Modern life is riddled with many problems and situations involving SWAT. This is a constant, perennial, and vexing by-product of our current lifestyles. As such, SWAT, in one form or another, follows us like a shadow, everywhere. They rob us of the sense of freedom and enjoyment we should experience from living our everyday lives.
Stress is caused by feelings of anxiety, tension, and worry about situations (or unpleasant experiences) that are happening to us. They cause a great deal of psychological and emotional distress and pain. Often, this manifests itself in the form of a sense of helplessness and lack of control. Their effects are pernicious on both body and mind: constant irritability, physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, inability to concentrate and to deal with the various tasks at hand that need our attention. Consequently, time, energy, and money are often wasted in unproductive ways to combat SWAT. Some seek quick relief for their distress, in remedies such as: drugs, alcohol, smoking, binge eating, and compulsive shopping—all of which only compounds the problem, without solving the underlying root causes.
Of course, there are other cheaper and more sensible short-term remedies:
(1) Take a walk; (2) Listen to music; (3) Enjoy nature (smell the flowers); (4) Try to feel grateful for what you have; (5) Read a good book such as Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.
Ask yourself, “Is the SWAT caused by some self-imposed, misguided values and beliefs which trip you into doing things and engage in activities causing more harm than good?”
Common SWAT Situations:
1. I have no time! Many Time-starved modern families find themselves too busy, trying to do too many tasks, which cannot all be completed within a certain time period– (day, week, or month). Are all of them really necessary? Do they all make sense? Will these activities/choices help to improve your ultimate Quality of Life? If the answers to these questions are mostly negative, then, you should Prioritize these tasks. Give up what is really not important for your long-term wellbeing. Concentrate on a few, and let the others go. “Don’t bite more than you can chew”. Or, as Thoreau advised: “Simplify, Simplify”.
2. I don’t have the money. Are you spending too much? Are you unable to meet your multiple financial obligations? Finding too many bills in the mailbox? Then, look for possible solutions such as: (a) Cut your spending as much as possible immediately; (b) Sell some assets (stuff) and pay off your debts carrying high interest rates; (c) Increase your income temporarily by working overtime/2nd job; (d) Try to re-arrange (stretch) your monthly payments by investigating cheaper, more affordable loans (refinancing); (e) Find out if someone (friends/family/employer) can help you out a bit; (f) Downsize your dwelling/car/association memberships/subscriptions/gifts/donations, etc. (f) Look for other ‘creative’ solutions to increase cash ‘inflows’ and reduce ‘outflows’—depending on your situation.
3. I can’t let go. Don’t try to win every game, all the time. Remember: “It is the journey that is important; not the destination– (or winning)”. Sticking to this wise counsel can save your sanity, and free yourself from many unhappy, hopeless situations/goals, such as—climbing the proverbial “Corporate ladder”, trying to win every argument; getting ahead of others in sports/competitions, building wealth, and various aspects of getting ahead “in the game of life”.
4. I can’t deal. Bend, not break- trying to change others—their habits, values, political and religious beliefs, attitudes and expectations—generally don’t work. Other people are just as fastidious as you are. It is far more sensible and productive to change yourself, before trying to change others. This is within your control, and therefore, doable. It is up to you to try.
5. I’m not happy. Contentment. Enjoy what you have, right now; and don’t fret over the future too much. Have realistic goals. Keep striving, while practicing self-control, with discipline and determination. This will improve your physical and mental health.
6. I have nothing to offer. Finally, try generosity. Share, care and help those who are less fortunate. Provide physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual comfort, to ease their burdens, in whatever way you can. This can be a great ‘stress reliever’, helping you, while helping others as well.
There are myriad classes and activities for the young on everything you can imagine. It is easy to find a children’s soccer, tumbling, ballet, art, gaming, or music class, and the list goes on. It is much more difficult for adults to explore an interest or talent. If you are still in the workplace, there are opportunities for training and social interaction, but those opportunities may not always tap your creative potential.
