Your mind

Living alone does not mean you have to be lonely


You’re not alone if you’re living alone. There are many people in the world today that live alone – some have never married, others are widowed or divorced. In  the United States alone there are approximately 95 million single adults. Although living life as a single person is more accepted than it was in the past, many people still see it as a way of life that’s lonely and even shameful in a way.

The media does not help as it continues to portray romantic love as the answer and without this, life is not worth living. So, are all those people living alone really doomed to a miserable existence? I can’t accept that. Perhaps living alone is not something we aspire to or the ideal lifestyle but it is indeed possible to live alone and create a full, rich and satisfying life. After all, plenty of couples are living a far from blissful existence and just because you have a partner does not guarantee you happiness.

The vicious cycle

If you are alone and you believe, either consciously or unconsciously, that “there must be something wrong with me because I am alone”, it will have a negative effect on how you see yourself and how you live your life. You may walk around feeling inferior and indulge in plenty of self-pity. Other people inevitably pick up on this and it starts a vicious cycle in your life. Your low self-esteem makes you tend to withdraw and cut yourself off. You’re so afraid of being judged that you avoid the very people and activities that could enhance your life.

If you feel bad about yourself, you’re less likely to take care of yourself too. You may eat unhealthily, do no exercise and sleep badly. You try to numb your feelings through distractions like working too much, compulsive shopping, overeating, drinking too much or other unhealthy habits. Everyone has different ways of coping if they live alone and some of these ways just make the situation worse.

Challenge your thought and behaviour patterns

The bottom line is that if you believe you can only be happy if you have a partner, you will always be waiting from someone to come and rescue you from your miserable existence. You will never live your life fully. It can be a challenge to break your habits of thought and behaviour that hold you back from living a full life on your own.

Look at aloneness differently

The first change you must make is to view your aloneness differently. Instead of associating being alone with pain, emptiness and loneliness, you have to start imagining it as an opportunity for growth. It is not easy if your thought patterns are deeply ingrained. If you have always thought about being alone as being lonely, it’s hard to separate the two.  The minute you are alone, you feel lonely and depressed instead of inspired and motivated. Your depression leads to apathy and you don’t feel like doing anything. Your attitude affects your behaviour and the cycle continues.

When my divorce came at the same time as my children flew the nest, I could no longer rely on anyone else for my happiness or my financial welfare. This was a very difficult challenge, and I haven’t completely conquered it yet. But I know without any shadow of doubt that my thinking influences all the other aspects of my life and so I have worked consistently and persistently to change the way I think. I began by focusing on opportunities, rather than the fact that I was approaching retirement age rapidly with no financial security. I started looking at making a living through working online and rejoiced at the opportunities this offered. I invested in a copywriting course and learned as much as I could about blogging, websites and affiliate marketing. This meant that I had something to get up for in the morning instead of wanting to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.

A healthier relationship with yourself

With no romantic relationship or partner to distract you, you have the unique opportunity to focus on your own personal development. You learn more about who you are, the choices you’ve made and why, what you want out of life and what’s holding you back.  When you realize that no-one else is going to change your life for you, you reach a point where you can decide to do something about making a joyful life for yourself. You can focus on what interests you – your passions and goals. You can form relationships with people who are supportive and uplifting. You can find daily activities that motivate and inspire you.

Healthier relationships with others

When you improve your relationship with yourself, it changes the way you relate to others. You are no longer looking for someone else to make you whole. Your self-esteem is intact and that allows you to form relationships out of conscious choice rather than fear or neediness. When you are emotionally needy, you fight for closeness all the time and this put an unnatural pressure on your relationships. Such relationships are full of jealousy, resentment and insecurity.

You may have carried some of your responses with you from childhood into adulthood. It’s important to become aware if these are destructive so that you can work on them.  As you begin consciously aligning how you think, behave and relate to others with the results you want in your life, you will develop healthier relationships. You will become more skilled at communication, learn how to identify and set boundaries, and manage differences without resorting to verbal attacks. You won’t be relating to others out of some desperate need but simply see them as enhancing and enriching your already fulfilling life.

Last word

You are able to create the physical and emotional well-being, financial security, experiences, relationships and circumstances you want to have in your life. When you build a good, solid inner and outer foundation for your life, no-one can take that from you. You have created it and it will sustain you, whether you’re in a relationship or on your own.


The denial stage of divorce


Most of us are familiar with the five stages of grief introduced by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. As a psychiatrist who studied terminally ill patients, she was in a unique position to observe and document these stages.  She never meant for these stages to follow one another in a neat order. Grief is messy and does not fit into little boxes. It is also different for each individual but no-one can argue with the fact that many people go into denial when faced with grief.

Divorce literature suggests that in a large percentage of divorces, one spouse wants out of the marriage while the other does not.   “This can’t be happening to me” is what many of us feel when faced with the shock of an unwanted divorce. C.S. Lewis said “Denial is the shock absorber of the soul: it protects us until we are equipped to face with reality”. Kubler-Ross saw denial as nature’s way of letting in only so much as we could handle at the time.

She saw denial as allowing us to pace our feelings of grief. It’s a bit like getting into icy cold water. We tiptoe in and gradually become accustomed to the cold a little bit at a time.  People in denial may keep to their normal daily routines as it gives them a feeling of comfort and security. For a while they are able to protect themselves from the inevitable changes that are coming.  It helps them to function at a time when their feelings may otherwise be completely overwhelming.

Denial often means we do not have to deal with guilt either. It may be hard to accept that we had anything to do with what has happened to us. So, denial can be a useful coping mechanism – pretend that your little world is still intact while it is falling down around you.

Denial began for me long before my marriage ended. I couldn’t believe that I was unhappy in my marriage.  I held on to hope that it would get better. I hid from the facts to escape the pain that acknowledging them would bring. My parents celebrated their fiftieth anniversary before my dad passed away and I had grown up with the idea that divorce was taboo.  When I was finally confronted with the fact that my ex wanted a divorce, I had already been in denial for so long that it was almost a relief to face reality.

I know someone who has remained stuck in the denial stage. After her divorce she told no-one she was divorced for months. She held on to the idea that her husband would come back to her. She is still stuck in denial years later, believing that he will come back to her one day although he moved on long ago.

Denial may be a way of helping you cope but the problem comes when you stay in denial. Sometimes opening your eyes may be the most painful thing you ever have to do. Facing up to reality and the fact that your life will never be the same is never easy but you have to do it if you want to heal and move forward.



Why does time speed up as you get older?

time passing

When we pass fifty, we seem to think about the passing of time more than ever before and it feels as though it is speeding by. As children, we may learn the concept of time but it stretches out ahead of us and we are not so aware of the tick, tick, tick as it passes by. As we grow older, it seems to taunt us with its speed. The fact that we may have decades left to live does not seem to alter this perception – if anything, it just gives it greater value.

The way we feel time speeds up as we get older seems to be a universal phenomenon. In the fifth and sixth decades of our lives, the shrinking length of each year can be quite disconcerting. Christmas has hardly been celebrated when we find ourselves half way through the next year. Here are a few theories about why this happens:

The pace of life is faster

Perhaps the reason it all seems to go faster is because the pace of life is always accelerating. Many scientific advances have been made over the last century and technology is changing so fast that we are communicating in ways that we couldn’t have dreamed possible a century ago. This means there is an increasing disconnect between older people and the current world they live in. Many of them talk about that disconnect – the world they grew up in is far removed from the one they have to navigate now.

We pay time more attention

When we reach middle age, we often feel that we are at a crossroads in our life. We are heading into the second half of our lives. Is it the realization that we are heading towards death the fact that makes time more valuable to us? And is it our response to this realization that makes us watch each precious year slip by with greater attention? We want to hold on to it for as long as possible but it seems to slip through our hands like sand through an hourglass.

Our memory plays tricks on us

Could it be that we have a better recall of things that have just happened, and a clearer sense of the order in which they happened and how they relate to more recent events?  When we think about the past year, the events slot neatly into line but as we think further back, we find it harder to place exactly when they occurred. We may use the births of our children to calculate when other minor events took place. Does the brain interpret the fact that the past is more disordered as a sign that it stretched over a longer period?  We may be manipulating our memories and they may be manipulating us.

We have fewer memorable events

Psychologist William James proposed that as we age, time seems to speed by because we have fewer and fewer memorable events. There’s no more first kiss, first day at school, first day at a new job. When we are young, so many of our experiences are novel.  All these new experiences seem to stretch time. When we are older, the fact that our lives are more routine may make our brain believe that less has happened and time is condensed.

What appears to contradict this is that we all know how slowly time passes when we are bored and how time flies when we’re having fun.  But our sense of how time passes while we are doing something does not always agree with how much time, in retrospect, we felt we spent doing it.

Our body clocks slow down

The body’s metabolic rate decreases in middle age, so a slowing of the brain’s activity may make the outside world seem to pass more rapidly in comparison. There is good evidence that our brain contains clocks. Our activity and sleep patterns follow a daily cycle. This is why people can train themselves to wake up just a few seconds before their alarm rings in the morning.   But there does not appear to be a single area in the brain dedicated to perception of time and the way we assess the passing of small increments of time. What does seem to be the case is that our estimation of the passing of minutes and hours becomes less accurate as we grow older.

A proportional theory

We perceive a period of time as the proportion of time we have already lived through. In other words, a year seems much longer at the beginning of our lives than it does at the end. This theory was first proposed by Paul Janet, a French philosopher. To a two-year old, a year is half of their life and that is why the wait from one birthday to another seems like a lifetime.   As we grow older, one year is a smaller and smaller fraction of our total lives so it’s no wonder it seems to go by so quickly.  This theory would explain why our small kids keep asking “Are we there yet?” when on a long car journey. That journey feels way longer to them than it does to us.

Last Word

These are all just theories and there’s likely to be a little truth in all of them. But perception of time is a complex issue and we can’t really explain why the years seem to pass more quickly as we age. If it’s the spur that drives us to live life fully while we can because its going by so quickly, then it’s a good thing.  I think time appears to speed up to give our choices an urgency – to make us consciously stand back and consider our future. But not to stand back and consider for too long, of course, because we have plenty of productive years ahead.






