Translate this page

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Coping with Stress: Different Ways In Later Days

From Christmas morning through Boxing Day, my wife and I were on the Island visiting our daughter. She shares an apartment with two other young women. It wasn’t crowded because until the day following Boxing Day her housemates were away visiting their own families.
         We brought Ella, our cat, with us.  From the turning on of the car engine in our driveway she was stressed and traveling for several hours, including an hour and a half inside a ferry full of loud noises, made things worse. 
         Then when we got to apartment Ella found a cat belonging to one of the other women already lives in the apartment.  Both cats were stressed about each other, hissing and growling whenever they met. They remained that way most of the time we were there. Along with Ella I was getting stressed. The long drive over and being in an unfamiliar household where I continually had to search for things I wanted also triggered stress in me. Occasionally I almost lost my temper, something I seldom do.
         During this adventure, I was sometimes able to stay in the “here and now” by paying attention to my breathing, listening to the tinnitus ringing in my ears and occasionally chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.  As I meditated, the stress did not go away but I was able to detach from it and investigate mental attachments as they emerged. It was the first time I have ever meditated during an ongoing series of stressful events.
          It has been found that as we age the amount of stress we experience becomes a good predictor of our life satisfaction; the more stress, the less satisfaction. Stress is moderated by resilience. In later life resilience is associated with good health and well being in the face of financial and other stressors. There is also evidence that a growing number of older adults are able to develop effective ways to deal with the emotions accompanying stressful experiences.
          There are, of course, differences among seniors; some of us cope better than others. For instance the experience of retirement may involve different amounts of stress for different people and having ongoing negative feelings about retirement builds even more stress.  At worst with their job gone some retirees may feel a loss of his or her self/ego and become depressed.
         All psychologists see resilience as a form of coping, which can be successful in moderating stressful experiences. But their explanations of how it works can be quite different. The core to understanding the resilience process seems to be found in understanding the specific ways we respond to stressful events. Western psychologists see coping as an unconscious ego defense mechanism directed at stress. For example, “rationalization” is a subconscious justification using excuses that explain behaviour.   In my experience sometimes students, due to a lack of adequate study habits, may receive a lower test score than he or she expected. Using rationalization they may blame their unwanted grade on me: “.. he had it in for me etc..” A problem with this approach is that too much use of defense mechanisms may contribute to increased dysfunctional behavior. It may moderate stress in the short term, but in the long run it is not a very adequate coping strategy and can lead to future stress in similar situations. 
         So far, aside from reporting my experiences during my visit to the Island, I have been presenting information about  “Western” views of the stress/resilience process. I will now turn my attention toward  Buddhist approach.  It has been suggested that the differences between these two approaches refer to definitions of stress coping styles and practices, connected with different interpretations of the term “reality.”  As stated above Western psychology tends to focus more on the emergence of personal identity or “Ego” and the defense mechanisms it uses while attempting to remain dominant and avoid stress. 
         Buddhist psychologists explain the origins of stress somewhat differently. For them the Ego, is much less important and is basically an illusion with many attachments; “I am ….”.  The Ego itself is seen as a major source of stress and negative feelings. In this way of thinking, stress occurs when we are unable to see reality and we are fixed on making interpretations through the eyes of the Ego about the future based on past experience. In doing so we ignore things about ourselves such as motivation, expectations and dysfunctional coping strategies.
         Both groups agree that by using effective problem solving we can reduce the stress and narrow the gap between reality and our perceptions. At best we can problem solve the effects of stress by finding a way to relax and develop ways to cope with similar situations when they occur in the future. Western psychologists focus on the understanding of defense mechanisms while Buddhist psychologists see meditation setting aside the Ego is an effective method for accomplishing this goal.
         In summary it appears that both approaches see the “Ego” as a central stress factor but they have some disagreement about the Ego/stress relationship. In the “west” the Ego is seen as more individualistic and in need of protection. Buddhist’s see it as a self-creation that we can set aside while we examine our stress directly.  As we age perhaps it is more likely for us to reduce seeing ourselves as the centre of the universe and more as members of the community with increased insight that can lead to more effective conduct and understanding of the meaning of life. 

