Amaze Your Children and Grandchildren When You Explain Blockchain Technology and Bitcoin to Them!

Have you heard the word “Bitcoin”? I’m sure you have. And while it might be confirmation bias (and by “confirmation bias” I mean a Google algorithm) that makes the word show up every day in my news feed, I doubt that can explain why it’s always on ‘World News Tonight with David Muir” or the lead article in my neighborhood newspaper.

As much as I was perfectly willing to audit conversations about Bitcoin (and its bestie, “blockchain”), write about its related scams (“Online Scams (or “How I (Almost) Met An American Hero”), and even listen to friends’ advice about investing in it, I didn’t have a clue what Bitcoin really was, how it works, where it comes from, if it’s legal, if it’s taxable, if it’s capitalized (in both senses!). NOTHING.

Which is like throwing down the gauntlet. If there’s a concept that’s this ubiquitous, Amazon Prime one-day delivery on books, and an entire Internet from which to learn about it …? Well, challenge accepted.

I dove headfirst down that wormhole. I read, “Blockchain for Dummies,” I devoured online articles, and I unabashedly reached out to experts all over the world (at this age, I clearly have no shame left at all). And here’s what I found out: cryptocurrency and blockchain technology are INCREDIBLY hard to explain – mainly because once you learn one tiny fact, you’re compelled to understand hundreds more.

And then I found Anders Brownworth, Maggie Hsu, and Adil Haris – experts who had not only published straight-forward explanations of Bitcoin and blockchain technology, but who offered to answer any questions I might have, so that those of us who are “not yet dead” can get a basic understanding – at least enough to know what all those news stories are all about and to think before investing our hard-earned retirement funds in it.

Adil, a Manager for the Financial Services Innovation team at Ernst and Young, received his Master of Science in Product Management at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science and Tepper School of Business and wrote, “Blockchain — A Short and Simple Explanation with Pictures” (pictures!). Anders, a Principal Architect in Applied Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and co-taught the first blockchain class at MIT, spoke on the subject extensively from which he created a visual demo of blockchain technology (more pictures! And they move!). Maggie, who leads global business development for Amazon Managed Blockchain and is co-founder of Gold House, sent me a link to this video in which she not only provided me the first understandable explanation of the blockchain and bitcoin, she also illustrated the value of the blockchain technology.

So, here’s a (hopefully) very simple explanation, just to give you a head start. If you want to join me in the wormhole, be sure to click on the links provided by Anders, Maggie, and Adil.

Let’s start with the blockchain

Super simple explanation: Imagine a box (block) filled with information or transactions (data). Kinda like your checkbook ledger, except that it not only shows a record of your transactions, but it can also show a record of the transactions that your payee makes with the payment they receive, and so on, and so on, and so on. Just a big ol’ history of the provenance of that item of value (in this example, dollar) and all of the travels it makes through time.

Now imagine a bunch of computers (nodes) spread out all over the world who verify that the information in that box is accurate (mining) and add their seal of verification (hash). They get paid for this work (verifying that data) in native tokens (bitcoins in the case of the Bitcoin blockchain. Other blockchains may offer other coins or tokens).

Okay, now let’s say a new box of transactions comes along that needs verification (each block can contain a certain amount of information). This new box of data also contains the seal of verification (hash) from the previous box. Once this new box of transactions is verified and is given its own unique seal of verification (hash), it is chained to the previous box (block / chain) so that there’s a running history of verified transactions. The process continues as more and more boxes of data are added and verified. And because all the computers (nodes) running the blockchain have the same list of blocks and transactions and can transparently see these new blocks being filled with new transactions, no one can cheat the system.

All of the information on the blockchain (boxes of data, verified and chained together) is called an “immutable shared public ledger.” An important benefit of this system is that no one can change any of the data or transactions that have occurred (immutable) without affecting the seal of verification (hash) in their blockchain. If they do, it is immediately evident that their hash is different from all of the others who have the same blockchain on their computers, and that their data is not valid. Then the offending (minority) chain is dropped – the nodes simply choose not to talk to the offending node anymore and they carry on maintaining consensus without that node/copy of the blockchain.

And what is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin (BTC) is perhaps the most well-known of more than 6,700 cryptocurrencies in the marketplace (“crypto”). Cryptocurrencies, often called “tokens,” can be used as an online payment for certain goods and services. It’s important to note “online” here, as bitcoin is a digital asset and can only be used digitally.

Cryptocurrency got its name from “cryptography.” Cryptography keeps information secure by using a series of mathematical proofs to both hide (encode and decode) and authenticate (hash/sign) data. These proofs guarantee the security of the transactions or data, the security of the participants, the independence from central authority (like a bank … or a government), and the protection from double spending (ensuring that, like a physical dollar bill, you can only spend it once).

You can purchase bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies via a cryptocurrency exchange. You can also obtain it as a payment for goods and services. And you can “mine” it.

Mining is the process of solving a complex mathematical equation (proofs) first. Then, once your solution is verified by everyone else, you are paid in cryptocurrency. While anyone could ostensibly mine bitcoin by downloading the necessary software on a computer capable of running it, the cost of the computing resources necessary to do so makes mining much less tempting than simply purchasing it on an exchange.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have “value” in that there is a limited amount out there – just like there’s a limited amount of gold. The price fluctuates depending on media attention, rumors, speculation, and availability. That’s the cart-and-horse nature of cryptocurrencies – until they are accepted worldwide as valuable currencies, the volatility will likely continue. And until the volatility as a payment mechanism settles, it is unlikely to gain worldwide acceptance.

What does a blockchain have to do with Bitcoin?

This one is easier to answer. The Bitcoin network relies on blockchain technology to operate because the blockchain technology is what is providing the security, immutability, and historical ledger to the transactions. This organized collective of computers (nodes) is called a peer-to-peer network in that it allows each individual to interact directly with the others. In the case of Bitcoin, the network is built in such a way that each user is broadcasting the transactions of other users. And, crucially, no bank is required as a third party.

How might blockchain technology be used in the future?

Blockchains are decentralized ledgers that can keep track of essentially any data, transaction, asset, etc. If you imagine that every asset can be given a digital identity, then you can imagine how, in the future, all of those assets will be made trackable and unalterable via blockchain technology.

With blockchain technology, there will no longer be a need for third party involvement in many types of transactions. Instead, all of the data will be on the blockchain and accessible to the parties directly involved. Medical records, global financial products, banking, land ownership and real estate transactions, insurance, ID systems, intellectual property, program management within organizations, authentication and tracking can all be put on a blockchain system, one that will be secure, private, and immutable.

Lesson 1: Complete

Despite how confusing it got at times, learning about cryptocurrencies and blockchains was a fun exercise. And while there’s still a debate as to whether “brain training” activities have any effect on dementia, I guarantee you that you’ll know a little bit more the next time you hear someone say “Bitcoin.”

Associated lingo

Cryptography – the field of science that is involved with the authentication and hiding of data using mathematics.

Hash – a unique, fixed-length string of random numbers that is the digital fingerprint of some data. Hashes are produced when a hashing algorithm runs a complex calculation on any data and generates a hash as the result of the calculation. For a great, visual explanation, see Anders Brownworth’s video here.

Miners (not minors) – the computers running the hashing algorithm who are paid in tokens (Bitcoins, for example) for their work.

Peer-to-Peer (P2P) – computers that are connected on the Internet via networks, rather than a central server, so that files can be shared directly.

Private keys and public keys – A private key is produced by a complicated mathematical algorithm that allows you to decrypt data. A public key is created from the private key the same way, so that whatever is encrypted with the public key requires the related private key for decryption and vice versa. The public key is made available to everyone that needs it (it is recorded on the blockchain) while the private key is confidential and only shared with its owner. It is nearly impossible to reverse the process of key generation, such that one could generate a private key from someone’s public key.

Consider this example from Adil Haris’s “BlockchainA Short and Simple Explanation with Pictures”: The public key is like your mailbox which everyone knows about, and can drop you messages. The private key, on the other hand, is like the key to that mailbox. Only you own it, and only you can read the messages inside.

Signature – a cryptographic way to prove ownership. You would use your private key to sign something and then the resulting signature could be verified by everyone against your public key.

Wallet – where you keep all your money – in this case, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

Body Image as We Age: Why Aren’t We Kinder to Ourselves?