What a late-life divorce can do to your brain

brain health

For most individuals, divorce is a very stressful process – even for a partner who wants the divorce.  Going through a divorce can easily make you feel as though you are losing your mind.  When you are over 50, familiar routines you have built up over years no longer exist and you may feel all at sea, faced with a multitude of uncertainties as you are forced out of your comfort zones.   Just a few of these uncertainties may be:

  • Where you will live
  • Whether you will cope alone
  • How you’re going to make ends meet
  • How  your adult children will respond

“Fight or Flight” Mode

There’s a part of your brain that’s responsible for keeping you alive and it kicks into gear when you feel as though you’re under threat. It  prepares you to run for your life by generating more cortisol and adrenaline. It shuts down access to your pre-frontal cortex, the part of your brain that helps with making decisions, understanding the consequences of your actions and planning.

In the period after your divorce, you may find yourself using language you wouldn’t normally use, acting in ways you are ashamed of afterwards and lashing out at those around you. I did all three when I felt compelled to hang a gallery wall of pictures without the right supplies one day soon after my divorce. As pictures rained down around me, pulling plaster off the walls, I swore, shouted and cried hysterically. It’s also why you are often advised to hold off on making major decisions during this period as far as possible. The more primitive part of your brain is ‘running wild’. A whole torrent of emotions can be triggered by anything and everything from sitting next to your divorced spouse at your daughter’s graduation to driving past the hotel where you had your honeymoon.  You have years and years of memories that may also resurface through flashbacks and dreams. It’s only when your ‘sensible’ pre-frontal cortex controls that the ‘wild’ more primitive part of your brain that you think and act more rationally.

Some people become stuck in ‘fight-or-flight’ state. They continue to experience intense emotions and try to avoid them rather than processing them. They may bury themselves in work, go out every night or take drugs or alcohol to help numb these overwhelming emotions.

Brain fog

When you’re going through a divorce, stress impairs your mental performance — don’t be surprised if you experience confusion and forgetfulness. Nobody knows much about what causes ‘brain fog’ but many people seem to experience it in the months following a divorce. It’s probably due to all the emotional energy you expend. I think ‘brain fog’ is also a defense mechanism that deadens the extreme pain.  It’s like a soft, pillow of cloud surrounding your brain, causing you to function largely on autopilot.

I was constantly locking myself out of the house, leaving keys lying on counters in shops and finding I had driven to the wrong destination.   A friend of mine said she had to leave notes to herself all over the house. Another friend said she used to stare at her daughter blankly, trying to remember her name. As I was faced with gathering financial information, attending divorce court and making decisions that would impact the remaining years of my life, I  feared for my sanity at times. I couldn’t seem to make the simplest of decisions such as what to eat or what to wear, let alone decisions that would affect my future.

My ex made me file for divorce, even though he was the one who wanted it. I had no money to spare to consult an attorney and I managed to do it very cheaply by filing at the local divorce court. In retrospect, I think this was a bad decision – it may have been inexpensive but I was thrust  into a demeaning and distressful process without any help  – sitting in dank, dirty corridors for many hours on different days and eventually standing up in front of the court, explaining how I had been betrayed in front of a crowd of strangers. An attorney would also have helped me to make decisions at this time when my brain was enveloped in its foggy cloud.

Brain ageing and dementia

Some studies have suggested that there is a link between chronic stress in middle aged women and late-life dementia. Recent studies reveal that a major stressful life event, such as a divorce, can age the human brain by as much as four years.

Experiencing anxiety, fear and stress is normal when it’s occasional and temporary. But researchers report that mental health problems occur when those emotions become more frequent and start interfering with daily life. They can then lead to a gradual decline of the brain’s hippocampus which is responsible for long-term memory and spatial navigation.

How do you shift from ‘Fight or Flight’ mode?

If you want to cope effectively, making a shift from ‘Fight or Flight’ mode is essential. When you experience fear, stress and anxiety on a temporary basis, this is completely normal. However, when those emotions start becoming a constant part of your daily life and interfere with how you function, it needs to be addressed.  Here are some well-known ways to put your pre-frontal cortex back in control:

  • Take a beat and breathe slowly. The emotional mid-brain responds as quick as a flash. You need to slow down for your mind and body to realize that your situation may be stressful but you are not in mortal danger. Slow breathing helps to send this signal to your brain. I learned this tip when I used to experience panic attacks – slow breathing plus medication helped me to conquer them.
  • Become aware. When you observe yourself and your situation, you engage your pre-frontal cortex. This helps to prevent you from acting irrationally before you’ve had a chance to think properly about a situation.
  • You need to change how you think about stress. We all have stress in our lives. It’s how we manage it that matters. Instead of seeing it as harmful, try to see it as a challenge. There are ways to manage it effectively.
  • Find the right support. When the body releases adrenaline,  it is interesting that it also releases oxytocin. This hormone drives us to seek out physical contact and support from others. Receiving support from others helps you to calm down, and allows you to access the part of your brain that thinks rationally again.
  • Be compassionate towards yourself. Empathy and compassion are functions of the pre-frontal cortex. When you exercise this part of your brain, you will not only feel better about yourself but it will help you to exercise more self-control and improve your relationships.
  • Welcome the challenge of new experiences. New experiences, even if you don’t want them, help your brain to grow. Your divorce forces you out of  your comfort zones and your old patterns. Why not take the opportunity, even if it has been thrust upon you, to learn new skills and take on new challenges? They help to develop your pre-frontal cortex and instead of feeling overwhelmed, you will find you are able to make better decisions and become more motivated.
  • Meditation and prayer. Both of these spiritual practices have been around for centuries but we’re only beginning to understand more about the effect they have on the mind.  Neuroscientists are studying their effect through using brain scans. Results of studies have showed changes to the brain, but many of them are inconclusive because there are so many variables at play. At the very least, these practices may help to keep you more grounded,  relaxed, and able to think more clearly.

Last word

It helps to understand why your brain reacts in certain ways.  You know what you can do to become more resilient and how to stimulate essential brain functions. Going through a late-life divorce has the potential to break you and permanently affect your mental health. On the other hand, you can play the cards you have been dealt, rise to the challenge and come out of it wiser, stronger, more compassionate and more motivated.

Does doing crosswords stave off Alzheimer’s disease?

Arthur Wynne created the first crossword puzzle in 1913. It was published in the Sunday edition of the New York World and called a “Word-Cross” puzzle. It was only due to a typesetting error that it was later changed to “Cross-Word”.  Wynne would no doubt be amazed that crosswords became so popular that they have contributed to the sale of newspapers, magazines, etc for decades. Today we can solve crosswords online and computers are often used to generate them. Besides those who do crosswords for pure entertainment, many people believe that doing them helps to keep their brains young.New York Times crosswords

Why are they addictive?

I never believed in the addictive aspect of crossword puzzles until I began doing them myself. I’ve heard it described as a series of Aha moments, followed by an ultimate Aha when you insert that final word.  I love the way doing a puzzle absorbs me to the extent that I am completely removed from the stresses of my day. While I find them relaxing, I wouldn’t describe myself as addicted although I have expended quite a bit of time and mental effort on them over the years. I know others who carry their puzzle books with them wherever they go and always have to have a puzzle to complete.

I think that much of the fascination with solving crossword puzzles comes from detecting patterns and making meaning from them. As Tyler Hinman, five times champion of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament says  “It’s said that the people who are the best at these are musicians or people who are in math and science. What those fields have in common is they’re both about looking at encoded information and being able to translate it instantly into something meaningful.”

If crossword puzzles are as good for your brain as some people believe, constantly doing them should help you to avoid some of the brain afflictions that come with age. But do they do this?

The effect of crosswords on the brain

There are different opinions as to the effect of crossword puzzles on the brain. The results of research over the years have been mixed.

Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD and cognitive neuroscientist says: “But with all the buzz about brain games—such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and even brain training websites—it begs the question: Can brain games be beneficial to brain health? ….. While the games are fun and engaging, there is insufficient scientific evidence to suggest brain training as it exists now can significantly improve an individual’s higher-order cognitive ability.”

In other words,  although you may become very good at doing crossword puzzles if you do them all the time, this does not mean that other critical brain functions such as decision-making are improved.

Professor Dean Olsher, author of From Square One: A Meditation, with Digressions, on Crosswords  thinks that part of the appeal of crossword puzzles is the familiarity they breed. The same kind of activity is repeated over and over again. This is why he does not believe they can stave of Alzheimer’s. He says ” But the Alzheimer’s research shows that really what matters is novelty  … constantly exposing yourself to something new. That is much more likely, I think, to keep you sharp in the long run.”

Promising research results

Some research through the years has addressed the impact of mental exercise, such as doing crosswords, on the prevention of cognitive decline. Many of these studies involved a relatively small number of participants and although there were some positive results, they were largely inconclusive.

  • The findings of a 2011 study were that late life crossword puzzle participation was associated with delayed onset of memory decline in persons who developed dementia. Of the 101 people who were were diagnosed with dementia during the course of the study, the ones who did crossword puzzles delayed onset of accelerated memory decline by 2.54 years.
  • In  2013 researchers reviewed 32 randomized controlled trials, in which patients were randomly assigned to either an intervention such as drugs to control cognitive decline, herbal remedies, physical activity or mental exercises including crossword puzzles; or left to continue living their lives without any changes. They found the results inconclusive but that there was evidence that mental exercises were more effective than some of the prescribed drugs.
  • In 2017 the results of one of the largest studies were published. A team at University of Exeter Medical School and Kings College London analyzed data from more than 17,000 healthy people aged 50 and over. They asked participants how often they played word puzzles such as crosswords. Core aspects of brain function were assessed and they found that the more regularly participants engaged with word puzzles, the better they performed on tasks assessing attention, reasoning and memory. They found that people who engage in word puzzles have brain function equivalent to 10 years younger than their age, on tests of grammatical reasoning speed and short-term memory accuracy. Those who did puzzles were quicker and more accurate in nine cognitive tasks that assessed a range of aspects of function including attention, reasoning and memory. Professor Keith Wesnes, from the University of Exeter, said “We now need to follow up this very exciting association in a clinical trial, to establish whether engaging in puzzles results in improvement in brain function.”