Sources of information for this blog entry are:

1. Buddhist and Western Perspectives on Suffering, Stress, and Coping by Paul Tyson and Rana Pongruengphant  and
2. Resilience-as-Process: Negative Affect, Stress, and Coupled Dunamical Systems by Mignon Montpetit et al
3. If you would like to look more into your own the stress/health issues Google the “Social Readjustment Rating Scale”.  Take the test and see if it’s relevant to you.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


In our society there is a belief that older worker’s regularized retirement provides benefits to other workers and to society because the transition is predictable and ultimately less expensive. This was one to the basic primacies of mandatory retirement before it was abolished in Canada. In current society there is still a negative ageist stereotype that older workers wind up being more costly and are therefore less beneficial to society.
       Negative ageism is easily understood and is defined as “any prejudice or discrimination against an age group.” If we were talking about racism all we would have to do is change the word age to race.
       There are also positive types of ageism involving prejudice that is based on positive stereotypes and attitudes.  They also lead to discrimination at both the personal and institutional levels.
       Key ageist stereotypes on the negative side are: lack of sexual desire, ugliness, mental decline, mental illness, uselessness, isolation, poverty, and depression. On the positive side are: kindness, wisdom, dependability, affluence, political power, freedom, eternal youth, and happiness.
       In both cases the ageist stereotypes like racial stereotypes prevent others and sometimes ourselves from seeing who we really are right here, right now. A good example of this is older person’s beliefs in “senior’s moments.”
       Dr. Erdman Palmore, who has created a book on the topic, argues that positive ageism was more typical among our ancestors.  First of all there weren’t that many older persons, as life expectancy was much lower.  Also, churches and families were more likely to be controlled by elders and seniors were also more likely to control land and work environments.
       In conclusion, Palmore warns that if we have a worldwide economic setback, like the one in the 1930’s in which inflation increased, banks failed and there was a general collapse, negative ageism could again become a major societal experience. This could also happen if a new pandemic occurs, that threatens the healthcare system. It has been reported that the average time elapsed between each of the last four pandemics was 25 years. It has been over 30 years since the last one. If this happens we elders will get less medical support because of our age.

       On a more optimistic level, Dr. Palmore argues that things will be much better if, instead of moving seniors out of the mainstream we find a way for reintegration.  Do the ideas presented above make sense in terms of where you live?  And if so, what can we do to get things rolling?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Financial Stress and Retirement

This blog entry is a beginning of my journey into the topic of financial considerations for retirement.  Hopefully I will, at some point, have a deeper understanding about this part of retirement. As I increase my confidence and knowledge more finance related posts may follow. Relevant knowledge can be a key element in reducing stress.
         Almost everyone experiences stress. It’s wired into our bodies. Sometimes it triggers activity that saves our lives. At other time’s it takes us in the other direction. There is strong evidence connecting negative feelings and stress in our daily activities. I imagine that everyone visiting this blog has experienced stress and the negative feelings that go with it.
         Resilience is the process that helps us cope with stress that has been created by daily concerns such as health and finances.  It has been found that the more resilience we have the easier it is to recover.  Without resilience we will likely face extreme anxiety and depression. A growing body of research supports the idea that, in general, older persons who have reached retirement age tend to get better at regulating stress and negative feelings.  Perhaps resilience is one of the characteristics of wisdom.
         Worries about work income or retirement finances are major stressors for many people. Everyone who works or has worked for a living knows that there stress is associated with work life.  Books have been written about work stress. Coping with it sometimes requires a great deal of resilience.
         Two key sources of retirement stress are poor health and family finances.  I am still in pretty good physical shape but over the last several years I have become more stress conscious when I think about what my family’s financial status will be following retirement.   Those who have been following this blogspot couldn’t help but have noticed that up to now I have avoided commenting about the financial side of retirement.  Concern about having adequate finances is one of the most stressful things I experience. I am ready to make some changes.
          Taking a baby step forward, I recently purchased a book entitled Retirement Planning for the Utterly Confused written by Paul PetilloIt’s scary but I intend to study it.
                  My current retirement workshop says that it’s not just about the money. The fact is I know almost nothing about it. The financial side of retirement, compared to social issues, is discussed frequently on the Internet. Obviously, like paid employment, these concerns are part of the foundation for successful retirement. To open a discussion about finances I have relied on sources, like the one cited at the bottom of this blog entry.
         More than a year ago all Canadian provinces with the exception of New Brunswick abolished laws that allowed employers to end employment of workers once they turned 65.  Many people still choose to retire at that age or sooner. It appears that at least three economic factors lead workers to retire at 65. (1) Some persons with good pension plans can actually earn more money in retirement than if they were working. (2) Most private pension plans begin to pay full benefits when a person reaches 65. and (3) Along with Canada and Quebec pension benefits OAS and GIS, if we keep working past 65 we lose benefits in taxes.                              
         People’s timing of retirement decisions appears to be connected with the size of the monthly pension benefit and its rules. In addition the monthly dollar value of social security benefits and expectations of adequacy of these main incomes over the future years of retirement are influential factors.

