

“Optimism is a mindset,” says Dr. Sood.

If you purposefully choose to think positively regularly, the brain will eventually form new pathways; you will become more optimistic.

Dr. Sood offers three ways to train the brain to make optimism a habit:

  1. Gratitude. Feeling grateful for the good things in your life and having a sense of meaning and purpose in your life.
  2. Build self-worth. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and appreciate you.
  3. Improve your health. Exercise, eat nutritious foods, keep your weight under control, and stay away from toxins, such as trans fats and mercury in fish.

Most of us have to deal with the daily pressures of everyday life. These can lead to frustration, even panic.

A pessimistic person sees defeat or a setback as permanent—even blaming herself for the situation. An optimistic person has confidence in the future.

In a 30-year study of over 800 patients by the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, U.S.A. scientists found that optimists had better health and lived significantly longer than others.

The researchers also found that optimists coped better with stress and therefore, less likely to develop depression.

Other benefits of optimism include:

  • It promotes a sense of happiness and well-being.
  • It promotes self-confidence and boosts self-esteem.
  • It enables you to take action to change or improve situations.
  • It promotes better feelings about money.
  • It allows you to bounce back quickly from any adversity.
  • It enables you to enjoy your work regardless of your job.
  • It promotes peace of mind in situations over which you have no control.

However, being optimistic is not easy, especially in an environment where problems stack up for almost everyone. It’s tough to think positively.

Three tips to feel more optimistic:

  1. When you find yourself thinking that you won’t enjoy something or you won’t succeed in some project, reject the thought. Focus on the positive
  2. Look for friends who view life positively (the glass half-full attitudes)
  3. Every day, write down three good things that happened to you; be grateful.

“A cheerful heart is a good medicine.” –Proverbs 17:22

Finally, you might wonder:

How Is Hope Different from Optimism?

Hope and optimism are often used interchangeably and may be simultaneously intrinsic to each other.

Both are positive motivational states.

Both involve clear expectations of desired outcomes in the future.

However, hope is not the same as optimism.

One study in the Journal of Positive Psychology suggests that people can be very optimistic but only mildly hopeful or vice versa. Also, “pathways predicted life satisfaction to a greater degree than optimism.”

“Hope,” as described above in Snyder’s Hope Theory, is the ability to work to an action plan to reach a goal. A person with goal-directed thinking is motivated and has the mental willpower to keep at it until he succeeds.

“Optimism,” on the other hand, is a positive expectation about something and does not need working for it.

Hope is first a cognitive rather than an emotional process, according to Snyder.

Some believe that hope is the deepest of the three emotions, and that happiness and optimism cannot exist without hope, but hope can exist without happiness and optimism.

Here is a quote to further help you understand the difference between hope and optimism:

“Optimism and hope are not the same. Optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better; hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better.”—Jonathan Sacks

So, What Do You Think?

Now that you’ve read Snyder’s Hope Theory know the science behind hope, and understand that hope is an action-oriented strength and not just a state of mind, and recognize the many benefits of hope to your health and happiness, what will you do?

Snyder:

“A rainbow is a prism that sends shards of multicolored light in various directions. It lifts our spirit and makes us think of what is possible. Hope is the same—a personal rainbow of the mind.”

How will you incorporate hope into your life?

What will hope do for you to have unshakable hope, to focus on a specific vision for the future, and then follow through with an action plan as with “the doctor’s wife” in the book Blindness?  

Hope is action, not wishing.

And what of optimism?

What are some ways you will embrace optimism in the future—look at the bright side of life?

After reading and pondering on this article, what do hope and optimism mean for you?

*****

Wellness: The Secret to Holistic Growth and Prosperity

Wellness: The Secret to Holistic Growth and Prosperity

“Wellness encompasses a healthy body, a sound mind, and a tranquil spirit. Enjoy the journey as you strive for Wellness.”

—Laurette Gagnon Beaulieu

What is Wellness?

People often think Wellness means physical health, such as nutrition, exercise, weight control, etc.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines Wellness as: “Being in a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

What Are the Dimensions of Wellness?

Some experts say there are ten dimensions or aspects of Wellness; others say there are seven, and still others maintain that Wellness encompasses six or eight mutually interdependent dimensions.

But what is certain is that when you change your habits, you change your life.

You want to become the best kind of person you can be. You want to reach your full potential. You want to care about yourself in all areas of life.

That said, this article will discuss five aspects or dimensions of life that you must become aware of to make choices toward a healthy, fulfilling life so you can thrive:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Intellectual
  • Social
  • Spiritual

Holistic means each dimension is interrelated with the others. In wellness, you consciously develop the whole self, living life as fully as possible.

