Harness your anxiety

The last couple of years have shown most of the world that anxiety can be generalized and no one is immune from it. Everyone has had some degree of anxiety for most of the last two years. And it doesn’t seem to be easing up. I’ve written about what to do to ease your anxiety, but what would happen if we could harness our anxiety and make it work for us?

The possibilities are practically endless

I think of all the worries we, collectively, have expressed the past several months and am just floored by the possibility of the anxious energy that could have been put to good use. If I could have harnessed my anxiety, I could have another book written. Our leaders could have developed a plan for world peace. On second thought, maybe not that last one.

But, if we could harness our anxiety, our productivity would soar! 

Put your anxiety to use

Matt Higgins, author of Burn the Boats: Toss Plan B Overboard and Unleash Your Full Potentialexplains four ways to put your anxiety to good use.

Tip #1 – Find supporting data

Matt’s first tip is to find a study to reassure you. Matt was worried about how his lack of sleep might affect his performance in a marathon. So, he found results from a study indicating that sleep deprivation did not matter in marathon performance. Of course, the study did find that mental performance was adversely affected, but not physical. Matt competed in that marathon and improved his time by a significant amount.

Data is not always reassuring, but somebody somewhere will have gone through what you are, so a quick search is worth the effort.

Tip #2 – Meditate

Meditation boosts resilience.
Meditate with a friend…

The second tip: meditate daily. “Meditation has been shown to boost resilience, emotional intelligence, creativity, relationships, and focus—and I’m going to be another voice telling you that it should be a key tool in your anxiety tool kit.” I recently decided to meditate for a short time every day. Just a couple of minutes. Sometimes it’s a guided meditation, other times I just sit with my eyes shut and take my brain on a mini-vacation. Matt says he’s not perfect about his new daily meditation habit, but firmly believes in it, as self-care is essential.

Tip #3 – Add people

Next – add people to your cause. I’m a firm believer in friends and community. And when your friends join you in a cause, it’s just natural that your joint anxiety plummets. Not to mention, you get a ton of stuff done. But pick the right friends – every person has different beliefs and ways of getting things done.

Tip #4 – Acknowledge that you need help

Finally – don’t hesitate to ask for help. Acknowledge that you need help. Don’t forget that being vulnerable is one step to growing your self-confidence. Matt tells of a friend whose anxiety manifested in ways that were negatively affecting his performance at work. He intervened and helped the friend to tone down the intensity of his emotions. That friend went on to a succeed in a very difficult profession.

So – make your anxiety work for you. First – narrow down the subject of your anxiety and then identify ways of making it be productive for you.

Four action steps to get past your fear

What can we do when the world is in chaos

There is terrible news all over the media these days. War in Europe. Financial disaster looming. Gas prices spiking. Storms on the way. It’s natural to feel worried and stressed. The news reporters are screaming, bombs are exploding in the background. Everyone is worried. 

What can you do when the world is in chaos? How can you get past your fear?

Remember, you can’t control the world

The first thing to remember is that we can’t control the world. Some of us worry and stress when we think about current events, with the same unhelpful thoughts spinning around in our brain. Dr. Alice Boyes, author of The Anxiety Toolkit, says that anxiety and rumination (thinking the same negative thoughts over and over) form a feedback loop where one causes the other. Rumination and worry are often associated with being closed to new ideas and with poor mental health. You can recognize your own rumination when you keep thinking about the same topic or the same news report over and over. So, here are four action steps to get past your fear, and at the same time, increase your resilience. 

  1. Dr. Boyes says that rather than helping you problem-solve, rumination and worry usually just make it difficult to see the big picture for all the minutiae in your brain. So, instead of worrying about global affairs, try to focus on something you can actually do something about.

Focus on a current problem you have, or on a project that you want to complete. You’ll actually be productive and get something done. That’s a much better outcome than randomly thinking the same unhelpful thoughts for hours.

  1. If your brain won’t let you focus, I understand. I’ve been there. I’m a worrier too. Certain calming methods really do help you get past the anxiety and focus on the things that you can do something about. I wrote about some of these in my article, “Still anxious and stressed?” 

Try calming breathing techniques – practice breathing deeply and regularly. Find the number of seconds to breathe in and out that’s most comfortable for you and actually count while you breathe.

Meditation can help calm your thoughts. A friend helps.
Meditation can help calm your thoughts. A friend helps.
  1. Meditation works too. If your brain is going a mile a minute and you’re new to meditation, try a guided one. The guided “Garden Walk” meditation is just a couple of minutes long, but will leave you feeling more peaceful. The only requirement for meditation is to be comfortable.
  1. Journaling your thoughts can also help you process them. Your journal is your safe place. Write anything you like in your journal and you won’t be judged. Get your thoughts on paper so they’re not cluttering your head.

