When you’re feeling anxious, you might feel stuck and unsure of how to feel better. You might even do things that unwittingly fuel your anxiety. You might hyperfocus on the future, and get carried away by a slew of what-ifs.
What if I start to feel worse? What if they hate my presentation? What if she sees me sweating? What if I bomb the exam? What if I don’t get the house?
You might judge and bash yourself for your anxiety. You might believe your negative, worst-case scenario thoughts are indisputable facts.
Thankfully, there are many tools and techniques you can use to manage anxiety effectively. Below, experts shared healthy ways to cope with anxiety right here, right now.
1. Take a deep breath.
“The first thing to do when you get anxious is to breathe,” said Tom Corboy, MFT, the founder and executive director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles, and co-author of the upcoming book The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful anxiety-reducing technique because it activates the body’s relaxation response. It helps the body go from the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system, said Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, LLC.
She suggested this practice: “Try slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, gently holding your breath to a count of 4, and slowly exhaling to a count of 4 and repeat several times.”
2. Accept that you’re anxious.
Remember that “anxiety is just a feeling, like any other feeling,” said Deibler, also author of the Psych Central blog “Therapy That Works.” By reminding yourself that anxiety is simply an emotional reaction, you can start to accept it, Corboy said.
Acceptance is critical because trying to wrangle or eliminate anxiety often worsens it. It just perpetuates the idea that your anxiety is intolerable, he said.
But accepting your anxiety doesn’t mean liking it or resigning yourself to a miserable existence.
“It just means you would benefit by accepting reality as it is – and in that moment, reality includes anxiety. The bottom line is that the feeling of anxiety is less than ideal, but it is not intolerable.”
3. Realize that your brain is playing tricks on you.
Psychiatrist Kelli Hyland, M.D., has seen first-hand how a person’s brain can make them believe they’re dying of a heart attack when they’re actually having a panic attack. She recalled an experience she had as a medical student.
“I had seen people having heart attacks and look this ill on the medical floors for medical reasons and it looked exactly the same. A wise, kind and experienced psychiatrist came over to [the patient] and gently, calmly reminded him that he is not dying, that it will pass and his brain is playing tricks on him. It calmed me too and we both just stayed with him until [the panic attack] was over.”
Today, Dr. Hyland, who has a private practice in Salt Lake City, Utah, tells her patients the same thing. “It helps remove the shame, guilt, pressure and responsibility for fixing yourself or judging yourself in the midst of needing nurturing more than ever.”
4. Question your thoughts.
“When people are anxious, their brains start coming up with all sorts of outlandish ideas, many of which are highly unrealistic and unlikely to occur,” Corboy said. And these thoughts only heighten an individual’s already anxious state.
For instance, say you’re about to give a wedding toast. Thoughts like “Oh my God, I can’t do this. It will kill me” may be running through your brain.
Remind yourself, however, that this isn’t a catastrophe, and in reality, no one has died giving a toast, Corboy said.
“Yes, you may be anxious, and you may even flub your toast. But the worst thing that will happen is that some people, many of whom will never see you again, will get a few chuckles, and that by tomorrow they will have completely forgotten about it.”
Deibler also suggested asking yourself these questions when challenging your thoughts:
- “Is this worry realistic?
- Is this really likely to happen?
- If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that?
- Could I handle that?
- What might I do?
- If something bad happens, what might that mean about me?
- Is this really true or does it just seem that way?
- What might I do to prepare for whatever may happen?”
5. Use a calming visualization.
Hyland suggested practicing the following meditation regularly, which will make it easier to access when you’re anxious in the moment.
“Picture yourself on a river bank or outside in a favorite park, field or beach. Watch leaves pass by on the river or clouds pass by in the sky. Assign [your] emotions, thoughts [and] sensations to the clouds and leaves, and just watch them float by.”
This is very different from what people typically do. Typically, we assign emotions, thoughts and physical sensations certain qualities and judgments, such as good or bad, right or wrong, Hyland said. And this often amplifies anxiety. Remember that “it is all just information.”
6. Be an observer — without judgment.
Hyland gives her new patients a 3×5 index card with the following written on it: “Practice observing (thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, judgment) with compassion, or without judgment.”
“I have had patients come back after months or years and say that they still have that card on their mirror or up on their car dash, and it helps them.”
