Staying Grounded in an Uncertain World
None of these recommendations require a lot of time, energy or money. They focus on small positive steps to pause and recharge during a difficult moment.
2023 was a heavy year. War, shootings, political rancor, the warmest recorded year on our planet. Who knows what 2024 will bring, particularly with a presidential election on the horizon?
In conversation after conversation, people tell me they have never experienced such unsettling times. I work at DOROT, a New York City-based non-profit social service agency dedicated to alleviating social isolation among older adults, so this comes from those in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s – a group that has lived through all manner of upheaval.
At this time of life, change can come thick and fast, be it the aging of our body, the loss of a loved one, the shifts we are navigating in career, income and status.
For adults in the middle or later stage of life, it is not just what we see on the television or read in the papers. We carry the memories and associations of our past. Whether good or bad and likely a mixture of both, this weight of experience only increases as we grow older.
At DOROT, we offer Legacy Projects, a program that helps older adults reflect on and preserve their life stories. One participant, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, mentioned how the news from Israel had resurfaced trauma from her past.
Another shared that, along with the deep sadness she feels at hearing of yet another mass shooting, she was also navigating the recent loss of her husband. At this time of life, change can come thick and fast, be it the aging of our body, the loss of a loved one, the shifts we are navigating in career, income and status.
Perspective of Age
But with age comes perspective. Over the past year, I have taken to writing down "words of wisdom" I hear in our programs. Little nuggets like, "If you don't think you have time to meditate, that is exactly when you need it most." Sometimes these suggestions come from an expert: a therapist leading a program on managing stress or a fitness instructor who knows how to get people motivated. But mostly they come from DOROT's older adult community informally sharing what they do to keep their spirits up and their bodies grounded, ideas that encompass the physical, mental and social.
None of their recommendations require a lot of time, energy or money. Rather they focus on small positive steps they have taken to pause and recharge during a difficult moment. I've consolidated these suggestions and hope they help you.
Acknowledge your emotions. The news can bring up any number of associations, including long-forgotten experiences. Don't try to ignore or push these images and feelings away. Therapist Abigail Nathanson, who recently led a session for DOROT on "Staying Grounded In An Uncertain World," says, "It is vital to acknowledge your feelings of sadness, anger and fear. These emotions serve an evolutionary purpose. They reinforce social bonds, establish boundaries and lead us to seek safety."
"While we know to schedule things like vacations or a Broadway show, you can – and should! – schedule time for the smaller things that affirm and recharge you."
One of the ways to do that is by noting where in your body you are holding that emotion. You can then acknowledge it or even greet it with a phrase like, "Hello there, Sad Feeling."
Calendar an activity that makes you happy. Meditate, do yoga, listen to music. You will find these activities on just about any self-care list. Yet, who has time for them? During periods of stress, we often forget to care for ourselves. This is when I turn to a piece of advice offered by productivity expert Valerie Keane during a DOROT class on "Organizing Time and Energy During the Holidays." "Don't just say you will do it. Be intentional with your time. Pick a date and time and then put it on your calendar. While we know to schedule things like vacations or a Broadway show, you can – and should! – schedule time for the smaller things that affirm and recharge you."
So, take a walk in nature. Sign up for a Zoom fitness class if you can't get outdoors. (DOROT has many good ones!) Read a book, do a puzzle, cook a favorite meal. Volunteer for a favorite organization. Just be sure to calendar it, no matter how basic it seems.
Home, Family and Friends
Give your home some love. While you can't control whether there will be peace in the world or amity in Congress, you can take steps to control your home, or even just a little nook. In January at DOROT, we offer a multi-session course "From Clutter to Clarity: Your Journey to Organized Living" to help create a more peaceful home. If that sounds too ambitious, do something small that will enliven your home.
Here are some suggestions from participants in our class: Frame a card of artwork that is meaningful to you and display in a place where you like to sit. Buy flowers or a plant for the kitchen table. Organize your linen closet or another small area of your home, a spot that will bring a smile to your face when you see it.
Curb your news and social media consumption. When current events are ever evolving, the natural inclination is to keep the television on. While you may think that is giving you a sense of control or knowledge, listening non-stop to the news can leave you feeling more agitated. Both news and social media sites are designed to keep you online seeking that pleasurable shot of endorphin, according to journalist Sarah Frier, who led a program on curbing your media intake. So, take steps to curb the amount of time you spend by setting a time limit on your consumption and seeking real-time relationships or an encounter with nature.
"Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives."
Seek out Friends and Friendlies. The importance of social connection is at the heart of DOROT's mission and the most important way to stay grounded and connected. This is a point U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy makes in his 2023 advisory on Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. "Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives."
This is all well and good if you have a full rolodex of friends, but as we grow older, our networks can contract. If you are feeling the loss of friends and loved ones, here are some suggestions from participants in DOROT's Aging Alone, Together program, a six-session workshop that is geared to solo agers and includes a session on building social networks.
- Call a friend at a set time every week to check in. This is a habit from the early days of the pandemic that one constituent reinstated during a particularly tough news cycle.
- Touch base with a friend during the “lonely times.” This suggestion comes from a member of our Men’s Club who lost his spouse a few years ago. He has a ritual with another male widower touching base during the big holidays like Christmas and New Year’s when it is hard to be alone.
- Make a Friendly. Pat Estess, a writer who serves as a facilitator for our Aging Alone, Together workshop, coined the term “friendlies,” people in your life who aren’t close friends but with whom you share an interest. Call that person up and plan on a mutually enjoyable expedition, be it walking outdoors or going to a museum or performance. This is a great way to feel connected, process what you are thinking, and just have a good time. Who knows? That “friendly” may one day become a good friend.
- Don’t have friends or friendlies you can turn to at this time? Look for activities at your local library, faith house, or community organization like DOROT that offers activities that bring people together.
So, 2024, bring it! Call a friend, put a date on the calendar, and take one small positive step to do something that brings joy no matter what the news cycle holds.