Try one or two of these recommendations the next time you feel yourself start to panic. (When I recognize myself starting to panic I start by closing my eyes and taking a deep breath. Then I think about something positive I can actually do.) Yes, the world is a scary place now, but you can get past your fear.

Exercise can save you money

Exercise can help you save money.

You’ll be happier if you exercise.

And you’ll attract people to you if you’re not scowling – you’ll make more friends.

Exercise can save you money

Don’t believe me? A HealthPartners Research Foundation research study showed that people over 50 years old who started exercising only 90 minutes per week saved about $2,200 per year in medical costs. And a CDC study showed that older people who visited a health club twice a week saved over $1,200 more in healthcare costs than those who visited a health club less than that.

Sounds good to me.

How this makes sense

Exercise does more for you than just increase physical fitness. Exercise can save you money.
Exercise does more for you than just increase physical fitness. Exercise can save you money.

And it makes sense. If you’re exercising, you’re getting fitter. And you’re getting healthier. We’ve talked many times about the health benefits of exercising – It can lower your blood pressure and boost your good cholesterol (HDL). Exercise promotes better blood flow, and decreases the risk of heart disease. Plus, it can help prevent or manage other health concerns like diabetes and stroke.

Exercise has also been proven to ward off many types of cancer. Anecdotally, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a cold. Even before we all started to wear masks all the time, it had been several years since I’ve been laid low by illness (knock on wood – don’t want to jinx myself…).

Happiness after exercise

Exercise is also a mood-lifter. Those post-exercise endorphins are no myth. After a workout I’m happier and easier to be around. Just ask my sister. Exercise helps you sleep better too. And a good night’s sleep is a must-have for happiness. The world seems brighter after I burn a few hundred calories! And after a good workout there’s no guilt at eating a healthy dinner. 

Exercise can save you money and attract people to you!

If you’re happier and in a good mood, you’ll be easier to be around. No scowls – more friends. People will want to be closer to you. Even with a mask on, people know if you’re scowling! More friends = more happiness. A better outlook on life. And all from a couple hours of exercise.

It’s (mostly) what you eat

Trying to lose weight? That seems to be the permanent state for many of us.There’s no instant cure, and it’s mostly what you eat. A sad statement, but true. Losing weight is hard. Really hard. Especially as we get older. And it seems to be even harder for us women. So many of my friends are struggling to lose the extra pounds the pandemic caused them to pack on. And it’s harder after menopause to maintain our current weight without gaining any.

Losing weight after menopause is not impossible

Yes, it’s hard. But it’s not impossible. Yes, hormonal changes tend to increase our appetite and change the way our bodies store fat. Unfortunately, it’s around our middles. And after menopause our activity levels tend to decrease which leads to loss of muscle mass. 

But we can change that. It is not a foregone conclusion that you can’t lose weight after menopause. 

The same methods that worked before menopause to lose weight work after. It just takes more discipline and thought on our part to make them work.

So, what’s the plan?

In order for you to lose weight, the formula is very simple. You have to burn more calories than you consume. Simple, right? It’s mostly what you eat: specifically it matters how much you eat. No matter what you read anywhere else, the combinations don’t matter. Where your food comes from doesn’t matter. What matters are the numbers.

After that it’s a head game. 

It's mostly what you eat: you can eat a lot of salad or a little ice cream for the same calories.
You can eat a lot of salad or a little ice cream for the same calorie count.

Your body will trick you to eat more. A calorie of ice cream looks a lot different than a calorie of kale. Your mind wants more ice cream. Or cheese puffs. Sometimes it’s really hard to say no to that. And that’s the hard part. It’s hard sticking to the plan when the numbers on the scale don’t move.

For long-term success, it works best to lose weight at a slower rate. If you slash your calorie intake, you’re going to be hungry. Your body will tell you that it’s starving. And even if you lose a ton of weight quickly, you’ll gain most if not all – or even more – of it back within six months. Plus, you won’t be taking in the quality nutrients you need to maintain your muscle and bone mass.

To maintain our weight, experts say that most women need about 1,400 to 1,800 calories a day to maintain their weight. Taller women and those who weigh more to start are at the higher end of the range and those of us (like me) who are smaller need less. That has never seemed fair to me, being “height-challenged.” But, anyway …

So it stands to reason that eating less than 1,400 calories a day will put you on the road to weight loss. Experts say that cutting 200 – 300 calories a day makes sense for weight-loss of about a pound a week. Four pounds a month sounds pretty good for a sustained weight-loss plan. 

