The great outdoors

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Even after living on a relatively rural island in Florida for more than 20 years, I still consider myself a city girl. I burn easily in the sun and bugs love to bite me, so I really don’t like spending time outdoors all that much. But a study done by researchers at the University of Michigan has given me incentive.

People have always been urged to commune with nature to reduce stress, but just how much time was needed and what kind of experience would do the trick weren’t known.

Lead author of the research, Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, says people who spent 20 minutes a day in nature saw a significant reduction in the stress hormone cortisol. The “nature pill” prescription is sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature.

Participants were studied over an eight week period. They were to spend 10 minutes or more, three days a week anywhere outside that made them feel like they’d interacted with nature. There were a few constraints to minimize factors known to influence stress: take the nature pill in daylight, no aerobic exercise, and avoid the use of social media, internet, phone calls, conversations and reading.

The 20 to 30 minute window produced the highest reduction in cortisol. After that, the benefit continued but at a lesser rate.

I guess I can spare 20 minutes outside on a stressful day, and what day isn’t? How do you feel about taking a “nature pill?”

 

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TMI

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Without going into too much detail, I had the occasion to be in a group setting recently with two “helping” professionals. Both of them have master’s degrees, as do I, but either their education was lacking or mine was.

As I recall, therapy begins with listening. Offering an extended monologue about one’s own life obstacles and how brilliantly one overame them is not helpful or effective. Neither is doling out platitudes. And neither, especially, is taking a tough love approach with a person one has just met and whose circumstances you have not bothered to ask about.

I left the meeting in tears with a burgeoning headache. I most definitely will not engage with these two again.

What has been your experience with therapy or counseling? Did you feel supported? Were you given any real assistance?

 

 

Sing a happy song

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A study done on popular song lyrics indicates songs are expressing more anger and sadness and less joy.

Researchers at Lawrence Technological University in Michigan studied songs from the Billboard Hot 100 lists from the 1950s to 2016. Songs from the 1950s and from 1982 to 1984 reflected the least anger while those from the mid 1990s on reflected more.

Sadness, disgust, and fear also increased in song lyrics over time, but less sharply than did anger. Disgust increased gradually, but was lower in the early 1980s and higher in the mid and late 1990s. Popular music lyrics expressed more fear during the mid 1980s, and the fear decreased sharply in 1988. Another sharp increase in fear was observed in 1998 and 1999, with a sharp decrease in 2000.

The study also showed that joy was a dominant tone in popular music lyrics during the late 1950s, but it decreased over time and became much milder in the recent years. An exception was observed in the mid 1970s, when joy expressed in lyrics increased sharply.

Note that the songs analyzed were the most popular, in other words the ones consumers wanted to hear, not necessarily the ones songwriters most wanted to write.

The researchers didn’t seem to look at what was happening in the world duting the various time periods they mention. Did these events affect what people wanted to listen to? Below are some facts gleaned from a quick Internet search.

We’re all familiar with the “Happy Days” mood of the 1950s. Microsoft was started in 1975 and Margaret Thatcher was England’s Prime Minister.The period 1982 to 1984 was during the Reagan years. George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988. His son George W. Bush won the contested election in 2000.

Conversely, in 1998, Bill Clinton was denying his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

I wish the researchers would extend their analysis to the past two years. There seems to be a correlation between Republican regimes and more positive emotions. Or am I missing something? What do you think?

 

Think twice before you take that job

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Here is another example to go in the “life isn’t fair” file. Swedish researchers found that women facing high demands in their jobs gained weight while men didn’t.

Scientists from the University of Gothenburg studied more than 3800 people. They assessed them three times over a twenty year period, either from age 30 to 50 or 40 to 60 using variables of how much control they had in their work situation and how demanding their job was.

The researchers defined amount of control as  how often they learned something new; whether the job called for imagination or advanced skills; and whether the respondent was personally able to choose what to do and how to do it.

To measure how demanding a job was, they asked questions about work pace, psychological pressures, whether there was enough time for their duties and how often the demands made were contradictory.

Both men and women were equally likely to gain wait when they had little control, a gain of about 10%. On the other hand, half the women who had demanding jobs gained 20%.

The researchers speculate that women in demanding jobs faced more demands at home than men did. Duh. This becomes a public health issue since weight gain is associated with heart disease and diabetes.

Ladies, if you have a high stress job, make an effort to exercise self-care.

Are you an innie or an outie?

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Now that unemployment is so low, have you thought about looking for an encore career? Or maybe just a part time job or volunteer position?

As you explore your options, take into consideration whether you are an introvert or an extravert.

Do you think first before you jump into a situation? Have a very few, very good friends? Need to be alone to refocus after being in a crowd? These are strong indications you are an introvert.

You’ll be happier doing something that puts you in the back office. If you have a flair for numbers, for example, you’d probably enjoy keeping the books. If you are artistic or crafty, selling your wares on Etsy will probably work better for you than selling at face-to-face craft shows.

If you love parties and have a slew of acquaintances, you are likely an extravert. Crowds energize you.

