Friday, December 2, 2022

Senior life: the golden years of emotions

Emotional reactions tend to be calmer as you age. Let’s find out how your emotions influence your day-to-day living. 

On a happy day, you might find yourself humming a song as you go about your daily routine. The warmth of the sun will feel like a hug. The sky will be blue and you may even stop to smell the roses. Everything around you will feel right. But what happens when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Perhaps you feel grouchy and sluggish. Suddenly you may find yourself being angry over small things. These are two extremes of emotions (among others) that impact your behaviour.

Emotions are the motivators of human behaviour. What we do in a day is directed by our emotions. Every decision ever made has been influenced by your state of mind at that moment. When it comes to emotions several triggers can disrupt or motivate your energy levels.

Types of emotions

Scientifically, a human body has two types of emotions –

  • Basic emotions
  • Self-conscious emotions

Basic emotions – These are the core emotions shared by all human beings.

  • Happiness
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Disgust
  • Surprise

And all emotional reactions are an outcome of combinations of certain basic emotions. For instance, your loved one surprises you with a present you always wanted. You will be surprised and happy to be on the receiving end.

Your emotional state can be described by your fasial expression. It is a common phenomenon across cultures. However, social norms and cultural practices have a heavy influence on certain emotional reactions.

Self-conscious emotions – On the other hand, self-conscious emotions are the result of one’s actions. One experiences these emotions when they are unable to meet their expectations or the expectations of others or society.

  • Embarrassment
  • Pride
  • Guilt
  • Humiliation
  • Shame

Self-conscious emotions are a combination of certain basic emotions that may result in physiological reactions – for instance, if you are embarrassed your body may start to sweat or if you are guilty then there could be a change in your heart rate.

Why is senior life the golden years of emotions?

While health decline is a common sign of old age, however, research shows that older adults are much more emotionally tuned. Research conducted by the Association of Psychological Science reported that emotional experience becomes more stable with age. It was found that seniors are more positive and less negative compared to younger adults.

If you notice, the emotional reactions change from one moment to the next. Sometimes it creates a complex emotion where positive and negative emotions occur at the same time. For seniors, these emotions are less intense compared to their younger days. This happens due to the reduced functioning of the amygdala inside the brain.

Amygdala is a region of the brain which is responsible for emotional processes and behaviour.

A change in the functioning of certain regions in the brain has proven to be beneficial for the emotional wellbeing of seniors. However, these conditions might only apply to mild or moderate emotional stimuli that are experienced in everyday life.

Association between emotional and social ageing

Emotions shape our personality. It is an amalgamation of the environment one lives in, the kind of company one keeps and genetics. Thus, one must take care of their emotional well-being regardless of their age.

It is important to keep in mind that emotional and social life changes with age. As one approaches their senior years, there is an increase in meaningful relationships which becomes a strong social network. It is proven that social interaction reduces cognitive decline.

A Study concludes that seniors who are social experience low cognitive decline compared to seniors who live in solitary. It also mentions that older adults who engage in either social or demanding cognitive activities perform better than older adults who engage in solitary or low demanding cognitive activities.

Habits to improve cognitive function and emotional well-being

  • Being curious – Being curious and exploring new things boosts dopamine production. It will help you learn things faster and better. When you take up a new task of your interest it increases activity in the memory region of the brain, this increases positive emotions and self-confidence. Next time you see something new do not shy away from being curious.
  • Challenge your brain – Listening to music or doing things that you are already good at… are low demanding cognitive activities. Spend time doing things that challenge you mentally – try a hand at finishing a 1000 piece puzzle, play sudoku, learn a musical instrument. When you challenge yourself with high demanding cognitive activities, it will help you stay sharp.
  • Be in good company – The kind of people you surround yourself with matters more than you think. When you have a set of people who genuinely care for you, support you and are there for you in times of need, you must hold on to them. It is ok to spend some time with yourself but surrounding yourself with family and friends is good for your cognitive wellbeing.
  • Mindful meditation – Develop a habit of meditating for a few minutes as soon as you wake up. Mediation helps charge your brain. It is scientifically proven that meditation works on a certain region of the brain that increases awareness and concentration.
  • Get enough sleep – Sleep is crucial for our overall well-being. Getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep promotes good health. If you are unable to sleep well at night, then creating a nightly ritual will help you maintain a sleep pattern. To be able to sleep make sure you finish your dinner early, dim the lights in your room, and have a cup of herbal tea – with lavender/chamomile/valerian root an hour before your bedtime. Create a relaxed atmosphere so that you get some quality sleep.

The golden years are all about creating fond memories with friends and family. As a senior, you have the luxury of time to explore new things and rediscover yourself. However, if you are emotionally suffering then speak to a friend or a therapist. Talking about your emotional pain will help you focus on the good things in life.

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