And this is a plan that you can stick to. You’ll be able to take in the nutrients your body needs and lose the weight that you need to.

But, wait. You always write about exercise being important

Yes, yes I do always write about exercise. Exercise lets me burn even more calories so that I can eat more. And exercise has other benefits beyond weight-loss that I’ve written about.

But today it’s about the head games your body plays with your diet.

Those hormones that I referred to at the top of this article will trick you into snacking. They’ll trick you into eating more mashed potatoes. And those extra calories will go to your belly.

So you have to play more serious head games with yourself to stay on the straight and narrow path. 

No, you don’t want that cookie. Water sounds delightful. I’ll take a walk instead of eating that pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer. In the coming weeks I’ll talk more about my tips and tricks for sticking with the plan. 

For now, please know that it’s not impossible. It’s just hard. But you’re fierce and able to do it.

Have you been slouching on the couch?

Our make-do office solutions

Many of us, used to working in a proper office, with a proper desk and a proper desk chair, have been working from home the last few months without any of those proper things. Some of us have set up a make-shift desk with any old chair or have been working on the dining room table.

Others have been sitting on the couch with our laptops heating up the cushions.

Mom’s not there to correct your posture, and we’ve been slouching.

Come on, you know it’s true. Your mom hasn’t been around to poke her finger into the middle of your back and tell you to sit up straight.

As a result, your back is killing you. We’ve talked before about some simple ways to correct your behavior to prevent back pain, and these tips will help if you fall off the wagon with that, too.

Help your back after slouching on the couch with these 5 tips

Aside from buying an entire office suite for your home (or following Bob Vila – from the vintage series “This Old House” and his suggestions), there are ways to help your back after slouching on the couch right away.

  1. Every twenty minutes to a half hour, take a break. Stand up. Walk around. Even march in place. Take a drink of water – that may not be for your back, but it is good for your general health and well-being.
head rolls to help your back after slouching on the couch
  1. Every hour or so, shrug your shoulders and roll them. Exaggerate the motion so that you feel it. If you can do it without your neck screaming at you, roll your head gently from side to side, up and down, and around. 
  1. Suck in your stomach as you sit up straight. All the time. It really does help to strengthen your core and your back.
  1. Your next break, sit up straight, suck your stomach in and hold your arms straight out to the side. Your core has to work that much harder to keep you upright.
  1. The break after that, stand up straight then roll down to reach toward your toes. It’s OK if you can’t reach them. Make sure you’re holding your stomach in for this entire exercise. Hold for just a few seconds then slowly roll up. One vertebra at a time. Breathe in as you roll up – if you’re prone to dizziness that will help. Stomach still sucked in? Good. Now breathe out and breathe in again. 

Go back to work.

Sleep much?

Me neither. And we’re not alone. Insomnia is not uncommon, and the pandemic has made it worse.

Sleeplessness is not uncommon. Destress with this sunset.
Natural light can help sleep.

Our lives have been disrupted. If you worked at an office, chances are you’ve been working from home more. If you care for children, chances are they’ve been doing quite a bit of learning remotely. If you used to go to a gym or health club, chances are they’ve been closed. Restaurants have been closed too, so you may be cooking more. You have a different schedule than you used to. Being stuck inside could mean that you haven’t been exposed to as much natural light as you used to. You may be napping more, which also disrupts your natural circadian rhythm.

Stress also can cause sleeplessness

During normal times we have stress in our lives. And now, even a year after the pandemic began, stress is still with us. We still don’t know exactly what causes the infection, why it affects some people more than others. And while vaccines have been approved, they are  not available for much of the population yet. So we’re stressed about catching the coronavirus and spreading it to others. We’re worried about that. We’re worried about the economy. And we toss and turn and lose sleep.


Without contact with our friends, family and coworkers, we feel isolated and alone, leading to depression and sleeplessness again. Virtual conferencing is great and better than no contact, but it’s not the same as being in the same room.

Blue light

And we’re probably on our screens more. We’re home, perhaps bored, so we scroll. The blue light from the screens also disrupts production of melatonin, which regulates normal sleep patterns.

Sleep is still important

Even though we may not be going out of the house and seeing people, we still need a good night’s sleep. We think better with seven or eight hours of sleep. Our bodies function better when we sleep. Sleep can reduce the effects of certain mental health conditions like anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder.

How to get a good night’s sleep

So, how do we get that full complement of sleep?

First, maintain a schedule for your day. Humans love routine. It’s comforting to us. So set your routine and stick to it. The same bedtime and awakening time is helpful. Eating meals at the same time every day can also set your biological clock.