Physical Dimension

You develop physical Wellness through what you do to your body and what you put inside your body. Looking good and feeling good will also raise your self-esteem, so you achieve psychological benefits as well.

To stay healthy as you age means giving more thought to your health than perhaps you have been to date.

Ideas to Improve Physical Wellness

No. 1

Get Sufficient Exercise

A ten-year study of 8,500 middle-aged men and women showed that sedentary workers had three times as many heart attacks as manual workers.

Therefore, physical exercise often makes the difference between enjoying life at seventy and being afflicted by aches, pains, and boredom at the same age.

The many benefits touted of regular exercise proponents include improved conditions of the heart and lungs and other body organs.

The Oxygen delivered to body cells improves blood circulation and overall health.

Also, a test conducted by the Japanese Education Ministry found that men who exercised regularly had the physical stamina of men ten years younger, and women, that of women who were five years younger.

Regular exercise and physical activity can:

  • Give you an emotional lift
  • Improve your mood
  • Boost energy
  • Promote better sleep
  • Strengthen bones
  • Protect your joints
  • Prevent bladder control problems
  • Ward off memory loss
  • Keep your weight under control

No. 2

Eat Healthily

“Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected.”

—T. Colin Campbell

According to a 2018 report by the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), “The prevalence of obesity was 39.8 percent and affected 93.3 million of U.S. adults in 2015-2016.”

In 2020, the U.S. adult obesity rate stands at 42.4 percent, the first time the national rate has passed the 40 percent mark, according to the CDC.

Our country has lousy eating habits.

Hippocrates called the “father of medicine,” has said: “Thy food shall be thy remedy.” Better than food is a remedy is food for health maintenance!

Most health experts recommend that you eat a balanced, healthy diet. But what’s a healthy diet?

It should include:

  • Protein (found in fish, meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, nuts, and beans)
  • Fat (found in animal and dairy products, nuts, and oils)
  • Carbohydrates (found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans and other legumes)
  • Vitamins (such as vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K)
  • Minerals (such as calcium, potassium, and iron)
  • Water (both in what you drink, and water found in foods)
    (Source: WebMD.com)

No. 3

Get More Sleep

To have good health, you must get sufficient rest. It has been said, “sleep is to the man that winding up is to a clock.”

Sleep restores energy to the body, brain, and the rest of the nervous system.

Sleep also gives us a break from the many tensions of the day. In sleep, we rest our bodies and get rest from such burdens as loneliness and poor health.

Spanish author Cervantes said centuries ago concerning sleep that, “it is meat to the hungry, drink for the thirst, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot.”

Proper sleep is vital!

How much sleep?

A research paper published in Sleep Health recommended the following ranges for sleep for healthy individuals and those not suffering from sleep disorders:

  • Teenagers—eight to ten hours
  • Adults and young adults—seven to nine hours
  • Older adults—seven to eight hours (or slightly decrease to 6.5 to 7 hours per night)

Be aware that sleep is an ever-changing field. To learn more about sleep duration, visit: https://www.sleephealthjournal.org

Are you having trouble sleeping?

Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure your room is well ventilated.
  • Turn down the noise.
  • Avoid drinking coffee or cola drinks after midday.
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal or spicy foods shortly before bedtime.
  • Learn to relax (meditation, reading).
  • Practice deep breathing.
  • Try a warm bath to help you relax.
  • Play soothing music.
  • Have the right mental attitude and emotional state (the worst thing you can do is a worry when you can’t sleep).

Emotional Dimension

What are emotions?

According to Wikipedia.org, an “emotion is any conscious experience characterized by intense mental activity and a certain degree of pleasure or displeasure. Emotions are complex. According to some theories, they are states of feeling that result in physical and psychological changes that influence our behavior.”

Ideas to Improve Emotions

You will want to understand and respect your feelings and attitudes as well as others.

You will want to recognize and control your negative emotions by first understanding your emotional triggers.

What are the emotional triggers?

Also referred to as “hot buttons,” emotional triggers are those situations, words spoken, or problems that may cause you to tense up or feel distressed.

Most of us have specific needs or values—when others do not acknowledge these needs they will take us on emotional ups and downs.

Examples of everyday emotional needs:

  • To be treated fairly
  • To be needed
  • To be valued
  • To be liked
  • Consistency
  • Freedom
  • Autonomy
  • Acceptance
  • Order
  • Respect
  • Safety
  • Fun
  • Love

You will want to manage your emotions creatively, feel positive, and maintain optimism and enthusiasm about life.