        Below are some beginning analysis questions on Sun Life’s Financial website. The questions on the website are multiple choice. Here I just introduce them as “think about this” questions. 
1.   What does retirement mean to you?
2.   What is your biggest financial worry in retirement?
3.   What is your biggest emotional worry in retirement?
4.   Where do you plan on living in retirement?
5.   Do you plan on retiring early?
6.   An ideal vacation for you is: ____
7.   Do you anticipate that you will make major purchases in retirement such as vacation home, going back to school? A new motor home, a luxury car or cottage?
8.   What are your wishes about leaving an inheritance (modified from original question)
9.    What type of entertainment will you spend your time doing in retirement?
10.      Do you plan on working in retirement?

         (For the complete questions and more go to the SunLife site)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Who Am I Now: The Challenge of Retirement

 Often when we meet someone for the first time one of the first questions we ask each other is: What do you do for a living? But is this who we are?  Well lets see, hum…  “I teach psychology at a university.  Does this mean I’ve made my work my identity? After all I’ve been doing it for almost forty years and I’ve enjoyed the self-sameness and relationships with other faculty members on one hand and students on the other.  Even though I have maintained a continuity of personal character, at the core of things, I don’t think I am what I do for a living. It helps pay the mortgage and other expenses and most of the time I enjoy it.  But it’s not who I am.
Well then who am I? Am I a husband, a father, a Canadian Citizen? Think of all the labels that others attribute to us as well as those that we give ourselves.  They may mean a lot to us and we are likely to become attached to them.  Am I who I have been “identified” with as I was growing up? For instance labels I was given? “You’re a good boy”  “You’re strong” or on the other end “you’re a bad boy and a pain in the...” What labels were you pasted with while you were growing up?
It appears that our cat, Ella, does not have these problems; Her main concerns are food, sleep, and having our attention. She is attached to us and does not hesitate to rub herself against our legs when she seeks attention or to complain when she’s hungry. But I don’t imagine that she wonders about who she is.  She lives in the here and now.
I recently wrote a poem on my blog entitled: Me is We. What I meant to say in poem is that I am more complex that my ego accepts.  It basically pays attention to the “good” things. So as I pay attention to the thoughts that continually emerge from within; some of which are positive and some quite negative, all must be accepted as part of my ego.  But my ego is not me!
We can consider our ego as something that is wound up in activities, self-attachments and self-labels with a focus so narrow that we are often oblivious to what’s happening in the real world around us. 
When I retire next year, a major part of my ego will be challenged. How well I will adjust to retirement depends on my willingness to accept major changes in my life circumstances. Retirement needn’t be seen as a bad thing. It can provide a major shock that awakens us to the surrounding reality or we can plan carefully and experience a less tense transition. In either case it’s a major change in our lives.
I think we should remember that much of whom we “are” has been assigned to us and reinforced by others starting with our parents.  Retirement is a good time to drop the labels and be who we really are.  I think this may be connected with the process of elder wisdom, which concentrates on reevaluating what behavior is really important in the here and now and resolving the conflict between integrity and despair
Let me assure you that I struggle with these thoughts everyday, some days more successfully than others. When I look around and see things without the urge to label them I can think about retirement without becoming anxious.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Looking Back and Looking Forward

        As the time approaches for the formal beginning of my retirement, I reflect on my work life and anticipate my experiences after I stop regular paid employment. In the past my academic path went straight through to the achievement of a PhD and my first faculty appointment at Lakehead University in Ontario in 1967.  During most of my adult life I have been a teacher.  There are various models of teaching at the university level. The one I favour is “independent contractor”. My work has always been in a context of self decision-making regarding the activities that need to be done by my students or by my clients.
         During the middle phase of my work life, after I moved to the West Coast. I spent about four years as an employment counselor.  First I worked for a private company and then developed my own private practice.  I always planned, however, to return to academia. 
         I think that my desire to be self-directed is related to my childhood. I was the first born with three years of development before my brother Rodger was born. After that I learned to do things on my own.  As I grew up I developed the attitude that things would turn out best when I was making my own decisions. Most of the time, but not always, that approach has been successful for me.
                  During the middle phase of my work life I spent about four years as an employment counselor.  First I worked for a private company and then developed a  practice of my own.
         I am proud of my accomplishments during my work life?  I would like to have published more but for a long time the work environment did not support faculty research especially while Kwantlen was still a College.  So the idea of publishing came rather late in my career.  And I think that one of the pleasures associated with creating this blog is having the opportunity to share ideas with the wider community of persons who are retired or preparing for retirement.
         Through the years I have also been involved as an activist, first in the Civil Rights Movement while I lived in the United States.  After moving to Canada my environmental concerns led me to participate in the early days of the Green Party. I currently am happy with my volunteer work and community activism at the local senior’s centre. In a more formal sense Elizabeth and I have founded a private company that is entitled Community Building: Research and Action. 
         After I retire I will still need to find ways to top up my pension income.  My workshops through Community Building and money we may be awarded through our non-profit ICAL (Intergenerational Centre for Action Learning) should help.        
         While I was resisting mandatory retirement I was allowed to teach only two courses per term. After it was abolished I could have pushed to get a full course load again but I have adapted to two courses and just having two feels right even with lower economic consequences. 
         I like the thought of retirement because I will have even more control over my own life. Retirement is a big transition. The challenges it presents are exciting!

