DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am 46 years old. When I was 35, my husband and I had a terrible divorce with custody battle. I won, but I had to give up my dreams of moving home to another state as a condition of custody. I put everything on hold to care for them, including a couple of relationships that ended because they weren’t conducive to family. One of which devastated me because I actually fell in love but he had no intention of committing to what I had to offer.
My eldest daughter moved out at 17, exiting with lots of drama as was her usual, and left me feeling battered. My youngest and I ended up breaking away and moving home right when she started high school. I may be home but I feel like I haven’t integrated back into my life. I don’t date, I barely socialize, my job is high stress, and when I get home I fall into my recliner and I am brain dead. As a result I have gained 40 lbs.
I need to get up and change everything, job, my health, socialize more, but I can’t seem to get my tail in gear. How can I find motivation when I have this crushing feeling that my life is over that I am too old and fat and tired?
I have this feeling that I am going to be alone forever if I sit here doing nothing day after day, but I can’t get out of this recliner except to do the exact same things that end up with me being fat, and tired, and lonely in this rut.
Can you help?
Still In A Cage
DEAR STILL IN A CAGE: I feel for you, SIAC. You got dealt a s
tty hand and you’ve been trying to deal with it as best you can. It’s admirable that you put your life on hold so that you could provide for your kids, but it’s also understandable that you want a life for yourself. And now that you’re in a position to start your life again… well, f
k, who’s got the time or the energy?
Here’s the thing: you’re looking at the big picture, and that’s actually a problem. You’re looking at this mountain in the distance and wondering just how in pluperfect hell you’re supposed to scale that thing. Hell, never mind climbing it, how’re you supposed to even get to it? Looking at all the things you’re wanting to achieve is going to be exhausting and intimidating and ultimately just leave you with a bad case of “I don’t wanna”.
The way you get past that is simple: you stop looking at the big picture and focus on the smaller things instead. You don’t focus on climbing the mountain, you focus on just taking a step at a time, looking only at the next milestone. As you look at each milestone, you want to structure things so it’s easier for you to accomplish them without thinking about it or having to expend energy to accomplish them.
Take your job and energy levels, for example. All that stress builds cortisol in your system, which screws with your concentration, your mental acuity, even your weight. Small wonder you get home and can’t bring yourself to do anything. So, assuming that you can’t find a way to make work less stressful or shift to a less-demanding track or department at work, what you want to do is focus on de-stressing and easing the cortisol buildup. Part of the way you do this is through generating the chemicals that help reduce cortisol: in this case, oxytocin and dopamine. You generate dopamine in a number of ways: getting enough sleep, eating a healthier diet, exercise, and the satisfaction that comes from making plans and following through with them. And, again, if you take things in small, manageable bites, this is very doable.
Start with the small, easy to accomplish things. When you get home, drop off your stuff, change your shoes and then go for a walk around the block. Not even a power walk; just a leisurely stroll. Depending on where you live, this should take you around 10 minutes or so, maybe a smidge more. That’s it: just giving yourself 10 minutes to walk before you plop into the recliner. Do this every weekday as soon as you come home, so that it starts to become a habit. It’s a very small, very simple and low-investment change to make in your life, but it will make a difference. That little extra bit of exercise — just 10 minutes — will produce surprising dividends. The act of building this into your daily routine will bring you emotional satisfaction. The walking will help engage your circulatory system, getting your blood moving and helping to strengthen your heart, which will help you feel better, physically and emotionally. The exercise itself will not only burn more calories — not many, but some — but cause you to produce more dopamine, which will help break down the cortisol.
Keep to this routine and you’ll start finding that you’ll have more energy and less brain fog than before. As you keep at it, you’ll find that you’re ready to take on a little more. Maybe you’ll decide to walk two blocks instead of just one; awesome, go for it. Just that little bit of improvement will increase the benefits you’ll reap.
Meditation is another practice that can help you not just de-stress, but relax and chase away the brain fog. As with walking, this doesn’t require a significant investment of your time. You don’t need an hour with music and incense and a mat; five minutes a day in a comfortable chair with an app like Headspace is all you need. As you incorporate it into your life, maybe you’ll find that you’re ready or able to give a little more time to it. If so, great! If not, that’s fine too; five minutes will make a significant difference.
There will be other ways to streamline your life in ways that will make it less taxing and leave you with just a little more energy than you have now. Preparing meals for the week in advance, for example, can free up your time and be one less thing to think about each day. Taking a little time on Sunday to make dinners for the week puts you in the position to just open the fridge, grab something and heat it up for dinner. This reduces the time, effort and brain-power that you’ll need to expend after you get home from work, freeing up your physical and mental resources and giving you a little more time and energy to use — or not use — as you see fit. And as a bonus, the act of planning the week’s meals, preparing them and stashing them every Sunday provides a sense of achievement and satisfaction. You’ve checked that off your weekly to-do list, which gives you a feeling of control over your life… which in turn, helps increase dopamine and decrease cortisol and stress.
These changes are small but add up over time. Taking these little steps build on one another — increasing your energy and drive and decreasing your stress.Think of it as the compounding interest of mental and physical health; as you decrease the amount of stress in your life, the benefits you get from those changes multiply accordingly. The less stressed you are, the more energy you’ll have. The more energy you have, the more you’ll be able to do. The more you’re able to do, the less stressed you’ll be. You’ll be happier and healthier without having to turn your entire life upside down or making radical changes that you would end up abandoning after a few weeks. And as you progress, you’ll be ready to hit the next milestone. Maybe it will be walking for 2o minutes. Maybe it’ll be meditating for 15 minutes. You might decide to try new and different recipes to keep your meals balanced and healthy. Each milestone you cross builds on the ones that came before and increases the benefits accordingly.
Now, you may notice that this is all about your physical and emotional health, not dating. There’s a reason for that: right now, you’re feeling lower than a snake’s ass in a drainage ditch. You feel helpless, defeated and out of control of your own life. Making these little changes serve to not only make you feel better but to remind you that you do have agency in your own life. These improvements will put you in a better place physically, mentally, and emotionally, which will make you feel better about yourself a person. You’ll find that your mood improves and discover how much more comfortable you are in your own skin. You’ll learn that you actually like yourself again.
That is what will make you feel like you’re ready to get social again. You’ll have more energy, so you’ll feel like getting together with friends. Hanging out with them will help knock the rust off the social skills you haven’t had an opportunity to use. You’ll feel better about how you look and so you’ll have more confidence to talk to the sexy singles you’ll encounter.
Because here’s the thing: there’s no such thing as “too late”. There is no window of opportunity, after which there’s no chance for you. People find love in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. Hell, right now, retirement communities and senior living facilities are dealing with unprecedented levels of sexual activity because hey, turns out old folks still date and bang.
And all it takes is being willing to commit to walking for 10 minutes a day. That’s it.
You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for SIC. You’ve fought harder, accomplished more and come further than you realize.
You’ve got this. I promise.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org