I’d love to think I’m an evolved adult woman. And in many ways, I’ve learned a lot over my 64 years and have made some healthy improvements (like, one shot of tequila is enough – the other five won’t make me a better singer or dancer). But one area in which I haven’t grown as much as I would like to is in my perception of my “looks.” Depending on the day, the outfit, the social media influencers, the people I’m with, or the magazine I’m reading, my body image can swing from “meh, fine” to “why can’t I zip this zipper, and why are those lines in my forehead so freakin’ prominent, and when am I going to go back to the hairdresser and get a decent dye job?”

Then I keep the ball rolling by criticizing myself for even thinking those things! With all of the troubles in the world, is that really what’s important?

Let’s just say that I can dig a really deep hole for myself that starts with just. one. zipper.

As you might imagine, I’m not alone. In one Glamour magazine poll, 97 percent of women said they have at least one negative thought about their body image every single day.

Dr. Leslie Morrison Faerstein, Ed.D., LCSW, believes we can change those distorted images of ourselves. In the mid-’80s, “Dr. Leslie” founded the first New York State licensed, nonprofit mental health clinic specializing in Eating Disorders and women’s issues. Her practice now focuses on women, aging, and body issues, and she runs a weekly Body Positivity group for Sesh. Dr. Leslie shares her expertise with us in this week’s post.

NYD: Some women feel that they can’t find the perfect balance. If they “act their age” they might be considered boring, irrelevant, invisible, but if they succumb to societal pressure to remain youthful, unwrinkled, thin, non-gray, they are judged for “trying too hard.” How can women reconcile these conflicting pressures in a healthy way?

Dr. Leslie: They can ignore these constrictions and “shoulds.” There is no perfect balance and whose balance is it anyway? I think the bigger question is why do they care that “acting their age” or looking their age – whatever that means – suggests that others (men?) would consider them boring, etc.? I wonder why we try to do what we can for the “male gaze” as well as for some societal/media expectation of what women should look and act like at “a certain age.” 

I let my hair go gray several years ago. I was always blonde but started covering the gray in my late 40s. Then around five years ago, my stylist said my hair looked like it was coming in silvery or ash blonde and let’s not color it. I was all for that considering the cost. I love my natural hair – there’s almost something subversive about not coloring it and claiming my age (now 70). With the pandemic, there seems to be a “greynaissance” going on, and increasingly more women are not only letting their hair go natural, but many younger women are now dying their hair gorgeous shades of gray.

NYD: Considering the large number of women in the aging Baby Boomer demographic, and the fact that we hold the majority of wealth in the US, why aren’t advertisers understanding us and changing their narrative?

Dr. Leslie: It’s certainly puzzling when we do indeed hold the majority of wealth and there are so many of us. I’m always disturbed when older women show up in so many pharmaceutical commercials or ones for needing a supplement to “sharpen” their minds.

With so many wonderful older women actors, it still baffles me that younger women are chosen to play older women. Several years ago, Maggie Gyllenhaal was turned down to play the role of the lover of a 55-year-old man because she was too old. She was  37! She said that at first, she was astonished: “It made me feel bad, and then I felt angry, and then it made me laugh.” Recently, I watched “The Dig” a British film with Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan.  Mulligan, 35 years old, is a terrific actor, but she was playing a real-life woman who was in her 50s at the time. Are there no appropriate women actors in their 50s? We can all think of quite a few. Why don’t advertisers and producers change their narrative? Ageism and Sexism.

NYD: How does family affect our body image?

Dr. Leslie: This question particularly interests me as I’ve been talking about how attitudes about our body image is passed down through the generations. I’ve written four separate blogs on this in regard to my family on my website, LeslieMFaerstein.com

We need to recognize that what our grandmothers may have passed down to our mothers and then to us is powerful. Women’s roles, how they dress and how they interact with both men and other women affects our beliefs about our bodies. I come from a family of working and professional women starting with my grandmother who was the Executive Secretary to the President of Paramount Pictures in New York in the 20s, 30s and 40s. She was known as “Sexy Sadie” and was obsessed with her body and how to look attractive, based on the fashions of those decades. 

My mother who was born in 1929 was called “Bubbles” as she grew up which, of course, she hated, and her weight was a constant concern of my grandmother’s and, of course, to my mother herself. She was a professor at Columbia University at a time when there were few women in these positions, but she was always obsessed with her weight and subsequently mine as well. She thought she had the answer to her weight, caring for two small children and getting her advanced degrees when she discovered amphetamines when working at a hospital where they were readily available. She always wrote down what she wore to each class she taught, in case she repeated an outfit and students might think she didn’t have a full wardrobe. She smoked three packs of cigarettes a day from the time she was 16.  When she was diagnosed, not surprisingly with lung cancer at 69, she said to me “Screw it – for the first time in my life I’m going to eat whatever I want.” This blew my mind and was very upsetting.  Only when facing death did she feel that the world of food was open to her.

I was also caught up in dieting and looking professional. It was only when I met Susie Orbach in the early 80s that I started to revise my thinking about diets and the world of food. Susie wrote “Fat is a Feminist Issue” in 1979. This changed my world. Since my daughter was three when I continued my training in Eating Disorders at the Women’s Therapy Centre Institute, I raised her with the idea that all food is equal, you eat what you want when you’re hungry and you stop when you’re satiated. She is the one who has broken free from the bonds of dieting. She feels comfortable in her body but has also said that she lives in this culture so is aware of wanting to look good and fit. However, she doesn’t diet and has a healthy relationship with food.

So, this is a long history and way of saying: of course, our families and what our grandmothers and mothers pass down to us affect how we look at ourselves. The good news, though, is that we can break free of the generations of expectations.

NYD: Do body image issues only affect certain socio-economic groups?

Dr. Leslie: We all live in this culture, so many women from all the socio-economic groups experience body image issues. They may differ based upon the expectations of their particular culture and what their “ideal” body type may be. Anorexia and Bulimia were often thought of as privileged white women’s problems. 

Back in the 1980s, I started the first New York State licensed, nonprofit mental health clinic specializing in Eating Disorders and women who had been sexually abused. I was determined to provide good treatment for all women, regardless of whether they could pay or had public health insurance. When I went to the licensing hearing the evaluators – all white men – were hesitant to grant the license because they felt that “poor” women or women on public assistance didn’t have eating disorders and therefore, I didn’t need to receive Medicaid payments for their treatment. Somehow, this illusion persists.

NYD: Certainly, the traditional media play a part in the low self-esteem that women have about body image, but what effect does social media have? Is it equally impactful? More so?

Dr. Leslie: This question follows from the previous one. I think one of the most striking studies demonstrating the power that media has on women and their body image comes from Fiji.

Prior to 1995, television did not exist in Fiji. Then American television started to show up. By 1998 – in three short years – eating issues and body image distortions became rampant among the female population. Prior to this, women who were larger were seen as better off – they had access to food and a larger body meant well-being. However, by 1998, 11% of Fijian women and girls engaged in self-induced vomiting, 29% were at risk for a clinical eating disorder, 69% had dieted and 74% felt “too fat” (reported in “Pursing Perfection” by Margo Maine and Joe Kelly).

I do believe that social media has upped the challenge about how we feel about our bodies and our own beauty, since the images we see are of women like us but who have made themselves the arbiter of beauty – at any age – and I wonder what their own body images are if there is the desire to project themselves as the model we measure ourselves against. We believe so much of what others post and envy their lives, their bodies, their beauty. There is this belief that our bodies are plastic. The average American woman is 5’4” and weighs 164 lbs. The average model is 5’10” and weighs 107 lbs. It’s not realistic to measure ourselves against this ideal of beauty.

The average American woman is 5’4″ and weighs 164 lbs. The average model is 5’10” and weighs 107 lbs. it’s not realistic to measure ourselves against this ideal of beauty.

I am, however, encouraged by the Body Positivity movement – and the images on social media – encouraging women to feel good about their bodies no matter what the size at that moment in time.

NYD: I heard you say (in “Twisting the Plot – Twist Your Body Image”) that diets don’t work – they are made not to work, and that it isn’t an issue of discipline. Can you elaborate on that? Would you recommend this to someone who might be reading this and feeling discouraged by dieting?

Dr. Leslie: Dieting begets more dieting. The usual cycle is: “I’m too fat, I have to go on a diet” which then leads to finding a new diet. We follow this diet with its restrictions and may very well lose weight but at some point, we can’t live in a “cage,” so we break out. Once we eat something not on the diet (we’ve been “bad”), our response is often “Screw it – I’ve already blown it, so I’ll eat all the things I haven’t been able to eat.” This leads to bingeing, feeling bad about ourselves, trashing ourselves and then finding another diet that “will work.” The U.S. Weight loss/control industry is now worth $72 billion! There’s a lot riding on keeping us on diet after diet and feeling bad about our bodies.