Here are a few techniques to help you shift your emotional state if you feel triggered:

  1. Relax: Breathe and release the tension in your body.
  2. Detach: Clear your mind of all thoughts.
  3. Center: Pretend that your awareness can be moved and drop it to the center of your body just below your navel and feel your breathing, as this will help you clear your mind.
  4. Focus and Implant: Choose one keyword representing how you want to feel or who you want to be in that moment.
    (Source: Outsmartyourbrain.com)

For instance, you could choose the word “patient” if someone is getting on your last nerve!

Intellectual Dimension

“Intellectual Wellness is the ability to open our minds to new ideas and experiences that can apply to personal decisions, group interactions, and community betterment. The desire to learn new concepts, improve skills and seek challenges in pursuit of lifelong learning contributes to our Intellectual Wellness.”

(Source: Vanderbilt.edu)

Value lifelong learning.

Continue to grow intellectually.

Expand knowledge and skills.

Ideas to Improve Intellectual Dimension

TheSchoolOfLife.com

  • Virtual Classes
  • Career Counseling
  • Online Therapy

FutureLearn.com

  • Intro to Screenwriting
  • COVID-19 in Africa: Managing the Outbreak in Primary Care Settings
  • Food as Medicine and Our Genome

Udemy.com (“Learn anything on your schedule.”)

  • Personal Development
  • Business
  • Music

Udemy also invites you to share your gifts with others on their platform.

Experts consider learning essential to a well-rounded life.

More ideas to improve intellectual wellness:

  • Learn a foreign language
  • Play games
  • Play instruments
  • Do puzzles
  • Join a book club
  • Go to or watch a TED Talk
  • Journal

Like food nourishes the body, information and continued learning nourishes the mind. Stay current with world events.

Experts consider learning essential to a well-rounded life.

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

—Albert Einstein

Never stop learning.

Idea: Turn off the TV and Netflix and read!

“I’m still learning.”—Michelangelo (at age 87)

Social Dimension

Social Wellness means fostering genuine connections with those around you, being comfortable and confident with other people, and having a healthy relationship with family and friends.

Social Wellness also means letting others care about you.

Getting involved in your community, sharing projects, helping others, and volunteering when needed are ways to improve your social Wellness.

Build a social support network.

One of the most significant benefits of having good social wellness is that you develop a network of friends and family members to whom you can turn for assistance when needed.

Social Wellness means a sense of interconnectedness and interdependence = a sense of belonging.

Today, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are encouraged to practice social distancing to prevent the virus’s spread. Having in-person, face-to-face interaction is limited.

The health guidelines to 1) stay six feet away from others, and 2) avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, may cause some to feel isolated.

But with the nationwide (and worldwide) spread of the pandemic, and most people’s desire to protect themselves and others from this disease, you may also discover a feeling of community.

We’re all in this together.

You feel part of something bigger than yourself.

You care about the greater good of society.

The sense of community is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself when it comes to social Wellness.

“The compassionate actions of its members most accurately measure the greatness of a community.”

—Coretta Scott King

Ideas to Improve Social Wellness (And Expand Your Social Network):

  • Volunteer.
  • Find an interest group online.
  • Join a book club (expand your mind and social circle).
  • Get involved in your community.
  • Build new relationships.
  • Schedule time with family, friends, or colleagues—on Zoom, if necessary.
  • Recognize when you are in an unhealthy relationship.
  • Refrain from blaming or criticizing others
  • Communicate your feelings.
  • Practice self-disclosure around those you trust.
  • Have fun!
  • Laugh!

A word of caution: You want to form quality relationships built on trust, intimacy, and connection. But know your boundaries. If you find that you have a bond to someone critical and negative that increases your stress level or drains your energy, it may be an unhealthy union.

And if someone is hurting you emotionally or physically, RUN!!

Spiritual Dimension

Spirituality: “Having to do with the human spirit as opposed to physical things.”—Oxford English Dictionary

Many believe that a “spiritual” person spends time defining personal values and ethics and makes any decision in life to complement them.

Someone concerned with his spirituality will search for meaning and purpose in life and strive for a state of harmony with oneself and others with or without organized religion.

A spiritual person will balance inner, personal needs with the rest of the world and care about others’ welfare not just what satisfies himself.

Spirituality means having a calm heart.

