This May  and we at the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement at Cleveland Clinic are shining a light on National Mental Health Awareness Month. Like many things, our mental health changes as we age, for better or worse. In ROAR: into the second half of your life (before it’s too late), Michael Clinton offers expert advice on maintaining confidence, positivity, and emotional wellbeing in middle age and beyond.

Read an excerpt from ROAR: into the second half of your life (before it’s too late) below.

Dr. Anastasia Parsons is a psychologist trained in marriage and family therapy, along with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is an evidence-based psychological practice widely followed in the US today. It works in the construct that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected, and if you can change one, you can change all of them.

She explained that many people in their forties and fifties suffer from negative self-talk, such as I’m not good enough or I’m a failure. This gets louder and picks up speed as we age, becoming its own powerful system in our minds. This can also affect our most intimate relationships. Let’s say that someone is in an abusive relationship with their spouse. They can’t believe they can do any better, so they let the abuse continue, believing no one else would ever want to be with them.

Dr. Parsons suggested that you focus on those who do give you posi- tive feedback, either at work or in other parts of your life. Find evidence that others value you, and then reinforce that in positive self-talk. That cognitive restructuring can help to break through an abusive relation- ship and let you leave it. For example, if someone gets fired from their job, they might say, I’m worthless, I’m sad, I’m a failure. But what if they were actually miserable in that job? If they can view this as an opportu- nity, a second chance, or newfound freedom, then they have reframed the internal conversation and will feel more in control, more hopeful and confident, possibly leading to a new direction.

Finding meaning for ourselves is critical, as we are all going to have a reckoning about our lives and about our own mortality. “It is a choice how we make meaning in our lives. We all have to have positive self-talk to move forward to create the narrative of our lives,” Dr. Parsons said. “If your relationship with yourself is not good, then you won’t be any good with anyone else. We are aware of how we talk to people, but less aware of how we talk to ourselves in our own head. We have to talk to ourselves in a kind way, listening to our own tone, the dialog going on behind the scenes.”

 

“Finding meaning for ourselves is critical, as we are all going to have a reckoning about our lives and about our own mortality.”

 

According to Dr. Parsons, American society has an unrealistic definition of happiness. As she told me, her belief is that if you are having positive thoughts and emotions at least 51 percent of the time, that will lead to levels of contentment. She also recommends that people create a “self-love book.” Fill it with notes or letters or emails that you receive from family, friends, and colleagues praising your accomplishments and what is positive about you. It will reinforce that positive self-talk to build a better relationship with yourself.

We are bombarded with demands from our spouses, kids, family, friends, and colleagues. They all want a piece of us, and most of us want to make everyone who is important to us happy. But we know that is not realistic. You have to say no, or as I like to say, you need to have “no days.” So, if your aunt and uncle demand that you come to their annual Christmas party, and you just don’t like going there, at what point do you have the courage to say, “I’m not going!”?

I hate the concept of brunch, as I mentioned earlier. To me, it is a waste of several hours spent eating and maybe drinking in the middle of the day, when I could be exercising or doing something that is more important to me. For a long time, I went, begrudgingly, whining that I had just wasted four hours listening to a conversation that wasn’t that interesting. Finally, I decided I would never do brunch again. I told everyone in my circle to please not invite me, which didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings—because they all knew how I felt about the B-word! Take control of your time, and let people know what you don’t want to do with it.

If you are miserable going to that Christmas party or having to spend every Thanksgiving at your sister’s and that is not what you want to do, start by making another plan one year. Going on a trip can be appealing because you can get four or five days over that long weekend. Explain that you want to try a different kind of holiday. She may be hurt at first, but let her know that this is important to you and why she needs to appreciate that. Better yet, invite her to go along.

Remember, your time, your personal time—whether you spend it by yourself or with the people you truly want to be with—should always be in line with your priorities. Once you “train” people that you travel on holidays, or that you don’t want to sit for hours and watch yet another game, or that you hate brunch, you will break an undesirable pattern and start a different one that is more meaningful to you. It’s okay to be selfish about your time.

Excerpted from ROAR into the Second Half of Your Life with permission from Beyond Words/Atria, 2021