Visit                           ICAL.CA

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Some Paths of Retirement

          Retirement means leaving the paid labor force. Many people think that it is a single event; a happy one if we are financially secure and are retiring voluntarily and not so happy if we are financially challenged and/or are being forced to leave our social connections and/or our professional identities behind. 
         I am voluntarily going to retire next year in August. I have been preparing to do so for some time, including the creation of this blog and workshops including humor, wisdom and retirement workshops for both those doing pre-retirement planning, and those who have already have already left work.
         According to Robert Atchley, a highly respected gerontologist, rather than thinking of retirement as a single event, it can be better understood as series of adjustments[i].  Not everyone goes through all of them.  See if any of the following three possible paths may reflect your experience. They are:
     1. The honeymoon path is a happy time, especially for those with good financial status when a person attempts to do all the things that he or she never had time to do while working.  Traveling is a frequent choice.
     2. Another option is immediate retirement routine. Many of us already have activities besides work.  For instance I volunteer and the local seniors centre and am creating a series of workshops that will not only benefit the community but also help me financially.
     3. The last option is rest and relaxation during which individuals sit back, relax and catch up on their reading. This period may last several years and then we pick up on our previous level of activity.

         Retirees may also experience disenchantment.  Honeymoons don’t last forever. We may miss our work and feel a lack of productivity. Or we might experience the death of a loved one or be forced to move from our neighborhood and community. These experiences may last several years before we can return to our previous level of activity. In extreme cases we may experience depression. Fortunately the proportion of people who become depressed is reported to be quite small
         The return to activity is seen as a reorientation period during which we re-evaluate our situation and become more realistic in our choices.  We can then develop more satisfying routines.
         In planning for retirement it’s important to remember that, as a society we are increasing our longevity.  Retirement can last a long time.   Do any of the above descriptions reflect you own experience?

[i]   Robert Atchley --  Retirement as a Social Institution

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A feeling of Emptiness

This past week was significant for me in several ways.  I taught my last aging class, which I designed and began teaching about 15 years ago, before I was forced to resist mandatory retirement. And, I had a very good conversation with Chris, one of my fellow instructors who has just finished teaching his last class. He is now retired. After we finished talking, I gave him a hug. It felt like the right thing to do.
         When I got home I noticed that inside I felt and continue to feel partly empty, about 25%. It’s not a big space but it’s there. I cannot remember ever feeling this way before. It’s not bad or good it’s just empty.  I wonder what I will feel next year when I am completely retired like Chris?
         It’s not that I haven’t been preparing post retirement activities for example creating this retirement blog and some workshops including my retirement workshop.  And I believe that in time I may be almost as busy, with my volunteering and workshop activity as I am now.  
 Thinking more about it, I imagine that my feeling of emptiness is a small fraction of what others feel when they have had greater losses.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Me is We

In younger days I was I
And me was me
But as I’ve grown
I’ve come to see
That there is more to it
If we’re to be

There are many me’s
Selves yet unfound that I must own
And many he’s
Where I have sat…
I must find their keys

In my head, I am at home
And free from need
But in my heart’s a tiny gnat
So full of greed

When my heart is full of ease
And my head’s without a hat
I feel a  welcome breeze

An Elder now, is where I’m at
At last my selves are working free

Near journey’s end me is we

Monday, December 6, 2010

Social Goals and Volunteering After Retirement

       There is quite a bit of evidence that older workers were more respected for our knowledge before the industrial revolution. In those days senior farmers’ experiences counted for something.  Now, with the rapid development of technology, especially computers, the average teenager seems to be leaping ahead with their Twitters, Cell Phones, and Facebook while at work we older workers are “facing” stereotypes such as low motivation, resistance to change, inflexibility, lack of creativity, and no interest in learning new skills.  Under these circumstances retirement, at least initially, may be a real relief. But we will still have to deal with certain stereotypes that, in the extreme, may lead us to feel that other people don’t need us.  And, when we die, we won’t even be remembered. 
         So during retirement we need to establish a new set of social evaluation criteria. Do we feel that we have a responsibility to improve our neighborhood?  What can we do for society after years of work experience?  What kinds of unique experiences can we share with the wider community? Do we have experiences volunteering? How can we help make things better?
         Much of our success in postretirement volunteering is connected with how we see ourselves and what we feel we can contribute
There are many opportunities listed on the Internet for. The following items are an example:

 Some examples of how to help your community

• Volunteer at a seniors’ home/centre – visit, read, play cards or board games, take seniors for walks, make crafts.
• Help organize local community events – food drives/banks.
• Take part in environmental initiatives – cleaning and recycling operations, park cleanup, planting trees and flower beds.
• Get involved in charitable activities – walk-a-thons, daffodil sales,  canvassing for organizations.
• Assist with sports teams – community leagues, parks and recreation programs.
• Volunteer in a leadership role with community groups.
• Volunteer in hospitals, libraries, or any organization recommended by  Volunteer Centres.
• Volunteer with social service or animal welfare agencies – Red Cross, United Way, Humane Society.
• Get involved in the democratic political process – scrutinizing, canvassing, campaigning.
• Offer service through religious communities or places of worship.
• Assist with literacy initiatives – at local libraries, daycare centres, community centres.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Continuing to Matter After Retirement

Some of us, particularly if we had a professional career, may after retirement find ourselves longing for the power and prestige of our previous work.  In short, we need to be noticed. For me as a university professor, it is a question of prestige more than power.  Standing in front of the class lecturing or facilitating discussion groups is both challenging and exciting.  And, having someone I meet on the street say “Hi professor Anderson.” Is very pleasing. The question is will my former successes get in the way of my retirement adjustment. Will I be able to let go of my previous expectations?
I think that the creation and presentation of my workshops may be a partial way of adjusting to a new life. I will still be on centre stage as I facilitate the workshops.  This will help me to reflect on my life and perhaps develop some wisdom about my life process.  Even now I reflect on the time I have left, what skills I will be able to bring to the community and appropriate goals for the time I have left. 
I developed my first intentional goals in my last year of high school when I decided to go to university and play football.  Some of my co-players at the University like Tommy Larscheid and Merlin Olsen expanded their sports goals from university and became famous professionals with athletic professions. I followed the goal of becoming a university professor.  For the last ten years I’ve been on the Board of the local senior’s centre and now I’ve created this blog. Each of us has a unique story that continues after we retire.  I would like to hear about some of yours.  
Key ideas for this blog entry were taken from:  Revitalizing Retirement by Nancy Schlossberg

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Just Another Step in Life"

           Much more material has been written discussing men’s, compared to women’s, experiences of retirement.  For a long time, particularly in my generation, it was assumed that only men retired while women stayed home and took care of domestic life. We are now facing some dramatic changes.
           More recent research indicates that professional women, like many men, feel like they are sacrificing their professional identity and when they retire are sad about their loss of professional challenges.  And there are some consequences that are more specific to women. For instance they are more likely to have less economic stability due to earning lower salaries and moving in and out of the workforce; most frequently to take care of family matters.
         All things considered, most women retirees see their retirement as “just another step in life” similar to other life transitions they have experienced.  The research on this topic, reported in this blog entry, has been carried out qualitatively.  One woman reported: “ 
         “For me retirement was not difficult. Someone asked me if I missed it.  I said “for about 30 minutes”. I remember going to pack up my stuff and I told the girls in the office I would be back in Monday but I knew all the time that I would not because I didn’t want any tears around me and so I went on myself, over that weekend and vacated the office.  I was sad too, in a way, because you know, it’s a kind of defining moment in your life when you move out of what has been your life’s work”
         Retired women, like men, also face a society fraught with ageist stereotypes.  Another retired woman said:

         “You get a awful lot of reference to age.  I mean, that’s what you get after you’ve retired. Whether it’s your physician making a reference to your age or it’s someone that’s meeting you and saying to you ‘At your age you…. you’re doing this? At your age!’  What does age have to do with it?”

