Facing the Inevitable Head On

Senior couple dealing with inevitable illness

How to Stay Positive in the Face of Death.

Comedian Joe E. Lewis once quipped that “you only live once – but if you work it right, once is enough.”

As we grow older, we tend to reflect on our lives and question whether we’ve lived them to the fullest. This can be especially true as we begin to lose long-time friends or family members. When those who are closest to us pass away, it is inevitable for us to think about our own mortality in a way we may not have previously done. It also can lead to depression, which in turn can cause other health issues.

Does that mean we shouldn’t think about death, even when we’re confronted with it more frequently? Not at all. In fact, coming to terms with death is a necessary developmental challenge for seniors; however, it doesn’t mean we should dwell on it.

So how do we stay positive during a time when we may be losing beloved friends and family members?

Mind Over Matter

It may sound clichéd, but the truth is, there is something to that old phrase about “mind over matter.”  Studies have shown over the years that thinking positively has benefits to our overall health and well-being.

In a Healthy Aging report titled “The Power of Positive Thinking,” Johns Hopkins reveals that heart health is greatly impacted depending on whether you are a glass half empty or glass half full kind of person. According to the report, even those with a family history of heart disease were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular issue within five to 25 years versus those who had a negative outlook on life.

The research team at Hopkins used a survey tool designed to assess a person’s cheerfulness, energy level, anxiety level and satisfaction with health and their overall lives to reach their findings.

Staying positive in the face of adversity – especially when those around us are passing away while we remain behind – can be difficult.  The researchers at Hopkins recommended employing the following steps to help boost positivity:

  • Smile more often – studies have shown that smiling more often, even if it’s a fake smile, can reduce heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations.
  • Reframe the situation – whether you’re stuck in traffic again, or find yourself faced with expensive car repairs for the fourth time in a year, reframing how you view the situation can help you cope. Finding the silver lining in any situation is a great way to boost positivity.
  • Bounce-back factor – individuals who have built up their resiliency over the years have found it easier to cope with stressful or negative situations. Maintaining good relationships, accepting that change is a normal part of life and tackling problems head-on rather than waiting for them to resolve on their own are some great ways to build resiliency.

Making a Difference

Losing friends and family as we age can make us want to retreat into a shell and not make any more connections with people.  But being in relationships with one another is a basic human instinct, and trying to fight making those kinds of connections with others will not prevent us from being hurt in the future.

Volunteering your time and talents in the community is one of the best ways to not only make those kinds of human connections, but also a way to give your own life meaning and purpose. When we’re faced with death, it’s our natural reaction to question whether we’ve made a difference in our own lives. If you’ve never volunteered before, it can be a great way to know you’ve done something positive. Not only will you be enriching your own life, but you also will be making a difference to the people you serve through volunteering.

Volunteer Match can help those who are interested in volunteering in their community and beyond to find an organization that best suits their talents and interests.

Treat Your Body Right

Exercise has a number of benefits for the body, especially as we age. It can help us to maintain muscle mass, which is crucial to preventing things like loss of balance as we age. But one of the most important benefits of regular exercise is that it is a natural mood booster.

Studies have shown that within five minutes of engaging in exercise, an individual’s mood is boosted. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can help boost mood and ease depression because it releases neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids – also known as the “feel-good” brain chemicals – raises body temperature to create a calming effect and reduces immune system chemicals that can be responsible for worsening depressing.

If you’re not currently physically active, it can be a little intimidating to get started. There are a number of programs out there designed for seniors to help them get and stay in shape. If you live in a senior living community, many have wellness programs that will help seniors craft an exercise and eating regimen that is ideal for their individual needs.

The Silver Sneakers program is provided at no cost as part of over 60 health plans nationwide. The program is available through thousands of gyms across the country, with classes that are designed for seniors and boomers at all fitness levels. Call the membership benefits number for your plan to find out of your insurance participates in this program.

Know When to get Help

Seniors and boomers who are doing all of the above things and still find themselves struggling with depression due to loss may want to consider seeking out professional help.

A loss in activities that you usually enjoy, struggling with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and struggling to get through the day are all signs that it is time to seek the help of a medical professional. Start by making an appointment with your primary care physician, who can evaluate you to determine if there are any medical causes for your condition. If a medical condition is ruled out, then your primary care doctor may recommend seeing a psychologist or professional counselor.

Learn about how to combat depression and other issues facing seniors and boomers at an upcoming Upside of Downsizing Conference. Learn more here.

Mary Spann

Mary Spann

Mary Spann is the founder and president of Upside of Downsizing®. In addition to her 26 years in construction, interior design, and home staging, Mary also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, making her uniquely qualified to assist with the downsizing process. Mary learned the key components of construction and interior design at an early age. Her father was a prominent custom home builder in Minnesota and Texas, and her mother was a successful interior designer and a real estate broker.
Mary Spann
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