Category Archives: Managing Stress

Still Man’s Best Friend – Especially for Baby Boomers

Man's Best Friend

Now that you are an empty nester, what would you do without Gimley, your ‘fur baby’  –  man’s best friend?

You may even be living alone, trying to figure out what comes next and Gimley keeps you sane.

You are one of the 76 million Baby Boom Generation, born between 1944 and 1964 – a generation that loves dogs.

Dogs have been called ‘man’s best friend’ since they were first domesticated, thousands of years ago. But, Baby Boomers seem to have taken it to heart more than other generations.

They make up 37% of all dog owners – a sizeable chunk of the dog-owning population.

If you are a ‘boomer’ or are related to a ‘boomer, you know their dogs  are more than just a friend to keep them company as the years pile up and retirement is looming. They are part of the family.

Why Boomers Relate Differently to Dogs

Baby Boomers were welcomed into a world that was enjoying a new level of comfort. Life was different and possibilities unknown to prior generations were everywhere. This included dog companionship on a different level.

They grew up with their dogs in the home and developed strong bonds with their furry friends at an early age. The connection to pets was intense and those relationships were carried into adulthood.  

The Shift from Outside to Inside

Before the Baby Boomers, dogs were primarily outside pets. You may remember the backyard dog houses. But with the Boomer Generation things changed.

Pups were kept inside and integrated into the family, which created a companionship dynamic that had never before existed.

The strong bond Boomers have with their dogs goes a long way in keeping them feeling fulfilled and sociable.

Coping with Change

The companionship and unconditional love that dogs provide helps owners adjust more easily to life changes.

  1. The empty nest – filling the gap when children leave.
  2. Physical well-being (staying active) – dogs must be walked, so owners get more exercise.
  3. Mental health – there are issues that can arise as a person moves into different stages of life. The loving companionship of a dog reduces loneliness and lessens the risk of depression and anxiety

Dogs Are Social Facilitators

Boomers know that dog owners reap social benefits that do not come with other types of pets.

Dogs love to be outside, they love to run and play, and they have to be “walked” for exercise and relief. The result is dog owners tend to get out of the house several times a day and enjoy the side benefit of easily connecting with other dog owners.

A few activities that Boomers enjoy with their furry best friends:

  • Getting to know the neighborhood and the neighbors
  • Being part of a dog-walking group
  • Attending dog-focused events
  • Regular visits to the dog park

Dogs Are Good for the Heart

When it comes to heart health issues, dogs have your back. According to a nationwide study, dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease.

The researchers also found there is a link between the breed and the relative risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Hunting breeds were related to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than any other breed of dog.

So, if you are in the market for a dog, you may want to consider a Labrador, beagle, Weimaraner, golden retriever, or bloodhound.

And . . . That’s Not all

There are many health benefits of living with man’s best friend.

The companionship and higher levels of exercise that come with having a furry friend lowers the risk of high blood pressure.

It is hard to stay stressed when you feel the unconditional love that dogs provide. Studies have found that the simple scratching of your dog’s head can improve your mood significantly.

To sum it up – dogs are still man’s best friend, just ask any Boomer dog-owner.   

Related Article: High Stress Slows Down Your Brain

The article was adapted with permission from the original published on FOMO Bones.

Find Balance to Achieve Peace of Mind

Image by Nelosa
Image by Nelosa

Reaching high levels of professional and financial success at any cost has been the modern-day Mecca to multitudes of business men and women for several decades.

Unfortunately, the attainment of such an all-consuming goal has not produced the peace and happiness that was expected. There was a dark side to success.

Fairly recently, the question of balance and its impact on mental health and happiness has taken center stage in many circles of psychological research. Dozens of studies have been conducted and published on the subject as companies and individuals alike have noticed that their chaotic lifestyle has not produced the happiness they hoped to achieve. The cost has greatly outweighed the benefits.

The majority of these studies agree on one thing – there is potential for incredible benefits from living a balanced life filled with interesting and varied experiences rather than living with an all-consuming focus on career.

The studies also included some important findings about the effects of stress. Stress is not always detrimental to health and happiness. In fact, a bit of stress here and there is actually healthy, for both plants and animals – it stimulates growth and development. It depends on the source of the stress, how relentles it is, and how it is managed.