1. Much of the information cited in this blog entry was taken from Christine Price’s. article Women and retirement: Relinquishing Professional Identity.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Controlling Our Lives

Researchers have discovered that among life’s pressures, one of the dominant ones is our fear of losing control over our lives.  This may lead to deterioration of our coping strategies and contributes to the reduction of our sense of self-esteem and self-concepts.  A lot of seniors react by excessive alcohol consumption and substance abuse, particularly prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.  Some specific areas influencing our behavior are how we will cope with large amounts of unstructured time following retirement and loneliness from lack of friends due to their death or moving away from each other.
 Many older women who have not engaged in paid labor outside of home and have spent most of their life in domestic activities, when asked about the their current life after child rearing, often talk about their children or grandchildren and ignore their own life activities.
 But each stage of life has alternatives. Erick Erickson, an outstanding developmental psychologist, viewed the last stage of life as one of Integrity Versus Despair.  With integrity an individual views his or her whole of life with relative satisfaction and contentment. The quality that emerges from a positive resolution of life’s activities is wisdom.
 A summary of despair thoughts is expressed in the following statements:
1. Life has passed me by.
2. If only I hadn’t remained in that job so long.
3. Why didn’t I travel?
4. Why didn’t I try something new?
5. Why me?
6. What did it all mean?

Along with the above statements may be some irrational beliefs such as:
1.   I’m too old to change.
2.   I am too old to learn anything new?
3.   I must inevitably suffer because of my reduced mobility and/or health status.
4.   Now that I am old, I have no control over my life
5.   I am a worthwhile person only insofar as I can hold down a job.  Since I am retired, I am worthless.
6.   I am too old to get married
7.   If I am dependent on others, I am a worthless person.
8.   I am no longer capable of decision-making.
9.   Senility is inevitable
10.    Since I am old I should no longer have a sex drive. If I do have  one something is wrong with me.
11.    If I do end up in a nursing home, that would be unbearable.
12.    Even though I am older, I should be able to do everything I could do when I was twenty, and it is horrible if I cannot,

On The Other Hand we are just as likely to develop Wisdom
Wisdom can be seen as the understanding of life relationships and their development over time. It leads to greater understanding about the differences in values and life goals and knowledge about the relative uncertainty of life and its management.
The following questions may be seen as a contrast to the beliefs and comments illustrating despair:

1.   What brings me happiness?
2.   How have I overcome anxiety in my life?  Would it work now?
3.   When do I do my best work?
4.   What advice would I give to others to help them achieve success?
5.   Do I see myself as a creative person?  If so how do I express my creativity?
6.   What do I think is the best way to resolve conflicts?
7.   What has made my marriage successful?
8.   What advice would I give parents who are still raising children?


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Creating Social Portfolio

       Prior to retirement many of us begin planning for our financial needs by the creation of a financial portfolio. But we often don’t pay as much attention to our level of physical activity and our social needs. This happens in spite of the fact that our health, both physical and mental, is strengthened by our connectedness with others and our willingness to stay active.  When we pull back and isolate ourselves, it may be a sign of approaching illness.
        There may be some barriers to developing new relationships or maintaining those that we have had for a long time. We might lack transportation opportunities, like driving a car or we may move to a distant place where we don’t know anyone.  People who live in the city sometimes move to rural regions and vice versa. Making friends in the new region may be more difficult.
       Maintaining as well as developing new relationships may be facilitated by the creation of a social portfolio.  For example returning to school as an adult student, where we can explore our options, expose ourselves to new ideas and have new adventures is a metaphor for the creation of a social portfolio.  Engaging in this type of activity can help us to create a plan for our community engagement.
       A social portfolio is similar to a financial portfolio.  Both of them encourage us express the diversity of our activities and to not “put all of your eggs in one basket.” While that might seem obvious when we are considering our finances, it is less understood at social and physical activity level.
        Our social portfolios should include “sound activities, mental challenges, and interpersonal relationships that can be carried into old age.” We also need to remain physically active when we are alone and when we’re with others. 
        What do you enjoy doing while you are alone? I read both nonfiction and fiction, which is mostly solitary with low-level activity. I use my laptop at least 2 or 3 hours a day. For me, computer use can be both solitary and social. I do research and construct these blog entries alone but I also communicate directly with others through e-mail and Facebook. I ride my bike whenever possible which is solitary but highly active.
        On the social side of things, I’m still teaching part time.  I am also on the Board of the Local Senior’s Centre. I participate in Board Meetings and committee work both of which are highly active.  I ride my bike whenever possible which is solitary and highly active.
          Gene Cohen encourages us to create a balance within our social portfolio.  Some people are very physically active but almost always alone.  Others are almost always doing something with others but are sedentary.
If you are interested in this idea, google social portfolio. There is quite a bit of material available on the internet. 
.   1. The main ideas for this blog entry were taken from The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain by Dr. Gene Cohen

