Monthly Archives: September 2015

TIPS TO REDUCE ANXIETY

As a therapist for over 30 years, I can confirm that we all feel a need to reduce anxiety at some point in our lives. It’s that sense of dread, panic or being trapped accompanied by physical symptoms of sweating, rapid heart beat, faster breathing, and fatigue. When you have an anxiety attack, you may feel a temporary need to escape the situation. Most anxiety lasts only a few minutes, but can seem much longer due to its intensity. Anxiety often re-occurs in similar situations resulting in avoidance behaviors in an attempt to control it.

Some people have situational anxiety and others may have anxiety for no apparent reason–free floating anxiety. Some may have anxiety attacks and others may feel less intense anxiety more often. But, we all have a need to manage it in some way. In discussing anxiety reduction, I will present different categories or approaches to management starting with the least invasive first.

STRESS REDUCTION TECHNIQUES:

Diaphragm Breathing: Find a comfortable and quite place to sit. Just take a slow deep breath filling your lungs completely until you see your stomach rise. Upon each exhale, visualize the tension slowly leaving your body. Drop your shoulders and let your muscles feel like they are hanging on your bones. About 10 minutes of this should get you ready for the next exercise.

Progressive Relaxation: While your are still sitting in a comfortable place, you begin to tense a muscle group for 5 to 10 seconds followed by relaxation. Start with your forehead and work down your body to your feet. You move from head to arms, chest, legs and feet. Do not tense too hard or long as the tension sometimes remains.

Transcendental Meditation: After the two above exercise, you can now begin your meditation. I’ve always preferred to sit in a yoga position, but a comfortable chair is just as good. Close your eyes for 15 to 20 minutes in a quite place. I allow my mind to wander for this time rather than self direct. I find the mind wanders to those areas of life that are of concern. I then view them in an anxiety free light which often gives me insights in understanding or resolving it.

Biofeedback: After the above, you can now begin your biofeedback. This is simply the body giving the mind feedback about how they interact. You can start with a finger thermometer that shows how warming your finger results in dilating your arteries. This reduces the physical and vascular effect of anxiety. Using biofeedback to monitor and control muscle tension is a better option, but you would need to get some equipment. I was a biofeedback therapist, so I know you can make appointments with an expert and learn the techniques in as little as 5 to 10 sessions.

EXERCISE:

Stretching: There are routine warm-up stretches that prepare the body for exercise. But, there is Yoga and Tai Chi as well. Yoga involves specific body postures and includes breath control and focusing of the mind. Tai Chi involves slow movements to increase vascular circulation. If you reside near a Chinese community, you may see this form of martial art practiced in public parks. It mostly involves stretching and slow circular movements. This can be used as a warm up for more active exercise.

Anaerobic: This is simply the use of muscles with faster motion. Many sports and weight lifting are start and stop activities. Besides stress reduction, you increase your muscular strength, coordination and flexibility.

Aerobic: This is continual exercises improving the body’s use of oxygen. This includes walking, running, cycling, swimming, rowing, etc. Besides stress reduction, you will increase your stamina, strengthen your heart and arteries, burn calories, increase your mood and even extend your longevity. Of the three, aerobic exercise appears to have the most physical and mental benefits if done for at least 20 minutes three time or more a week.

NUTRITION:

Anti-anxiety Foods: Whole grains have magnesium and serotonin which calm neurotransmitters in the brain. Chamomile tea ingredients have an effect similar to Valium on your brain. Other foods that have been identified are almonds(balances mood), acai and blueberries(both high in antioxidants that relieve stress), and seaweed(tryptophan). This also means avoidance of foods that led to anxiety like caffeine, sugar, glycemic or white carbs, and fried foods.

PSYCHOLOGICAL TECHNIQUES:

Guided Imagery: This is using your imagination to guide your life. This involves closing your eyes sitting or reclined and revisiting a relaxing situation. You try to use all your senses. When you visit your favorite beach, you see, smell, feel, and taste it. You can feel the breeze and taste the salt in your mouth. Relaxing images often improves mood in only a few minutes.

Creative Visualizations: There is an excellent book called “Creative Visualization” by Shakti Gawain suggesting you set your mind before you get out of bed. That is, once awake, just lie there and picture how your day will unfold. Picture your interview success(or other task) and how relaxed and cheerful your will be. It’s a form of mental rehearsal like athletes do before a game.

Affirmations: This is the process of repeating positive phrases about yourself to change your outlook. When repeated daily, these positive phrases become a self fulfilling prophecy and can change your behavior. If you repeat how calm and relaxed you are on a daily basis, you slowly convince yourself until you are that person.

UNDERSTAND THE CAUSE:

Specific: Certain situations can trigger anxiety in some people. After my rear end car accident, I felt anxious when tailgated for a couple of years. Since I understood the cause, I was able to plan a resolution. So, I would start my deep breathing techniques when tailgated and sometimes turned up the radio to distract me. I finally got over it after using these techniques.

