New Year’s Check-Up: Wellbeing

8

January 16, 2017 by Jean

Health Fitness and WellnessIn my last post, I focused on evaluating my use of time and money as I begin my third year of retirement. This post will evaluate the state of my wellbeing.

My physical health definitely improved during my second year of retirement. With the help of good physical therapy and Esther Gokhale’s posture-based method for conquering back pain (see Steps to a Healthy Back), I said goodbye to the chronic pain and burning sensations in my left leg and knee that I had been living with for years. The improvement has been so great that this past year, I was able to prepare and plant more than 600 square feet of new garden and also stack my four cords of winter firewood without any ill effects. I have also embarked on a program for improving my balance, by standing on one foot twice a day. In the months since I began this practice, I have increased the amount of time I am able to balance on one foot from less than ten seconds to almost two minutes. I had confirmation that this has improved my balance when I recently slipped on a thin coating of ice and managed to regain my balance without falling and without dropping either the file folder I was carrying in my right hand or the travel mug of tea I was carrying in my left! The balance exercises have strengthened my core muscles, thus also improving my posture and further enhancing my spine health. Last week, I met with my primary care provider to review the results of my annual routine blood tests, and she expressed enthusiasm about my “great numbers.”

The only fly in the ointment of my good physical health is weight gain. Toward the end of my first year of retirement, after the construction on my house was completed and life became more restful, I lost 25 extra pounds that I had been carrying around for years. Alas, in my second year of retirement, I gained half of those pounds back.

I believe this weight gain is related to the other type of wellbeing I want to assess here, psychological wellbeing. When I am stressed, I tend to turn to food for comfort and pleasure. The major source of stress in my life this year has been the declining health of a close friend. My friend’s health has been on a downward trajectory for several years, and I have been providing her with health care support and accompanying her to all her medical appointments for the past two years. I find this situation stressful not only because it is difficult to see a friend suffering from poor health, but because she makes health decisions very differently than I do. This means that I find myself in a position of trying to provide emotional and practical support for decisions (and non-decisions) that I am frustrated by. My responsibilities and stress levels ratcheted up in mid-November when my friend fell and broke her leg. Since then, she has been first in the hospital, then in a skilled rehab facility, both about an hour away from my home. I have visited her two or more times a week, attended care-planning meetings with her providers, communicated frequently with her out-of-state brother, done her laundry, helped with practical chores like paying bills, and taken her to several doctors’ appointments. At one of these appointments, she was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that explains many of her symptoms but also means that her health will continue to decline.

I don’t want to leave the impression that this has been a negative year for my psychological wellbeing. The stresses of my friend’s health situation were accompanied by some gains to my psychological health in the past year. I realized how important learning is to my wellbeing and have indulged my passion for learning with participation in the Senior College, the Master Gardener Volunteer program, the Maine Music Society Chorale, and horticulture courses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. All of these learning activities have also contributed to my social wellbeing as they provide opportunities to meet new people and make new friends. I also found that having built-in social contacts during the winter months, especially my weekly dinner with my next-door neighbor, worked well for me.

In my third year of retirement, my focus for improving both my physical and psychological wellbeing is on stress management. Over the years, I have developed stress management strategies that work well for me, including physical exercise (mostly walking) and taking time for calm and relaxation every day. It is the time for de-stressing that has gotten away from me in the weeks since my friend’s fall. My conversation with my primary care provider brought home the realization than I can’t take care of others unless I also take care of myself. I have gotten back on the exercise wagon with an indoor step aerobics routine that can substitute for outdoor walking during the winter. I’ve also committed myself to protecting my morning time for a leisurely breakfast, reading, and writing. I’m trying to train my friend, her brother, and her paid caretakers not to call me before noon unless it’s an emergency, and I’ve figured out how to silence the annoying and impossible-to-ignore “voice mail alert” beep on my telephone. If these steps turn out not be enough, I may have to develop one or two additional stress-management strategies.

For the most part, I feel as though I’ve hit a “sweet spot” in my life, and I’m aiming for even better wellbeing at the end of my third year of retirement.

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8 thoughts on “New Year’s Check-Up: Wellbeing

  1. Jean R says:

    I’m sorry about your friend’s declining health. Long-distance care support is grudging. I did it for my dad for five years so I understand how the distance adds an extra layer of stress to what is often already stressful situations. Good for you to recognize you need to protect your mornings for your own well being.

    I’m impressed that you can do a two minutes on one foot. I clearly have to up my game because I can only do close to a minute. I’m a believer in the value of balance classes and exercise, though. And so important as we age.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I think you’re right about the distance. It’s only one hour each way, but it adds up when I’m making 2-3 trips a week. My friend is now home from rehab and has paid aides in place, so I’ve reduced my visits back to one a week with phone calls in between. Already, I can feel my stress levels going down as I regain some control of my time.

      I’ve increased my balance-on-one-foot time gradually. When I feel as though I can do a time relatively easily, I add 5 seconds. Then I stay at that time for a month or two until it starts to feel secure, at which point I add another 5 seconds. I find that it helps to change the position of my hands every 30-45 seconds.

  2. Dr Sock says:

    I have recently taken up yoga, which I have found is excellent for strength, balance, and psychological wellbeing. During my hectic years of work, I did not have time for yoga classes, yet that is probably when I needed them most!

    Great idea to turn off the voicemail beep. I have turned off the auditory alerts on all my devices. They are so distracting.

    Good to hear that your life is at a sweet spot!

    Jude

    • Jean says:

      Jude, Thanks for the yoga recommendation. When people recommended yoga for my back problems last year, I found there was a yoga studio in my town. Alas, it no longer seems to exist, so I’d need to go further afield for classes.

      Figuring out how to turn off the beep on my answering machine has been a big help in making it a bit easier for me to ignore the phone. Since then, I’ve taken an additional step to protect my morning quiet time by leaving a voice mail message saying that I’m “not usually available to accept calls before noon” and urging people to call me in the afternoon.

    • Jean says:

      Diana, I loved this; thanks for sharing it. Going off for choral singing of Bach one evening a week has definitely been helping my stress levels.

  3. Brenda says:

    You are a good friend to take on so much. Navigating another person’s health care is always stressful. I am with Jude, in the comments above, in finding that yoga is a great stress reducer, balance enhancer, and muscle strengthener.
    I hope that you continue to stay in a sweet spot through this next year.

    • Jean says:

      Brenda, Even with the stresses of my friend’s illness, I’m finding that this is a wonderful time in my life. As someone who relies on friends for help in times of need, I feel it’s important for me to act to create a world in which that type of help is available. This episode has also helped me to identify my limits and to set boundaries to protect my own health.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

Please join me as I step into my future.

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