    Make your daily puzzle more challenging

    Think about trying to make your daily puzzle more challenging. You can give yourself a time limit and see how quickly you can do it. You can try a puzzle that’s more difficult. If you find you’re speeding through your puzzle without any difficulty, you’re probably not doing much for your brain.  You’re not engaging your whole brain if you don’t have enough variety and challenge. If you find it more and more difficult to do your crossword, this is a sign that it’s time to have your memory tested.  Perhaps you could also trying to do different types of puzzles. I am not a numbers person so I don’t enjoy Sudoko – but I should probably give one a try as it would challenge me more than just doing crosswords. New challenges testing a variety of skills are best for your brain.

    Two of the bestseller puzzle books on Amazon are:

    Monday to Friday puzzlesMega crossword

    Last Word

    By 2030 the US population over 65 will double to more than 70 million. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if non-pharmalogical interventions such as doing crossword puzzles could delay the onset of dementia? 

    Recent research into Alzheimer’s Disease has given hope due to the discovery of genes specifically related to Alzheimer’s. Future genetic research can be more directed and already various new drugs are poised to hit the market within the next five years. This is good news, considering that many of the current drugs are not that effective. 

    However, the fact that crosswords are widely available, easily accessible and cost is minimal means that even if there is the remotest possibility that they can help reduce cognitive decline, it’s worth more research. I, for one, will continue to happily enjoy my crosswords, and hope that my brain will thank me too. 

How to stick to your resolutions

keep resolutions

It’s a tradition to make New Year’s resolutions at the start of a new year, resolving to change our lives in some way.  We review the past year, beat ourselves up a little about what we failed to achieve and decide we are going to do much better in the year ahead.  We are going to eat more healthily, go to gym and get out of debt. By February, the rot has already set in. We’ve all been there and very few people appear to be able to stick to their resolutions. It’s fun to make them and even though we fail at them, we continue to make them. We have this innate optimism about the possibility of change. Knowing more about the inner workings of the brain can help us to understand why resolutions are so hard to keep and what we can do to change this.

Why does this happen?

The resolutions themselves are often vague – lose weight, make more money, get fit. Instead of focusing on one goal, we use the start of a new year to try and reinvent ourselves. Biology makes that very difficult as we are creatures of habit and it’s hard to change habits.

Another contributing factor is that the brain has spent centuries rewarding us with dopamine when we give in to our urges. Desires like eating and sex are encouraged by the most primitive parts of our brains because they prolong life. We get a rush from giving in to pleasurable urges, despite the fact that the more evolved parts of our brain tells us we will regret it.  So,  parts of our brain are set up to reward us for things that bring instant gratification but are bad for us in the long run. We sacrifice our long term goals for immediate gratification and this is why it is so difficult to diet, save or get fit.

Can your brain change?

Yes, it can, and it does.The human brain has about 100 billion neurons. “All that we know, all that we are, comes from the way our neurons are connected,” says Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web. A single neuron may possess 10,000 or so dendrites through which it can interact with other neurons.

We remember things that are important to us and forget things that are no longer important to us. Of course, we all forget the occasional important thing like where we put the car keys but on the whole, we remember and learn things that are significant to us – that is, connected to things we already know. If we hear a new word in English and we already speak English, we are more likely to remember it than if we do not speak English. Babies learn to speak by repeating the same words over and over. We learn a musical instrument by playing the same sequence of chords hour after hour. Repetition seems to be important in remembering and learning things. Two crucial processes in the brain, therefore, appear to be making connections with things we already know and repetition.  To remember something or learn a new skill,  the dendritic connections between neurons is strengthened.  By strengthening the connections between large numbers of neurons, new knowledge is permanently connected to something we already know and a memory is laid down.  It’s amazing to think that whenever we read a book or have a conversation, it can cause physical changes in our brains.


The brain can constantly rebuild and rewire itself. By the strengthening of the connections between the neurons, the network that encodes what we know changes all the time. It makes new connections and loses some as well.  Think of the neural network like a thick hedge which is growing in places and being pruned back in others. The pruning occurs when connections are lost between neurons. Just as not exercising causes muscles to atrophy, not exercising the brain causes it to weaken or lose many of its existing connections.

Learning a new skill is a similar process to laying down a memory. Riding a bike, for example, requires using certain muscles. Strengthening of the dendrites that connect to neurons that control these muscles makes it easier to control them. Just as a memory is encoded in a network of neurons, a skill like riding a bike is too and it becomes hard-wired and automatic. This strengthening and weakening of connections between neurons or the creation of new connections to modify the network is known as neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is central to understanding how the brain works. It explains how new experiences constantly rewire the brain. It explains how a stroke victim may recover lost facilities when the task of the neurons that have been affected are taken over by others. Rehabilitation is hard because reprogramming a stroke victim is similar to teaching a child a new skill for the first time. Is there an age at which your brain can no longer change? No, it is able to make new connections as long as you live.

Keep your resolutions

In his book The Brain that Changes itself, Norman Doidge explains that neuroplasticity is competitive – whatever you pay attention to takes up real estate in your brain. “When we learn a bad habit, it takes over a brain map, and each time we repeat it, it claims more control of that map and prevents the use of that space for ‘good habits,” he writes.

1. Choose measurable goals

If your goal is to be healthier, this is very vague. When you can’t quantify it in some way, there is no way to make yourself accountable. Choose something you can measure more easily, such as deciding you will eat one leafy, green vegetable every day. Make a vision board and keep checking back to see how far you have progressed. A vision board  helps to turn a vague goal into something more concrete. Get other people in on it too so they can help you to stay accountable. It also helps to meet or read about those who have successfully achieved a similar goal and find out how they did it.  Small, measurable improvements are far easier to achieve and maintain.

2. Set small goals

Make several small goals to achieve a larger goal. You have to look at it in the same way as you would think about training for a marathon. You would not be able to jump out of bed and run the marathon without training. You would have to start slowly and run a little further each day.

To successfully lose weight, for example, you have to do more than just make a decision to eat less. You would have to shop differently, change the way you cook and start exercising.

Perhaps you have a resolution to save more. If you have never been able to save, your first goal might be to save a small amount of money every month. Even if this is as little as $10 a month, and you did it consistently, you would begin to make saving a habit.

3. Use repetition

Your old behaviour comes with deeply rooted neuro-pathways. To achieve your new goals, you have to create new pathways. Repetition, as discussed above,  will create those new pathways. This may involve starting out every morning by reading your goals on your vision board out loud to anchor them in your brain. Place your vision board in a space where you see it often throughout the day. It helps you to constantly recapture the feeling when you first made those resolutions.

4. Make willpower less important

If money is automatically transferred from your current account to a savings account at the end of the month when you are paid, your goal of saving won’t have to depend on willpower alone. If you don’t buy sweets and keep them in the house, it’s easier to avoid eating them. If you don’t take your credit card when you go clothes shopping, you will be less likely to make impulse buys.

5. Make plans for moments of weakness

You may be very determined but there will always be moments of weakness. Think ahead to specific scenarios and how you normally respond to them. Come up with ways to cope in those moments so you won’t be derailed.  For example, buy healthy snacks to replace the junk food you usually snack on when you watch TV.

6. Visualise your future self

It’s easy to put off what is not essential to you in the present –  future wellbeing is sacrificed for present enjoyment.  When you visualize your future self, you can take all the small steps to bring that vision into being. For example, set an end date – such as your 60th birthday – and decide that at that date you will be in the best physical condition of your life.

7. Remind yourself why

Research has showed that if  you consistently remind yourself why you want to do something, it will keep you motivated. You may want to stay fit and healthy because you want to be able to enjoy your grandchildren.

8. Don’t forget to reward yourself!

Reward yourself for those goals you have achieved successfully. Acknowledge in some way what you have achieved as you achieve it.  You’ll feel good when you accomplish each small goal, and your success will help to keep you going.

Last words

Don’t let failure deter you from fulfilling your resolutions. Remember that the brain is capable of change and that there are ways to harness its potential. The more you realize this, the more likely you are to be able to stick with your goals and achieve them.

Ageing disgracefully

Do you still wear what you think you should wear, act how you think you should act or live how you think you should live just because you have reached a certain age? If so, you are missing out.  Perhaps you need a little dose of aging disgracefully.

I have always wanted to age gracefully, accepting the gray hair and the extra lines that come with it. I don’t want to go through every phase of the ageing process kicking and screaming. However, this does not mean that I want to quietly surrender to it either. I still want to stick out my tongue at it and defy its limitations.

I have always loved the poem by Jenny Joseph ‘When I am old’ that talks about wearing purple with a red hat that doesn’t go.  The poem captures that sense of liberation that comes with no longer caring about what other people think of you. Wearing purple with a red hat is not that daring today.  These days older women go skydiving and swim with sharks.

getting ready to segwayI haven’t died my hair purple or learned to spit but I do seem to have developed a thirst for adventure. I recently took up mountain biking and when I race along with the wind in my hair, I feel the exact same delight I remember feeling many, many moons ago when I was young and carefree.  When I went segwaying along a wilderness path recently, I gloried in the ability of my body to balance as I maneuvered over bumps and navigated through ditches. I followed my younger sister into icy cold sea water – there’s nothing like an icy dip to invigorate you and make you feel alive. Perhaps my adventures may seem very tame to some but for me they are out of my comfort zone and enough to put a spring in my step.

Life is precious and unexpected and it can throw you many a curved ball. Just when you are making plans, life happens.  At the age of 60 today, we still have a good chance of living another 20 odd years. Unfortunately, we can’t know what our last years will be like.  Even if we make every effort to stay healthy and try to minimize the risk factors, we may still have to face some harsh realities. We can give up smoking, drink in moderation, eat healthily and exercise regularly.  This goes a long way towards reducing risks but it does not guarantee that we remain healthy in body or mind. Some of the healthiest people I know have succumbed to diseases like cancer.  Life sometimes forces situations upon us that are hard to bear. However, if we focused only on our eventual mental and physical decline, it would make most of us want to jump off a cliff. I would rather focus on the joy of living instead and face each phase of ageing with as much of a sense of humour as possible.

ageing with attitudeI recently went on a day trip to visit some open gardens with my mother and some of her friends. One of them is an old lady of 93. Her body may be frail but her mind is still as sharp as a tack.  She calls her walking stick Alfred and introduced Alfred to everyone we met. At one stage she shouted “Old age is a bugger, isn’t it!” as she struggled up a rise in the path. Her wit and enthusiasm allowed her to get away with jumping queues and getting special treatment everywhere we went.  I felt sad when she said this would most likely be her last visit to the gardens. She was simply being realistic and it seemed to make her all the more determined to enjoy every last moment while she still could. She was a great example to me of the fact that it is your attitude rather than your age that defines you.

