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Stress Combat : A clinical psychologist says positive thoughts and close relationships can help manage depression and anger.


Many people assume that by retirement age their lives will become calmer and less complicated. But in reality, seniors are vulnerable to many common stress-producing situations often related to aging.

Years ago, psychologists determined that stress and ill health are linked, and they developed a "Life Change Scale" to chart those events most likely to affect an individual's health.

The most stressful event on the scale, not surprisingly, is the death of a close family member or spouse. Then comes illness or injury, being fired or retired from a job, and a change in the health of a family member.

"Money and health issues are big problems for many seniors," said Mark Schwartz, a clinical psychologist in Ventura who specializes in pain-management. Issues relating to care-taking and hospitalization are also major sources of stress for older people. And in some cases, loneliness and an awareness of mortality causes depression in seniors, Schwartz added.

Schwartz often addresses senior groups on these topics. In a recent lecture, "Attitudes and Age: You're as Young as You Think," he emphasized the role of positive thoughts, relaxation techniques and close, personal relationships in managing stress, depression, and anger.

"Attitude keeps one feeling young or old. And attitude can attract people or push them away," he said. "For example, in their relationships with grown children, some older people become overly demanding and develop unrealistic expectations of others."

One of the best ways to keep thinking young, according to Schwartz, is to have something that gives you a great deal of pleasure--whether it is work, a hobby, or even watching soap operas. "Having fun is a good credo (to live by) for any age--especially seniors," he said.

Physical exercise is also crucial. "Our bodies get more prone to illness and age faster if not used. Yoga is one of the best ways to relieve stress along with relaxation-training and deep breathing. Proper nutrition is also important," he said.

"In my experience, seniors do not have much difficulty living life at a calmer pace. But loneliness and isolation are often major problems. Close relationships with family, a significant other, or friends, are important to keep people connected to society and life."

Schwartz said bitterness often is the byproduct of loneliness for many seniors. But even in a nursing home there are hobbies and social events for the person who wants to be involved in life. And Schwartz encouraged such seniors to invite visitors instead of pulling back or waiting for people to call.

"And be open to new experiences and places," he urged, citing travel, making new friends, or joining new social clubs. "People talk about the Fountain of Youth being some place outside of ourselves," Schwartz said. "But in reality the Fountain of Youth is in our minds and spirits."


Many free or low-cost support groups, stress management, relaxation, yoga and exercise programs are offered through work, community and senior centers, parks and recreation departments and continuing education community college classes. Catalogues are generally available at local public libraries.

To exercise at home, try the following televised programs:

* "Lilias, Yoga, and You," is broadcast weekdays 6 to 6:30 a.m. on public broadcasting station KCET.

* "Hooked on Aerobics," which follows on weekdays from 6:30 to 7 a.m., offers more vigorous exercise at three levels of exertion.

* Viewers in Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park and Moorpark can practice the Chinese disciplines of Daoist Yoga and Tai Chi with Craig Balcom on Wednesdays from 9:30 to 10 p.m. and repeating Fridays at 7:30 p.m. on Ventura County Cablevision's public access Channel 8.

For the channel that carries these programs in your area, consult your local television guide.

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