7. Use positive self-talk.
Anxiety can produce a lot of negative chatter. Tell yourself “positive coping statements,” Deibler said. For instance, you might say, “this anxiety feels bad, but I can use strategies to manage it.”
8. Focus on right now.
“When people are anxious, they are usually obsessing about something that might occur in the future,” Corboy said. Instead, pause, breathe and pay attention to what’s happening right now, he said. Even if something serious is happening, focusing on the present moment will improve your ability to manage the situation, he added.
9. Focus on meaningful activities.
When you’re feeling anxious, it’s also helpful to focus your attention on a “meaningful, goal-directed activity,” Corboy said. He suggested asking yourself what you’d be doing if you weren’t anxious.
If you were going to see a movie, still go. If you were going to do the laundry, still do it.
“The worst thing you can do when anxious is to passively sit around obsessing about how you feel.” Doing what needs to get done teaches you key lessons, he said: getting out of your head feels better; you’re able to live your life even though you’re anxious; and you’ll get things done.
“The bottom line is, get busy with the business of life. Don’t sit around focusing on being anxious – nothing good will come of that.”
Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor at Psych Central and blogs regularly about eating and self-image issues on her own blog, Weightless.
APA Reference Tartakovsky, M. (2013). 9 Ways to Reduce Anxiety Right Here, Right Now. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 14, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/9-ways-to-reduce-anxiety-right-here-right-now/00017762
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Sep 2013 Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
SOURCE CREDIT: PsychCentral News : Research Finds Proven Strategies to Up Happiness, Life Satisfaction By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor : Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on September 11, 2013
Researchers have created four affective profiles that may help individuals improve the quality of their lives.
The profiles came from a research study of the self-reports of 1,400 US residents regarding positive and negative emotions.
Investigators believe the affective profiles can be used to discern differences in happiness, depression, life satisfaction and happiness-increasing strategies.
A central finding is that the promotion of positive emotions can positively influence a depressive-to-happy state — defined as increasing levels of happiness and decreasing levels of depression — as well as increase life satisfaction.
The study, published in the open access peer-reviewed scientific journal PeerJ, targets some of the important aspects of mental health that represent positive measures of well-being.
Happiness, for example, can be usefully understood as the opposite of depression, say the authors. Life satisfaction, another positive measure of well-being, refers instead to a comparison process in which individuals assess the quality of their lives on the basis of their own self-imposed standards.
Researchers posit that as people adopt strategies to increase their overall well-being, it is important to know which ones are capable of having a positive influence.
“We examined 8 ‘happiness-increasing’ strategies which were first identified by Tkach & Lyubomirsky in 2006″, said Danilo Garcia from the University of Gothenburg and the researcher leading the investigation.
“These were Social Affiliation (for example, “Support and encourage friends”), Partying and Clubbing (for example, “Drink alcohol”), Mental Control (for example, “Try not to think about being unhappy”), and Instrumental Goal Pursuit (for example, “Study”).
Additional strategies include: Passive Leisure (for example, “Surf the internet”), Active Leisure (for example, “Exercise”), Religion (for example, “Seek support from faith”) and Direct Attempts (for example, “Act happy and smile”).”
The researchers found that individuals with different affective profiles did indeed differ in the positive measures of well-being and all 8 strategies being studied.
For example, individuals classified as self-fulfilling — high positive emotions and low negative emotions — were the ones who showed lower levels of depression, tended to be happier, and were more satisfied with their lives.
Researchers found that specific happiness-increasing strategies were related to self-directed actions aimed at personal development or personally chosen goals. For example, autonomy, responsibility, self-acceptance, intern locus of control, and self-control.
Communal, or social affiliations, and spiritual values were positively related to a ‘self-fulfilling’ profile.
“This was the most surprising finding, because it supports suggestions about how self-awareness based on the self, our relation to others, and our place on earth might lead to greater happiness and mental harmony within the individual” said Garcia.
Any parent knows: An evening can go to heck in a matter of minutes.
Our 9-year-old daughter pipes up suddenly that she needs a pink dress to play Sleeping Beauty in class the next morning. It has to be pink. It has to be pretty. And she needs it now!
Any sort of reasoning—like the suggestion to wear a wedding-worthy yellow dress—won’t work. Frustrations explode into shouting, timeouts and all-too-familiar rants of “this family sucks,” followed by heartbreaking rounds of “I hate myself!”
