We’ve mentioned it before: successful aging is all in your attitude. But let’s face it, keeping a positive mindset isn’t always so easy. As we age, we find ourselves confronted with a tremendous amount of change — career change, changes in relationships, grief and loss, and of course, changes in health. Admittedly — those changes can make growing older stressful.
To make sense of it all we spoke with Jo-Anne Weiler, a Registered Clinical Counselor, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist and Lifestyle Coach.
Weiler coaches men and women in their 50s and beyond. She helps them discover tools and strategies to thrive and live a more wholehearted, intentional life. A large part of her work is dedicated to gathering insights into emotional patterns and routine coping strategies. Welcome, Jo-Anne.
Q&A with Jo-Anne Weiler
Q: What’s your personal mantra or philosophy on living life wholeheartedly?
A: I’ve worked in healthcare for a long time. I started my career in the fitness industry at the YMCA and its philosophy of mind, body and spirit has always stayed with me. I see now, through my work in private practice and my own life experience, that we often get in our own way — and that sometimes we can get caught up in life and forget the point of it all.
I’m reminded of this in the experience when I’m with my mom who has Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Although it’s sad to see her in decline, I’m actually much more present with her than I’ve ever been in my life. I see every moment with her as a fresh moment. And it has become a goal in my life to live like that; to be present and acknowledge every moment as a new opportunity.
I’m also known for saying, “it’s all good”. In a way, it’s a personal mantra, one that makes me much more open and curious about life and what each life experience teaches me.
Q: How do you help clients manage or prevent stress in their lives?
A: The interesting thing is that as human beings we actually co-regulate together with stress. So sharing what we’re going through and talking about the stressors and the things that happen in our life can actually help calm us down. We need each other. There are a number of tools — like meditation and exercise, for instance — that can help older adults manage the stress of everyday life. Here are six ways for managing stress I routinely talk about with clients:
When we practice meditation, we’re more in tune with what’s actually going on with others. It also calms our nervous system.
2. Group Exercise
I always encourage people to exercise in a group, especially later in life because it puts us in situations that keep us social and physically active. Exercise helps prevent cognitive decline, moderates stress and builds neural networks too.
3. Focus on 3 Positives and 1 Negative
I like Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s research around positive emotions. She believes that we should pay attention to three positive things in a day and one negative thing. She uses a metaphor of a sailboat to explain the concept. The three positives are represented by the sails — they’re what move us forward and give us momentum. The one negative is represented by the keel of the boat, the flat blade sticking down into the water from the sailboat’s bottom. The keel helps us stay the course and represents the one thing we want to move away from.
4. Remember What Your Strengths Are
Oftentimes, we’re so worried about what we’re doing wrong, and what we need to be better at, that we forget what we’re actually doing right. There’s a great book called The Strengths Finder by Tom Rath which helps us discover or re-discover our strengths. It’s important to leverage our strengths so that life gets easier, rather than leaving us with the feeling that we’re constantly pushing a rock up a hill.
5. Try Something New
When we get older, it’s important to try new things. Step out of the norm of your day and feel your way through life a little more. Dancing, listening to music or participating in the arts or trying a new sport are great activities for older adults. Dopamine is a hormone in the brain that makes us feel happy. As we age, our dopamine levels decrease so we have to replenish them by experiencing new and exciting things. We crave it.
6. Pay Attention to What Your Body is Telling You
Your body sends you clues and insights; it provides you with the information you need to determine what’s causing you stress and/or anxiety. When it comes to our relationships, the body is especially telling. Breathe into your body and notice how you feel after you spend time with someone. If you feel invigorated and alive, spend more time with them. If you feel stressed and shrunk, spend less time.
Q: It’s easy to fall into negative thought patterns, such as “I’m too old for that” or “I can’t do that anymore”. How do we break free from this way of thinking?
A: I think this myself sometimes. Branching out is scary but it’s also exhilarating. For example, I took a skiing course with friends in Whistler, B.C. Somehow I ended up registered in a class that was more advanced than I was hoping for. I found myself skiing on double black diamond courses. I had never done anything like it in my life. But because the instructor was confident in me, I just went for it and it was an exhilarating day.
When we get outside our comfort zone and have an extraordinary experience, we can draw on it. Collect those experiences in a treasure trove and draw on them whenever you have negative thoughts or feelings about getting older. Also, be intentional about how you want to live your life. Once a year, a group of dear friends and I get together and we create vision boards. It’s such a nice way to reflect on how we want to design our lives and, as a result, we become much more intentional about what we’re inviting into our lives.
Q: Age-related shame. How do we shut down negative thoughts — and comments — and become more attuned to our self-worth as we age?
A: For starters, adopt the thinking, “it’s all good.” Be curious and to listen to what your body is telling you. When I feel shame, I feel flush in my cheeks and I notice that I begin withdraw. But — I acknowledge the feeling. It’s completely human.
We all feel shame at times — embrace it, talk about it. You may find that when you start talking about how you feel, those around you say that they feel the same way. You’ll begin to feel more connected and much less isolated in your experience. The sense of feeling well in your life comes from conversations.
It’s also important to reframe negative thoughts into positive ones. Recently, I was getting ready for the day after a Barre Method workout. I was putting on my makeup with all these other women beside me. All of them were at least 10 years younger than me and they looked fabulous. I found myself thinking, I feel old . But then I reframed my thoughts so I was celebrating the moment rather of comparing myself to the other women. I thought, isn’t it great that I’ve got a body that moves? That I still have health and vitality, and that I’m sharing this space with some really fun people?
Q: Are there attitude shifts we can make as we get older to help strengthen our relationship with our spouse/partner?
A: As we get older, some of us begin to feel like life is out of control and we place blame on external factors for why it feels out of control or unsatisfying. That perspective can put us in a dark place. So often, we project our own lacking on our loved ones rather than thinking, “what am I invited to do here?” It’s about saying to yourself, “okay, what can I do differently? What have I not been doing that I’ve been expecting my partner to do?”
It’s really up to you to create the life you want. Don’t blame anyone else. If your partner is lacking excitement, go find excitement within yourself and be an example for your partner and those around you.