Use your bed for sleep. Don’t read in bed and don’t watch TV in bed. Certainly don’t scroll social media in bed. In fact, experts recommend that you shut your screens down an hour before bedtime. And make your bed as appealing as possible. Fresh linens regularly creates an inviting place for sleep. A cool bedroom also is helpful for sleep.

If you’re sensitive to extraneous noises, a fan or white noise machine is also helpful. I have tinnitus and use both.

Spend some time outside in the light and in fresh air. Getting as much natural light helps your body’s natural rhythm. And moving your body during the day is important for overall health, including good sleep. Good nutrition also will benefit your health and promote better sleep. 

If you’re tempted to take a nap during the day, try to limit it to 20 minutes or so. Any more than that may disrupt your nighttime sleep.

While it may not seem that it would do much for your sleep pattern, being kind and generous may counter your feelings of anxiety and help you to sleep. Other relaxation techniques like meditation can help too. If you’d like to try meditation but don’t know where to start, short guided meditations are great starting places. Sign up for a guided Garden Meditation here.

So, know that you’re not alone in your sleeplessness. Also know that there are things you can do to improve it. Get some natural light, move your body, turn on your fan, turn off your screens and perhaps go for a brief but peaceful virtual walk in a garden.

Everything in moderation

Everything - yes, even red velvet cake - is OK in moderation.

It’s been another tough week in a series of tough weeks. And you’ve been (mostly) good about your diet.

And then, out of nowhere, you have an incredible craving for red velvet cake.

It’s OK

Try to resist if you can. Take a walk. Drink a glass of water. Do some gardening. Read a chapter in the book you have on your night table.

But if you’re still craving that cake, have a little bit. It’s OK. That little bit won’t hurt you.

In fact, you’ll probably have fewer calories if you have a little bit of exactly what you want rather than a substitute. If you have a little cookie to try to satisfy your craving, chances are you won’t have just one cookie, you’ll have ten. And those ten will have more calories than the small piece of cake you would have had. And it won’t taste as good.

Have that small piece of cake. Don’t deprive yourself. My watchword is, “Everything in moderation.” Don’t go overboard, but don’t cut yourself off from the small pleasures.

I’ve talked about it before – even a little bit of chocolate really is OK: https://fitness-over-50.com/2018/07/chocolate-and-a-healthy-lifestyle/

Watch every bite

If, as I have, you’ve struggled with your weight for your whole life, you know the importance of paying attention to every morsel that passes your lips – every taste, every single square of yummy dark chocolate, every forkful of deep-dish Chicago style pizza, every spoonful of ice cream.

So when we have an irresistible craving, we watch that going into our mouths as well. And feel absolutely no guilt. Because we plan for it.

If I’m going to have that chocolate, I give up something else. Or I do a more intense workout. Or I run a few more minutes on the treadmill. Because I still have to pay attention to the calorie limit I set for myself.

If the worst happens

But, if you can’t resist that craving and you go completely overboard – you can’t stop eating that cake, that pizza, that chocolate, that ice cream – and you think to yourself, “Well, that’s done it. Why stop now. I’ve eaten almost everything in sight, might as well finish it up. I’ve completely forgotten that diet. I’ll never lose weight” –

Hang in there!

One day is not going to ruin everything. You may have a little ground to make up, but all is really not lost. Get back on the straight and narrow. You’ll be fine.

Fix these 5 mistakes to help your back pain

Even a modified plank works the core, which will help your back.
Even a modified plank works the core, which will help your back.

As we age, we seem to be more susceptible to certain kinds of pain. For me, it’s my back. I’m sure that some of you are experiencing more back pain too. I’m working away, then get up from my desk to check on stock and … POW!!! … that unmistakable twinge in my lower back that tells me that I’m going to have pain for the next few days.

I try to sit properly – not hunched, both feet on the floor, not twisted. I don’t know why I’m prone to back pain. It was never an issue when I was younger. But I am now and have to deal with it.

In my research, I found 5 mistakes to fix to try to alleviate or eliminate back pain. I’m not sure that all of these apply to me, but some do. And they may apply to your situation.