The next morning, when nerves calm, the yellow dress is perfectly fine and our daughter cheerfully chatters about Belle’s ball gown in Beauty and the Beast.
The difference? The anxiety attack is over.
Sneaky and insidious, anxiety seizes our daughter like a riptide pulling her out to sea. Her negative thoughts build like a tsunami, and it’s useless to swim against them with problem-solving logic.
Like a real riptide, the only escape seems to be diagonally. A surprise dose of humor—tough to summon in the midst of a blowup—can spring her free. As one therapist explained, “You can’t process anger and humor at the same time.”
It’s taken years of keen observation and research, plus the support of educators and psychologists to help our kids, ages 9 to 13, cope with mental health issues that also include Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and depression.
Recognizing that something isn’t right and pursuing help isn’t an easy journey. But it’s necessary. In the same way you’d pursue cures and solutions to manage chronic physical conditions like cancer and diabetes for your child, you have to advocate for your child’s emotional well-being. It requires being proactive, persistent and patient.
“If you can intervene early and get proper treatment, the prognosis is so much better,” says Teri Brister, who directs the basic education program of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
KNOW THE SIGNS
“One of the most difficult-to-recognize issues is anxiety,” says John Duby, director of Akron Children’s Hospitals Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. “(Children) won’t say, ‘Hey, you know, I’m worried.’ You have to be tuned in.”
All-consuming worries—about parents’ safety, bullies or natural disasters, for instance—can look like a lack of focus at first. Some kids ask frequent questions about “what’s next” for meals or activities. Changes to the daily routine (a substitute teacher or a visit to a new doctor) can trigger headaches, stomachaches or a sleepless night.
At its most extreme, anxiety induces panic attacks. Kids break into sweats, have trouble breathing and feel their heart racing.
Depression may cause similar symptoms to anxiety with headaches, stomachaches, not being able to sleep or sleeping more than usual. “They may withdraw socially,” says Duby. Kids may head to their room after school and not emerge until morning. Some kids are constantly irritable and angry.
“We often think depression doesn’t happen in children, but it does,” he says.
Step 1: Trust your instincts
If you’re worried about your child’s mood, trust your instincts as a parent, recommends Brister.
The red flags of mental health disorders tend to pop up during school years when children have to navigate academic expectations, make friends and increase responsibilities at home.
“You have to look for (behavior) patterns,” says Brister. These can include impulsive acts, hyperactivity, outbursts, an inability to follow directions or recurring ailments that may impair how the child performs in class, extracurricular activities or simply sitting through dinner with the family.
Most concerned parents start with a visit to the pediatrician. (PETER’S EDIT For Australian parents your family GP is a good place to start) The family physician can help you analyze symptoms and understand whether there might be an underlying condition such as food allergies or a chronic lack of sleep.
Step 2: Seek professional help
(PETER’S EDIT: In Australia a referral from a GP to a psychologist via a mental health care plan or ATAPS will ensure an informed, appropriate and timely assessment. If the issue is developmental, a referral to a paediatrician may be preferred or if your GP has a serious concern a referral to a child psychiatrist may be made. Wait times for each option should be relatively short in the private sector.)
When our son was 5, we sought testing for ADHD with a referral from our pediatrician. Unfortunately, we couldn’t even get on a waiting list for a psychology appointment. We were told the list had backed up to a two-year wait, so it was eliminated. We had to call weekly and hope for an opening.
When our daughter needed help as her anxiety escalated, it took a school district triage nurse to get us an appointment with a psychiatric nurse.
This is, unfortunately, not an uncommon scenario for parents. You need to use all the leverage you have to access experts in the school system or mental health clinics to help with your situation. Stay persistent and be pleasant rather than pushy.
And when you do get an appointment, make the most of it by consistently tracking the concerns you have about your child’s behavior and putting them in writing for the physician to read. Have a list of questions ready, and always ask about additional resources you can tap into, from support groups to books.
Mental health practitioners will also be gathering resources and information about your child from report cards, checklists and questionnaires. These can help pinpoint whether a child has anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, is on the autism spectrum or may have a combination of these. “It allows us to have a more objective view,” says Duby.
Step 3: Find your normal
Once there is a diagnosis, families can decide how to move forward. That might mean trying medications, working with a psychologist or setting up an Individualized Education Program (IEP) at school.