I believe that if we identify when we’re hungry (not starving) and eat what feels right (intuitive eating), stop when we’re satiated (that’s the hard part), then we will reach our set point without dieting. The great thing is that we have multiple times during the day to work on identifying what we really want to eat when hungry. We can ask ourselves: do I want something crunchy, smooth, hot, cold etc. and then find the right match to our hunger. It is like going back to being a baby. If a mother is nursing, she doesn’t know how many ounces of milk the baby is taking in. The baby herself stops when full. It’s at the point that we introduce solid food that we put a value to it. Certain foods become particularly charged, especially those that may be considered “junk” or “special occasion” food. We don’t tell our children to hurry up and finish your ice cream so you can have broccoli. This is what I mean by all foods are equal.  It’s all food: cauliflower, chocolate, cake, chicken.  If we take away the “charge” around those foods like cake, etc. then there will be times we’re hungry and want that or just feel like having some of it for whatever reason.

I also recommend to my clients that if you’re not hungry and you find yourself looking for something to eat, then there is a feeling state going on that has nothing to do with hunger. It’s useful to try to identify that state and what is really going on: boredom, sadness, anxiety? If you realize that after you’ve eaten when not hungry, try to go back and slow down the experience from the time the idea of eating popped into your head. Look at it frame by frame and try to identify the feeling and what might have taken care of it more appropriately than food.

During the pandemic, so many people (of all ages and genders) have put on weight while home and isolating due to anxiety, depression – a host of feelings.

Food and alcohol have been one way to cope with it. We did what we can to get through this period. We’ve talked about the Covid “19” but it’s also been reported that many gained between 20-29 lbs. We need to be kind to ourselves and not go on crash diets as we start to slowly move out of isolation. So many of us have experienced this, and it takes time. I would recommend starting to get in touch with body hunger and experience the pleasure that comes from eating the right match to what your body wants at that moment.

NYD: Can you suggest any practices that will help women overcome negative body image internal messages? (Mindfulness practices, social media vacations, journaling, etc.)

Dr. Leslie: It’s helpful to talk to others who are also struggling. A Body Positivity group can help. If it’s a problem that haunts you, seeking therapeutic help is always useful. Mindfulness or Intuitive Eating is a good place to start – there are books, workbooks and courses that can teach you how to approach food this way. I find it helpful to remember “If we talked to our friends the way we talk to our bodies, we’d have no friends” (Marcia Germaine Hutchinson). That often brings us up short. Follow women who are part of the Body Positivity movement and see how they relate to their bodies. If you enjoy journaling, then by all means write down how you speak to yourself and your body – what’s going on at those times.

And it’s always delightful to see Ari Seth Cohen’s beautiful older women in Advanced Style.

My teacher, Susie Orbach said “Women are trying to change the shape of their lives by changing the shape of their bodies.” I think that’s something we should think about: what really needs to change in our lives? 

Leslie Morrison Faerstein, Ed.D., LCSW has over 40 years of experience in nonprofit administration, founding the first New York State licensed, nonprofit mental health clinic specializing in Eating Disorders and women’s issues in the mid- ‘80s. She then went on to help establish, as Executive Director, Musicians On Call, bringing weekly live music to the bedsides of patients in 6 cities. Most recently, she was the first Executive Director of amazing.community, a nonprofit organization that worked to expand the workplace for women 50+ who had a gap in their work history. She has always maintained a psychotherapy practice as well. 

Currently, Leslie is focusing on women, aging and body image.  As she approached 70 (she is now approaching 71), she started thinking and writing about issues this generation now faces. She is expanding her practice and runs a weekly group on Body Positivity for Sesh. You can find her at LeslieMFaerstein.com and she can be reached at LeslieMFaerstein@gmail.com. She is very much Not Yet Dead.

COVID-19 and Fear of Flying: An Anxiety Daily Double

Depending on which study you read, one-third to nearly one-half of Americans have some fear of flying. Whether it’s turbulence, unusual sounds, or claustrophobia, fear of flying is one of the most common phobias, second only to fear of public speaking.

And in March 2020, we added a new phobia to our repertoire. Survey data from YouGov shows that the majority of American adults fear contracting Covid-19 to some degree, from “very” to “somewhat.”

Now, after a year of being isolated from family and friends, we’re starting to tentatively emerge from our homes, like the munchkins when meeting Dorothy. And many of us are thinking about travel, whether to see family, fulfill a bucket-list entry, or just see something other than our four walls.

But what about the fearful flyer? Has COVID-19 made fear of flying worse? Has it doubled down on anxiety or has it superseded fear of flying such that those formerly afraid to fly are putting aside their concerns just to get out? And what about those with flight phobia who think, “I’ve lived this long without it. Why risk it now?”

I asked Captain Tom Bunn, LCSW, a retired airline pilot and licensed therapist who has specialized in the treatment of fear of flying for over thirty years, to share his observations about how COVID-19 has affected the fear of flying. Since 1982, Capt. Tom’s company SOAR, Inc. has helped more than 14,000 clients control fear, panic, and claustrophobia. For more information about his bestselling book SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying, and app for iOS and Android, please see the end of this article.

NYD: How has COVID-19 changed anxiety levels for fliers, and what should they know?

Capt. Tom: It has been a bit of a journey. At the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of anxious fliers felt relieved. They had a valid reason to avoid flying with no feelings of shame. But as the pandemic dragged on, fearful fliers were saying they wanted the pandemic to be over so they could travel, even if it meant taking a plane.

As to this kind of change, a client said before the pandemic her fear of flying was unjustified. Then, during the pandemic, there was good reason to be afraid to fly. She was aware of both positions. The two things were in her mind at once: her justified fear of being on a plane during the pandemic, and her unjustified fear before the pandemic. Somehow, when she thought of the pandemic being over, and thus her justified fear being over, she had trouble continuing to be afraid of her unjustified fear. She began to look forward to being able to fly again.

I don’t think flying during the pandemic is a good idea. There is no clear line as to what is safe and what isn’t. If a person really needs to fly, with good precautions they should be fine. But every exposure is worth avoiding unless necessary. It is not just being on the plane. There is getting to the airport, checking in, going through security, and boarding on the departure end. There is deplaning, getting to a hotel or other accommodations, and meeting with business people or family. Eating – obviously without wearing a mask – is going to be done in the presence of others who are not wearing a mask and whose COVID status is unknown. All in all, a trip is not just one exposure but a constellation of many exposures to people who have also had many recent exposures.

After vaccination, there is a lot of protection and that should make flying OK.

Another thing people are going to run into is this. After being at home for a year, just going out in public is going to trigger the amygdala. The amygdala is no longer used to what used to be routine. If a person lacks good ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, what you used to do routinely is going to cause anxiety – which will not make sense to them unless they understand the amygdala is regarding it as something they have never done.

NYD: Does having even more years in which to gather crashes in “your mental filing cabinet” make it even harder for the older adult to overcome fear of flying?

Capt. Tom: I think so. There doesn’t seem to be a “best used before” date on past crashes. There should be, because the problems that caused crashes years ago no longer exist. We are flying better planes, and they are being flown by better-trained pilots. Thus, there should be a cutoff date.

When would that date be? I think it should begin after all the first generation of jet airlines had been retired (707, DC-8, 727, A-300) The 747 produced a huge leap in engineering standards. The post-747 planes are much safer than the pre-747 planes. All the older planes were retired in the early 2000s. So, start with 2005 and consider the crashes since then. Also, because standards are different elsewhere, disregard crashes outside the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the UK, and Europe. How many crashes does that leave us to fret over? Zero.

NYD: Is anxiety about flying different from generalized anxiety? Specific to flying? Is it treated much like any other anxiety disorder would be treated? If not, how is fear of flying treated differently?

Capt. Tom: All anxiety comes from the same source. When operating your car, you have the accelerator to go faster, and the brake to slow down. A person with anxiety is like a person who bought a Tesla that is supposed to drive itself, and someone forgot to service the brakes. It would accelerate just fine. But when it was time to slow down or stop, it wouldn’t be able to. Anxiety is like that. It is due to a lack of psychological programming to operate the system that is supposed to slow us down when stress hormones build up and get us going too fast.

