A healthy mind in a healthy body
Maintaining mental / emotional health
Staying mentally sharp and emotionally upbeat
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Of all the mysteries in the universe, the biggest one could well be: what’s going on inside your own head?
As we enter and move through our older years, there are two ways that it is particularly helpful to expand and explore this question. First, is our brain power up to snuff, and in particular, are we starting to lose any of it? Second, with all our years of life experience, what have we learned about our own personalities that will help us make the most of the remaining years, and not spend them pursuing activities and behaviors that really don’t work well for us?
It is arguable how much we can really change our mental capabilities and our personalities. Self-help books (some of which are referenced below) want to make you think that you can become much smarter than you are, that you can actually improve your memory as you age, and that you can change your personality. And there is probably a good measure of truth to this, if you have the willingness to change, and the perseverance to apply consistent efforts in that direction.
But there are limits to that, as there are to efforts to improve your physical health. No amount of effort is going to radically change us. And we can perhaps resist and delay, but cannot ultimately defeat, the effects of aging on our brains, or the impact of certain illnesses (strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.) if we become subject to them.
Still, what we can do, especially while we retain most of our mental vigor, is to understand our mental and emotional strengths and weaknesses, and apply our accumulated wisdom to the task of working on what we can change, and adapting to what we can’t change.
Maintaining Mental / Emotional Health relates to other areas of Health:
- Maintaining physical health, because there are evident connections between physical wellbeing on the one hand, and cognitive and emotional wellbeing on the other, and there also appear to be additional connections that are less obvious.
- Dealing with physical problems, because our brain power and our healthy emotions will help us make good decisions about dealing with medical problems, which tend to be complicated and stressful.
- Dealing with mental / emotional problems, because we need a realistic assessment of ourselves just to identify the problems that should be addressed. Because taking steps to maintain our mental well-being (especially at times when life is not overly stressful already) can help us minimize future problems. And because dealing effectively with mental and emotional problems can teach us what we need to do to help us avoid them in the future.
Maintaining Mental / Emotional Health relates to other areas besides Health:
- Spirit, because a well-functioning mind and positive attitudes aid the effectiveness of our beliefs, values, and practices. And because those spiritual and philosophical elements, when strongly grounded, can help stabilize our judgment and feelings.
- Purpose, because your effectiveness in the world is dependent on your mental abilities and on bringing your best self to places where you need to be working with others. And because purposeful activity can keep your mind active, strong, and positive.
- Love, because your emotional wellness, and your wise understanding of your own personality strengths and weaknesses, will immeasurably improve your relationships with others.
- Avocation, because pastimes that challenge your brain can help you maintain your cognitive powers, while other leisure activities can bring you happiness in other ways.
- Security, because both mental sharpness and emotional stability will help you make smart financial decisions, rather than being led by panic, pride, or simple foolishness into costly mistakes.
Maintaining Mental / Emotional Health Sub-Topics and Resources
How can you tell whether you are losing your mental sharpness, or your memory, or if you are developing emotional problems? You might not be able to get definitive results over the internet, or from a book. But you can probably get an idea whether you are in the normal range (or better), or whether you should consider getting a professional evaluation (along with advice on drugs or other therapeutic interventions that could help).
When it comes to personality characteristics and attitudes, it is much easier to use do-it-yourself tools. There are innumerable schemes out there for categorizing personality types, and for testing attitudes toward this and that. Below, we refer you to some that are among the best.
The purpose is to bring to your attention patterns of behavior, ways of looking at things, personal styles, and attitudes that in the right circumstances are probably helpful to you, and that in the wrong circumstances can be impediments. The goal is not to judge you, but to help you understand when and how to use your personality characteristics at times and in ways that are beneficial – and to learn to downplay them where they might be getting in the way of your own happiness, your relationships with others, or your ability to move forward in your own life.
- Free resources:
- If you suspect that you might be suffering from depression, bipolar disorder (“manic-depression”), generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, or alcohol overuse, you may be able to try the free screening at “MentalHealthScreening.org” (you need to be affiliated with one of the many organizations they serve) They cannot tell you definitively whether you have the problem you suspect, but they can tell you whether it sounds serious enough so that you should probably go get a more detailed, face-to-face diagnosis (rating = A-). If that doesn't work for you, you can link to even more tests at “HealthyPlace.com” (rating = A). Also, “Senior Health Risk Calculators for Healthy Aging”, from Calculators.org, links you with a variety of online tools for assessing various aspects of your physical and mental health (rating = A).
- For a detailed overall psychological screening plus cognitive testing (memory, concentration, verbal fluency, orientation, and thinking speed / executive functioning), you can take the free test at “MyTherapy.com” – however, you will need to provide your name and email address, and if you want to use their tracking service to see how you are progressing over time, there is an extra charge (rating = A).
- For reviews of and links to a variety of free online IQ tests, visit “Testovi.com,” and proceed from there (rating = A). Other cognitive tests are available online at “IQ Test Labs” (registration required, rating = A), and “CognitiveLabs.com” (registration required, not rated).
- “Queendom.com” offers a variety of free tests, of varying length and quality, include a general IQ test, an Emotional IQ test, and a personality type test (rating = A for variety, A- for overall quality; registration available, but not required).
- The “VIA Institute on Character” has created a 240-question survey, which takes about 40 minutes to complete, based on the work of Drs. Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson. You get a free report of the results, which is summary in nature, or for $20 you can get a detailed report that provides more analysis and also suggests ways of making the most of your “signature strengths” (registration required; rating = A+).
- The “Enneagram Institute” sounds New-Agey, because it is, but a lot of people find the nine personality types of the enneagram scheme to be very helpful, both in understanding their own strengths and weaknesses and in understanding why they tend to relate well or not so well with people of the same or other types. There is a brief test that’s free, and a more detailed one that costs $10 (rating = A).