Additional services that may help include occupational therapy, which can identify specific movements, such as swinging, spinning or brushing outer limbs with a soft brush that may help your child’s brain process and integrate sensory information.
These tools and approaches can help families be proactive about preventing and managing mental meltdowns. It’s also essential to help children feel a sense of belonging at school and in community groups. Families need to build up their children’s strengths so they have the self-esteem and confidence to move forward, says Duby.
And parents should stay on top of the situation, watching for changes in behavior and mood, especially as children get older, says Brister.
Hormones may help or worsen conditions, which makes it important to have a diagnosis and support network before the teen years hit.
“I can’t emphasize enough how essential it is to recognize symptoms early and treat them,” she says.
SIGNS OF DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY
Signs in children may differ from the symptoms we commonly associate with adults who have the disorders. Depression in kids may look like irritability, anger and self-criticism, says the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It could be as subtle as her making less eye contact with you than in the past.
School performance is another important indicator. Grades can drop off dramatically; students may also visit the school nurse more frequently with vague complaints of illness.
Children who suffer from an anxiety disorder may experience fear, nervousness and shyness, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. They may worry excessively about things like grades and relationships with family and friends. They may strive for perfection and seek constant approval.
HOW TO CALM IT DOWN
Whether a child has mental health struggles or not, emotions inevitably boil over—especially as preteen dramas escalate. Here are ways to help de-escalate the situation and restore calm to your family life.
• Keep your body language non-threatening and stay as even-keeled as possible. Don’t get in the child’s face or use a raised voice.
• Teach kids how to breathe slowly through the nose, then exhale gently through the mouth as if cooling a hot bowl of soup.
• Create an “away space,” a place to cool down and take a break. Consider a quiet nook in a bedroom, a spot on the stairs for kids who don’t like separation or a backyard corner for those who find comfort in nature.
• Let kids know they can’t hit others, but it’s OK to punch a pillow or punching bag or to squeeze putty or a squishy toy.
• Figure out what’s physically comforting—feeling the softness of a blanket or stuffed animal, nuzzling the fur of a family pet or piling under heavy blankets.
• Listen to favorite tunes on a music player.
• Provide a journal for writing out frustrations or doodling when the words won’t come.
• When emotions simmer down, sit side by side to talk through how the situation could have been handled differently and work on solutions together.
(PETER’S EDIT: AUSTRALIA:
HeadSpace: headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation Ltd is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing under the Youth Mental Health Initiative Program. A great resource for parents and teens.
HealthyChildren.org from the American Academy of Pediatrics has a section dedicated to “Emotional Problems.” Parents can tap into great information on how to help their child. Audio segments recorded by experts in the field can be used as a launching point for family discussions.
TheBalancedMindFoundation.org, founded by the mother of a daughter with bipolar disorder, provides help for families. Online, private support groups offer 24/7-support and online forums are a way for parents to connect.
WorryWiseKids.org, a service of the Children’s and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety, has a wealth of information about the different types of anxiety disorders children can have, how to understand them and how to seek treatment for them.
Source Credit: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
By Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D. on September 5, 2013 – 11:56am
It really should not have taken academic psychology so long to determine the key factors to happiness, especially because the results weren’t that surprising.* Money, beauty, and success are not quintessential, while compassionate giving of our money, appreciation of our actual looks, and the pursuit of personally meaningful goals are. Waiting for our parents to love us finally perpetuates feelings of being a victim while letting go of the past, forgiveness and gratitude propagate joy in the present. This is old news for psych-savvy people such as you and me, right?
But here is another piece of the puzzle, based on the findings of the truly long longitudinal and still on-going Harvard Grant Study that began in 1939. The study followed 268 male students for 78 years. The researchers predicted falsely that the students with masculine body types would become most successful. As it turns out, neither that, nor their socioeconomic circumstances, nor the students’ IQ correlated highest with success. It came as a surprise that something much more mundane mattered the most, something every Beatle fan and good parent has been suspecting all along: Love. Yes, it is true and supported by data now, “All we need is love.” Those men who had a warm mother or good sibling relationships earned a significantly higher income than their less fortunate counterparts.
