Specialist in Issues of Midlife & Older Adults

Monthly Archives: June 2016

Bringing Balance into Our Lives as We Grow Older

balance stones and lakeAs we get older, we are exposed to increasing loss and stressors. These can be deaths of loved ones and family members. Sometimes it’s illness, it may be chronic pain. Or watching people we care about encounter difficulties and running into more problems ourselves.

Joan Erikson, the renowned psychologist and wife of psychologist Eric Erikson, talked about needing to let go of things as we climb up the hill of getting older. Old habits, old concerns, old worries, old ways of being – we have to start looking at those and discarding those that have become too heavy to continue to carry. She said:

“Everybody says it’s a good idea to lighten your load. It’s like walking up a hill. And then you realize that the load that you’re carrying is not worth the trouble, it’s not worth the strength that it takes to keep it with you. And you begin to just gladly drop this bit here and this bit here and be freer to get up that steep hill.”

This “purging” effect as one of my therapist friends calls it, involves letting go of a range of things. It can be not eating as much and therefore extra weight. It can be possessions which we have accumulated and carried around with us in our homes. Those possessions which seem to multiply by themselves and we look around finding ourselves surrounded by too many things. Time to let go!older man backpacking

Sometimes it’s relationships we are looking at and letting go of. Old friends who were wonderful in one season of our lives may not feel nurturing or right anymore. This is not a blame and shame process. This is normal. Friends, colleagues and associates come and go. “Culling” and honing and winnowing are all practical terms having to do with earth and sometimes farming. They are good metaphors for how we are gardening through our lives.

To extend the metaphor, plants need room to grow and thrive. If they, or we, are too crowded, our growth is stymied. How much room we need as individual humans is a very personal journey and decision. It may differ at various times of our lives because numbers of relationships, too, have seasons.

A coping mechanism mentioned by many mental health practitioners and mindfulness teachers is bringing more of our attention to positive things in our lives. Big things, but also the small little day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute things that delight us. And by delight, I mean that bring light into our hearts. It might the sight of a beloved child, pet, the smell of a sweet sweet rose, the taste of something delicious, the feel of the warm sun on our face, the rays of sunshine filtering down through tall trees, the sound of the ocean, etc.

Those enjoyments can help bring us balance in and of themselves, and *especially* so when we pause and savor them for more than a second. In fact, brain research has shown that it takes the brain at least *10 seconds* to take a momentary experience and be able to register it into memory. 20 or 30 seconds is better.

So, for starters, a simple thing to do to move towards balance is to take the time to notice positive experiences in our lives, note them with all of our senses where possible, and stay with them for a few seconds. A regular practice of this will attune our brain to noticing more of these experiences and help bring balance into our perspectives and lives. Simple and powerful at the same time.