So gobble up all those free samples, run barefoot across the park, skinny dip in rock pools and tick off some of those adventures on your bucket list while you still can.




10 quotes about embracing change to inspire you

Change is unavoidable and occurs as a natural part of life.  Sometimes it takes place gradually but at other times it is more like a tsunami triggered by factors like broken relationships, a tragedy or a new opportunity.  Here are some quotes about embracing change for you to draw on for inspiration:

1. Commit to the process

I recently watched a video of a cicada shedding its skin and it looked very much as though it was doing a bizarre dance. It put its whole body into the process.  When you are facing change, you have to commit to the process. You have to get rid of what’s weighing you down like old routines and habits that do not serve you any more.

Alan Watts quote

2. Allow yourself to dream

Saying you have to plunge into change does not mean going into some frenzied form of activity. Give yourself a chance to process what is happening. Transformation doesn’t happen all at once. Nature shows us this all the time – a caterpillar takes time to transform into a butterfly and a seed takes time to change into a tree.
Sarah ben breanach quote

3. Don’t let your survival instinct take over

A part of the human brain is dedicated to survival and when you face change, it starts crying ‘danger’ and flooding you with adrenaline when you deviate from the beaten path. Remember that this primitive part of your brain will prevent you from taking action, even when the fears are imagined rather than real.
Amelia Earhart quote

4. Don’t listen to the naysayers

People can be so well meaning with their advice but they do not always know what’s right for you. When I was unemployed, everyone encouraged me to find a job (the obvious thing to do) but I wanted to take a chance and try freelance writing for a living. Everyone told me how difficult it would be  but I decided to give it a shot anyway.  You may also find that when you start experiencing the benefits of change in your life, people feel threatened because it tends to put a spotlight on their own fears and resistance.

Ken Hakuta quote

5.Be prepared for messiness

As change is a process, at times it will feel that you are worse off than before.  As you move forward, you will eventually begin to reap the rewards but things may get rather messy before they get better.

Robin Sharma quote

6. Insecurity is part of the process

For a while you are going to have to make friends with some feelings of insecurity. Any change brings with it insecurity as your world starts to shift and old supports give way. However, once you are in motion, you will feel the power of change and it will help to carry you forward.
Alan Cohen quote

7. You have to die to the old you

Change means that you have to let go of the old you. Even if you don’t like the old you much, its still hard to let go. You may feel nostalgia for what you know you have to leave behind.
Anatole France

7. Try out something new

New experiences can be terrifying but elating at the same time. You may just discover something about yourself that you didn’t know before. Maybe you have more courage than you thought possible.  It’s normal to feel anxious when attempting something new – it does not mean you are doing anything wrong.

Oliver Wendall Holmes jnr. quote

8.  Hatch or go bad

Ultimately, change is not a choice – it happens whether you like it or not.  If you resist it and keep trying to cling to the past,  you may just miss an opportunity to fly.
C.S. Lewis quote

9.  Let things flow naturally forward

Don’t try to force change. It does involve discomfort as you move out of your comfort zones but this is different from trying to force it. Tap into the natural flow of change that’s a part of life and it will become less difficult.

Lao tsu quote

10.  To grow we have to change

To grow as a person and unleash your full potential, you have to change. This means that you have to leave behind your comfort zones and venture out into unknown territory, ask new questions and challenge yourself.

Gail Sheehy quote


NITROvit Review – does it really boost your brain?

NITROvit supplement

NITROvit, originally created by Archie Marks for his own use 7 years ago, has come a long way since then and is able to more than hold its own against the competition. ‘Smart drugs’ or ‘nootropics’ are basically brain boosters. Many people are waking up to their benefits and incorporating them into their daily lives.  What is it that makes some products stand head and shoulders above their competitors? Very often it comes down to factors like choice of ingredients, their quality and combination, extensive research and rigorous testing,

Archie Marks  explains the refining  process NITROvit has gone through over the years.

7 years ago I penciled the original NITROvit formula, initially designed to overcome issues I was having with focus, and memory recall. Fast forward and advances in modern medicine, coupled with real time feedback from hundreds of thousands of clients, have afforded the team the opportunity to fine tune my original formulation, refining and optimizing its benefits for you. Today, America’s NITROvit has go-getters from all over the world, feeling and performing at their very best – day in, day out.
                                 Archie Marks. Founder and CEO – Neuro Laboratories

How does NITROvit work?

The product works in three ways:

  • It increases blood flow to the brain and strengthens the neurotransmitters.
    The brain operates best when it’s full of blood because blood cells carry oxygen to the brain. This allows the mitochondria in the brain to produce chemical energy needed for the  brain need to function properly.
  • It breaks down Brain Supplementdeposits that slow down blood flow to the brain.
    More blood flow means better function and increased ability to learn.
  • It provides the brain with essential nutrients and increases neuroplasticity.
    Nutritional support is needed by neurons to allow the brain to function at its best and to prevent cognitive decline. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by making new neural connections throughout life.

Who is NITROvit for?

  • Older people suffering from memory loss and cognitive decline.
  • Anyone with Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Anyone with ‘scattered’ thinking or ‘brain fog’.
  • Anyone wanting to improve learning ability and focus.


The 13 ingredients included in the formula are carefully selected for their benefits and their effectiveness is backed up by research.

Vitamin StackNitrovit Ingredients

  • Vitamin B6 20mg
    Vitamin B6 is probably one of the most important B vitamins in maintaining a healthy brain. It helps the body make neurotransmitters that carry signals from one nerve cell to another. It is very important for clear thinking and avoiding depression.
  • Vitamin B12 150mcg
    This vitamin performs multiple functions in the body. In the brain it helps maintain the myelin sheath around the neurons. Risk of dementia increases when this sheath is damaged. This powerful vitamin is being studied for its potential to prevent brain shrinkage in older people.

Nitro Stack

  • Acetyl L-Carnitine HCl 200mg
    This substance, also known as ALCAR, is rated highly by nootropic users. It is able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, providing the brain with essential nutrients. It is shown to improve alertness, reduce fatigue, increase mitochondrial energy production, improve circulation and it also has anti-aging and neuroprotective properties.
  • Alpha GPC Choline 100mg
    This compound crosses the blood brain barrier and delivers choline to the brain. One of the main reasons it is used in a range of nootropics is that studies indicate its effectiveness in helping stroke patients with cognitive recovery. It is also being researched for its potential to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia. It increases mental focus,  learning capacity and boosts  memory,
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid 100mg
    Alpha-lipoic acid also passes easily into the brain. It helps to convert glucose into usable energy and top fitness experts recognize it as a natural energy booster. Studies are in progress to determine its potential for treating brain problems where free radical damage has taken place.
  • Bacopa Leaf Powder 250mg
    Indian texts as far back as the 6th century describe bacopa as sharpening intellect and reducing mental deficits.  A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study done in 2001 found that subjects who took this herb had significant improvement in memory, especially when it came to retaining new information. Those with ‘scattered’ minds experience more clarity. It is also thought to improve mood by increasing dopamine and serotonin.
  • Centrophenoxin
    Centrophenoxin  boosts the presence of acetylcholine in the brain. This neurotransmitter helps to form new bridges between nerve cells, leading to improved brain function. It also has neuroprotective effects and fights signs of aging.
  • Macuna Pruriens
    This ‘velvet’ bean is a therapeutic plant that helps improve overall focus, motivation and enhance mood. It contains L-Dopa, which stimulates the release of dopamine. It also has antioxidant properties, protecting neurons and preventing age-related cognitive decline.
  • N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT)
    In the brain, NALT is converted into L-Dopa which boosts mood by increasing dopamine release.  NALT gives you a similar ability to focus as an amphetamine but without the negative effects.  Using NALT on a daily basis can stimulate the mind, increasing mental alertness and alleviate stress.
  • Phosphatidylserine 30mg

    It is found in every cell of the body and about half of the total is found in the brain. It binds with the neurotransmitters and helps the brain to metabolize glucose. Athletes use this compound to delay the onset of fatigue. It also heightens communication between brain cells. It boosts memory and thinking and may help with relaxation, mood and sleep.

Mojo Stack

  • Caffeine Anhydrous 50mg
    Caffeine may not technically be a nootropic but it is commonly used in nootropic supplements for its ability to increase alertness, supports  focus, reduce fatigue and improve endurance.
  • Huperzine A 150mcg
    This compound  is extracted from a Chinese herb. It fights against the actions of Acetylcholinesterase (AcHE), a natural chemical in the brain that  destroys the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine which is responsible for focus, learning and memory. It also helps to fight radicals and toxins, preventing age-related memory loss.
  • Noopept
    Noopept is highly regarded as a nootropic supplement. It has shown the ability to work almost immediately and there is also evidence that it increases a protein in the brain (NGF) that generates new neurons. This means potential long-term memory benefits. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and can protect existing neural cells, helping to prevent impairment of cognitive function and memory deterioration.

NITROvit is manufactured in a clean, hygienic facility where environmental conditions are controlled to limit any cross-contamination. No sacrifices are made with regard to quality of ingredients and their purity.


2 capsules per day for 90 days to experience optimum benefits. Don’t exceed 4 capsules in a 24-hour period.


Some of the ingredients need time for the effects to build up to be noticeable. Others may help more immediately.

Immediate Results:

Most people report increased motivation, elevated mood, ability to focus and reduced brain fog. Better quality of sleep and less anxiety is another benefit.

Long Term Results:

Improved memory recall and information retention is one of the long term benefits. The increased flow of blood to the brain helps cognitive function and learning. Vital brain nutrients have a neuroprotective effect, helping to slow down the aging process in the brain. ADD/ADHD sufferers report increased ability to focus.

Side Effects:

In selecting the ingredients for the formula, one of the considerations was to include only those that showed the least side effects.  However, it is always best to introduce any supplement gradually and monitor how you feel. NITROvit does not seem to produce any adverse side effects for most healthy people who take it. If you have a pre-existing health condition or are on any medication, you should always consult your doctor before taking any supplements.


  • One bottle containing 30 capsules of NITROvit will cost you $58.97.
  • If you buy three bottles, the price is $119.97 and shipping is free. (You save $56.94!)