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Retirement and Depression

          Betty Freidan in her excellent book The Fountain of Age (published in 1993) indicates that depression can be a natural response to the loss of power and purpose. Losing one’s sense of these characteristics is often associated with retirement
         Simone de Beauvoir was a French existentialist philosopher who died in 1986.  One of her many books focuses on The Coming of Age (published in 1972.)  Most of the key ideas in this post are taken from that book. She comments that many gerontologists agree that being without work and having feelings of uselessness during the last twenty years of one's life is psychologically and sociologically very difficult. She suggests that retirees have two requirements, to rest and to live decently. Living in poverty, especially under current economic conditions, raises the question of how many of us will have the resources to rest and live decently and therefore may become vulnerable to depression.
         Gradual retirement, sometimes called bridge retirement, is better than a “sudden chop.” I can personally confirm this. Since I began my struggle against mandatory retirement 5 years ago I have been teaching only two classes. It effects my paycheck and pension contributions but it is a lot more comfortable than teaching a full load of four courses. I am, however, somewhat concerned with my likelihood of living decently after I retire.
         In summary, retirement as a radical break cutting us off from our past, may force us to adapt to a new status that on the negative side, can lead to “a lasting state of depression” If you are retired or close to retirement the following questions may be useful.

Some Depression Questions

1. Depressed Mood
Do you often feel "sad" or "empty" or may cry frequently.

2. Decreased Interest or Pleasure
Do you have markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, daily activities?

3. Weight Changes
Do you have significant changes in weight when not attempting to   gain or lose weight? (A gain or loss of 5% or more in a month)

4. Sleep Disturbances
Do you have a hard time getting to sleep or sleeping too much?

5. Psychomotor Agitation or Retardation
Do you find yourself either agitated and restless or physically slowed down when you are moving?

6. Fatigue
Do you often feel deep fatigue or a loss of energy?

7. Feelings of Worthlessness or Guilt
Do you feel that you have no value or inappropriately guilty about things you have no control over?

8. "Brain Fog"
Do you have a diminished ability to think, concentrate or make decisions?

Monday, November 15, 2010

How Long and How Well Will I Live?

     As I move through life, now at 71 years of age, I am living a comparatively healthy, secure and happy life with a sense of purpose and self-efficacy. Most of the time I experience relatively low levels of stress.  But my father died from a cancer-caused heart attack when he was 71 and I am becoming more conscious of death.
   The search for the fountain of youth has continued for thousands of years. These days we can buy products that minimize our wrinkles and put color back in our gray hair. Or we can take even more extreme steps by having medical treatments to slow down signs of aging. Many people in the medical professions and those doing scientific research focus on aging decline such as social isolation, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.  And, so far, no anti-aging remedy on the market today has been proved effective.
    But not everyone focuses on the idea of aging decline. There are also concepts and research projects such as Successful Aging in which emphasis is placed on developing wisdom and healthy life practices. Two very readable books discussing the positive side of aging are The Healthy Aging Brain by Louis Cozolino and The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of The Aging Brain by Gene Cohen. While these individuals shine a brighter light on the aging process they accept death as the final step of life.
      Underlying the fear of aging is the fear of dying and I am not sitting on some kind of pedestal, ignoring my own worries. While I am not a religious person, I can see that one of the major benefits of going to church and having religious values is the promise of eternal life. The concept is somewhat complicated by the fact that different religions believe in different social forms of eternity. 
      While the books mentioned above and the general concepts of Successful Aging are very useful they don’t moderate my interest in living forever.  There are, of course, some possible downsides. For instance I ask myself:
1.  Would I like to live forever if at some point I’m the only person left?
2.  Would I like to live forever if I wasn’t healthy?
3.  Would I like to live forever if I were living on the Moon or Mars?
      Perhaps it’s a bit too much to ask to not only live forever but also choose what kind of environment I would like to live in.  Scientists predict that even the Universe will only last for several billion years.  What would I do after that?