Non-Specific: Some people I know are just anxious people. They over-react in anxious ways to various minor or routine stresses. This is sometime called free floating anxiety when a specific cause is not apparent. In this case, you understand this is part of your character. So, you just program stress reduction into your daily routine–taking time before and after work everyday.

PSYCHOTHERAPY:

Talk Therapy: If you practice all the above techniques on a daily basis and your anxiety is still causing you distress, you may consider counseling. This will most likely go deeper into the cause and provide an expert opinion as to the treatment. This treatment may focus on coping skills, self-esteem exercises or prior traumas. In my practice, I noticed that anxiety and depression often go hand and hand. If this is your experience and it interferes with your life, it may be important for you to try counseling.

Behavior Therapy: Cognitive Behavior Therapy involves talk therapy with a specialist. This system involves changing the old thinking patterns and habits that contribute to your anxiety. We replace self-defeating thoughts with positive affirmations. You practice following your thoughts with positive behavior change until new habits develop. This may involve stress reduction techniques as well and can be attended in a group rather than individual sessions.

Medications: If you are in therapy, your therapist may refer you to a Psychiatrist for a medication evaluation if indicated. This is not the place to start as this is often a treatment of last resort. There are many medications available for anxiety and depression that the doctor will evaluate you for, so I won’t go into detail here as this is always individual.

In conclusion, these anxiety reduction techniques are presented in progressive order so you can start at the top and work your way down. The more techniques you use, the stronger the effect. It also takes a few weeks of practice to get maximum benefit. Many of these techniques can be incorporated into your daily routine, like meditation and exercise, and will result in healthy improvements in different areas.  L. Johnson   www.creativeretirementforwomen.com

BEST DIETS

The best diets are ranked by doctors, nutritionalists and dietitians for U. S. News and World Report(1) annually. There are many factors that go into the ranking like its heart and diabetes ratings, weight loss potential, ease of following and best plant based diets. These different ratings are combined to afford its overall rating.

One of the first things you notice reviewing the list is how the trendy diets are near the bottom. Here is a list of the top and bottom five diets:

The Worst:

The Fast Diet–weak on dietary guidance when not fasting

Atkins–good for weight loss, not for nutrition or heart health

Raw food–3rd for weight loss, but too hard to follow

Dukan–not proven with a ton of rules

Paleo–not proven and ignores certain food groups, hard to follow

The Best:

DASH diet-(Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)This started out to lower blood pressure, but ranks high due to its safety, nutritional completeness and prevention of diabetes and blood pressure.

TLC diet (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) was created by the National Institutes of Health. Its described as a complete diet and is especially heart healthy. Its a do-it-yourself diet, so you just get organized with meal planning.

Mayo Clinic Developed at the clinic to make healthy eating a lifestyle. It has great nutritional balance and safety, but not necessarily as a weight loss diet.

Mediterranean Diet This diet is heavy into veggies and fruits, olive oil, fish, nuts, and grains. It’s a longevity diet, but not necessarily for weight loss.

Weight Watchers The only commercial diet on the top 5. It’s a nutritionally sound diet that’s easy to follow and has group support to encourage weight loss.

I found it interesting that cancer prevention wasn’t included as part of the ranking criteria considering it’s the second cause of death in the U.S.(heart disease is first). A plant based diet is good for cancer prevention as many of these are, but you may want a more specific diet. For example, we know that onions, mushrooms, and cruciferous vegetables provide more cancer protection than other veggies. So, adapting a diet specific to cancer is better than a general good diet, if that is your situation.

After examining the details of these diets, I find the DASH and the Mediterranean diets to be similar with their heavy emphasis on whole grains and veggies. I personally follow the Mediterranean diet because I have a cerebrovascular(stroke) history in my ancestry and I like the freedom it provides. I encourage you to choose a diet based on your genetic predispositions as well. So, take a little time to find out your family medical history to help determine your direction. Then you can choose a diet specific to your genes and family history. Bon Appetite.

L. Johnson        www.creativeretirementforwomen.com

(1)U.S. News staff. Jan. 2015. “Best diets overall” Retrieved on 9-14-15 from website: health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-overall-diets

Retiring as a Single Woman

Retiring as a single woman is much less daunting than in prior generations. Part of the reason is that it’s now widespread and socially acceptable. Various studies report that between 40 and 50 percent of women will be single in retirement. Not all of these will be by choice, but it’s still a fact of life. This article will address those women who are considering a single lifestyle and if it’s suitable for their personality.

Most women desire independence, but don’t want to be disconnected from people. This balance is easier to achieve when your social network of friends and family is well developed and local. I believe that it’s not only culturally acceptable to retire single, but it can be more rewarding. This is because single women often have a much broader social network than men and many married women. A recently divorced woman in her 50s told me that her husband was so unfriendly to her friends, they stopped visiting. Her network gradually disappeared and stayed that way for many years. After her divorce, her social recovery involved many more friends and she has social engagements any night of the week. She is more socially connected now than when married.

When a man is not in your life, you’re freer to do what you enjoy and what benefits you the most. Some of you may think that means doing more things alone. But, there is nothing wrong with doing things alone while you always have your social network to fall back on. So, part of retiring alone is that you must be the first one to accept and want it. If this is a calculated decision based on proper planning, you’ll feel more confident and energized to embrace it.