A 60-day money back guarantee is offered. Simply return unopened bottles within 60 days and you will be refunded in full (less shipping and handling). Note that if you have opened a bottle it cannot be returned.

Brain Supplement

What makes NITROvit stand out?

All the ingredients used have a great track record when it comes to brain function. The product is manufactured according to GMP (good manufacturing practices) so quality can be expected. Knowing exactly what ingredients make up the formula, how much is used and how the product is manufactured goes a long way to creating confidenBrain Supplementce in a market where ingredients used for products differ greatly in quality. Some pre-made nootropic stacks  even contain ingredients like food coloring and fructose! Others consist largely of vitamins that are found in many much cheaper multi-vitamin supplements.

The NITROvit website has testimonials written by customers who have benefited from using the product. I have included just an extract from one of these below:

Marc A. Mercier of New Hampshire says “For the past several months I have been suffering from “brain fog”. In 5th grade I was tested and scored a 176 on a certified IQ test (121 is average), but as of late it felt like I should be institutionalized or tested for dementia or Alzheimer’s the fog was so bad.  … Excited at the prospect of clearing my “brain fog”, I took one right off. I heard talk of it taking about 45 minutes. I noted the time. A little less than an hour later the fog lifted and was able to concentrate more naturally than having to force myself to concentrate …. After a few days, the world around me became more “real” as opposed to the feeling of watching a live TV show. A week later I can honestly state that I feel substantially better, I am able to concentrate and my fluidity of thought is about 75% of what it used to be.

The Bottom Line

There is no doubt as to the effectiveness of each of the individual ingredients included in the formula. Many of them have also been proven to work effectively together. Alpha GPC, and Noopept, for example, help to maximize the brain-boosting effects of the other ingredients. When stacked together, these ingredients have great brain boosting potential. Remember that it is usually necessary to test a nootropic substance for about 12 weeks to get maximum benefit. If you’re looking for a good brain booster, I can recommend that this one is worth a try.









16 famous quotes on attitude – what the right attitude will do for you

Norman Vincent Peale quote

Our attitude plays a very important role in our lives.  If our attitude is positive, it can carry us over many obstacles. If we have a negative attitude, it can seriously affect every aspect of our lives, including our relationships, our careers and our own development. Our education, talent, opportunities, skills and appearance don't make up for a negative attitude.

What helps us to maintain the right attitude?  We need to keep practicing daily to maintain it. The more we develop the habit of being positive, the easier it becomes.  The inspiring words of others can help to motivate us once again when we find ourselves becoming negative.  Here are some quotes about attitude from philosophers, teachers, preachers, heads of state and other well-known positive thinkers - some of them are no longer alive but their words live on.

William James was a leading American psychologist in the late nineteenth century. He was also an insightful philosopher who considered the practical impact of beliefs and ideas in people's lives.  Novelist Rebecca West made the comment that while Henry James, his brother, wrote fiction as though it were philosophy, his older brother, William, wrote philosophy in a colorful style typical of fiction.  His ideas and the way he wrote about them has given them an impact that endures.

William James quote
William James quote
Norman Vincent Peale was the author of a book called The Power of Positive Thinking, an international best seller. He came under heavy criticism from the mental health community when his book was first published. However, his words are still quoted by people all over the world. He taught about about the power of vigorously canceling out all negative thoughts until they became weaker and weaker, eventually disappearing altogether.
Norman Vincent Peale quote
Norman Vincent Peale quote
Winston Churchill has much to teach us about persistence and the ability to face obstacles head-on. After years of failure, he held office for 60 years and was one of the most influential British leaders. He battled with depression and spoke openly about his 'black dog' and yet his words still have an impact on us today. Thomas Jefferson, one of America's founding fathers and the main author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote more than 18,000 letters during his life and his words of wisdom still inspire us.
Winston Churchill
Thomas Jefferson quote
Earl Nightingale was a motivational speaker, author and radio personality. In 1956, he produced The Strangest Secret, a spoken word record, that sold over a million copies.
Earl Nightingale quote
Earl Nightingale 2
Stephen Covey wrote a book called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People which has been read by millions of people all over the world. He was recognized by Time magazine as one of 25 most influential Americans. He taught that there are three constants in life: principles, choice and change.
Stephen Covey quote
Stephen Covey 2
Zig Ziglar was an American author and motivational speaker. He wrote 25 books and ten of them were best sellers. He was in great demand as a motivational speaker. Lee J. Colan is presently a motivational speaker as well as a prolific author and a respected business consultant.
Zig Ziglar quote
Lee J Colan quote
Charles R. Swindoll, born in 1934, founded Insight for Living which airs a radio program on more than 2,000 stations around the world in 15 languages. He has devoted his life to the accurate, practical application of the Word of God. John Calvin Maxwell, born in 1947, is a pastor, speaker and author who has written many books, primarily focusing on leadership.
Charles Swindoll quote
John C. Maxwell quote
Maya Angelou was born in 1928 and died in 2014. She was an American poet and civil rights activist. She is best known for the seven autobiographies she wrote. Her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. Viktor Emil Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor. He created logotherapy, a type of existentialist thought and wrote a famous book called Man's Search for Meaning.
Maya Angelou quote
Victor Franckl quote
Before we realize it, we can become overwhelmed by negativity and cynicism. With constant media bombardment about all the tragedy and horror in the world as well as our own problems, it may be difficult to stay upbeat. However, a negative attitude can impact not just our life but the lives of those around us. Our attitude to life is contagious and one of the best gifts we can give ourselves, our families and our friends is a positive attitude. As human beings we are creatures of habit. We can develop a positive mindset by making small adjustments on a daily basis. The choice is in our hands to turn our lives around and escape the cycle of negativity.

Easily tap subconscious mind power

The book Mind Power into the 21st century,  is a number one bestseller. I think this is because today people know so much more about the mind and are looking for ways to easily tap subconscious mind power.  John Kehoe reveals the role our minds plconcentrated mind poweray in constructing reality, meaning that we can choose to live more creatively and powerfully. He describes how we live simultaneously in two worlds, an inner one of thoughts, emotions and attitudes and an outer one of people, places, things and events. A major part of who we are lies within our inner world  and so we have to learn how to pay attention to our thoughts and develop a new consciousness. This is the only way to change our reality.


Kehoe believes that the more a thought is repeated, the more energy and power it generates and illustrates this with the image of a magnifying glass. If it is moved about from spot to spot, the rays are diffused but if it is focused, the rays are concentrated and are powerful enough to start a fire.   (more…)

5 causes of empty nest syndrome depression

depressed woman

The causes of empty nest syndrome depression may seem self-evident but it’s worth thinking about them because understanding more about them may help you to make more sense of this phase of your life.  When your whole life has revolved around caring for your children for many years, it is normal to feel some sadness and loneliness when the intense caring phase is over. You should not feel guilty for having these emotions.  It is how you deal with them that matters.

1. Identity loss

I was the kind of mother who probably erred on the side of over-protecting my children and doing too much for them.  Once they had left school, I missed fetching and carrying them, making their lunches, attending concerts, watching sports and even helping with homework.  Suddenly the days felt very long as they were no longer broken up by all kinds of activities related to my kids.  I was not used to having so much time to myself and it lay heavy on my hands at first.  Every mother reacts differently to an empty nest but I think those who have been extremely involved in every aspect of their children’s lives tend to feel it more intensely. They have devoted so much time and energy to their children that there is a huge gap in their lives when they leave.

2. Worry

When you adult child moves out, it is hard not to worry about them. Have you prepared them enough to stand on their own two feet? What will happen when they make the wrong decisions and suffer the consequences?   You are no longer able to protect them the way you did when they were growing up. You know you have to let them go and find their own way but it is not always so easy. You have watched over them for years and protected them from harm in every way you know how. Now you have to trust that they will find their feet and thrive without you being there all the time.

3. Changes in your marriage

When the children leave home, you and your husband suddenly have to become a ‘couple’ again and this often involves some adjustments. Any issues that have been swept under the carpet for the sake of the children will probably rise to the surface once again. For some couples this is a great time of rediscovery but for others it’s a time when they find that they no longer have much in common. They have grown apart over the years and no longer have much to say to one another. This creates tension and stress, increasing the risk of depression. Some experience the ‘double whammy’ of going through a divorce when their children have left home.

4. Financial worries

Some people find they have more disposable income on their hands when their children have left home. They may be able to take more holidays and start ticking off items on their bucket list. However, there is often a transition period when children are studying and not yet earning. This phase  can be more financially demanding than when they were living under your roof.  In an unstable economy when living costs are high, financial worries are often a major cause of depression. Of course, going through a divorce can add further financial pressures.

5. Other life changes

Other factors may come at the same time as an empty nest, making you more vulnerable.   Menopause is often common during this time of life and women have to cope with their fluctuating hormones as well as their empty nest.

Many people also start having to care  for their increasingly frail adult parents at this stage of their lives. Dementia, Alzheimer’s and chronic illness in a parent can add tremendous stress at a time when you are already feeling extremely fragile.

The wrong ways to deal with empty nest depression

Depression is a serious problem and it should never be taken lightly. It makes you feel hopeless, worthless and lacking in energy. It affects your appetite, sleeping patterns and concentration.  If you are seriously depressed and do not have treatment, it may linger on and cause damage not only to you but those around you too. When experiencing these feelings, some people find ways to cope that are not helpful to them or those around them.

1. Finding comfort in alcohol or drugs

In Britain polls have found that empty nest mothers are  resorting to alcohol as a way to cope once their children have left home. They admit to drinking on their own and usually on a daily basis. They think of their drinking as ‘moderate’  and do not realize that, according to doctors, a couple of glasses of wine each day can cause as much, if not more, damage than binge drinking.  Mothers who have experienced addiction before they had children may fall more easily into this trap once their children leave.

2. Looking for someone else to fill the gap

Meri Brown who stars in the reality show Sister Wives,  revealed that she struggled with loneliness once her daughter Mariah left for college. She finally told the members of her family that she had been lured into an online relationship by someone with a fake persona. There are many women who suffer from loneliness that become the victims of what is called ‘catfishing’. By the number of requests I receive on skype from good looking males who professed to be professors, engineers, majors etc. I realized just how easy it may be to fall into this kind of trap, especially if you are   lonely. If a person proceeds very quickly  to ‘romance’ you over chat and email, they’re most likely a ‘catfish’ and it won’t be long before they ask you for money.

