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Healthy Aging

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Stress Management: Important at Any Age

You may be retired with grown children, but stress doesn’t magically disappear. Here are the top stressors to guard against later in life, with tips on handling them from a Johns Hopkins expert.

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The Magic Number of Stress Relief

Long used in yoga, the 61 points relaxation technique has been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure. You can find a guide online (search for “61 points” on youtube.com), or simply sit comfortably, close your eyes, and mentally focus on every part of your body one at a time, starting with the center of your forehead, moving down to your toes, then back up again. The idea is to free the mind from other concerns as you focus entirely on the exercise. 

Retirement is the time in your life when you can finally throw out the alarm clock and set your own schedule. This new freedom may sound idyllic, but for the millions of adults heading into retirement, it can be a recipe for stress if caution isn’t taken.

Today’s retirees are facing unprecedented challenges: retirement savings reduced by market crashes, increasing health care costs and high rates of divorce. So what can help assure you that you’ll be able to enjoy these peaceful years?

Mapping out a holistic plan for your retirement life, says Michelle Carlstrom, LCSW-C, senior director at the Office of Work, Life and Engagement at Johns Hopkins .

“People think retirement is just a financial decision,” says Carlstrom. “But that alone won’t determine happiness. Even if you feel financially secure, there are other issues to consider.” Here’s what Carlstrom suggests for a less stressful retirement.

Plan activities with purpose.

How much does your job currently dictate your social interactions and sense of purpose? For many empty nesters, their workplace is where they socialize, engage in stimulating conversations and feel a sense of accomplishment. “It’s easy to focus on how much you will enjoy leaving behind the stress of your job. But you also need to think about the potential social or spiritual void that might be left when you leave,” says Carlstrom.

In other words, you should plan activities that will replace the stimulation and fulfillment you had from your workplace. Those could include social clubs centered around interests such as cooking, reading or gardening. Volunteer opportunities also abound—check with your local library, schools, art museums or volunteermatch.org. Or consider taking a class at a community college.

Consider continued work.

According to an AARP survey, about 25 percent of retired folks plan to continue working, whether as a volunteer, a part-time employee or a new small-business owner. “I know someone who decided to become an usher at a baseball stadium so he could enjoy all the games,” says Carlstrom. No matter what you end up doing, don’t wait until you retire to figure it out.

Carlstrom recommends laying the groundwork at least five years out from your retirement date. A survey of job websites now might help you gauge part-time or consultant opportunities for later.  

Ground yourself in reality.

“Ask yourself if the problems that you are dealing with are real or are imagined and anticipatory,” says Carlstrom. For example, are you stressed because you are having financial troubles, or is it the anticipation of health care expenses that could pop up down the road? Our bodies can’t tell the difference, so we react with the same amount stress. So spend time exploring whether you are experiencing real or imagined stress and develop a stress management plan that will ultimately reduce stress by instilling a sense of control over the situation.

Adjust your stress management style.

When you are stressed, how do you react? Do you go for a run? Reach for a drink? Call your best friend? Gorge on junk food? Head to the mall? Understanding that everyone uses a mixture of healthy and unhealthy stress relievers is the first step toward focusing on healthier options, like exercise, meditation, prayer and social support. “Retirement can be a new chance to really commit to examining how you handle stress,” says Carlstrom. 

Definitions

Social support: The help you receive from others in your life. Family, friends, peers and other people who care about you and for you make up your social support system or network.

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