How to psych yourself up, not out
Are you stewing about something? Turn down the heat and don't boil over.
We all suffer day-to-day emotional insults. Most times, we shrug them off. As we get older, the emotional wounds can accumulate, and instead of treating them, we let them fester and infect our outlook. It could be as simple and seemingly innocuous as an unpleasant conversation with your adult child or a hurtful remark by a close friend or stranger. But instead of doing something about it, we brood.
"You're making yourself more upset and more angry each time you think about it," says Guy Winch, author of "Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejections, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries" (Penguin Group, $26). Winch, a clinical psychologist with a practice in Manhattan, also writes a blog for Psychology Today (bit.ly/winchblog) and offers tips and advice on his website
Winch says that once you begin brooding, it can become a compulsion. He likens it to the craving for cigarettes people have when they first give up smoking. "You're making the urge to think about it more compelling, so that you'll think about it more and more," he says. "You have to avoid that craving."
So how do you escape this cycle of brooding? The key is to find a distraction every time the "craving" arises. Read a book or watch a movie. Do a crossword puzzle. You can even distract yourself by forcing your mind to concentrate on something else. "Remember the names of the kids in your high school class or the order of the books on your bookshelves," Winch says. "Or even go outside and do a power walk."
But for many older adults, emotional distress is caused not by day-to-day slings and arrows but by serious life events. "They tend to have more problems because of what happens with age," Winch says. "They are much more likely to have to deal with things like loss or trauma."
Still, you must find ways to fight the urge to brood or wallow in self-pity. "It's natural to have the urge to do it, but indulging that urge is damaging," Winch says. After a loss, monitor yourself to see how you're recovering. Are you shunning old friends and avoiding new social interactions? If so, you are probably spending too much time brooding about your loss and life. "You have to be ready to fight the urge to ruminate that you know will come," Winch says.