Tranquillity – first aid when stressed

Tranquillity and calm by the end of this year. What an aim! These states are implied in the word ‘serenity’, my catchword for 2019.

The story goes around that older men and women are supposed to be naturally calm and peaceful. We should sit in in rocking chairs, out of the way of the busy people around us. We may dandle babies on our knees for short periods, but not for too long, because of our advanced years.

According to much media hype, even from people who should know better, we need to be looked after and it’s OK for well-meaning others to make decisions on our behalf .

My image of a serene old age includes being given a kilo of peas to shell and a colander on my lap to put the peas in. That should be my contribution to real life.

We’ve been hoodwinked into thinking that older people my age are supposed to be naturally calm and peaceful. We’re supposed to sit in in rocking chairs, out of the way of the busy people who think they run the world.

One of my images of a serene old age includes someone giving me a kilo of peas to shell. I’m wearing an old apron and have a colander on my lap to put the peas into. There’s plenty of time before dinner. No need to rush, and I’m peaceful. Goodness knows where that image comes from. A book, maybe? A movie?  

https://maureenhelen.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Edward-John-and-me-5-2.jpg
2016, holding baby Edward Linton

That isn’t how it works. I suspect the myth of the ‘peaceful older person’ should be put to rest, along with few other myths, such as people marry and live happily ever after or motherhood is bliss.

One of my pre-motherhood images had me sitting on a swing, in a gingham dress, with a baby on my lap. Joy and unending bliss. They forgot to tell me that some mornings I would be so tired that I would kneel and put my head on the bed I was making and fall asleep, or that I would cry with the baby I could not console…

Perhaps the myths are true for some people, but my experience is that most life-states are a mixed bag of great joy and deep sorrow and many other emotions in between.

Retirement is supposed to be ‘our time’

A dear friend used to tell me, when we were in our fifties, that the time then was ‘our time’. She meant that we had raised our children and they had all gone off to make their mark in the world, She said our time had come to relax and enjoy ourselves but it didn’t work out like that.

When I retired from the paid workforce the first time, in my mid-sixties, my life became even more busy because I went to university, completed a PhD and wrote a book.

With those life-long dreams out of the way, I returned to work in aged care advocacy. I completed a research project and spent a few heady months on the road from Esperance to Kununurra, talking to professionals and the general public about prevention of elder abuse.

My second retirement came when John and I married at 70. Then life became super-busy, what with learning to sail on a sea-going yacht and travelling to places I’d never been, as well as trying to do a make-over on a four-bedroom house. I wrote another book, took on some consultancy work and sometimes facilitated writing groups.

Now I’m properly retired with a husband and home to care for, volunteer commitments and my interest in social media, as well as a new book doing a slow simmer on a back burner.

Increasing age brings its own raft of problems, with increasingly creaky joints and less energy.

Working towards tranquillity

Life still throws unexpected curly problems to be solved. Some days are less joyful than others. Losses seem as painful as ever. Friends die. People we love move around the world to live. Our senses begin to fail. Sometimes I feel more vulnerable than others and my thoughts become unruly rather than peaceful.

All the sons and daughters, spinning round the world‘ You can click to listen to the song, ‘I still call Australia Home’ which I often hum.

‘Our time’ in retirement could be another myth. That’s why I’ve chosen to regain the tranquillity I experienced in my fifties and sixties. A slow bloomer, my best creative work occurred in those two decades. I may never recapture that calm, but at least I can work towards it.

First aid to regain tranquillity

This is a simple and effective plan I’ve put in place to help regain tranquillity when I become stressed during my ‘year of serenity’. It helps with any emotion a person is trying to practise.

I learnt these simple steps when I facilitated ‘stopping smoking’ groups for the Red Cross, many years ago. The basis of the method is cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps individuals to replace unhealthy habits through changing thinking patterns and behaviour.

1. Delay

As soon as I recognise that I’ve become agitated or anxious (sounds dramatic, but you know what I mean) I will stop what I’m doing.

2, Deep breathe

A few deep breaths through my nose will quieten my sympathetic nervous system

3. Distract

That’s an easy one. I’ll say, whisper or think my word, ‘serenity’, and enjoy the peacefulness of the sounds as I repeat them.

4. Do something different

Any change of activity works – walking into another room, drinking water, watering a plant, listening to music. It’s a good idea to have a list pleasant activities handy because stress sends creative ideas out of mind.

There’s more to cultivating a new habit than these few immediate steps, but they’re a good start.It’s more positive (and easier) to cultivate a new habit than to stomp out an old one.

There’ll be more updates and information about tranquillity on my blog as I work out how to live up to my catchword, serenity, through 2019. Of course, I’d love your comments on your own journey to peacefulness.

10 thoughts on “Tranquillity – first aid when stressed

  1. As always, Maureen, you are truly inspiring. With so much determination I’d say serenity is at your fingertips! If only it were that easy.
    Life has a strange way of being – well – life! I wonder at the perversity of it as well as the joy. You articulate that so well.
    Wishing you joy. xx

    • Yes, Susan, I am struck over and over with the perversity of life which deals cruel blows as well as serenity and joy. So much of all of it is not in our control. I sometimes wonder if I should even try to strive for serenity. Maybe it would be better to simply roll with the punches! Or bounce!

  2. I agree with all of this, Maureen, and you’re a wonderful advocate and role model for older women! I do, however, believe that all of our lives, especially those of the young and busy, would be improved if we sat in a chair and shelled peas into a colander every once in a while. We all need moments of gentle industry in our lives.

    • Oh, Louise, what a gorgeous image of the young and the busy sitting in chairs and shelling peas. It was an image in the back of my mind of degradation, busy-work-for-no reason delegated to the old and demented, but now I see how wrong that was. And I’m the woman who know how much creativity is stimulated by housework and nursing babies and sweeping paths. Thank you for the reminder and your kind words.

  3. I love this story about your plan for serenity. Mine is simple “Live in the moment.” I found we spend so much of out time thinking about what we have to do or about others. Now I simply stop and look around me and love that moment. It will never come again so enjoy that moment and everything will work out. The kids will still do their own thing regardless of what you say so now I just love them.

  4. I forever admire everything you crammed into your life when you retired.
    When I retired I was at a loss for something to do, and I was still grieving for the loss of my husband.The previous years had been chockablock with so many activities, university (as an adult) working, volunteering and family commitments.

    I felt I had done it all and had no desire to do any of it again, though I did volunteer at school for a year or two.

    Now, apart from the ongoing family commitments and the regular catchups with friends I’m happy to stay here at home, Potter around, take the dog out, take photographs and of course write/blog, and that has become very important to me

    I’m surprised at how annoyed I become when unexpected visitors turn up at my door, even family which they do a lot! It’s almost as though everyone assumes I will be grateful for and need the company, and can’t possibly be doing anything of importance… I’m retired!

    All that said, I do realise how fortunate I am to have friends and a large family. I am very aware that many others do not have that.

    • Hi, Sue, thanks for your comment. I think I’ve said before that I was a late bloomer, and had supported myself and my six children for many years, so my retirement meant I could be free to explore options I’d been dreaming about. Living alone made it easy. My second marriage when I was 70 allowed new things to happen, but I’ve certainly slowed down in the last couple of years.

      I notice how much you fit into your life, and love your blogs and your commitment to your family. I also understand your liking for solitude and time to explore your own interests. I would love more time free of interruptions.

      • That’s a part of my admiration for you Maureen.
        I think if my family lived further away I would feel lonely and perhaps I might feel the need to add to my days with new activities.

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