NYD: How would you respond to the comment: “I’ve lived this long without flying, I don’t need to risk it now”?

Capt. Tom: What’s the risk? It’s less than driving to the supermarket. The risk is so low that if you stop doing your daily routine that involves some driving and you fly someplace instead, you have made yourself safer.

… if you stop doing your daily routine that involves some driving and you fly someplace instead, you have made yourself safer.

NYD: How can the SOAR Course help someone who experienced anxiety while flying years ago, and has not returned to it for many, many years?

Capt. Tom: One (of my clients) had a panic attack on a flight when she was a teenager. Finally, forty years later she did the SOAR Course. Now she has done about 60 flights. Sometimes the motivation turns out to be disgust that you are not able to do what others do. Sometimes it is a bucket list thing: not wanting to get any older without seeing the places you want to see.

Tom Bunn, L.C.S.W., is a retired airline captain and licensed therapist who has specialized in the treatment of fear of flying for over thirty years. He is the author of the bestselling book on flight phobia, “SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying. His company, SOAR, Inc., founded in 1982, has helped more than 14,000 clients control fear, panic, and claustrophobia.

I’m one of them!

Be sure to download the “SOAR Conquers Fear of Flying” app, free for iOS and Android that features:

  • a step-by-step “Basics” course that provides reassuring information about flying at all steps along the way, from “Getting Ready” to “At the Airport” to “In the Air” to “Landing” including relaxation exercises to soothe anticipatory anxiety
  • a G-force meter that you can use to prove that turbulence is safe and never approaches the plane’s limits
  • Live forecasts for turbulence potential around the world and storm position and height
  • in-app purchases including Capt. Tom’s “Take Me Along” to coach you through the flight

The Story of a Toy Inventor and the Daughter Who’s Telling His Tale

This September, toy inventor Eddy Goldfarb will be 100 years old. Most likely, he’ll spend part of his day tinkering in his garage, developing a new idea, and figuring out how to make it work. A process, he says, that is a big factor in his longevity. 

You’ll probably recognize some of Eddy’s most famous inventions: Kerplunk, Giant Bubble Gun, Chutes Away, Arcade Basketball, Stompers, Vac-U-Form, and the iconic Yakity Yak Talking Teeth. It’s no wonder Eddy Goldfarb is a member of the Toy Industry Hall of Fame, along with such notables as Milton Bradley, George Parker (Parker Bros.), Herman Fisher (Fisher-Price), Jim Henson, and Toys R Us founder, Charles Lazarus.

Eddy Goldfarb is the father of more than 800 toys and holds nearly 300 patents. But Eddy is also the father of Lyn Goldfarb, Fran Goldfarb, and Martin Goldfarb. And while I could paraphrase from the hundreds of articles written about Eddy Goldfarb’s fascinating life, no one could tell Eddy’s story better than his daughter Lyn, an Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker who directed and produced, “Eddy’s World.” Lyn’s 18-minute film tells the story of Eddy Goldfarb’s creative, optimistic, and curious personality, and shares his “philosophies of life and his wisdom on aging.”

So while I started writing this post about the indomitable spirit of Eddy Goldfarb, it’s also the story of a daughter who found her father’s life, his work, and his outlook interesting and worth sharing. And unlike the hundreds of other articles about Eddy on the Internet, this one was literally told through his daughter’s lens. 

“I first started out really to do a family Legacy project,” Lyn told me. “My mother had Parkinson’s and my father was her caregiver, and he didn’t look well either. After my mother died in 2013, my father walked his way back to health and creativity. His optimism allowed him to grieve, but also look forward towards life. That was one of the reasons I started making the film – to capture his grace in aging.

“I realized that it really would be a great little film. And has been great – I really got to know my father in a different way making the film about him and having the opportunity to talk about the items, tell the stories of his life, but also the real privilege of watching him work.”

Because while Lyn does remember playing with prototypes (while being sworn to secrecy) and getting “tons of cereal” sent to the house during the time that Eddy was designing the premium toys that were included in cereal boxes, she didn’t see Eddy as the “toy inventor,” but as her father.

“He went off to work like most parents that went off to work outside of the house,” she says. 

I can relate to Lyn Goldfarb’s memory of the father who just “went off to work.” As children, we don’t really pay attention to what our parents are doing or what they are thinking. We’re more aware of our experiences, and how our parents are seemingly only there to interrupt our agendas.

But have you ever thought about their motivations, their struggles, their loves, their fears? Do you remember some of the stories you heard from and about their lives? 

In the film, Eddy tells the story of meeting his wife of 65 years, Anita Stern, at a dance in Chicago after World War II. He asked Anita to marry him the next day, and nine months later they were wed. Eddy’s tale reminded me of the story I had heard about my father and mother meeting at a USO dance in Chicago during the war as well. Like Eddy and Anita, my folks fell in love immediately, and although my father returned to his deployment two days after meeting her, he would return six months later, and they would marry immediately. 

Lyn’s loving film reminds me how important it is to record those few stories I still have of my parents to keep their memory alive. While my media will not be as professional as Lyn’s, I realize that if I don’t record their stories somewhere, no one other than my siblings and myself will ever know them. If I don’t record the other memories of my parents (who died when I was barely in my 40s) what will my children, and their children, know about their lives? I’ve already lost the stories of my grandparents, how they immigrated to America, how they lived, worked, and loved. I don’t want to lose those few I have of my parents.

Toward the end of the film, Eddy talks about making lithophanes of family and friends. “For some reason, the lithophane has a little magic to it,” he says. Maybe it’s because it’s a lasting memory of someone you love. It’s the same “little magic” that Lyn Goldfarb has created in “Eddy’s World.”

Rosamund Pike Sheds Light on Guardianship Fraud in Golden Globes Acceptance Speech

Last night on the Golden Globes, Rosamund Pike won “Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy” for her portrayal of Marla Grayson, a professional legal guardian who defrauds her elderly clients using loopholes in the US guardian/conservatorship system, in the Netflix movie “I Care a Lot.”

“If we delivered this story on this subject matter in a way that tugged at the heart string and was told from the victim’s point of view, it would be unbearably difficult to watch,” Pike said in a recent interview. “We took this subject matter and flipped it. So, yes, we go on this fun, seductive ride, which is fun and funny, but we also get to get angry at the same time. I’m open to the debate whether this is a comedy or not.”

I watched the movie about a week or so ago, and I don’t remember one LOL moment. In fact, it freaked me out, because as far as I know, I don’t have a Russian mobster family to protect me (but I do remember my dad telling me about a Russian great-great-great-great grandfather who was a rabbi. … although I don’t feel any safer knowing that).

Unfortunately, there are some scary examples of guardianship/conservatorship fraud, and you don’t have to be elderly to become a victim. Just look at the ongoing struggle Britney Spears has been facing in court battles to stop, or at least limit her father’s 13-year legal conservatorship that removed her control over her finances, career, and well-being. If Britney can’t win, how can we expect to protect our anonymous, financially modest, sometimes disenfranchised elderly?

The day after I watched the movie, I contacted the Florida State Guardianship Association. I figured if ANY place was familiar with elderly guardianship it was Florida in which 1/4 of the state’s population is age 60 or older. Evidently, they were well prepared for my query and sent me this white paper from the National Guardianship Association (NGA), written in preparation of the release of “I Care a Lot.”

Guardians “follow a code of ethics and statutory guidelines, caring for individuals and managing their property after they have been deemed incapable of doing so,” the paper states. “Typically, our clients have serious chronic mental illness, dementia, a developmental disability, or traumatic brain injury.” These clients are evaluated by licensed mental health professionals, physicians and others with the ultimate goal of ending guardianship whenever possible. And the paper goes on to give examples of wards who have regained their independence.

I truly believe the NGA is “leading the way to excellence in guardianship” through its mission to establish and promote nationally recognized standards, encourage the highest levels of integrity and competence through guardianship education, and protect the interests of guardians and people in their care. However, despite the NGA’s intentions, the best laid codes aren’t always followed, and people can still find ways to take advantage of the system and the wards in their care. (In her acceptance speech last night, Pike thanked “America’s broken legal system for making it possible to make stories like this.”)

Here’s just a few examples of how guardianship can go wrong:

This is a conversation that has been gaining volume, and Pike’s award will hopefully bring even greater awareness to the situation. If you have ANY concerns about guardianship fraud, contact:
Adult Protective Services in your area (these differ by state)

And learn more from:
The National Center on Law and Elder Rights (See paper here, “When the Guardian is an Abuser”) and The National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse.