Now back to happiness. The director of the study from 1966 to 2004, George E. Vaillant, looked at eight more accomplishments that went beyond mere monetary success. These were four items pertaining to mental and physical health and four to social supports and relationships. They all correlated with love, that is with a loving childhood, ones empathic capacity and warm relationships. Vaillant,
“In short it was a history of warm intimate relationships- and the ability to foster them in maturity- that predicted flourishing…”
“This is not good news,” you may say if you were heavily unloved in your past. But there is another important lesson to be learned from this grand Grant study. People can change. (So there, pessimists of the world!). In fact, it is never too late to learn how to give and receive love. The study shows that those students who were not loved in childhood but learned to give and receive love later on in their lives could overcome their disadvantage.
This is where I can relate. I had to overcome a mountain of problems, cross the desert without a drop of hope, face and embrace my fears and come out of my turtle shell, step by step, kiss by kiss, and frog by frog. It was tough, but I made it. In the end, I dared to be with a man who had something to give and who wasn’t afraid of my love either. By now, our three lucky beloved tadpoles are slowly growing into frogs themselves.
Why though does love heal almost all wounds and drive us right into happiness? I think mostly for two reasons, something I hope to see supported by data some day. First, being loved reduces our fear of the uncertainty in life. Scarcity, loss, pain will happen, but when we are being loved, all those difficulties seem surmountable. In fact, with the right support, difficulties can be viewed as opportunities for growth instead of as terrible monsters lurking in the dark. Second, loving others focuses our mind on something greater than our little Egos. Love brings out the best in us. Who’s been known to rise to the occasion and act nobly when thinking of oneself? We become creative inventers, noble knights and heroines when we dare to care for someone else but us.
So love is it. What’s left to do is nothing short of engaging in a life-long learning process about how to form and maintain relationships. And don’t forget that love comes in many colors. You might love a partner, gay or straight, your kids, your neighbors, your community, your dogs or your goldfish. Just love. And if you do not quite know how, there are ways to learn it still, step by step, kiss by kiss, and breath by breath.
Source credit: ScienceDaily (Dec. 21, 2011)
We know a lot about the links between a pregnant mother’s health, behavior, and moods and her baby’s cognitive and psychological development once it is born. But how does pregnancy change a mother’s brain? “Pregnancy is a critical period for central nervous system development in mothers,” says psychologist Laura M. Glynn of Chapman University. “Yet we know virtually nothing about it.”
Glynn and her colleague Curt A. Sandman, of University of the California Irvine, are doing something about that. Their review of the literature in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, discusses the theories and findings that are starting to fill what Glynn calls “a significant gap in our understanding of this critical stage of most women’s lives.”
At no other time in a woman’s life does she experience such massive hormonal fluctuations as during pregnancy. Research suggests that the reproductive hormones may ready a woman’s brain for the demands of motherhood — helping her becomes less rattled by stress and more attuned to her baby’s needs. Although the hypothesis remains untested, Glynn surmises this might be why moms wake up when the baby stirs while dads snore on. Other studies confirm the truth in a common complaint of pregnant women: “Mommy Brain,” or impaired memory before and after birth. “There may be a cost” of these reproduction-related cognitive and emotional changes, says Glynn, “but the benefit is a more sensitive, effective mother.”
The article reviews research that refines earlier findings on the effects of the prenatal environment on the baby. For instance, evidence is accumulating to show that it’s not prenatal adversity on its own — say, maternal malnourishment or depression — that presents risks for a baby. Congruity between life in utero and life on the outside may matter more. A fetus whose mother is malnourished adapts to scarcity and will cope better with a dearth of food once it’s born — but could become obese if it eats normally. Timing is critical too: maternal anxiety early in gestation takes a toll on the baby’s cognitive development; the same high levels of stress hormones late in pregnancy enhance it.
Just as Mom permanently affects her fetus, new science suggests that the fetus does the same for Mom. Fetal movement, even when the mother is unaware of it, raises her heart rate and her skin conductivity, signals of emotion — and perhaps of pre-natal preparation for mother-child bonding. Fetal cells pass through the placenta into the mother’s bloodstream. “It’s exciting to think about whether those cells are attracted to certain regions in the brain” that may be involved in optimizing maternal behavior, says Glynn.
Glynn cautions that most research on the maternal brain has been conducted with rodents, whose pregnancies differ enormously from women’s; more research on human mothers is needed. But she is optimistic that a more comprehensive picture of the persisting brain changes wrought by pregnancy will yield interventions to help at-risk mothers do better by their babies and themselves.