Ideas to Improve Spiritual Wellness:

  • Meditate. Take five to 10 minutes each day to stop, reflect, and free your mind of worry. Meditation will focus your attention inward; it feeds the heart.
  • Have Purpose. Think profoundly and at length about the meaning of your life; if you have a religion, study and practice it.
  • Practice Yoga. It can improve the overall quality of life: sleep, spiritual well-being, anxiety, depression, mood, and fatigue.
  • Think positively. Believe it or not, you can choose how to feel. Enrich your life with positive thoughts.
  • Be grateful. There is no room for resentment or fear if your life is full of gratitude; appreciate the natural world around you.
  • Be calm. According to one proverb, “A relaxed attitude lengthens life.”
  • Write your memoir. See the miracles in your life more clearly. Find the meaning of life by writing your bio.

Wellness includes five mutually interdependent dimensions: physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual. Neglecting one element can negatively affect others.

And ultimately, your overall health, well-being, and quality of life will suffer.

Make choices that empower you to grow in all dimensions: Physical Wellness, Emotional Wellness, Intellectual Wellness, Social Wellness, and Spiritual Wellness.

We each have our views on life and what it means to live life fully.

While all elements or Dimensions of Wellness do not have equal balance, your goal is to strive for an agreement that feels real to you.

Remember—

“Wellness is the complete integration of body, mind, and spirit—the realization that everything we do, think, feel, and believe affects our state of well-being.”

—Greg Anderson

Through Wellness, you do indeed have the secret to holistic growth and prosperity.

SOURCES:

Total Access Medical, LLC
www.wellness.totalaccessmedical.com

U.S. National Library of Medicine
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Vanderbilt University: Recreation and Wellness Center
www.vanderbilt.edu/recreationandwellnesscenter.com

A Family Caregiver’s Guide: Seven Secrets to Convert Negative Triggers to Positive Emotions

What You Can Do About Loneliness

What You Can Do About Loneliness

“Solitude is not the same as loneliness. Solitude is a solitary boat floating in a sea of possible companions.”—Robert Fulghum

Carrie, a full-time caregiver to her ailing 70-year-old husband, felt lonely. She said:

“I’ve been in a dark hole for quite a while. Sometimes, I believe everyone around me would be better off if I were dead. My friends can no longer visit; my few remaining relatives don’t seem to care. I often feel dead inside.

     “I can’t help it. I know I sound selfish, but I’ve spent more than twenty years with caregiving duties for one relative after another, and now my husband. When will it end?

     “I can’t see the light at the end of this very long, dark tunnel. I’m miserable.”

Carrie could be suffering from many different negative emotions: burnout, resentment, anger. She has no close connections and feels helpless and lonely.

And at this writing, the world is experiencing a worldwide COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, which only exacerbates and upends Carrie’s already difficult situation.

Why are persistent feelings of sadness and isolation so dangerous?

Recent studies link loneliness to severe health conditions.

The State of Loneliness Today

“Sad because one has no friends or company.”—Oxford English Dictionary

Studies show older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as loss of family or friends.

As mentioned above, Carrie has “lost” her husband for all practical purposes due to his chronic illness and her having to care for him 24/7.

At the same time, the world, including here in the U.S., is in the middle of a pandemic: COVID-19 (coronavirus). Practicing “social distancing” (or physical distancing) is a significant way to prevent spreading the virus.

These guidelines restrict interaction with others. (More on this later in this article.)

According to the latest statistics on loneliness (2016-2020), data show loneliness in the general U.S. population; 61% of Americans were lonely in 2019. In 2018, the number was 54%.

These data are before COVID-19.

Long before coronavirus spread worldwide, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned of the dangers of loneliness. He worked hard to bring attention to the “loneliness epidemic.”

Murthy believes that loneliness takes a toll on physical and mental health and links social connection to a 50% drop in the risk of early death.

In Dr. Murthy’s new book, he discusses the toll of isolation on America’s health:

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.

(Find his book on Amazon.com)

Serious Health Risks Linked to Loneliness

Though it is hard to measure, recent studies found these severe health risks related to loneliness:

  • Premature death (similar to dangers from smoking and obesity)
  • 50% increased risk of dementia
  • 29% increased risk of heart disease
  • 32% increased risk of stroke
  • Higher rates of clinical depression, anxiety, and suicide

(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Effects of loneliness on general health include:

  • Trouble concentrating and remembering details and making decisions
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Sleep problems; sleeping too little (insomnia) or sleeping too much
  • Appetite change; overeating or appetite loss
  • Digestive problems
  • Loss of interest in things you usually enjoy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Recurrent pain, such as headaches or cramps
  • Persistent sadness, anxiety, or feelings of emptiness
  • Pessimism and hopelessness

(Source: WebMD.com)

(Note: This is not a diagnosis. If you experience any of the above to an excessive degree, please see a mental health professional.)