Buy Stuff and Make Money – Win/Win!

We’ve scored another distinction, fellow Baby Boomers, having recently been recognized in the Wall Street Journal as “dominating” the online shopping market.  “Older Americans are increasingly buying groceries — and just about everything else — on the Internet, and those over 65 are now the fastest-growing category of e-commerce shoppers.”

And while I’m very proud of my contribution to this fact (I’m pretty sure Amazon is about to name me “Top Shopper of Needless Stuff”), I’m confused about why this is a surprise. 

Baby Boomers will be between the ages of 57-75 this year, 20-38 when Apple launched Macintosh in 1984, and 27-45 when the World Wide Web opened to the public. We’re not too old to have been a part of the technology revolution … Steve Jobs would be 66 if he were alive today. We have computers (granted we use laptops more than smartphones), we know how to access the Internet, we know how to buy things, we have more disposable income than younger generations, and since we’re older, we’re at greater risk for COVID-19 so we’re perfectly happy with social distancing. 

Heck yes, I’m shopping online!

But here’s what’s interesting – although Baby Boomers are kind of known for our frugality, we are not the most deal-savvy generation when it comes to online shopping. The Millennials have us there! 

Considering our growing propensity to shop online, shouldn’t we take a lesson from our Millennial mentors and start taking advantage of the many (!) sources for online savings?

And by many, I mean (way too) many!

There are hundreds (maybe billions – you know how I like to exaggerate!) of cashback apps, coupon apps, store apps, credit card points, and hybrid discount/cashback/points apps you can use when shopping online. It’s hard to choose which to use, and sometimes the discounts/cashback cancel each other out. So this won’t, by far, be a comprehensive list of each online savings source. Instead, I’ll share some apps that have good track records, unique features, and specific uses. 

Before we get there, though, consider Mike Brady’s important lesson: … caveat emptor, Greg! You might want to:

  • check out the privacy statements of any site on which you share your information (many like Capital One Shopping, Honey, etc.) keep track of the coupon codes that their members have successfully used. If you don’t like the idea of them tracking your online shopping and using that information to help other shoppers, you might want to pass.
  • consider checking with the Better Business Bureau or a site like Trustpilot before you decide to use any of these apps.
  • understand the payout period information (how much you can accumulate and when you’ll get “paid”). Will you receive a gift card? PayPal credit or credit to the site from which you’re purchasing? Check?
  • determine if certain store departments (like the one you want) are excluded from the deal.
  • find out if there’s a browser extension for the app so that your purchases are automatically be checked for savings.
  • keep in mind that stores only let you use one cashback or reward program per purchase, so you have to choose between programs like Rakuten, Honey, Capital One Shopping and others.

Coupons vs. Cashback vs. Best Price 

Another distinction necessary before we get to “the list” is that some sites offer coupons for a specific product (manufacturer’s coupon) or at a specific retailer stores coupon, some offer cash – a percentage of the purchase total before tax and after coupons, and some simply compare prices.

Ready to give it a whirl? Try something mainstream:

Capital One Shopping (formerly Wikibuy)

Capital One Shopping is a multi-talented browser extension and mobile app that saves you money when you shop by finding you the best deal for the product you’re purchasing. If there’s a better deal on another site, they’ll let you know, then you decide if you want to take advantage of that deal or if shipping, etc. makes it less valuable to you. You can also apply coupon codes that the app has found and earn rewards points that you can use to buy gift cards to popular stores like Groupon, eBay, or Staples. 

They also offer cool things like price drop notifications, additional deals when you link your credit cards, universal searches allowing you to comparison shop for a specific product from their website, a barcode scanner to use when you’re in a store to compare prices from the best online and physical retailers to let you know if you’re getting a good deal, and synchronization of between your smartphone and web browser (using the same email and password for each device).

Honey

Purchased by PayPal in 2019 for a whopping $4 billion, Honey automatically searches and aggregates user data for the best coupon or promo code on 40,000+ sites. You can also earn rewards with the Honey Gold program and redeem your “Gold” for gift cards at your favorite stores.

Honey offers a price history tool that allows you to see how much an item’s price has gone up and down in the past. Based on past trends, you can choose to buy now or wait for another drop. And that’s made easier by their Droplist, which allows you to add items and be notified when there’s a price drop.

Rakuten (formerly Ebates)

Rakuten is one of the biggest coupon sites on the web with a valuation of $1 billion but its biggest draw is the cashback program (up to 40% in some cases) for purchases made through over 2500 other sites, even when shopping in-store. You’ll also find double and triple cashback events around the main holiday seasons.

To date, Rakuten’s 12 million members in the U.S. have earned over $1 billion in cash at their favorite stores.

TopCashBack

Join more than 15 million members who earn on average $345 cashback a year and save money from all the top 4,400 online retailers with TopCashBack. Your rewards go directly to your bank account, PayPal, or gift cards.

Like most sites of this nature, the retailer gives TopCashBack a commission for sending you to their website and they pass 100% of this commission back to you. 

Cashback should track to your “Earnings” page within seven days of your purchase, but it isn’t ready to withdraw until the retailer’s return policy is over to confirm your cashback. Once the retailer has paid TopCashBack their commission for your purchase, they’ll make your cashback ‘payable’ and ready to withdraw.

ibotta

When you shop with ibotta, called the “new version of grocery store coupons,” you’ll earn cash whenever you shop, both online and in-store. ibotta pays you cash for your purchases and has paid out over $797 million in cash rewards to more than 35 million users since its founding in 2012.

You can also link store loyalty cards in the ibotta app and earn cash, enable “nearby store alerts” and be notified when you’re near an ibotta retailer, review deals on the app before you go shopping (or in the store if you forgot to review deals ahead of time) and browse available savings. Then, when you get home from the store, just pull the app back up, scan barcodes for eligible items, and take a photo of your receipt. After a short review, you’ll get the coupon value added to your account. Once you hit $20, you can withdraw to PayPal for cash.

Brad’s Deals

I love this one because of its story. In 2001, Brad Wilson was a cash-strapped college student who couldn’t believe the markup on textbooks. After finding cheaper prices online, he taught himself to build a website and started Brad’s Deals. Now, he leads a team who find the best deals on the Internet and blog on the latest in smart shopping.

With the promise of “Consumers first, always,” when you buy one of the site’s deals or use one of its coupons, they receive a small commission on the sale that doesn’t affect the price you pay (like most apps of this sort). Because you’re never buying directly from Brad’s Deals, they have no access to your order history or credit card information. 

Amazon Coupons

Despite being the queen of Amazon shopping, I had no idea that they offered coupons! Nothing overly complicated here but remember these are only for Amazon’s own products, and some of the deals are for Amazon Prime customers only.

Or try something a little different:

Swagbucks

Like the other programs, you can earn cash by purchasing products through the Swagbucks portal, but you can ALSO earn Swagbucks (called SBs) by participating in a variety of activities like taking surveys, watching videos, playing games, printing grocery coupons, and even just adding the browser extension. You can redeem your Swagbucks for gift cards, PayPal credits, cash, or donate them to one or more of the charities on their site (you choose which one). Swagbucks has been around since 2005 and has paid out more than $240 million in cash and free gift cards (they distribute more than 7000 per day). 

You’ll find lots of tips to increase your Swagbucks earnings with a simple Google search but don’t expect big earnings. If you like the idea of earning a little green while you’re watching tv, go for it.

iConsumer

iConsumer, a cashback/coupon/discount service, wants to share its value with its users. When you purchase with iConsumer, you earn shares of their publicly traded stock (RWRDP) as well as whatever deal their 2,400 stores offer. Your first purchase earns you at least 100 shares, subsequent purchases increase your “portfolio value” as does the referral program.

If you want to become a shareholder in a publicly traded company just by purchasing something you were going to purchase anyway, iConsumer might be the choice for you. Granted, as of today the price per share is $0.12, so you might do better just buying it outright and starting a trend on reddit. 

Coupons for a Cause

iGive.com and Coupon Cause are coupon sites that donate a portion of their commission to great causes. 

iGive does this by donating your rebate (whatever the store has agreed upon with iGive) to the cause you choose from more than 60,000 from local to worldwide on their site. Your cause receives the full donation percentage (listed on the iGive site) of the purchase price, excluding tax, shipping, or handling. iGive also offers great deals such as free shipping and discounts at select online stores. 

