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Horne: Only you can get yourself through tough times

As aging brings change and transition, learning to manage worry and uncertainty is a worthwhile practice.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” The fact is that you can think positively or you can think negatively.

Negative thinking will trigger adrenaline and it likely will make you feel anxious and obsessive, thinking the same thoughts over and over, and doubting yourself. Developing a running commentary that serves you better, one that lifts your spirits and gives you something positive to focus on, releases endorphins and oxytocin in your body. There is nothing like receiving a surge of your own natural energizing chemicals to give you a needed boost.

How you interpret the events in your life can determine whether you are happy or depressed, energetic or drained. In fact, whether you realize your dreams or not ultimately may be more a factor of how you explain the disappointments and losses in your life to yourself than the fact that bad things may have happened to you.

Dr. Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and long-time researcher on the psychology of motivation and success, found that the difference between pessimistic and optimistic thinking patterns is related to how people explain to themselves what has happened to them and how they think it will affect them in the future.

Confronted with a painful situation, pessimists are more likely to think the bad event is going to be permanent, and that it is personal—that it is all their fault. Optimists explain things very differently to themselves. They are more likely to understand the bad situation as temporary, limited in its effect, and unrelated to their worthiness or capacity to do well.

Even though optimists may see things through rose colored glasses or sometimes have unrealistic expectations, they still are shown to maintain their performance advantage, even though the pessimists actually may see things more accurately.

Perhaps a little dose of denial is not so bad after all. Pessimists tend to be worriers and therefore a pattern of constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop develops.

As we age, our method of behaviour has usually been well honed. Having a desire to experience greater happiness and peace as we journey through the later years of life can provide a more motivating force to change the story we have been carrying and start telling a new one. With aging, there are challenges to face and more losses encountered than perhaps in our younger years. For the worriers, this can present a daily dose of adrenaline to deal with.

Alas, I seem to be a worrier, but overcoming old habits is a matter of practice and commitment.

The Buddhist tradition speaks of the Five Great Fears. These are fears that can cause panic within us. They trigger the autonomic nervous system and cause us to go into a process of fight or flight. These five great fears are: The fear of death; the fear of illness; the fear of losing one’s mind; the fear of loss of livelihood and the fear of public speaking.

The first four are definitely prevalent as we traverse the path of elderhood.

One method for dealing with fear is termed compartmentalization. This is the mental faculty that keeps us focused on the task at hand and allows distracting thoughts and anxieties to recede into the unconscious.

When it come to the five great fears, our ability to compartmentalize can veer out of the normal range and become either too weak or too strong. This type of worry can plague you and put your body into a state of adrenalin that is hard to stop, blocking your body from returning to a state of relaxation or non-worry.

One technique to use that is helpful is mindfulness—to stop and pay non-judgmental close attention to what is actually happening right now. You stop and face your fear, looking it straight in the eye and acknowledging it, neither taking up the worry nor trying to push it away. Just observe it.

Fear, like physical pain, is unpleasant, but unlike physical pain, it is a mixture of many things: Bodily sensations, memories, imagined futures, visualization, and looping and repetitive inner dialogues. Part of what makes fear and pessimism difficult to manage is that it is so complex and multifaceted.

Inner dialogue, which is also sometimes referred to as ‘stream of consciousness’ is primarily verbal and is usually random, a running inner commentary on the events of the moment. The same sequence of thoughts repeats over and over.

As aging brings change and transition, learning to manage worry and uncertainty is a worthwhile practice.