I have a seventy-something year old husband, but in many ways, he has the enthusiasm of a child. Almost every night before bed, he says to me, “I can’t wait to get up in the morning.” This statement is not just due to his unique, genial personality. It is in large part a result of our flourishing morning routine. You will undoubtedly remember your working day mornings: the shrill pierce of the alarm, the dread of all that was awaiting your attention, the empty or limited refrigerator choices of breakfast items, and the hustle out the door. This important daily interval needs to be reframed. You have a wealth of time as a retiree, and a new morning routine can be the vehicle to a superior lifestyle.
Diffusing Morning Anxiety
Without proper planning, many retirees can actually be panicky waking up in the morning. Unpleasant ruminations about such a huge lifestyle change, poor choices that interrupt regular sleep, unproductive mental loops, and unconscious eating can all affect this daily event. Taking control, and control is the keyword, moves us lower on the universal stress scale.
The internet is littered with hundreds of suggestions for people of all ages to create a healthy morning routine, not specifically retirees. Morning routine virtues include a heightened sense of focus and concentration, organization, and productivity. Although these are most important for “working folks,” they are certainly assets for anyone. The benefits especially helpful to the new retiree are in the realm of self-care, predictability, stabilization of mood, and bestower of energy.
What would the “before” picture of a new retiree’s morning look like? Would there be some degree of detritus laying around from the day(s) before? Would there be a leap to Facebook or email before the coffee perks? Would there be munching on donuts or pastries, or – yikes – would there be no munching at all? Would the clock read anywhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 noon?
Creating Order at Daybreak
Here is the suggested morning routine from a noted brain scientist as described by Tara Stewart in the blog FastCompany: wake up after 8 hours of sleep, hydrate without caffein, stretch, meditate, eat the same healthy breakfast at the same time every day, and start your day with the most difficult task. Keep in mind, this is the advice for all adults, not specifically retirees. Here is the Langmuir routine: make the beds, make coffee, cook and eat a healthy breakfast, read the newspapers, do morning puzzles, meditate, exercise now or make plans for later, start the first planned task. Does that sound so fabulous my husband can’t wait to get up? This routine needs some unpacking.
The latest addition to the morning routine is “puzzles.” After a particularly stressful time, I began to do Sudoku puzzles. Completing the grids with the numbers 1-9 seemed to be an absorbing way to diffuse my worries. Soon after, another retiree extolled the virtue of the New York Times Spelling Bee. Not being adept at reaching the “genius” level, my verbally facile husband joined me, and we reach such heights daily. The final puzzle is Wordle, which takes less than three minutes, but bestows lots of self esteem.
Part of the joy of the morning routines is its location. We live in a delightful,wooded area. I would not be honest if I didn’t tell you that it is still a thrill to sit in our green room off the deck in the winter, or our screened room in the warmer months and look at the trees, deer, and birds. That is not to say that you urban and suburban dwellers cannot create a cozy nest for your mornings. Next – why do I need to tell you about my bed making? Prior to the ritualization of the new morning routine, my first task was to pick up all the leftover junk from the previous evening’s binge-watching festival, as well as the dirty clothes on the floor in the bedroom. The new me puts everything away before I go to bed, because I often have early morning volunteer duties. Also, I want my meditation space to be uncluttered. It is infinitely easier to wake up to an orderly space.
After the puzzles have been solved, it’s on to newspaper reading. We subscribed to print versions for much too long, but are now iPad advocates. We have subscriptions to the local paper and a Press Reader subscription to the New York Times. If you are unfamiliar with this service, it was founded as a service for guests in hotels around the world. For a nominal fee one could get virtually any large city newspaper. Now, a huge variety of popular magazines and periodicals are available through this app. One needs to pay a premium for the New York Times, which is probably the best vehicle available to elevate one’s knowledge base in politics, the arts, cooking and popular culture. It is the perfect way to remain relevant to those in a different stage of life.
Meditation– the champion of the day
Finally, my morning routine would not live in its revered position without 15 minutes of daily meditation. The scientifically researched benefits are well documented, so I’ll breeze through them quickly before giving you the personal touch. All of the following have been documented by Dr. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Harvard. Four specific parts of the brain have been identified to undergo significant changes in the regular meditator, resulting in improvements in cognitive ability and emotional regulation, self-awareness, empathy and compassion, improved physical functioning and reduction of anxiety, fear and stress. This can all be accomplished in as little as 12 minutes per day.
Here is my personal take on meditation. It absolutely housecleans your brain. It sweeps out repetitive, intrusive, nasty thoughts – good riddance! It helps you sit still and not be reactive. It allows you to pursue goals, but not like an impatient child. By far, meditation’s biggest benefit is placing me in the role of the “observer.” I don’t have to jump up and “act” or “feel”everything that comes my way. Events role by, good and bad, at just the perfect rate as I calmly plan a response, or not!
My 15 minute meditation practice consists of me sitting in a comfy chair, feet on the floor, or sometimes on a bolster on the floor. I start with a loving kindness phrase for my people: May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease and happiness, may you be free of all pain. (I've recently changed "you" to "the world", in view of so many unsettled global areas.) I circle my head a few times to release tension, and settle back. When the thoughts come, I acknowledge them and start breathing deeply again.
How do I know my brain has changed? The first time I noticed was when I was a passenger in the car and the driver didn’t notice a red light as fast as I did. My heart actually didn’t jump out of my chest in the time he quickly stopped for the light. I related the story to a therapist, because I thought something was really wrong with my affect, not responding to a very dangerous situation. I’ve since learned that meditators gradually lessen the “startle effect,” a very positive outcome for stress reduction. In addition, I’ve noticed other people’s annoying behaviors just get labeled quietly and provoke far fewer reactions or arguments.
Most importantly, I’ve recently lived through the devastation of learning a loved one had a substance abuse problem and the deaths of both of my parents, with grace and serenity. When bad news or challenges come, they are integrated and acted upon with thought and clarity. To be frank, the rest of my morning routine evolved because of the need I had to deal with life’s challenges. A good breakfast, a quality read and some time to think can really change your life!