Coupon Cause gives shoppers deals and coupon codes available on the web, and they test the coupons to make sure they work. When you make a purchase with one of their coupons, they are paid a commission, part of which they then donate to various causes and charities around the world (including The National Alliance to End Homelessness, Feeding America, Charity: Water, City of Hope, CDC Foundation, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). Unlike iGive, you cannot choose which charity will receive your donation, however they may offer you a better discount than iGive.

Confused about which to try? Start here:

Cashback Monitor

Since you can often only use one cashback program per purchase, and they often cancel out a coupon deal, it’s often best to choose one that will be the most beneficial and stick with it to increase your savings and payout period. And the easiest way to tell which app will give you the best cashback rewards is with Cashback Monitor.

This site tracks cashback rates and miles and points earning rates. So before you make a purchase, head there to find out the best portal to use to maximize your savings and rewards.

Happy shopping!

A Pirate Looks at 73

Rick La Roche, Navy SEAL, diplomat, pilot, college professor, champion gamer, motivational speaker on geopolitical, leadership and team-building issues, blogger, and reality TV star – at 73 – wakes up every day with curiosity, excitement and vigor.

Part of the reason for his attitude are the three rules about aging he adheres to:

  • You are what you believe you are
  • The goal is to die “young” as late as possible
  • Make sure you’re still alive when you die

Another reason for his attitude? It’s just the way he lives his life, and oh, what an exciting life he has led.

A proud Baby Boomer, Rick’s childhood in Tampa, Florida wasn’t unlike most boys of the time, but Florida-style. “We swam a lot. So, we learned about alligators, and we learned which snakes were dangerous and which weren’t.”

Rick was predestined for a life of adventure. “I broke my arm twice by the time I was 6,” he recently revealed in an interview. “The first time was when I fell out of a tree that was slippery during a storm. The second time was when I tested my mother’s theory that ‘you shouldn’t climb trees when it’s raining.’

“It was a time when you were told that anything was possible. There were jobs galore, and you didn’t have any boundaries if you were willing to do the hard work to get there.” 

With a love of all things water and a mastery of swimming, Rick became a competitive swimmer in high school, and one of his favorite movies was “The Frogmen.” Turns out, that movie would have significance later in life. 

 “I didn’t know much about goal setting in those days,” Rick said, and after a couple of months of college, he dropped out with plans to start a lawn care business. “The day after I asked my father for $50 to start my business, he took me to the recruiting offices for all branches of the military.” The choice was: “join one of these four.”

Navy boot camp in Great Lakes, IL led to Gunner’s Mate Guided Missile School, during which Rick tested to become a member of the US Navy’s Sea, Land, Air Teams (SEALs). When those orders didn’t come, Rick was stationed on a guided missile destroyer. It wasn’t until he was thousands of miles away in the Mediterranean that orders came for Rick to return to the US to begin Class 39 of BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) school).

Let’s pause here for a little perspective about the SEALs: Only about 1,000 recruits make it to SEAL training. Of those, only about 250 complete their training and join approximately 2,500 more active SEALs, who work among nine active-duty teams. 

“I was scared shitless, to be honest with you,” Rick said. “I’m not particularly large and there were some massive guys there. I started thinking, ‘I can’t worry about these people. I need to worry about myself and live in the moment. If you look too far ahead, it can be overwhelming.

“This was the beginning of learning how to set goals and break them down into micro goals,” Rick explained. “Whatever the evolution (exercise) was, you only thought through that exercise. Never what was coming next.

“I told myself, they can’t make me quit, and they can’t throw me out. All they can do is try to make me quit.” When he made it through Hell Week (week four of the 24-week program), Rick knew he’d complete the program.

“Hell Week is five days and five nights solid with a maximum total of four hours of sleep. It starts at sundown on Sunday and ends at the end of Friday.” Although he doesn’t remember all the details from Hell Week, he does remember going into the barracks Friday night and hearing his chief instructor yell, “you’re the worst people who’ve ever tried to become frogs – and there’s nothing that says we have to end Hell Week today – so we’re doing it all over again.” 

“That’s when a guy got up and quit,” Rick said. “He just walked out. But as soon as he did, the instructor told us he was just kidding, and that he could usually get one more person to quit that way.”

Hell Week, indeed.

After his military service, Rick attended commercial flying school and earned his private pilot’s license. He returned to university, but the wanderer in him sent him to Pamplona for the “Running of the Bulls,” which turned into a trip around the world. He eventually began teaching in Stockholm, Sweden, where he met his first wife.

Rick returned to the US and ultimately obtained his undergraduate degree in Geography and Political Geography. He returned to Sweden and continued to lecture at the Stockholm School of Economics. Eventually, he returned to the US and worked as a diver for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Key West and lectured at Florida Keys Community Collage and was struck again with wanderlust that led him to California.

“I was teaching at the Army and Navy Academy near San Diego when my wife heard that people were invited to take to foreign service exam. I never thought I would be a diplomat,” Rick said, “but I took the test anyway.”

After “taking (and passing) the test,” an all-day written exam and personal profile, Rick was invited to DC for an all-day oral exam. “They don’t expect the ‘right answers’ – they just want to see how you react to hypothetical situations.” While 50% pass the written exam, most are eliminated at the oral exam. Rick passed.

After the security interview, Rick learned he was one of three from the original 19 who had been selected. Two were attorneys, Rick was the third. 

As a Foreign Service Officer with the US Department of State, Rick served in Indonesia, Iraq (where he was embedded with the military in Najaf), New Zealand, Samoa, Sweden, Egypt, and Israel. (After his retirement from the United States Foreign Service, Rick now lives with his family in Sweden.)

It was while working with Multinational Force and Observers in Egypt, monitoring the area as part of the Camp David Accord Peace Treaty, that Rick happened to read in an online Swedish newspaper that auditions were being held for “Robinson,” the Swedish equivalent of the US television show “Survivor.” With age 70 and compulsory retirement approaching rapidly, Rick was looking for his next big challenge. He sent in a tape. 

Two months later, during his rotation as mission control officer at his base in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, Rick was called to participate in further auditions. These included more interviews, full medical exams, and a psychological exam to determine “why he’d want to do this at age 70.” 

Rick “survived” on Robinson almost to the end. During a competition where the remaining 12 participants had to balance on one foot on a pillar for as long as possible, Rick lost his balance and was ultimately sent home for emergency knee replacement. “I’d had 13 operations on my left knee and five on my right knee by that point. This was going to be knee surgery #19.”

However, once replaced, that knee served Rick well for three years. Then he tore the ACL in his other knee when he became a contestant on the Swedish version of “Alone” called, “Ensam I Vildmarken” (Alone in the Wilderness) at age 73.

Rick was once again the oldest contestant along with seven other participants. “We were dropped off in the northern Norway wilderness and left on our own. No film crews or anything. We used GoPro cameras to film ourselves making our own shelter, finding water, wood, food and making fires. It was a real adventure.”

Unfortunately, the adventure ended when a middle-of-the-rainy-night bio break caused him to fall and severely twist his right knee. He twisted it again the following morning. “I knew immediately I had ruptured my ACL. I had to call for the doctor to evaluate me. He came, checked me out and said, ‘If you can’t walk, you can’t gather wood, make a fire, find food and stay warm. You are already entering hypothermia, so I’m pulling you from the competition.’

“I had been lying on my sleeping bag for hours and was shivering and shaking uncontrollably. He told me I would die if I tried to stay. Advanced age and low body fat are highly dangerous in the cold. Not the way I wanted it to end, but at least I gave it a shot. Part of mental toughness is being able to make and accept the ‘hard’ right decisions. You have to challenge yourself and learn how to deal with failure.”

Rick is the first to tell you (and proudly) that he’s made many mistakes and suffered many failures in life, but quickly adds that the best lessons he’s learned have come from those experiences. “That’s part of the fun and the challenge. To expand your comfort zone and learn new things. Most of the time, I screw up and fail, but every once in a while, I succeed. And then it’s all worth it.”

In Lesson 35 – “Stay Young At Heart”-  in his book, “Forty Tools for Life,” a legacy of lessons he wrote for his two sons and grandson, Rick advises, “It’s people with old attitudes who’re the worst enemies of the young at heart. Some people are born old. You can see it in their eyes. It’s best to keep away from such people because they’ll tell you to ‘grow up’ or ‘act your age.’ And that’s terrible advice!”