The study was conducted with 50 Spanish soccer fans watching the finals between Spain and the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup. The researchers, led by Leander van der Meij of the University of Valencia in Spain and VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands, measured testosterone and cortisol levels for fans of different ages, genders, and degree of interest in the game. They found that the increase in testosterone was independent of all these factors, but the increase in cortisol level was more pronounced for dedicated, young, male fans.
The authors write that the testosterone effect is in agreement with the “challenge hypothesis,” as testosterone levels increased to prepare for the game, and the cortisol effect is consistent with the “social self-preservation theory,” as higher cortisol secretion among young and greater soccer fans suggests that they perceived a particularly strong threat to their own social esteem if their team didn’t win.
- How to Replace Testosterone in “Low-T” Men (drjosephkaye.com)
- Hormone levels higher for soccer fans watching a game, but not upon win (eurekalert.org)
- Attractive Women are Bad for Health (socyberty.com)
ScienceDaily (Oct. , 2010) — It’s a prediction often met with worry: In years, there will be more Americans over than under . Some fear that will mean an aging society with an increasing number of decrepit, impaired people and fewer youngsters to care for them while also keeping the country’s productivity going.
The concerns are valid, but a new Stanford study shows there’s a silver lining to the graying of our nation. As we grow older, we tend to become more emotionally stable. And that translates into longer, more productive lives that offer more benefits than problems, said Laura Carstensen, the study’s lead author.
“As people age, they’re more emotionally balanced and better able to solve highly emotional problems,” said Carstensen, a psychology professor and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. “We may be seeing a larger group of people who can get along with a greater number of people. They care more and are more compassionate about problems, and that may lead to a more stable world.”
Between and 2005, Carstensen and her colleagues tracked about Americans between the ages of and . Over the years, some participants died and others aged out of the younger groups, so additional participants were included.
For one week every five years, the study participants carried pagers and were required to immediately respond to a series of questions whenever the devices buzzed. The periodic quizzes were intended to chart how happy, satisfied and comfortable they were at any given time.
Carstensen’s study — which was published online in the journal Psychology and Aging — was coauthored by postdoctoral fellows Bulent Turan and Susanne Scheibe as well as Stanford doctoral students and researchers at Pennsylvania State, Northwestern, the University of Virginia and the University of California’s campuses in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
While previous research has established a correlation between aging and happiness, Carstensen’s study is the first to track the same people over a long period of time to examine how they changed.
The undertaking was an effort to answer questions asked over and over again by social scientists: Are seniors today who say they’re happy simply part of a socioeconomic era that predisposed them to good cheer? Or do most people — whether born and reared in boom times or busts — have it within themselves to reach their golden years with a smile? The answer has important implications for future aging societies.
“Our findings suggest that it doesn’t matter when you were born,” Carstensen said. “In general, people get happier as they get older.”
Over the years, the older subjects reported having fewer negative emotions and more positive ones compared with their younger days. But even with the good outweighing the bad, older people were inclined to report a mix of positive and negative emotions more often than younger test subjects.
“As people get older, they’re more aware of mortality,” Carstensen said. “So when they see or experience moments of wonderful things, that often comes with the realization that life is fragile and will come to an end. But that’s a good thing. It’s a signal of strong emotional health and balance.”
Carstensen (who is and says she’s happier now than she was a few decades ago) attributes the change in older people to her theory of “socio-emotional selectivity” — a scientific way of saying that people invest in what’s most important to them when time is limited.
While teenagers and young adults experience more frustration, anxiety and disappointment over things like test scores, career goals and finding a soul mate, older people typically have made their peace with life’s accomplishments and failures. In other words, they have less ambiguity to stress about.
“This all suggests that as our society is aging, we will have a greater resource,” Carstensen said. “If people become more even-keeled as they age, older societies could be wiser and kinder societies.”
So what, then, do we make of the “grumpy old man” stereotype?
“Most of the grumpy old men out there are grumpy young men who grew old,” Carstensen said. “Aging isn’t going to turn someone grumpy into someone who’s happy-go-lucky. But most people will gradually feel better as they grow older.”
- Be glad you’re getting older (holykaw.alltop.com)
- As we age, shifting priorities can have surprising effect on emotional health (southcoasttoday.com)