Do you feel mentally down these days? Would you describe your overall emotional state as dark or moody?
If so, take a good look at how you're thinking. For example, do you dwell on bad events in the news? Do you go over negative thoughts about your finances? While all of us need to stay on top of the news and address money issues, we all need to focus on happy thoughts a good deal of the time.
"I keep having these black feelings wash over me," says a small business owner we'll call Sam. "I'm getting near retirement age, and I feel like my life is over. My brain keeps conjuring up thoughts of how I didn't save enough money, how I didn't realize my dreams."
We advised Sam to reframe his thoughts by looking at things in a more positive way. He also needs to figure out what he has control over. This means he must take time out to reflect and make changes.
Sam, for example, needs to take a look at what he's unhappy about in his life. It's OK to name those issues. Sam can make decisions and adjust to what's necessary. But, he doesn't have to beat himself up over what didn't go right.
Here's what we advised Sam to do:
Make a list of viable options. We told him to write down each problem along with every possible solution. Then, he needs to make a plan of action to improve each issue.
Stop comparing himself to others. Sam needs to realize that his life is unique. Worrying if his life measures up to what someone else accomplished is not fair to him.
Believe he can create change. We explained to Sam that any bad situation can always be changed. But, he has to be patient with himself and believe he can change something.
Sam was really in a bind in several areas. He and his wife were raising their twin grandsons, both 14, since the children's parents had been killed in an auto accident. The kids have no college funds.
On top of this, Sam has a large mortgage and doesn't see how he can keep it up. His retirement check won't be enough for a house payment.
Sam finally reviewed his options to see what changes are possible.
"I decided to I'll do a reverse mortgage when I retire. This way, our family can remain in the house with no payment required," says Sam.
"We'll help the twins research scholarships for college during the next four years," he goes on to say. "I've also decided to lease out the apartment over our garage to a tenant. That income will amount to $20,000 in the next four years. We'll use that money to set aside for emergencies."
Sam says he's feeling a little better about his situation. He's also grateful he and his wife can raise their grandsons.
"These kids are wonderful kids," says Sam. "I'm trying to focus on giving them a quality life, so as long as I can keep our lives in reasonable order, I'll avoid many depressing thoughts. We live near a great fishing lake, and we've bought a small camper to use there on weekends. When I'm at the lake, I do feel so much better."
None of us will feel great if we focus on what isn't working. But, like Sam, if we take time to sort through stressful problems, we can get our lives on more solid ground.
"It's all in what you focus on," says Sam. "Solutions are there, if you look hard enough."
Judi Hopson and Emma Hopson are authors of a stress management book for paramedics, firefighters and police, "Burnout To Balance: EMS Stress." Ted Hagen is a family psychologist. Write to them in care of McClatchy-Tribune News Service, 700 12th Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington DC 20005; please enclose a copy of the column and the name of the newspaper you saw it in. You can also contact the authors through the website www.hopsonglobal.com.