Loneliness and Social Isolation

Many nations, including in the U.S., are attempting to control and manage the spread of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) thought to spread mainly from person to person.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease.

The director of the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), Dr. Robert R. Redfield, outlined several steps we can take to protect each other:

  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet, or two arms’ length from other people who are not from your household indoor and outdoor spaces.
  • Wear cloth mask (face covering) in public settings, especially when other social distancing measures are challenging to maintain. Note: respiratory droplets spread when someone coughs, sneezes, raise their voice, shouts, chants, or sings, and can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby, or perhaps inhaled into the lungs. Some people with COVID-19 lack symptoms and can transmit the virus to others before showing signs.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

There are also guidelines regarding isolation and quarantine. (Guidelines can change, so be sure to speak with your doctor.)

COVID-19 (coronavirus) is highly contagious, which cannot be stressed enough.

Thus, interacting face-to-face with others individually or in crowds is a significant health risk.

But to quote Dr. Robert R. Redfield of the CDC:

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19. Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus—particularly when used universally with a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”

Meanwhile, gone are trips to the movies, concerts, bar lounges, and attending churches and other worship places for services and funerals.

Even eating in restaurants is incredibly limited.

Numerous businesses have closed (some temporarily but many permanently), and countless other employer groups have asked employees to work from home.

Most schools are closed and have moved to virtual learning.

Staying connected to friends and loved ones in the middle of this pandemic is difficult, if not impossible.

Many people, like Carrie, are desperately lonely during this time, experiencing profound disconnection.

So, what can Carrie and others that have no close connections, do about loneliness?

What You Can Do About Loneliness

As discussed above, prolonged loneliness can be dangerous to your health—especially your mental health.

Social distancing recommended during the pandemic can leave you feeling lonely.

If we perceive ourselves as socially or emotionally isolated, if we lack deep friendships, if we lack any meaningful relationships at all, we could suffer “chronic” loneliness.

Chronic loneliness goes far beyond fundamental unhappiness; you must work to do something about it.

A Few Ideas:

  1. Stick to a Schedule. Make your days feel as normal as possible by staying with your daily routine. Follow your to-do list if you have one.
  2. Stay Active. Don’t focus exclusively on managing your mental health; engage in at-home activities for physical fitness. (Practice workouts at home with YouTube videos or go outside for a walk, when possible.)
  3. Keep Up-to-Date. Learn what’s going on in your community and the country because COVID-19 mandates and guidelines change. You don’t want to stress out by watching world news day in and day out, as this is dangerous to your mental health, but do keep abreast of the latest health information. Make sure you seek sites that give factual, up-to-date guidelines.
  4. Pray and Meditate. People who connect to their internal spirituality are more resilient emotionally if you are a spiritual person.
  5. Practice Self-Care. Add techniques like mindfulness and daily affirmations to help you feel more optimistic  
  6. Practice Empathy. You will feel less lonely and more social connectedness if you practice empathy for yourself and others. Feeling compassion will also help you manage your anxiety and reduce overwhelm.
  7. Participate in Online Communities. Join and participate in Facebook groups of interest to you to combat loneliness. I participated in an online caregiving support group when I cared for my husband, 24/7, that proved to be a lifesaver for me.

Join Voice-Chat app, QuarantineChat@dialup.com for serendipitous connections with people around the world affected by the virus. (Available on iOS and Android.)

  • Write. Daily journal writing is an excellent way to combat loneliness. Writing in a journal permits you to look closely and think deeply about everyday events in your life. You can chronicle the ups and downs, as well as the pains and joys of your life. You can express yourself without inhibition and get to know yourself better through journal writing.

Older adults (65+), particularly, self-isolate during the pandemic making them more susceptible to loneliness.

Just making regular phone calls to relatives and asking for help from family members will help stave off feeling alone. 

Additional Resources:

Volunteer Match

Find volunteer opportunities in your area.

www.volunteermatch.org

American Volkssport Association (AVA)

A national organization that promotes fitness with many local clubs that sponsor walks and other fitness events.

http://www.ava.org

Silver Sneakers

A national network of gyms with free membership for those with participating health plans, and a community of other adults seeking to remain fit and involved. Tools to help you stay in shape and have fun.

www.tools.silversneakers.com

Meetup

A convenient way to find events in your neighborhood. Discover and join from the comfort of your home. Events include outdoor & adventure, learning, career & business, health & wellness, and social.

www.meetup.com

Senior Theatre Resource Center

Plays for community theatre, online theatre, plays by theme, readers theatre. Information for older adults interested in performing.

www.seniortheatre.com

Encore

An online resource for those interested in utilizing their experience and knowledge to work—paid or unpaid—with social impact, to benefit future generations.