Now is the time to liberate your creativity even if you think you’re not one of those people. Engaging in arts and crafts and other creative projects can have a positive impact on your health. Dr. Gene Cohen was a pioneer and one of the world’s experts in gerontology. In studies of aging people and in Dr. Cohen’s own work, four aspects of creativity stood out: Creative activity strengthens our morale later in life, contributes to physical health as we age, enriches relationships, and is our greatest legacy. You can read more about Dr. Cohen’s work here.
Creative potential is there and alive in all of us. Your creativity is only limited by your own imagination. You can paint, draw, sing, write or do whatever sparks your interest. It does not matter if your project comes out less than perfect. Enjoy it, be creative and have fun. Collaborative creativity allows you to share your ideas and experience in a social setting.
Howard County Library System (HCLS) offers a variety of classes to spark your creativity potential, including Pins and Needles, Crafty Readers, Writer’s Group, and Hands-On, Off Camera Flash Photography workshop. No prior artistic experience is required. One of the classes offered by the library at the Miller Branch on the second Monday of every month is Calming Crafts. Lynn, one of the class’s instructors, said one of the reasons she started the class was because “doing simple crafts can help keep you in “the moment” and some your worries dissipate.” Ann, the other instructor, is the library’s Enchanted Garden Coordinator, so when weather permits, the class is held in the garden. Past projects have included finger knitting, pinch pots, leaf rubbings, card making, and rock painting. During the last two weeks in July some of the class projects will be on display at Miller Branch.
Whatever your age, circumstances, talents or skills, it is never too late to try something new. American folk artist, Grandma Moses, did not launch her painting career until she was 78! Playwright George Bernard Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925, at the age of sixty-nine. Shaw was still working on a comedy when he died at the age of ninety-four! What will you do?
Eric Weiner spent many years as a foreign correspondent for NPR, and in that time visited many of the world’s countries. His travels frequently took him to decidedly unhappy places – or at least, people in unfortunate situations. A self-admitted “grump”, Weiner decided he would embark on a quest to find the happiest places in the world and, of course, write about it in his book The Geography of Bliss. Beginning at the World Database of Happiness in the Netherlands, Weiner checks out a list of the happiest countries in the world, statistically. His journey takes him to Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova (the unhappiest nation in the world, to see what the opposite of happiness looks like), Thailand, Great Britain, India, and ends in America.
How can happiness be measured? According to Ruut Veenhoven at the World Database of Happiness, “you can’t be happy and not know it. By definition, if you are happy, you know it”, and so, you simply ask people how happy they are (p. 12). According to the research, the happiest person ever should be an extroverted optimistic married religious-service-attending educated busy Republican – as people who meet each of those criteria are happier than those on the opposite end of each spectrum. If that doesn’t describe you, well, no worries! The science of happiness seems to be rather subjective. Plus, there’s “reverse causality” (basically the real term for “what came first the chicken or the egg?”): are happy people more likely to be extroverted/get married/go to church/take on more work/etc or does the factor in question make them happy? Well, that isn’t really the question Weiner set out to answer (and it probably isn’t definitively answerable, anyway), he was more concerned with where and why people are happy. The answers to both questions – as much as they can be answered – were not what Weiner expected. None of the usual suspects predict happiness level, not diversity, equality, wealth, income distribution, or climate. Some things are obvious: basic needs must be met (you need food and shelter, for example), and you need enough income to fulfil those needs and not feel stressed, but beyond that… Weiner spent a whole book looking for that answer.
So, what is it? In the end, happiness is a complicated equation. It’s a careful balancing act: add a bunch of culture, some family and friends, a dash of money, a big helping of gratitude and trust, remove envy and excessive thinking. Weiner’s chapter titles give us some insight into his quest; happiness is: a number, boredom, a policy, a winning lottery ticket, failure, somewhere else, not thinking, a work in progress, a contradiction, home. Weiner asks interesting questions and uncovers some interesting approaches to happiness from all over the world. If happiness research piques your interest, The Geography of Bliss will provide you some intriguing food for thought. It’s also an excellent book for group discussion, complete with questions provided by the publisher.