You are probably a natural salesperson. If you’re a fashionista, a job in retail with an employee discount might be a dream come true. If you are athletic, maybe you can recruit people to form a pickleball league.

Have you found a second career? Does it draw on your innate qualities of introversion or extraversion?

 

Be you

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“Our work is the presentation of our capabilities.” ~Edward Gibbon

Are you in a job that allows you to use your capabilities?

I spent much of my adult life working in the insurance industry, a field that rarely gave me the opportunity to use my strengths. I had not chosen this career, merely stumbled into it. An insurance company offered me a job, and I took it. I tried and tried to make the proverbial silk purse of it and failed.

In my forties, I decided to go to graduate school to pursue something that might actually suit me. Although I loved my educational psychology classes and did extremely well, my problem wasn’t solved.

It took almost another twenty years of interim jobs until I finally found a position in my new field. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t all I had hoped for, but it was an environment in which I felt comfortable.

Now that I am officially retired, I have begun writing fiction, something that is a near-perfect match for my introverted personality and artistic interests.

If you are still in the workforce, are you using your capabilities? If you are retired, have you found a job or hobby that lets you be you?

 

Now what’ll I do?

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I’ve been doing some reading on encore careers, the ones you undertake after you have retired from your original type of work. These second careers can be paid or unpaid, part time or full time. If you are at loose ends and looking for something meaningful to do, where do you start?

A psychologist named John Holland devised a system to aid in career choice. He divided people and careers into six groups, realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. The idea is to match what you are most interested in with a job in which that strength will be most useful.

Realistic people like nature, athletics, tools, and machinery. If that is you, maybe your encore career could involve gardening, working at a golf course, or refinishing furniture.

Investigative people are curious and like to do research. Could you find a job doing surveys, either in person or via social media? How about a secret shopper position?

Artistic people not only like the visual arts, but also music, theater, and writing. Do you have a book inside you that you now have time to write?

Social people are helpers. You might deliver meals on wheels. You are probably a good teacher.

Enterprising people like to persuade. You are a natural salesperson. You might also start your own business.

Those who are conventional like details and organizing things. You would probably enjoy helping people de-clutter their homes. Or maybe you have bookkeeping skills.

Has this given you some food for thought? I’d love to hear about other potential encore careers based on this idea.

Falls not just a problem for the elderly

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It is common knowledge that falls are a problem among the elderly. They often lead to broken hips from which the person may never really recover. A recent study, however, indicates the problem with falls starts much earlier than we think.

Researchers in Trinity College Dublin have identified a sharp increase in falls after the age of 40, particularly in women.  They drew on data from TILDA (the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing) as well as data from similar studies in Australia, Great Britain and the Netherlands and found that for women the prevalence of falls increases from the age of 40 on — 9% in 40-44 year olds, 19% in 45-49 year olds, 21% in 50-54 year olds, 27% in 55-59 year olds and 30% in 60-64 year olds.

What this means is that preventative measures should be undertaken beginning around the age of menopause. Waiting until after a fall has occurred is not nearly effective enough.

Health consequences like fractures, head injuries, reduced social participation, increased risk of nursing home admittance, decline in independence and subsequently increased need for care are serious and costly. In addition, there are emotional costs. The researchers estimate one in four people over the age of 50 is afraid of further falls.

Midlife ladies, here is a slideshow of balance exercises to get you started in preventing a fall.

 

Take back control of your life

Is your life spinning out of control? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a single resource to keep all the bits and pieces you must keep track of in one place? Search no more.

The new, improved version of the Living Well Planner is available to pre-order. It’s pretty as you can see, but it also is a workhorse. Inside, you can set and track goals, budgets, meals, and everything else in your life. Watch and listen.

 

 

Full disclosure: I have recently become an affiliate with Ruth Soukup’s company, so I will get a commission if you make a purchase through my link.

 

Which road to choose?

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I just finished this summary of research that made me very, very sad. Psychologist Tom Gilovich and former Cornell graduate student Shai Davidai published their conclusions “The Ideal Road Not Taken” in the journal Emotion. 

What they found is that people regret not living up to what they perceive as their ideal self far more than they regret not living up to obligations.

They base this on the idea of three components of a person’s sense of self: the actual, ideal and the ought selves. The actual self is who a person believes they are. The ideal self is who they would like to be. The ought self is who they feel they should be.

When the men asked hundreds of people in six surveys to list and categorize their regrets, they found people have an easier time defining what they ought to do than in what they would do to be their best self. People wait for inspiration that may never come or they worry about what others will think of them. The researchers conclude that Nike has been right. The best course of action is “Just do it.”

These ideas resonate with me. I’ve always been the conscientious one, the one who follows rules. I let fear of failure and of the unknown stop me from making job choices that may well have led to a happier life. The regrets are real.

As a result of the soul-searching I finally did, I wrote Career Finder Workbook for Teens in the hopes of helping young people make more intelligent decisions than I did. I wrote it for middle school age students, but if you are an adult who is wondering what to be when you grow up you might find it helpful.

 

Are your “shoulds” holding you back?