American culture is changing so rapidly that one can barely keep up! The stress, rapid changes and disconnect from what truly matters in life is fragmented into a daily to-do list, rather than a to BE list.
Absorbed in technology, we may think a “friend” is one we digitally communicate with through “likes” and emojis, rather than through face-to-face connections. There is nothing as enriching as hearing a the melodic pulsing of a voice, seeing language with our eyes, connecting on a cellular level beyond the keyboard and taking the time to fully be present with another. This lack of disconnect with human touch and true connection may subtly present as a feeling of isolation, invisibility or a feeling of irrelevancy in a world bustling with activity around us. This sense of disengaging may make us feel as though our worth in the world is diminished.
Changing the conversation about aging
Adding negative social words, assumptions and stereotypes about aging may make us feel further isolated. Let’s repaint the conversation with positive words such as accomplished, enlightened, insightful, learned, wise, powerful, and beautiful as we age and connect with one another.
Ram Dass ruminates about the illusion of time passing and aging. He observes, "There is another interesting dimension of time when you say to friends, 'How old do you experience yourself being?'" rather than point out one’s chronological age. He continues that in our society the perception of aging is seen as a “failure” because some may perceive the person’s chronological age and physicality as a barrier to their value because it don’t awaken an awareness of attraction or desire. In other words, one is perceived as living past their “sell-by date” on the attraction scale.
As we age, our inner landscape can become ripe, rich and expansive as the exterior package begins to wane. We have not been given a compass or chart for addressing these changes and attitudes. We are forging into new territory and have an opportunity to be the change in our perspective as well as others. We have a choice by changing our words and spearheading a conversation about the gift it is to have the opportunity to be alive at any age.
Staying connected after retirement
It has been found that many will isolate and lose touch with connecting with groups of individuals after retiring. They may feel they are expected to slow down and live the expected stereotypical retired life. As they are not engaged as much in the world, isolation may gradually turn to lack of self-worth, loneliness and situational depression that can, if not addressed, lead to cognitive decline. We do not have to believe the cultural norm that after we retire our light is dimmed and eventually extinguished. Negative typecasts about aging are prominent in the American culture and may have an effect on how we see ourselves. Adopting a positive outlook can offer a buffer against the stress of the evolution in our lives.
I believe that we all hunger for a deeper connection to our human family and often, with the busy-ness of days, many fail to reach out and connect to those who will inspire us to reach our fullest potential.
It is very important that after we retire from our career, we find ways to stimulate thought and ideas that will give us a sense of purpose and productivity.
The importance of friends and community
The FINGER study (Finnish Geriatric Intervention) reminds us that one of the pillars of wellness is cognitive training and social engagement. Social isolation and subsequent loneliness may lead to depression. Depression is being researched as an early marker in cognitive abilities and may trigger changes in memory and thinking over time.
Depression may be a new biomarker for Alzheimer’s in older people, NeuroscienceNews.com, August 9, 2019
Friends and community are important to maintain a sense of context of who we are in the world. When we socialize, we acquire knowledge, language, social skills and feelings of value and belonging. These connections may be a fort of emotional bookends to support our quest for optimum health and wellness through the myriad of modalities available to ensure our vitality. These connections help support our quest for optimum health and wellness.
We will look at many options available to us in future blogs.
Aging and mindfulness
Ellen Langer is a social psychologist and the first female professor to gain tenure in the Psychology Department at Harvard University. Her research on aging and mindfulness is a brilliant perspective and resource on the effects of stimulating our lives, and looks at how subjective age differs from the number of years that have passed. She speaks of how our mind controls how we age and if we feel bad about the changes we are perceiving (and other people’s projections of the changes) and retreat from our lives, this may increase inflammation, heart disease and even dementia!
While her work is largely anecdotal, as opposed to white paper scientific studies validated by peer review, she has found, in her research, that those who enter an assisted living facility where stimulation and community is marginal, cease to be inspired and experience a loss of purpose and stimulation in their life. They begin a steady decline in health and mental acuity. A controlled group of those of the same age and life experience who were encouraged to find new and innovative ways to be and connected (live and maintain connections) delayed early onset of health issues including cognitive decline. Her work on mindfulness may be something you wish to explore further. In her bio, she states that our “limits are of our making.” For more information about her work, please visit https://www.ellenlanger.com/about/.
Global communities find secrets to longevity
“Everyone smiles in the same language,
Happiness knows no frontiers, no age.
No difference that makes us feel apart
if a smile can win even a broken heart.”
Ana Claudia Antunes, A-Z of Happiness
Blue Zones are places like Sardinia, Greece, Loma Linda, CA, Okinawa that have been studied as their communities live well into their 100s. We will discuss more about the Blue Zones in a future blog, but a noteworthy point here is that a common life-style thread leads to longevity due to their connection to their village and family. They have a visible radiance as they connect to others on a deeper level of community. This association promotes kindness, generosity and compassion. In the Blue Zones, they work and dine together (and even drink wine). They spend time luxuriating, connecting with community with ease, and continuity exploring taste, conversation and laughter. This leads to calmer, healthier life spans with prevalent low levels of disease and communities living as centenarians.
Explore nature. Be curious.
Explore nature. It will stimulate all of your senses— the air and the sounds around you, smells, sights, and the warmth of the sun on your skin. You’ll breathe deeper and it will give you a sense of connecting to something larger than yourself.
Often you may meet a stranger and begin a brief meaningful connection. An easy way to connect is ask about their dog or children, if you’re so inclined. Even the most innocuous comments may sometimes open doors to conversation. Look at those passing before you and greet them. Try saying “good morning/evening” to each person you pass. Of course, not everyone is receptive, but your smile and attempt to connect may take them out of their own self-absorption for a brief moment, change their day and they may pass it on to another person in their lives. It’s the butterfly effect. Observe the plants around you, name them in your mind, see the colors, take in the scents and even bees circling and collecting their nectar. Watch the change of the seasons in nature. There is a world waiting for you to inhale and connect with.
The added benefit of being in nature is that the love hormone, Oxytocin, is released in our body. It promotes connection, bonding and closeness to others. Secretions of this hormone lowers inflammation and reduces the stress hormone, cortisol.
Be curious. Find ways to stimulate your connection to the world around you every day. Even if you don’t “feel like it”…the effort itself can change your state of being.
As the philosophers John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”