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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Aging and Coping With Stress

As we age we encounter a great variety of personal conditions.  For instance, I have been married twice, had several different jobs, and moved from the United States to Canada and then from Ontario to BC. Now I’m about ready to experience the next major event: retirement. Throughout my life I have struggled to make sense out of what happens to me.  My retirement is certainly a new challenge.
One aspect of the traditional notion of retirement is that we will have more personal time than ever before to take stock of our lives. The results, of our self/situational evaluations will depend in part on whether we are basically optimistic or pessimistic. I tend to see myself as personally optimistic and socially pessimistic. I have had many personal challenges and in most cases, when things settle down, the results are positive. But on the broader scale I can’t help thinking that current “society” is in a state of decline.

As we age we are more likely to confront illness and, eventually, death with accompanying stress. Some other factors connected with stressful experience are, marital status, health, social activity, plus housing changes in physical environment and now, for me, retirement.

It’s not just our genes that determine our life span. It’s also aspects of culture, lifestyle, and relationships that moderate stress. Laughter helps us cope with stress by reducing the cortisol flowing through our brains, especially to our hippocampus which helps us remember things and figure out what to do next. Humor works best when we are around others in positive social relationships.  Physical contact with pets also helps us reduce stress. I really enjoy it when Ella, our cat, jumps up in my lap and starts purring. Being around friends also decreases the production of stress hormones.  But we can’t just push stress experiences away. Avoidance as a method of coping with whatever type of stress doesn’t seem to work very well.

Research suggests that as older people, when dealing with stress, we tend to, find alternatives to previous patterns of social participation, seek new associations, and look at the situation with some degree of philosophical detachment. In general we put less effort into the coping processes.  This seems to me to be a reflection of wisdom.  What do you think?

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