  1. Performing repetitive physical activities the same way every time. Take a different approach when doing things you do often. For example, if you frequently carry a heavy bag on one shoulder, try switching sides regularly to change the load on your spine.
  2. Don’t bend from the hips and lift. I’m certainly guilty of this. I frequently just bend at the hips to pick up something. When I empty the dishwasher, I frequently just bend over to get to the bottom rack. Experts recommend that you squat with your back straight and chest up to take pressure off the spine and not push out the disks in your lower back.
  3. Don’t sit or stand all the time. I try to get up frequently, but sometimes get caught up. Experts say you should move around or take a walk at least once an hour. This will boost your productivity as well. Give you a change of scenery and spark creativity.
  4. Don’t neglect your core. I’ve said it before – a strong core promotes a strong back. I’d hate to think what my back would be like if I did neglect my core. Experts say we should strengthen the key muscles that support the back – the multifidus which runs along the spine, and the transversus abdominis which wraps around the abdomen. Planks have gotten some bad press, but they’re great for the core.
  5. Don’t move in ways that feel wrong. Avoid twisting and lifting at the same time. I’m guilty of this at times. That old dishwasher – I bend to stack the plates and then pick them up, twisting to get to the cabinet. Note to self: be more conscious of this! And ask for help with heavy or awkward objects.

And, in general – listen to your body. You know it best, so if something strikes you as wrong, go with that instinct. Otherwise you may pay for your bad judgement later. 

Increase optimism, grow resilience

Yoga helped me regain my balance and increase my optimism today. That will help to grow my resilience.

In these uncertain times, we’re scared, we feel lost. The only way we’re going to get through this is to grow our resilience. One sure way to do that is to increase our optimism.

Most of the country is sheltering in place now, to try to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 virus. There’s no cure, it spreads like wildfire, and it’s dangerous to many who catch it.

The economy has come to a standstill, since many businesses are closed. Restaurants and theaters are closed. People aren’t buying anything (except, perhaps toilet paper and hand sanitizer). We’re told to maintain “social distancing” – stay at least 6 feet away from others.

It’s scary and we don’t know when it will end.

But it will end. One day, hopefully soon. And to get beyond this time with anything approaching normalcy, it’s crucial to grow our resilience. To come out stronger and happier.

How do we grow our resilience? One sure-fire way is to increase our optimism. When we’re optimistic, we feel happier and more able to look forward.

So, how do we increase our optimism? One sure-fire way is to exercise. The endorphins that are released help, and the increased oxygen and blood-flow are supporters too. I know, personally, that I always feel better after a workout.

Today I did a Yoga practice. Nothing too strenuous because it had been a while since I did Yoga, and I didn’t want to feel it for days afterward. But it sure felt great today.

Another way to feel happier and more optimistic is to put on some favorite tunes and move. Just get moving. The music and the movement all contribute to feelings of optimism and well-being.

Go for a walk. Pet your dog. Read a good book. Make your favorite meal (not too calorie-laden, though!). You’ll feel better.

And every time you do, you’ll increase your optimism that much more and grow your resilience.

People With Dogs Exercise More

Booker the Boston Terrier after a rousing game of tug!Do you have a dog? If you do, chances are you get more exercise than your neighbors who don’t have a dog. A recent British study shows that people with dogs exercise more than those who don’t own dogs. In fact, dog-owners are 4 times more likely to get the recommended amount of daily activity.

Hundreds of families in Britain were surveyed

The study involved hundreds of English households and suggests that just the fact of having a dog can influence how much exercise people get. The study was published in April in Scientific Reports and involved first homeowners in a community in Liverpool. Eventually the study involved hundreds of participants from over 300 neighborhoods, more than half of whom were dog-owners. Scientists reviewed results of surveys and actual activity monitors that people wore for an entire week. The results showed that people with dogs spent more than 300 minutes per week walking with their dogs, compared to about 100 minutes walking by people without dogs.

It follows naturally …

It makes sense, too. If you have a dog, you’re likely to take it for a walk. And if it’s a nice day, the walk will be longer, your pace will be more rapid. You’ll breathe more deeply and feel like exercising even more.

Exercise More with Your Dog

There are other ways to get exercise with your dogs too. I like to chase my dogs and have them chase me in the backyard. I’m lucky enough to have a fenced yard. It’s not big, but neither are my dogs. We run around like maniacs – it’s great exercise for all of us! Plus, it’s a fun way to reinforce the recall – or “Come”! I call my dog’s name and take off running in the opposite direction. He’ll chase me and, since he’s faster than I am, catch up to me. When he catches me, I turn around, cheer for him, grab his collar and give him a little treat. And start again!

Another way to get exercise with my dog is a rousing game of tug! Sometimes I get down on my knees – more my dog’s level – and play with him. I switch hands from time to time so that both arms get a workout. If your dog doesn’t like to tug, chances are he’ll like to chase a toy. Pull a toy along the floor – not too fast or your dog will be discouraged – and let your dog catch it! A game of tug ensues! Fun for all, and pretty soon you’ll both be out of breath.