Finding solace in the arms of the wrong person, if you are a divorced woman experiencing an empty nest,  is another danger. Some people, especially those with low self esteem, find it almost impossible to be alone. They would rather have any partner than no partner at all. When you feel that you no longer have a purpose in life, it may be tempting to find another person to cling to but this could lead to more stress rather than happiness.

One of the most unusual ways I have ever heard of dealing with empty nest loneliness is the woman who knitted herself a son. Marieke Voorsluijs from the Netherlands is a textile designer. She says that she and her son laugh a lot about him needing his own space and her still having a need to smother him with love. She told Bored Panda that she had a lot of fun making a life-sized replica out of wool with her son contributing creative ideas.  The replica wears a cap, a knitted sweater, sneakers and even has an ipod.

5 positive ways to deal with empty nest depression

Is it normal to feel sad and lonely when a child leaves home? Yes, of course.  However, if you find your emotions are interfering with your daily life and you’re resorting to destructive behavior, it has gone way too far and you need help. It’s time to consult a mental health professional.

REALIZE that you are not alone in your grief. It is something that affects most parents when their children leave home.

RECOGNISE that it often occurs at the same time as other life changes such as menopause, illhealth and retirement, This means it is often not such a simple issue but  compounded by other factors.

ACCEPT that sadness and crying are normal reactions.

BELIEVE it is important to give yourself time to work through your grief. You don’t want to wallow in it but you also can’t hurry it along.

FIND SUPPORT if you feel life is no longer worth living, you are not able to continue with daily activities and you keep crying all the time over a long period.

Here are some tips on how to cope if you are experiencing feelings of being ‘down’ but do not feel that you need the help of a professional. It is never easy to just ‘snap out of it’ when going through depression but you can do some things that help. Feeling better will take time and you have to start small. Taking small actions every day will help over time.

1. Work on your self-image

It’s the perfect time to rediscover yourself and build your self-esteem.  Most mothers are self-sacrificing for the sake of their children. They do not have much time to spend on their own pursuits. This new phase offers the opportunity to spend time on what may have put to one side whilst rearing children.

  • Revive your passions that existed before you had children. I have always enjoyed writing but I never seemed to have the time or energy when my children were growing up. This is one activity that has kept me sane over the past few years in my empty nest.
  • Find new activities you enjoy doing. Perhaps you have always wanted to paint or do pottery and now is your chance.
  • Think about doing things you may have not been free to do when your children were around – lie in bed late, eat at unusual hours etc. You may find experimenting with new recipes and learning to adapt your cooking to your empty nest lifestyle challenging but fun.
  • It’s amazing how learning a new language or a new skill helps to boost your self-image.
  • Take up some physical activity – hiking, riding, walking and going to the gym gives you a real boost, gets you out of your home and keeps you healthy. Exercising is one of the most powerful ways to fight depression.
  • Make sure you get out into the sunlight for a little bit of time each day, sleep enough, eat healthily and look after yourself in every way possible.

2. Set healthy boundaries when relating to adult children

Think before you make that call to find out how they are doing. Don’t keep pestering your adult child to find out if everything is okay. You need to set some boundaries that are acceptable to both parties. It can take some time to adjust to a new way of relating. You always want to be available but you don’t want to be too intrusive or clingy. Its not healthy for your child or for you.

3. Pay attention to your marriage

Now that the children are gone,  you have the opportunity to spend more time with your partner. Think about ways to enjoy time together. Re-establishing the rapport that you had in the early days before children came along can be exciting. This may end up being the most fulfilling phase of your marriage. If this is not possible and you end up facing divorce, make sure that this is the only option as it is not easy to cope with the loneliness of an empty nest and divorce at the same time.

4. Get advice about your finances

Some empty nesters throw caution to the wind and blow too much money during this phase of their lives. At a time when they should be downsizing and planning for retirement, they are enjoying the extra money that comes with not having to support children.  Getting some financial advice relating to the empty nesting phase can be helpful at this point.

5. Stay connected

Take time to catch up with friends – go out for tea, enjoy a spa date together or go to a movie.  Treasure the relationships you do have and don’t allow your negative feelings to cause you to withdraw. It is when you feel isolated and disconnected that negative feelings quickly escalate into depression.

Research has showed that when you help others in any way, it gives you a mood boost. You may not feel the energy to do much but simply offering a listening ear to a friend is one way to do this. Think of ways in which you can do something for someone else, no matter how small.

While you cannot replace human connections with a pet, many empty-nesters have found that caring for a pet makes them feel less lonely and isolated. It gives them something else to focus on besides their empty nest. Returning to an empty house is so much better when there is a pet waiting to greet you and playing with a pet gives you an instant lift.

Last word

As you find your feet in this new phase of your life, your feelings of sadness and loneliness will slowly begin to fade. As they fade and as you start making new discoveries about yourself, you may just find that you are entering one of the best phases of your life.









Learn how to build self-esteem

improve self-esteem

Self-esteem doesn’t have much to do with your ability or talents. It has everything to do with what you feel about yourself. It can afflict anyone – even those who seem to have everything going for them. Many of us were saddened when David Bowie died recently. He filled auditoriums with fans in the 1970s and his music is still appreciated by millions of people.  Bowie confessed to a reporter ‘I had enormous self-image problems and very low self-esteem, which I hid behind obsessive writing and performing.’ What you see on the outside may be very different from what is going on inside. When you love who you are, it makes life simpler. You are not always striving to reach some impossible standard of perfection. You are less affected by the opinions of others and no longer your own worst enemy. It is possible to learn how to build self-esteem and grow to love who you are.

Causes of low self-esteem

Why is it that people suffer from low self-esteem? There are many factors that can contribute:

  • bad childhood experiences such as bullying or criticism from parents or teachers.
  • difficult life experiences like a relationship breaking down or financial difficulties.
  • your personality or temperament – perhaps you have a tendency towards negativity or feeling that you are ‘the odd one out’.
  • your relationships – associating with people who are critical, and make you feel bad about yourself.
  • your own mind – you may have fallen into a cycle of destructive thinking.
  • trauma and physical, psychological or sexual abuse.
  • discrimination – belonging to a family or social group not accepted by others.

Effects of low self-esteem

Low self-esteem has all kinds of effects on your behavior. You find it difficult to make decisions. You will listen to what everyone else thinks and still second-guess all your choices. You are highly offended when you feel like someone has slighted you, such as failing to include you in their plans or forgetting your birthday. You will never do anything on your own, like going to a movie, because it makes you feel like a social failure.  You tend to badmouth others because it makes you feel superior.  You cannot be happy when others succeed because you are not happy with yourself.

Low self-esteem makes it difficult to complete tasks, form new relationships, try new activities and over time this may lead to depression. Unhelpful behavior, like drinking or taking drugs, is often related to low self-esteem. You do not care enough about yourself to worry about the consequences.

Check your thought and speech patterns

Your internal dialogue:
Do you think about your flaws rather than your accomplishments?
Are you more likely to feel ‘I can’t do that’, than ‘I can beat this’?
Do you face every new challenge with negative thoughts?

Your words:
Are you constantly putting yourself down?
When someone offers you a compliment, how do you react?
If someone compliments you on what you are wearing, is your immediate response to say you need to lose weight?
If someone compliments you on an achievement, do you downplay it because you think you are being boastful if you acknowledge it?

I recently listened to a dialogue between Carol Tuttle of ‘Dressing your Truth’ and Robyn Openshaw aka ‘Green Smoothie Girl.’ They were addressing the habit women have of putting themselves down. We tend to mention our flaws to one another. We say, ‘I look like a real mess today’ and our friends reply ‘Oh no, you’re looking great.’ Carol says this behavior, often based on generational modelling (it’s what our mothers did and taught us to do),  prevents women from evolving.

10 ways to help you build self-esteem

There is no way to transform your thinking and behavior overnight. It takes time to break the cycle and you need to work on it consistently to see the results in your life.  You have to break that conditioning that says ‘I’m not good enough’ and prevents you from handling any situation where you might be exposed to criticism. Management and treatment of low self esteem can be treated with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). It gives a framework for understanding your problem, what caused it and what keeps the cycle going.  It offers a practical approach where you try out new ways of behaving, and observe the effect that this has on the way you feel about yourself.  You learn to:

  1. Change your internal dialogue – you have to stop that little voice inside your head that keeps telling you that you don’t measure up. Catch yourself every time you voice something negative about yourself. Focus on your strengths instead.
  2. Stop thinking that you have to be perfect.  It is normal to make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up over them and learn from them instead.
  3. Celebrate small triumphs. When you complete a task or succeed at a challenge,  you will feel good about yourself. This does not have to be something too big – it can simply be accomplishing a small task or taking up a new hobby. Do not attempt anything too challenging at first or you may end up feeling overwhelmed and worse about yourself than before. Succeed at several small goals and the momentum will build.
  4. Keep a journal. Write down a list of things you appreciate about yourself. Be aware of your thought patterns. It may help to keep notes of situations where you have reacted in a negative way. An awareness of your interactive journalnegative thought patterns is the first step towards changing them. Write down what you have accomplished before you go to bed, no matter how small a task or project. If you find a blank journal intimidating, an interactive one might be more suitable for you.
    Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration is an interactive journal designed to help you to take the time to know yourself and your dreams.   Its features hand-lettering, images, supportive prompts and exercises as well as inspirational quotes. It also has open-ended questions and prompts, with room for writing and reflecting.
  5. Keep an inspiration box.
    multi-purpose inspiration boxmetal embossed boxinspiration boxkeepsake boxIn the box keep positive quotes, cards people have written to you and any  other mementos that reinforce your self-esteem.  Take the box out whenever you have times of self  doubt and browse through it.
  6. Avoid comparisons.  Constantly comparing yourself with others is a very destructive habit. Instead you need to look at how far you have come and make goals for your future.
  7. Spend time with people who are supportive and have a positive effect on you. Some people will suck you into their mind games, making you feel insecure and bad about yourself. Limit the time you spend with them or avoid them altogether.
  8. Become more assertive. It is possible to be assertive and set clear boundaries in relationships without being aggressive or obnoxious. We fear being assertive because we think we will be thought of as overbearing. If we truly value ourselves, we will not allow others to treat us with disrespect. It is possible to be assertive without being offensive.
  9. Physical exercise, diet and sleep all contribute towards improved self- esteem.  Working on these areas will not only keep you healthy but make you feel much better about yourself.
  10. Reading self-help books also helps you to learn how to develop a positive mindset.

