We often think of early retirement as a magical time in life where we are free to do what we want, when we want. Many folks will tell me of all the fun they are having and the relief they feel. May every day feel like that for years to come!
I also encounter folks who are struggling to keep their chin up some days while making such a major transition into their new chapter, especially if work was a big source of their social life and sense of identity.
I thought I would share some great ways to make a good day better, and ideas that may be just the thing on 'one of those days'. These are simple lifestyle activities we can be deliberate about including to help our brains generate the chemicals that promote a positive sense of wellbeing and help us remain resilient. Just as we are attentive to exercising our bodies, this is a great way to exercise our brain chemicals.
These ideas come from the work of Alex Korb, a UCLA neuroscientist who specializes in resilience and depression. He wrote The Upward Spiral Notebook which was written as practical help for reversing the course of depression.
Korb’s work assures us that the brain is malleable and thoughts can be reshaped. By changing surroundings and activities, you can change your brain’s chemicals and, in turn, your thoughts. Here are five simple things you can do, according to Korb, that will positively affect your brain chemistry and activity:
1. Spend Time in the Sun
Sunshine coming through your skin helps you manufacture serotonin, which in turn helps pick up your mood. It also helps your brain’s internal clock and stimulates the release of melatonin, which will help you sleep better and at the right time. Improved sleep increases your tolerance to pain, lowers blood pressure, helps with memory, wards off weight gain, increases your immune function and increases your ability to concentrate. So allowing yourself a little sun has a big payoff! (And yes, we also need to be mindful of a balance with protecting our skin.)
2. Shake That Body
Movement helps with the release of serotonin, which is the mood lifting neurochemical. While many think of exercise as going to the gym and pounding it out, even going for a short walk out your front door has a positive impact on serotonin. (And walking on a sunny day could compound your results.)
3. Stretch It Out
Tight muscles are interpreted as stress by the brain. If you can give yourself a whole body stretch, you can open those muscles and tell the brain the stress is past. Stretching will help release neurochemicals that increase pain tolerance. I love the benefits of yoga as I am a changed person after I do it. But even if you don't have time for that, incorporating stretching and moving the big muscles of the body into normal daily activities will make a difference. Think about doing a couple of deep knee bends while brushing your teeth, or twists while waiting in line at the grocery store.
4. Touch is Very Powerful
Getting a massage will also release serotonin (is there a repeating theme here?) and also release oxytocin, which reduces your sense of stress and anxiety. There are a host of benefits from massage including improved sleep, releasing toxins, pain relief, improved circulation, greater flexibility, help with digestion and headaches, and improved immune function. Even if you can’t get a massage, hugging someone or even holding someone’s hand will get you started on the chemical release. And vice versa, if you don’t have someone to hug, a massage will help with the chemical release.
5. The Power of Your Breath
Deep breathing reduces stress and anxiety. It helps with neurochemical release (again!). It also helps moderate activity in the vagus nerve, which regulates the heart, the lungs, and digestion (where we produce a lot of our neurochemicals). Deep breathing is something you can do anywhere. Simply inhale deeply, hold for a moment, and exhale slowly. If you can make the exhale a little longer than the inhale, that's even better. Breathing is powerful enough that it's worthy of its own article, but we'll leave it here for today.
These five things are so easy to do, you may not even realize all the good things you are already doing for yourself every day. If you are having a down day, simply focusing in on doing these five things may bring you some new perspective. Every day in retirement is an opportunity, so be at your best to take it all in! I hope you are generating lots of positive chemicals today.
Ruth Tongen helps people plan and live meaningful, fun and healthier retirements.