Maintaining good physical health is paramount as we age. But seniors need emotional well-being and self-compassion, as well, in order to age gracefully. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Emotional wellness is the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.”
If ever there was a time when the stresses of life have been as difficult to bear, it is now. The COVID pandemic continues to take its toll, having upended our lives for the past two years with no end in sight. It has made us anxious and fearful and for some of us it has been a struggle to cope with the upheaval that it has caused us. The result is a new focus on emotional wellness and self-compassion.
There are many definitions of emotional well-being but, perhaps, it was best described by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale who suggested that it can be achieved using what he called, The Power of Positive Thinking. In Peale’s classic book, he explained how to achieve positive thinking as a pathway to contentment. As he put it, “The way to happiness: keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised.”
Peale’s book was controversial but it was an exceptional best seller. The Washington Post reports that since its publication 70 years ago it has been translated into 33 languages and has sold more than 15 million copies. It became the prototype for a wave of self-help literature on a variety of subjects.
His sage advice is still being promoted by those who urge the need to maintain a positive outlook on life, particularly in times of distress. The process for achieving positive thinking in one’s own life, according to the experts, includes forgiving yourself and others in your life for perceived iniquities, helping others with difficulties they may be experiencing and getting sufficient sleep to allow your body to repair itself.
Forgiveness also plays a role in another powerful aspect of emotional well-being, self-compassion, according to the Harvard Medical School. “Forgiving and nurturing yourself can set the stage for better health, relationships, and general well-being. Self-compassion yields a number of benefits, including lower levels of anxiety and depression. Self-compassionate people recognize when they are suffering and are kind to themselves at these times, which reduces their anxiety and related depression.” This advice is contained in a new book by Harvard psychologist Christopher Germer, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion.
Some of the ways Dr. Germer suggests for achieving self-compassion include:
Comfort your body. Eat something healthy. Lie down and rest your body. Massage your own neck, feet, or hands. Take a walk. Anything you can do to improve how you feel physically gives you a dose of self-compassion.
Write a letter to yourself. Describe a situation that caused you to feel pain (a breakup with a lover, a job loss, a poorly received presentation). Write a letter to yourself describing the situation without blaming anyone. Acknowledge your feelings.
Give yourself encouragement. If something bad or painful happens to you, think of what you would say to a good friend if the same thing happened to him or her. Direct these compassionate responses toward yourself.
Practice mindfulness. This is the nonjudgmental observation of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions, without trying to suppress or deny them. When you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, accept the bad with the good with a compassionate attitude.
Rebecca Weber is the Chief Executive Officer for the Association of Mature American Citizens. The 2 million member AMAC is a senior advocacy organization that takes its marching orders from its members. They act and speak on their behalf, protecting their interests and offering a practical insight on how to best solve the problems they face today. Opinions expressed are those of the author.