Here  are 5 quotes about self-esteem to add to your inspiration box:

‘Having a low opinion of yourself is not “modesty”. It’s self-destruction. Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not “egotism”. It’s a necessary precondition to happiness and success.’
– Dr. Bobbe Sommer

“She lacks confidence, she craves admiration insatiably. She lives on the reflections of herself in the eyes of others. She does not dare to be herself.”
– Anais Nin

“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance”
– Oscar Wilde

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
– George Eliot

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Marianne Williamson, author of  A Return to Love

Conquering your self-esteem issues will transform your life. It will enable you to accept compliments graciously, value your accomplishments, reach your goals and establish healthy relationships.

When low self-esteem issues are not addressed, negative thinking patterns can get worse over time and result in serious health problems such as anxiety and depression. If you are still battling despite trying to help yourself,  and feel you need help, you may want to give self-help groups and talking treatments a try.

Improve your brain health performance

board games for adults

When researching a previous post called Do brain development games really make a difference? my opinion was confirmed that playing board games is not just entertaining but can improve your brain function too. Our brains need exercise just like our bodies if they are to remain sharp and function at their best.

I was coerced into playing games on Christmas Day and I remembered just how much fun it could be. We decided to play Pictionary, much to my chagrin, because I knew my attempts at drawing were going to provide the others with some laughs. I am quite a wiz at all the word games but drawing is certainly not my strong point. I was not wrong but it was the laughs that made the game so much fun. My elephant may have looked like a donkey but my mother’s attempts all resembled body parts! (more…)

A broken heart – a mother’s pain on parting

I found the poem below in a book by Shelley Bovey  The Empty Nest: When Children Leave Home.  It is a beautiful poem that describes a broken heart – a mother’s pain on parting. It reminded me of an article I read in the Daily Mail written by Maddy Paxman, author of The Great Below. She lost her husband, writer Michael Donaghy, as a result of a brain haemorrhage when she was 46 and was left to bring up her eight-year-old son on her own. In the article she writes about her agony, knowing her son Ruari will soon leave home. She says “moving on from motherhood is no laughing matter. Especially if this is your last – or, as in my case, only child – the transition brings with it a huge sense of loss and grief, largely unacknowledged in our society. We celebrate birth with flowers and presents, but the ending of hands-on motherhood is borne mostly in silent distress.” (more…)

Bible verses for anxiety

coloring pages for anxietyThere are many verses in the Bible dealing with anxiety for a very good reason – not many people can claim to be anxiety free.  Worry, anxiety, and fear can control us to the extent that it affects every move we make. This is particularly true when we focus on events going on in the world today – wars, terrorism, violence, crime, unemployment … the list goes on and on. We worry about our finances, our families, our health … in fact we will always be able to find something to worry about. However, worry cannot change anything – it only makes things worse. We often worry endlessly about the ‘what if’s’ that may never even take place. When you begin to worry, it has a way of spiraling out of control and that is why I decided to offer you a FREE PDF  containing Bible Verses for Anxiety and coloring pages.  The verses are taken from the American Standard Version. I have included a coloring page to help you relax. The therapeutic benefit of coloring is well documented. I believe that if you color a page while meditating on the specific verse, there is more chance of absorbing the words as you are more relaxed and you mind is more receptive. (more…)

When are you considered old?

aging gracefullyIn 1933 a self-help book called Life Begins at Forty by Walter Pitkin was a bestselling book in the United States. However, our perceptions about old age have changed since then as life expectancy has increased by leaps and bounds. Today, many people still experience excellent health throughout their sixties. Their finances are often in better shape too, as their children are now adults and no longer need support. For many people, their 60s are the start of a whole new chapter in their lives. They are often found traveling the world, opening businesses, taking up new hobbies and leading active and exciting lifestyles. So, when are you considered old today?

How old is ‘old’?

Many people retire at the age of 65,  so that is often thought of as the start of old age.  However, in a poll conducted in Britain, researchers found that the average age the Brits thought was ‘officially old’ was 68 or over. They found that most 60-somethings did not feel their true age. Of course, the definition of old age also varies according to age groups. As a teenager, I used to think of someone in their 50s as being past it. I am rapidly approaching 60 now and there’s a lot of life left in me yet!  In America, similar results were found in research conducted by the Pew Research Center. Those aged 18 to 29 taking part in their survey believed that the average person becomes old at age 60, whereas those aged 65 and above felt that people were old at 74. All things considered, it appears that the title of ‘old’ is fairly difficult to pin down.

You’re only as old as you feel

We often use the expression “you are only as old as you feel”.  Most of us know a 20-year old who acts more like a 40-year old and a 60-year old who acts like a 30-year old. My mother of 82 is still very active for her age,  and has a better social life than I do. She lives in a retirement village and I am always intrigued to see two people of the same age approaching life very differently.  Some appear to ‘give up’ in their 80s and merely exist until they die. However, one of my mother’s friends is 92 and still has a great appetite for life. She is younger in spirit than many of the others who are still in their early 80s. My own grandmother lived an active, fruitful life until the age of 97. At the age of about 84 I remember her saying “the old ladies love it when I play the piano for them”. I can’t help admiring older people who attempt to do what is not considered acceptable at their age, such as the old lady who went sky-diving on her 80th birthday.

Aging does have its downsides

However,  we do have to face the fact that changes occur with age – biological, psychological, and social. Memory loss, serious illness, becoming sexually inactive, turning gray, poor bladder control,  and no longer being able to drive are just some of the problems that may have to be faced with aging.  The effect of losing a life partner or facing a serious illness cannot be underestimated and such events are more likely to occur in your sixties than in your forties. However, difficult circumstances are not the prerogative of those who are getting old – there are difficulties to overcome at every age and stage of life.

Do these tests of aging

Your mental age

Here is an age test that compares your mental age with your chronological age. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my mental age is thirty years younger than my chronological age. And guess what – I did another one and it gave me the same result!

Your reactions

Try this fun test to find out how old you are in terms of your reactions. I evidently have the reactions of an 84-year old. I better not go sky-diving anytime soon!

Your heart age

Did you know that your heart age can be older than your actual age? I did this heart test online and found out that my heart was ten years older than my actual age – time to reduce the weight and step up the exercise! I know that about 45 minutes of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week is enough to keep my heart young. However, knowing it is one thing and having enough motivation to stick to it is another.

How old you look in pictures

If you’ve ever wondered how old you look in pictures, takes data from an image you upload and uses it to determine your age and gender.

Growing older gracefully

The older some people get, the younger they feel. Ask a person of 65 how old they feel and many say that they feel about 10 years younger than their actual age. Of course, there are always times when you feel your age – your bones creak, your joints aren’t quite what they used to be and you can’t stay up late at night anymore and not pay for it the next day.  However, your predominant mindset is positive and you still look forward to what the future holds.

Giving your body what it needs to age well is not rocket science – eat healthily, get enough sleep, exercise, don’t smoke and drink in moderation. Many of you are fairly well educated today as to what you should be doing to keep your bodies healthy.

However, I think a person’s mindset is just as important when it comes to aging. When you feel you have nothing more to achieve, nothing more to experience or conquer, you will feel old. If you are just existing and waiting for your life to be over, you will feel old. If you feel you have nothing more to look forward to, you will feel old. On the contrary, if you wake up every morning, excited about what the day ahead holds for you, you will feel younger. If you keep your brain active, challenging yourself by learning new things every day, you will feel younger. If you still have dreams of what you can accomplish in your life, you will feel younger. Sometimes your body will not keep up with your youthful mindset and you will battle to stay positive. However, I believe that a negative mindset contributes towards your aging process. If you do everything you can do to keep your body healthy and cultivate a youthful mindset too, you have the highest odds of aging gracefully.

I would love to hear your comments on how old you feel is ‘old’ in today’s world.

Do brain development games really make a difference?

train your brain

There is some controversy as to whether brain development games really make a difference. In the past researchers found that games improved the ability of people to play the games but did not necessarily spill over into other areas. In other words, if you play a lot of Scrabble, you will become really good at Scrabble but but this  will not necessarily elevate your judgement, decision-making or planning skills. Many companies today sell brain games on the basis that these games improve cognitive function. However, is there any real scientific proof that they work?

Study by Alzheimer’s Society

A recent large randomized control trial funded by the Alzheimer’s Society has offered some interesting results. Researchers at King’s College University, London, found that brain development games did improve cognitive function in older people. In the study researchers tested 7,000 subjects above 50 years of age over a period of six months. The brain training package used consisted of three reasoning tasks. One group was given reasoning and problem solving tasks. A second group worked on cognitive skills such as memory and attention.  A third control group looked for information on the internet. Participants were tested before starting the study and again after six weeks, three months and six months. The medically-approved tests included measuring memory and grammatical reasoning.  Those over 60 were also assessed on how well they coped with daily activities like cooking, shopping and managing finances.

Participants who played the brain training games five times a week showed the most improvement. Participants over 50 showed a significant improvement in reasoning and verbal ability. Participants over 60 showed great improvement in scores on tests of daily living activities.

Demo Gamebrain training demo game
Challenge yourself by playing this demo game. You have to work out which is the heaviest single object from the positions of the see-saws. You must select an object you think is the heaviest and the better you get, the harder it becomes.

What is the significance of these results?
Dr Anne Corbet of King’s College said that the research added to growing evidence that lifestyle interventions may provide a more realistic opportunity to maintain cognitive function. They could potentially reduce the risk of cognitive decline later in life. Dr. Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at the Alzheimer’s Society, said that the study wasn’t long enough to test whether the brain training package prevents cognitive decline or dementia. However, he was excited about the fact that training the brain could have a positive impact on how well older people perform essential everyday tasks. The Alzheimer’s Society are currently funding a second study to further test brain training in people over 50. They want to investigate how genetics might affect performance, allowing them to get a better understanding of how brain training could be used to maintain cognition or even reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. If you are interested in taking part in the study, visit the project website.