“We are older activists, innovators, and leaders, standing with younger allies to bridge divides, connect across generations, and create a better future together.”

www.encore.org

*****  *****

Summary

Feeling lonely and being isolated is terrible for your health.

Higher rates of depression, a weakened immune system, heart disease, and early death are just a few of the tragedies associated with loneliness.

If you live alone, can’t leave your home, feel alone or disconnected from others, recently had a significant loss or change, a caregiver, and a lack of purpose, you must find an activity you enjoy.

Indeed, loneliness can affect your body and your mind.

But all is not lost. You can do something about loneliness.

“My books are always about somebody taken from aloneness and isolation—often elevated loneliness—to community. It may be a denigrated community that is filthy and poor, but they are not alone; they are with people.”—Chuck Palahniuk

Use the ideas discussed in this article to soothe the emotional suffering that loneliness creates.

And find your community!

*****  *****

Disclaimer: The content in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If the emotional pain of loneliness is too great, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider for therapy or treatment. 

Improve the Quality of Your Life: Sleep

Improve the Quality of Your Life: Sleep

“Happiness consists of getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.”

— Robert A. Heinlein

According to the 2020 U.S. census data, the oldest of the estimated 73 million Baby Boomers will hit 74 years old by the end of the year, the youngest 56.

By the year 2030, all Boomers will be age 65 or older.

With time steamrolling ahead, what is one of the most significant quests for midlife adults today? Better health.

This article will focus on one area of health: sleep.

Why Sleep?

A German philosopher said that “sleep is to a man that winding up is to a clock.” It restores energy to the body, the brain, and the rest of the nervous system.

After a good night’s sleep, we awake in good spirits, eager to charge ahead in work before us, feeling much better, and looking better.

Moreover, sleep gives us a break from life’s cares and tensions. In sleep, we rest our bodies and have rest from such burdens as poverty, loneliness, poor health, and injustices.

Today, in 2020, we face a worldwide health pandemic: COVID-19.

Nowadays, life overflows with anxiety and stress!

Cervantes said centuries ago concerning sleep: “It is meat for the hungry, drinks for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot.”

Proper sleep is vital to our health and well-being.

What Kind of Sleep?

Sleep is a natural condition that occurs regularly and in which one loses awareness of one’s surroundings.  Though it is a mystery as to what sleep is, the Oxford English Dictionary offers this definition:

“A state of rest in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes are closed, the muscles are relaxed, and the mind is unconscious.”

There are two kinds of sleep.

In one kind of sleep, which starts with drowsiness and gets deeper and deeper, profound restorative processes occur. Your breathing and your heartbeat slow down, your blood pressure drops, and your limbs relax.

Experts believe this deep sleep is an aid to memory. It lasts for about ninety minutes.

Afterward, you return to a sleep much lighter in some respects, and other respects, deeper. It is called the REM stage and marked by the side-to-side Rapid Eye Movement, which indicates that you are dreaming.

Your heartbeat greatly fluctuates, and your limbs grow tense, indicating that your mind and your body are involved in dreaming.

After about ten minutes of REM sleep, you will again go into a deep sleep for another ninety minutes and then back up, and so on throughout the night.

Most researchers believe that both kinds of sleep are essential for mental and physical health; one cannot take the other’s place.

As to how long you sleep, quality is more than quantity.

However, with aging sleep patterns tend to change.

Sleeplessness: A Common Complaint

If you have trouble sleeping, you have plenty of company, especially in industrialized countries like the United States where sleeplessness or insomnia is most common.

And insomnia is one of the more common sleep problems in older people.

Sleeplessness usually takes one of three forms. Some have a lot of difficulties falling to sleep in the first place. Others fall asleep readily but wake up early in the morning and cannot go back to sleep. With still others, the problem is that they keep waking up intermittently.

Most people find that aging causes them to have a harder time falling asleep. They awaken more often during the night and earlier in the morning.

Studies published in Science Daily (2018), show that “One in four Americans develop insomnia each year. About 25% experience acute insomnia, characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for as little as three nights per week for at least two consecutive weeks up to three months.”

It also appears that by and large, women have more difficulty sleeping than do men.

What Causes Insomnia?

One of a hundred different things can cause insomnia.

It could be inherited, a genetic defect in which the brain fails to produce serotonin, a hormone-like substance. This substance is said to act like a “sleep juice” that enters the blood and causes the body to become sleepy.