It’s true, I have a love of Teen novels and I’m not going to apologize for it. In all honesty, most of the ones I go for tend to be, well, let’s just say NOT realistic fiction. (Come on, The Raven Cycle has quests for dead Welsh kings, psychics, ley lines, and one of the best hitmen ever written–but you have to wait until book 2 to meet him. And , The Lunar Chronicles? Kick-butt, clever, fairy tale heroines in space–how could anyone resist? And let’s not forget all that exciting dystopian fiction.) But, I have to admit, I recently succumbed to a very positive review and picked up a realistic teen fiction title that I want to recommend (but only to older teens and adults). All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is an amazing book with a powerful story, particularly concerning mental health. I was trying to think of a summary that would not give too much away, but instead I’ll just give you 10 good reasons to pick it up and read it:
- Yes, yes, all the reviews say it, so why shouldn’t I: If you loved The Fault in Our Stars (or Eleanor & Park, or both), you will love this book. It has its own unique magic and is not merely a copycat.
- The book deals with first love/first sex compassionately, and still lets it be romantic.
- It’s already been picked up to be made into a movie, but, as every librarian, English teacher, book lover, etc. will tell you: “Read the book first; it’s almost always better.”
- Violet Markey, one of the main characters, is awesome. She is suffering a major loss in her life, and is struggling mightily, but still manages to be smart, relatable, and authentic.
- Theodore Finch, the other main character, is also awesome. He knows something is wrong with Violet, and he wants to help. He also knows something is wrong with him, and Niven lets him react to this in a way that is true to real life. And yet, he is still charming, dear, warm, and someone you want to root for, even though you know its is dangerous to do so.
- You will learn a surprising amount about some of Indiana’s “natural wonders.”
- If, like me, you tend to go for more “far out” (yes, I know, I’m old for using that expression) teen fiction, or, if you d on’t read any teen fiction at all, this might open you up to it.
- The author’s notes. Please, please, please read the author’s notes at the end of the book. If you relate to the book because you or someone you know is struggling with some similar issues, Niven provides some great resources. And if you are not, what the author discusses adds a whole new layer to the lives of the characters.
- The mental health issues are not sugar coated. In some ways this makes the book very difficult to read, but I am grateful for the fact that, though it is fiction, the book feels very real and doesn’t try to hide, romanticize, or make light of what is going on with its characters.
- You will cry. Okay, maybe this isn’t an enticement, but you’ll suspect pretty early on in the book that it will end with tears, and yet you’ll want to keep going. You’ll have to see it through to the end with Violet and Finch, despite the heartbreak that will stay with you well beyond the pages of the book.
One of the major factors contributing to different forms of stress, bodily afflictions, mental illnesses, high anxiety levels, and general dissatisfaction with modern life can be found in the lifestyles we have voluntarily chosen. For example, our inability (or unwillingness) to bring about an appropriate balance among the various components of what should be a “well balanced life” exacts a heavy toll on our body and psyche. For many people, undue, excessive emphasis on any one aspect of life—such as –office work, career, climbing the corporate ladder, pursuit of wealth, etc. leads inevitably to wanton neglect of other important ingredients of a well-balanced life. This type of personal choice leads to various ailments, imbalances and misalignments. In consequence, anxiety, worry, stress, and mental tension ensue.
Our sedentary lifestyles, with its emphasis on income producing activities, and neglect of other important aspects of living, (such as rest, recreation, exercise, relaxation, and adequate sleep), can and does result in irritability, fatigue and poor physical health. Some of us seem to have no time for anything other than the economic aspects of living. Consequently, we become victims of such an unbalanced life style. The neglected areas of life cry out for attention. They manifest themselves in many warning signs – many physical and mental ailments—and we tend to ignore them at our peril.