One of the important features of the recent study was that the exercises became progressively more difficult. Participants continually faced new mental challenges. Perhaps this was the real benefit, more than the type of exercises as such. Although brain training software is everywhere these days, there are many simple ways to challenge your brain.  Just as you need to exercise for a healthy body, it appears that exercising your brain can help prevent your mental faculties from deteriorating.

Eight simple activities  to exercise your brain

  1. Eat or shower with your eyes closed. It creates an opportunity to use and strengthen your other senses.
  2. Brush your teeth with your opposite hand. It strengthens pathways and connections in the opposite side of your brain.
  3. Make a grocery list, memorize it and go shopping without it.
  4. Learn a new language or take up playing an instrument.
  5. Drive a different way to work. Introduce novelty into other daily activities.
  6. Take up a new hobby where you need to use fine-motor skills like drawing or embroidery.
  7. Play games with other people like board, word or card games.  Strategise and interact with others.
  8. Do the crosswords in the magazines or newspapers you read.

How else can you help your brain?

Acccording to some research multitasking makes the brain less efficient. Constantly shifting between activities may seem efficient but it overloads the brain and tires it.  Rather do one activity at a time and do it well.

Research has showed that overuse of technology can affect the way we process information. Heavy media multitaskers showed less ability switch tasks, with reduced ability to filter out interference from what was not relevant. Cutting yourself off from all technology for just half an hour may help your brain stay healthy.  Instead of constantly responding to mobile pings, app alerts and incoming emails, focus on one task of substance.

Our brains are the most complex organs in our body.  Playing brain games is stimulating and fun. Even if they do not prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s I will continue playing them even if there is some chance that they will help prevent my brain from deteriorating as I age.

Please leave your comments below. I would love to hear if you have found any novel ways to exercise your brain.


Can loneliness kill you?

Can loneliness kill?

Science seems to confirm what many of us perhaps feel instinctively – loneliness can kill us. A number of studies have been done over the years proving its negative effects.

A study published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science in March 2015, revealed that loneliness  increases the risk of dying.  The researchers found that subjective feelings of loneliness and the objective state of being socially isolated both increased risk of death.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is an essential human feeling that rises and falls throughout our lives. Loneliness hurts – brain studies have revealed that social pain and actual physical pain lights up the same areas in the brain.

John Cacioppo, Ph.D., who directs the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago says:

Loneliness has a lot in common with pain, hunger, and thirst. You would not want to be in these states, at least not for very long, but each has evolved as an aversive biological signal that motivates us to do something that’s good for us as individuals and as a species. Physical pain motivates us to take care of our physical body. Loneliness motivates us to take care of our social body, and in doing so, it fosters caring about others and being willing to work to stay together. We’re a fundamentally social species, and a social animal that is isolated is almost certain to live a shorter, more miserable life.

The difference between loneliness and being alone

“Language … has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’  to express the glory of being alone” – Paul Tillich

People tend to assume that when people are on their own, they are lonely.  This is not true. You can choose to be alone and feel blissful solitude rather than loneliness. Feelings of loneliness may also strike at unexpected times. You could be in a room full of people and suddenly feel disconnected from those around you. You could lie in bed at night next to your partner and feel intense loneliness because you are physically close but light years away from one another in every other way.  It is when people perceive those around them as threats rather than a source of compassion and help, that they feel most lonely.

Causes of loneliness

Loneliness seems to have reached proportions where researchers are regarding it as an epidemic as significant as obesity or diabetes.   Numbers of adults reporting loneliness have doubled since the 1980s and there are a multitude of causes for this.

  1. Genetic disposition
    Research has also shown that individuals with a certain gene have been found to be more social and respond more to social cues than others. Does this mean that if we do not have that gene, we will inevitably face a life of loneliness? No, it doesn’t, as nurture is still extremely important. Even those genetically predisposed to loneliness are less likely to express it if they are surrounded by good support systems and healthy social networks.
  2. Emotional disposition
    Introverts enjoy being alone more than extroverts but they too need meaningful connections in their lives.
  3. Social grouping
    Immigrants, the disabled, the elderly and those in low-income families are more likely to experience loneliness.
  4. One-person households
    The number of people who live alone has increased slowly but surely over the decades.
  5. Technology
    Social scientists are studying the effect of technology and urbanization on loneliness. It appears that technology can be both a cause of loneliness and a solution for it. It may be easier to have meaningless, virtual relationships instead of working on building and maintaining real relationships. Facebook interactions may be used as a substitute for real life interaction. If you live alone, that may be better than nothing, but it is not the same. However, technology can also be a source of social connection that helps to keep loneliness at bay. For those living apart from family and friends, it may be an important lifeline.
  6. Divorce or death of a spouse
    Divorce, particularly after years of being married, or death of a long-time spouse, inevitably leads to a period of loneliness. People in these situations are not used to being on their own. They are so accustomed to being part of a couple that it takes them time to adjust to being single.
  7. Age and health issues
    Poor physical health, frailty and mobility issues can contribute a great deal to loneliness. Mental health is another factor with anxiety, depression and fear of rejection causing increasing isolation.  Sometimes those who were socially active when they were younger, find themselves more isolated in latter years. Maike Luhmann, a psychologist at the University of Cologne in Germany, has found that loneliness may be worse in old age but young people suffer too. She saw in a study of 16,000 Germans that  “Around 30, there’s elevated levels of loneliness, and then again at age 50.” The reason for this requires further study.

The effects of loneliness on physical health

John Cacioppo has been tracking the effects of loneliness. His studies reveal that loneliness definitely has a negative effect on health:

  • Lonely individuals feel they are more stressed, even when they are exposed to exactly the same stress as people who aren’t lonely and even when they are relaxing.
  • They have raised levels of circulating stress hormones and levels of blood pressure. The heart muscle has to work harder.
  • Loneliness makes them more prone to depression.
  • Loneliness disrupts sleep and they tend to wake up more at night. They spend less time in bed sleeping than those are aren’t lonely.

The effects of loneliness on psychological health

Dr. Guy Winch, Ph.D.  makes a great case for emotional hygiene. He brings out the fact that studies have shown that loneliness poses as significant a risk for long term health and longevity as cigarette smoking. However, it does not come with a health warning like the one found on a cigarette pack. He believes that loneliness can cause deep psychological wounds that distort your perception. It has a way of making you believe that those around you don’t care enough about you. You are afraid to reach out because you fear setting yourself up for rejection when you are already hurting.

Dr. Winch says that we need to pay attention to our emotional pain. We spend more time taking care of our teeth than our minds. He suggests that just as we practice physical hygiene, we need to practice mental hygiene. This means that we should not ignore the emotional pain that we feel. We should not just adjust to our losses by getting used to them. This is the case even when the loss is a normal one – such as when our children leave home. When we ignore psychological pain it becomes much worse and it can impact our lives in many negative ways.  He brings out the fact that people are still told to shake off their depression but we wouldn’t dream of telling someone with a broken leg to just walk it off.

Fighting loneliness

Loneliness has to be battled on many levels. It starts at the family level and as family members, we need to watch out for signs of loneliness in our immediate circle and try to help. Practical support can help a great deal if loneliness is caused due to disability, lack of mobility or ill health. For example, offer to drive an elderly relative to a favorite event when she can no longer drive herself.

Social awareness of the negative health consequences of loneliness can help people to realize its seriousness and prevent them from making decisions that might precipitate it. An example would be retiring away from family and friends, moving to another country or choosing to stay in a large, empty house.

Everyone feels lonely sometimes—when you move to a new place, break up with a boyfriend or lose a loved one.  However, chronic loneliness is a more difficult issue and is not that simple to deal with.  Chronic loneliness is an interaction between your make-up and what life circumstances you have to deal with. Once it is triggered, your thinking becomes defensive and every social interaction becomes difficult. Offering people suffering chronic loneliness the opportunity to meet with others and socially engage often breaks down because of their defensive thinking. They are trapped in a vicious cycle of loneliness. Being aware of their problem is often the first step towards breaking the cycle.

Providing social support is not much of an answer as it often makes the person feel pathetic and does not change their mindset in any way.  Teaching social skills is usually redundant – lonely people often have normal social skills but they don’t use them. The reason for this is that when something goes wrong, their brains put them into self-preservation mode. Social cognition is the type of therapy thought to work best.  It involves paying attention to how people are perceived and works on this.

Simple ways to deal with loneliness

Dan Buettner is a scientist who studies longevity. He has identified communities that have better health and live longer. What these communities have in common was their sense of family and community.  The number and quality of social interactions relate to the quality and length of lives and within these communities quality interactions on a daily basis are woven into the fabric of society.

Having people to turn to for support helps to buffer against depression, hardship, loss.

  • Make sure you connect regularly with friends and family.
  • Spend time with others, even if it’s going on a walk with a neighbor or going out to coffee with a friend. Regular outings for exercise, visiting friends, doing shopping, or going to the library can help.
  • Make new friends if possible. Try a new hobby, join a club,  learn a new skill. Try looking online, at your local  library or community center for events in your area that might be interesting to you.  If your circle of friends has shrunk, it is important to make new connections.
  • Volunteering and giving back to your community is a great way to strengthen social ties and meet people.
  • A support group is helpful in times of change. If you are coping with loss or divorce, relating to others who are going through similar changes can be very helpful.
  • Think about getting a pet.
  • Speak to a GP or a counselor.


The upshot of all the research is that we appear to be built for social contact and that those who are lonely experience life threatening health problems, both physically and mentally. All of us experience loneliness at some stage of our lives as it is part of the human condition. However, when it becomes chronic, it is much harder to deal with. This is why it is important to cultivate friendships and value them. Quality of interaction seems to be the key, not quantity, in keeping us healthy and helping us to live longer.

Supplements and memory loss

Memory loss is feared by most people as they get older. When talking about supplements and memory loss, some people are convinced they make a difference, whilst others disagree. What is the truth? Are there really ways to improve your memory and perhaps even prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease?

brain raysWe live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with information about what products we should take. There are exciting advancements on the brain enhancement frontier suggesting that we can enhance our memory and our performance. Many new pharmaceutical drugs are being developed that target exact regions of the brain. Excellent supplements are being created that appear to be equally good at improving brain function although they may take longer. The benefit is that they do not have the negative side effects that people experience when using brain stimulants. (more…)