- Other resources:
- Professional psychological services are generally not free, but you can often get a free consultation to determine whether you have a serious issue or not. Also, ongoing services are often covered by medical insurance policies (including Medicaid), and therapists often have sliding scales for those who aren’t covered and can’t afford to pay on their own. A number of websites can help you find psychologists in your area who specialize in whatever you think you might need: “FindAPsychologist,.org,” “GoodTherapy.org,” “The National Directory of Psychologists,” “NetworkTherapy.com,” or “Psychology Today” (ratings = A). For guidance on choosing the right therapist for you, see “How to Select a Psychologst,” from Psychology Information Online (rating = A).
- The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others In Your Life, by Helen Palmer, is one of several books you can buy at a good price on enneagram personality testing (rating = A).
- The classic Myers-Briggs test can be taken at “KnowYourType.com” for prices ranging from $49.99 to $99.99 depending on which test you want, or at the offical Myer-Briggs website for $49.95. One benefit of this test is that there is a lot of interpretive literature about what the results mean and how they can be used (rating = A). If you prefer to pay less and do more of the work yourself, try Renee Baron ‘s book, What Type Am I? Discover Who You Really Are (rating = A).
- The New Personality Self-Portrait: Why You Think, Work, Love and Act the Way You Do, by John M. Oldham and Lois B. Morris, offers a true multi-dimensional personality test (rating = A).
- See also:
Some say that the mind is like a muscle, and you have to use it or lose it. The scientific evidence is not entirely clear on whether “exercising your brain” can help stave off Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of senility (honestly, you shouldn't count on it). But it does seem clear that by using our minds – by reading, playing games that use our reasoning or memory, choosing active rather than passive forms of leisure, traveling, engaging in serious conversation, and participating in paid or volunteer work – we keep ourselves as sharp as we can be. Doing the smart thing can actually be the most fun, in this case.
Most of these topics are discussed in more detail in other of these Retirement Readiness pages, particular the ones noted in the “See also” section, below.
- Free resources:
- “The Human Brain: Renew – Exercise,” from the Franklin Institute, is a solid but easy to understand overview of how the brain works, and why “exercising” it is good for you (rating = A-). WebMD addresses in basic terms the possible but uncertain link between “Brain Exercises and Dementia”; rating = A-).
- Braingle.com offers articles on what it calls “Mentalrobics” as well as a lot of free puzzles, brain teasers, and games (rating = A).
- Queendom.com’s “Mind Stretchers” includes numerous free games and puzzles, a list that is added to frequently (rating = A).
- For some additional free, challenging online games, try “RinkWorks.com” (rating = A-).
- Other resources:
- See also:
In recent years, psychology has come to focus not just on identifying and resolving problems, but on emphasizing the positive: happiness, fulfillment, joy, gratitude. Here’s how to get in on it.
- Free resources:
- Psychology Today’s webpage on “Happiness” links you to an array of good articles on positive psychology, mood and personality, and how to be happier (rating = A).
- The “Authentic Happiness” website from the University of Pennsylvania, provides free access to the complete archive of their newsletters and to a variety of questionnaires on emotion, engagement, meaning, and life satisfaction (registration required; rating = A).
- Improving self-esteem is often a prerequisite to building up positive attitudes. Most of the “free” websites that discuss self-esteem are trying to peddle books or coaching services – which may be valuable – but for a more objective look at the subject, try the “Self-Esteem” page on the Psychology Today website, which links you to a variety of sensible, helpful articles (rating = A).
- For a quick but very useful summary of why laughter is vital to healthy aging, see “Aging with Laughter” from Humor-Laughter.com, a site that also contains some humor to start getting you smiling (rating = A-).
- “Happiness Quotes,” at WisdomQuotes.com, give you some seriously good thoughts to ponder about happiness (rating = A-).
- Other resources:
- Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, by Martin E. P. Seligman, is already the classic book in this field, well worth reading (rating = A+).
- The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, is a “how to” book based on real scientific research (rating = A).
- The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, by the Dalai Lama, is not a book about Buddhism, but about humanity, and how we can deal with our negative feelings and tendencies while pursuing the positive and joyful (rating = A).
- The Self-esteem Companion: Simple Exercises to Help You Challenge Your Inner Critic & Celebrate Your Personal Strengths, by Matthew McKay et al, offers a simple, practical approach (rating = A). Especially for women: The Courage to Be Yourself: A Woman's Guide to Emotional Strength and Self-Esteem by Sue Patton Thoele (rating = A+).
- Serious Laughter: Live a Happier, Healthier, More Productive Life, by Yvonne Francine Conte, does a nice job of explaining the physical and spiritual benefits of laughter, as well as how you can make laughter a regular part of your life (rating = A).
- See also:
- SPIRIT / Your Beliefs and Principles / Applying your beliefs, for help in changing unhelpful beliefs about yourself.
- SPIRIT / Dealing with Aging / Positive views of aging.
- SPIRIT / Spiritual Practices (all sections).
- PURPOSE / Getting Started with Purposeful Activity / Understanding your own natural approach to Purpose, for help in understanding and perhaps changing whether you have an open, optimistic, can-do attitude to a more pessimistic, cautious or fearful approach.
- LOVE / The Essential Virtues (all sections), for more about forgiveness, compassion, respect, and gratitude.
- LOVE / Caregiving / Understanding caregiving options, for applying mental / emotional health care to others.
- LOVE / Caregiving / Caregiving at home, for applying mental / emotional health care to others.
- SECURITY / Managing Risk / The risk of illness or incapacity.
- HEALTH / Dealing with Mental and Emotional Problems (all sections).
©2016 Still River Retirement Planning Software, Inc. / RetirementWORKS, Inc.