The Science of Worrying
Worrying; it’s part of being human. Retirees might be concerned about running out of income, poor health or how the world has changed and what that means for their grandchildren. Parents might worry about everything from money and work to family, health and nutrition. The problem is, the more we worry, the less we are able to focus on other things.
According to psychologist Sian Beilock, worrying is a task in itself. For instance, if we worry while driving the car, we are technically multi-tasking. A potential problem with multi-tasking is that we may become a jack of all trades and a master of none. If we don’t learn to improve our focus, it can impact the goals we wish to achieve.
According to Beilock, we can’t write, or speak in public or even fully concentrate on what other people are saying if we’re worried about something else. To help alleviate this negative impact of worrying, she suggests writing down your worries before you take on another task. One study Beilock performed showed students who wrote down their worries for 10 minutes before taking a test scored higher than those who didn’t — even if their worries were simply about the taking the test.
Writing can lead to a sense of catharsis, liberating the canvas of our mind so we can concentrate on other things. And frankly, any activity that can help alleviate our worries may be worth giving a try.
The Power of Meditation
The good news is brain research reveals financial decision-making peaks at around age 53, which is a common age for people to start thinking strategically about how to turn invested assets into a source of income when they retire. The bad news is those tactical brain skills are past their peak around age 60, and they diminish further as we age.
Unless we actively exercise our brains to increase gray matter and keep healthy brain cells actively growing and dividing, as we grow older, we often begin to suffer from age-related cognitive decline. Through the use of MRIs, researchers have attempted to identify what parts of the brain may correlate to money management thought processes. While it is too soon to identify specific regions, what is clear is that as we age, we may lose some of that financial capability.
However, studies have shown brain exercises can be an effective deterrent to cognitive decline. And if you don’t like doing crossword puzzles, there are other options. Meditation and other mindfulness activities are linked to slowing down the cellular aging process in the brain. A small study revealed gray matter is thicker in the brain of people who meditate for 40 minutes a day. One study even determined the brain can rebuild gray matter after just eight weeks of meditation.
Meditation has also been shown to positively affect clinical symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It is generally believed the practice evokes a relaxation response in the body that not only improves symptoms in these disorders but also generates a network of anti-aging genes and improved cellular health.
Another study found people who have consistently practiced meditation for many years (4 to 46 years of meditation experience; 20 years on average) have younger brains — defined by higher concentrations of tissue in regions of the brain that are commonly depleted by aging. On average, the brains of long-term meditators were 7.5 years younger at age 50 than the brains of non-meditators, and are an additional one month and 22 days younger for every year after 50.
Scientists have proposed numerous explanations for how meditation produces these results, including:
- Stimulating growth in neural structures
- Promoting increased connectivity and efficiency within neural networks
- Buffering the brain and nervous system against the harmful effects of chronic stress
- Reducing pro-inflammatory response
- Stimulating telomerase activity (promotes cell growth and division)
- Inhibiting age-related brain change
These new findings are some of the reasons why meditation is being introduced into both schools and the work environment. The practice requires very little in terms of time, money or effort, and can be practiced alone in the privacy of your own home.
One method of mastering a subject is to “overlearn” it. This is characterized by studying a concept until you fully grasp it, and then studying it even longer so it is cemented into the mind. This practice could be an ideal way of learning meditation. The longer you do it, the better you’ll master it and the more positive its impact may be on cognitive skills. Here are a few tips:
- Get into a comfortable position — you don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor.
- Let your thoughts and feelings flow freely — you don’t have to block them out.
- Let these impressions drift without judgement until you feel relaxed — this gets easier with practice.
- Set a timer – you can relax and better enjoy your experience if you don’t have to keep checking the clock.