Professional Burnout

The danger comes when relentless stress pounds the mind and body and the individuals accept it as the norm. They cope with it the best they can; but allow no time for recovery from the depletion of resources.

Professional burnout from chronic stress debilitates the individual to the point that s/he can no longer function effectively on a personal or professional level.

Psychology Today tells us that

“Burnout is one of those road hazards in life that high-achievers really should be keeping a close eye out for, but sadly – often because of their “I can do everything” personalities, they rarely see it coming.”

The individual may suffer with any or all of the following:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Cynicism, anger, detachment
  • Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
  • Bouts of anxiety and depression
  • Physical illness

Professional burnout does not happen overnight. It comes on slowly, overtime, making it difficult to recognize.  There are warnings signs, but there are rarely recognized until it is too late.

The human body thrives on moderation. In spite of that being a fairly well-known fact, there are huge numbers of people who gravitate toward extreme lifestyles. They tend to be adrenalin junkies with a need for more and greater challenges.

It may be a psychological compulsion to escape the sea of sameness that drives them to seek everything in unhealthy proportions. But, whatever the cause, there is an endless list of good reasons to avoid the rat race and live a life of moderation on all fronts.

The Pressure Starts Early

A close look at America’s higher education system is good case study for what is happening. As knowledge increases, and job requirements become more demanding, the amount of curriculum required to graduate from college goes up, while the time allotted for completion of tasks goes down.

This places students under incredible amounts of stress. If you are a recent graduate or have a child in college you are probably aware that symptoms of chronic stress are everywhere – poor eating habits, lack of sleep, chronic anxiety and depression, poor quality of work, and a decreasing appreciation for study.

As a nation, America, has created such high expectations and placed such high stakes on a single four-year period of life that the pressure is almost unbearable. Even the students with the highest scholastic standings begin to dread the moment they have to open a text book.

High schools are not much better. Even the elementary schools are intense. Kindergarteners and First Graders have homework! Is it any wonder than many children hate school?

The problem is simple. When you put too much emphasis on a single focus, and create too much pressure around it, eventually even pleasurable activities become drudgery. The joy of the activity itself is smothered by the stress connected to it.

A good illustration of this is that many artists decide to keep their art as a hobby or recreation, rather than pursuing it as a profession. They realize that if their livelihood depended on their art, the pressure would dampen the fun, and joy of creating would lose its magic.

In America the one aspect of life where this principle is most blatantly violated is work/life balance. American professionals push themselves beyond reason their entire lives with the goal of retiring early and enjoying life more. Unfortunately, they often get the early retirement in the form of an unexpected permanent vacation because they literally work themselves to death.

Today, even a “typical work week” is extreme – more often than not it is 60 to 90 hours rather than 40.

A Series of Unhealthy Extremes

In order to cope with the unrelenting pressures, people turn to energy drinks, alcohol, ice cream, cheesecake, and other comfort foods and activities to dim or wipe out the memories of everything that happened during the past week – or that they have to face in the coming week.

Life becomes a series of unhealthy extremes – each one throwing everything else more and more out of balance.

The Solution is Simple

Simple – yes! But, not necessarily easy to incorporate when you have been on the fast track for years.  It is called BALANCE!

Limit the number of hours you work each week – cut it down to at least 50, but 40 would be better. Disconnect from your electronic leash at the end of the day and on the weekend.

After a busy day at work, make it a practice to enjoy a nice dinner with family or friends.  Plan time in your schedule in the evenings or on the weekend to do something you really enjoy – painting, hiking, swimming, basketball, reading, going to the movies – anything that is FUN and takes your mind from the pressures and responsibilities of work.

When you take the time for self-care on the weekend, going back to work on Monday morning will be much easier. You will have decompressed and regenerated enough that you will be able to handle work stress and the occasional crisis with grace and dignity – and let it go when it is over.

Daily and weekly rest and relaxation stabilizes you emotionally and psychologically. It is a much wiser strategy than working nights and weekends 95% of the year so that you can take one extended annual vacation.

Developing a nice balance of work, rest, and fun throughout the week increases overall satisfaction with life.

Balance and Moderation in all Things

The human body and mind were not meant to handle excess.