Your problem may be caused by some low-grade pain that is ignored while you are busy during the day but persists enough at night to cause you to wake up from time to time.

Your trouble sleeping could be a poorly ventilated room, or because your mattress is too hard or too soft.

Your trouble sleeping may be due to a stimulant such as coffee, tea, or a cola drink.

You may have had the habit of eating a heavy meal of food hard to digest shortly before going to bed. Or, just the opposite, hunger may keep you awake, even as constipation at times interferes with sleep.

Negative emotions, such as feelings of guilt, excessive ambition, emotional insecurity, and especially anxiety or worries, may keep you from sleeping.

Mental depression can also cause insomnia and, in particular, can nervous exhaustion. The same can be said for hostile or aggressive feelings, even though unconscious.

On the other hand, too much excitement, or chasing after thrills, can cheat you of sleep.

No matter what the underlying cause, you perhaps agree with this quote:

“The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald

How to Defeat Insomnia

Must you resort to pills to defeat insomnia?

No.

In the publication Sleep Research, Dr. F.R. Freemon stated, “The promiscuous prescribing of sleep medications is the most common error in medicine.”

Taking sleeping pills may seem the most comfortable way out, but they can become addictive.

You should use them only in case of emergencies.

And older people respond differently to medicines than do younger people. Thus, it is crucial to talk with a provider before taking sleep medicines; avoid them if at all possible.

Try these basic ideas:

  • Ensure your bedroom is well ventilated, and your mattress is comfortable (not too soft or too hard).
  • Turn down the noise.
  • Avoid drinking coffee or cola drinks after midday.
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal or spicy foods shortly before bedtime.
  • DO NOT take naps during the day.
  • Take a walk or do some light stretching if you sit all day at work (nothing too strenuous as this will stimulate and keep you from sleeping).
  • Learn to relax (meditation, restorative yoga, or reading).
  • Practice deep breathing.
  • Try a warm bath to help you relax.
  • Use calming herbs and scents (lemon balm, passionflower, lavender, chamomile, valerian root).
  • Play soothing music.
  • Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time each morning.
  • Have the right mental and emotional state (the worst thing you can do is a worry when you can’t fall asleep).

(Source: A Family Caregiver’s Guide: 7 Secrets to Convert Negative Triggers to Positive Emotions)

I repeat, whatever you do, stop worrying. Worry only hampers your sleep. Usually, there is no danger in being without sleep for a period now and then.

The Swiss psychotherapist Paul Debois likens sleep to a dove. If you hold your hand but gently, it comes voluntarily and settles on it. But if you try to grab it, it flies away.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

It depends.

One study found that fewer than six hours makes it harder for your brain to tune out distractions and focus.

Another article stated that some “short” sleepers (of around four hours) had good sleep quality.

A research paper published in Sleep Health, recommended the following ranges for sleep for healthy individuals and those not suffering from sleep disorders:

  • Teenagers—eight to ten hours
  • Adults and young adults—seven to nine hours
  • Older adults—seven to eight hours (or slightly decrease to 6.5 to 7 hours per night)

Be aware that sleep is an ever-changing field. To learn more about sleep duration, visit: https://www.sleephealthjournal.org

Here you will find a sleep duration recommendations chart.

Summary

Find the cause.

It is essential to find the real cause of your sleeping problem if indeed you have one.

Sleeplessness may be a symptom of some physical disorder, such as hypertension or upset stomach.

But often, the cause is in your mind rather than in your body.

Are you worrying about something?

Try to reason it out with yourself in a balanced way.

Prayer, expressions of gratitude, can put a person’s mind at ease.

Consulting a wise and mature friend regarding your problem may be beneficial.

In many respects, sound sleep might be considered a reward for the right living.

If you are a religious person, you undoubtedly agree with Solomon, who says of those exercising godly wisdom: “When you lie down, your sleep will be pleasant.” (Proverbs 3:24)

That godly wisdom would include producing the fruits of God’s spirit, such as “love, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control,” all conducive to good sleep. (Galatians 5:22, 23).

So, if you are having trouble sleeping, do not become discouraged. There are several remedies or adjustments in your life that you might make to correct the problem.

If you suffer from sleeplessness, why not try the simple ideas found in this article?  If they don’t work, see your doctor.

While it may be true that sleeplessness never killed anybody, it is equally valid that, as a haggard victim of insomnia, said: “It can make you wish you were dead!”

Finally, if you are an older adult, you absolutely can improve the quality of your life right now.

How?

Sleep.

When it comes to your health and well-being in later years: “Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”—Thomas Dekker

*****   *****

Disclaimer: The content in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before undertaking any type of therapy or treatment. 