Thursday, November 11, 2010


         For the last forty years or so I have been attached to the role of university professor.  If I am what I do, when I retire, who will I be?  Where will I fit in?  Will I have to learn how to be a “retired” university professor or will I give up the role completely?  Will I know anymore then than I do now about who I am?
         According to Eckhart Tolle I am not “really” a professor, it is just a role I play as if life is nothing more than a giant 3D movie.  If this is so, then what do I need to know to play the role of “retired professor” Well, lets see.  I’m creating workshops to take out into the “community”; one of them is about living successfully in retirement. That’s a little bit like teaching people how to ride a bicycle and never having ridden one myself. (I do have a bike and I love riding it!) 
         Or, I could drop “roles” entirely; just be “myself”.  Tolle recommends that I give up defining myself to myself or to others. To do this I need to develop the skill of staying in the “here” and “now.”  Eckhart suggests, “True self-esteem and true humility arise out of that activity. 
         He says that if we are really good at our work we can be “completely or largely free of our ego”.  The ego is what gets us into troubles of attachment. For me this involves the fact that this fall and next spring, the last two terms I will be teaching, I am being “evaluated.” I’ve been evaluated before. No big deal.  Except that my ego is worried that perhaps I am not doing a good enough job. 
         Alfred Adler, one of my psychology heroes, argued that we, our egos, strive for perfection and that one of the things driving us is a “feeling of inferiority.”  If I’m, (my ego) so good, why aren’t I teaching at Harvard? Recently, I saw a video of a Harvard professor lecturing. He was dressed in a sport coat and tie. I decided dress like that for the rest for my teaching career.  This is my “Harvard” Harvard outfit.  Albert Einstein is my person of high admiration.  I know I’m not as smart as he was but I can dream
         Back to the issue of retirement, I think the important thing is to pay attention to my attachments as they try to drag me away from the here and now.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Recently it was reported by researchers in a longitudinal study which began over 30 years ago, that persons in midlife who have positive attitudes toward aging live an average of seven and a half years longer than those who are negative about their aging selves.  The findings are independent of gender, age, socioeconomic status, loneliness and functional health. 
       Some people are relatively complacent about the “elderly” dying at seventy or seventy-five. They appear to assume that lives beyond retirement, unlike earlier life, are all the same and boring. Considering that there appears to be an ongoing fear and prejudice about the effects of an aging population reflected in “apocalyptic demography” or “age blaming”, I thought it would be important to take a deeper look at some ageist notions about the consequences of aging.[1]
       Much of the literature about aging focuses on the assumption that it means inevitable decline.  Specifically that; “…old age, not age, renders man ugly and useless.  This is specifically expressed in the connotation of the term “elderly.”
       In my ageism research, conducted several years ago in British Columbia, out of over 800 senior citizens, 34% reported that they had been told that they were “to old” to do something.  Forty percent reported that a doctor or nurse, without investigating, assumed their ailments were caused by age.
       It’s hard to maintain a positive sense of oneself if we are exposed to ageist comments from friends, family, medical specialists and the government especially if we ourselves believe negative stereotypes.  If we value life and want to live, as long as possible we must do what we can to fight these ageist attitudes of old age and keep positive attitudes.

[1] Much of this material was adapted from: Ageism: Rethinking Ageing by Dr. Bill Bytheway

Friday, November 5, 2010


I think about the personal effects of my nearing retirement from both positive and negative perspectives. This is interesting to me because for the last five years I have only been working part time, mostly teaching two, or sometimes three, courses. 
On the positive side, in retirement, I will have more time to do what I like, for example marketing my memory, wisdom and retirement workshops to the wider society, further developing the Intergenerational Centre for Action Learning (ICAL) which is our nonprofit and Community Building: Research and Action. I am specifically directing my retirement workshop toward the business community as a means of supplementing my retirement pension.  If you know any organizations that might be interested in sponsoring my workshop, let me know.
When mandatory retirement was abolished in British Columbia two years ago, I had been teaching part time for several years and I gave little thought to requesting a return to four courses per semester. Professionally, I have had more time to explore research topics including ageism and retirement.  I am, however, not entirely free from schedules.  For instance this fall term I teach two mornings a week and on another day, early evening. Still, I have four days that I can experience any way I choose. Frankly, I don’t think I would have been able to take the time to create and maintain this blog if I had been teaching a regular four-course schedule. 
Even when working fulltime, teaching at the post secondary level is, for me, more like being an independent contractor. Aside from department meetings and committee activities it is largely individual.  Most of the time it’s my students and me interacting with for several hours.  I enjoy the interaction and I hope most of them do. I know that, when I retire, I will miss regular contact with students and other academic friends.  There is no doubt that I am deeply identified with my job. But I am still looking forward to retiring because what I am creating in the workshops is quite similar
Not teaching four courses for the last five years has had financial consequences. My pension will not be as strong and I am concerned about upcoming expenses.  Perhaps if I had disliked my work I would have paid more attention to financial issues. As it is, the administration deposits my pay at a local bank and I don’t really keep track of how much is in my account.  
Fortunately, along with taking three courses per term in Fine Arts, Elizabeth exercises the role of financial officer in the family.  She knows what’s happening on the financial front and is preparing to re-enter the workforce if necessary. In some ways, I’ve been like a little kid playing in the sandbox with limited appreciation of things going on in the “real” world so retirement will truly be a new beginning for me.