Although Rick La Roche is currently finishing two books, “Catching Life” and “A Boomer Looks Back,” he is in the market for new challenges! So, if you need a pal to go buildering with, join you on a swim across the ocean, or just share a simple Mount Everest climb, give Rick a call. He’s almost finished with rehab on his other knee and is ready for an adventure. 

Nighty Night! How to Get the Sleep You Need

Are you getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night? 

Wait let me rephrase that  … are you over 55 and getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night without taking anything?

Because I’m not.

I used to. I’d fall asleep literally sitting up in bed with my Kindle in my hands. At some point, my husband would remove it (because he’s an insomniac), and I’d gain consciousness again 8-10 hours later. NOTHING happened in between. Total oblivion.

But lately, when I finally fall asleep (caffeine stopped, exercise done, Kindle down, lights out, post hot shower), I do so only to WAKE BACK UP anywhere from 1-4 hours later. And then, I’m in middle-of-the-night-psychotic hell. Here’s a little glimpse into what happens in my brain next:

Okay, okay, I’m NOT going to turn the lights on. I’m just going to breathe and relax. Did I turn the stove off? I’m sure I did, but should I check? Nah, I know it’s off. Okay, relax. Where’s the cat? Oh the cat… did I put the rug she pee peed on in the dryer? Is the dryer still on? I probably shouldn’t fall asleep with the dryer on. Dryer sheets. I need to add that to the grocery list … but what else do we need? Wait, where’s my husband? Is he okay? He’s probably just walking around, but maybe he went to check on the dryer/cat/grocery list and fell down and is hurt.

By that point, he’s usually back from whatever nightly perambulation he was on so I can go back to thinking about how I can’t fall asleep.

While it seems like fun to think about getting a text-pal in a time zone that’s 6-8 hours ahead of mine, the fact is that not getting enough sleep can have severe consequences on your physical and mental health … and I can’t afford either of those!

So, I did some checking into the most current research and information about insomnia – and if these suggestions don’t help you get sleep, just try reading this at bedtime – I’m pretty sure it can bore you into unconsciousness!!

What is insomnia?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, insomnia is defined as “persistent difficulty with sleep initiation, duration, consolidation or quality.”  It is more prevalent in older adults (30% to 48%), women (25%), and people with medical and mental health issues. (Oh, I am SO SCREWED!)

In a 2018 article entitled “What’s New In Insomnia Research,” Dr Dieter Riemann, the founder of the European Insomnia Network said, “Ultimately, insomnia rates have risen because there are so many more distractions in today’s society. It’s much harder to relax, to wind down, to shut out disturbing thoughts, and having a lot on your mind can interfere with how well you sleep.”

It’s much harder to relax, to wind down, to shut out disturbing thoughts, and having a lot on your mind can interfere with how well you sleep.

AND THAT WAS PRE-PANDEMIC!

Although I couldn’t find any research later than 2018, Google Trends affirms a dramatic increase in internet searches for insomnia as we’ve experienced the COVID-19 global pandemic. Studies are being discussed to determine whether an increase in insomnia symptoms as a result of the pandemic will persist and lead to higher rates of chronic insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at least three nights per week for three months or longer).

Techniques for Overcoming Insomnia

CBT-I

For chronic insomnia in adults, guidelines published in 2016 by the American College of Physicians, and supported by the British Association for Psychopharmacology, and jointly the National Institute of Health and the Sleep Research Society recommend that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Insomnia (CBT-I) as the first-line treatment.

CBT-I is a short, structured, and evidence-based approach to insomnia. The program typically takes 6-8 weeks and involves cognitive, behavioral, and education components that help you control or eliminate negative thoughts and actions that keep you awake, develop good sleep habits, and avoid behaviors that keep you from sleeping well. To find a practitioner, contact your physician, the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine or the American Board of Sleep Medicine.

Unfortunately, due to the widespread need for this treatment, there aren’t enough CBT-I professionals to meet the current demand. However, researchers have developed successful digital, group, and self-help formats as alternative ways to provide treatment.

In a year-long study (Northwestern Medicine and University of Oxford) involving 1,711 people, researchers found online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) improved not only insomnia symptoms, but functional health, psychological well-being and sleep-related quality of life.

If you’re interested in participating in a study on the efficacy of online CBT-I, the Stanford University Sleep Health and Insomnia Program (SHIP) is recruiting participants. Click here for more information.

Behavioral changes

Not quite ready to try the structured approach with CBT-I? There are a LOT of other things you can do to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. So with an attitude of optimism, these are some of the easiest things you can try TONIGHT to help you get the sleep you need. 

Take a shower or bath and add aromatherapy
People who took baths or showers (even as short as 10 minutes) measuring between 104°F–108.5°F 1 to 2 hours before bedtime found that going from warm water into a cooler bedroom causes your body temperature to drop, naturally creating a sleepy feeling. Sleep-inducing aromatherapy ingredients for your bath can provide added benefit. Many are available already mixed, and you’ll find some great recipes here.

Try relaxing music
Various studies report that slow, soothing music can lower the heart rate and relax the body, reduce anxiety and stress, or simply distract from stressful thoughts that prevent sleep. Look for playlists that feature songs with an “ideal” tempo of 60-80 beats per minute on Spotify and other music resources.

Set an intentional “worry” time earlier in the day
Plan a 15-minute worry break during the day to process thoughts. During this time, you might consider writing a to-do list or thinking about solutions to your concerns. Actively working on this during the day will keep you from giving it space at night.

Start a gratitude journal
In a study of college students who reported insomnia, expressing gratitude in writing each evening at bedtime helped improve their sleep compared to baseline. 

Breathe Deeply
Breathing exercises are designed to bring the body to a more relaxed state by bringing down some functions that can make you anxious. Want to try some now? Download “Deep Breathing and Guided Imagery for Relaxation and Sleep” here.

Try imagery distraction
Studies show that guided imagery, where you are given a specific cognitive task (and involving all of your senses), can calm your body and relax your mind.  You can find many guided imagery scripts online and on apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Spotify. You can also download “Deep Breathing and Guided Imagery for Relaxation and Sleep” here.

Make your bedroom comfortable for sleep:
Be Cool
Our body temperature is cool while sleeping and warmer when we’re up. So the goal at night is to mimic that change in body temperature. Research advises setting your thermostat to 60–67°F at night.

Avoid clocks in your bedroom
People who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep tend to focus on the time and the fact that it’s passing while they’re watching it – the perfect storm for anxiety and sleeplessness! Don’t look at the time in relation to your sleep routines. However if you need an alarm, turn the clock away from you or place your alarm clock where you can’t see it.

Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy
Ultimately your goal will be to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day (weekends included). BUT for now, you should not get in bed unless you are sleepy. By the way, you’re supposed to read that book (made of paper) in another room until you’re sleepy and THEN go to your bed. Reading IN BED is not allowed! Who knew?

If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of turning off the lights, or if you wake up and can’t fall back asleep in 20 minutes, get out of bed and reset
Lying awake in bed for too long can “create an unhealthy mental connection between your sleeping environment and wakefulness.” Get up and try a “reset break.” During this time you should do something relaxing like read a book,, have a cup of camomile tea, or listen to relaxing music. The goal here is to shift your attention away from trying to go to sleep, which is NOT a relaxing exercise!

Bed is for sleep (and for some people – sex) not awake activities
It’s not your home office, so bringing your laptop, TV, and food into bed with you is a no no. Your bed should conjure feelings that are conducive to sleep, and research shows that these activities can trick our brains into thinking this space is for these activities and thereby training it to be more awake than sleepy in bed. If space is an issue (studio apartments, etc.) then use one side of the bed for sleep only, and the other side for other activities. This is a last-resort option!

Stick to a sleep schedule
While you’re aiming to go to sleep at the same time each night, it’s also important to wake up at the same time each day, regardless of the time you went to sleep at night. If you didn’t sleep well at night, chances are you’ll fall asleep more easily the subsequent night. Alternatively, if you allow yourself to stay in bed to “catch up,” you may find it difficult to go to sleep that night. 

Stay active
A great stress reliever, regular exercise has been shown to improve the quality of sleep. Research suggests that you get your exercise in at least three hours before you turn in.

Check your meds
Many medications can affect your sleep. Check with your physician or pharmacist to see if anything you’re taking might be causing your insomnia. 

Avoid or limit naps
Especially when you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, the temptation to take a nap can be powerful. But don’t. However if you just can’t avoid it, limit your nap to 30 minutes or less and don’t nap after 3 pm.