Balance and moderation can be applied universally in life, whether it is eating, sleeping, exercise, entertainment, socializing, study, or work. For example, the body does not do well when you starve it for three days and then binge eat for three hours.

The secret of good health and peace of mind is striving to find balance in every facet of your life.

Be sure there is time in your schedule to purchase fresh, healthy foods, to prepare tasty meals and allow plenty of time to enjoy them. Eat regular nutritious meals every day to provide the necessary fuel for your miraculous body to function at the highest level.

Regular exercise in moderation is also a key factor to mental and physical health, as is regular social interaction, regular eustress (a good form of stress that can actually increase our performance at a task and your general happiness and sense of well-being), regular sleep habits for adequate rest, and regular relaxation.

The word “regular” comes from the root “to regulate” which means to keep things in their proper proportions.  But, even regulation can become extreme. If you obsess over counting calories, timing your exercise to the second, and stress when you only get seven hours and twenty minutes of sleep, you need to loosen up a bit.

It is not uncommon for people to go from an extremely chaotic lifestyle to an extremely regimented one. Flexibility is critical to a balanced life. Being able to go with the flow is important.

There will be days – even an occasional week when things get out of balance. That is to be expected. It is perfectly OK, as long as you do not allow it to become the “norm” again and slip back into a permanent pattern of imbalance.

Other Possible Dangers

When making the shift from a chaotic, extremely hectic life to a more normal pace, there are some common pitfalls to avoid.  One in particular is going to the opposite extreme and taking the stance that life is to be “lived fully.” That you should stop taking life so seriously and do whatever makes you happy – whenever you choose to do it – no matter what anyone else thinks.

This approach also carries with it the potential of great dissatisfaction. Meaning and direction in life, both personally and professionally, are powerful factors that contribute to health, happiness, and fulfillment.

If you remove the meaning from your work, then you remove the reason to work at all. It is the same with life. In fact, many of the happiest people claim that their source of joy comes from finding a deeper meaning to the everyday aspects of living.

The lesson to be learned from all this is that extremes of any kind are dangerous.

Recognize your physical and emotional instincts and live a lifestyle that accommodates them, but does not make you a slave to them.

Moderation and balance are the keys to a peaceful, joyful life.   

 

Focus Your Energy on Well-being

To live a happy, healthy, balanced life, you must learn to focus your energy on well-being. Self-care on all levels should be an integral part of your lifestyle.

There is an abundance of information available about the benefits of eating well and exercising regularly to sustain a healthy mind and body. In fact, I write about both regularly. But today I want to move in a little different direction.

In addition to those two very basic and critical activities, there are a number of other things you can to improve your mental health and overall well-being.  By incorporating them into your daily life, you will be better able to manage most challenges – including struggles with self-doubt, anxiety, and mild depression.

Practices that Focus Your Energy on Well-being

Accept Your Feelings

Stuffing or ignoring your emotions is more damaging than it is helpful.  Everyone has emotions. They are a natural part of being human. Bottling them up may seem like a good solution in the moment, but when you do it all the time, you are potentially creating a time bomb that will eventually explode.

Unfortunately, you are hurting yourself as you hold them in and you run the risk of hurting those you love when the eruption finally occurs.

Rather than acknowledging what you are feeling and allowing yourself to experience emotions, you may medicate, rationalize, blame, bury, deny, smother, drink, or stuff them (pretend they don’t exist). Emotions have become the enemy and many people will do anything to avoid them – especially the big three: fear, anger and sadness.

It takes a lot of mental, physical and emotional energy to avoiding your feelings and creates high levels of stress and anxiety.

Don’t stuff your emotions!

Let yourself laugh, cry, scream, yell, or pound something (preferably a pillow, grass, sand – not the wall or someone else). Do whatever you need to do, probably in private is the best choice. But, if emotions erupt in public, excuse yourself and let it rip.  This is nature’s way of releasing stress. Don’t beat yourself up afterward!

You must find a safe and sane way to release your emotions (this applies to both men and women). When you continually stuff them, you are endangering your own health and possibly the well-being of others around you.

Stuffed emotions eventually come out – either in the form of a physical illness, a mental break down, or incredible explosions of anger on anyone who happens to be around – including your children, other loved ones, colleagues, and innocent bystanders.