Are You Sitting Your Life Away? 7 Tips to Reduce Health Risks

Are You Sitting Your Life Away? 7 Tips to Reduce Health Risks

“Sitting while socially engaged might be something that’s very good for you. Likewise, sitting for a few minutes to decompress after a stressful day could be good for you.” –Jacqueline Kerr, Ph.D., associate professor of family and preventive medicine at UC San Diego

Are you sitting down while reading this article?  If so, we immediately have something in common because I’m sitting in front of my desktop computer writing.

How long have you been sitting?

What is sitting too much?

Under 2019 “Trending Articles” on the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health (PubMed) website, is the article, “Too Much Sitting: A Newly Recognized Health Risk.”

According to the PubMed article, even 30-minutes of continuous sitting is too long.

Are you sitting too much?

Some studies suggest sitting for a prolonged seven or eight hours may be bad for your health. However, according to the PubMed article, even 30-minutes of uninterrupted sitting can put you at risk.

What Are the Health Risks?

According to numerous studies:
  • Obesity; Too Much Belly Fat
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT); Blood Clots
  • Osteoporosis (weaken bones)
  • Misalignment of the Neck, Shoulders, and Upper Spine
  • Kidney Disease
  • Increased Anxiety (you withdraw from friends)
  • Early Death

Why Is Sitting Too Much Linked with Health Problems?

According to Andrea LaCroix, Ph.D., director of the Women’s Health Center of Excellence at the University of California, San Diego, Harvard Medical School: “Scientists can’t explain it. And they emphasize that a link doesn’t prove that too much sitting causes these diseases. One possibility: Sitting for a long time causes muscles to burn less fat and blood to flow more sluggishly. Both can increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and other problems.”

To quote Harvard Medical School: “Researchers aren’t sure why prolonged sitting has such harmful health consequences. But one possible explanation is that it relaxes your largest muscles. When muscles relax, they take up very little glucose from the blood, raising your risk of type 2 diabetes. “

One aerobic instructor put it this way, “Blood is getting stuck in your legs, and pooled at your feet. If your knees are bent, you’re further impeding the return flow back to your heart. Sitting too long allows your metabolism to slow down.”

Dr. Barry Braun, director of Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, says, “People who sit the most are most likely to be obese. However, are people obese because they sit too much, or do they sit too much because they are obese?” Thus, in some cases, it’s unclear which way the link goes.

What You Can Do to Stop the Negative Effects of Uninterrupted Sitting

Tip #1: Avoid long periods sat in front of a TV or computer.

Tip #2: Set an alarm clock on your cell phone (on low) to remind you to stand up and stretch every 30 minutes or so.

Tip #3: Stand at your desk for part of the day; talk to your boss about a treadmill desk or set your computer on top of a box.

Tip #4: “Walk and talk” rather than “sit and speak” while on the phone.

Tip #5: Walk around the house, touch your toes, or do a few stretching exercises to relax the chest and hip muscles.

Tip #6: Maintain stuff yourself such as vacuuming, washing your car, and cutting the grass instead of paying others to do your chores to keep the blood pumping.

Tip #7: Exercise during commercial breaks when watching TV.

Does Physical Activity Compensate for Sitting?

No. Exercise is not an “antidote” to excess sitting, experts say.

Marc Hamilton, Ph.D. of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, says “It is increasingly clear that prolonged sitting is bad for everyone, whether they are fit or fat, or active or inactive.

“The experimental studies conducted by us and others are consistent in finding that sitting too much is unhealthy even in people who are not overweight and those who exercise regularly.”

Bottom Line

Based on the expert and scientific studies quoted above, it seems clear that less sitting and more moving overall contribute to better health.

“Too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting seem to increase risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, says Dr. Laskowski of Mayo Clinic.

Who wants that???

So, stand up, walk around, stretch, get out of the chair or off the couch and move your body!

As David Bolton, physiotherapist says, “Motion is lotion.”

Finally

Here’s a link to Bow-flex, fitness advisor, Tom Holland’s YouTube video called “3 Stretches for People Who Sit All Day.” This video is less than three minutes long.

It demonstrates how to stretch the back muscles that get super tight from sitting all day. The video shows how to open up your chest muscles to improve posture, especially if you sit hunched over a computer keyboard for hours on end.  https://goo.gl/jkjFMm

I tried this exercise and found it to be super fun and useful.

Please, do not sit your life away. Think about the cost to your health, the pain, and misery of your body. Keep your joints, loose, mobile, active, and do so regularly—get moving!