Do emotional experiences get better with age?

M_Id_259923_Old_people In Gloria Luong’s article in the Psychologist this month she attempts to answer this question. So forget Victor Meldrew (“I don’t believe it” fame) and comedians posing as grumpy old women; rather research shows  that across adulthood negative emotions (like hate) tend to wane and positive emotions (like joy) become more prominent. In much later life (80s and 90s) this pattern reverses slightly, usually due to chronic health conditions, but not to the low levels found in people in their 20s and 30s.

Maybe because there are fewer stressors in later adulthood – such as less hours to work? And people get better at managing their stressors perhaps. Also because their emotional goals change? In other words they are more realistic with their goals… And Gloria thinks that older adults are more likely to be forgiven for making social transgressions, but I am not sure I agree with her on that one! However it is probably true that older adults are more likely to have a smaller social network that is more tightly knit and therefore people around them that are warmer and more understanding; i.e. the quality and not the quantity of friendships makes social relationships, and therefore emotional experiences, more rewarding. The thing is I am not sure  whether I am getting better at regulating my emotions because I am getting older or because I am a psychologist!?!

Family and friends…

On our doormat by the front door (one which my husband bought) it says “Friends welcome. Relatives by appointment.” Also I had a conversation with a couple of friends back in the Summer and they were of the opinion that family members are no more deserving of our time and care than our friends, and that family members who we value are those that are also friends. Whereas I would agree with the latter, I am not sure about the former? I certainly think that we are not obliged to like everybody in our family. It is too much of a heavy load to put on ourselves to expect to get on with everyone in our families. I know that there are a couple of people in my husband’s family and likewise in mine that alot of people don’t like. I think that is probably the case for most people. Mindfulness teaches us not to judge people, but we can’t help being upset by people when there is a clash of personality; we are human – not robots. So when we find ourselves in a toxic relationship, it is sometimes better for our mental health to distance ourselves from those people, even if they are family members. That is not the same as colluding in a pact to make them an outcast – that would be cruel. Jesus said we should love our enemies, but he didn’t say we had to like them!
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Making the most of University…

The Psychologist this month has included a guide to university life and I have picked the best top seven tips, which I will summarise here. After all our first time at Uni is often a very memorable time – that we may look back at fondly ( I certainly do); but some people drop out and that is a shame. It is surely part of a parent’s responsibility to prepare their offspring for adult life, including doing their own washing and cooking etc.

  1. In the early days make sure you make an effort to make friends and a good way of doing this is to join student clubs.
  2. When reading around subjects – which is of course important, make notes at the same time, so that what you read is more easily understood and remembered.
  3. Try and keep on track with your money by following a budget and be careful how much you spend on drink! Research shows that students tend to drink more because they think their friends are and vice versa…
  4. Always attend face-to-face lectures as much as possible. Participating by asking questions etc makes learning deeper and more enjoyable.
  5. Don’t suffer in silence; most academics will run drop in hours and if you have mental health problems there will be a counsellor or someone in charge of well-being who will be able to help you.
  6. Put FOMO to bed; i.e switch off your phone before going to sleep! Blue light from a phone makes sleep more difficult and a lack of sleep leads to all sorts of problems.
  7. Don’t procrastinate – if a piece of work seems difficult and insurmountable, break it down into smaller chunks. Then start on task one without worrying about what the next task is and gradually it will seem easier.
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After a suicide…

After a family member or a much loved friend has died by suicide, those left behind may feel shame or guilt, low self-esteem, fear, anger, a sense of abandonment and distorted thinking. Some of these feelings will be part of the normal process of working through grief, but may well be intensified in these situations. These feelings need to be worked through and sometimes it can help to talk to a close friend who is good at listening or a suitable talking therapist. Anger has to be allowed time to  fade and other feelings like guilt, rejection and blame can be reality-tested.  Fortunately the Church of England (since 2015) now allows Christian funeral services for people who die by suicide and eventually the Roman Catholic church may change their minds on this too. This is important as the funeral service is a helpful part of grief work: It helps people accept the reality of the loss and it can be an important opportunity for people to talk and express their feelings and memories of the deceased – although sometimes over-idealising people in this way is not  always helpful and as well as talking about the things they are going to miss, it could be helpful to talk about the things they are not gong to miss?  Also it may act as a social support network.
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Perfectionism…