Don’t set up yourself, your family, or friends for these unintended consequences. Consciously begin to let down your guard and experience your feelings – recognize and acknowledge your emotions. Only then will you be able to manage them in a healthy way and relieve the stress that stuffing them is creating.

Be a Risk Taker

Routine and structure are good things. They keep us on track and make life work. However if you are a rule follower to a fault and never do anything spontaneous or out-of-the ordinary, you are missing some interesting adventures that make life more enjoyable.

Don’t let yourself become so regimented and predictable that you may even bore yourself. Life is meant to be lived.  When you are not stretching and doing new things – taking risks on a regular basis, you are not growing as a person. Taking risks – even calculated ones can be exciting, rewarding and are definitely good for your mental well-being

Challenge yourself. Make a point of taking some kind of risk every day. They don’t have to be big risks.

If you are shy – make a point of talking to someone new. Learn a new language, take dance or voice lessons or join Toastmasters and learn to speak in public; and other things – like being more trusting or being more assertive. The goal is to push yourself out of your comfort zone regularly.

Take Responsibility for the Life You Have

Too often people spend their entire life blaming others for the life they are living. Everyone has their own experiences – good, bad and in-between. Those experiences definitely impact the way we view life – but they did not have to cripple us.

If you allow yourself to live in the past, continuously suffering for what you have lost or for what others have “done to you,” you will never be able to completely embrace the joys of life that are available to you. They will be lost in the fog of anger and self-pity.

The only way to truly enjoy life is to take responsibility for what you can control and for what you are creating right now – in the present moment. You are what you think about and you have the life that you create by your thoughts and your actions. Take responsibility for that; and start enjoying it.

The past is gone, the future has not yet arrived – all you have is the present, so learn to live in the moment and make it count.

Develop Self-Awareness

Avoid just coasting through life, being totally unaware of what you are doing – never taking the time to look inside and to assess your behaviors.

Which of your behaviors are serving you and which are not? What factors are driving the behaviors that are not serving you? What is your prevalent attitude about life? What are your thought patterns? Are they helpful and uplifting – or negative and destructive?

What realities about your life are you denying? Bad habits? Self-defeating behaviors? Are you resisting change that would greatly benefit the way you feel?

You do not have to take it on all at once, but a little honest introspection daily – possibly at the end of each day – could work wonders in creating a greater sense of self and well-being.

Laugh Out Loud a Lot

Focus on Well-being
Image by photography33

It is time to start laughing – out loud – a lot! Many people take themselves far too seriously. This seems to be a particularly big problem for highly-intelligent people. And, typically a problem that develops as people grow into adulthood. It doesn’t generally afflict children.

Kids laugh about 200 times a day and adults, only 15 times a day at most. Let yourself laugh openly and freely as children do when they are reveling in life.

Read funny books; develop friendships with people who make you laugh; play games with your kids or grandkids; go to funny movies.  In other words – have more fun!

Laughter is our way of communicating joy. Researchers have found that when people are joyful, there is a sense of well-being that when sustained, contributes to longevity.

Let the laughter flow openly and freely the way a young child laughs. It will be infectious and others will laugh with you.

Laughter not only provides wonderful psychological benefits, it also has many physical benefits, as well such as improving circulation, boosting the immune system, reducing stress, and normalizing blood pressure.

Finding joyful moments and making time for laughter can make a huge difference in the way you feel and the way you live your life.

My simple prescription for you is to laugh unconditionally every day.  It is free – it is fun – there are no adverse side effects – and it will help keep you young (at least young at heart).

Focusing on Your Well-being Is not Difficult

Improving your well-being does not have to be as difficult or complex as you may imagine. By using the five tips here, you can easily discover that you feel better, you are less stressed, and that you are able to enjoy life more.

I am not telling you to ignore the importance of eating well, regular exercise and getting adequate rest.  I am telling you to recognize that there is much more to a person’s overall well-being than those basic components.

A high-level of self-awarenes (how you act and how you feel) can impact your well-being in significant ways.

The Danger of a Frenetic Lifestyle

The frenetic lifestyle that many people live today is very harmful. Rushing here and there, being constantly on call, balancing multiple layers of responsibility may give you a sense of accomplishment – even make you feel important, but it takes a huge toll on every aspect of life.