Don’t tolerate pain
If you have pain that is affecting your sleep, talk to your doctor about a pain reliever.

Be aware of when you need light, and when you need dark
Exposing your body to light, whether it’s natural light or a digital device (e-reader, phone, tablet, etc), tells it to be alert. Darkness, on the other hand, promotes a sense of sleepiness and boosts the natural production of melatonin. During the day, try to expose your body to natural or artificial light (light boxes work great). But at night, turn off digital devices and keep your bedroom as dark as possible. 

Focus on trying to stay awake
I’m not sure I’ll try this one … but some studies have shown that when you force yourself to feel sleepy, your chances of falling asleep decrease dramatically. However, although research is mixed, some studies have shown that people who try the “paradoxical intention” to stay awake tend to fall asleep faster. Let me know if this works for you!

Acupuncture
Some studies have shown that acupuncture may be a beneficial treatment for insomnia, but more research is needed. Ask your doctor how to find a qualified practitioner (unless you’re from my hometown … in which case I have a great name for you!)

Weighted blankets
A recent study of 120 adults published in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that weighted chain blankets are a safe and effective intervention in the treatment of insomnia. “A suggested explanation for the calming and sleep-promoting effect is the pressure that the chain blanket applies on different points on the body, stimulating the sensation of touch and the sense of muscles and joints, similar to acupressure and massage.”

Yoga or tai chi
Some studies suggest that the regular practice of yoga or tai chi can help improve sleep quality.

Avoid certain foods and drinks
A few hours before bed, avoid caffeine, alcohol, large meals, and foods that induce heartburn. However, consider eating (in moderation and earlier in the day) from these five food groups that support good sleep:

  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Nuts, especially almonds and walnuts
  • Fatty Fish
  • Teas, expecially chamomile

Prescriptions, OTC Medicines, and Herbal Treatments

FIRST, TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR before you try any of these remedies.

Totally exempting myself from legal ramifications, prescription medications like Eszopiclone (Lunesta), Ramelteon (Rozerem), Zaleplon (Sonata), and Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist) are often prescribed for insomnia although doctors prefer to limit their use to a few weeks because of side effects including balance issues, daytime drowsiness, and the concern of their habit-forming tendencies. 

Over-the-counter sleep aids
Because the Food and Drug Administration does not mandate that manufacturers show proof of effectiveness or safety before marketing dietary supplement sleep aids, talk with your doctor before taking any herbal supplements or other OTC products. Some products can have harmful interactions with certain medications.

Drugs like Benadryl,  Aleve PM, and Unisom contain antihistamines that can help you sleep but are not intended for regular use. Additionally, side effects including daytime sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, cognitive decline are possible, which may be worse in older adults.

Melatonin
Some research shows that the hormone melatonin can help reduce signs of jet lag and can help you fall asleep. Side effects can include headaches and daytime drowsiness. While generally considered safe, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises caution when using melatonin.

“Evidence-based recommendations published by the AASM indicate that strategically timed melatonin can be a treatment option for some problems related to sleep timing, such as jet lag disorder and shift work disorder. However, another clinical practice guideline published by the AASM suggests that clinicians should not use melatonin in adults to treat chronic insomnia, which is what many are experiencing during the pandemic.”

“Melatonin isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to nightly sleep trouble,” said Jennifer Martin, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a member of the AASM board of directors and a professor of medicine at UCLA. “People who have difficulty sleeping should try making changes in their bedtime routine and environment first, and if that doesn’t help, or their insomnia becomes chronic, they should work with their medical provider to find the best treatment option.”

Valerian
There’s mixed study results on this plant-based supplement, but you should talk to your doctor before trying it. Some people who have used valerian in high doses or for a long time may have liver damage, although it’s not clear if valerian caused the damage.

One more thing to try
If you’re still having trouble falling asleep, try reading the articles in this list of resources. Let’s just say, I didn’t have any trouble falling asleep!! Now gey schluffen!

Resources:

The Anerican Academy of Sleep Medicine

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (Facebook)

“Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)”

“The management of unwanted pre-sleep thoughts in insomnia: distraction with imagery versus general distraction”

Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial

“Can Music Help You Sleep Better?”

“Google Trends reveals increases in internet searches for insomnia during the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) global pandemic”

“Behavioral interventions for insomnia: Theory and practice”

Mayo Clinic – Insomnia

“What’s New in Insomnia Research?”

“Sleep aids: Understand over-the-counter options”

“Weighted blankets can decrease insomnia severity”

“Insomnia symptoms, overall health improve with online insomnia program”

“What to do when you can’t sleep”

“Behavioral interventions for insomnia: Theory and practice”

“Healthy Sleep Habits”

“Five Foods That Support Good Sleep”

“Sleep tips during isolation: Preventing insomnia”

“Missing the mark with melatonin: Finding the best treatment for insomnia”

“Prevalence of chronic insomnia in adult patients and its correlation with medical comorbidities”

“One in four Americans develop insomnia each year: 75 percent of those with insomnia recover”

Insomnia (Sleep Foundation)

“Insomnia in the Elderly: A Review”

US Department of Health and Human Services – Women’s Health – Insomnia

Crazy Ladies

Last night I was reading a book in which the 92-year-old grandma was “wearing a pink and orange print cotton blouse with a tissue wadded up in the sleeve, bright blue spandex shorts, white tennies, and stockings rolled just above her knees.”

… to a funeral.

Her only concession after being chastised by her family? She’d be sure to get some black shorts for an evening viewing.

What some might call crazy or eccentric, I aspire to.

I’m not sure when this became my goal, but I have some ideas. 

It might be my memories of my mom who loved nothing more than dressing up like Dolly Parton or any other celebrity to entertain at her annual hospital volunteer appreciation banquet. This was a serious affair – she was the director of volunteers for a large hospital and her banquets often included more than 500 people, including her bosses.

And she wasn’t concerned about what people would think. She was in her 70s, she had confidence, she had fun (and she loved dressing up!).

And while previous volunteer directors gave speeches applauding the work of the hospital volunteers, my mom’s way of doing it was memorable. You never left an annual banquet without being entertained by her imagination and bravery. But despite her showmanship, she had a way of making you feel like YOU were the star of the show. 

I don’t know about you, but I always really enjoy being around eccentric people. Give me a 90-year-old woman who is laughing loudly, wearing neon blue eyeshadow, and talking about her first kiss, and I’ve just found my new role model. 

What is it about people like this that makes me feel good? Maybe it’s because they seem to be living their lives without censure, no longer caring as much about “propriety” and instead focusing on living a life that is authentic to them. Maybe they figure, “I’ve spent my life so far caring what others think of me … I’m going to spend the remainder caring what I think of me.”

No wonder I have crazy-lady aspirations.

What’s Your Theme Song?

I saw this meme on Facebook this past week:

And I took this really seriously. I’m not sure the point of the meme was to cause me this much thought … or anxiety … but I’ve spent the past week thinking about this. Had I taken my education as seriously as I take this question, I could probably compose my own theme song, or explain how one’s choice of theme song has something to do with a mathematical resonation, or even design a scientific experiment explaining how my id, ego, and superego would make different choices.

Fact is, I didn’t pay that much attention to my music lessons, my math classes, or my psychology minor. But lemme tell ya – this theme song question really has me thinking. 

There are songs we remember that are special to us: remember the song that was playing the first time someone asked you to dance? Mine was “Brown Eyed Girl,” and I sang that song for weeks pretending it was about me. The first song I ever danced with my husband to was “Layla,” and even though I snarkily told him, “You can’t dance to Layla!” (he should have known then that I was a smart ass!!) I will never, ever, ever forget that moment. 

But a theme song is a “song or melody strongly associated with someone or something.” And yes, while I do associate those songs with those people, I wouldn’t consider them my “theme songs.”

(Yep, you can see I gave this too much thought!)

First I obsessed over the fact that we probably have many different theme songs for different stages of our lives. Surely my 8-year-old self had a different theme song (“Do You Want to Know a Secret?“) than my 22-year-old self (“Stayin’ Alive“), or my 45-year-old self (“Survivor“) … or my self right now. And even my self right now probably has a long list of theme songs depending on the circumstances. 

But after a week of spending valuable time on a MEME question, that most people answered in seconds, I’ve come up with a (partial!!!!) list of my theme songs.

What’s YOUR theme song? Leave a comment below!