Perfectionism is closely linked to anxiety. I know this because I had a colleague who was dong her PhD on perfectionists and also because in the early years of secondary school I used to be one. Now instead I am known as “cutting corners Bailey”! Not because I am not dedicated to helping my clients improve their lives, but because I don’t believe in adding more anxieties into my life on top of the ones that arrive all by themselves. Perfect is not a suitable adjective for one’s life or ones’ relationships, because life is never perfect and people aren’t, therefore you are going to always end up being disappointed if that is what you are striving for. Also perfectionism often leads to procrastination. Wanting everything to be perfect is a sign that we want to be in control all the time (also impossible) and therefore a sign of insecurity. Being good enough is often the best we can strive for.
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Pelvic floor…

So I am a health psychologist and therefore I always have my ears pricked for discussions about health, which included a discussion after my Pilates class today about pelvic floor exercises. Apparently there is a physiotherapist who is also a comedian! (And she specialises in this type of exercise). Most women come across advice about how to do the exercises after they have just had their first baby; and I also know alot of women who don’t bother doing them and then wonder why after the second or third child they pee their knickers every time they sneeze! The point is we should be telling adolescent girls about this long before they get pregnant and the motivator then is that it will improve their sex lives. After all telling a 16 year old that she needs to do them, otherwise she will have to have a horrible operation when she is an old lady to stop her being incontinent is not going to be relevant to her. And this is the same for all health behaviours – find what motivates the individual first. Apparently we are supposed to do them three times a day, but the great thing is nobody need know you are doing it – even if standing at the bus stop! How do you remember to do them then? Make an if-then plan; e.g. if stopped at a red traffic light, then I will do my pelvic floor exercises. And apparently it is good for men to do too…

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Healthy Living…

The Psychologist has issued a leaflet on healthy living for positive mental and physical health; so here are ten top tips:

  1. Small changes in our diet can add up, but don’t over do it, otherwise it becomes impossible to maintain those changes, so look for several methods that are lasting, sustainable and even enjoyable!
  2. Beware emotional eating and make “if-then” plans to have healthy snack alternatives available for when you are stressed (O’Conner)
  3. Eating well is not only about what, but also about when, where and how you eat. Meals should be eaten at regular times and in specific places, preferably at a table and not on the go or in front of a computer. If it is called a meal it is more likely to be eaten mindfully (Ogden).
  4. Get it off your chest – talking therapies  such as CBT help with emotional and mental health problems, but also writing it down helps too. Writing about your emotions for about 15 minutes a day can improve well-being (Pennebaker).
  5. If a smoker, pick a day to stop completely and then stick to it; and if you fail try again – successful quitters have usually had several attempts.
  6. Physical activity doesn’t have to  involve an expensive gym, if that is not your thing – just moving more and sitting less is a good place to start.
  7. Problems sleeping? Don’t snooze! (Ellis). Lying in too long, going to bed too early and napping can disrupt our sleep patterns. However for most of us a short period of bad sleep is natural and should correct itself.
  8. Stress management theory says that the relationship between stress and performance is bell-curved. Too little can cause boredom and too much can make us ill – so find your sweet spot at the top of the curve, but keep levels in check (Thomas).
  9. When drinking alcohol don’t try to keep up with your peers! 14 units a week on average is the recommended amount for both men and women now – spread over 4-5 days with at least 2 dry days a week.
  10. Careful, specific planning for things that you really want to do with monitoring and realistic goals can help in any behaviour change (Abraham).

healthy me!