Image by stokkete
Image by stokkete

When you constantly push yourself to take on more and more challenges, it is easy to lose sight of why you wanted to be successful in the first place. For many, the reason was to be able to spend less time working and enjoy life more.  A frenetic, high-pressure lifestyle creates exactly the opposite.

There is a very dark side to constantly pushing yourself to produce more and more. Unfortunately, it creeps up on you and becomes a serious case of self-negligence.

When you are busy and driven every minute of every day and well into the evening, it is easy to neglect important things in life that keep you healthy, happy, and create quality of life.  A continual stream of urgent tasks that must be completed will overshadow the not-so-urgent, but important activities that make life worth living.

It is not just physical well-being that is neglected – mental and emotional well-being also suffer when there is no time for self-care.

Areas of Neglect

Nutritional Needs

When your daily schedule is crammed to overflowing one of the first areas of neglect is your diet. Eating regular, nutritious meals become a thing of the past. You are not only too busy to sleep or even take a deep breath now and then, there is no time to prepare decent meals

Convenience foods, frozen dinners, take out and fast foods become the norm. It is a steady diet of additive filled, sugar and fat-filled dishes, loaded with empty calories that provide minimal nutrition and damage the body. It is impossible to sustain any level of good health on such a diet.

Adequate Rest

When you burn the candle at both ends, there is a good chance you will pay the price of poor health.  Inadequate rest carries both short- and long-term consequences.

Short-term lack of sleep can affect moods, cognitive ability, memory, judgment and increase the risk of accidents and injury.

Long-term, chronic sleep deprivation can set you on the path to serious health problems such cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even early death.

In addition to endangering your own health, you may also be endangering others because of the toll it takes on your perception and judgement. In the work place it results in inefficiency, decreased productivity, and dangerous mistakes that can cause accidents. And, of course, driving while exhausted can be deadly.

Regular Exercise

Far too many people are overweight in the United States and obesity is on the rise. Many are calling it an epidemic of the 21st Century. This is primarily the result of poor diet and lack of exercise, which are the result of busy, hectic, work-focused lifestyles.

Regular exercise is a critical factor in maintaining good health. That will never change.  When it is a missing piece, sustainable good health is nearly impossible. Even if you take the time to eat well – if you live a completely sedentary life, you are putting your health in jeopardy.

Lack of exercise is as deadly as smoking. Physical inactivity has been declared the culprit in the rising death rates from coronary disease, type 2 diabetes, plus breast and colon cancer.

You should never be too busy to exercise!

Recreation

Busy people forget to have fun (re-create themselves). If you ask a very busy professional what s/he does for fun, the answer may be anything from a blank stare to a quick, “Who has time for fun?”

This may not seem serious at first glance; but, never having time for fun and relaxation can have serious negative impact on mental and emotional stability. They are just as important to good health as nutrition, exercise, and sleep.

Hobbies, play, relaxation techniques, and simple fun activities have therapeutic and regenerative effects on both physical and mental health.

Studies show that people with anger management issues or who struggle with anxiety and/or depression can often trace the cause back to a lack of joy in life that is found in fun and relaxing activities with friends and family.

Regardless of your profession – doctor, chef, mechanic, professional athlete, or garbage man – you need time to unwind and enjoy yourself

Without fun and relaxation as a significant part of your lifestyle, you are setting yourself up for problems related to chronic stress.

Stress is a killer! It leads to obesity, heart attacks, high blood pressure, chronic headaches, depression, and temporary personality disorders, etc. It can also destroy relationships, break up families, and decrease the desire to continue living.  There is no aspect of life that is free from the necrotic touch of chronic stress.

Dreams No Longer Matter

Another serious danger of a frenetic lifestyle  is that you can eventually reach a point where dreams no longer matter, which can alter the course of your life.

Life-long dreams –  the catalyst to your ambition – the ideals that pulled you into the future may dim and eventually disappear completely from your consciousness.

After years of life-draining work, the dream can be forgotten and  replaced by the time-consuming, demanding career that takes everything you have to give.