So the obvious question is: what should be done? What is the remedy? How do we correct this obvious imbalance? Fortunately, the answer is not far to seek!
Various aspects of daily life, such as: earning and spending; work and career aspirations; family responsibilities; social obligations; activities that promote physical and mental well being—these must be properly balanced—to produce good health and peace of mind. The resulting improvement in life satisfaction will be immeasurable. Whenever we lose sight of this balancing principle, and ignore the vital contribution that each of these components contribute to our sense of life fulfillment, the result is: physical and emotional distress. Happiness and contentment elude us. Life seems empty—filled with worry, anxiety, tension and stress.
The paradox of our unbalanced lifestyle is this: What we think of as enhancing the quality of life—money, power, position, prestige and recognition (all good things in themselves)- can be pursued to excess, to the detriment of our overall quality of life. This is a trap that should be avoided.
So, it is up to each one of us to recognize the importance of balance in life. Engage yourself in a variety of activities—physical, mental, spiritual, and whatever else you want—but do it NOW. Make it a habit. This would be a wise and welcome choice we can and should make; the benefits would be immeasurable.
According to a Johns Hopkins study, “Most experts recommend exercise as the single most important anti-aging measure anyone can follow, regardless of age, disability or general level of fitness. A sedentary lifestyle accelerates nearly every unwanted aspect of aging.” [JackF]/[iStock]/Thinkstock
Exercise has long-term physical and mental benefits, even reducing arthritis symptoms in older adults
Physical Benefits of Exercise
A lack of physical activity can put you at higher risk for health problems such as diabetes and osteoporosis. In fact, according to Dianne Braun, P.T., a clinical program manager and physical therapist with Howard County General Hospital, “It is not only healthy for seniors to exercise, it can also be dangerous to not exercise. Not being physically active can be risky, as seniors can lose up to 75 percent of their strength from inactivity, making them prone to falls. Current statistics show that one in three people over the age of 65 fall every year and that number increases to one in two by age 80.”
Mental Benefits of Exercise
Not only does exercise help seniors physically, it can also have a positive effect mentally. Physical activity can help manage stress and reduce feelings of depression. “Depression is a big issue for seniors, and just five minutes of exercise a day has been shown to reduce the incidence of depression,” said Braun. Some studies also suggest that regular physical activity can increase various aspects of cognitive function.
How Much Exercise is Enough?
“General exercise recommendations for seniors include 30 minutes of exercise with strength training two times per week,” said Braun. “If you have a fear of increasing pain, or have a heart or medical condition, check with your physician for exercise guidelines. The important thing is to start exercising and make it a part of your daily routine.”
Studies show that exercising regularly and staying active have long-term benefits and improve the health of older adults. According to a Johns Hopkins study, “Most experts recommend exercise as the single most important anti-aging measure anyone can follow, regardless of age, disability or general level of fitness. A sedentary lifestyle accelerates nearly every unwanted aspect of aging.”
The Arthritis Antidote
Though exercise may seem like the last thing you want to do when suffering from arthritis, exercise is very important to increase strength and flexibility, reduce joint pain and help with fatigue. Physical activity does not have to be at a high-intensity level, but studies indicate that a moderate level of exercise can help with the pain as well as help maintain a healthy weight.
“Strength training and aerobic activity (walking or other) are good for the joints. Many studies have shown a reduction in pain with regular strength training and aerobic conditioning,” said Braun.
- Aerobic conditioning activities such as walking, biking, swimming, raking leaves
- Strengthening activities for lower body: squats, single-leg stance, step-ups and sit to stand from a chair (try not to use your arms and upper body)
- Strengthening for upper body that incorporates some weight lifting, such as arm raises, overhead raises and biceps curls.