Alone and miserable thousands of miles from home- what’s a girl to do?
That was me 20 years ago when I first got married and moved oversees for my husband’s job.
Technically I wasn’t alone- I had my new husband- but he was working 18 hour days. I had no job, no friends and no family. I was miserable.
I wasn’t happy for many reasons- first off, I was lonely. I had always been surrounded by people- and my social life had been full. Moving so far from home and not knowing anyone was scary.
To make matters worse, I was questioning my purpose in life. Back in the states, I had been a teacher- but I had to give that up for our move- and not having my career anymore made me wonder what value did I have? What would I do all day? What was my purpose in life?
So what’s a girl to do?
Luckily I had a friend who sent me a book titled Simple Abundances. This book changed my life! Among many things, it encouraged me to keep a gratitude journal and to write in it every day things I was grateful for.
Honestly, some days that was really hard. But the more I looked- the more I began to actually see the many blessings that were all around me. I started with simple things- seeing the beauty in nature, appreciating my good health and being thankful for having a roof over my head.
Every day I would list 5 things I was grateful for. Some days I would write the exact same thing that I had written the day before- but over time it became easier to see the many blessings in my life. Being appreciative slowly started to bring me out of my depression and enabled me to make some necessary changes in my life.
First off, I knew I had to make an effort to make friends. I reached out to neighbors and invited them to meet for coffee. I joined a local softball team, and found an American’s Abroad support group. Slowly, I built up my social life- one friend at a time.
Next, I reached out to a local school and applied as a teacher’s helper. Amazingly, I got the job! Using my teaching gifts again was important. It gave me a sense of being a part of something, my self esteem improved, and I enjoyed making a little money!
I also started walking daily. Getting outside and getting my body moving made me feel so much better- both physically and mentally.
I share all of this because what I experienced at age 26 is actually quite similar to what many seniors experience in their retirement. Many move far from home to be near their children, leaving what was familiar to them and starting over in a new place.
It is also common for seniors to lose their sense of identity as a result of not having a career anymore. Having a purpose in life is essential to everyone. Losing that can cause depression and anxiety.
So what can we do?
- Encourage seniors to express daily gratitude. Teach them how to notice small things- and how to recognize little blessings. Practice mindfulness by keeping a daily journal.
- Help seniors find their purpose- whether it’s volunteering, creating a scrapbook recording the family history, or knitting hats- everyone has a purpose and helping find it is important.
- Look for ways you can help seniors to be social. Whether it’s meeting for coffee, going to the senior center or inviting someone to lunch- daily interactions with people help us feel connected.
- Make exercise a priority in seniors lives! Only a few minutes a day can vastly improve mood and health. Sit and be fit classes are perfect for those who have limited mobility. If possible, encourage seniors to join a walking group or find an exercise class at a local senior center- where they can make friends and exercise at the same time.
Through gratitude, friendships, work and exercise I was able to avoid true depression. And for that I am truly grateful.