No one intentionally gives up on achieving their dreams, but the intense focus of a person’s mind, life, and soul around the means to the end eventually becomes the end in itself, leaving no room for the original dreams to exist.

When a person places all his time, talent, and energy on something long enough, that “something” begins to absorb the entire mind and becomes the central focus of his life.  It is the only thing that his mind is capable of comprehending – and possibly the only that he is capable of wanting.

He loses his healthy zest for life,  and he has nothing but obligations, responsibilities, and productivity goals – with no end point in sight. Life is about the work and nothing more.

Living in a constant rush of cortisol and adrenaline, a person loses the ability to enjoy friends, family, hobbies and life – hopes and dreams for the future no longer exist.

Instead of enjoying life, one merely tries to beat it.

Don’t Let Life Lose Its Meaning

Living every day filled with hectic, intense activity and constant stress creates an existence of a meaningless chain of milestones that lead nowhere.

You must take the time to stop! Disconnect! Breathe!

You must remember that life exists outside of work.  Without the little moments of love, joy, laughter, and even struggles, life is meaningless.

Setting goals and milestones can be great as long as you don’t forget why you set them. There were reasons – don’t lose sight of those.

On the other hand, everyone has crazy days or weeks now and then – that is part of life in the world today.  But notice, I said “now and then” not all the time.  SLOW DOWN and LIVE!

What to Do to Get Started Walking

In my last post we looked at eight reasons why you should walk for your health: to lose weight; for heart and brain health; to get happy endorphins flowing, for more energy and general well-being. Hopefully, you were inspired to include walking as part of your daily activities. Today, we are going to talk about what to do to get started walking.

There are a few important things your should do to get started with a walking routine that will lead to a healthier life:

Check with Your Doctor

Image by wavebreak_media
Image by wavebreak_media

Starting any kind of exercise regimen should include a physical check up by your doctor. You want to make sure that what you have planned will be good for you – and not detrimental in any way.

Chances are your doctor will be completely supportive of your plan, but s/he may want to check your heart, your blood pressure and other vitals before you begin just to make sure your body can handle increased physical activity.

He may also request that you return for a follow up after a specific period of time, to make sure everything is going well.

Start Slow and Steady

For anyone starting a new physical exercise routine, starting out slow and steady is a good idea.  It is important to let your body adjust to the rhythm and energy you will be exerting.  This is particularly true if you are not accustomed to exercise, are terribly out of shape, and/or have been living a sedentary life for quite a while.

Start as slow as necessary – just be sure that you are moving your body a little each day, and that you are committed to increasing your time or distance every three or four days.

Listen to your body. Trying to do too much too fast can create serious problems.  You could strain muscles, have muscle cramps, feel weak from too much exertion . . . and also take away your motivation to continue walking daily.

Do what you can each day – be persistent – stay with it. I promise, you will begin to enjoy the process and your body will thank you.

Have a Schedule that Works for You

For most people it is a good idea to have a walking schedule. Each day after you have finished your walk, check it off. This reinforces the feeling of satisfaction that comes from having accomplished something important.

You may want to buy a special calendar for this purpose and write out your walking goals for each week.

Set up your schedule – start slow and gradually increase how far you walk or how long you walk. You can choose which of those things you want to use as your measure. For me, it is how long I walk.

If you are a complete novice at walking (and exercise), start with 5-10 minutes at a time for 3 to 5 days.  Then, increase it by 2-3 minutes and gradually add more days.

Continue until you reach a level that seems a good length of time for you.  My recommendation would be to work up to 30 minutes if at all possible; with 15-20 minutes at least 5 days a week as your minimum goal.

A Healthy Diet Is Part of the Plan

Image by klenova
Image by klenova

Walking is wonderful for your health, but you should also be eating healthy foods as part of your new routine. Even if you walk everyday (which is great), but continue to fill up on fried, fatty, sugary, processed foods, it will be more difficult to sustain the energy you need to walk regularly and for any extended period of time.

Feed your body fresh, whole foods, lean protein for energy, fruits and vegetables, and lots of whole grains. These foods will keep you feeling satisfied, they are good for your body, and provide the energy needed for walking (and everything else you want to do).

Do what you need to do the get started walking. Then, plan your new walking routine beginning today – and stay with it for the long-term!