The chances are that as your network develops, you will be doing less and less alone. Our goal is to always stay connected to the friends and family of our choice. A boyfriend can be part of this network whether its casual or more serious. I’m not suggesting celibacy unless that is your conscience decision. I’m suggesting an independent life that you control and decide when to bond or not bond with the opposite gender. There is no pressure to preform or follow the expectations of others unless you choose to do so. If you are dating or in a relationship, you can explain your independence to your partner as a form of freedom afforded to you both.

Single women I know that are successful at networking, claim they are happy not dating and don’t feel they miss anything. So, I can personally verify that happy and successful adjustments can be made. That being said, being single is not for everyone. Whether you are an introvert(internally focused) or extrovert may matter. Since these types may be genetic and hard wired into your brain, you might want to see where you fit. Most of us know which type we are. If you are an introvert, you enjoy spending time alone and tend not to miss people. So, this lifestyle may be more suitable for the introvert who enjoys more solitude.

If you are thinking about taking the single path in retirement, look into you past first. How happy have you been on your own? Do you tend to get lonely when not around people? Does a lot of social contact exhaust you? It’s just about understand your social needs. If you have a history of doing well with solitude and don’t miss social contact, this might be for you. If so, the better developed your retirement plan is, the more enjoyment you’ll get out of it.

In conclusion, retiring single is completely acceptable and a viable option for women. A well developed social network provides the mental stimulation and emotional support needed. Having a boyfriend is just part of the network. Being introverted makes this lifestyle easier to adapt to. Women I know who make this adjustment, feel they have a happy and complete life.

I’ve always felt that the best retirement is based on your personality type. What society or past generations did has nothing to do with you because they don’t have your unique character. So, embracing independence in retirement is a personal decision based on prior success with independent living and your social predisposition.       L. Johnson    

More: http://www.creativeretirementforwomen.com

Best Foods for Women over 50

The best foods for women over 50 is based on the premise that women’s nutritional needs change at 50 and are different from men. An interesting article noticed that certain foods give women a health benefit by, “helping to prevent memory loss, hip fractures, breast and stomach cancers”(1). Five primary food categories have been identified as therapeutic.

Strawberries and Blueberries: The berry category is known to help prevent brain aging and memory loss especially if eaten daily. The article also mentions a Harvard study that found if older women eat two servings (1/2 cup each) of strawberries a week there is less inflammation in the blood. The study found that strawberries contain a number of key nutrients that play a role in taming inflammation, including fiber, folate, potassium and vitamin C.

Green Tea We know that teas from the Camellia Sinensis plant like matcha, white, green, and oolong teas have a long list of nutrients, minerals and vitamins. Black and pu-erh teas have more caffeine and less of these polyphenols and catechins. Catechins are a potent anti-cancer antioxidant also found in cocoa, peaches and prune juice. Catechins rich foods have been shown to reduce cancerous tumors in skin, colon, liver, and mammary glands.

The article reports another study by the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center that involved the diets of 75,000 middle-aged women. “Women who drank green tea three times a week for more than six months had a 17 percent lower risk of all three digestive cancers combined.”   For more details about green tea please see: http://blog.creativeretirementforwomen.com/green-tea-update/

Dark, Leafy Greens This is more antioxidant food with the addition of vitamin K which is an important bone strengthener. Along with calcium, the combined effect helps prevent hip fractures when over 50 years of age. These leafy vegetables also help lower cholesterol,  protect your eyes, and reduce colon cancer. The effect of vitamin K may also help to protect the skin’s elasticity while helping to prevent wrinkles.

Walnuts The article included walnuts for omega-3 fats. I was a bit surprised with this one since we know fish and flaxseed is much higher in omega-3 fatty acids. If there is a concern with mercury in fish, you can certainly use flaxseed oil or just supplement with krill oil, like I do.  Nevertheless, walnuts and nuts in general are a healthy food with clear benefits. They mention, “Researchers speculate that walnuts carry many anti-cancer components that may be acting synergistically.” Salt free is the best way to go if you’re watching your blood pressure.

Red Wine/Alcohol This one is a bit of a surprise too since we know this benefits both genders. Alcohol acts as a blood thinner and takes pressure off the heart. The red grape contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that is known to prevent cell damage and cognitive decline. It contains quercetin, an antioxidant known to induce death to cancer cells. It also contains tannins, which give wine its color and may protect against heart disease. Some studies have correlated red wine consumption with longer life spans. The amount recommended for women is one to two glasses per day of any alcohol drink.

In conclusion, I find the recommendations here are sound and based on research. There are many ways to get your needed nutrients, so don’t feel confined to any one. If you are allergic to nuts, for example, just replace it with fish, krill oil or other foods high in omega-3.     L. Johnson     From: http://www.creativeretirementforwomen.com

Callahan, M. 12/28/12. Fiftysomething Diet: The 5 Food Women Need to Eat Retrieved from: www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/28/diet-for-women_n_2371463.html