Emotional Wellness

By Vernice Shostal


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Feelings of pleasure and contentment enhance one's physical health and lead to a sense of well-being and self-empowerment. While feelings of depression and loneliness often contribute to physical ailments. Just as physical health requires cultivation through good nutrition, rest and exercise, good emotional health requires cultivation through meaningful activities and positive relationships.

University of Victoria, Department of Psychology Centre on Aging professor and researcher Dr. Holly Toukko, shares tips for seniors who want to maintain a healthy emotional outlook on life. Toukko suggests staying connected by participating in activities at recreation centres, and maintaining long-term relationships with family and friends as well as developing new relationships. Find someone to share feelings with.

Another benefit to emotional health is pursuing a hobby. In addition to maintaining old activities and hobbies, seniors should develop new ones. To help keep the mind sharp, Toukko advises embracing technology. Surf the Internet and communicate with grandchildren by e-mail. Watch television and listen to the radio to keep up with current events. Do crossword puzzles, Sudoku, read, memorize poems or plays and join an amateur theatre group.

"Nutrition, sleep and exercise," she says, "keep the blood flowing and the mind sharp."

Pets can also provide good emotional support.

"You can talk to them. They don't talk back to you," says Toukko.

Spirituality, self-reflection and the desire to be a contributing member to society also enhance emotional wellness. According to Toukko, spiritual well-being ties in with mental and physical well-being.

Former social worker Judith Everson, widowed for four years, is involved in meaningful activities and positive relationships.

"Meeting people leads to new experiences," says Judith. "Stay active by picking up a calendar from a seniors' centre to find out what activities are available."

It's important to always have something to look forward to, she says.

"Get up in the morning and plan your day. Ask yourself what you should do and work towards that plan."

Reading is also important. Good books are available at the library and second-hand bookstores.

"When you read a good book," says Judith, "you disappear into a different world."

Judith has three hobbies - her winter projects. She is learning calligraphy and takes lessons on Monday afternoons with a Chinese group. She also works with watercolours and thread embroidery.

Judith's friend and former polio victim Nicole Anderson, in her second year of living alone, says she makes use of her nearby seniors' facility where she has joined an exercise group and a hiking group.

"I use the facility mostly to meet new people," she says. "I signed up to start taking bridge lessons in January. I haven't played bridge since the kids were little."

When she's not at the seniors' centre, Nicole is either swimming with her post-polio group, walking with her neighbours or volunteering as a secretary at an outreach program. At home, in her spare time, she is a painter and a fabric artist. She is also taking free lessons in computer skills at the public library.

Both women suggest there are many activities to get involved with that don't require spending money.

In addition to local seniors' centres, Seniors Serving Seniors (www.seniorsservingseniors.bc.ca) is a resource that offers several avenues of assistance. For emotional counselling, peer counsellors help seniors get in touch with their feelings and solve their problems.

One volunteer-run program, Seniors in Stitches, is a group that meets once a month to share patterns, sort through yarn and bring in newly made items, which are given to the children at the Cridge Centre for the Family at Christmas.

Don't be afraid to reach out to others. The mind, body and spirit work together for optimum physical and emotional health. Make the most of every day!

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